Erin and her husband Logan live in her hometown, a major metropolitan area of Nebraska, along with their six-year-old son and eight-year-old cat. Erin is a classroom teacher with 17 years of experience and Logan works as a media specialist at their local community college. While Erin loves teaching, and truly sees it as her calling, the stressors of the pandemic–and in-person pandemic teaching–are wearing her down. She’d need to work another 16 years in order to qualify for her full pension, but she’s not sure she can or should. Erin would like our help today weighing her career options.

What’s a Reader Case Study?

Case Studies address financial and life dilemmas that readers of Frugalwoods send in requesting advice. Then, we (that’d be me and YOU, dear reader) read through their situation and provide advice, encouragement, insight and feedback in the comment section.

For an example, check out the last case study. Case Studies are updated by participants (at the end of the post) several months after the Case is featured. Visit this page for links to all updated Case Studies.

The Goal Of Reader Case Studies

Reader Case Studies intend to highlight a diverse range of financial situations, ages, ethnicities, locations, goals, careers, incomes, family compositions and more!

The Case Study series began in 2016 and, to date, there’ve been 68 Case Studies. I’ve featured folks with annual incomes ranging from $17k to $200k+ and net worths ranging from -$300k to $2.9M+.

I’ve featured single, married, partnered, divorced, child-filled and child-free households. I’ve featured gay, straight and trans people. I’ve featured men, women and non-binary folks. I’ve had cat people and dog people. I’ve featured folks from the US, Australia, Canada, England, South Africa, Spain, Finland and France.

I’ve featured people with PhDs and people with high school diplomas. I’ve featured people in their early 20’s and people in their late 60’s. I’ve featured folks who live on farms and folks who live in New York City.

The goal is diversity and only YOU can help me achieve that by emailing me your story! If you haven’t seen your circumstances reflected in a Case Study, I encourage you to apply to be a Case Study participant by emailing

Reader Case Study Guidelines

I probably don’t need to say the following because you folks are the kindest, most polite commenters on the internet, but please note that Frugalwoods is a judgement-free zone where we endeavor to help one another, not condemn.

There’s no room for rudeness here. The goal is to create a supportive environment where we all acknowledge we’re human, we’re flawed, but we choose to be here together, workshopping our money and our lives with positive, proactive suggestions and ideas.

A disclaimer that I am not a trained financial professional and I encourage people not to make serious financial decisions based solely on what one person on the internet advises. 

I encourage everyone to do their own research to determine the best course of action for their finances. I am not a financial advisor and I am not your financial advisor.

With that I’ll let Erin, today’s Case Study subject, take it from here!

Erin’s Story

Hi, Frugalwoods & Frugalwoods readers!

Erin and her son at Yellowstone Lake

I’m Erin and I’m 39 years old. My spouse, Logan, is 40 and we have a 6-year-old son, Noel and an 8-year-old cat. We’ve been married since 2008 and live in a major metropolitan area of Nebraska (in my hometown) and we both work in education.

I’m a classroom teacher and am in my seventeenth year doing so. I have a PhD in education and currently teach middle school English. I’ve taught a variety of classes–everything from ESL and reading recovery courses to master’s level courses at the university.

My spouse earned his degree in physics and has worked in everything from technical support at a local software company to his current position as a media specialist at a local community college. He loves his job and I love working with my students. (More about my job later).

Erin & Logan’s Families and Hobbies

We’re very lucky to live near all of our family members, with the furthest being only an 8 hour drive away. Pre-pandemic, our son spent a lot of time with his cousins, aunts, uncles, and all of his grandparents. We are fortunate to have had a wonderful pre-pandemic support system!

We love to travel and see the national parks. Our favorite activities are hiking and going on road trips. I love to garden and read books, and my spouse loves playing video games, reading and his new hobby of making jewelry.

What feels most pressing right now? What brings you to submit a Case Study?

We are beyond fortunate to have enjoyed relatively good health and good financial stability since the pandemic hit in 2020. I love working with kids, but pandemic teaching and the constant stresses of my job are causing me to re-evaluate if I can do this job (that I absolutely love) until retirement eligibility for my full, unreduced pension when I turn 55. This would mean another 16 years of teaching.

Last year nearly shattered my love for my job. I had what felt like insurmountable demands from numerous stakeholders with no lifeline and every day I feared for my safety, and that of my family, by facing possible disease exposure due to the nature of my job. I was fortunate enough to accept a one-year-only position teaching in a remote learning classroom for this school year.

I LOVE my job this year and am beyond happy in this new position. However, it is one year only – and thus, not stable long-term. I do have the option to return to in-person classroom teaching next year, but the thought of returning to feeling like I’m in a hair-on-fire emergency every hour of my workday makes me feel physically ill. I work in a large district and the more I see of how things work, I don’t think I’d be happy in any position other than that of a classroom teacher in my current district.

To Teach or Not to Teach?

Peppers from Erin and Logan’s garden

My spouse and I have talked and he’s told me that I don’y have to return to teaching in-person if I don’t want to. But one of the core parts of our long-term plan is to wait until I’m 55 and then live off my defined benefit pension.

We’ve calculated that amount will be about $5,600 given where I’d be at on the salary schedule at the age of 55. We could live off that entirely, given that I’d also be receiving social security at my full retirement age. I can’t stand the thought of giving up on that pension. Plus, I’m not sure what I would do beyond teaching. I love teaching so much, but the stress of pandemic teaching is not good for my mental or physical health and I developed a chronic health condition last year.

What do I do if I’m not teaching? I’m not sure. And is it wise to give up on a pension that I’d only need to work 16 more years to earn? I’m more than halfway there and a large part of me feels like I need to just “gut it out” until it’s done. But I don’t want to be that kind of teacher for my students. They deserve a happy, well-adjusted teacher just as must as a teacher needs to feel a sense of autonomy in their own classroom.

Erin & Logan’s Son

Additionally, the pandemic has really made us think about our own child’s needs. Our son has Autism Spectrum Disorder of moderate severity, meaning that on a scale of mild, moderate or severe, he falls squarely in the middle. He also has social-emotional needs, behavioral needs and receives speech therapy services from our wonderful public school system. So far, he functions relatively well in the mainstream classroom, attended full-day in-person kindergarten all last year and is currently in-person for first grade. However, with the various needs of individuals on the spectrum as they mature into adulthood, we want to be financially prepared in the event that he will need financial or housing assistance.

He was diagnosed with ASD at age 3 and received home-based early childhood development services from the time he was 22 months old. I can’t thank enough the person who pointed out his speech delay just before he turned two. As a new parent, I was unaware of the speech milestones he was missing. Initially, I felt offended and defensive that someone noticed something in my child that I had missed. But truly, this person’s comment was a blessing and allowed us to get our son the help he needed early on. Early intervention makes such a difference!

My son’s diagnosis has made me a different teacher and I definitely have a special place in my heart for my students with social emotional needs and those who are on the spectrum. I love finding ways to help classmates of students with social emotional needs understand that kindness matters most. One of my favorite sayings for call and response in my classroom is “If you can be anything, be kind!” I used to run after-school clubs for students with social emotional needs or those who are on the spectrum. Sadly, with Covid, I haven’t been able to run any clubs since March 2020.

My husband and I have had hard conversations about what would happen to our son if we were to both die while he is young (we have a will and guardianship set in place). More than that, though, we’ve talked about how to help him be set up for success when we’re no longer able to care for him. We presume he will be cognitively able to be employed and attend college, but he’s only in first grade and that’s a long way off. Is there a trust that we should consider setting up for our child, given that he is special needs and may need continual care after we are gone? He will remain an only child, so we need to plan accordingly.

Couple Time in a Pandemic

My spouse and I also really want more time with one another, just us two–but where are we supposed to find babysitters for our special needs child in the age of Covid? We used to have family

Erin and Logan’s son at Jenny Lake in Grand Teton

available, but with the continual risk of our child spreading Covid to them or they to him, we feel we don’t have any options.

What’s the best part of your current lifestyle/routine?

I don’t worry about money, ever.

Spouse and I spent our first 6 years together (4 married) watching every penny and living in a tiny apartment, so now I don’t feel like I have to pinch pennies too much.

There’s no better feeling than being “grocery store rich,” where I can go in and buy whatever I want. I don’t put too much of a price tag on our groceries, but we also never go out to eat. The only time we do so is on vacation, and we count that as “travel” expenses. I can make better tasting, healthier food for less money at home. We did this before the pandemic, and we’ll keep doing it after the pandemic.

What’s the worst part of your current lifestyle/routine?

Spouse and I constantly feel like we have no time. We’re entertaining our high-needs/special needs child, we’re doing laundry, we’re cleaning, we’re doing work tasks, we’re finding time and space to have our own time to ourselves and it feels like we have no time for each other. I don’t know how to get our time with each other back–we have no babysitters (and I won’t likely have any, due to pandemic concerns)–and we don’t see family much at all any more due to the pandemic.

Where Erin and Logan Want to be in 10 Years:

1) Finances:

  • Keep doing what we’re doing. In 10 years, it would be nice to be close to retired. I had always planned on us retiring at 55.

2)  Lifestyle:

  • Continue traveling to national parks. We want to be healthy and active enough to continue regular hiking and camping. I do NOT want to get to a point where I’m sedentary and feeling inactive and unhealthy.

3) Career:

  • Teaching in a setting where I feel like I have autonomy and where I can really enjoy the good parts of teaching. I love students and I love teaching in general. Spouse really enjoys his job and doesn’t see any need to retire any time soon.

Erin’s Finances

Net Income

Item Amount Notes
Logan’s net income.

L puts pretax maximum of $19.5k into 457b & pre-tax maximum of $19.5k into 403b. Employer matches his contributions up to 9.5% of his total salary.

$1,250 L net income, minus HSA, 403B, 457, term life insurance & taxes (L’s work provides disability insurance & health insurance coverage at no cost to him)
Erin’s net income.

E puts pre-tax maximum of $19.5k into 403b & mandatory 9.78% of her paycheck into pension (currently $6,100 annually). E also pays $313 pretax monthly for her & child health insurance & $3,600 annually for FSA eligible childcare for before & after school care.

Employer contributes 9.88% of total salary to defined benefit pension plan. E is eligible for DCB pension plan when she is 55. Currently forecasted to receive $5,600 monthly for mine & spouse’s lives if this is still in place in 2037.

$1,850 E net income, minus 403b, pension contribution, Childcare FSA, health insurance, disability insurance & taxes
E sporadic income $100 Sporadic income from class coverage, professional learning opportunities, training, etc. General average for this.
Monthly subtotal: $3,200
Annual total: $38,400

Mortgage details:

  • Purchased in 2012 for $160k
  • Paid off in full in December 2017
  • Equity: $260,000, according to latest Zillow valuation


Item Amount Notes Type of securities held Name of bank/brokerage Expense Ratio
E – pension balance $70,000 my contributions + $70,000 employer contributions = $140,000 (balance is not shown with employer contributions due to the way the pension plan is reported) Public Employees Pension Plan – Tier 1 Pension Very little information given about this; I should be more involved & could request this information. Not available, to my knowledge. I probably haven’t looked hard enough.
L – 403b Retirement $176,174 403b plan Mutual fund TIAA CREF I should find this but don’t know how; it’s the only option offered by his employer
E – 403b Retirement $161,233 403b plan Mutual fund Vanguard I should find this out, but don’t know how. It’s the only option offered by my employer.
L – 457B Plan $127,612 457 plan (can withdraw at any point) Mutual fund TIAA CREF I should find this but don’t know how; it’s the only option offered by his employer
L – Tax Deferred Annuity Plan $114,569 Tax Deferred Annuity Annuity TIAA CREF I should find this but don’t know how; it’s the only option offered by his employer
Joint savings fund – bank $40,322 Savings Local bank Interest rate is less than 1%
Beneficiary: child 529 plan $30,100 529 plan NEST 529 plan NEST plan
E – Roth IRA $14,626 Roth IRA – savings account Savings Local bank 0.05% interest, not great
Joint credit union savings fund $13,052 Savings Local credit union Interest rate is less than 1%
Joint credit union savings fund $11,304 Savings Local credit union Interest rate is less than 1%
HSA fund $8,500 HSA, note: spouse’s employer contributes $1,200 annually to his HSA Not invested, should we invest the remainder?
E – Mutual fund $7,447 Mutual fund Franklin Income Edward Jones
L – Roth IRA $5,000 Roth IRA Mutual fund Vanguard
E – Roth IRA $4,126 Roth IRA Mutual fund Vanguard
Total: $673,340 retirement (not including Erin’s employer pension match) + $7,447 mutual fund + $64,678 cash + $30,100 planned spending 529 plan + $8,500 HSA planned spending fund


Make & Model Valued at Mileage Paid off?
2014 Nissan Leaf $6,500 24,500 Yes, paid off
2006 Toyota Camry $6,000 102,000 Yes, paid off
Total: $12,500


Item Amount Notes
Grocery $600 Try really hard to keep this at $600 each month. Includes kitty litter & cat food as well as toiletries & household supplies. Child eats breakfast & lunch at school (free for all kids this year due to USDA funds in our district.)

Spouse & I eat meat very rarely & our child really only likes very processed chicken nuggets. We’d gladly spend more on meat for our child but he’s an extremely picky eater when it comes to meat. Meat costs are therefore minimal for our family.

Supplement our veggies with preserved garden produce (frozen or canned) where available. Spouse eats a lot of frozen veggies & I make a lot of veggie & bean chili in the instant pot. We’ll eat a large-ish omelet breakfast once per week. Otherwise, breakfast is tea/coffee & oatmeal for spouse & myself & school breakfast for our child. Spouse & I take leftovers for lunches & child eats school lunch plus free school snack. (He LOVES school breakfast, lunch & snack. Nothing I make for him from scratch can compare to his joy eating school meals.)

Property taxes, amortized over 12 months $300 Amortized over 12 months
L spending money $300 Seems like a lot but this way spouse can buy whatever he wants, no questions asked. I will not begrudge him this & he’s kept it the same amount per month for 9 years. Spouse uses this to buy larger tech upgrades for himself, video game money, audiobooks, jewelry making equipment, whatever he might like. A small price to pay to keep him happy.
Child 529 fund or Investment fund? $300 Not sure what to do here with this. I don’t want to have too much tied up in a 529 plan since I’m not sure what college will look like for our child in 2033 & beyond.
Vacation fund $300 We average around $3,500 – 3,600 per year on a LOT of travel. We love road trips (and absolutely despise plane travel.) My car won’t last forever, so we’re carpooling with friends & family or renting small cars for our longer road trips & staying in inexpensive motels, crashing on friends’ floors or camping.
Utilities $211 Electric: $75, Gas: $64, Water: $50, Trash: 22
Insurance (homeowners, auto & liability+), amortized over 12 months $200 Amortized over 12 months
Life insurance, monthly $164 Erin’s term life: $25, 2 $40K Whole Life policies that will be free of premium payment in Oct. 2023 @ $139 total (E has $260K of term life for her amount, L has $260K of term life that he pays for from paycheck deduction + E has $40K whole life & L has $40K whole life)
Internet $93 *spouse insists on 1G Fiber internet
Gym membership $84 YMCA gym membership, allows E & L an hour of kid-free yoga per week, access to pool for family fun time on weekends & discounted kid activities. Never thought I’d say we love our gym, but we really do.
Child items & activities $50 Child takes one activity per week during school year of $25 – 30 per month, buy clothes on Facebook marketplace, Goodwill & garage sales where lucky
House upkeep expenses $50 Amortized out for appliance upkeep, lawn care (we replaced roof 5 years ago, installed new HVAC system over the past 4 years, reinforced foundation 5 years ago, installed new soffit & fascia 5 years ago)
Tech upgrade $50 Amortized out for 1 year, we will buy a large tech purchase of $1,200 – 1,800 every 2-3 years
Phone, amortized over 12 months $39 Two phones, Mint mobile, spouse is heavy data user & pays for 10G plan, amortized over 12 months
Gasoline $35 Regular driving, does not include road trips (Leaf is electric)
Gifts $25 We have a large extended family, lots of nieces & nephews, we just buy gifts for kids, not adults. Spouse & I do not buy each other gifts.
Netflix $15
Amazon, amortized over 12 months $10 $120 annual fee, paid September 25 each year
Prescriptions – E $10 E has several prescriptions to manage a chronic health condition. We pay for these OOP or with discounted pharmacy gift cards.
Clothing $5 Clothing expenses are infrequent. We get hand me downs for me from my mom or sister or as gifts for birthday & Christmas. L’s clothing purchases are infrequent & lumped in with our grocery purchases or travel expenses. Occasionally, he will purchase clothes out of his discretionary spending or receive clothes as gifts for birthday or Christmas.
Medical expenses $0 Child & E have a $0 deductible plan by going to in network providers, $0 copay for mental health visits, Child has been really physically healthy. L has HDHP with $3,600 copay ($4,250 OOP max) – spouse’s employer contributes $1,200 per year to his HSA
Monthly subtotal: $2,841
Annual total: $34,092

Credit Card Strategy

Card Name Rewards Type? Bank/card company
Chase Sapphire Travel – UR points Chase Bank, currently have 128K UR points
Amazon Chase Amazon points – 5% Chase Bank, Currently have 23,127 Amazon points
Chase Freedom Flex Transferrable UR points Chase Bank
Chase Freedom Unlimited Transferrable UR points Chase Bank

Note: these credit card links are affiliate links.

Erin’s Questions for You:

1) What suggestions do you have for me if I were to transition out of public school education? What else could I do that would utilize my strengths as a teacher while also providing a solid income and not just contract rates?

2) Should I give up my teaching position and thus a good chunk of my pension? Or stay another 16 years and my pension goes up $3,500 per month at the age of 55. Right now, it’s only at $2,100 when I reach 65.

3) Do you have suggestions for how to best plan for the care of our special needs child when we are no longer able to?

4) Do you have suggestions for how my spouse and I can spend more time together with just us two, given the constraints of the pandemic?

Liz Frugalwoods’ Suggestions

Erin and Logan are in excellent financial shape, thanks to the careful decisions they’ve made over the years. I am impressed with their thoughtful approach to retirement, their son’s care and their values-based spending. In light of that, I feel that much of what Erin is asking for today is an outsider’s view on how she and Logan should proceed in a financial context. I’ll get into a few technical financial areas, but I think today will be more of an overarching review of where Erin and Logan are at this stage of life. Ok, let’s get to it!

Erin’s Question #1: What suggestions do you have for me if I were to transition out of public school education? What else could I do that would utilize my strengths as a teacher while also providing a solid income and not just contract rates?

More of Erin and Logan’s garden bounty!

As I read Erin’s story, it felt to me–in places–that she might’ve written this a year ago. I know she didn’t, I’m well aware she just wrote it, but many of her concerns feel more at home in the early days of the pandemic. I well remember the terror and fear of our initial months of Covid, when vaccinations were a wistful hope and it was unclear how exactly the virus spread (I personally spent a lot of time wiping down groceries with bleach wipes in those early days!).

Awful as the pandemic continues to be and persistent as these new variants are, we’re not back in the dark ages of Covid anymore.

It’s not “mission accomplished,” but it’s also not, “panic, we have no idea what we’re doing!” We’re in a bizarre purgatory of the pandemic. We’re at the stage of needing to learn to live with Covid and needing to figure out how to take reasonable risks. As much as we all wish we could eradicate Covid, it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen. It seems much more likely that most of us will get Covid at some point and that we need to adopt tenable mitigation measures to keep ourselves as safe as possible, but not walled off from each other forever.

To this end, it feels to me that Erin is perhaps still internalizing and living out the trauma and horror of March 2020, April 2020, May 2020–you know, the bad old days. This isn’t a criticism. Far from it, it’s an observation that as a classroom teacher, Erin bore the horrific brunt of this unfolding public heath catastrophe. Along with other frontline workers, Erin risked her life for her students, for her job, for her vocation as a teacher. I want to take a moment to recognize that and thank Erin for her dedication to her students and her willingness to risk her own health in order to serve others.

However, we are in a different place now. We are in the place of adaptation, not avoidance. It doesn’t seem like Covid is going to evaporate, but it does seem like we can all learn to live with it in a safe, feasible manner.

There are things we can do to keep ourselves safe(er) now, namely:

  1. Get vaccinated!
    • My husband and I got our Moderna booster shots earlier this week and I am so thankful for the awesome science that’s helping us stay safer. Safer is the operative word. There’s no way to eliminate all risks from our daily lives–from Covid to car crashes–sorry to say, none of us are immune from danger. But there are ways to mitigate these risks–by vaccinating, wearing masks, wearing seatbelts.
    • Ages 5 and up can now get vaccinated and our five-year-old gets her first dose this week. Hooray! She is SO excited and we are SO excited. As more kids get vaccinated, classroom teachers will add layers of safety to their imperative in-person work. Yes, I’m getting my daughter vaccinated for her own health, but even more so for the health of her teachers, her grandparents, our neighbors, everyone at our church, etc! It’s a community effort to keep one another safe.
  2. Wear a good mask!
    • We now know that masks help reduce the spread of Covid. Properly wearing a good, comfortable mask is an actual factual thing you can do to keep yourself and others safer. Safer.
    • I personally am a fan of the KN95 because it loops around the back of my head (I cannot STAND ear loop masks–feels like my ears are going to pop off). Once I figured out which mask I’m most comfortable in, I have no problem wearing it for hours at a time. I even sing with it on at church–no problem! Plus, it has a wire nose bridge and fits tightly to my face–all key elements of a good mask.

Staying in the Classroom?

Erin repeated a number of times that she loves teaching, that it’s her calling and that she doesn’t know what she’d do if she didn’t teach. Since she and Logan cannot live on Logan’s salary alone, she’s going to have to figure out a tenable solution. Rather than giving up on classroom teaching, I wonder if Erin could frame the question as:

How can I become more comfortable and feel safer in the classroom given the unlikely-to-end-soon realities of Covid? What are the things I could do to make my job feel tenable and enjoyable again?

Erin is a highly qualified teacher with a PhD and she could certainly do something other than teach in a classroom, but it doesn’t sound like she wants to. If she does want to leave classroom teaching, there are certainly avenues she can explore: curriculum development, administration, etc. But if she wants to remain a classroom teacher, I encourage her to start visualizing what it would look like to re-enter the classroom in the fall of 2022. Thankfully, she has a lot of time to think about this since she’s working from home for the rest of this school year. I encourage Erin to consider sitting down with a therapist to work through the trauma she carries from the awful early days of the pandemic. There’s only so much we can do for Erin here on the computer screen and I have benefitted tremendously from therapy at different challenging points in my life.

Erin’s Question #2: Should I give up my teaching position and thus a good chunk of my pension? Or stay another 16 years and my pension goes up $3,500 per month at the age of 55. Right now, it’s only at $2,100 when I reach 65.

Beautiful garden produce!

This is a tough one. From a purely financial perspective, it would likely make the most sense for Erin to continue teaching in order to qualify for her full pension. But of course life decisions are not made from a purely financial standpoint!

This is why I, again, encourage Erin to talk through her concerns with a therapist and do some imagining of what returning to the classroom might be like.

There have always been risks to doing things in-person and we all risk our lives every time we leave our houses. But that doesn’t stop us from doing it. We have to craft the risk-mitigation measures that make us feel ok about the jobs, the socializing, and all the other things we do.

Erin’s Pension

In terms of her pension plan itself, I encourage Erin to read the documentation for her pension and then meet with HR/her union rep/superintendent to ask any questions she has after reading it through.

The two most important things to figure out are:

  1. If the pension is inflation-adjusted.
  2. When that adjustment occurs.

A common pension structure is that the amount paid-out is inflation-adjusted until you retire and then it stops adjusting. Many pensions will stop the inflation-adjustment at the point of your departure. Erin should talk with HR to determine if her pension has inflation-adjustment parameters, where they are, and what happens if you retire before retirement age. The answers to these questions will give her more data to go on in making her decision to continue teaching or leave.

Erin’s Question #3: Do you have suggestions for how to best plan for the care of our special needs child when we are no longer able to?

This is another question we’re unlikely to be able to fully answer today, but I’ll do my best.

It is my understanding that most people do not find themselves in the position of needing both a 529 College Savings Account (which Erin and Logan have for their son) and a Third-Party Special Needs Trust (TP SNT). The purpose of a TP SNT is to ensure that folks with special needs are able to receive income (i.e. inheritance from their family) without negating their eligibility for government benefits, such as Medicaid. The trust shields the person’s assets from Medicaid recapture, which is typically used when the person is in residential care.

Here’s how the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys explains it:

The trust instrument usually provides for discretionary trustee powers to utilize income or principal for the benefit of a primary beneficiary, without replacing or diminishing any government benefits… There is no payback requirement to reimburse the state(s) for Medicaid provided to the beneficiary (source: NAELA Basics: Tax Basics of Special Needs Trusts, By Vincent J. Russo, JD, LLM, CELA, CAP, Fellow).

I know their son is only in first grade and the future is a long way away, but it’s my understanding that the likelihood of needing both a 529 (which is used for college expenses) and a Special Needs Trust (which essentially assumes the person will never work a high-paying, full-time job) is probably pretty low. I am not an expert on this and I encourage Erin and Logan to do their own research and see which avenue will make the most sense for their son.

Another option for Erin and Logan to research are ABLE accounts, which:

… are tax-advantaged savings accounts for individuals with disabilities and their families… The beneficiary of the account is the account owner, and income earned by the accounts will not be taxed. Contributions to the account, which can be made by any person (the account beneficiary, family, friends Special Needs Trust or Pooled Trust), must be made using post-taxed dollars and will not be tax deductible for purposes of federal taxes; however, some states may allow for state income tax deductions for contributions made to an ABLE account (source: ABLE National Resource Center).

In my research, I discovered it is possible to transfer money from a 529 to an ABLE account, but it sounds like it’s not a great idea from a taxation perspective (source: The Special Needs Alliance).

Additionally, if I understand the law correctly, I’m pretty sure you don’t have to make a decision on whether to establish a TP SNT until the child nears legal adulthood.

Another way to think about this is that given the uncertainty surrounding their son’s future, perhaps Erin and Logan should consider saving and investing money for their son outside of any particular tax-advantaged vehicle. This would enable them to make the decision when their son is older. Locking themselves into a 529 or an ABLE or TP SNT might not make sense at this stage. With the 529 in particular, the tax savings aren’t all that substantial. In their home state of Nebraska, the only tax savings with 529 contributions is a state income tax deduction. 

One way to look at this: Why get the (kinda meagre) tax benefit now and tie your money up in a particular vehicle that has a lot of restrictions? A route they might consider is to keep saving money–saving money is good–but don’t lock it into a restricted account that makes it tough to be flexible with that money in the future.

Erin’s Question #4: Do you have suggestions for how my spouse and I can spend more time together with just us two, given the constraints of the pandemic?

Erin and Logan’s cat

Time together as a couple–minus kids–is so important!!! Again, I feel like Erin’s concerns here are more indicative of the early pandemic as opposed to the point we’re at now. Erin noted that they have lots of family living nearby but that they’re not seeing them due to the pandemic, which I understood (and adhered to) in a pre-vaccine world. Post-vaccine, I agree that the risk is not zero, but it’s also not a zero risk to have their son attend in-person school.

I‘m curious why Erin feels they can’t hire a babysitter or drop their son off with the grandparents for a weekend or a night?

I would completely understand that approach a year ago, but I think we’re past that at this stage, particularly since Erin and Logan’s son is now eligible to be vaccinated. This is another topic I urge Erin to discuss with a therapist to come to some sort of resolution on what risks she and Logan feel comfortable taking. Again, it’s the question of, “how can I feel comfortable and safer given that we’re still living through a pandemic?” We all need to make reasonable, considered compromises for our longterm health, and our longterm health very much includes our happiness.

Asset Allocation Rundown

Ok, I want to turn my attention to Erin and Logan’s full financial picture, which as I noted above, is great!!! There are just a few tweaks I suggest they consider at this stage.

Erin’s Pension:

  • As noted above, Erin needs to read the full documentation on this thing and get any questions she has answered.

403bs and 457b:

  • Erin and Logan need to get the documentation for these and read through them (boring, I know!). While their employer may only offer one brokerage (TIAA-CREF or Vanguard), there should be multiple fund options within that brokerage. For my retirement accounts, what I’ve selected are low-fee, total market index funds. The key here are the expense ratios, sometimes referred to as “fees.” You want your fees to be low, low, low.
  • Someone at their employers’ knows the answers to these questions. Someone has the documentation they can run down. I do believe I very nearly drove the HR department crazy at my last job, but I made sure I was invested in total market, low fee index funds. It’s your money, you have a right to decide how it’s invested.

Tax Deferred Annuity Plan:

  • I call this into question. Please, please please figure out what the fees (expense ratios) are on this bad boy. Often, these things are not a good idea. AND they are one of the most lucrative products for financial salespeople to sell you.
  • An annuity CAN make sense at the end of retirement (when you’re in your 80s, say) and you’re concerned about longevity risk. If, at age 86, you want to hedge that you might live to 110, then an annuity might make sense because you would win if you did live that long. Of course, if you died the next day, the annuity company would keep all of your money. Even in this case, it is very easy to get scammed with an annuity.
  • I’ll say it again: annuities are one of the most lucrative products for financial salespeople to sell you. Erin and Logan should do their own research on this and determine if it’s actually a good deal for them.
  • I highly recommend they start by reading this Forbes article by Eve Kaplan: “Annuities: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.”
  • What’s an annuity? Eve Kaplan lays it out for us:

An annuity is a lump sum of cash invested to produce a monthly stream of income for a fixed period or for life. The income can start now (immediate annuity) or in the future (deferred annuity). Funds are not protected or insured by the issuers. The size of the future monthly check isn’t always a given – it depends if the annuity is fixed or variable. … I’m wary of the motives behind many financial product sales….especially lucrative variable annuities

Savings Accounts:

  • Another question I have is why Erin and Logan have three different savings accounts? It seems unnecessarily complicated to have money spread out over so many different accounts. I encourage them to consider combining these accounts into one account that earns a decent interest rate. Interest rates are low right now, but they should still get set-up with an interest bearing account.
  • One option for this is the American Express high yield savings account (affiliate link).

Credit Cards:


  1. I encourage Erin and Logan to sit down–ideally with a therapist–to discuss their concerns over Erin’s continuation as a classroom teacher. While the pandemic is by no means over, we are in a different place and a place it seems likely we’ll be in for awhile. Finding a way to tenably live with the risks of Covid seems to be our current directive.
  2. If, after this exploration, Erin is set against returning to teaching, then it’ll be time to start a job search for a new career. Erin is highly qualified and smart, so it shouldn’t be an issue for her to find another job. I just encourage her to first consider if she actually wants to leave teaching.
  3. Erin and Logan should take time to evaluate the probability of needing both a 529 and a Third Party Special Needs Trust. There are plenty of lawyers who specialize in this field with whom they could speak. The caveat, of course, is that a lawyer stands to make more money if you do set up a Trust than if you don’t. Consider the possibility of continuing to save and invest money outside one of these specific, and somewhat rigid, accounts. Then, make a determination once their son is close to age 18.
  4. Dig into the pension, retirement accounts and annuity and do all of the reading. Determine the expense ratios, fees and investments held by all these accounts. Make changes where needed. For guidance on investing, I recommend this book: The Simple Path to Wealth: Your Road Map to Financial Independence And a Rich, Free Life, by: JL Collins.
  5. Consider combining the three savings accounts into one for purposes of streamlining.
  6. Determine what would help them feel comfortable enough to hire a babysitter or leave their son with family while they get some couple time together. Will they feel comfortable once their son is fully vaccinated? If he wears a mask? What are the mitigation steps they can take on this front to feel safer?

Ok Frugalwoods nation, what advice would you give to Erin? We’ll both reply to comments, so please feel free to ask questions!

Would you like your own case study to appear here on Frugalwoods? Email me ( your brief story and we’ll talk.

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  1. Erin, first of all a million thanks for teaching. I also have a first grader and if I could send her K and first grade teachers on a tropical vacation or something I would, they are absolute angels in my eyes for what they have done the last two years.

    Secondly, I think Mrs. Frugalwoods is right about pandemic risk, and I am a healthcare person. I am in MA which I imagine is very different than Nebraska but this year has been pretty surprisingly normal. Our kiddo just got her first Pfizer dose last night, teachers are all vaccinated if they want to be, kids are in masks (I know this isn’t the case everywhere), and we haven’t seen spread in schools – they contact trace and rapid test every close contact in school and most don’t turn up positive. So especially by next year I predict this will be more like teaching through a bad flu season. I don’t mean to diminish your anxiety, though. I think none of us have processed the trauma of what the heck just happened. I wonder if some therapy to do that would be helpful? I’m doing so myself and it’s really been helpful.

    1. p.s. a couple of purely financial thoughts. I am a splitter not a lumper and I love having multiple savings accounts to keep things clear in my head. You do you!

      Also, a $2100 a month pension would not be nothing, especially if you had social security and with a paid off mortgage, which is amazing! Not sure if you would downsize or rent but I think you’re already in great shape. If teaching will really make you miserable it’s not worth doing for 16 more years.

      1. Hi Kate, taking a minute to respond during my lunch break at work. Thanks so much for your response.

        Yes, I am starting therapy soon to address various concerns resulting from the pandemic.

        We are all 3 vaccinated (spouse & I are both boostered as well & kid will receive his second dose next weekend. We signed him up for the vaccine as soon as he was eligible.)

        Our state & school system handles contact tracing a bit differently from yours, it sounds like. How fantastic that yours seems to be efficient and effective!

        1. I’m very grateful to live in a place where people take the pandemic seriously, and realizing after reading some comments that it may feel very different for those of us in places like MA and VT than in other areas of the country. I hope therapy will be helpful for you in clarifying what you want moving forward!

        2. That is so great to hear that you are going to be starting therapy soon. Remember that not every therapist is a good fit for each person, so if the first one you go to doesn’t fit well for you, don’t get discouraged with the process! It can sometimes take trying out 2-3 therapists before finding one you can really make progress with. You guys are in GREAT financial shape, and it doesn’t seem like either of you really want fo retire before 55, so working on how to get more comfortable with teaching next year is so important. Who knows, it could be possible to have a remote job next year if there is a lot of need for it from immunocompromised families. And if you are back in the classroom next fall, keep in mind that FMLA covers mental health issues, so you could look into taking time off if the anxiety is really too much.

        3. 16 years sounds long but if you can make it, since you love your job, do try. At the end you will be thankful that you stuck it out. Will make all the difference in your retirement. You would not have to worry about anything then. I was a nurse for 43 years and I cannot tell you how many times I came home overworked and “shell shocked” from the horrendous night I had at work. I remember so many times wanting to quit and go elsewhere. I did not have such a pension as you. I maxed out my 401k and Ira for decades and that has made such a difference in our retired lives. My husband did have a pension and only because he had a pension could I do this with so much of my earned money. So many people do not have pensions, don’t throw it away. You both have done a great job so far financially, now is the time to put the icing on the cake for all 3 of you. Get therapy to work through your issues. I worked during the HIV crisis in the 80’s when so many nurses walked off the job. I understand your fear. Therapy I am sure will help. You are young and fully vaccinated. You are better off than those of us in our 70’s. Don’t let it mess you up by giving up a job you love, not easy to find with such a great benefit sitting there in 16 years. Good luck to you.

  2. I can totally relate to Erin’s concerns. My parents are our regular babysitters but my dad’s coworker recently lost his vaccinated father who is similar age to my father to COVID. We don’t know his risk factors but it is very scary and sad. However, we, as a family, need to take calculated risks and wear our masks in stores, public environments, etc. My parents are going to a concert this weekend and everyone is required to wear masks. They could get COVID then but they also have their vaccines, their boosters, and will wear a mask. I was very afraid at the beginning of the pandemic but now I relate to it like a car accident – if a loved one died in a car accident, I would be so sad. If they died in a car accident due to not wearing their seat belt or driving drunk, I would be furious. Some risks I cannot support but some I have to acknowledge and support. A therapist will help Erin and Logan deal with this. Many therapists are remote now too!

    We also use a non-family babysitter. She is vaccinated and I am nosy so I know she is not taking lots of risks in her personal life. You could also ask them to wear a mask or have them babysit during the day outdoors with your child if you’re comfortable. 🙂

    1. HI Nora, thanks so much for responding! I have looked into for finding a babysitter pre-pandemic. I suspect that once our child is fully vaccinated (he is eligible the Saturday of Thanksgiving weekend), I will feel differently about finding a non-family babysitter.

      As an update to our babysitting situation, our son is very routine and structure based. He is someone who will immediately bond with a caregiver, or will want nothing to do with them. His aunts and uncles are all either unvaccinated (which means that they can’t see him, per our family guidelines) or they work in a setting where risk of them contacting Covid is very high. Additionally, our son’s grandparents are all either severely immunocompromised, or unvaccinated.

      But I will definitely check out to find a non-family babysitter once our child is fully vaccinated.

      1. Hi, Erin. I am jumping in here to ask a few other questions to consider. If your child has an ASD-level 2 diagnosis, are there any resources that might serve multiple purposes? Typically, with home ABA services, you would need a parent or guardian to be present, but some county funding and/or insurance funding offers respite services. If so, that could be another avenue to locate an appropriate babysitter who is in-tune to the structure and preferences that often come with working with individuals on the spectrum. I’m not sure what’s available in your area, but it might be worth an inquiry to the county.

        Additionally, on the off-chance you might be considering some additional support services, but are nervous about therapists in your home, there are ABA, Speech, or OT providers that are able to provide services through a remote platform. Again, it often varies by state approval for specific billing codes and/or specific insurance plans. It sounds like your son is doing well, but additional supports could potentially be a way for you to find more time to focus on your needs rather than managing/creating SEL or social interventions and could also be a chance for him to potentially have some additional opportunities for independence (if that is a need or priority for your family). Not sure if any of that is helpful, but thank you so much for sharing your current goals and progress! (I am a Board Certified Behavior Analyst by trade, so my thoughts tend to veer towards insurance funding and services available).

      2. That’s so sad that this child who doesn’t have siblings is now being isolated from his family members too. If the vaccine is effective, why isn’t it effective enough for him to be given time with his extended family again? I’m guessing he is around unvaxxed teachers and classmates all day at school, at the Y, in the grocery store, etc. it seems like you’re punishing your self and your child for other people’s choices that you disagree with, but you’re cutting off your nose to spite your face.

        1. Jean – Your comment comes across as judgmental and contains a lot of assumptions about Erin’s situation. It is not in line with the spirit of positivity and support expected in these case studies. Erin, thank you for being so vulnerable and sharing your story.

    2. Erin, I feel for you. You desperately need some couple time and you are just mentally, emotionally, and physically exhausted.
      I am a year 28 high school teacher and in person in a mask. I was virtual most of last year and it was hard but I was safe, it is so good to be back in the.classroom even though it’s hard in the mask with contact tracing and kids having to quarantine. I feel like I have to be strong for my teenage students. This takes a toll
      I tell my colleagues not to make decisions in this climate because this isn’t “normal”.
      It makes it hard that your family is not vaccinated. I just had an outdoor party with only vaccinated people and would not have included unvaccinated.
      I had to pause at your salary. I have two Masters and make over $90,000. Your salary with your level of education seems so low. Is it possible to move to a nearby higher paying district? If you left education, you would miss your vacation time that allows you to be on the same schedule as your son.
      You have a lot to think about. I agree with therapy and hiring non-family. A great source would be a young ECE teacher that your son likes. Is there a classroom aide?
      Thank you for sharing. My heart went out to you.

      1. Hi Amy, taking a quick break during my lunch to comment here re: my salary. When my son was born, I left a district that initially paid more but required a 45-60 minute commute each way. Additionally, that previous district would have ended lower on the salary scale. Simply put, I needed a job in the district where my child would attend school, I needed to be on the same school schedule as he is & I also needed a district that would pay me $80k+ once I reached year 30 & was therefore eligible for my pension. My current district meets all those requirements. So, I switched to this district as part of a very long game strategy.

        My salary might seem low, but does it clarify the net amount if I point out that I am contributing 9.78% to my pension, $19.5k per year to max my 403b (no 457 available at my employer), fund $3,600 in a childcare FSA & pay $313/month for health insurance premiums?

        Thank you so much for your response!

  3. To Mrs. Frugalwoods’s point about getting a family member or babysitter to watch her son… ASD children can be very, very difficult to care for, and they may not tolerate situations that are “out of the ordinary”, so getting away for couples time may not be so simple.

    To Erin – Thanks for sharing your story. So much to think about! I wish you all the best. I’m commenting because my oldest son was recently diagnosed with ASD at age 8, and much of your experience thinking about the future resonates with me. I had kind of the opposite situation with my son’s diagnosis where I felt like I spend years saying, “Is this really normal? Am I crazy for thinking this is not normal? Is this really my bad parenting?” and getting the “He’ll grow out of it” brush off. Until… oh wait… actually, he’s mildly autistic. He’s the stereotype of what was called Asberger’s syndrome before that was folded into ASD. So while he is also in a regular classroom like your son (and all credit for that is due to our school guidance counselor, who is my guardian angel), he struggles tremendously in social situations and it’s a bit less clear what the future will bring for him than for his neurotypcial siblings.

    Anway, raising an ASD kid is No. Joke. Best wishes with whatever you decide with your teaching position. Thanks so much for being there for our kiddos!

    1. Thank you for your comment and understanding of ASD children’s needs. Our son is more routine and structure oriented, and he also struggles with social situations, particularly where a caregiver will demand that he look them in the eye, or when he looks like he isn’t listening, but in fact, he is. I appreciate your response and insight!

    2. Chelsea, thank you for your insight about raising an ASD kid. Our son is very structure and routine oriented, and he also struggles with social cues. He has a hard time if a caregiver demands that he look them in the eye, or “show” that he is listening, as that looks very different for children who have ASD. Thank you for your response! See my earlier comment about looking into, specifically into providers who are experienced at working with ASD children for when we’re ready to look for an outside of the family babysitter.

  4. I echo all of Liz’s advice, particularly about finding someone to talk to about pandemic anxiety and trauma. A therapist can help not only with sorting out feelings around work, but help you assess your own risk factors and risk tolerance, in terms of visiting family, or asking grandparents or aunts/uncles to babysit so you can have some adult time.
    You sound so passionate about your work, and it seems you don’t want to give it up. Teachers were very much in the thick of it last year, and I can’t imagine how hard it must have been. But this year is different, and next year will be even better, especially with the younger kids getting vaccinated now. Maybe it would also be worth talking to colleagues who are teaching in person, to see how the vibe of the classroom is now? It might be much less of a “hair on fire” experience than it was last year. If you can delay making a decision on return to in person teaching, I would wait and see how things go over the next few months.
    Navigating how and when to open up from Covid is hard! We took it in baby steps. First, outdoor playdates with children whose parents were vaccinated. Then, we okayed kids playing indoors in vaccinated households. Now, while we still don’t go out to eat or spend time in crowded venues, our (vaccinated!) neighborhood feels like it’s approaching some sort of normal.

    1. Natasha, thank you for your response! I mentioned this in an earlier comment, but yes, I will be starting therapy soon to help mitigate some of the concerns brought about by the pandemic. I agree that it has been a challenge to decide how we opened up from Covid. Right now, we’ve decided to only see vaccinated adults, and to make sure that none of the adults we see are vaccinated but also severely immunocompromised. Unfortunately, this means that our son cannot see his grandparents – as all are either unvaccinated or vaccinated by severely immunocompromised. The lack of family time has been incredibly hard for our child, and while his grandparents are perfectly willing to see him (vaccinated or not), we are not comfortable with the risks posed by that interaction. Thank you so much for your reply!

      1. Erin, I am right there with you. I also wouldn’t be comfortable letting our kids be around unvaccinated, unmasked adults. That makes it doubly hard for you and your partner. Facetime and video calls just aren’t the same in terms of family interaction. That’s a tough situation. Wishing you all the best – hang in there!

  5. An entirely kind, thoughtful, and spot-on assessment. The collective trauma we have all been through will take years to process.

    I don’t have children myself but I would hate to lose someone as dedicated as Erin in the classroom. Erin, I hope you are able to find the support and help you need so you are able to continue teaching. If, however, you find you cannot or do not want to, money is not enough of a reason to stay (although it’s an understandably tempting one!). I hope you find your path – I am rooting for you!

    1. Thank you, Jen. I would hate to leave the classroom as I love my students so very much. I appreciate your reply and your kind words!

  6. I agree that Erin would be served well by talking to a therapist to sort things out. She may or may not be experiencing trauma based fear, but a counselor can also help her sort through her feelings and get clarity on what she wants.

    I personally think 16 years is a long time to work at a job that drains you (if things don’t go back to what she can enjoy). We don’t really know what will happen in the future.

    I would encourage her to think wide, journal all the crazy possibilities, and open her heart to see if there is something else that will allow her to enjoy her working years. They are in a financial position for her to explore this. Ideas may include working at a smaller or private school, creating a business of her own that includes teaching, creating a program for kids, doing something around kids with autism, working 1:1 with kids, coaching or teaching adults anything from cooking to being better teachers to improving their lives, etc. Whatever it is should feel aligned with their goals and dreams and leave space for their relationship.

    Dreaming doesn’t mean they have to do it, or do it now. It’s about getting clear about their options and what they want to create together. They might wait and see how next year pans out and just be more ready if they need to pivot then. Or, they might discover a big dream that wasn’t on their radar before that they both feel excited about starting.

    Whatever they choose to do, I wish them the best and trust they will do well.

    1. Linda, thank you for your reply! There are actually other opportunities that I could explore next year, but they are a significant step down in terms of income. A few others have asked if I’m able to take a leave of absence from my job – and yes, I do have that ability. I appreciate your statement that we “are in a financial position for [me] to explore this.” My spouse and I have talked a lot about this very issue. Thank you for your thoughtful words.

    2. I love what you said about “dreaming doesn’t mean you have to do it, or do it now.” That’s something I personally really needed to hear right now and take to heart as I think about the things I would love to do but realistically cannot do at least for awhile. It makes it seem less frustrating to focus on the dreaming being the point, not that it needs to be actualized in the near future.

  7. I completely agree with Mrs. Frugalwood’s points about the reader’s COVID fears expressed. Given the highly effective vaccines available to you and your family, I encourage you to work on letting go of some of that fear, with the help of therapy if needed.

    1. Megan, thank you for taking the time to respond. Yes, my spouse and I are fully vaccinated and boostered, and our child will be fully vaccinated by mid-December (2 weeks after his second dose.) I will be starting therapy soon to help me address some of the concerns brought about by the pandemic. Thank you for your response!

  8. I’m a twenty year fireman/emt, I’ve literally been on 500+ calls during this pandemic, all I can say is Erin should live her life and do the things she enjoys. Take the necessary precautions that you deem prudent, but you simply cannot live life terrified! I think therapy is definitely in order. I’m just going to tell you from a first hand on the street perspective, it’s just not that dangerous or that big of a concern. You literally have a 99.9%+ chance of being ok! Enjoy your blog, thanks!

    1. Thank you for sharing your experience, Chris Lenox. I agree that most people get through Covid ok, but we have several adult family members (my son’s grandparents) who are all either unvaccinated or vaccinated but severely immunocompromised. So, I do consider it my responsibility to protect them from the virus. Thank you for taking the time to respond and share your experience.

      1. Thanks for sharing your story Erin.
        Like you, I feel responsibility for our actions towards others. That’s the main reason our son (13) is vaccinated. Also he himself benefits by not being excluded from outings and such, but he really has little chance of becoming terribly ill.
        But at the same time our own influence reaches only so far. I really want people who aren’t vaccinated yet, to get a vaccine. That would reduce their risk a lot more than everything I can do for them. But I can’t make them if then don’t want to. It’s up to them.
        And similar with other risks: we all value them differently. As an example: during the first months of Covid no visiters were allowed in elderly care homes here. Some people faded away, lost their joy in life alltogether. As a result we now say no visitors is not worth the downsides; people dying because of misging their loved ones is not a price we should pay.

        And while I struggle with it, I try to not take over others responsibility in reducing risks. And also let them make their own risk evaluations. For example, your vaccinated but immunocompromised parents(/in law) might want to see their grandson even while it’s a risk to them. For the short term I am with you to prevent that, but now that Covid is going to stay in some form, maybe they are right….. maybe not seeing him untill, when actually…? is far worse than the risk of catching Covid.
        And for the others, the unvaccinated ones (presuming they have a choice): I find it hard to understand why people choose not to get a vaccine. But it is an important right to refuse treatment. With some people it’s ‘easy’ to not see them so much if you don’t agree on this. But family cannot just be replaced by different family. Maybe, in the long run, it is an option to soort of respect their choice along with the risk it gives. And not burden yourself so much with the risk they choose to take.

        Anyway, complicated things. Good luck and hurray for starting therapy.

  9. I resigned from teaching at the end of last school year, my 16th year, with eight more years before retirement. While I did get covid while teaching (thankfully not a major case), that was not my reason for leaving. Unlike you, I did NOT love my job. There were definitely things I did like, but I could not stand the bureaucracy of it all any more, and like you, I didn’t want to become one of THOSE teachers who should’ve quit earlier. I’m also at a different stage of life as my kids are grown and launched. I also have other things to go to; I’m farming full time now and loving it.

    Several years ago, when it was 11 years to retirement, a wise person told me 11 years is a long time to be unhappy in my job. I worked three more before I got enough confidence to jump ship. I guess I give you the same advice. Sixteen years is a big chunk of your life. Maybe commit to one or two more years and see what you think. You love teaching, and I don’t think online options will go away but they might not be with your district (which I know affects retirement). Back in the physical classroom might be wonderful next year.

    1. My other thought is that you have done an outstanding job of saving!! Those savings will continue to grow… and you will be well supplied in your retirement.

      1. Chris, thank you for your kind words. I fully realize that this may look like a nontraditional reader case study, where our finances may look different than other readers’ case studies. I really take to heart your comment that our savings will continue to grow, and that we will be well supplied in our retirement. Perhaps this is a question of when is enough, enough?

    2. I echo your sentiment Chris. I just resigned from my teaching job after 15 years of service. I was brave enough to realize that given the stress and mental health, a full pension is not worth it if I am not going to be around to enjoy it.

      1. GratefulSaver, thank you for your work and dedication as a teacher. I hope that you enjoy your retirement and I wish you all the best!

  10. I don’t have anything to add as Mrs.F did a very good job. But I have to say that this family is doing an amazing job saving for their retirement and living on such a low budget. Of course, I am not aware of the average annual budget for a family of 3 or 4 in that part of the USA, so I’m comparing to my family’s budget which will be $60k+ this year (we’re 4 humans w/o pets, also in a fairly large city in Southeast). You’ve been truly doing a wonderful job.
    Finally, I have a friend who’s also a teach in the middle school who’s also extremely concerned about the virus and safety. She was afraid to go back to work, but the last time I talked to her on Halloween night, she said that she’s going with the flow because otherwise she wouldn’t be able to handle mentally. So, she managed to shift her fearful attitude/mentality and it seems to be helping her with coping with the current situation. Yes, if she had other options, she’d drop out in almost a heart beat.

    I also would like to ask about KN95 masks because I was looking at them and N95 at HomeDepot last weekend.
    – Does it matter where you buy KN95 (or N95) masks, are they supposed to be the same quality and provide very comparable protection? I didn’t purchase at HD thinking that it perhaps differs from a place that doesn’t sell for construction, but now I think that it’s probably my personal misconception.
    – Are KN95 reusable or must they be thrown after 1 or 3 days of use? If so, that’s where my concern with thrashing comes in. We’ve been using cloth facemasks that we wash. I also have masks that have a pocket for a filter to be inserted. I don’t know how protected we’re wearing them though. OTOH, we strive to keep distance whenever it’s possible.
    – Yes, I’ve seen articles and comments of experts stating that masks are helpful in these unfortunate times, but for some reason I don’t see anything mentioned about special glasses or face shields that can be worn too as protection, yet I see quite a few nurses and doctors wearing in their offices when I go or take my kids for their appointments. So, I’m trying to figured out whether eye protection is also necessary against corona or whether they wear for their psychological comfort only. If anyone has any info I could refer to, please share.

    Thank you.

    1. As a nurse working in a hospital, we are supposed to wear eye protection. I think it’s just because of the much bigger risk of being around sick people in close quarters. As in, if I am your nurse I can’t stand 6 feet away from you while you are coughing. And I work with kids who are constantly coughing in your face. There is a risk of transmission through the eyes (because it’s a mucous membrane just like nose and mouth), but it seems to be very small. Being out in public I think your chances of transmission through the eyes is almost non-existent.
      I actually rarely wear eye protection at work because I can’t stand it squeezing my head or fogging up and I have never gotten Covid from work.
      Hope that helps!

    2. I think the medical eye protection is to protect from body fluid splashback, which most of us probably don’t have to worry about too much? I will say that the sweet young kids in my circle are an exception, as they often get within less than a foot of my face to talk/ yawn/ accidentally cough/ chew while chatting… and I kinda wish I had face protection then…

      1. There is some evidence that eye protection in addition to masks reduces your chances of infection. I’m trying to think of a better way to say it than “you can get covid into your eyeballs” but words are failing me!

        1. For general cold/flu season one of the most common ways that surface germs get you infected is by touching a contaminated surface and then rubbing your eyes. The eyes have few mechanisms to keep germs out or neutralise them compared to the nose (mucous and nostril hairs) and mouth (stomach acid). I imagine that COVID would have similar concerns in terms of the eyes being another source of potential infection.

    3. On the subject on KN95/N95 masks whether you buy them at Home Depot or not is not going the make a difference. They are basically the same thing. One is just manufactured as medical grade and one everything else. Both masks do the same job. In fact , HD, Lowes, and such sent hospitals their masks at the beginning of the pandemic. And the KN95 and N95 are basically the same mask just different manufacturers. Hope that helps

    4. N95s are NIOSH-certified, 5 layer face masks that filter 95% particulate. KN95s are the Chinese version of N95s. There are reputable brands as well as counterfeits on the market. Last year, when there was a PPE shortage for healthcare workers, many KN95 masks were given EUA authorization. The EUA authorization was removed because there is no longer is N95 mask shortage. If you buy KN95s, try to find ones that were on the original EUA list. N95s and K95s are more protective than cloth or surgical masks and were originally designed to be single use. However, they were designed for healthcare workers or people who work in BSL-3/BSL-4 facilities. If you are not in a high-risk environment (i.e., mainly use them in grocery stores or other public settings), they can definitely be reused.

      Erin, we avoided hiring babysitters through the early part of the pandemic too. Our son is too young to be vaccinated. Now, we keep several boxes of rapid tests around and we test him before we visit our parents and/or if we hire a babysitter. If you do hire a vaccinated babysitter, you could ask them to test themselves before sitting for your son (and test your son).

    5. S&M, thank you for your response and kind words. Our city and state is generally well known for our low cost of living. We were fortunate to buy our forever home before housing prices really skyrocketed. I have not worn a KN95/N95 mask to work, but perhaps I should look into that. Thank you for asking about it.

  11. Does your son qualify for MA and case management services? He might qualify for various wavered services and benefits based on his diagnosis either now or in the future once he’s an adult. I have to assume that based on his diagnosis alone he qualifies for case management services (I could be wrong, every state does things differently!) This could answer a lot of your questions about long term planning and eligible services. I would strongly encourage you to reach out to your County human services department and request information/make a referral. I used to be a case manager, and I know that every step of the process can be super confusing!

    1. Yes! Definitely call your county. Even if he doesn’t qualify for MA, he may qualify for other programs (sometimes there are grant-based programs, it really depends on the state). Your county human services department will be able to help you navigate this and figure out what you can access. Don’t assume you won’t qualify for programs just because you have a higher income or insurance through work.

      1. Hi Chris and Brittany, thank you for your responses. Is MA Medicaid? He does receive special education services in our public school, if that’s what you mean by case management services. I’m not even sure who I’d call in our county, but I can start with Autism Services in our state. It’s a call I’ve been putting off for a while, so thank you for reminding me to get that done!

        1. Yes MA is medicaid. The name is slightly deceptive in that MA doesn’t pay for just medical care, but it can also cover adaptive equipment, staffing, residential, employment, day services, mental health support, and case management. (typically these would be known as wavered services, and eligibility for specific services all comes down to what assessed needs are). Former Case Manager here. I can tell you this whole system is poorly designed and far far from user friendly! The best things to do are to start early with everything, ask lots of questions of the county, and to really do your homework. Again, I can’t speak to anything specific with Nebraska, but since the funding originates with federal dollars, there is a lot available.

          I would say the place to start would be your county’s health and human services department.

  12. Hi Erin!
    I can relate to some of your concerns, so I’m just coming in to say : I get it. I am a healthcare worker. The last 2 years have be hard, to say the least. But I agree with Mrs Frugalwoods : times have somewhat changed, things are getting better, and we have to adapt and keep moving foward. I you really do love teaching, please don’t let this virus stop you! Life is made of surprises, we can’t plan for everything. I sense a lot of anxiety and also support the idea of seeing a therapist (been there, done that, it’s great!). I’m 41, and I spent the last 10 years questionning my career and wishing to have the means/time/energy/motivation/courage to go back to school. I’m finally at that place and I’m going back to University in january to eventually get my Masters degree in Social Work (5 years process… )! This means letting go of my “”pension at 55″” and, yes, it’s not easy. But to me it’s worth it because I will (hopefully) make a better salary once I get my diploma and will not have to work with my body anymore, therefore anticipating working pass 55. IF you want to switch job or go back to school, not because you are scared of Covid but because you feel a longing for something new, then by all means if you can do it, do it! But reflect on the “why” first. As for a child on the ASD, I can also relate. I am now in the process of having my 11 year-old daughter evaluated. And possibly my 9 year-old as well. They are both highly functionnal, but there’s still challenges to adress. It’s VERY important to know what will happen if you’re not there anymore, and you seem to have this in place somewhat. There’s also (with reason) anxiety there that needs to be adressed, again, maybe with the help of a therapist. Hug!

    1. Isa, thank you for your comments, and I hope that you are able to get some insights on your children’s needs and if they are on the spectrum. I appreciate your kind words.

  13. One additional thought: a health savings account (HSA) is the ONLY triple-tax-advantaged account in existence in the US: your money goes in pre-tax, you’re not taxed on the account’s earnings, and you’re not taxed when you spend it. Consider continuing to contribute to this account but not using it for copays. That way, when you’re older and have more healthcare needs, you’ll have a sizeable fund you can use for any health-related expenses.

    1. Thank you, Sandy. This is our plan for the HSA – pay OOP while we can now, and then save receipts (digitized, of course) and send those in for reimbursement when we need to.

  14. Erin, I agree 💯 with our lovely host, seek some therapy as you mentioned mental health is a covered benefit. Your response sounds trauma induced. I know we think of trauma differently than a pandemic, but you went to work fearing for your life and I’m sure the stress of bringing home COVID to your family. Therapy is a must! I’m not going to comment on the financials, not my expertise.
    I do have 3 special needs kids 26, 24 and 21. I’ve been where you are, an uncertain future and lots of stress over what do we do if we die before they grow up?!
    First breath. You got this one day at a time. My kids have mental health and physical disabilities. My oldest had severe seizures (70% of the time his brain was seizing without medication) but physically he was fine. He also suffered from a form of hyper sensory disorder. His little brother and sister have SMA (Spinal Muscular Atrophy a neuro-muscular disorder). With SMA we’ve dealt with paralyzing anxiety and sever depression. (Suicide watches included).
    When I tell you, find time for you and your spouse, it is critical. As our kids grew the demands got harder, we handled them better because we were getting some muscle in dealing with it all, but in the beginning, I should have gotten therapy to handle all the fears. We lived in a town home next door to a couple who had escaped from Sadam Hussein, the husband was an architect and had been captured and detained by Sadam to build a palace for himself. Their family was able to flee and come to America, but they came with nothing. I learned about finding time for your spouse from them. Every night they would prop their front screen door open and look out at the picturesque pond, geese and trees (we lived in Michigan at the time) they would bring out a little tray table, light a candle and bring wine and a snack. They would sit together with the door open so they could hear their kids but they got time together. We were dirt poor at that time so I found our own version (wine way out of my budget then) we would turn on a cartoon for the boys (daughter wasn’t born yet). Or find another activity and we’d play Nintendo together my spouse is like yours a gamer. He would hold the controls and game but I would help navigate and find the Easter eggs in the game. It was a free date. We couldn’t afford gas, babysitter and we lived all alone in Michigan no family for thousands of miles. That winter was the “coldest in 25 years” according to the news and if you had a child under the age of 5 you weren’t allowed to take them outside because their lungs could freeze. ( I know it’s crazy). I felt like everything was crushing me, I felt trapped in my own life. Tips, you have availed yourself of lots of resources for your son, good job! Something we have done when we couldn’t leave our kids for various reasons was have a babysitter come to our house and have a date in our room, we’d cook together and eat in a room with a door we could close, it took a little training for our daughter to let us have our dates, but consistency won out. Finding time for a marriage with a special needs child feels impossible a lot of day, because you make a plan and all hell breaks loose on the day you planned and it can feel like what’s the point? But persevere your family is worth it, your marriage is worth it. We care takers forget to take care of ourselves when we’re spread thin. I will say this about your pension, my Dad worked his but off, he died in December a multi millionaire, never made more than 40k. But my Mom and him did everything right, a month after he retired my Mom was diagnosed with cancer and gone 3 weeks later. All that work, all that planning and he didn’t get to do any of the travel or living they had planned together, he lived another 20+ years, but didn’t do any of what he’d planned with my Mom. All the planning in the world doesn’t guarantee you tomorrow, all the great investments don’t promise things will go the way we plan. Life is fleeting, beautiful, scary, exhausting, fun, but it is not predictable. Make your plan, set it in motion, stick to your parameters but then, LIVE! If you are stressed about work, find a private school that gives you more support, or as was suggested shift to some other area of education, teach university? My Mom taught ESL and English at university and was part of the local theater, on city council, created park programs… and so much more, my point is there is way more to life than money. Money is the tool that facilitates life. That’s it. Set it and move on. Staying at a job that causes constant mental distress is not worth all the money in the world to me. But I’m not you! Seek a trained professional to help you dissect what you NEED and WANT out of your life. You got this! I’m cheering for you!! Hug from one Mama to another!

    1. Lola, neither am I Erin (obviously) nor am I in a similar situation to hers or yours… but thank you for your beautiful comment. It really touched me. So much that I saved it for low future moments. Love from Germany. <3

    2. So much wisdom and strength from reading this post. “All the planning in the world doesn’t guarantee you tomorrow”

    3. Lola Hardy, your reply brought tears to my eyes. You are so right that no one can truly predict the future,and yes, a person’s marriage is worth all the work & care it needs to keep it healthy. Despite decades of health challenges (mostly his), my husband & I are now living our “golden years” as best we can and as safely as possible, Covid or not. We each must decide our own tolerance for danger.Best wishes to all.

    4. Lola, thank you for sharing your experience. That’s essentially the conversation that my spouse and I are having right now – tomorrow isn’t guaranteed, so how do we best use our remaining time and money. I have known quite a few people who have retired hoping to enjoy the fruits of their labor and then, for a variety of reasons, they were unable to.

  15. My husband is a special ed teacher too and it’s still a nightmare in schools right now. I don’t think Erin is being overy cautious here! Teachers in his district (who are already vaccinated and required to wear masks) are still getting covid and the school is constantly short-staffed which means everyone is spead thin and just trying to make it through the day. Is it possible for Erin to work remotely for another year to see how things unfold? No one seems to know whether covid is here to stay or if we will eventually reach some sort of herd immunity. She also mentioned having a PhD in education. Could she considering being some sort of online professor in education so she doesn’t have to leave the field? Could she still have access to her pension working part-time in the same district? Maybe as a sub,etc.?

    1. Yes, Kim! I was coming on to say the same thing. While I understand that many aspects of our society have returned to business as usual, teaching is still far from normal, and it’s hard to know when/if will ever get back there. This year is WORSE for teachers than the previous two years. Not health-wise, because we’re vaccinated now, but with the demands and work-load that are being heaped upon us, it is absolutely the worst year so far. I am in my 17th year in education, so in a very similar position to Erin. Teachers are leaving public education in droves, and there are no subs to be found, so when teachers are out, their students are dispersed among other classrooms, or lunch monitors are chaperoning classes. Central office staff are being deployed to cover classes. (I work in Boston Public Schools, but I can’t imagine my district is the only one taking this approach.) We rarely have planning periods any more because specials teachers (art, music, PE, STEAM) are being used to cover homeroom classes. There are no substitute cafeteria workers or maintenance staff. In my district, teachers are frequently taking out our trash, cleaning our classrooms, and serving school meals. The closest school to mine is currently closed for 10 days due to 46 confirmed COVID cases across 21 classrooms (student body ~400). This job is close to unrecognizable at times. I do hope the situation improves in the next few years, but Erin is right to be worried about whether she can withstand another 16 years of it. Yes to therapy!!!

      1. I am in SPED and this year is worse than ever. Constant chaos, massive student mental health crises, high caseloads, and stretched administration (so little in the way of time left for them to support staff). After making it through the worst of the covid crisis I am now seriously considering leaving the profession–even though that means abandoning my pension. Anyone who says “We are almost back to normal” is probably not working in education and is definitely not working in special education.

        1. SK, why do you think this year is worse? I was teaching as recently as spring 2020. Elementary sped. Didn’t return due to out of state move. Currently at home with small children, but intend to return 1-2 years to another sped position.

          Is it pandemic trauma? Had hoped with more in person instruction and vaccines things would improve. Would appreciate your opinion.

        1. Oh Kim, Luisa, SK, Leslie…so much here that I am seeing in our classrooms. While I teach remotely, I am in the school doing so. I work out of a classroom in a school building. I see the kids, I see my in person colleagues, and there is so much trauma and secondary trauma coupled with compassion fatigue from the adults. And the comment that I hear the most often is “But what do we do next?” Putting one foot in front of the other for years on end is hard for anyone, much less a profession where people are used to helping and fixing. How do you help and fix things when the causes are so multifaceted?

      2. I’m a health care worker married to a teacher, and I was gobsmacked when Mrs. Frugalwoods said that the pandemic was last year and any ongoing concerns are a result of last year’s trauma. Life is somewhat safer for some people, but we are not those people.

    2. Hi Kim,

      Thank you for bringing this up. As a high school teacher myself, I don’t think the public understands the anxiety teaching in today’s context induces. On top of pandemic issues, there was unfortunately a school shooting in my district recently (thankfully no one was killed- it was very isolated between two students), and on top of everything we have heightened security measures. I try to never leave my classroom during instruction, but since we get almost no time throughout the day without kids, I’ve used the restroom a couple of times this year and have felt a complete panic the entire time about an active shooter incident without me being in my room. The amount of pressure teachers are under right now is not well understood, and it seems like whatever pressures Erin must be dealing with in her own district are likely contributing to her anxiety about returning to the classroom.

      1. HSHistoryTeacher, thanks for unpacking all of those concerns. Yes, yes, yes. I see so many needs, and I am having a hard time seeing which way to turn to fix it or at least help fix it. I want to help, I want to fix things FOR my kids and FOR my colleagues.

      2. This, this this. I’m a fellow teaching on leave right now for similar reasons (19 years in). I don’t think anyone outside of our profession really gets what’s going on. Every teacher I’ve talked with says that this year is even worse than last year. I don’t have any advice, as I’m currently in the same spot, and I think back and forth about it every day. It’s not just about COVID, and it’s not just about those early fears. It’s everything.

    3. Came here to say the same. Being a teacher in a red state continues to be a dangerous and traumatizing experience. Erin, your concerns are real and you are doing the best that you can given horrible circumstances. I would recommend contacting a therapist not to get over “irrational fears” but to process what may be the PTSD of bring a frontline worker and special needs parent during a global pandemic.

      1. Jen, thank you for your kind words. Right now, my city’s vaccination rate of eligible teens sits around 40%. That is the population I typically work with in person, those who are 12+. There is SO much else I have on my mind with your post, but I’m going to keep it brief and leave my own political ideology out of it 🙂 Thank you for your support and encouragement to do what I need to do for my own health and well-being.

  16. The Tiaa- Cref Annuity is different from other annuities. The history of Tiaa is complicated — it’s not a straight brokerage. You still have to watch fees etc. But it also has some offerings unique to it. Just be careful not to lump it in with all other annuities. Do your research here carefully– Tiaa can be great and can also be the most convoluted, confusing entity.
    Disclaimer: my “teaching pension ” comes from my Tiaa annuities.

    1. Carol B, thank you for this! I was today years old when I found out that TIAA-CREF annuities are different than other annuities. I will look into this!

  17. I have a couple of suggestions…
    First, if at all possible, I would recommend staying in your job to be able to take advantage of the pension. However, if you are already feeling burned out, or stretched too thin, this might not be the most healthy decision to make. I have my doctorate in optometry, and when I sold my practice at the age of 43, I started teaching at one of our local universities in the biology department. If you have a doctorate, they want you! Check your community colleges, as well as your four year colleges. You can work part time or full time. In person, or online. while teaching college students, particularly nontraditional students who are older, will be different from children, it is still very fulfilling. The pay isn’t fabulous, but it could be enough for your needs.
    Also, if it turns out your son is unable to attend college or care for himself when he reaches his twenties or older, check out fabulous facilities like Disability Resources, Inc here in Abilene. I’m sure there is a similar place in your area. I have visited DRI several times. The people who work with this population love them, and will do anything to help them feel fulfilled.
    But I have a friend who has a son on the autism spectrum who is very high functioning. And he works in computers for his father, and has his own apartment!
    Listen to your own internal needs first.

    1. Hi Angela, thank you for your information about diversifying my employment opportunities. I did teach for several universities for about 8 years part-time and in the summers before my son was born. Once my son was born, though, we decided that I would take a step back from that part-time work, since I did that in addition to full time K-12 teaching. I do like the idea of reopening those channels, though, as I’ve been contacted by my former employers and I’ve turned them down in the past. Thank you for your response!

  18. Hi there! Just curious about your 2006 Camry…how did you determine it’s value is $6,000? I have an ’09 Camry and it’s valued at just under $4,000 (just got the bill for the registration so that’s what I’m going by).

    1. Hi Allison in KY, I determined my Camry’s value based on a combination of Kelley Blue Book for my zip code and also my local mechanic who literally said that she’d buy it for $6k and add it to her fleet. I said thanks, but no – but I would take her continual (awesome) care of my car.

      1. Don’t blame you one bit for not selling…..I passed my ‘09 Camry on to my 18-year-old and fully expect it to last him through college and hopefully beyond. I drive a 2012 Rav 4 and we also have an ‘03 Matrix and a ‘96 T100. With proper maintenance they just keep going and going!

  19. I am surprised (and disappointed) this was considered and now posted as a personal finance case study as this is without a doubt a situation that needs to be addressed by a therapist, privately. This is actually case study of several kinds of trauma. The continued “Day 1” response to the 22 month old pandemic in which the CDC just announced -quietly- that it is shifting away from herd immunity goals towards endemic mitigation (Seattle Times/LA Times) is only part of this. The other trauma is not having reconciled with the special needs diagnosis. We have a ASD child (he is 18 year old) and my nephew has ASD (he is 11). I will keep it honest and say that, yes, future is terrifying. My sister-in-law, for a few years after her son’s dx, would have panic attacks while stuck in traffic. They would come up in other situations too. Oddly she’s like you… bright, articulate, highly educated and in Education and Psychology and she is… similarly struggling with post-covid world. She has a history of needing to have absolute control of things that are simply not controllable. So situations like traffic jams would trigger a very painful reaction. Unfortunately the pandemic has blown through a lot of her hard-earned coping strategies defense mechanisms. On my side… I recognized ASD when my boy was about 9 months, but I had to spend the next 3 years waiting for the medical establishment to recognize it. He’s been in and out of an IEP and accommodation. He’s taken a few advanced courses, but he’s currently failing AP Chemistry and holding on by a thread in PreCal (one week with a tutor and his grade has gone up.. there’s hope there!). He’s going off to “college” next year and I don’t know what that means still. I know it doesn’t mean a state school. I think it means a trade school or community college. It’s terrifying to have him drive on his own. It’s terrifying to think of getting old and dying because we literally have no close family (my husband is not from the US and neither is my brother and sister-in-laws) and our younger son is literally on the other side of ASD… very social and callous… So we have done EVERYTHING to save, save, save for a “retirement of 3”. I think our son can remain independent with support. So it will be our job to figure out how to make this happen in the decades to come. We can afford to buy him a condo, but we need to figure out where. We will be setting up a trust (but admittedly haven’t started yet). I absolutely expect that he will have a job and his own income, but I absolutely expect it will fall short of his needs. And I absolutely expect to not put this on my younger son’s shoulders.

    I’m so sorry. It’s a very difficult moment for this individual.

    This is not a personal finance story.

    1. HI SJ.

      Thank you for this response. I agree. This situation is so much more than a financial question.

      As the parent of a very complex special needs child who died (not of COVID) during the pandemic I concur with everything you say. Planning of any kind, and financial planning in particular, is a completely different kettle of fish with a child that may, or will, remain dependent in perpetuity – not to mention having additional, often steep, financial costs associated with care. This is one of those situations that, as Liz pointed out, expert advice is essential (both financial, and supportive). Our plan was for a retirement of three as well. We would never place our son in a group home or institution, so the only option was that he remain in our care.

    2. I think we should be very cautious about ”diagnosing” trauma based on a post on the internet and our own feelings (as you are doing when you are saying that she has not reconciled with the special needs diagnosis and then go on to say that you know because you also have a special needs child). It is always good to be mindful of the fact that just because you have been through something, you don’t know how everyone else who is in a simulator situation feels.

      1. Amanda, thank you for your kind words. As I mentioned to SJ, I do not feel any trauma about my son’s diagnosis. Sure, there was what we had hoped for (as is the case with, I imagine, any expectant parent.) But children have their own personalities and teach us as parents a lot about adapting and finding joy in the differences. A well-meaning parent once said that she pitied my circumstances, referencing the possibility that our child may not ever live independently, and I simply asked her “why?” I have a lovely child who has hopes, dreams and wishes for friends just as any other child would. He is so much more than I deserve. He teaches me so much each and every day, and I am forever grateful for everything I learn (even the hard stuff) because of him.

    3. Hi SJ, thanks for your response. While it’s Liz’s blog, and it’s therefore her choice to put what she wants to in the blog, I would say that this is (in my opinion) a reader case study about lifestyle choices. I agree that it’s not purely a personal finance study, but rather, I am looking for guidance on what to do with my career and how to best use what I’ve saved to essentially, live my best life. I found your comment about “not having reconciled with [my son’s] special needs diagnosis” to be quite interesting. I certainly do not feel that I have any trauma regarding my son’s diagnosis with ASD. My son has taught me a lot about reaching neurodivergent learners. He is who he is, and now I simply need to plan financially for that.

  20. Thank you for your service as a public school teacher. I was very grateful for the resourcefulness and dedication of my girls’ public school teachers during the virtual months as well when they returned to school. I was also on the front lines during the pandemic and because of my career have read a lot about risk. Humans are really terrible at assessing risk. We use all sorts of heuristics that steer us wrong. Liz mentioned risk is everywhere and to put that in numbers- about 250 kids (I used the incidence numbers so rounded) under 18 died from car accidents during just the year 2017 in my state while from March 2020 to September 2021, 5 kids under 18 have passed, again in my state. You are likely more worried about adults anyway because the numbers are much worse for adults, which leads me to my next question. Is your family vaccinated against Covid-19? There are a lot of concerns about vaccinations amongst parents of kids with autism, so I wonder if being unvaccinated is part of why Covid is so scary at this time. If that is the case, please consider making an appointment to discuss vaccines with a trusted provider who offers them in the clinic. Vaccination can be a touchy topic and may be something your family researched at one point and came to conclusions that may change when you reassess in light of the pandemic. Or maybe you all are vaccinated in which case, I recommend not only talking to a therapist but looking at the data and they way hospitalizations and death rates have changed.

    1. Hi Maggie, thank you for your response. Yes, my spouse and I are both fully vaccinated and boostered. Our son received his first dose of the Pfizer pediatric vaccine the first day it was available in our city. I felt like it was Christmas and my birthday wrapped up in one when he got his first vaccine dose. We are choosing to see only vaccinated adults who are not high risk, which unfortunately means that our child is not seeing his grandparents (as they are either unvaccinated or vaccinated but have significantly compromised immune systems.) I do plan on starting therapy soon to discuss the concerns exacerbated as a result of the pandemic.

  21. Thank you, Erin, for being one of the rock-star teachers through the worst of the pandemic! I’m also addressing your fears of going back to the classroom but want to preface this by saying that my husband is someone who is seriously immunocompromised with a long term chronic fatigue syndrome and was seriously ill in late winter/ early spring 2020. Our community was one that went into serious lockdown early on, and we never actually came out. I did all my shopping curbside or delivery, lysol-ed the groceries and quarantined anything non-perishable in the garage for a week, we had different shoes we put on in the garage if we *did* have to go to the doctor for any reason (DH mostly). There was no way I was taking the chance of losing him to Covid.
    When schools reopened, we kept our kids in virtual school, and I continued to work from home, wearing masks if I had to go onsite, (which I did, for work- I’m an architect) and showering and changing clothes when I got home. My kids did not play with other kids, though we did talk to friends from porch to yard in our neighborhood, or if we ran into friends biking or something. I’m telling you all this so you’ll understand that we took *no* chances. My husband is a scientist, and one of our best friends is a biologist, and this is what we knew to be safe.
    As more has been figured out about Covid (respiratory, not from touch, etc.) we started gradually relaxing various parts of our lifestyle based on the science. We hung out with friends in the back yard at a distance, or went hiking and biking with friends. The vaccinations were another big step. We enlarged our bubble to include the grandparents and some family friends that we knew were vaccinated (other than the kids) who weren’t taking big chances. For a few glorious months we even stopped wearing masks in public, though we still kept the kids mostly at home, and didn’t take them inside anywhere. But as soon as the evidence came back that vaccinated people were getting Delta, we started re-masking in public and not going inside anywhere we didn’t have to. Now we are in the process of getting our kids vaccinated, my husband has his booster, and I’m scheduled for one, and we were discussing what this means for life.
    What we determined is that we have to live life in a way that we enjoy, knowing we have done everything we can to mitigate the risks. I told my MIL early in the pandemic that as long as I had done everything I could to keep DH safe, I would be able to live with myself even if we got sick, and I still feel that way. However, we discussed, and we’re going to start taking calculated risks again for things we deem worth it. And each family group has to do that for themselves, and only as gradually as they feel is right for them.
    As one of the people that some people thought were completely over-reacting in the beginning, we’re still in the “step down” mode. Our kids played outside with other kids (from careful, vaccinated families) during the summer. Our kids are back in school this semester (with masks and cohorted with their grade and eating in their classrooms). And our biggest step yet- and I checked with him before I did this- for Christmas, DH is getting concert tickets to hear an artist in March that he dearly loves- but the venue requires masks and vaccination cards. I checked with him before buying them, and we thought, we’ll be 3-4 months from boosters at that point which science has shown to be safer, the kids will be fully vaxed, the venue is being cautious- we’re going to live our lives according to the best science we have! I wish you the best of luck!

    1. Hi Katharine, thank you so much for taking the time to respond! As someone with immunocompromised parents, I can empathize with wanting to do everything you can to protect them from the virus. I simply explain to anyone who asks why we’re being restrictive about only seeing vaccinated adults that I need to do what I can to protect my family members who are at serious risk of complications if they were to contract Covid. It is hard for me to accept that some immunocompromised adults in our lives may be taking what they, themselves, view as acceptable risks but which I feel are too far outside my own acceptable level of risk. In summary, my family is all vaccinated (child will be by mid-December, two weeks post second Pfizer pediatric dose) and we have made it a policy of only seeing vaccinated adults.

  22. Hi Erin,

    Thank you for continuing to teach. Despite your fears, you’ve continued to follow your calling, and the profession really needs you. I’ve been teaching for nearly 40 years, and I’ve been through many moments that tested my dedication, but Covid-19 has been by far the worse. But please keep in mind that the worst is behind us now. Rather than quit, maybe you could pursue some other teaching options. I have a couple of suggestions.

    1. Have you looked into teaching at a private school instead? Depending on the school, class sizes tend to be smaller and allow teachers more flexibility in how and what they teach. My husband teaches at a K-8 private school, makes almost as much as I do in my public school, and has better benefits , working conditions, and holidays. Even through the pandemic, they were able to continue face-to-face learning, with masks and extra attention to cleaning. You might feel safer and happier in a different school environment. And even though you wouldn’t accrue more time in your current pension, your new school would have another one.

    2. We also had a special needs child (now 30 years old). Many of the special ed teachers in my school make extra money by helping with special needs children on weekends, and most teachers have been vaccinated. Maybe you could contact a local school and ask if they have any special ed teachers who might be interested in babysitting. There might also be autism support groups in a metropolitan area, and they may have some contacts too.

    Best of luck to you. You sound like a dedicated teacher, and it would be a shame to lose you. We’re facing a terrible teacher shortage, with many people taking early retirement rather than face another year of this, but we have no one to replace them, especially with experience and expertise. Our future needs you!


    1. Mary, thank you so much for your kind words. I’ve taught reading recovery for a number of years, and this year’s group of remote learning students has been truly fantastic. I appreciate them so much and I truly do love what I do. Regarding teaching at a private school, I have very strong views on only serving in public schools. I am aware of Autism Action Nebraska, and I do need to do more reaching out to them. They are a fantastic resource and thank you for giving me that reminder to call them – it’s a call that I’ve been putting off for far too long! And THANK YOU for being a teacher during this time – your kids need you!

  23. Kudos!!! You should be so so proud of the decisions you’ve made for yourself and your family. It’s wonderful to see this case study and how you and your partner are on the same page financially and share long term goals and values. Sometimes not making a decision like the one you are contemplating with your career is ok. You are at a crossroad, but have time to see what unfolds over the next months. It’s ok to re-emerge at your own pace and weigh your options. It seems based on your life choices as outlined above (in regards to savings, cars, food, education etc.) you have the tools to follow both your head and your
    heart.. I have struggled with how best to move forward in the Covid world. I still am weighing what I am comfortable with in terms of seeing loved ones etc. I think we all need to sort through this in our own way. I am grateful for the benefit of being vaccinated, plan on booster soon and still always masking outside my home.
    I am still physical distancing and socialize outdoors only. I still utilize curbside for shopping too because in So Cal the majority of “shoppers”and my community are unmasked. I previously worked with immune compromised kids, so I think about what their families live with when I make my choices. I don’t have any input beyond encouraging you forward at your own pace, being kind to yourself and being ok with not knowing what’s next until you do.

    1. Karen, thank you for your kind words and your response. I am still working through how to be ok with not knowing what to do, since by my nature, I’m a planner and I always want to fix things for others and make it all okay for them. I appreciate your comment encouraging me to give myself some grace and being OK with uncertainty. All things for me to continue to work on!

  24. As a retired teacher I have some regrets. I did not spend enough time doing what was important to me and did not take care of my health as much as would have been desirable. I did retire a couple of years before my financial advisor wanted me to – no regrets there. Since Mrs. FW and others have covered other aspects I will address these.

    – I did always have a housekeeper – always someone I already knew from my circle of friends and/or church group. I consider this a form of self care.
    – I wish I would have set aside time for body care such as yoga, walking, biking or whatever you like.
    – Time in Nature – even 20 minutes in a park is calming although for me it doesn’t count if I hear traffic!
    – Body work such as a regular – at least monthly – massage. Also acupuncture and chiropractic for body stress at least once a month.
    – Teatime with girlfriends at least twice a month.
    – Date night with spouse at least once a week. Every couple of months a weekend out of town by yourselves. It adds up!
    – Eating correctly.
    – Make routines and simplify. Teachers make dozens of decisions each hour and that is tiring. Try to make less decisions in the rest of your day like deciding what to wear. If you can stand it, create 4 or 6 outfits that you just mindlessly rotate – that way you are not wearing the same thing every Monday etc. I do regret all the time and money I spent on appearance. So many decisions. One summer I lost 25 pounds and my new wardrobe consisted of 6 outfits and my hair was 1-2 inches long. I should have noticed how much easier it all was!

    What are the 3 important things for you aside from immediate family and work? Do you wish you were more involved in a certain group? Do you have something important that you are not attending to? I suggest incorporating this – whatever it is – into your life in small time increments that will keep your mind/spirit where you want it to be. Whatever it is that you are telling yourself you will get to when you retire – start doing it now even if just a little bit.

    Because your goal is to have the retirement I would suggest sticking with teaching for as long as you can – I don’t regret doing that although the last 3 years were a slog. Sad to say, anything else will probably pay less factoring in the costs of training, being out of work, and climbing up the ladder again. So spend a chunk of your current income to help you stay put. Take care of yourself, have some fun. One way to help you is minimal expenditures related to work as in your wardrobe, maybe create a uniform and quit thinking about that part which will help in not making so many decisions each day.

    Basically you are trading your time for the time of people you hire to get you thru your years. The outcome presently is not that different from taking a lower paying job, but the future retirement will still exist. Know the rules of your state and district. I moved around a lot and you get the most benefit from staying put in your state and even in your district in terms of what gets paid for in retirement. If you have to change districts to get better benefits now is the time; many things require 10 or 15 years. For example getting your insurance paid for in retirement. You may have that now and would lose it if you change districts. Something to keep in mind; talk to your union about what the district has in store for you when you retire and factor that into future decisions.
    Hope this is helpful.

      1. JackeRose, thank you for your response! Selfcare has been a buzzword amongst admin in our district this year for us teachers. Spouse and I are talking about how to use our money for more self care, and I appreciate your suggestion of body work and time in nature. Those are my best opportunities for self care and since we already have a gym membership and hiking trails near our house, they are relatively low barriers for entry. Thank you for your suggestions!

        1. Just chiming in here to say, very gently and with total respect for your priorities, perhaps give the suggestion of a cleaning person a second thought! I felt a lot of guilt about hiring someone to clean our house, we finally did it when our daughter was 2. It was an absolute game-changer for us as a couple because it gave us more time together. Not tons more time, but after kiddo is in bed, or when one parent is out with her, we no longer feel that we should be cleaning in that time. We can take a little more time for ourselves, because the house is always pretty clean. Take care of yourself with as much consideration as you give to your son. It’s OK to take a break. You CAN do it, but that doesn’t mean you have to. Just a thought from a similarly very devoted mama who has a hard time spending time or money on herself 🙂

    1. Absolutely! Even if she doesn’t spend much of hers month to month, she’ll gradually create a nice little fund that she can use for anything she likes in the future. Bliss!

    2. That stood out to me too. Erin sounds like she could use some money for a hobby or self-care too. She has barely budgeted anything to buy herself clothes, let alone do anything else nice for herself. Honestly it is getting depressing seeing this issue repeat itself over and over in the case studies…

      1. Hi Julia, Isa, Anna, and Holly. Thank you for your replies! My spouse actually begs me to take an equal amount of money for myself. I have a hard time taking money for myself at all, and I’d just spend it on my child or our family’ s experiences anyway, so we’ve decided that “my” spending money can go wherever I want, and I simply choose to invest it in my child’s future. Currently, that looks like 529 funds but it might look like investment for him in the future. I have an incredibly hard time spending money on anything for myself, but truthfully our vacation funds and our child’s current 529/possible investment funds are what my portion of spending money looks like.

  25. Hi there.

    Special needs, PhD mom here as well.

    I just want to echo the comment above that there are often MANY reasons that kids with disabilities cannot be easily left in the care of others. One strategy we used was in-home care. Our son would remain in our home, in a space where he was familiar and where we could respond if needed (he had complex medical issues). He and his caregiver would plan a movie or an activity and my husband and I would do our own thing – nearby. Over time, as my son became familiar with the caregiver, we might go out for a short time – perhaps a walk. Eventually we would go out for dinner, but it was a gradual evolution, and only if my son and the caregiver were comfortable.

    I live in Canada, so our special needs, financial planning would be very different. We had both a trust AND and education amount for our son. We knew our son would not attend college or university, but we had other kids and the financial advantages of investing money in RESPs made sense,. We could (and ultimately did) transfer the funds to our two children who attended university.

    We found when our child turned 18 things really changed re: finances. Because he couldn’t manage money , or make health care decisions, we had to establish guardianship and power of attorney. That was inordinately stressful because our finances and financial planning re: our son were vetted by disinterested officials – often people who did not understand the demands and realities of parenting a very complex child. I know this is a long way off for you, but it might be worth paying attention to how the youth to adult transition plays out in your part of the world and what resources are available.

    And in terms of your job. In Canada we have had much better COVID control. I cannot imagine the stress of living south of the border, where public health measures have become divisive. It must have been wildly stressful being on the front lines with unvaccinated children. My heart goes out to you. I agree that giving yourself time and space to recover from the last year is essential. Can you extend your current position for one year? Take a short LOA if needed? If you really cannot go back, what about university positions? I am the classic non-tenured, PT academic with no hope of tenure, job security, or even FT status, so I know university gigs are not a panacea. But perhaps adjunct work where you have control to accept/decline work as you feel safe might be an option?

    All the best and thanks for sharing your story. I

    1. Daisy, thank you for your suggestions about in home care for our son. That may be an option once he is fully vaccinated. I do have the ability to take a one year leave of absence from my teaching job. We teachers in my program are advocating for another year of remote learning for our students, but we are not in control of that decision.

  26. Your physical and emotional health is number one priority. To that end get vaccinated. I was vaccinated and then got breakthrough COVID, thanks to the vaccine, it was like a moderate cold, then I got booster. It works.

    You indicated that your future pension is 100% joint and survivor annuity. The amount you stated seems a bit high for that option, I’d just double check. Also, keep in mind there is no guarantee that your pension won’t be modified in the future before you start to collect so fifteen year projections can be iffy.

    You seem to already have a vested pension so that should be secure for the future. Would you also be giving up future retiree medical benefits if you left the district? Something to consider.

    I’m guessing that you are not now part of Social Security so if you leave government for a new job, that will be a future plus for retirement.

    If doing what you love means ongoing stress that’s not good for you or your family, but are you sure your COVID concerns are not unrealistically high?

    1. Richard, thank you for your suggestion and keeping in mind future pension modifications. I have to admit that I do live in fear that my pension will be modified by the powers that be as I move close to eligibility. Actually, I do pay into social security and according to the latest retirement seminar I attended (I was the youngest person I saw on the Zoom call), we Nebraska teachers are eligible for both our pension plus social security. I do pay in to social security right now, and always have during my teaching career.

      1. Just keep in mind, any amount of benefit you have accrued in your pension at any point in time can’t be reduced. Only future accruals can be changed.

  27. Hello! Teacher and special needs parent here. I would advise having a special needs trust set up now- not with money in it, but to designate that your assets would go into it on your sons behalf should you both die. If that were to happen without a special needs trust, your assets would not be able to go to him without being eaten up. As well, there are many, many students with special needs that attend college these days whether in a typical program or in the various programs that they have created in universities that support students with intellectual disabilities of some kind in pursuing education and independence at the collegiate level. You could save for that through the 529 but if you save through the able, you could also use ABLE account fund for other things as well, not just school but housing etc into adulthood. I also second therapy. As teachers and also being akin to the disability community, we’ve been jerked around and it’s been hard. There are evidenced based processes for working through this kind of thing. All the best to you.

    1. Sherry, thank you for the suggestion of setting up a Special Needs Trust now and also looking into ABLE accounts. I have both of those on my to do list.

    2. The setting up trusts before death may depend on the state. In my state I was able to designate in my will that my funds will go into a trust for my kids, but it can be set up by the executor. The paperwork was all done by an estate attorney who specializes in special needs trusts. If you can find someone like that in your state, a consultation could be very helpful for figuring out what paperwork is needed and where to invest in your son’s future that will be most advantageous and flexible.

      1. I know I’m late to this conversation, but I’m an estate planning attorney (and former public elementary school teacher!) and wanted to chime in here in case Erin would find this comment helpful. It is possible to set up a Will to fund an “optional” special needs trust, meaning the executor would create a SNT if the beneficiary is receiving any federal or state aid at the time the trust is funded (ie when you or your spouse die). If not, the inheritance would go directly to the beneficiary or through a regular trust. Unfortunately, anyone who is currently in perfectly good health could become incapacitated and require federal or state assistance, so this clause is a good one to have even if you don’t have a beneficiary who may or may not require assistance in the future.

        Please go see a local (vaccinated!) estate planning attorney. I recommend finding a smaller firm (maybe even a solo practitioner) and please meet with more than one attorney until you find the right fit (and ask for pricing up front – prices can vary WILDLY with estate planning!). Most firms I’m aware of do not charge for an initial appointment – I don’t charge until the final appointment when all of the documents are signed. You can get a lot of great, specialized advice in that initial consultation. Also note that you have many assets in retirement funds, which can be trickier with regards to inheritance.

        Thank you for all you do every day. I wasn’t able to push through the stress to remain in the classroom – I used to say that on Friday following a good week I felt like I’d been run over by a car and on a bad week I felt like I’d been run over by a semi. I loved it but I couldn’t see starting a family, maintaining my physical and mental health, and teaching. And this was before the threat of a global pandemic! Take some time to consider what’s right for you and your family.

  28. I taught for 4 years in the public school system before quitting to stay at home with our kids, and I thought many, many times last year about how deeply I felt for all that the teachers were being asked to deal with. Know that your hard work and dedication is appreciated!!

    This might not be an option, but would your pension still be up for grabs if you took a year-long sabbatical to figure some things out personally? You have a robust savings, which would allow you to maybe take the time needed to figure out what would be best for your physical and mental health long-term. Being a person who likes to have a nice cash buffer myself, I can understand the hesitancy to tap into that money, but I also know the relief that comes from no longer having to go to a job that was causing you such a high level of physical stress.

    Anyway, just a thought that you can take or leave — I just wanted to make sure you’re considering every option.

    I wish you all the best in the time ahead <3

    1. Torrie, thank you for your kind words. I do have the option of a year long leave of absence. I am considering it for next year.

      1. I came here to say a year-long leave of absence could be incredibly helpful for you. I did that when I started to feel burned out as a classroom teacher – I traveled the world and recalibrated myself. I ended up not returning to the classroom and instead became a lawyer at 40. That time off was super helpful.

  29. Raising a child with ASD is definitely challenging, but there may be more long term support out there than you might know. What helped us navigate the landscape was hiring a special needs attorney who really educated us and helped us create a long term plan for our son (who is now 22) and to understand how our state (Massachusetts) structures aid for people on the spectrum. They were also instrumental in helping us navigating the transition process as he exited the school system at 18. It was expensive, but worth every penny. One thing I learned during that time was that discussion of transition (if your child is receiving services via an IEP) should start happening early in high school, and no later than when they turn 16.

    We’ve been able to get our son to be eligible for ongoing disability services/support (job training, SSI, etc.), we get reimbursed for medical insurance premiums as long as he is covered (with state medical insurance as a secondary), and more. This has all been super helpful as we’ve updated our timeline for retirement. Much of this is state-based, so it will be helpful to find a guide who can show you what’s available in Nebraska.

    1. Thank you for your feedback, Tracy! I have a call to Autism Action of Nebraska on my list of “to dos” in the near future. I perhaps incorrectly assumed that we couldn’t receive any ongoing services through public options as we have private insurance.

  30. Have you considered becoming a special eduacation teacher? You sound like you would make an amazing one! It might be less stressful with small class sizes and one-on-one casework.

    1. Consider a half-time special education teaching position. Special education positions are extremely hard to fill, and you will still be eligible for a school pension.

      1. Marty and KathyE, becoming a special education teacher would require more formal schooling for me and I just simply do not know that I have that in me right now. I do work with a high population of identified students, though, so I do learn a lot in working with them and finding ways to help them learn and grow and thrive in my classroom. They do hold a really special place in my heart, and I personally can’t thank my own child’s phenomenal special education teacher and general education teacher enough for all they do for him. They are both angels here on Earth!

  31. Just a thought that I didn’t see addressed yet in the other responses.

    I think their savings rate is amazing! Honestly, my first thought was, why not drop the retirement savings rate just a tad and take some things off the adults’ plates? If the intention is to remain a teacher for Erin, and they plan to live off her retirement pension/TIAA annuity, why the need for so much to the other accounts? In *general* I agree with aggressive savings, but in this case, given Erin’s statements about being too busy doing cleaning or laundry, perhaps there is room to outsource some of those tasks with a little money to get some time and balance back for her.

    I understand it isn’t simple to do, and would have to be done in a way that respects where they are at currently with their covid-consciousness, but I think it’s a good avenue to look in order to reduce the overall stress in the household.

    Best wishes to all of you!

    1. Hi Kristy, we have talked about that – dropping our retirement savings to take more off our plates. I guess I can’t help but feel like I just need to put my shoulder to the wheel and just work harder at everything – parenting, teaching, housekeeping, cooking, cleaning. I really should look at letting some of that go, for my own mental well being. Thank you for your kind words and support!

      1. This right here. I’ve had this mentality too, and it’s hard to let go. But: you are a person, not a machine. You deserve to focus on yourself and lighten the load. Your savings rate is incredible; you have a paid off house; you have a pension that will contribute a decent amount already! You have the foundation under your feet right now. In my own therapy, I learned a lot about self-compassion and seeing myself a bit more graciously and clearly, which allowed me to see how much I was doing for everyone else but myself. You can’t pour from an empty cup, but you can burn that shoulder out. Please consider loosening the reins. You’ve got it all covered already! You need some time and space for YOU, particularly after the last 18 mos AND the present, and stress from too much work can and will catch up to you in ways that can derail the incredible work you’ve put in so far. HUGE cyber hugs to you!

        1. Thank you for your wisdom, Tina! I logically know this. Giving myself that permission to draw from our funds is probably more of emotional work than running the numbers right now. Thank you for sharing what you’ve learned.

  32. You really need to check to find out if you will get Social Security AND a Teacher Pension.
    I am a teacher in CT, and we ONLY get our Pensions, not both Social Security and a Teacher Pension.
    Perhaps you had a previous career?

    1. My aunt was a teacher for decades in Illinois, and did not get SS. That may have changed, but I know she didn’t get it.

    2. The current rule is if you have worked 30+ years in a Social Security eligible job, then your school pension is not reduced by the Windfall Elimination Provision.

    3. Hi Nancy, I mentioned in a previous comment that we do, in fact, receive social security at full age along with our teacher’s pension here in Nebraska. This was confirmed in a retirement seminar Zoom I took earlier this school year and I have paid into social security my entire teaching career as well. Thank you for sharing your insights with me!

  33. As a former teacher, I get where you are coming from. When I found myself stressing out over all the demands made on me by people, who either never taught or had other skin in the game, I took a sabbatical and wrote curriculum for two years. You are essentially taking a sabbatical now. When my sabbatical was over, like you, I knew I didn’t want to be in any form of educational administration- you only have to be near it to understand. I only wanted to be in the classroom. I went back to the classroom and gave my students the best education and emotional support I could. I got rid of committees, dept. chair, etc. I just concentrated on teaching and keeping a low profile. It made all the world to my attitude. You get to choose how to make yourself safe. If no one wears a mask but you, it’s ok. If someone says something, it’s not about you and you can always reply with something like, “you do you and I’ll do me”. Always keep your eye open for another job like you have now. They may extend the one you have if you do an excellent job and parents want you to continue. Be your own advocate and if you feel let down by your administration, consider yourself self-employed. It always worked for me. Also, I’m sure you are vested in your retirement now. You need to know how many years you have to teach to get full health benefits. For me it was 20 years. I “retired” at 20 years with half my salary and full health benefits. Consider all your options and make the decision that is best for you and your family.

    1. Hi Deb, thank you for your words as a retired teacher. I kind of am doing that this year with my remote learning position – I really needed this to take care of myself. And it has been a true blessing this year – I’ve loved every bit of it. My current retirement system doesn’t allow us to get subsidized health insurance upon retirement – we simply pay a full retiree’s rate.

  34. There are a lot of different kinds of annuities. Liz is mostly talking about income annuities, with is very not-like the TIAA-CREF deferred annuity represented here. These are often the only way to receive match funds from nonprofit employee benefit plans (403b & 457). I am not a fan of TIAA-CREF (the fees are usually high) but not high enough to negate the value of the match. Take the free money, work, and roll that into IRAs as soon as you are able (often starting at 50 or 55 depending on the plan).

    1. Thank you for your response, LB. I was thinking we’d try a Roth conversion ladder but I’ve been a bit overwhelmed in deciding when to begin the process of doing so.

  35. Hi Erin, In addition to thinking about saving funds for your son, I just want to suggest that as he grows older, you may want to help career council him. I was just watching “the worlds most amazing vacation rentals” on Netflix, and one episode showed Erik’s ranch (, a place that employs mainly autistic people. Maybe there are a number of places that are more open to employing your son in the future, which would help him to be independent. I hope that’s the case and wish the best for you and your family!

  36. Fellow teacher here! If Erin hasn’t already checked out Angela Watson’s resources for teachers, run don’t walk! She has an entire course about regaining time for life outside of work AND a blog series about how to determine whether to quit, change, or stay. Invaluable concrete advice for teachers from a teacher.

  37. I’m a public school teacher in CT. I didn’t read all the comments, so my apologies if others have said it. Do you qualify for SS? I do not, and so I have a pension.

    I agree with Liz to a point–therapy make help find ways to navigate the pandemic waters. However, I will also say that this has been the most difficult, draining, challenging year EVER for myself and many of my colleagues. Admin is pushing us too quickly back to initiatives and mandates, and it’s hard to just get through a 5-day week. I’ve already taken like 7 days off. It’s not just you. Teaching is harder than it was last year, at least in my district.

    You may want to consider switching districts if you feel uninspired and unsupported. Perhaps that type of change can help in daily, concrete ways but you don’t lose on your pension as you would if you dropped teaching or moved out of state. Best of luck–you are a tough person.

    1. Thank you for your suggestions, JR. We Nebraska teachers do qualify for social security along with our pension, at least based on everything I’ve read. Our districts are really taking their lead from the state here in Nebraska, so there’s not much difference between one large metro district and another this year.

  38. I also want to commend Erin for continuing to teach through one of the worst situations imaginable! I noticed the responses to her re: teaching have mostly been around the fear of getting Covid, but I suspect there’s a lot more in play that’s causing her not to love teaching anymore.

    Thankfully, teaching was/is not my full-time job: I’m a novelist, but also contract teach on the side. So the schools I taught for couldn’t “order” me to do anything–they had to ask, and it was ultimately my choice whether to do it or not. I ended up leaving one college because of the ridiculous demands they placed on us, and the little regard they gave us, in terms of our health and safety.

    It’s not just the fears of getting Covid that has made this period incredibly hard for teachers (I have teacher friends who teach full-time at the high school level and they absolutely hate their jobs right now). Teachers were expected to pivot without warning, learn new technology, and in many cases, somehow instruct in-person and virtual students at the same time. They had no breaks. Keeping up with all the changes and student and parent needs meant no weekends, holidays, or days off to recoup. Their summers were cut short as well. When students didn’t adapt well to at-home learning, many parents blamed teachers, and quite vocally. There were tons of social media and blog posts slamming teachers and criticizing their performance during the pandemic. Teachers were still supposed to ensure that students performed well on national and state exams.

    And, in many schools, the bureaucracy has been ridiculous. Many teachers received little to no support from people they’ve spent a good portion of their lives working for. The college I stopped working for sent the students home, but expected the teachers to come in and teach our online lessons on site–during the height of the pandemic! Why? Because they didn’t trust us to do our jobs, I guess. That and the increasingly ridiculous demands are why I walked.

    Even after the Covid cases dropped and it seemed safer to be in the classroom again, the stress “hangover” of increased demands, less recuperative time, and the knowledge that parents and administration turned on you and basically kicked you while you were down didn’t go away. This is why teachers have retired in droves. Especially in the US, where public school teachers are paid so little, risking your life AND having to deal with all that other crap just isn’t worth it.

    1. This is what I came here to say, too. 100% to all of the above, Amy. As someone who works in education, I read the concern about returning to the classroom to be so much more beyond concern about contracting COVID, though that is still a very real and legitimate concern. Many educators have not been supported by governments and district administrations (well before the pandemic) – last year made it QUITE clear that those decision-makers do not care for the health and well-being of educators. Educators were placed in situations that were dangerous and resistance was often met with dismissiveness, ignorance, and toxic positivity. Some parents and the greater community unleashed their own rage caused by anxieties around the reality of 2020 onto teachers, some advocating for a less safe workplace. How can one simply go back to the classroom when that working relationship has been fractured so thoroughly? When it is difficult to trust that there is and will be any support? Although more likely to be vaccinated, educators are this year working with a new wave of secondhand trauma specific to the past year on top of what already existed pre-pandemic in addition to continuing to ensure a safe environment for students who are not yet vaccinated. The pandemic is certainly not over – nearly 100 of our 600 students are out this week due to being COVID positive or exposed. This is not something that simply fades away or bounces back to some kind of normal.

  39. I definitely agree with the person above who said that this really doesn’t read that much as a financial case study. It’s more of a lifestyle case study. I’m boring and predictable, and the boring and predictable thing would be to stick it out for the pension.

    But it’s 16 years. 16 years!! You are BARELY half way, and 16 years is too long to be miserable.

    Onto the teaching conundrum. I think that some people who suggest that she is overblowing the risk and the stress of COVID teaching (“it’s not March or April 2020” are right and wrong. True, it’s not April 2020. Schools are open, there are a number of protocols in place (depending on location), and vaccinations and boosters are available.

    However…boy. I spent an hour or so listening into our school board meeting last night. Now, we have many protocols. Mandatory vaccines for teachers, mandatory random testing of students, mandatory masking indoors, daily health check ins…so California is pretty safe. I don’t know about Nebraska.

    EVEN SO OUR TEACHERS ARE BURNT. A year of learning loss PLUS the new protocols means that extra, unpaid work is being PILED on. I read a number of reviews of the current situation here, and it’s not pretty. There are plans for even more work in this area, so many teachers have considered quitting. Can you imagine? Our 4th grader reads at a 7th grade level and does math at a 6th grade level. However, several of his classmates are performing at a 1st/2nd grade level.

    In high school, in a number of classes, the teachers cannot even get 1/3 of the students to turn in homework. And now they are talking about combining honors and college prep courses…this will only increase the spread of ability of the students in each classroom, putting even more onus on the teachers to do more with less.

    My own recommendation (in addition to the therapist recommendation), would be to consider other teaching options. I realize that private schools, for example, often tend to pay less. However, they do have advantages in size and stress levels.

    1. Marcia,

      As a teacher, I want to thank you for eloquently expressing the myriad pressures teachers are facing right now. I too agree that Erin’s decision to return to the classroom is incredibly complex and likely takes into account the many factors you name and others that are unique to Erin’s district. The teaching force has been dwindling for years, and the pandemic is accelerating job changing in all domains! I agree that the root of this case study is very complex.

      1. Marcia and HSHistoryTeacher, I agree that the causes of my questions do feel pretty complex – even to me! I do have very strong feelings about only teaching in public schools, for a variety of reasons, but it really boils down to that I feel like the kids in public schools need me more. Thanks for voicing what it feels like is a mirror image in a lot of schools right now.

  40. Reading between the lines, it sounds like Erin’s apprehension about returning to in-person teaching next year is not entirely about virus-related fears. As someone who recently left teaching (not because of the pandemic), I related to what Erin wrote about wanting autonomy in her classroom and just general stress. For me, I decided that, despite enjoying the actual “work” (i.e., working directly with children), the “job” (i.e., all the other crap) ruined it and was unlikely to be different anywhere else (e.g., in another district, state, etc.). I’m not a “change the system” type, I am more of a “change my own circumstances” type. In any case, good luck to Erin and her family on figuring this all out!

      1. Thank you for your kind words and support, Nora S. And thank you for complimenting our kitty boy – he is my special little fluffball of happiness at the end of these long days!

  41. Fellow teacher here, from a HCOL area. It takes time for us all to appreciate what has improved in this school year and yet, as a teacher there is much that actually feels worse , especially ever changing protocols and renewed expectations to catch up from all that was lost.

    I strongly considered retiring at the height of covid, I ran the numbers, made a ton of pro con lists, journaled, prayed, cried, you name it I did it. I even looked at scenarios of part time, leave of absence etc. In the end I went back to teaching, it was not perfect, it was not always good, but it made a difference for the life of my students, despite the unfair public expectations, I held myself to my standard, do what you can, though it may not be perfect–it will be good, because I was coming from a place of love and support for my students. Looking back I have no regrets for staying, yes it was tough, and YES, it is still tough. But I don’t hold myself to unrealistic or unreachable standards, I do the best I can, I take care of myself—sleep, exercise, the basics covered. I am doing the best I can for students, and for my family.

    Lastly, I will just say that there is a lot of solid support and advice from reading all the comments. Take from these comments what works for you and take a deep breath. You didn’t get here for anything you’ve done right or wrong, you are where you are because you love deeply, family, career, all of it. You can take things one step at a time, do the next right, small thing. Sometimes that includes waiting to make big decisions when you are feeling overwhelmed.

    Erin, you deserve peace and support, all the best to you as you move on and through this time in your life.

  42. Like Mrs. FG, I first thought – “Was this written last year?” There are still Covid concerns now, of course, but nothing like the first few months of the pandemic. As someone rated an essential worker, I was also out in public the entire pandemic, with the exception of one month at home. I feel intense gratitude that we could start getting back to normal, but I have one family member who is still hiding out at home, missing all weddings, funerals, events, church and shopping in stores. She was a teacher, but her school went remote in the very first part of the pandemic, and she quit when in-person school started back up, so she never faced teaching in-person while the disease was rampant. She is fully vaccinated. Her fear of going out is real, but it is not reasonable. I wish she would get therapy. This pandemic has triggered fear in a lot of people – understandably so – and there is a lot of work ahead to re-adjust to normal (whatever that entails) life, but that work must get done. I vote with others that therapy would be very helpful for Erin.

    I’m totally impressed with all they’ve done on modest salaries. Clearly, they are very, very capable. I encourage them to talk with a lawyer who specializes in elder and disabled persons’ affairs about their future options. Since my spouse is now disabled, I set up a special trust, but we are older than Erin and her husband are.

    Since Erin loves teaching, I would encourage her to stay with it, if she can.

    One other thing – one of the best things you can do for your son is have a good marriage and stable relationships. Call your family and ask for babysitting, or talk to a social agency about respite care for the family of someone on the spectrum. You and your husband NEED time for just the two of you, to maintain and grow your marriage. Erin NEEDS time to herself now and then, and perhaps more help. Her husband may feel the same.

    All the planning and setting aside of funds won’t do a lot if you end up divorced or dealing with your own broken health. Take care, and best wishes.

  43. As an educator myself (high school history!) I don’t view Erin’s fear of returning to the classroom in person to be a hangover from pandemic anxiety. Being a teacher is a difficult job in the best of times, but Erin mentioned that the unrelenting and overbearing expectations from ALL stakeholders in our new world is what is wearing at her. Let me be clear- teaching now and in the future is forever different. I completely empathize with Erin’s anxiety- my district has become overbearing in an entirely new way now that we have returned to in-person learning in the 2021-22 school year. Personally, I have always managed anxiety about teaching, but the expectations this year are unprecedented, and the rate of teacher burnout is escalating for all of us in the profession. When I read Erin’s story, I don’t hear as much pandemic-related anxiety as I hear burnout of the teaching profession generally due to the changing nature of our jobs. I definitely echo Mrs. Frugalwoods’ idea regarding therapy if Erin wants to pursue that, but I don’t think the root cause here is the pandemic.

    Erin, give yourself the grace to leave teaching. You will continue to be an educator always- to your son, in your community- but the overwhelming undertone I get is that you will not be your best self if you return in-person to the classroom next year. Perhaps you can seek out another online teaching job, but that would likely mean you leave your district and therefore also forego your full pension. (I personally wish K12 educators had a sabbatical option- the public does NOT understand how draining teaching can be). The good news is that the teacher shortage is real and you would probably have a position waiting for you in the future should you decide to return!

    Like the other commenters have mentioned, your family has an amazing savings rate, giving you the flexibility now to make this choice. As a fellow teacher, I wish you the best. This is a difficult decision to make, and I hope you are able to find peace no matter what direction you go.

  44. Would it help you get a babysitter if you planned to have them be outside at a park the whole time? Or maybe if your son is a good sleeper plan a date for after bedtime and the sitter can just sit in your living room? Getting a childcare break always helps me a lot. Good luck!

  45. As a school librarian in an elementary school I see Erins everyday…it is very difficult…RIGHT NOW….it might not be in another year. So my advice is to get some professional help…a therapist to help her through the trauma of the last school year and an attorney to figure out what is the best plan for their son. They are in a very admirable place otherwise…It just would be nice to see Erin have more joy in her life. I wish you all the best.

  46. I’m not sure I would agree that her risk assessment is off or outdated. We don’t know the risk level in her community, and vaccination rates vary wildly across the country. Nebraska is not Vermont. Nonetheless the advice to seek therapy is wise! Erin has some time to reflect on her choices before she needs to make a decision. Best of luck to her, and the good news is that she does have options and flexibility thanks to her frugality!

    1. This part. Last winter, my state was the world’s covid hot spot. Our numbers *today* are nearly as bad, and our hospitals are the fullest they’ve been since the beginning of the pandemic. MFW lives in a state with the highest vaccination rate in the country (72% across all ages as of yesterday) while Nebraska is sitting just under 57%. The risk quite literally is different depending on which of those areas you do life in, and it is frustrating to not have that acknowledged in the responses. Talking to a therapist is great, but it shouldn’t be the only answer.

      My one suggestion for couple time is to see if there’s someone already in her son’s bubble who may be willing to watch him. “QuaranTeams” were popular at the beginning of the pandemic, but maybe she knows others who make similar decisions with regards to covid (masking, vaccination, social distancing) who would be willing and able to help. Easier said than done, but may be worth exploring.

      1. Talahu’i, thank you for your awareness of the geographic differences in our country’s overall response to the pandemic. It is do very different. We do have two trusted adults that we’d love to watch our son, but they fear (rightfully so) exposing him based on their employment situations. Thank you so much for taking the time to respond! I hope that you can find good health & peace as we continue to navigate what it looks like to live in Covid hotspots.

  47. Thank you Erin for you work during the pandemic and I understand a little of where you are coming from. I live in Colorado and the incidence is actually increasing to the point where do are current using crisis standards to determine how to care for all of our patients covid or non covid related. The pandemic is far from over and we are not in an adapting mode. We are in a clinging by the tips of our fingers mode with even hanging things we used to be able to handle before the pandemic. I know this applies to all providers that still provide in person care during this period. As a physician and health care professional, a therapist has nothing to do with it. I recently left a full time position I loved before the pandemic since I could not put in 60-70 hours weeks with two young children at home and no really have anyone willing to mask or vaccinate to watch them or take care of them. I prepared for the past year adjusting our budget and finance plans. I currently work 3 part time jobs to allow for a buffer during times of feast and famine since I am the breadwinner and provide all the benefits. AND I am so happy I left. I would take some time to explore different career options if you really feel stuck since the time frame you mentioned seems too long to try to hang in there if it is at all damaging to your family. Life is short and you can plan away but sometimes the best made plans can blow up as well. It seems like this might have ben written before vaccination was offered to the 5-12 which is another plus. But I can imagine trying to care for children in an era where politics and science are having a world war. This comes from a physician who has had to redefine healthy and realize it takes being healthy, vaccinated, and taking all the right public health measures (including eye wear due to aerosol/droplet transmission as I wear even in the grocery store right now) to keep one’s family safe and sometimes even if you have all 3 it isn’t enough..

  48. I only have an anecdote to share– 16 years a long time. My MIL didn’t want to leave a job she hated because she was worried about losing her pension. Finally it got to be too much for her and she left anyway and lost her pension anyway. And… was much happier at her new job. And the stock market did well so her new 403b did well and she picked up some online teaching on the side so she was able to retire earlier than 65 anyway. Her only regret was not leaving the job she hated earlier.

    That’s only one data point, but… 16 years is a really long time. Depending on what you end up doing instead a salary difference now might dwarf the difference in pensions. Or you might get a job with a better 401k match or you might start a lucrative side business or who knows! (Things could also go poorly, in theory, so you’ll want back-up plans..)

  49. I have a child with ASD, and Easterseals offers respite care free of charge. They also wear masks while in our home.

  50. Hi from a retired teacher
    Check with your pension plan you my be able to sub a certain amount per mont and continue to earn your retirement. Then after a couple of years go back to full time

  51. You certainly sound a bit isolated. A lot of folks withspecial needs experience are sharing here but I reckon you need it closer to home as well. I hope you can run your after school groups again, soon, but I also suggest you reach out to families that are further ahead on their journey for their experiences, but keeping in mind that there are lots of reasons to hope higher educ ation (or trade school will be even more accessible and accommodating when your son reaches that age. In my work I’ve seen many students with special needs participate in third level education with appropriate support. Also- I’m wondering aloud here as I don’t know from experience- is there any chance you could be attributing your son’s entertainment needs to his diagnosis when at least some of them might arise from being an only? Obviously that’s not going to change but maybe look into ways to help him develop the resources to entertain himself? Best wishes.

  52. Thank you Liz for not skirting the issue of therapy and trauma. This jumped out to me too. And thank you also for explicitly calling out and advocating for vaccination. I wish this family all the best!!

  53. Thank you for your essential work as a teacher! I am wondering if daytime dates while your son is in school would work? I know you both have jobs but could you take a little time off occasionally? My husband and I have enjoyed being able to go out together during the week every once in awhile.

  54. Erin, full disclosure that I do not work in education, but I had one thought after reading your story. Acknowledging that you, don’t think you would “be happy in any position other than that of a classroom teacher in my current district”, have you considered transitioning to a reading specialist or something along that lines? This could be a happy medium between full on classroom and stepping away from your school district.

  55. What would happen to your pension if you took a year off teaching?

    That might give you the space you need and time for whatevers going to happen with covid to start to resolve.

  56. As an educator myself, it is hard to imagine doing anything else. However, I am entertaining idea of keeping teaching, just differently (when I retire early, hopefully). I may offer one-on-one classes, tutoring, small group preparations to competitions (Math Kangaroo, ACM coding, there should be others I just haven’t researched yet), that sort of thing. Could it be something you would enjoy doing part-time, so money keep coming but stress/workload is more manageable?

  57. Honestly Liz, I think you usually are right on with your advice, but this kind of time I think you blew the advice in this case study. Yes, there was tremendous trauma to everyone in 2020. For teachers though, it continues to this day. We are on the frontlines of this pandemic when we retun to our classrooms. ( Yes, I have this year.) We are forced to work with families that may not take vaccines or enforce mask protocols the same way that we do. Many people sent their kids back to school and felt like it was a ” return to noramal” and are off taking vacations and eating out and visiting others. We teach the childern of people who are making these choices even if we are not.There is covid in our schools and we and our families are being put at risk.We have to trust that people will do the right thing. We have no idea how long the pandemic with continue on and how long all the changes will take place. We had to completely change the way we taught and pretty much everything. It was like being in an intense graduate school during the worst parts of the covid quarantines. I stayed up all hours of the night , learning new skills. I isolated myself from family when I returned in classroom teaching in order to protect them.

    I too have a child on the spectrum and babysitters are not an easy issue. Sometimes our kids need specialized medical care, sometimes they refuse to wear masks due to sensory issues and sometimes they cannot handle changes well at all. Usually, specialized babysitting and care is more expensive and hard to come by. Trying to keep a special needs child from getting covid is extra challenging, as they may not comprehend what needs to be done.

    We may have family members that are very ill. ( My Mom is in Hospice) that we do not want to expose to the virus and so we make the sacrifices to remain on a sort of ” quarrantine” in order to protect these fragile family members.

    At first teachers were sainted in the media and now we are villified. Teachers are still getting ill and some are dying. I too adore teaching. I too wonder if I want to go forward with it in my own career. My family has to come first.

    I think your reader probably understands about counseling as we all do. I do wonder if these tips may help her.

    Regional Center-It may offer respite care for you and your husband. If you are comfortable with it, take it and use it.

    Take a look at all of the education and love of children and teaching and what can you do with that? Can you find a fully remote position that is permanent, can you tutor online, can you write children’s books? Do you want to go in a completely different direction and use your skills in the business world, again in a remote position?

    Have you looked into a special needs trust for your son?

    I am navigating the same issues you are. I am a single Mom and terrified of what the future will bring. I am trying to take it one step and one decision at a time.

    1. I agree with Kathy. My understanding of the science is that vaccines are not designed for individual protection- they protect people collectively if everyone or nearly everyone is vaccinated. This means that if you are in a community where 40-50% of the population is not vaccinated and many may not be taking precautions, the pandemic is not over and the risks are still very real.

  58. Several months ago I watched a great webinar (posted on Youtube) for K-12 teachers who wanted to transition to instructional design/ online training careers in the corporate world. I just tried searching for it to share here and I couldn’t find it, but I saw lots of similar videos on offer. I mention this because maybe another type of remote work might work well for you in terms of maintaining mental health and work-life balance. I am continuing the online college teaching I started during the pandemic, even after most of my colleagues have returned to campus, simply because I enjoy the online (asynchronous) course content creation and maintenance process so much! (It turns out a significant portion of our students prefer this modality, too, for a variety of reasons.) This allows me time to pick up my husband from his job for a lunch date once a week while our child is in school, as well as lots of morning time for long walks outdoors with my dog while I listen to podcasts related to my work as a part of my ongoing professional development. (I also have time to push the laundry through its paces during the day when I need to get up from my desk and stretch.) The drawback to this is that, without a dedicated home office, I spend a little too much time at home by myself and I have to be really proactive about planning outings and friend dates, which I need at least once or twice a week to meet my minimum needs as an extrovert. I also have to be really good about taking care of my work in the day while my child is at school, since my minimalist desk in the living room is right in the heart of house activity and distraction. Anyway, with your credentials and experience, I wonder if you’d have time to find and take on extra part time work to teach an online (asynchronous) college course – maybe anywhere in the U.S.! – to see if this might be something you’d like to try to do as an adjunct – at first – with potential for somewhat more secure full time remote teaching work after that. My students have told me about all sorts of remote work in writing, editing, etc., but I know teaching is my calling, and I hope to continue this work for the foreseeable future.

    Also, I want to add that I really relate to the mega-anxiety of being around people in the pandemic. It’s only now that my kid can be vaccinated that I’m starting to feel more comfortable planning indoor hangouts with people outside my immediate family, depending on how important those events feel for me. I ask myself “What’s worth the risk?” Do I want to go to church (where the minister Zooms in from home with her unvaccinated toddler)? Not yet; I’ll Zoom for now. Do I want my kid to spend quality time with a friend unmasked in her bedroom after so long away from other kids? Yes, I think it’s about time to embrace that risk, given the return of friendship at this crucial juncture in her social life. Otherwise, I socialize outdoors with my friends, since the actual face time is what’s most important to me personally, not the protection from the elements. I sensed from your budget line-item mention of carpooling/crashing with family for travel that part of you is anticipating being ready to be with people again… but perhaps only when it’s really worth it for you. Based on comments from you and others in this thread, maybe returning to the classroom isn’t actually worth it for you, even if you genuinely love teaching and – so far – can’t imagine doing anything else.

  59. I retired from teaching three years ago and have subsequently watched droves of teachers leave the profession due to Covid concerns.
    Erin has indicated that she loves teaching. I’d like to suggest that she either taking a leave of absence and give yourself some time to consider your options, if she can afford it. Or look for a non classroom position in another nearby district. A different district can make a world of difference.

  60. A student who is studying in a related field might be a good fit for someone to give you a break with your hubby. The hard part about switching jobs is that the next place you go might be better in some ways and “worse” in others. I retired at 55 from nursing. If I didn’t have a decent pension I still would be working. I was getting burnt out from my counseling job but kept going because I didn’t want to quit and have to work a lot longer. I could have taken a different job in nursing but I knew a different job would still have challenges. I was able to work through it because of the skills I was teaching all the time. Acceptance, mindfulness, yoga, crafts. I know it isn’t that simple but these things help.

  61. Great job Erin! I do need to share my thoughts however. I am immuno-compromise with a blood disease, the same one Colin Powell died from. I have been vaccinated and boosted and am having a 4th booster. So far I have few if any antibodies and while all of you vaccinated people will probably become mildly sick if exposed to COVID, I will probably die. Erin mentioned she has developed a chronic, illness, while not knowing what it is,most have immediately jumped to mental illness and needing therapy. Therapy is a good idea for anyone, especially when making a life changing move, but we don’t know the reason for her hesitation.

  62. I just wanted to say that 16 years is too long to grit your teeth and power through, especially since you already have enormous retirement savings and are experts at living below your (small) means. And besides the fear and trauma that you are expressing, I hear a longing for more down time (with your son, with your husband). Take all the steps you need to make that happen, your health will benefit. A chronic health condition diagnosed during this past pandemic time is a wake up call that your body is giving you, please trust your gut and scale back to a more healthful place. Sending you love and light.

  63. Erin, you are an amazing saver! I think you could start a blog.
    So many commenters have made good points and given messages of support.
    I don’t want to write too long: Do look into how Nebraska supports disabled adults. My friend whose brother has autism was told he was much better off in Illinois than Missouri (where she lived). Illinois covered so much more of his expenses. I think everything in fact.
    Meanwhile, I’m a trustee for my cousin, who has been on emotional disability since he was in his 20s. (He’s now 71). His father died only a few years ago and his Schwab account just had to get a new name under what became the irrevocable trust (after the father’s death). It started with about $1.6 M and now has over $2 M and has continued to cover the son’s assisted living, spending money for gas and eating out (they can’t have more than about $1,000 in a bank … although that may have recently gone up a bit), and other needs. I pay the bills for him and give him some pocket cash if needed.
    We are lucky the stock market has cooperated the past few years. His SS goes directly to the assisted living and we still pay about $2,300 additionally to them a month. Just FYI.
    The special needs trust seems to me a good way to go. Whoever you pick for guardian may be able to be the trustee (if you trust them with money). A lawyer can set it up. It will outline your wishes, etc. and designate survivor beneficiaries after your son passes.

    1. Leslie, thank you so much for your response! I have thought about starting a blog many times but I’m not sure what’s unique & different about my situation than what others have already shared. We do already have a will & guardianship set in place for our son & yes, his guardians would be the trustees. Thank you for your suggestion about looking into how my state (Nebraska) addresses care for disabled adults. I appreciate your kind words!

  64. Hi Erin,
    Teacher to teacher, quit and move on. I have decided this will be my last year teaching. It’s not just about COVID, it’s the fact that this industry is missing half its workers, which means we are being overworked and there isn’t relief in sight. Priorities, stay home with your son. Find a home school support network , create a blog, live a happy life–that’s what matters.

  65. Don’t give up on a job you love. Stay the course. Things can change abruptly for the better. None of us knows what may happen a year from now regarding Covid so don’t quit your job, take it one day at a time. I work in a plant with over 100 employees. We have worked continuously with full staff (2 shifts) during Covid wearing masks. Use the protocols, they work.

  66. Your son sounds a lot like mine: 6 years old, 1st grade, squarely in the moderate part of the ASD spectrum. Like you, I’ve been really confused about how to save for his future, and if we need to consider setting up a trust. The truth is that it’s just too early for us to know what our son’s future is going to look like in terms of college, living independently and being employed. I am saving money in a 529 for him because we’re doing that for our other child and I would hate to be in a position where we didn’t save for him but he does end up going to college one day. Luckily, you can transfer 529 funds into an ABLE account if you later determine that he’ll need more support in adulthood. You can also apparently avoid the 10% withdrawal penalty on 529 funds if he ends up not going to college. So while you don’t need to throw a ton of money into a 529, don’t worry about putting *some* in there — even if plans change you’ll likely be able to recoup it.

    1. Upvote here for ABLE accounts. They’re relatively new vehicles and have much more flexibility than a traditional 529. Please, please do look into them. Check out ABLE National Resource Center and consider speaking with a benefits counselor or your local independent living center for more information on how these funds can be used.

  67. Thank you for your love of teaching! I paid into my state teacher’s retirement fund, and into my State (Ohio) Pension fund & rolled over the Teacher’s retirement $ into the State pension… At retirement, I filed for the state pension, AND, Social Security. (I worked 2 & 3 jobs as a single parent mom) I had a not so nice lady at the Social Security office tell me that I was NOT allowed to double dip! That there is something called the Windfall Elimination tax, & I was NOT allowed to collect my state pension, and a full social security distribution–that the Social Security department would be keeping 2/3 of my Social Security benefits. 🙁 Please talk to a financial advisor about what your options are… If you “cashed out” the teacher’s retirement, would you be allowed to collect a full Social Security benefit when you’re eligible? Also, check out what you need to do to provide for & protect your child when he’s of legal age–I worked in Special Education over 30 years, & some parents made detailed plans; one young lady w/ Down Syndrome was moved from her home to a group home overnight b/c her one living parent would not make plans for the future. Ask to meet w/ someone at your county board of Developmental Disabilities to find out resources. THANKS For sharing your story w/ us!

  68. While a few commenters have mentioned this, I want to also be clear that pandemic concerns can be a matter of more than just trauma. While Erin and her partner are vaccinated, her kiddo JUST NOW became eligible for vaccination (and in one of the comments, Erin even mentioned he will get his second dose next week). That means that even if you were to personally feel like you would come through it if you contracted Covid, you might be concerned about becoming a breakthrough case that infects a loved one (including your child, pre-vaccine). This, for some people, is also an issue in engaging with family members— if family members are anti-vaccine, won’t wear a mask or take reasonable precautions, etc— you may justifiably still feel uncomfortable seeing them until you + your kiddo are fully vaccinated.

    I agree that we aren’t in the early days where literally everything felt scary, but it can be a whole new wave of difficult to see a community with low vaccination rates, no masks, etc… where even the reasonable precautions of the early days are gone… and try to weigh the risk to your unvaccinated little one (because again, Erin’s kiddo just now became eligible, and it can take a little bit for our risk analysis to adjust to these shifts). It is extra, extra hard to be a teacher during this time— I left teaching last year due to pandemic concerns (and, specifically, an administration that made it very clear that we were expected to risk our lives for the good of the school), but I know that teachers are still expected to make excessive sacrifices and on the receiving end of pretty significant public frustration.

    So yes, therapy is good. Finding a risk tolerance that you can be comfortable with— seeing vaccinated family members, attending gatherings when they are outdoors, etc- is good. But based on individual health factors (like the health condition Erin mentioned) and community spread/ dynamics, the fear might still be very based in reality. If it helps to hear, husband is a frontline health worker (so he sees this daily), I’m pregnant, and we have a still unvaccinated toddler— so we are very Covid conscious. Our comfort level is seeing our vaccinated parents indoors, seeing a few vaccinated friends outdoors (with heaters now that it’s winter)— or indoors if our kiddo isn’t with us, and going occasionally to spaces like museums where masks are still required during off-peak hours (this is hubby and my’s pandemic date time!). We don’t indoor dine yet or do crowded events like sports or concerts, and our kiddo only sees close family members who have chosen to remain unvaccinated outdoors at a distance or indoors (specifically for the holidays) after they take a covid rapid test.

    1. Jennifer, thank you for articulating so well the complexities of the “new normal” in a state, field of employment & yes, even family, where everyone’s views are simply not aligned & in many cases, miles apart. I so appreciate your comments. We’re trying to figure it out but the continual decision making is just draining & emotionally charged. Thank you so much for your response.

  69. Fellow teacher here who is also struggling with the “new normal” – so I absolutely understand your caution. Here are a few suggestions I have. These are all applicable in Georgia, where I teach, so they may not be options for you.

    We have several state public K12 virtual schools that have seen a huge increase in enrollment, thus needing more teachers. These jobs are state jobs so you still pay into your teacher retirement.

    Can you move to a nearby district that is handling Covid and other issues in a way that is more aligned with your values?

    I know it would put you out of the close range of family, but have you considered moving to another state? For example, in GA, after teaching three years, you can then “buy” retirement time in GA, using the money you can “cash out” from your other state plan. I’m sure you would lose some money in a conversion like that, but it wouldn’t affect your retirement timeline.

    If you want to stay where you are, what can you do to make your daily experience feel safer. Even though my husband and I are both vaccinated, we are both teachers and I still wear my mask when teaching. I realize I probably don’t need it, but when students randomly get in “my bubble” I feel safer with it on. There are only a few teachers at my school who still wear one, but all of my students know that I wear it because I have two small children at home and I don’t want to get sick or get them sick (Covid or otherwise). I also still keep my desks 5-6 ft apart. It is not my favorite arrangement, but I feel that it’s in the best interest of my students.

    If your state/district is anything like mine, they desperately need teachers so you have bargaining power. Use that to get what you need to feel safe and be able to do your job!

  70. Hi Erin,
    My spouse is also a teacher of 17 years. It’s been a long hard slog though COVID for you poor teachers. I feel for you.
    We’ve been doing quite a bit of future planning ourselves. I notice in the write up some pension details are missing or unknown and I feel for you here as well because we are finding the details are either buried in the state website or clear as mud! But, here are the pension considerations we had, knowing every state plan is different:
    – Our state allows teachers to purchase years of credit towards pension benefits, once a certain number of years of service has been met. And, these credits may be purchased via 403b rollover, so tax free. Not sure if this applies to your state or if it shaves off enough time to impact your decision, but worth looking into.
    – Does your pension have a COLA?
    – What shape is your state’s pension in? Our state is way underfunded which is….concerning. This may be a risk factor that impacts your decision as well.
    – A commenter above mentioned possible retirement medical benefits, this is another huge draw and worth looking into as part of the decision making process.

    Best wishes and thanks for all you do!

    1. Hi Jenny, thanks so much for your response! Regarding my state pension, here’s what I was able to dig up yesterday: my pension tier does have COLA of up to 2.5%. My state pension plan is ok regarding funding… for now. Every Unicameral session, funding seems to pop up in debate, though. We do have the option for retiree medical, but at extremely high premiums.

  71. Hi Erin! My husband and I are both teachers, so I TOTALLY get all your fears, concerns, and overall stress associated with the job! We are discussing an early retirement for my husband for the exact same reasons. I am at a different school site, with different (and easier!) circumstances, so I am in it to win it for now. I felt like I was reading about myself in your case study, as we also have an only child with moderate Autism. So much of the advice and thoughts from other readers were spot-on, and so thoughtful, so I am just going to address one issue: babysitting. When my son was in 1st grade, we heard about the Tri-Counties Regional Center (Santa Barbara county in CA). We reached out to them and ended up qualifying for services. This is not Medical or Medicaid, nor does it have any ties to your school district. I suggest you check out their website ( and then see if you can find something similar in your area. We had NEVER heard about it until our son’s behavioral therapist mentioned it. I guess my point is it was a resource that was right under our noses, and no one had ever mentioned it, and as teachers we didn’t even know it was available! Once he qualified, we started receiving RESPITE, which is basically babysitting so that you get a break. The way ours works is that we find our own babysitter, fill our easy paperwork, and they are paid through that company. That way you can find a person that understands your child’s particular needs, and works well for your family. Ours also is required to be vaccinated. Our son also then qualified for Medical, which we originally turned down. We figured we carried him on our insurance, which was quite good, so why bother. A few years later our case manager convinced us to do sign him up for Medical, and we are so thankful! It basically acts as his secondary insurance, and then the respite care was completely covered by Medical. Up until then it was a sliding scale based on our combined income, so we always paid a portion. He is not on any kind of disability or anything like that. This is simply a county service that works to make life easier for families of special needs children. I hope there is something like this in your area, and that I am not sending you on a wild goose chase! Wishing you the very best of luck, and know that this Mama is rooting for you!

    1. Jennifer S, thank you for sharing your experience & I’m glad that you could find respite care that is covered! I would love to find something like that in our state. I will definitely look into it. Our state recently voted to expand Medicaid, so maybe that’s a possibility, too? I honestly had never thought of even trying for something like this, since I presumed we’d be ineligible.

  72. Can Erin take a year sabaticle to help her figure it out? This would hopefully get everyone in a better place regarding the pandemic as well as allow her space to figure out what to do. Quitting would drastically change your entire plan. Taking a year off ensures you make the right decision and allows you to get into a better mental place. I work in a school and teachers are beyond burnt out. Also, I will recommend taking some mental health days for yourself throughout the year so that your work is not as stressful.

    1. Jennifer, I do have the option for an unpaid leave of absence next year, so that is definitely on the table for possible ways forward next year. Thank you for your response!

  73. A temporary leave of absence to help sort out priorities might be helpful, but also check your numbers to see if you’ve already reached “coast FIRE” and can maybe stop contributing to your retirement accounts now. That would give you some flexibility regarding part-time work going forward, maybe something geared more toward working with special needs kids where you could put your unique parental knowledge to good use. Good luck! I am super impressed with the savings you and your husband have been able to accumulate, not to mention the paid off house, pension, SS and zero debt!! Cheers!

    1. Also, sounds like setting up a trust for your assests would be a good idea so you have more control over what/how your son would inherit. I recommend meeting with an estate attorney for a consultation.

      1. Kelsey, thank you so much for your kind, uplifting comments! I do have the option to take a year long leave of absence, so that is a possibility on the table right now.

  74. I just read through the case study and some of the comments and wanted to comment specifically on where the savings account monies should be held. As Liz had already mentioned, it might make sense to consolidate into 1 account. It does not make financial sense to have so much money sitting in accounts that are paying 1 % (or less) if inflation is running at 4% or so. Perhaps set up a regular Vanguard (or Fidelity, etc.) brokerage type account and transfer funds into an inflation indexed ETF such as VTIP which is low risk and still quite liquid. Just a thought…

  75. State of Nebraska Department of Education. They could make great use of your skills and may have some remote or hybrid positions. In any case a lot less exposure being in an office in your own space than being around large numbers of children. You may be able to stay on the same pension plan too.

  76. Erin,
    Great job saving and paying off your house so young! I disagree that you can’t live off of your husband’s income. You have a healthy emergency fund and a lot of retirement savings, plus a pension. Logan could easily cut back his retirement contributions to just what his employer matches and you guys would be in great shape in terms of your current budget and your retirement. The 457 gives you a lot of flexibility too since you can take money out at any age.

    I can also relate to your feeling about teaching. My husband is a teacher and has always loved his job and his students, but the way they were treated by leadership, parents, and our local community during a pandemic has a lasting impact. Even as life gets back to normal, there is definitely a feeling that everyone is ok with working you into the ground with little consideration for your mental or physical health. That is hard. Other ideas – would you be interested in tutoring? Working at a library? Maybe a community college? Is there a private school in your area with smaller class sizes that might be a better fit? Or maybe a program for kids with disabilities? If you found something part time, you might be able to fit in some lunch dates with your husband too 🙂 Good luck!

  77. Hi Erin, I felt compelled to weigh in on your case study because I really think many people (including Mrs. FWs) are not understanding the complexities of life in the classroom. I do not think this is just about concern over getting COVID (although I also acknowledge that this is still a very real concern, especially with vaccination rates so low in some parts of the US, and it must be unbelievably hard for you to have so many unvaccinated relatives).

    I live in Ontario where our eligible population is above 80% fully vaccinated. Our kids are back to in-person learning after having some of the most disrupted schooling in the world since the pandemic began. The vast majority of outbreaks in our province are in elementary schools because our 5-11s are still too young to be vaccinated (approval hopefully coming tomorrow, if the leaks are correct).

    Life in our classrooms is not ‘back to normal’. At elementary schools, teachers are having to monitor mask wearing and social distancing, as well as spend huge amounts of time on hygiene theatre (even though we know this is an airborne virus). They are expected to be able to pivot to online learning within hours if their class is dismissed. This is not an exaggeration – a class was recently sent home with a confirmed case and the teacher was running a lesson on Zoom two hours later. If you are not teachers, you may not understand how much work is involved in flipping a classroom – you cannot take material that was designed for an in-person setting and teach it online. You have to fundamentally change your entire approach.

    Some of our high school teachers are stuck in a fractured learning model, where they are expected to teach students in the classroom and students learning remotely AT THE SAME TIME. I have friends in this situation. Burned out doesn’t even begin to describe how they feel right now. They know that they are not giving any students in their classroom what they need (either face-to-face or remotely) and it eats at them because they love their students. That’s why they’re teachers. If you are not teachers, try to imagine what it would be like to know that your working conditions make it impossible for you to do your job well. And you know for a fact that this is true, because you used to do your job well.

    Even supposing the classroom is entirely in-person, and there are no Covid cases, and things can continue as ‘normal’, teachers are still dealing with a much wider range of knowledge in the classroom than they would expect. One of my kids’ teachers told the parents at curriculum night that they’re seeing the impact of two years of disrupted schooling, that many kids are not at grade level in many subject areas, that there are huge and uneven gaps in their knowledge, often differing wildly from kid to kid. It is not new for teachers to have kids at different points in their learning in the same classroom and they’ve always adapted and tried to give everyone what they need. But this is on another scale entirely.

    Yes, eventually COVID will become endemic and hopefully life will mostly return to normal and it will be just one more booster shot that we get in the fall along with our flu vaccine. But the impact of the pandemic on the kids is going to ripple through classrooms for years. My big kid is in grade 5 – his last ‘normal’ year of school was Grade 2. I don’t blame any teachers for getting out if they can, and I have nothing but empathy for those who desperately want to stay, but don’t know if they can handle it. Erin, I wish you all the best with this decision. If you can manage an unpaid year off to keep out of the classroom for one more year while you explore other options, that might be a good route.

    One final note- if you are on Facebook, I strongly recommend joining the group Autism Inclusivity. Do not post for at least a month- just read and learn. It is full of autistic adults who are strong advocates for autistic children and neurotypical parents can learn much more from them than they can from other NT parents of differently wired children.

    1. Turia, thank you for that Facebook group recommendation. I have a request in to join! Spouse & I are both NT so it will be helpful to have information from parents’ perspective & neurodivergent adults’ perspective. I’m reading a book now titled What Your Autistic Child Wishes You Knew. Thanks for sharing another resource & understanding the complexities of pandemic teaching.

    2. As a fellow Ontario teacher I agree with this 100% Turia. In some ways, last year was easier as the rules were so specific and “the outside world” did a decent job of rule following. This year we are not allowed to have kids sit in groups, yet they come in and tell us about the sleepovers they had on the weekend. We are short supply teachers on a daily basis and as a prep teacher, I have been called in multiple times to cover a class. It is frustrating and tiring.

  78. I find this helpful,

    The author’s perspective is similar to that of my parents. My parents are a couple of years younger and not in the best health; especially my dad. In fact, we nearly lost my dad a year ago due to his (non-COVID related) illness; he spent a month in the hospital and a month in a nursing home. But now that my parents are vaccinated and got a flu shot they are back to spending time with friends and family and traveling.

    I am middle aged I have a couple of minor health issues that put me in the higher risk category but I am triple vaxxed and got my flu shot. So like my parents I am back to spending time with friends and family. This winter I’m looking forward to my first trip since the pandemic began. Because it’s time to move away from survival and go back to living.

    Don’t let a pandemic keep you from a job you love.

  79. You can continue to sub to keep your NPERS active, it would just be contributing as much as a full time salary. Maybe you could look into teaching online through some of those companies that teach English to kids in other countries, then sub even one day a week to keep contributing.

    You also need to look into getting your son on a waiver wait list, because he may need those services once he turns 18. I’m in neighboring IA and the waitlist is often 5 years or longer. Also, look into getting respite services for your son if you don’t have any reliable daycare options. Your ESU or special education rep should be able to help you with that. If they aren’t sure since he is so young, reach out to a transition sped teacher in the district you work in.

    1. Thanks for this suggestion, Beth. I appreciate it, especially since I didn’t realize how long the waiting list can be!

  80. This is the first time I’ve felt like I needed to add to the comments. I am one of the many teachers that elected to leave teaching after last year. It was a second career (first one in healthcare) but I had put in ten years and really struggled with if I should just stick it out. I am 48 and also wanted to retire at 55. There was a lot of self-reflection, pro/con lists, talking with fellow teachers and even my administrator. I was teaching in person and had to decide if my unhappiness was related to the current events or I was just burnt out from teaching. Ultimately I knew that if things didn’t change dramatically by the beginning of the next school year I had no business being in the classroom and I left. I have zero regrets about this. I have several teacher friends who have described this year as being even harder and they are more overworked and are planning on leaving at the end of this year. A few have already given their notice.
    Some of my friends who left are now doing instructional design and love it. I have joined my husband in the family business and doing some tutoring on the side. Only you can really decide what is right for you but to stick it out for 16 years is a very long time. Think about what is really best for you for this one life that you have. All the best!!!!

    1. Thanks for responding, Sarah! I would be interested in doing instructional design but I’m truthfully not sure where to start looking for those opportunities. Any thoughts?

      1. I’m not sure if I’m supposed to use this forum to recommend someone so this may get deleted but for an overall “should I leave teaching and what to do next” I would highly recommend visiting the Teacher Career Coach. She’s on instagram and has her own website. Her goal is not to talk you into one thing or another but she has a lot of advice on how to go about making decisions. I listened to many podcasts on her site while I was making my decision.
        For the ID, I had several friends go through the IDOL courses with Robin Sargent. I can’t personally recommend because I didn’t take the courses as ID is not something that interests me. However, for my friends that did, they were very pleased, learned a lot and most importantly are now in careers that they love. You can google her and get the info.

        After I posted my original response I started thinking about your current position. This might have been discussed in other comments but even though it is currently a 1 year position, might it end up being extended? Or might there be something similar available for next year? I’m in Colorado and I think that the reality of how many parents prefer online instruction even outside of covid was surprising so I think online is here to stay. Just something to think about!

        1. Sarah, thank you so much for the TCC recommendation! I hadn’t heard of that resource, so I will definitely look into that! I appreciate you sharing that resource with me since something along those lines is what I’ve been looking for. (Weirdly enough, I teach remote learners but I’m not at all into social media. Never would’ve looked on Instagram, so I appreciate you pointing it out to me 🙂)

          1. Sarah and Erin, I was just listening to a podcast this morning about Instructional Design by Luke Hobson ( and as I was scrolling through his list of episodes, I saw that one was about Robin Sargent’s IDOL course. I haven’t listened to that episode yet, but it might be an interesting way to explore that possibility.

  81. Hello, I totally understand some of the thoughts you are having towards your job. I am a front line provider on the west coast in an area where COVID is surging and social distancing is nonexistent. Some areas of the country are doing better with covid and some are worse than they have every been. Ironically some health care providers wish it was still last year. Vaccination is the best thing we have to fight COVID. It is certainly one of the best vaccines we have ever created. However, unfortunately in times of surge it isn’t 100%. I would think that in Nebraska the stress of front line providers and teachers is extreme with different strains of thought and increasing covid cases. I don’t think a therapist will necessarily heal some of these thoughts but a career coach might be helpful to isolate which aspects of your job you continue to love and those that you do not. Then hopefully you can find a path forward. I recently left my career on the front line due to 60-70 hour weeks and a >50% attrition rate of coworkers due to the current strain on our system. I have two children under 5 that cannot be vaccinated at this time and finding someone that is vaccinated and masked to care for them is hard as well as trying to ask a 2 year old to wear a mask when they are being watched (not sure if this applies to your son…but good news is he qualifies for an amazing vaccine at this time). I transitioned to 3 part time jobs as the breadwinner and still watch my children 1/3 of the time. I have sole control over my benefits which actually cost less and now can invest them with more flexibility and lower expense rations. I also have earlier access to them as well should I decide to retire earlier. I would never support staying at a job that is damaging to your health or your family’s health. Life is short and you need to enjoy the time you have. We have spent many a night in our diy truck camper watching movies in our yard while our kiddos slept on date nights. It can be done even without help.

  82. I thought this was a fascinating case study – thank you for sharing it, Liz! Personal finance is personal – as a spouse of a teacher with an autistic child whose retirement plans include pension benefits, I loved reading Erin’s story. I have two comments:

    1) Erin, I echo what others have said about your feelings about the late-pandemic teaching experience – it’s not just trauma or unnecessary fear of exposure. My husband is an elementary teacher, and what I’ve seen even in this “normal” year is a continuation of last year’s administrative chaos, grueling teaching schedules to make up for remaining COVID accommodations, lack of support from administration, parents, and the public with simultaneous increased expectations to get the (also traumatized) kids back up to speed, and a GREAT many reasons to be fearful about continued quality of life as a career public school teacher.

    2) I am also in a position where I am considering giving up a pension (to relocate, maybe change careers) and I have been trying to muddle through the math involved to see exactly what I’d be losing out on. I know the general wisdom is that a pension is a great asset to have in retirement, but it’s not the only asset to have. If Erin or I were to forfeit our full pension to take a new career, I’m assuming we – frugal and industrious people – wouldn’t be jobless. We would continue saving for retirement, albeit through a 401k, IRA, or similar plan for the next 16 years. Would that further investment make up for much of what we would “lose” by ducking out of our pensions early, and by how much? This seems like a crucial question that wasn’t answered in this post…

    1. Hi Jessica, it seems that our questions are similar re: pensions & leaving early. I am literally running the numbers per year (55 @ $5,600 & 65 @ $2,100 with life expectancy until 85) to see what comes out of that. Granted, I’ll have to do that during semester break, as I have zero time now for such an onerous task. And also, thank you for articulating that the post Covid classroom has a lot more complexities than just a virus. We teachers work with people, and people are pretty complex creatures. We’ve got a lot of traumatized students who need more than just extra instructional time. Thank you for recognizing that.

  83. Just wanted to offer one piece of advice about childcare. When I was in college, I babysat for a family of 3 boys, one with nonverbal autism. It was a great experience (for me and for them). It was a little tricky to learn the right communication techniques, and I know I didn’t always respond perfectly 100% of the time. But I cared about them tremendously, and they learned to trust me and we developed a strong relationship. I say this to say that whoever you choose to babysit for you may not be perfect to start with, but if you give the person time and tools you yourself know that works, I am sure they will do their best for your son. Start small with what you feel most comfortable with. That may be just 1 hour at a time, to go out for a coffee with your husband and come right back. Work your way up to longer dates. By the time I stopped babysitting for them, I had done several overnight gigs, and many bedtime routines, and full days including all meals. We got it figured out. But it did take trust from the parents to allow me to try.

    As far as finding a good babysitter- it is hard and it sucks. There is no way around that. I see that your husband works at a college though? That is prime babysitter material. Put up a good old-fashioned flyers on a few bulletin boards- include your name, contact info, and a note asking only for vaccinated students. Then see who contacts you. Have a few zoom interviews and discuss your concerns, your challenges, your scheduling and see if it is a match. Invite them for a (paid) meet and greet for an hour or two so that they can meet your son, you can watch how they interact, so on and so forth. And then for from there!

    Good luck, and I sincerely hope you get some quality time with your spouse soon. It is so, so important!

    1. Hi Rachel, thank you for your response. I appreciate how you shared your experience of needing time with the children & that’s something I need to really consider. My child struggles with instantaneous connection – either he just adores his caregiver, or he will refuse to do anything they say. It could be a learning experience for him as much as for his caregiver. Thanks so much for sharing your experience!

    2. If the university has a child care center on campus, staffed by early childhood education majors, that might be a great way to find potential babysitters. Our center even has a handy dandy babysitter list they hand out to parents, with their current (experienced, background checked) student workers. Maybe you could call the center’s director to explain your situation and ask for a recommendation. I know our center has folks who specifically work with their neuro-divergent kids.

    3. Re college students and childcare:
      College students often terribly miss their younger brothers and sisters. They might have special needs siblings or friends. You will see this if you ever visit a campus, such as a sporting event or performance; they will want to greet your son.
      They also miss being in a Real House.
      Do consider following up with hiring one them. (And let them bring a load of laundry to use your washer and dryer as an extra perk).

  84. We have a son who was similarly diagnosed with Asperger’s back when that was still in the DSM. As I’m sure you are aware, that is now “ASD”. Regardless of the name, it is an extremely challenging thing to deal with, both as individuals and together as parents. Parents of kids on the autism spectrum have a significantly higher rate of divorce compared to parents of neural typical kids, so it is nice to see that you and your husband have a strong relationship. I’d like to encourage you to continue to work together for the benefit of your son, and make time for the two of you to spend alone time. It will be good for you, and good for your son in many ways.

    I also want you to know that while there is a long road ahead, it is possible and indeed probably that your son will become a successful, independent adult. Be prepared, however, that this is unlikely to occur on the same time schedule as his peer group. Happily for my son, he recently graduated with a degree in Biomedical Engineering, and just got a job in the Southwest (we live in the northeast, so he’ll be moving across country). We will see how that goes, but it is a long way from where he was in elementary, middle and high school. While always strongly gifted academically, his poor executive function and social skills coupled with common comorbidities associated with ASD posed real challenges that he’s had to work hard to manage. Its still a process.

    It is also important, IMO , to understand that some of your anxiety regarding your career may be, in part related to your anxiety about your son’s future. This seems normal, and I personally continue to struggle with this.

    I wish I could say it gets “better”. I mean it does get somewhat better, but it mostly just gets different. Different challenges with different milestones.

    Please hang in there. Its very hard, and you seem to be doing really well.

    1. Jason, thank you for sharing your experience as the parent of a neurodivergent child. Yes, I’m naturally wanting to plan for my child’s future & so much is still unknown. I appreciate how you stated that there are different challenges & different milestones as children age. I don’t imagine that my child will follow a typical path & considering the unknown can be a challenge. Thanks for sharing your experience with me!

  85. Just chiming in to say that I love reading Reader Case Studies. I have never read one that hits sooo close to home. I live in Nebraska, have a first grader and love the YMCA. Hahaha! I completely understand where you are coming from. Our state has not done the best job with its Covid response. Whichever decision you make will be the right one for you and your family. Thank you for sharing.

    1. Thanks for sharing your response as a fellow Nebraskan! I hear what you’re saying on our state’s response. Glad you could find my case study relatable 🙂

  86. Ms. FW has reframed Erin’s question about finding a new career as how she might remain a teacher, but I think it is OK for Erin to seek out other options, too. Her net assets have her well on the way to a fantastic retirement fund (assuming she wants to work until she is 55, teaching or no) without a pension, and I imagine she would still be eligible for some portion of pension assuming she has vested. 16 years at a job that traumatizes you is a long time! I would encourage her to look into other government jobs and determine whether any of pension time is portable. Work in training is a natural pivot for an ex-teacher, but she may have other skills that translate. Perhaps she could take a teacher adjacent role where working conditions are more to her liking, if if a pay cut is involved. Some thoughts.

  87. Hi Erin, you are clearly very responsible with your finances. My advice would be to take a year off work completely. You are under a lot of emotional stress, and there comes a point when we sometimes need a break! I first did this following my divorce, many years ago, even though it meant living on ‘war rations’ with my three sons for a year… funny thing was, I had time (and savings enough) to buy another house which I renovated. I then mortgaged it, on a buy-to-let mortgage, to get my money back out. It still generates money for me to this day and has over doubled in its capital value. The emotional space I got from leaving teaching for a year made me see how much I loved working with children and I then returned, part-time as a Reading Recovery teacher – a role I was absolutely passionate about!! I continued to build a small portfolio of properties, which went on to serve me well. Although I sacrificed some level of pension by returning only part-time, this was compensated for by my properties. Give yourself some time to decide what you want to do. Yes, it will cost you a year’s income but that is an investment in your health. I have always been frugal, but I have everything I want – including a little Campervan which I love and use well!! Sometimes we need to ‘re-set’ our lives. 16 years is a long time, and there is a lot of great financial advice/comments to be had on Frugalwoods (I love/live it!)… but more important than anything is peace of mind. This is essential to good health and clarity… you are suffering and need time to heal. Give yourself permission. The job, the plans etc, will all still be there waiting for you and the opportunities available when you are feeling stronger. Stopping and re-setting my own compass was more important than anything to me, and proved invaluable in getting me through some of my life’s challenges. You will always manage, because you have already shown you are fiscally responsible… try not to worry so much, and enjoy being young and healthy. It’s time to nurture your own self with gentle exercise, high nutrient food, family love… and the answers will come when your mind is more relaxed to allow them in. All the very best xx

  88. Thank you for teaching and It’s so frustrating that your family members to get vaccinated! I’m out of patience for people who don’t “believe”in vaccines with full FDA approval. This is not like a question of whether or not you believe in the tooth fairy. If you’ve ever taken Tylenol for a headache this vaccine is no different. My kids are still too young to get vaccinated and i know a number of people who’ve gotten breakthrough cases, though the vaccine has definitely helped keep them out of the hospital. If I lived in Vermont there are a lot of things I’d probably be comfortable with at this point re Covid, but i live in TX so it often feels like i have to do more to protect my family

  89. I had a thought/question regarding the unvaccinated grandparents/family members. Are they otherwise being careful or worried about Covid? I can understand not wanting to get together until your nuclear family can be fully vaccinated. But after that point, if you’re not seeing them simply to protect them but they are not even trying to protect themselves I wonder if you are just denying yourself an important relationship. And those relationships are important to mental/emotional and by extension physical health. Check with your family members. Are they willing to be honest with you about any illnesses they have or have been exposed to? (So that you aren’t unnecessarily endangering yourself). Obviously, you wouldn’t get together with them if you were knowingly sick or exposed. But if they want to see you and aren’t protecting themselves in any other way then denying yourself the relationship because of an incredibly tiny chance that you might bring them Covid (when they’re already choosing to potentially expose themselves in how they live the rest of the time) may not be the best option.
    Adults are responsible for their own decisions. Even bad ones. I want my father in law to lose weight. It’s already harming his health. I want my dad to handle his stress levels better. I can’t make them do that. And those things are probably going to harm them (already are harming them.) Protect yourself but don’t deny yourself an important support group just to protect someone that refuses to protect themselves.

    1. Hi Beth, unfortunately a couple of them are purposely going without masks or testing. It makes agreeing to see them, even when we all 3 will be fully vaccinated, really challenging. But then again, I think, well how would I feel if we didn’t see them & then they got Covid & were unfortunate statistics? What if we never had the opportunity to see them again? Do principles come before that? It’s just really really REALLY hard. Thanks so much for your thoughtful response!

  90. Erin, I think you are doing a great job financially. I am not going to address therapy because I agree with a lot of what everyone else is saying. I also know how difficult it is to be in the family situation you are in. I feel like my story might be similar and I am going to share that.
    I am the mom of a wonderful ASD adult. My son was diagnosed in first grade after a long period of trying to get someone to see that what was going on with him wasn’t “him just being a boy.” I was working a full time job plus a seasonal tax preparation job. We were doing ok financially. However within a year it became very apparent that something had to change because of the stress of parenting my son, the stress of my job and the overall feeling like this wasn’t working out.
    I wasn’t sleeping well. My husband and I weren’t getting any time together. My daughter was getting pushed to the side. I wasn’t being a very good advocate for my son. We were having financial woes because I was using money to solve problems that couldn’t be solved. (And now I know they didn’t need to be solved.) I just basically started to listen to my inner voice that was saying it was time to move on. I had to attend an IEP meeting via telephone, and my boss asked me when this Autism thing was going to be over.
    I got a part time job and redoubled my efforts to save money. My husband found a job he loves that also paid more money. We had a couple very tight years, but my son graduated from traditional high school and went on to get an associates degree. Right now he is trying to figure out if he wants to go for a bachelor’s or if he just wants to work. He is a remarkable person. I would do it over again exactly the same way. I believe things work out the way they are supposed to work out.

  91. Hi! I didn’t see a lot of people touch on testing for you to reduce risk and widen your bubble a bit. Now that at home covid tests are available maybe the grandparents would be willing to get tested and get your family tested before an outside/masked visit? Or maybe use this to help feel more comfortable with a babysitter? If your not comfortable than of course do what’s best for yourself but it might keep the limited risk while still allowing a relationship with grandparents. Or even quarantining before a visit so everyone is known to be covid negative? Just some ideas for you to consider. Maybe ask a medical professional about ways to safety meet with close family/friends/babysitters without increasing the risk? Now your son is going to be vaccinated soon you might be able to broaden your social circle!!! Good luck and best wishes!

    1. Hi Krista, thanks for sharing your response! While our family believes in testing, not all of our extended family does or is willing to do it. They have their reasons, none of which I agree with. As I mentioned in a previous response, the family aspect is making it incredibly hard to move forward with any sense of normalcy. There’s so much more I’d like to say on this, but this isn’t a political forum or a family counseling session. Thank you so much for your response!

  92. This case study really hits home for me. I am a classroom teacher in Ontario Canada with 22 years experience. I also have a Doctorate in Education (Ed.D.). I will receive my full pension in 9.5 years, but am not sure that I will make it that far! COVID has brought many challenges to the forefront. I tried administration – and hated it. If I could just teach and ignore all of the political challenges that election time and contract negotiations bring, I would be golden. Good luck Erin!

    1. Christy, thank you for sharing your story as well! I wish you good health & peace in this trying time. Thank you for your work & dedication as a teacher!

  93. If you just left your retirement assets invested and did not add any more, you can expect it to grow to $1 million in ten years – which means you could safely withdraw $30-40K annually in retirement. In 15 years it will be $1.4 million or more.

    I’m not saying you should stop saving and investing, but hopefully it will hammer home the fact that you are in great financial position and can afford to take some time off if that’s what will keep your family physically and mentally healthy right now (especially since you noted in an above comment that you are able to take a leave on absence). It’s awesome that you’re able to tech virtually right now. If you can’t do that again next year but you also don’t want to return to the classroom, I would encourage you to take a year off to recover from the last few years and think about next steps. You CAN afford it, without needing to withdraw from your savings – your spouse would simply reduce his very high retirement contributions to cover the gap in spending. I know it’s hard to consider saving less for a period of time, but you honestly are in really strong financial shape and have been on the front lines of an emergency situation for the past 2 years – the reason that you have saved so well is for future needs / emergencies, and a pandemic is a very valid one.

    Also, it seems like the biggest unknown in your financial planning is how much you will need to save to help your son. I can relate to this in my own life. To plan, I roughly estimated how much I will need to have saved assuming my support is needed to entirely cover my loved one’s living expenses, and that is the number I am working towards. Maybe I will not need it – but I have no way of knowing, so planning for it makes me feel most comfortable.

    1. Jessica, thank you for your reply & your advice! I agree that times like these are why my spouse & I have saved as much as we have. Making the mental adjustment to not actively saving for awhile is something that I should work on before it actually happens. Thank you for your response & taking time to read my case study! I truly appreciate it!

      1. Very interesting comments on this case study! I will add a few tiny things.
        1. If you don’t have your teaching pension, that doesn’t mean you will have no more retirement money that you or your husband earns over the next 16+ years. And you most fortunately have some excellent savings in place!
        2. I don’t think anyone has mentioned a basic occupation: Childcare. Find vaccine-like-minded parents and take care of their children in your home. You would control your hours. You would work with children. Your son might (or might not) be cooperative with this. Another option is tutoring, whether through a service or something you set up on your own.
        3. There will always be a need for teachers, good teachers, qualified teachers. If you step away from teaching, after reading all that was written here, it is clear that there will be openings for many years to come if you wish to return to classroom teaching. Keep a few people in hand to be references and keep track of how to keep your credentials up to date.
        4. One of the important exercises of setting up a special needs trust and similar legal moves is to make decisions about who will be your son’s guardian, which is perhaps not the same person as the one who will take care of his money and assets.
        Best wishes to you all!

  94. So many comments and suggestions so this may have already been thrown out there. Sabbatical! My husband is in education, we also have 1 son (but 12 years old) and I also worked in Education. We are in the midst of a 1 year sabbatical (technically not a sabbatical but a one year unpaid leave of absence) so that my husband can take a break from the stressors of teaching. Funny enough, he is subbing and I’m back in a similar setting after a 4 month stint working at a local non-profit. Subbing feels like he can call the shots on when and where to work and he is not stressed about all the normal teaching concerns (on going well being of children, lesson plans, crisis mode, other teacher drama, budget, etc). He gets to be a light in the kids day, help the school have a professional person when a staff needs to be out, etc. This might not be for you- but 4 months in, my husband says he is feeling more refreshed and not quite, but nearing, ready to return to his normal job next school year. We happened to move across country to be near family with kids similar ages to ours because of the pandemic (socializing feels easier with family) but that may not be an option for you and with your son’s needs. I think that one year leave option is not utilized enough in the teaching world but teachers absolutely need a break (more than just a summer) and this year is no exception.

    1. I read through some of the comments, and see a leave of absence was already suggested and then I had this thought- Could you take your one year leave to partially focus on finding a village of folks to help with your son? Like interviews, trial days, etc (like one reader suggested- it may take time, training, etc to get someone to connect with your son,/son to connect with a care provider). Plus- possible date days with your husband if his job is a little more flexible- while your son is in school. Two birds, one hand??

  95. Best of luck with everything, Erin! Lots of great advice, and I just want to reiterate that your “normal” in a COVID world might be more challenging than it would be if you lived in a place like MA or Vermont. I’ve experienced having to draw a line with relatives who are unvaxed/ won’t mask, and while I’m comfortable with the precautions my district is taking, I have friends whose families are dealing with a lot of stress in their kids’ districts, with lots of fights around masking.
    All the controversy/ disagreements/politicization about vaccines and masking and other precautions has made these past 2 years more stressful for a lot of us, and I imagine especially in a situation like yours.
    I would reiterate that you should take time off if you need to. And the reality is no one really knows what jobs/ schools/ everything else is going to look like 2-3 years from now. There will be problems we can’t foresee and solutions we can’t foresee. There might be a great situation that opens up to you.

    1. Absolutely true. Go to Chicago and they politely hand you a mask if you try nd walk in CVS or Starbucks, yet in Minneapolis or Florida it’s a free for all- in fact if you have a mask on people will tell you ‘you don’t have to wear that thing’.

  96. Hi Erin. Thank you for sharing your story! Sorry in advance for my long response. I am a fellow boy mom/super saver and almost the same age as you, so I see a lot of similarities in our situation. I hope my input below is helpful!

    I didn’t see this addressed anywhere, but are you and Logan maxing your Roth IRAs each year? You really should be doing that for both of you. If you need to dial back the pre-tax savings in order to do so, absolutely do it. If you haven’t maxed your Roths for 2021 yet, you can do it until the tax filing deadline next year, and you might want to consider using $12k of your $64k cash to do so.

    I say all of the above because my husband is a North Carolina state employee who will have a full pension at age 55, and after years of throwing lots of money into pre-tax accounts, I finally figured out that we should be focusing on Roth accounts instead. This is largely because of the required minimum distributions (RMDs) that will kick in at age 72 or whatever the law at the time dictates. Essentially, at age 72 you’ll have not only a pension (at whatever amount) and social security, but you’ll also be required to take large chunks of money out of your pre-tax accounts. And the kicker is, your expenses are so low that you likely won’t need this money!

    Roth accounts are great because although you don’t get a tax advantage today, you a) don’t pay any taxes at the time of withdrawal, b) don’t have to take any RMDs from a Roth c) can withdraw contributions at any time, and d) can pass a Roth account to the next generation without your beneficiary paying taxes upon withdrawal.

    I saw that in a comment above you mentioned doing a Roth conversion ladder but are confused by the complexity. It’s not as bad as it seems. Note that most of the time you can only take money out of a pre-tax account and convert it to a Roth once you have left that employer. However, some employers do allow Roth conversions for current employees–you will need to check on that. If they don’t allow it, then keep doing what you’re doing but also max both Roths each year and investigate if your employer accounts have a Roth option. If they do allow for conversions while employed (or you leave your teaching job), then great! You can convert an amount each year that keeps you within the 12% tax bracket, which is under $81,050 for married filing jointly.

    What I plan to do is, once we get our November paychecks, calculate the approximate amount that our gross income will be for 2021 and then convert whatever amount keeps us under that $81k total. (You pay tax on the conversion not at the time of conversion, but whenever you file your taxes the next year). Conversion can be as simple as calling up your company and asking them to help you do it. I have learned a fair amount about this from Ed Slott, whose typical audience is Baby Boomers, but he has a lot of wisdom that can benefit the younger generations, especially us super savers!

    That brings me to another point. As a fellow mom of young kids, I have to tell you–please, please go easy on yourself. I can’t even imagine everything you’ve been through in the last 20 months. I hope you will designate some spending money for yourself. And if you can’t do it, talk to your therapist about it! You are doing so much and doing so well financially; I really hope you can see that and feel comfortable with designating even a small amount per month for yourself.

    I also think that you do not need to work full-time every year until you retire, simply because of how well you guys have saved and paid off your house. I did a very simple calculation, and based on your $579k currently in pre-tax accounts (not including your pension), in 16 years, at a conservative 5% rate of return, you’ll have $1.265M. That is if you don’t contribute *another cent* to any of these accounts!! I really believe you could max out one tax-deferred account (instead of three) plus both of your Roth IRAs and be totally fine–even with a reduced pension.

    Another thought: Is there a middle ground? It sounds to me like it’s “quit teaching now and never go back and plan on a small pension,” and I wonder if “quit teaching now for 2-3 years and go back and get a smallER pension at age 55” is a possibility? In North Carolina, if you leave your state job and come back, the clock for the pension starts right where it left off. Perhaps knowing that you have a few years to breathe but then can go back to the profession you love might provide some solace?

    Finally, to piggyback on what Mrs. FW and others have already advised, definitely get some account consolidation going. It must be a little overwhelming to keep track of all these accounts. In addition to consolidating the credit union savings accounts, I would also suggest:

    1. Take the “E – Roth IRA” at a local bank, roll it into the E – Roth IRA at Vanguard, and invest it as that account is already invested, which is presumably for retirement. You don’t need that money to be sitting there earning a teeny bit of interest. You need it invested for the long-term!
    2. If you’re keen to get more interest on your cash savings, you could look into purchasing i-bonds. You can buy $10k per calendar year per social security number (e.g., $10k under your name and $10k under your husband’s name). The Treasury Direct website is atrocious, but i-bonds are currently paying over 7% interest for the next 6 months! You have to hold them for at least 12 months, but then you can cash them out (small penalty before 5 years but not a big deal given the high interest rate). If adding another layer of accounts stresses you out, then don’t do it! Just consolidate all the savings accounts into the credit union, which seems to pay the best interest rate.
    3. Consider moving your mutual fund out of Edward Jones and over to Vanguard, so that you can manage it alongside your Roth IRAs and use Vanguard’s awesome low-cost funds.

    I am not a teacher nor in the field of education, so I can’t really offer much in the way of career advice. I just want to say thank you for all that you do, I hear your struggles very much in my own voice, and I hope that you can find some peace and relaxation in the coming year! Good luck and please do keep this community posted.

  97. Erin, as I read your story, it is obvious you love teaching, and probably are an excellent teacher. We need more like you! Then do what you love: teaching. I agree with Liz, we need to learn to live with Covid. It will be a way of life for the foreseeable future at least. I help teach preschoolers in a school setting. My school shut down in March 2020, like everything else, to the end of that school year, but in August 2020 for the new school year, we reopened but with strict masking and social distancing guidelines. We made it. This year we are doing the same but the distancing rule has relaxed a bit though not masks. It can be done. That was because teachers were fully vaccinated, and students were able to as well, if their parents opted in. Wearing a piece of cloth over my face for seven hours is a small price to pay for a job. Kids need to be in school, and we need all the wonderful teachers we can get to teach them. Don’t leave teaching, and don’t lose that pension. You’ve earned it. Hang in there. Be strong. You can make it.

  98. I love the community here and would add that taking time away from the classroom is crucial before leaving permanently. But a sabbatical may not be paid, is it? Unless you are doing research or distance teaching. Is that an option?
    I also suggest finding another child your son gets along with- get to know the parents for potential future social engagements. I know it’s complex- we used to ‘just’ have to worry about guns and drugs, now we have to investigate the familys’ social and political leanings, but expanding your own network will help in the long run. It’s the one positive aspect I have found about facebook- it does allow people to get together superficially before investing in face to fac e gathering.. Maybe someone should start a ‘dating app’ for parents! And as for therapy, unless it’s covered by insurance, be very selective before spending money on a poor fit. Consider a support group either via zoom or other app. Financially you seem on track and very disciplined, so as long as you don’t make a risky investment you should be fine. If you do change jobs look closely at the benefits package.

  99. Regarding your pension + Social Security plan for retirement, you’ll want to check whether the Windfall Elimination Provision applies to your situation. If your Social Security contribution is not being withheld at your current job, then your Social Security checks will be much less than you expect. It will also impact what you would receive in spousal Social Security benefits due to the Government Pension Offset. This is a rude awakening for many who retire from teaching or other public service jobs that offer a pension.

  100. I know many people have commented about how we are in a better place and we need to learn to live with COVID now, and I agree with all of that. However, as a fellow teacher, I want to add that I still don’t feel safe in my classroom. Yes, it is not nearly as bad as last year – particularly since I am vaccinated – but I think it is more than fair to be feeling uncomfortable with the thought of going back. I have certainly become desensitized to the fear/anxiety after so many months in the classroom, but there are also other challenges that have been added that are not going away. I need to remind kids to pull their masks over their noses easily 20 – 50 times a day. It is beyond exhausting.

    If I can offer any advice, what I have found most helpful is focusing on ways to make myself feel safer, regardless of what everyone else is doing (ie. the many teachers who choose not to consistently wear a mask despite the mask mandate). The keys for me are:
    1. I always double-mask, combining a 3-layer surgical mask with a around-the-head cloth mask containing 2 filters. This makes for 7 layers total (with the 2 cloth layers) and the cloth mask keeps everything fitting nice and snug.
    2. I leave the windows open at all times and try to keep the door open to increase airflow.
    3. I built a wood frame to hold a fan + MERV 13 filter that I have running all day. Something like this:
    4. I decided to alter my eating times so I fast during the day. This way, I can wear my mask at all times (particularly when the students or staff around me are taking theirs off!)

    I wish you all the best. Stay safe.

  101. I hear you on the COVID thing — teaching my unmasked little special ed guys in person was challenging But — we made it! No one has been ill and the few cases that have come through the school have not affected us. You sound like an awesome and dedicated teacher — truly!! It is what you love, so I do hope you can figure out a way to manage the understandable stress and worry that can go along with this. I had a physical checkup before I started back in person in October 2020 and it really eased my mind. I don’t know if you have underlying health issues — if so, a serious chat with your physician can help you make an informed decision (as opposed to a fearful one — and, believe me, I DO understand that fear!)

    Some other suggestions — online tutoring and teaching? With your excellent experience and degrees, perhaps the college level would be less stressful ? Whatever you decide I wish you well and hope you are still doing the things you love in whatever capacity. Good luck !

  102. Hi,

    I love your story, thanks for sharing, and I respect your concerns about working in person in an educational setting. I am also facing this decision as my school is asking us to prepare to come back this summer 2022.

    I have diagnosed anxiety and I think many people contribute my apprehension at working in person stems from my anxiety. I’m not sure if that is completely the case. More importantly, I’m not sure if that matters. Ultimately, it’s our decision (and our privilege!) to choose what’s best for us and our families. Reading your story helped me clarify what I would want — goodbye pension, I take the time and the peace over money every day. I can’t stop working of course, but I will look for another job that allows me to work online.

    I wish you and your family the best!

    Take care, jessie

  103. Sounds to me like you can manage your finances and you will be able to work in a variety of positions to support yourself. The biggest question in your life is the future of your son, and what decisions you need to make (childcare, health, finances) to set him up for a happy future.

    What you need is a COMMUNITY of people to hold your hand and show you what the future of a special needs family can look like. That will help you to know that You don’t have to white knuckle your days. Look for autism support and special needs support. Seek out mentors who are ahead of you on the journey. You are not alone, Best of luck.

  104. Erin – definitely look into KN95, N95, or KF94 options for you and your son. That with the vaccine really decreases risk. A reputable place to order is Project N95 mentioned here Recommend trying out a few types so that you can find one that fits well. For your son, I know it can go either way for special needs kids. Sometimes they like wearing a mask because it tones down the face-to-face interaction, sometimes they can’t. But if it helps your son like wearing a mask better, they also have a strapless N95 option that fits kids. Good luck!

  105. I’m a PhD who left classroom teaching, and I’ve never looked back. There is HUGE demand for new educational materials in this changing time, and you have two high-value areas of expertise that are in demand: online learning and autism education. I write textbooks, but there are lots of other educational products and services you could sell to share that expertise: teacher training workshops, one-on-one or group tutoring, class activity worksheets, lesson plans, etc.—all of which can be sold and delivered online on your time. Running a business isn’t for everyone, but your extremely marketable specialty gives you that option.

  106. Do the grandparents realize that you don’t see them because they aren’t vaccinated? And that doesn’t convince them? This is a sad situation because we’re going on 2 years of Covid – a huge span in the life of a kid. My immediate family skipped Thanksgiving and Christmas celebrations in 2020, but this year we’re doing both. Although bringing my kids to see their great-grandparents is a risk to the great-grandparents, 2 years is also a huge span in the life of a person who is over 90. If I wait until the Covid risk is “low enough,” my grandparents may well be dead from other causes, or Covid that my children didn’t transmit to them. And I also want to put in the time it takes to build real relationships. I’m raising my children 500 miles from my hometown, and I know that those strong bonds with extended family aren’t going to exist without a lot of effort and time. I would absolutely want my only-child kid to have close and loving relationships with his cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents, and I think at this point with him now vaccinated, I would give up pushing my hold-out relatives about vaccinating. Have you asked your immunocompromised parent/in-law if they prefer no contact with your child, over the risk of catching an illness from him? Pre-covid, what did you do to make sure your kid didn’t get that person sick? Perhaps you can buy a box of home-testing covid kits and add that person back into your in-person life.

  107. Just a suggestion about your defined benefit plan. I work in State government, and I have a plan much like yours. I know we can purchase retirement credit, and I’ve determined that if I leave government to work in industry, I’ll look at buying out my retirement and probably ask my new employer far a signing bonus to cover that. Is that an option that might be available to you?

    I’m also the proud autistic mother of an autistic young man who’s now grown and flown. I shared the frustration of feeling like you can’t get any non-family care. It’s so hard when you know the adult is going to be flabbergasted by a kid who’s doing his best, but doesn’t run on the same operating system as his sitter! I wish I had any solutions to give, but please accept my solidarity. You’ll both get through it. I also want to encourage you to keep trade school on the radar as you’re guiding your son to a career in the future. Autism runs in a strong line through our family, and we’ve had electricians since there was such a thing!

  108. Chiming in as a 32 year veteran teacher in California. Over the course of my profession I have faced divorce, getting sober, identifying and treating my own mental health issues, getting remarried to have an amazing kid who just went off to college, and this year having a husband just diagnosed with cancer. One of the great constants in my life has been my profession. No matter what, I kept teaching. It was really my first home, having come from chaotic nuclear family. So here are my two cents:

    1) You never know what opportunity will present itself. Sometimes the best opportunities come from the worst situations. I was working in a high poverty middle school for several years. We had a new principal every year. A crazy parent drove me to blindly put in an application at a small farm school teaching 6,7,8 self contained. It turned into a blessing where I met my second husband and had a baby at 40. When I wanted to continue teaching but also wanted to raise my son, I was offered a 60-40 position where I got full benefits for three days a week. It was the only position like that in the district. They kept trying to force me to come back full time but I stuck to my guns and became the most wonderful teacher in the world so that they couldn’t afford to loose me. I was part time until baby turned into a freshman in high school. I was able to buy “air time” for the missing service hours rolled over from my 403B. Later, when I faced a disabling mental health issue, a “wild cat” one year position of art specialist for 4th graders came up. That gave me the time and space to address my health. Now I am a high school history teacher on a block schedule where I teach three class with an hour and a half prep. I have a Dr.’s note that allows me to leave in the afternoon to avoid overwhelm. The afternoon is my prep so my students don’t suffer. I just come into school really early to compensate. Point being, you never know what is around the corner, keep all your option opens. Even a 20% position can keep you linked to the district until the next great job opens up.
    2). You are your best resource, if you burn out ,students don’t get to benefit from your passion. I take “mental health days” ( I am skiing today) I do NOT answer the phone or leave my phone number for the sub. I do NOT answer parent emails after school hours. I do NOT have parent conferences without a counselor or administrator present. I ONLY work at a school that has an administrator who protects their teacher. Teachers can be their own worse drama junkie. I leave the drama at school and come back refreshed which helps everybody.
    3.) Nationally, 1 out of 5 teachers stay until they are fully vested. How come only 1 out of 5 can make it to a dream pension that few other occupations have! This tells a story of a long, often difficult journey. The pension is not a dream however for those who quit midterm. It becomes a horrible investment when compared to individual saving endeavors if you had been working elsewhere. In California, for me and my age, I learned that 61 and a half gives me full medical and nearly 90% of my income. I learned this from independent research and I went to several personal retirement individual meetings. Dave Ramsay ( my husband said) said teachers are the third most likely profession to be millionaires. I was going to quit this year, but I have a new energy now that we are back full time and the district had to give us “one to one computers” and excellent technology. I am loving it. So I am in till 61 and a half.
    4) To make the last next three years new and interesting, I have begun online classes, hands on classes, and summer grading labs to get my jewelry appraiser’s certifications. I have found a new energy as I look to my next career as working for auction houses as a vintage jewelry appraiser.

    No advice here. This is my experience. Your feelings are real. Life at times is trudging and at times it feels like it is soaring. There have always been options in my life that appeared when I most needed them. My experience is to remember to always tell the truth of what is happening; find outside help: remind myself that I am enough just by waking up in the morning and I don’t have to prove anything beyond that; hang around positive people; and realize that fear 90% of the time is False Evidence Appearing Real.

  109. Hi, I’m Kate and I’ve been teaching for 18 years. I have four young children and I think the teachers with thwirnown young children have struggled so much during the pandemic. Hearing that our children are behind, seeing it at home, and then trying to fix it at work while protecting our loved ones has been exhausting. So many teachers are leaving education. I would suggest starting with two half year sabbaticals. You get paid 3/4 your salary and get to keep your benefits. You would qualify for a health or educational sabbatical. This time off still counts as years of service and you contribute the same amount into your retirement, so your pension would not change. Also, in many states the good retirement benefits kick in around 25 years. Aim for that, not 16 more years. Along the way try to make your work at school as streamlined as possible. You do not need to be teacher of the year. I utilize a lot of self grading programs this year and try to do minimal things at home. When you are at home try to get your little guy to bed early so that you have time to be with your husband and time for yourself. Hugs! You are doing great mama!

  110. Hey Erin! This pandemic really sucks! I am a social worker and my husband is a teacher in NJ. Teaching is a special type of crappy right now. I don’t think you should quit only because you enjoyed your teaching job before the virus hit. There’s only so much longer of pandemic teaching – maybe another year or two? I hope so at least! I wouldn’t think too much about making it another 16 years. Who knows what’ll happen in life?! But I wouldn’t make a major life decision based on something temporary like covid teaching – even if it doesn’t feel temporary! I imagine you are in extreme burn out (I know that I am!) so it’s not always a good idea to make life changing decisions in that state. I would just remind you that you are an asset to your school district and even more so now! I know people like us (in public welfare systems) don’t always think to go this route but I would encourage you to speak with your principle about your preferences for the next school year or two. Since you are in a large school district I wonder if there will be an opportunity to extend the remote teaching to next year too. Teachers are quitting in droves. Your school district needs you more than you need then it sounds like! I am just wondering if there is a way they will work with you for next school. If not, I would see if you could take a sabbatical next school year with the idea of returning in 2023. You can always quit then if you still hate it. Good luck! Therapy is a good idea if only because this is an intensely traumatic experience to live, work and raise a family in! Xoxoxo

  111. Erin, do you have an update on what you are planning for next year? I am in Higher education and this year has been extremely difficult. We have three kids and I question whether the stress at work is worth bringing home and impacting my family. Your case study aligns so close to where we are at. We live in the Midwest and prioritize saving for retirement so I can have options regarding work. Has the last few months helped you make a decision?

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