Before launching this blog I had a long conversation with my spouse about how open we wanted to be and how much we were willing to share online. I knew that at some point I was planning on sharing my real identity so we had to consider that once that veil of anonymity was pierced all of our finances would be open to the world. In the end we decided to go ahead and be completely open and transparent for several reasons.
First, we wanted to share our personal path and story with all the details so that anyone reading could make comparisons to their own circumstances and find things that may be similar or that they could identify with that could be modeled, considered, or learned from (good and bad). We think the more unique voices that share their stories online the better, and we wanted to add our voice in the most honest and transparent way possible.
Second, anyone who knows who I am can easily go online and look up my salary, including my previous salary by year since I am a public employee in North Carolina. To be honest, I wish all jobs shared everyone’s salary whether the job is public or private because I think It would be one step to showing both systemic and individual inequities. Whether this would promote change, I don’t know because even with public knowledge of salaries at my university there are still a lot of pay inequities based on non-relevant factors…
Finally, and one of the main reasons we are willing to be open and share our complete financial picture and history is that we are already in the public space for a much different, larger, and more important set of issues. It is hard to imagine being more of a target (online and offline) than we already are from some groups, so sharing our financial details seems so small in comparison. More importantly we want to be a voice that can say that even with certain circumstances, barriers, and systemic challenges we are still in a position to pursue financial independence. Don’t get me wrong we still have benefited from certain privileges, and in some cases luck, but we want to acknowledge and discuss all of the elements of our journey, positive and negative, as well as what is a result of our actions versus luck or circumstance.
So with the background of why we are willing to share this out of the way, this is the first in a set of three posts where we are opening up about more than just our current income, expenses, and net worth. I wanted to share the history of our path as best as it could be reconstructed that got us to this point. In this post I am going to share our income history, is followed by a post about our spending and saving and a final post on our investing history.
Our income history was one of the easiest ones to reconstruct thanks to the help of our social security statements that include our earning history. In addition to these statements, we did have to add some income to these numbers that were excluded from FICA taxes. Most of this was money earned while I was a graduate assistant working on my Ph.D. degree, and fortunately was actually able to look this amount up from past pay stubs. All of the income numbers shared below are pre-tax amounts meaning this is not the amount that was actually taken home or saved. Some of this went to federal taxes and more recently state taxes. This is different from our monthly update which reports our income using post-tax numbers.
If you have read this far and just want the numbers you can go right to the Google Spreadsheet I created. If you want more details keep reading for some context and discussion about the sources of our income up until this point in our FI journey.
Income before the Chart
It is important to note that there are some years not listed in our income spreadsheet, and I only started this history at the point that I finished my undergraduate degree and got my first post-college job. During high school I worked as a youth counselor one summer, followed by part-time jobs at McDonald’s and Pizza Hut until I left for college. My first year working at McDonald’s I was paid $3.33 an hour, and eventually moved to $4.25 by the time I left Pizza Hut. I worked on weekends, and maybe a couple of afternoons and evenings a week depending on my school activities. During these jobs I made a total of $6,936 across three years. I also worked during my undergraduate degree, but it is a bit harder to create an accurate record of the exact amount I earned during that time. Since my biggest job during that time was working for the university, and none of that was included in FICA taxes, all I can find records of is the amount I earned at jobs outside of the university (fast fashion retail) which totaled $12,804 across four years (approximately $3,000 a year). My best guess from my university job was that I was making about $900 a month on average since my pay rate and hours changed over the years. For a college student, I have to admit I was doing fairly well, but I was working a lot since these jobs, in addition to some small scholarships, is how I paid for my college degrees and living expenses. Since almost all of my income during this time went to paying for my cost of attending college I left my undergraduate degree with little savings, but also no debt. Since my spouse is younger than me we did capture her income in the spreadsheet she earned while still in college.
The Early Years (2000 – 2009)
I started my career as a high school music (band) and dance teacher in Florida from 2000 – 2006. If you look at my income during those first few years you are probably thinking that the pay seems somewhat low for a teacher (especially with a master’s degree), but it is actually a bit more depressing how little I was and in fact all teachers were being paid in Florida at the time. The income numbers I posted include far more than my base salary during those first few years and includes teaching private lessons and working several summer camps. Starting in 2002 I moved to a new school district that had slightly better pay, but more importantly paid me small supplements for all of the after-school activities (dance team, band rehearsals) that I was responsible for as well as a little bit of summer pay. In 2005 and 2006 I started a small side business doing e-learning and online learning that bumped up my income a bit beyond my teaching salary. In June of 2006 I left my teaching job and went back to get my Ph.D. degree. During 2007 and 2008 I was on a full research assistantship that completely paid for my tuition and fees as well as paid me a stipend which I included as income in my spreadsheet. In 2007 I also taught private lessons and took part in several performances to earn some extra money when I had time. During this time I also had to pull some money from savings which I was happy to do this because it helped me complete my Ph.D. quickly, and I left with no student loan debt. At the end of 2008 I defended my dissertation and received my Ph.D. degree. I stayed at the university for an additional year in a research position funded by a grant I helped secure which was very helpful since I was searching for jobs during one of the worst academic job markets in 2008 and 2009.
During these years my spouse was still in college (we went to the same university) until 2005 completing two degrees. Like me she worked in college doing some retail work during summers as well as an administrative assistant job for the university. She also had to take out some student loans during her undergraduate degree. In 2005 she finished her degree after completing her unpaid teaching internship and started searching for jobs as soon as she was done. In late 2006 she finally secured a position teaching middle school music (band and guitar) and later moved to a different school district in 2008.
In 2009 we were finally living in the same place and moved in together. Starting in 2010 we began combining our finances in a process that took almost three years to fully integrate (more on this later).
The Past Decade (2010 – 2019)
In August of 2010 I started my first faculty position at a university in Florida and stayed in that position through the summer of 2016. In 2013 I took on an admin position (program director) as well as my faculty position for additional money. At the end of 2016 I moved to a much larger public university in North Carolina while taking an initial salary cut (it was well worth it). I have made up for some of the decrease in base pay salary by teaching additional summer courses, and in 2016 I received a payment for my side business after selling my share to a partner ($15,000 pre-tax). My income in 2017 and 2018 is completely from my faculty position plus summer teaching.
In 2013 my spouse left her middle school teaching job and began working as an instructional designer (e-learning development) for two years at a university and then left that position and started her own business doing the same type of work as a consultant. Since that time she has been self-employed working for multiple clients on her own schedule, with almost all of the work being remote work. She also started her Ph.D. program in 2014 with most of her initial coursework paid for as part of her university job before she left to go out on her own.
Other income sources
That covers the income we have made over our working history, so what about other sources of income? Aside from selling my share of a business I started for $15,000 we have had no other source of income (outside of investments). No inheritance, no one helping pay for college other than undergrad scholarships, and no financial gifts. At the same time our combined income over the last 8 years (counting 2019) has been above $100,000 which is far above the real median household income in the United States of $63,179 in 2018. In fact in most of the recent years we have made almost or a little more than twice the household median. I think this provides important context and clarity about our path to financial independence. Of course this only gives a partial insight into our financial life and should only be considered along with our spending, saving, and investing to provide a full open picture of our FI journey. This is especially important as I will discuss in my post on spending since we have had some expenses that typically only impact a small population of people, but in a very inequitable way.
Just here to say that I appreciate this. I haven’t cobbled together all of our earnings in a single post, and I’m definitely not this transparent. But I do think that I try to write in a way where you can piece together what we earn. We use the same logic – a local newspaper created a database for people to easily search our salaries by name. Obviously, it gets weaponized and politicized by some. But for the most part, I think salary schedules are a positive thing!
While I still had a lot of reservations about being so transparent, taking the time to review our financial history was an interesting and process.