[Editor's Note: Today's post is a little different, but provides a nice change of pace from our usual information-heavy approach. This one is a guest post from Bo Liu, a radiology resident who blogs at Future Proof MD. We have no financial relationship.]
“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will allow my fear to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone I will turn my inner eye to see its path. And where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.” – From Frank Herbert's “Dune”.
We all have fears – that gripping sensation you feel when the possibility of a negative outcome enters your peripheral vision. You may fear something entirely different from me, but that sensation is shared. Fear can motivate us or petrify us. Some fears are common – fear of death, fear of illness, fear of hunger etc. But in modern civilization where the world runs on money, few fears rise higher in the ranks than the fear of poverty. Today I'm going to get a little personal and share with you my greatest financial fear.
A bit of background about me – I am a Chinese immigrant. I grew up in the biggest city in the northeast most province of China called Harbin. It’s a little bigger than Chicago by population size. Anywhere else in the world it would be considered a huge metro, but in China it’s just a regular sized city. My parents were well-educated professionals and very well compensated compared to their peers. So even though I grew up during a relatively impoverished period in Chinese economic history, I never knew what it was like to go hungry. In fact, mine was one of the very first private households in the entire city to get a telephone.
When we first arrived in the United States, my family came as illegal immigrants. So I had a drastically different experience. As a child, I remember driving in a car without air conditioning, raiding the trash at the local thrift store for clothes and moving from an apartment into someone’s basement to save on rent. Still I never went hungry – my mother worked at several local Chinese restaurants so there were always leftovers. What’s my point? I’ve known what it’s like to be poor, although not poor enough to be homeless or go hungry.
My Greatest Fear
Fast forward 20 years, I am now a resident physician in the great field of radiology, getting ready to apply for a fellowship in interventional radiology (IR). Despite my six figure student loan debt, most would say I am almost guaranteed an easy path to the American Dream. What do I have to fear? Not getting as many moonlighting hours as my co-residents, not matching into a good IR fellowship and not getting a good job afterwards? Sure, those are some of my financial fears. But above all others, I fear forgetting what it’s like to be poor. Believe it or not, I consider those first few tough years in America one of my most treasured memories. Sure it wasn’t fun to be made fun of at school because I wore clothes with holes and patches. But those early years were what taught me the importance of education, hard work, and good parenting, mostly through my mother. My mother was a traditional Chinese “Tiger Mom”. In addition to working multiple jobs at different local restaurants, she somehow always found time to go over my homework, and punished me for not doing them up to her standards. She loved to pinch me inside the thigh – in her words “minimum effort, maximum effect.” I would get a nice beating anytime I brought home anything less than a perfect score on a test or assignment although later on that standard was relaxed to getting an A in a class. Luckily that didn’t happen until my organic chemistry class in college – by then I was way too big for her to beat.
I have not had to go dumpster diving for clothes in as long as I care to remember. And I’ve grown accustomed to the creature comforts a resident’s income can afford. I eat out often and go on vacations with my college buddies. The problems I complain about now are typical “first world problems” like not having fast enough internet to stream an NBA game in HD. So there it is, my greatest financial fear – forgetting what it’s like to be poor and the lessons it brought. You may think it sounds cheesy but I consider it a real threat.
[Editor's Note: I suspect a lot of us fear being poor (for the second time for many of us.) However, I think it is important to recognize five things that should help us deal with this concern:
- Nobody in this country is truly destitute. The social safety net in this country ensures you will get a small income, food, a roof over your head (might be a homeless shelter), and some sort of health care. You won't be lying naked and hungry on a side walk.
- The same knowledge and skills that enabled you ( (the typical high-earning WCI reader) to acquire a high income and wealth in the first place would help you to do it again or even to live well at a lower income.
- Every year you will become more financially secure as debts decrease, net worth increases, and future income needs decrease (due to life expectancy.)
- It is both possible and inexpensive to insure against most of the things that would cause you to become poor- death of an earner, disability, illness, injury, fire, and liability.
- People adapt remarkably well to change in their lives. We often look at a patient's terrible health and tell ourselves we would hate to live like that. It turns out that when actually given that choice, most people not only choose to live like that, but find ways to still be happy in life while living like that.]
What do you think? Do you fear losing your income? Your wealth? Your health? What is your greatest financial fear? Is it logical? Do you do anything weird because of that fear? Comment below!