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Teacher Stories

Barb, age 36

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As a high school chemistry teacher, Barb enjoys trying new, and innovative approaches each year. The students are never the same from year to year, so she feels almost obligated to try new things. Time management and pacing are her biggest challenges. "I find I can either teach quickly or teach well, but I'm really bad at doing both," she says. "I tend to sacrifice some topics I am supposed to teach in order to let the students spend time constructing their own knowledge."

We asked Barb some questions about what she knows or wants to know about the 403(b) and saving for retirement, and this is what she said.

On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being total understanding, how well do you understand saving for retirement? Why did you pick this number?

I picked 8 because I certainly understand way more than I did two years ago when I discovered lots of resources on retirement about financial independence. I think I've got my acquisition plan pretty well down, but I know I have a lot to learn about "endgame" strategies for when I'm approaching retirement. I want to learn more about how to maximize the different tools (pre-tax, post-tax, brokerage, pension) as I near and ultimately reach retirement. I still have another 15 years or so of working.

What is your biggest money worry?

Realistically for the moment, it's that I won't get my side hustle back for another year due to COVID. I'm definitely in the red month-to-month without that extra income.

Do you have a 403(b)? If yes, are you satisfied with your investment? If you do not have a 403(b), why not?

I have a 403(b) with Voya. Foresters begat Delaware. Delaware begat some other name I have since forgotten or never knew. Then I rolled everything over to VOYA, our district's new single vendor. In mid-2020, I moved my money from VOYA to my 457(b). I still have a 403(b) account with VOYA. It's just empty. On a scale of 1 to 10, my satisfaction with my 403(b) plan is 3. If I could change anything about my plan, it would be the 0.5% record keeping fee which is ridiculous for someone like me who only invests in broad-based index funds and requests no active management. They should not get to keep ***half a percent*** of my increasing balance each year for doing next to nothing. That's highway robbery.

What prompted you to start a 403(b)?

A "consultation" with a "financial advisor" (read: a sales pitch from a salesperson). But I scheduled the consultation because I have a skeptical mistrust in the reliability of pensions and Social Security, and I knew I needed to save more on my own.

Did you ever hear about the 403(b) in your teacher preparation program?

No. Nothing in my college education program ever focused on finances. There was probably a salesperson or two at my district's orientation program for new teachers, but I must have managed to avoid them.

Do you know what a fiduciary financial advisor is? If yes, how would you describe a fiduciary to a colleague?

Yes. A fiduciary is someone who has your best interest in mind when they give you financial advice. You know how a doctor takes the Hippocratic Oath to do no harm? And how we expect and trust doctors to treat patients with the best interest of the person in mind and not the money they could make on unnecessary prescriptions or surgeries or medical testing? A financial fiduciary is like that but with your financial health instead of your physical health.

If you could ask a financial advisor one question what would it be?

"Are you a fiduciary?" Other than that, I'd probably ask them what their personal financial investment strategies and philosophies are.

Anything else you would like to share with us?

I love teaching. I enjoy finding ways to explain things so that people understand. I love posing questions and discussing ideas and watching people work through stuff and working through it with them. William Butler Yeats said, "Education is not the filling of a pail but the lighting of a fire." Well, I enjoy both. And people tell me I'm good at it. My most recent teaching endeavor has been to take my new interest in finances and retirement and share it with my fellow teachers. I put on a 90-minute presentation about retirement options and other financial information for about 25 teachers. I taught them the differences between HSAs and FSAs, 403(b) and 457(b), VOYA and ICMA-RC, pre-tax and post-tax buckets... and I have gotten only positive feedback: that I made these topics understandable and relevant to them, and they plan to take action on the things they learned. I feel like I've made a difference and was successful in what I set out to do — like I filled a pail AND lit a fire — and that makes me want to do it again. I know that, no matter what I'm teaching, I stand on the shoulders of the amazing teachers who came before me. I stole a lot of content from Dan & Scott for my presentation, and I wouldn't understand any of these ideas without listening to the Teach and Retire Rich podcast or reading 403bwise.org. I believe most teachers live by the maxim, "Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery." Maybe that's because we believe that education should be free and open to all, or maybe that's because we know that we will never get properly credited or paid for our work, so to be imitated by others is all we can really hope for. Regardless, I would be remiss if I didn't say thank you to Dan & Scott for educating me and giving me the tools I need to educate others. I can see myself making this a long-term passion project, and I credit both of you and your example for that. You have filled a pail and lit a fire. Thank you. Note from Dan Otter: Scott and I are indebted to teachers like you, Barb.

Barb is our podcast guest in episode 139: Model Teaching

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