How soon should doctors be able to retire?

The financial blogging world seems to be obsessed with who can retire at the youngest age. We’ve got thirty-year-olds hanging up their hats and traveling the world proclaiming that they are done with the regular workforce.  Obviously there really isn’t much of a standardized amount of money that one should have when they retire, other than a fixed multiplier of annual expenses on the oft-bastardized Trinity Study results.

25x? 35x? 36x? 40x?

Having a multiplier on your annual expenses instead of a fixed number like $10 million allows people to reach an achievable number based on individual needs.  And boy is there a wide range of net worths out there. I recall seeing that Pete of Money Mustache fame hung up his hat after accumulating around $700,000 in his early 30’s. Not bad. Pete, however, is one handy guy who has the right attitude of living like a king spending only $25,000 a year for a family of three. The math might not work if you like driving a Hummer H2 to commute 60 miles roundtrip to work each day.

Jacob Fisker of Early Retirement Extreme fame became financially independent at age 30, and “retired” at age 33. Mind you, he has a doctorate degree in physics. I have a friend who got his physics Phd at age 32 still has a negative net worth.  I don’t recall exactly what Jacob’s “magic number” was, but I do recall that he probably holds the record in spending what I consider to be almost no money. Bravo.

On the other end of the spectrum is my fellow physician blogger, Physician On Fire, whose exceptional level of fitness is matched by an exceptionally impressive net worth of around $3 million at age 41 despite only started on a real job after training in his late 20’s.  By his meticulous calculations, he is indeed financially independent and can start cutting back on his work soon enough.

Even higher up on the absolute bank account value spectrum is Sam from Financial Samurai, who truly is one hard worker living in a high cost of living area. After leaving the financial sector, Sam built up an impressive array of passive income streams that continue to fund his net worth.

In fact, many of the early retirement folks, by virtue of discussing their financial journey online, are able to generate ancillary income that supplements or even replaces income from their prior careers. Interesting world we live in, eh?

The doctor dilemma and early retirement

I finished my training in my early thirties. I had a solid negative six-figure net worth to my name then. I actually came across Money Mustache before it became a cult following, and promptly forgot about it because I didn’t think that this sort of hogwash applied to doctors. Why?

It seemed foolish to go through such a traumatic, challenging, and life-changing decade only to hang up your hat prematurely. Society has invested in your education, you’ve invested in your education, and your family has also sacrificed for your education. Are you really going to throw it away because you don’t like the way healthcare policy has transgressed?

The Smart Money MD Solution to Early Retirement

 

I like practicing medicine. There aren’t that many jobs out there that directly compensate you so well for clinical skills.  I also hate dealing with hospital politics. I am also currently not financially independent, so I still have to continue working in the meantime.  However, the goal is not to quit a soon as you can. You just need to build up enough of your net worth that your primary job as a doctor isn’t a necessity for survival.

Work at least as many years as you put into becoming a doctor.

 

If you spent four years in medical school, and three years in a family medicine residency, you need to work a minimum of seven years as an attending earning a six-figure salary.

If you spent five years in medical school, one pre-residency year of research, five years of residency, and three years of fellowship, you need to work at least 14 years.

I think that this is a reasonable number of years to help out society with your unique skills. Sure, some specialties are going to have more money in the end than others: an ER doctor spent the same number of years as a family medicine (FM) doctor training, but can earn more than twice as much as the FM doc.

You might also like: How much do doctors earn?  

For example, let’s take a look at a hypothetical simplified situation in which a doctor earning $250,000 annually will end up with after 10 years. Suppose he is in the 25% effective tax bracket and spends $75,000 annually.

You might have even less if you started with student loan debt!

After 10 years with a conservative 5% growth, he will only have slightly south of $1.5 million. This translates to a safe withdrawal of 4% at less than $60,000 annually. Not bad, but there is not much buffer.  Obviously, there is a wide range of what you can earn and save as a physician, but not every doctor will have amazing income potential.

Afterward, go into part-time practice.

The beauty of getting close to your magic number is that you become less dependent on the B$ that is involved with work.  If you don’t like dealing with some of the politics, you cut back your hours to reduce exposure. You earn less, but you also might be happier.  In contrast, if you still need to keep that Hummer in the garage for your grocery shopping, you might need to figure out another way to fund your habit. There’s nothing wrong with staying happy. Just be aware that there is no free lunch. Your net worth simply needs to fund your expenses. Easy peasy.

 

Transition to a lifestyle existence.

You might also like: Why every doctor needs a side hustle.

 

If you plan to bail out of clinical medicine because you have enough money for eternity, you still have to figure out how to occupy your time. Sitting around the house vacuuming the carpets every day gets boring. If you made it through medical school, you probably have enough ambition to do something more with your life. It doesn’t have to be as admirable as providing healthcare to refugees either.

Do you spend your time brewing beer? Perfecting your photography skills? Volunteering for youth groups? Who knows, you might actually have a hobby that can generate additional income.

What is the Smart Money MD plan? It is still in development. I am mapping out my career roadmap, finances, and savings rate. Whatever the future brings, it will be awesome.

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