How to plan for a 9-month work year (part 2-saving for summer )

How to plan for a 9-month work year (part 2-saving for summer )

Last month I wrote Part 1 of  “how to plan for a 9-month work year”. Today I want to move on to Part 2- “saving for summer”. This is the information that I WISH someone had given me as a young teacher. I hope it is useful and welcome your comments and feedback.

Summer can be a wonderful, creative time in our careers. We have flexibility, we can attend workshops or masterclasses, we can spend more time practicing or performing. I see many of my friends, who have typical 9-5 jobs, struggling to figure out day care and summer camps. Living in a home with two professional music teacher parents and two school age children, we have the luxury of taking vacation when we want. Our children see more of us in the summer after a full school year of dinners without one parent or the other. We can choose which weeks to arrange daycare or camps, and which to spend together at home as a family.

The downside is that we have no income. Zero. Zilch. So how do we survive? The biggest change we made when we had children was to realize that we HAD TO PLAN. We couldn’t survive on pasta and peanut butter alone for 3 months. We had to take care of basic monthly expenses.

How do we do it? Year long planning.

Here are the steps we take every September.

  • Create a basic monthly budget that does not include catastrophic illness or your car dying.
  • Calculate your dependable monthly income (multiply your guaranteed work hours times your pay/hour)
  • Calculate 15% of that monthly total or, if you receive different amounts every month, take the total you make over 9 months, calculate 15%, and divide by 9.
  • First thing each month, religiously put this money into a savings account or money market that earns interest while it waits to be given to the government.
  • Now comes the hard part. Calculate the total you will need to pay 100% of your bills for the 2-3 months of summer without an income source.

For most people, this is the part where we gulp, we realize that there is no way we can survive the summer, and then we bury our head in the sand while happily spending money throughout the year that we cannot afford. Is this the right solution? Of course not! So what are your options?

Most of us have some unplanned income (just like we have unplanned root canals and car repair). This unplanned income is one way to make your music teachers salary work for you.

  • Do you perform in chamber music or contracted orchestra gigs?
  • Do you teach extra lessons or give coaching sessions unexpectedly?
  • Do you take students in the summer, even though you didn’t count on the income?

If you answered yes to these questions, then you have found a way to fund part of your summer account. Set up a separate savings account or money market and diligently put this “extra” money you earn throughout the year away for summer. Is it fun? No. Does it allow you to make being a music teacher a career that can last a lifetime? Yes.

Once you have made it through a summer or two you will have a more realistic sense of just how much you can realistically earn in the summer. Until then, I recommend that you plan your summer savings account as if you will earn NOTHING. Once you have a settled studio and a reliable number of students, you can include summer income in your budget.

4229430-family-holding-handsHere is the breakdown for my family of two professional musicians and two school aged children:

  • Monthly teaching income minus 15% into the tax account. Multiply this amount x 9 and you will have your total income for the year. It’s important to know where you are starting from.
  • Multiply your monthly budget x 3 to find your total summer expenses.
  • Now divide your summer total by 9 to find the monthly contribution you will have to make. Put this money aside religiously every month!

In our case we have altered this plan based on several years experience and a sense of the guaranteed income we can expect. Our summer plan looks like this.

  • Extra teaching and contracted workshops throughout the year= 1 month of summer budget
  • Reliable summer teaching = 1 month of summer budget
  • What we have left to plan for= 1 month of summer budget
  • We then divide the remaining 1 month by 9 to find our required monthly contribution. Every month, before we pay our bills, or go to dinner, or buy new shoes, we put that amount into a summer account.

I am sure there are other ways to plan for summer. But I am also sure that they have one thing in common, there is a PLAN.

I love teaching, I love my students, and I believe that what I do makes a difference in the world. In order to keep feeling this way and to be able to survive as a musician, it is incredibly important that I live realistically and within my means. It’s not always fun and it takes planning, but the payoff is a life-long career doing something I truly love.

I wish someone had held my hand and given me a realistic plan to follow as a young teacher. In those early years many of my fellow teachers either headed back to school, changed careers, or were forced to take “day jobs” to supplement their musician’s income. The key to success is to plan and to be realistic.

If you have been teaching for several years, what do you do about summer income? What were the toughest things you faced? How have you figured out how to live for 12 months on 9 months of income? I look forward to the conversation we can have.

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