I’ve previously compared a physician’s income to winning a jackpot. Just by virtue of waking up a physician this morning, I’m comfortably within the top 5% of American incomes. With a little hustling you can work your way into the top 1% too.
If you’ve always been wealthy there are many things you take for granted. My wife and I both grow up broke. We had roofs over our head and food on our plates, but we always watched our parents struggle with money. 8 years into this ridiculous physician income, we’re still grateful for the little things in life. As Thanksgiving approaches, here are 10 things I’m grateful for.
My path to financial security all starts with finding the right mentors at the right time. A retired doctor came to my med school during my first year and gave us an “Intro to Personal Finance” lecture. It sparked an interest which led me to discover Bogleheads.
Through their forums I enjoyed the frequent posts by this random ER doc who went by the name White Coat Investor. He happened to create his own blog in 2011 when I became an attending. Through him I discovered a world of other physician bloggers who opened my eyes. Some talked about FIRE, others about burnout, others about multiple income streams, and others shared their wisdom from years of practice. I feel thankful that I discovered these mentors early in my career. I hope in some small way I can pay that forward to the visitors of this site.
When I was a kid, my definition of “rich” was being able to afford name brand orange juice. I have so many memories of my parents sitting around cutting coupons and walking through the grocery store with a calculator to make sure they could afford to pay for the groceries in the cart.
It never gets old when I can put whatever I want in my cart without looking at the price. I’m still frugal at heart, but I can’t tell you how much joy I derive from not having to choose between feeding my family and paying my other bills.
I have no use for expensive fancy cars. I don’t begrudge anyone for driving a luxury vehicle but it does nothing for me. I live in a beach town two minutes from the hospital. My only requirements for a car is that it can drive on the sand and it doesn’t break down.
As a kid my family drove some real doozies. My dad was an auto mechanic and usually drove old beaters that no one else wanted. Most of my childhood was spent riding in an old station wagon that my dad got for free after the previous owners killed themselves in it (a fact he only told us years later). When that car gave up the ghost he drove a rusted out van that looked like the A Team had fallen on hard times. My first car was a K car with squealing brakes and an annoying tendency to stall at red lights.
It never ever gets old that I can replace my car by paying cash and get things repaired without breaking the bank. I don’t worry about breaking down on the side of the road anymore. It’s such a simple thing to take for granted if you never drove a P.O.S.
I grew up in a tiny 2 bedroom house built in the 1940s. My wife grew up in a trailer. I admit we went overboard when we bought our big dumb house, but it never gets old that we don’t have to worry how to pay the mortgage. My parents were always stressed about paying the bills and my wife was accustomed to coming home from school to discover a Sheriff’s Sale sign posted on her front door.
Having the mortgage set to auto-pay is such a luxury. Furthermore, paying down the principal each year feels like a weight off my chest. Next month I will have the option of paying off the remainder of my mortgage at age 36. I don’t have the heart to tell my parents I can do it without making any sacrifices.
Paying the Bills on Time
Did you grow up in a house that played bill roulette? White envelopes = ignore. Yellow envelopes = consider paying. Pink envelopes = Final warning. Every once in a while our parents would discover they waited too long when the phone stopped working or the power went off.
I am forever grateful that my bills are paid on time 100% of the time. No waiting for final warnings. No transferring credit card balances to buy more time. Just get a bill, pay the bill and repeat. I still go around the house turning off light switches like any self-respecting dad would do, but I don’t worry about the electric company shutting off the power.
Children’s Education is Paid For
My parents realized early on that the best way my brother and I could live a better life was through education. My parents wanted to save for college, but most months there just wasn’t anything left in the budget to save. Thanks to a couple of well-timed deaths (thanks Nana and Uncle Barry!) a very small inheritance helped fund part of my in state college tuition. The rest was paid for with student loans my parents co-signed without being sure they would be able to pay back if I defaulted.
I opened a 529 for all 3 of my kids the day their social security cards came in the mail. Their college savings is on autopilot and if I undershoot on savings I will be able to cashflow the difference. That’s quite a relief considering 2 of my 3 kids are still in diapers.
Not Worried About Healthcare Costs
My wife didn’t have health insurance until she turned 22 and got her first full-time job. Before I signed him up for Medicare this year, my father in-law hasn’t had health insurance since the end of the Vietnam War. My father is a type 1 diabetic and lived in constant fear of my mother losing her insurance and not being able to afford his insulin.
One of the many benefits of having a big package is being insured like a Saudi prince. I’ve spent the past 8 years saving and investing the max in my health savings account and my group reimburses me for any health expenses not covered by our luxurious coverage. I never forget that all of our relatives lost a lot of sleep worrying how to pay for even basic healthcare.
Not Worried About Unemployment
My father in-law is a commercial fisherman. His ability to put food on the table is completely dependent on the tide and the fish population. My father was an auto mechanic until modern cars had more technology than he could keep up with.
I work in a healthcare system that is perfectly designed to make me wealthy. If I ever get sick of my day job I’ve already found side hustles that would let me completely replace my clinical income. I never worry about people no longer needing emergency physicians. Reimbursement cuts could certainly change my income, but as long as anxiety, alcholol and aging exist I will be able to feed my family.
Not Worried About Disability
When our parents didn’t work, they didn’t get paid. I can count on one hand how many times my father and father in law called out sick when we were young. There was no paid time off. No FMLA policy. If they got sick or injured they had a FML policy (older readers may have to Google what FML stands for).
Thanks to a variety of disability insurance policies, I would actually make more money if I become disabled. My total own-occupational disability insurance policies would reimburse 80% of my current income if I am unable to continue being an emergency physician. Since that money would be tax-free and my current effective tax rate is >20%, I would actually get a raise with a disability.
Not Worried About Being Able to Retire
My in-laws essentially have no retirement savings. They live month-to-month on their Social Security checks. My mom was banking on a pension from her teaching job, but after her school declared bankruptcy a few years ago the size of her anticipated pension was cut.
I could probably retire with a frugal lifestyle by age 40 and a really comfortable lifestyle by age 50. Although I love what I do and have no desire to retire early right now, it gives me peace of mind that I will continue to work because I want to rather than because I have to.
What are you grateful for?
When we get bogged down in the day-to-day drudgery of medicine it is easy to forget just how good we have it. Most people would give their left leg for your paychecks and the security that comes with it. My wife and I feel lucky to have had the childhoods we had. It has given us a true appreciation for our new-found wealth. We’re still not sure how we’ll pass that appreciation on to our kids and prevent them from becoming entitled brats.
During this season of reflection, take some time to appreciate the little things in your financial life that give you peace of mind. Amongst all the things I’m grateful for, I’m grateful you took the time to visit this site. Happy Thanksgiving!
What do you think? Do you take your financial security for granted? Are you grateful for the little things in your financial life? Share your thoughts and comments below.