Wait, Where's My Benefits Package?

Five years ago, my wife and I had the best jobs of our lives.

We were teaching at a new charter school in town. The days were long, and the pay was a little lower than other schools in the area. But what it lacked in salary, it made up for in benefits.

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Having never had a benefits package myself, it was a whole new world to me.

For the first time since moving out of my parents’ house, I scheduled regular dentist appointments—and I didn’t have to pay a thing.

My wife started feeling sick and had to see a specialist, and we only paid a couple hundred dollars out of pocket.

For the first time since we got married, we went to the eye doctor and renewed our glasses prescription. We even got new contacts.

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It didn’t stop there: our school also provided us with a generous life insurance policy and matched our contributions to our retirement funds.

But when we left teaching to pursue making art for a living, things changed a little bit.

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We were expecting a dip in our income. We were quitting our jobs, after all.

But we weren’t quite prepared for the weight of losing our benefits.

Replacing our life insurance was easy enough: we each pay about $30 a month for a plan with comparable coverage.

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Covering everything else was a different story.

Finding health insurance was a labor of Herculean proportions. We eventually, found a Christian cost-sharing ministry. The monthly fees were mostly affordable, but it was an “oh crap” option only: we were still on the hook for every expense before $5,000.

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There were no copays, no prescription discounts, and no dental or vision. We’re generally in good health, so we can get by without excellent healthcare.

Making a retirement plan was a completely different monster.

It’s easy to find clear and present reasons why you need healthcare. But when you’re thirty, the case for a retirement fund is a little harder to make.

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After all, when you’re a business owner, you don’t have anyone else matching your contributions. And all of the money you’d set aside for retirement have more immediate uses.

Such as paying your mortgage, or paying for plumbing emergencies.

But it was still a goal. We didn’t want to work forever. We decided that once we were consistently making enough to cover all of our expenses, we’d start a retirement account.

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Last month, a full four years after I was laid off, we met with a financial planner to start a Roth IRA.

Four years.

And in those four years, while we’ve been able to pay ourselves enough to cover our bills, put food on the table, and add to my record collection, our standard of living was far below what was afforded to us by our school’s benefits package.

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It’s taken four years, but we’ve finally gotten to a place where we’re able to choose what we want to put in our own benefits package.

All of this while working for ourselves, which is the biggest benefit of all.

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