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Want to thrive on a teachers salary?
Jackson County teacher Danny Kofke will tell you how to save your pennies
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Danny Kofke, 32, a resource teacher for children with special needs at Gum Springs Elementary School in Jackson County, wrote a book on how to survive on a teacher's salary. Kofke has been teaching for nine years. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

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Teacher and author Danny Kofke describes how he and his wife have saved money.

When a Jackson County special education teacher published a book last fall, he intended for it to help teachers like himself lead quality lives on a meager salary. But Danny Kofke's book, "How to Survive and Perhaps Thrive on a Teacher's Salary" may become increasingly useful as many find themselves living on a tight budget.

"Nowadays, especially with how bad and tough it can be, it can gear to almost anyone," Kofke said. "For the most part, teachers do it for the love and to try to help make the world a better place, and I think that's important. I want others to be able to see from my experience that if you want to be a teacher, or do another type of job that doesn't pay a lot of money per se, you can still do OK financially."

Kofke, 32, is married with two young daughters and has been teaching elementary school for eight years. He and his wife chose for her to be a stay-at-home mom, so Kofke said he has become keenly aware of every penny his 30-something-thousand-dollar-a-year salary rakes in.

The Kofkes own their own home, and Kofke said he and his wife are set to be millionaires by age 60.

By owning your own home, you're not wasting money paying rent every month. Instead, when you own a home and pay your mortgage, you're building equity and increasing your assets.

Also, by paying 20 percent down on his home up front, Kofke didn't have to pay mortgage insurance, which can easily cost more than $100 a month. But he cautions potential buyers to be sure you want to live in an area for a good 20 years or so before buying a home.

The advice in his book, available on Amazon and at Barnes & Noble and Book-A-Million, encourages wage earners to do something drastic - keep records of every single penny spent over a one-month period. At the end of the month, analyze exactly where your money is going: How much did you spend on dining out? How much on coffee? How much on the bells and whistles for your cell phone or cable service?

Kofke said when he helps friends analyze their spending, they're often shocked to find they spent $500 on eating out in one month.

Cell phone bills are often overlooked, as well. The teacher said he and his wife now spend only $10 a month on their cell phone bills after realizing they don't even use many of the extras for which they once paid an additional $50 a month.

First and foremost, Kofke said, pay yourself. Take $100 out of your paycheck every month and save it. Over 40 years, you would accumulate $48,000. Even better, invest it in the stock market, he said.

Although it's nice to watch your stack of cash grow in the bank as you add more to it, he said when you take inflation into account, it dilutes the spending power of your money in the bank.

"There's some great opportunities out there. It's a great time to invest in the stock market, especially if you're young," Kofke said. "Don't be afraid of the stock market. If you look at the historical standards - a 70- to 80-year history - we have these ups and downs ... And a lot of stocks are on sale right now."

So how do you accumulate the money to invest?

Cut back on spontaneous buying, he said. Instead, save a steady amount and save additionally for big purchases, like "that sweet flat-screen TV." An extra tip is paying for the coveted item in cash, Kofke said.

"If you use cash nowadays, sometimes you can get a bargain ... Stores are hurting, too," he said.

Paying in cash also saves you money paid in interest.

Kofke said he believes it's more important to pay off your debt than it is to save for retirement. Essentially, paying off your debt is investing in your future. With no debt, you're not throwing your money away paying interest on your debt.

"Credit cards are one of the worst things you can do," Kofke said. "I think it's one of the biggest problems in our country, especially with the younger generation."

The teacher explained credit cards can lead to holes of debt. For example, he said if you pay $5,000 for furniture and put it on a credit card with a 24 percent interest rate, and pay only the 2.5 percent minimum payment each month, it would take you 586 months to pay it off and it would cost you more than $18,812 in interest alone.

Ultimately, pay your debt off as soon as possible, he said.

Finally, Kofke said it's not enough to live within your means - live below your means. He said it's the old problem of trying to keep up with the Joneses that really cripples people's finances.

"Your neighbor with the BMW and the yacht could be up to his eyeballs in debt," he said.

Kofke said living below your means liberates you financially. If you'd like to take six months off work to write that book, or try your hand at a new career, having a secure financial status makes it all more doable.

"You never know what opportunities lie in your future," he said. "And if you're financially sound, and able to have savings, you might be able to take that risk."

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