Last year, William Hampton, 27, decided that he’d rather shape young minds than build automobiles. It all started six years ago when he volunteered with a group of kids at his church and then became a mentor with the Big Brothers Big Sisters program. Until recently, Hampton enjoyed the $80,000 salary he earned as a manufacturing engineer with a major Detroit automaker. But his values began shifting the more he volunteered and recognized the lack of mentors and role models in his community as well as the quality of education kids were receiving—especially in the inner city. This September, Hampton will make a bold career move, becoming a math teacher in the Detroit Public School system under the Teach for America organization. His expected annual salary: $43,000.
“In college I studied engineering because I always excelled in math and science, and the salary of an engineer was appealing,” admits Hampton, who graduated from Tuskegee University in 2005. “But then I realized that it wasn’t about the money anymore. I wanted to do something more fulfilling.”
When Hampton first landed a job in the auto industry, he felt invincible. The job of maintenance supervisor offered Hampton everything he wanted. Fresh out of college, he leased a car, bought a house, co-signed on a car loan for a relative, “and was just blowing money on anything I saw that I wanted.” Then the economy slowed and his $80,000 income dropped to $66,000 after his employer cut overtime pay.
“But my bills didn’t stop coming,” says Hampton, noting that he quickly readjusted his habits, so as not to become a casualty of his spending. He turned in the leased car two years ago, and bought a 1997 Mercury Grand Marquis. He started cooking at home, cancelled his $40 a month gym membership, and now opts to do his own minor auto repairs rather than taking his car to the shop. “Just the other day I replaced a turn signal switch which the dealer tried to charge me $500 to fix,” says Hampton. “I bought the part for $166 and installed it myself.”
Even in the midst of a slowing economy and a shrinking paycheck, Hampton reduced his consumer debt from $6,000 to $500 in one year, simply by paying more than the balance due. He has also been contributing 10% of his earnings to his 401(k) plan. (His employer matches his contributions up to 6%.) Hampton is also chipping away at his student loans, which currently total $30,000.