Spend less than you make—that is the motto in beating the financial game. Unfortunately as high-income earners, doctors can have more difficulty sticking to a budget than one would realize. The problem is that each one of our paychecks will typically cover most impulse purchases. If a purchase requires more than one paycheck, it also isn’t too difficult to string along a few paychecks to cover a bigger ticket item, like a fancy family vacation or a home remodel. You can see that once the ball starts rolling down the hill, it becomes harder to stop. Frankly, it’s not difficult for a high-earning professional to live paycheck to paycheck. Society simply makes it easy to consume. Work your way up on your expenditures, get a few extra credit cards along the way, and somehow you’re knee deep into a $2 million home mortgage and needing a means to moonlight simply to make ends meet.
A look inside the refrigerator
While we tend to focus on reducing large expenses as a means to control our wallet (you business types like to phrase this as low-hanging fruit), how we decide to fill our stomachs can constitute a good portion of our income.
I have been impressed how the grocery industry has adapted to busy lifestyles. Most stores will have shopping and delivery services for those who have no time to waste buying groceries. Leading the pack in high-end shopping is the ubiquitous Whole Foods, or how my friends in residency referred to it, Whole Paycheck. Most cities also have various organic farmer’s markets, Morton-Williams, West-side Markets, and Good Life Markets where you can do some serious damage to your wallet. Some of the wallet-busting consumables that my colleagues—I, too, have also been guilty of purchasing as well—have purchased include:
- Manuka honey — This honey hails from New Zealand, and supposedly has great health benefits. If you haven’t seen this before, it is relatively high-end honey that you can buy pretty much anywhere.
- Organic cotton candy grapes — I’ll admit, these types of grapes are some of the sweetest I’ve ever eaten. There is a vendor in San Francisco’s Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market that deals these for $9.99/lb! You’d be surprised how many pounds of these grapes that your kids will be able to chow down.
- Cold-pressed juices — While shopping for produce at the farmer’s market, don’t forget to pick up a cold one. This will set you back a few extra bucks or eight.
A family of four shopping for high-quality, low-volume grocery items can easily rack up a monthly grocery bill over a thousand dollars. I once had a coworker who told me how he scores premium class airfare by earning points through his grocery purchases! For those of you in the credit card know-how group, he earned his tickets purely from purchases and not sign-on bonuses. He spent nearly $20,000 a year at the grocery store! I guess that’s one way to score “free” luxury travel.
Restaurant and prepared food expenses
My colleague who spends $20,000 a year for grocery items swears that he actually saves money by not eating out as much. Who knows how much he actually spent before making that lifestyle change. Unfortunately a busy career is more conducive to both unhealthy eating as well as unrestrained food expenditures. Bars tend to be frequent stops to unwind with colleagues, and we all know that alcohol is not cheap. A modest week’s restaurant tab for a single person might look like this:
- Monday – Quick sandwich and pressed juice for lunch: $16. Deli at the grocery store for dinner: $17
- Tuesday – Grand rounds lunch: free. Grubhub for dinner: $22.
- Wednesday – Pharma lunch: free. Bar with coworker: $36.
- Thursday – Seamless for lunch: $21. Light dinner with college friend: $45.
- Friday – Grocery store prepared lunch: $16. Dinner: $60. Bar tab afterward: $50.
For a family with restaurant habits, the tab could easily triple without much effort. If you include take-out and restaurant delivery the monthly damage can easily fall into four figures. Anecdotally, we start seeing indiscriminate food bills rack up when the workweek starts exceeding 55 hours a week. This number is relatively frequent in the medical field.
It’s not common that a doctor household would spend $20,000 annually on grocery bills. It’s also not common for a restaurant-loving busy physician family would spend $35,0000 annually on restaurant bills either. However, it really doesn’t take much effort for a typical physician household to spend half that amount.
Only you will know whether that amount is actually sustainable based on your income. For many of us, this amount might amount to 15-20% of our post-tax income. That’s not chump change, especially if you take into account the mandatory living expenses such as mortgage, tuition for your kids, and basic costs.
How much of your earnings are you putting into you stomachs?