“Your cholesterol might improve if you’re able to lose 40 lbs!”
“Let’s strengthen those quadriceps before we do that knee replacement”
“Let’s cut back on sugar and carbohydrate consumption and see how your blood sugar responds.”
Modern day medicine is big on lifestyle modification. What can we do to improve our health without simply throwing chemicals and medication at the problem? We promote these strategies in our hospitals and clinics with the intention that it could save healthcare dollars long term. Even bariatric surgeons who offer the ‘fix’ of weight loss focus on improving metabolism, activity, and the psyche to keep that weight off while maintaining good health. These recommendations extend beyond the exam room–every daytime talk show has had at least one segment on health. Some shows only focus on health, with @Dr. Oz’s talk show being the sine qua non of lifestyle tweaks to improve your health. Does this work for healthcare? You betcha! There’s no silver bullet for every malady, but these changes spark the conversation.
Is wallet lifestyle modification even applicable to doctors?
Ten years ago, I would have dismissed the notion of curbing spend as a pertinent strategy of building wealth for doctors. Look at those commercial real estate developers. Lori Greiner didn’t build a real estate empire by saving money on street parking rather than springing $20 to park in a garage. The Golden State Warriors wins games with their high-powered offense (although the defense helped too). As a doctor, shouldn’t I be able to go gangbusters, bring in $2 million a year, and not worry about that $5 latte every morning?
Okay, most doctors don’t bring in a 7-figure income annually, but a solid 6-figure income should still be attainable. Isn’t that enough? With a good offense, I wouldn’t have to worry about changing the air filter on my 10-year-old car. I still agree on this principle, and pinching pennies matters less when we become more financially stable.
However, most people don’t become financially fit overnight, nor can we reap in a cool 7-figure salary each year straight out of residency (I actually have a friend who actually was able to bring in $1.1 million net his first year, but that is a highly unusual situation). While we are building our net worth, there are strategies to expedite the process without drastically changing your lifestyle.
Five quick lifestyle tips to curb your spending.
- Sell your excess clothing. We all have clothing that we shove into the back of our closets. I definitely have shirts that I haven’t worn in years. Once we fill up our closets, we buy homes with bigger closets. Now, this problem may be more gender specific—most male doctors who read financial websites in their free time probably cycle through a fair share of free t-shirts—but we are all guilty of owning clothes that we don’t actually wear. Get rid of your clothing and make some money! Sell on eBay or Etsy! It’s not that hard. The goal is not to make a flip on your old clothing (although there are people out there who make a living on eBay), but to purge unwanted items and get some return on the initial purchase. You will feel better with an emptier closet and perhaps a fuller wallet.
- Get audiobooks from the library. Look, you’re paying a marginal federal tax of 39% and state, county, and city taxes to boot. You’re paying to get those roads paved and for the public libraries to stay open. You probably also commute a solid 4 hours of your life every week to work. If you listen to audiobooks, save your $10 a week and check out some books through the library. You don’t even have to walk into the library to check out an audiobook! My local library has both Android and iOS audiobook streaming apps (Overdrive) that allows you to check out books. This isn’t going to make you rich, but do it for the principle!
- Cut down on housekeeping. Look, our time is valuable. About half of my colleagues, especially those with kids, have opted to have housekeeping. It’s a wonderful process. You pay someone and your home magically gets cleaned. The problem is that housekeeping is expensive. If your net worth is still negative or are within a few years after residency, you don’t need to have regular housekeeping. For hardwood or tile floors, use a microfiber mop. Get the most expensive microfiber cloth in existence. You’ll still save money over a weekly housekeeper. Get a Roomba (or your favorite robot vacuum cleaner). I run my Roomba twice a week. It doesn’t wipe the counters, but it cleans up some of the dust bunnies on the floors. It’s very helpful if you have pets.
- Don’t be a sucker for expensive furniture, appliances, or fixtures. Your first home (or even your second home) won’t be your last. If you have young kids or misbehaving pets, your couch will take a beating. A $2000 sectional is possibly more comfortable than a $1000 sectional, but you have no need for that $10,000 handmade couch from Bali (yes, this does happen!). Likewise, I have seen numerous doctors and one business administrator who spent tens of thousands of dollars renovating and customizing a formal dining room that gets used 2-3 times a year! A friend of mine also has copper faucets and sinks in his bathrooms. Copper may look nice, but guess what? Your sinks will look like the Statue of Liberty in no time with no maintenance!
- Be wary of growing into overpriced niche foods. What do you mean overpriced? Take honey, for example. You can buy your standard clover honey at the grocery store, or you can buy Manuka honey from New Zealand. You’ll probably get a 1000% markup from the standard honey. Does this special honey confer health advantages that other honeys do not? The jury is still out, but you’ll surely pay a lot more if you stick it out. Going 100% organic on foods is another sure-fire way to empty out your wallet. There are many ethical and health benefits to consume certain foods ‘organically’, but if financial stability is any priority, temper the high-end grocery purchases.
The lifestyle modifications for your wallet will evolve throughout your career.
Don’t fret! You don’t have to suffer your entire life! I was guilty of lifestyle inflation during residency, fellowship, and during my first job. I was guilty of eating Manuka honey while having a negative net worth. I learned to align my actions with my immediate and long-term goals. Once I reached a certain financial milestone, I readjusted my trajectory.
You can too. Lay off the Manuka honey when you’re making $50,000 a year as a resident. Once you get the firepower to generate $2 million a year from your job, you can buy all of the Manuka honey you want.
What wallet modifications have you implemented?
(Photo courtesy of Flickr)