David A. Burd, CFP, and James S. Hemphill, CFP, CIMA, two financial advisers with TGS Financial Advisors, (no financial relationship, but they did send me a free copy of the book) have written a delightful little book aimed at the graduating resident entitled Pay Yourself First: A Financial Guide For Doctors Entering Practice, not to be confused with several other books with the same title. It is self-published, but well-edited, and just 61 short pages. They estimate it will take you an hour to read it. Maybe if you’re really slow. Certainly it shouldn’t take two sittings. It is available at the time of this writing for $2.99 on Kindle and $13.49 for the written version.
A cynic might argue that this entire book could be summed up in my frequently used phrase “Live Like a Resident” but I think there are enough pearls in the book to make it worth the time of the vast majority of residents and brand new attendings. Most books of this genre written by financial advisors suffer from the same flaw- the advisors wrote the book to try to get some new business. They want to give you enough information that you think they’re brilliant enough to handle your money, but not so much that you can do it on your own. I’m not entirely sure why they keep writing these books, since in my experience it’s the do-it-yourselfers who read them all. However, the authors keep the self-promotion and advertising to a minimum, mostly just right at the end of the book (skip the last 3-6 pages if you don’t like being sold to) and manage to provide information that will be useful to those who use other advisors, those who hire them for advice, and those who choose to do it themselves.
I’m entirely persuaded by the idea that money must be secondary to a physician’s mission. Yet as a financial advisor with doctors as clients and friends, I’m also very much aware of two things: 1) Doctors as a group significantly underperform most other professions at accumulating wealth, in relation to their incomes and 2) Many doctors worry, chronically and seriously, about their own personal money situations.
[After comparing a physician couple who made good decisions and one who made more typical, but less good decisions, leaving them with an investable net worth of just $600K at retirement]…Their situation is a far cry from poverty. They have more assets, and will spend more income in retirement, than the majority of Americans. But this is surely not what they expected their retirement to look like, back in the 1990s at the peak of [the doctor’s] career, when their annual income was over half a million dollars. The pattern of your life will be your own, but you are likely to find echoes of the lifestyle choices made by these two physician families, and of their financial consequences in your own experience. One factor in particular is worth noting – it is not your gross level of income that will buy you financial security; it is the decisions you make on how to allocate that income stream – the relative percentages directed toward consumptions and toward savings.
Based on more than a quarter century of working with doctors, we suspect the chance you will wish to retire early is greater than you think now, at the beginning of your career….We hope your medical practice will be so rewarding that you will choose to practice into your 70s, even if you have the wealth to walk away at 60….But just in case medical practice becomes even more stressful, we like the idea you might be able to regard your work as a free choice, and not as a perpetual involuntary economic necessity.
Unlike status based on earning or spending, research suggests that attaining $1 Million of net worth is associated with a permanent increase in confidence and self-esteem.
Unfortunately, the relationship of wealth to happiness is asymmetric. Moving up is often only temporarily rewarding. But losing ground – suffering even a limited reduction in socioeconomic status – is durably painful. Given the limited half-life of the joys of an enhanced lifestyle, we suggest retaining a healthy baseline skepticism about status….Remember, the highest status activity you engage in, and the highest value you contribute to the world, will always be simply your work as a physician.
Who has the greater incentive to chase after your business? The insurance guy soliciting purchase of a whole life insurance policy that will pay him an $8000 commission, or an investment adviser who will earn $300 for managing that same $20,000?
As you can see, the late saver does not ever catch up to the early saver, despite saving for twice as long and putting aside twice as many dollars out of income….This is a hidden cost of medical training that most non-physicians simply cannot understand….If you wait to start saving until you have acquired all of the things you want, you will lose precious compounding time you cannot make up later.
Nobody expects you to drive a 1995 Honda Civic and live in a rental apartment. You can expect to live in a comfortable home, drive a new, safe car, and enjoy meals out and relaxing vacations. Will that be a Toyota Camry, an Acura MDX, or a 7-series BMW. Will your home be a 3,000 square foot used house in a great school district, or a 6,000 square foot new-construction McMansion? Will vacation be a week at Disney World, or ten days skiing in Gstaad, Switzerland….Please understand we are not making a moral judgment about which path you choose. Frankly, we believe you should buy what you darn well please….But understand that, in weighing these choices, you are not negotiating with us. You are negotiating with yourself – your future self, in ten, twenty, even thirty years from now.
To be most effective, savings should be automatic, tax-efficient, and directed toward the highest available, risk-adjusted, after-tax economic return.
To get richer, faster, you simply need to save more.
Think long-term and measure long-term. Ignore the short term. In fact, don’t even open your statements if the market is going through a bad patch.
Since 2000, the investment winds have been in our faces, not at our backs. That doesn’t mean you can’t build financial independence. But we can’t expect investment miracles to make up for savings deficits, and we can’t afford to squander any portion of today’s modest investment returns by the typical individual investor’s reactive, error-prone attempts at active management.
The smartest buy is usually an understandable, well-built used house, not a trendy new McMansion….To a much greater degree than you expect, the cost of upkeep and utilities will scale with the size and luxury of your home, and the extent and beauty of your grounds.
Choose your friends wisely…the more uniform and expensive the lifestyles of your friends, the higher the pressure to comply with the implicit status expectations of your peer group. Some of our most financially successful clients have the most eclectic groups of friends.
[After a list of characteristics of a good advisor]…notice what is not on this list. You don’t need an advisor to beat the market (few do), to protect you from portfolio declines (a hopeless task and in practice a sales pitch for high-cost insurance policies), or to help you discover the meaning of life.
We discussed earlier why insurance agents are often the first advisors to approach young doctors. The high commissions in whole life insurance provide an attractive payday for an insurance agent. What often results is a physician with good disability insurance coverage, a $10,000 per year premium for a whole life insurance policy she eventually realizes she doesn’t need, and a lasting skepticism about financial advisors.
The book is short, but great. It would be wonderful if every doctor read it prior to residency graduation.
Have you read the book? Did you like it? Can you relate to the quotes from the book (I certainly could)? Comment below!