Lesson 4


Previous Lesson: Avoiding the Traps

Once you get going on the No-Spend Challenge and lifestyle, you’re going to start asking yourself, “Why didn’t I see this sooner?”  You’ll resist at first, but when you start seeing the savings and the progress you’re making toward those goals, you’re going to feel encouraged.

Until.. something happens. Then, you’ll be tempted to say, “What’s the point?” Or “Why didn’t I become an engineer?”

Setbacks and emergencies happen. They’re part of life. But, the more you get in the habit of not blowing all your income on your job, the better position you’ll be in to handle things. Wiping out debt and saving a cushion’s a good start, but eventually we want to do more than that.

Estimate your emergency needs

My emergencies are always big. So, that’s what I like to plan for. Many financial programs tell you to pay off your debt and keep a grand or so in your emergency fund. No “emergency” of mine ever costs a grand.  Some recent examples:

  • Business expenses from our family business. We shut it this year. Over the past years emergencies included nearly $5K in legal bills, $2K in accounting bills, $45K in tax bills generated by the business.
  • Medical: from insurance premiums to the boy’s squashed finger, every visit to a doctor is a couple hundred dollars.
  • Household: Our water heater died ($4000). The roof had a mystery leak. Insurance didn’t cover the roof itself ($6000). A tree smashed a window ($2K)

Start saving this fund little by little on a regular basis estimating for the largest reasonable emergency as your target number. In the examples above, I’d say keeping $10K aside for household emergencies is a good number, though I know I’ve got some bigger things coming down the pile. Over time, I’ll plan specifically for them.

Cost cutting is a temporary band aid.

As I wrote in the book, cutting back was like putting a band aid on a gunshot wound.  It only scratched the surface and isn’t a long-term solution. Skipping grocery shopping and doing pantry raids can save a few hundred bucks near term, but to tackle the larger things, you’ve got to build your bottom line instead.

Leave triage and chaos behind. Build instead.

There’s one problem with building. Teacher salary is pretty pre-determined. It is what it is.  Most people I talk to about this accept their teacher salary and continue to cut out coupons and skip out on the things they want to do. It’s a shrinking mindset when there’s no need–teachers are some of the most valuable people I know. They can do a thousand things people pay big bucks for outside of teaching–and stay sane doing it.

Teacher skills can build your bottom line.

And, even if your emergencies aren’t that expensive, we still want to build the bottom line.

Here are some quick suggestions:

  • I have a friend with a successful Teacher Pay Teachers site.
  • Many teachers have online courses on places like Teachable or Kajabi teaching things they love.
  • When I started this journey, I began to write, consult, speak, and work in tech–all for money–using skills that you probably have too.

My original goal was to have a year’s salary in the bank, cash on hand for emergencies, and no revolving debt. Then, to keep building so each emergency becomes less of an emergency and more of an “oh well.”

Even that, I realized, was a stagnant mindset. Sure, the goal is to have money for these things. But, it’s really about growth so I don’t have to put pennies in piles to allocate for the next disaster. It’s about knowing I have the power to continue to make more and to be successful.

After all, it’s what I teach. So, I had to do it myself, too. That didn’t mean I had a bunch of money in the bank. If you look at my list of expensive emergencies, you see there are a lot of curveballs. It meant I had to change my mindset from one of helplessness (“I can never move beyond teacher pay”) to one of building and growth (“My skills are valable.”)  Then, I had to make time to use my skills rather than joining every committee on the planet and volunteering to help everyone–for free.

Dealing with a Crisis

This isn’t a one-way journey. It’s more of a two-steps forward, a mile back, another two miles forward… when a crisis hits, keep moving forward.

  • Is it as bad as it seems? (The worst rarely happens).
  • Can I make some cuts temporarily to contain the spending while I continue to build my bottom line? (What’s a reasonable cost breakdown versus areas where I could do some earning?)
  • What are some creative solutions for dealing with this situation?  (When we closed our business, we got creative. Seriously. It was tough, but a good lesson in just how much power I really had if I believed in my own skills and value).

When a setback hits, evaluate it. Breathe. Ask, “Now what?” Asking that always helps me reframe my next action. Building the bottom line, charging through financial problems, or getting to the next peak on the mountain is a series of actions.

“Now what?” helps you determine the next one in the series that will get you through the crisis and back on the path to your goals.



  1. Think of a big setback you’ve had. You made it through. How? Did you make it through like a rock star or just barely? Why? Write down some thoughts on the things that helped you through or what you wished you would’ve done.
  2. Distill that to an action statement. For me: Stop. Breathe. Ask “Now what.” Do that. Repeat.  Yours may be a bit different.
  3. Revisit your spending sheet. Have you been on course 100%, faithful to the “no-spend” lifestyle? If not, get back on track.
  4. Look at any areas where you can shift your spending to emergency mode. This is a temporary measure only–DIY cooking, fixing, staycations instead of vacations. Cutting corners long-term is not our goal.
  5. Make a list of five or more particular talents you have. Start thinking about this, “How can I use this to make money?” The goal here: to grow the bottom line, take care of this emergency, plan for the next, and grow the bottom line so this doesn’t happen again.
  6. Pick one thing from the list. Ask, “How can I charge for this?” and do it. Commit to getting paid at least once outside the classroom using skill. Bonus points if it’s task based and not hourly work, since you only have so many hours in the day. Once you’ve taken that money by any means necessary —PayPal, Venmo, Stripe, tossing up a webpage, going to farmers’ markets, parties, events or fairs… do it again. Bigger this time!

Pro tip; Number 6 takes guts and time. Keep building–take one action every day.

Two ways to fail… and how to defeat them

This is the exact reason I wrote the book. I’d love for you to read it, but the bottom line is this–most teachers think they can’t make more money because of two reasons.

They say, “If I had your time…”

You do! But, you may be busier than you think for no reason at all.

The solution: Block off time in your calendar to start learning or doing things for you. When I started writing, I got up early and wrote for two hours every day. Then, I went to school. I went to bed early instead of watching TV and did it again.

I generated more time by drilling down on my teaching practices. I learned to be more efficient with my lesson planning and flow so I had more time free. I learned I didn’t need to generate papers to be a great teacher.  Teaching students to track progress, self-evaluate, and give feedback is teaching them higher-level executive skills and freeing me up to be the leader I am instead fo a bean counter and paper pusher.

We’ll talk about this more.

Teachers are used to giving away everything for free. So, stop.

The way to stop doing that is simple. Every time you catch yourself offering to help, ask yourself, “Is this a situation where I could say, ‘I’d be happy to help, here are my rates,’ makes sense? Because that’s how you build the bottom line.

I’m not talking about slamming doors in people’s faces or letting old ladies carry their own groceries, but if you’re the person people go to for free tutoring, helping with large projects, or setting up events and parties, you’ve got skills.

Event planners, tutors, corporate trainers, artists, copywriters, editors… they make bank. You could too. Start thinking that way about your teacher skills. They have cash value. Consider charging for them and instead of being in emergency/crisis mode, soon, you’ll be in growth mode.


Next Lesson: The Best of Both Worlds: Continuing on the Road to Success