Tag: frugality

Lifestyle Tips for the Wealthy – The High-Lo Way

When I was a poverty-stricken resident—I actually lived in a building that had mostly Section 8 units—I bought used items. These were basic hand-me-downs from prior trainees. Desks, chairs, floor lamps…all of the essential items that one might need to outfit a studio.  When I moved on, I actually was able to donate or even resell some of the items. It wasn’t a bad way to own cheap stuff, but the problem was that it was cheap stuff.

Interestingly, one can establish a micro-economy out of this situation. Take it from Financial Panther. There’s money to be had in reselling items that you’ve picked up for free.  If you sell a few $40 desks, you’ll eventually come up with additional spending money.  Look at the entire Goodwill network. They sell donated items, train workers, and do good for society.  It just takes a good eye and time.  Time was something I didn’t have, but I can envision many families with stay-at-home spouses carving out a niche business out of reselling.

Fast forward to the present.  I probably have some time to build up a micro-business in reselling low-dollar items, but is it worth a doctor’s time to do so? WCI recently wrote about trading time for money.  The doctor is the ultimate service worker. We get top dollar hourly rates for our services.  No more. No less. Our ability to build wealth is strictly limited by how much time we have.  And reselling furniture is a low-dollar proposition.  I suppose that it could be fun for a hobby, side business, or short-term hustling, but you’ve got to think bigger if you want to hit it big.  You have to earn your wealth passively if you don’t want to be restricted by time.

High-Lo items for self-use.

Instead of buying crappy used furniture, couldn’t you buy very nice used furniture? We do it with cars all the time, so why can’t we buy a used dining table?

You can. And it could save you some money.

I remember trying to sell a nicely veneered table on Craigslist.  I originally bought it at Costco a few years ago, but we were outgrowing its capacity.  I priced it about $100 less than what I paid for it originally and it sold within a week. Not bad. What was interesting was that I came across an ad for an estate sale in a fancy neighborhood.

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I visited the estate sale company website, and it had photos of sample items that were on sale. It looked fancy.  I decided to check out the sale on one of my free Saturdays and was pleasantly surprised.

You can definitely find furniture on the cheap at estate sales.  Obviously whether you decide to take advantage of these prices depends if you are okay with using other people’s things. That previously owner might have died from a heart attack or cancer—you’ll never know. Perhaps the owner decided to downsize and sell everything.

Would you buy this mattress for $50 not knowing who had used it before? 😉

In any case, buying used household items isn’t for the weak. There were large-scale items like dining sets, beds, desks, lamps, and rugs. The amount of small items available was overwhelming. There were forks, dishware, trinkets, paintings, soap, shampoo—I guess that anything in the house was fair game.

I ended up not buying anything simply because I didn’t really need anything. However I probably would have purchased a nice dining set with buffet station. I think it was listed for $800, but something similar at a furniture store would have cost maybe $3000!

Insane what you can find used.

How often do you purchase used items?

(Image courtesy of Flickr)

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Guest Post: These Student Loan Startups are Helping Medical Professionals

Editor’s Note: The following is a guest post by James Fisher, who is a freelance writer with interests in finance. He is looking to become a CPA in the future.  James is a sponsored writer, and may have links to services that he may have relationships with.

An astounding seven out of ten college graduates leave school saddled with student loan debt. For medical students, that number is even higher, and so is their debt load. The average debt load of a medical student entering their residency typically exceeds $100,000. For student loan balances that high, having the best interest rate available is not just a good idea for down the road, it is something graduates need to pay attention to right away. Student loan refinance rates can vary wildly from less than 2.25% to more than 25%, and it can be confusing to go to individual lenders in an attempt to compare their rates and other terms. Luckily, there are several startup companies that are focusing on helping student loan borrowers compare and contrast loan refinancing options, particularly those with high debt loads such as medical professionals.



One of the best-known of the refinancing comparison websites is Credible. After filling out a Credible application, borrowers get to compare personalized loan offers, although as with other comparison sites no offer is definite until the borrower has applied with that specific lender and received a final approval offer. Credible doesn’t charge for its service (but neither do the other companies on this list) and doesn’t ding your credit score for checking offers. Credible has been featured on MarketWatch, VentureBeat, and USA Today. Borrowers who want to find a lower interest rate but don’t have great credit, or haven’t yet established sufficient credit history, can apply with Credible along with a cosigner to increase their chances of getting competitive offers from lender partners. For those borrowers utilizing a cosigner, they should check with the individual lender partners to find out how many payments are necessary before a cosigner can be released.



LendEDU is another loan comparison company that works with various lender partners to find borrowers a rate that saves them money. It has been described as a LendingTree.com for student loan borrowers. Even though the company was only brought off the ground in 2014, it receives significant media attention. The company has been discussed on CNBC and written about in numerous publications, including Forbes and The Huffington Post. LendEDU works with a network of “Student Loan Refinancing Partners” to help borrowers compare interest rates and essential terms from many lenders. It starts with a short and free application which is filled out online, after which the borrower receives up to a dozen different student loan and refinancing offers. Since LendEDU doesn’t need a hard hit to the borrower’s credit report, there’s no damage to credit scores, and applicants can compare rates from SoFi, College Ave, Citizens Bank, Sallie Mae, and many other lenders – all at once, and all from their computer screen. Borrowers will be pleased to know that with a short application and a soft inquiry to their credit report, lenders’ offers can be customized to the applicant. Nonetheless, no offer is set in stone until the borrower applies individually.



SimpleTuition is a student loan comparison site by LendingTree, the website well-known for comparing mortgage rates. And while LendingTree offers loan comparisons for just about any type of loan except student loans, that’s where its progeny, SimpleTuition, picks up the slack. College graduates with either federal loans, private loans, or a mixture of both, can use the well-designed website to learn about multiple student loan refinancing lenders. While this company doesn’t provide the same vetting process for the borrower as the previous two (their application is more of a quick questionnaire) this site is a good place to get a very general idea of what private lenders are out there. The downside to this approach is that by not performing a soft pull on the borrower’s credit report, SimpleTuition is unable to personalize the lenders they promote or give potential applicants much of an idea of what rates and terms they will qualify for. However, SimpleTuition is a good website to go to in order to get helpful information on different kinds of loans and even repayment methods. For borrowers looking for more personalized offers without having to apply with individual lenders, check out LendEDU and Credible.


Post mortem by SMMD: I agree with the author that these aforementioned services are worthwhile for the graduating doctor to be aware of, but we should focus on a fundamental debt repayment strategy. Many of my colleagues use SoFi for their refinancing to rid of high interest governmental loans. The rest can be (YMMV) as simple as not upgrading your home/car/other-expensive-item when you start making real money. 

Back to the basics – Attending edition

It’s the beginning of a new academic year.  For those in the medical profession, that means advancement in your training or the beginning of a new job.  Either way, there is a change in your routine. Several of my colleagues who decided to choose a profession that requires an extra decade of training are now finally starting their first “real” jobs.  I feel bad for them, but perhaps they will earn it back in the long run.  I figure that now is a good time to go over some financial assessments that new graduations should consider.  Perhaps my friends will actually read this and take heed of some useful advice when they embark on their first jobs.

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Track all of your financial holdings.

You need to make sure that you are able to log onto all of your bank, retirement, and investment accounts. Update any mailing addresses if you recently moved. Open a Personal Capital account. Make sure you update any loan and mortgage accounts as well. I’ve recently become a big fan of electronic statements—it’ll cut down on what you have to move around if you’re still settling into a new home. Automate any bill payments too. I had compulsively reviewed my receipts prior to paying my bills, but realized that I have almost never found any discrepancies (other than a sushi restaurant adding an extra $10 tip!). Save yourself a few minutes each month by automating your bills. Once you get busier, you’ll find that it’s quite easy to forget to pay your bills.

 Decide whether to consolidate your retirement accounts.

If your prior employers offered matching contributions to your retirement, you probably already have at least one retirement account already. Chances are that your new employer probably will go through a different custodian. That might mean that you won’t be able to contribute more to your old accounts. Decide whether it is worth your time and energy to keep your accounts separate. Most custodians will be willing to accept roll-overs. I ended up keeping my 403b from fellowship open since I had good options on Fidelity, and I still had active accounts with them.

Make sure you have disability insurance.

As we get older and play our financial cards appropriately, disability insurance will matter less. However, it would be wise to buy disability insurance when you start out on your first job. You never know what might happen. The several thousand dollars a year in insurance premiums will be worth it if you are unlucky enough to become disabled early in your career.

Get yourself some life insurance if there’s anyone who will be dependent upon your income. That includes children or spouses. If your spouse earns more than you do and you don’t have any kids yet, perhaps you could delay for a little bit. Depends on how much income you will have starting out.

Don’t go crazy upgrading your lifestyle…yet.

That includes furniture, cars, and your home.  I kept my beaten-up desk from medical school for several years after I started my first job until some college student needed it.  Eventually you will want nicer stuff, but don’t upgrade all at once. Plenty of doctors who play their cards right will be able to buy boats and expensive cars (::cough::WCI), but they went through many years of abstinence before letting loose.

Many years of tape and water stains weathered down this particleboard desk top!

That’s it. Simple and nothing earth shattering. I know that most people starting out their first jobs will have limited brainpower and time to dedicate to this. It’s certainly helped me out over the years as I build upon my core knowledge and common sense.

Hacking your energy consumption

As I get busier in my career, I become less inclined to micromanage my lifestyle in order to save a few dollars. I see this in my coworkers. They don’t bother with coupons, discounts, or even budget car maintenance.  There is a fine balance between micromanaging and laissez faire.  If you let things slide too much, the dollars will eventually add up.  Do you cut back on daily Starbucks breakfasts and drinks? What about groceries at Whole Foods?  Do you get take-out dinners twice a week because you’re too busy to cook?  How much money are you actually saving?
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Likewise, there’s little point trying to save a few bucks on small dollar items if it’ll take you too much time to figure out the most economical strategy.  Electricity is one cost that I have yet to find the motivation to optimize.  It’s a fixed cost by the local utilities.  It’s not like you can turn off your refrigerator.
Come the Kill-A-Watt power meter.  I came across this little gadget at the local public library.  You can also find it online for approximately $20. It measures current, voltage, and total power consumption of any appliance that you’d plug into it. Engineers can totally geek out on it.
Handy little guy will read your power consumption! Geek out.
This device is most useful for identifying vampire appliances that might be sucking up the power in your home.  I played around with it and actually found out that my little upright freezer in the garage actually consumes more electricity than my fridge in the kitchen!
This little guy consumes more electricity than my full-sized refrigerator!
Not a bad find. I’ll have to figure out a way to replace the freezer with a more energy-efficient chest freezer.
Have you tried out any energy saving devices?

The real secret to getting rich

I wish that I actually had the secret to making a lot of money quickly—I’d sell it in a seven-part infomercial, run weekend retreat courses, and brand my own swag. That being said, I do believe that we can carve our own wealth if we plan our careers strategically.  Some of us are going to come up with great products, skills, and ideas that will change the world.  The rest of us can still do well in our own unique and amazing way.  I’ve come to realize that the one unifying factor that we see in everyone who accumulates substantial wealth is simply time.

We can talk about hustling, hard work, luck, wealth accumulation strategies, but none of these tactics will give you that financially independent wealth overnight. It just doesn’t happen.

Unless you win the Powerball (I have not).

Rome wasn’t built in a day. You’re not likely to become wildly successful overnight either.    And that is okay.

Find that goal.

Somehow we’ve been programmed by society to find ambition, achieve our goals as quickly as possible, and find other goals to tackle.  The average American takes less than two weeks of vacation annually! I was offered a job working in the tech industry that also offered two weeks of PTO annually. They even allowed you to carry-over PTO. We work more than essentially everyone else in Europe. The only countries that work more are Japan and South Korea.

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This is essentially a race to the grave. There is nothing wrong with hustling, but hustling without and end goal is counterproductive. Even worse, you could easily burn out and fail. Step number one in the wealth accumulation process is to figure out your end goal. Is your goal to quit your job by age 50? What about 40? Or is more vague, like creating a situation for yourself that would allow you to venture into other interests or spend more time with the family? The goal doesn’t have to be super ambitious. You can adapt it as you progress and determine what makes you happy.

Set that timeline.

Whether you plan to reach that goal in five years or twenty, you need to have that deadline. A definitive course gives you something to strive for, and aim for a realistic timeline.  Mr. 1500 days set his goals, reached it earlier than expected, and then adjusted his “magic number”.

We have to be flexible. Work situations change. We might end up moving. You never know. These are the cards that we’re handed, and we deal. I’ve encountered three different situations where my job trajectory could be impacted, including losing my job due to my employer shutting its doors. I fortunately have not been dealt the axe, but these instances will force us to craft out a Plan B.

Work hard, sit back, and enjoy the journey.

You life goals aren’t going to be handed out on a silver platter. You still have to work for it, and stay focused. Fortunately the journey isn’t a straight-shot to the moon (or as high risk). It’s more like an extended hiking expedition. Life is more pleasurable if you enjoy the nuances of our daily activities. Is it the espresso shot that you make every weekend? Or the trips to Costco? It doesn’t matter, because this is what it takes to help keep your eye on the prize.

Going fast is useless if you don’t know where you’re going.

Before you know it, that time will come!

(Photo courtesy of Flickr)

How much would housekeeping set back your financial plan?

I’ve been thinking about housekeeping services for a while, and have dismissed it every time the discussion has arisen.  But those mailers in the junk mail piles are enticing.

Free estimates!

$50 off first cleaning after you sign up for a subscription!

Obviously having too much house to maintain is a problem that I solely created for myself.  It’s a vicious problem that most Americans have. Land is cheap. Homes are cheap. Utilities are cheap.  Loans are cheap.  This is the perfect formula to become enslaved to your lifestyle.

The problem with home maintenance can be divided into two zones: outdoor and indoor maintenance. Both of these can be incredibly time consuming, expensive, and exasperating.

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Outdoor maintenance.

Subdivisions can be great. They are often somewhat planned communities with shared amenities.  Some neighborhoods have shared swimming pools or organized neighborhood events.  We pay into these associations depending on what amenities are provided.  However, these associations also impose restrictions to each household in order to ensure that its neighborhood is presentable.  This can often mean that your house has to be painted a certain approved color. Your lawn has to be groomed and watered, even if your water bill has to take a hit.  It means that you have to eradicate lawn pests, weeds, and any other element that would otherwise thrive under no supervision.

That’s right. We pay extra to have more land, and more to maintain it. That is the American way.

Indoor maintenance.

The same principles apply indoors.  The more space you have in your house, the more space you have to fill your house with “things”. Do you actually need these “things”? Probably not, but who wants to have an empty house? These “things” in the house get misplaced, disorganized, and dusty too.  I keep my windows open often to circulate the outside air in the house.  This brings in a lot of dust, insects, and various pollen in the house as well. What a mess!

How do I deal with this?

Currently everyone in the family pitches in to organize and clean. Pulling weeds, Mowing the lawn.  Cleaning the bathrooms.  Dusting the windowsills.  I’m suspecting that when all is done and over, I’ll probably have spent a shocking number of months of my life organizing.  Yikes!

Despite the number of hours I spend on cleaning and home maintenance, my home still isn’t spotless by any standard.  I just don’t have time to do all of this.

Will hired housekeeping help lengthen my working career?

Most likely.  I asked around several services, and got baseline yearly quotes on common tasks that I currently complete myself:

Damn housekeeping! No one really likes to clean either.

So I’d probably spend an extra $10k annually on doing most of the things that I am currently doing myself.  Over a decade, I will have saved about $100k, and have it grow through investments.  This isn’t exactly pocket change.

The biggest question that I have yet to quantify is whether the lost hours I spend cleaning the house could be better spent generating income.  Sure, I’d have a higher tax burden, but in theory I should have a much higher hourly earning wage than what hired help should charge even after taxes.  I am still not sure, since most of my maintenance tasks occur on my days off, so it would be challenging for me to be able to bring in extra income without taking on more work.

What do you guys think of doing your own chores?

Welcome ScrubNotes Visitors!

Hello everyone! I am grateful for ScrubNotes to feature one of our articles today discussing the prestige of medical schools, and whether they are worth the cost. As an overview, Smart Money MD is a physician-oriented financial and lifestyle website to help guide us through the complicated world of delayed gratification from medical training.  Once you become an attending, do you earn enough to power through any financial considerations? Or do you still have to watch what you spend?

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