financially deleterious decisions in hindsight
Many physician and non-physician finance bloggers share their financial stories and their mistakes. Xravzn’s story of trials, tribulations, and the financial decisions he had to overcome was particularly inspiring for me.
Financially, the first two bad decisions dwarf the rest:
- I went to possibly the most expensive medical school in the country (this might end up being about $500k by the time I pay it all off)
- I did not choose a particularly high paying specialty (Family Medicine averages 180-250k/year)
- Buying a house within a couple of months of starting my first job, having already figured out that we weren’t going to stay there for more than a few years.
- Taking a three month trip through Paris, Spain, Morocco, England, and Iceland in between residency and starting my first job (probably about $20,000).
- Going on a 4 week trip to Odessa, Ukraine and Bulgaria with my now wife, brother, and mother in my 4th year of medical school ($4,000 of student loan debt funded that adventure)
Could I have made some smarter moves with investments, decreased costs, etc. Sure, but none of them compare to the first two on the list. They are rounding errors in comparison. Do I regret these decisions? I am not sure.
#1 – Expensive Medical School
I certainly wish I had less student debt, but I met my wife where I went to medical school, which was her hometown and where we now live. My wife gave brith to our daughter, whose loss has brought us even closer together. I never thought I could love someone so much, so the debt doesn’t seem that important when you phrase it that way.
#2 – Low-Paying family medicine
As far as my specialty goes, I have mixed feelings. Would it be nice to be able to pay off my loans faster, yes. On the other hand, rural family medicine docs are in such demand that job security is not really a concern for me.
Indeed, my current position allows me to turn traditional family medicine (low acuity emergency department, inpatient medicine, as well as clinic) into shift work.
I get paid by the hour – 24 hours a day, often when I am sleeping overnight. this means I can make 1/2 of a normal family medicine doctor’s months salary in 5 days of straight call in some of the locations. I might see an average 7-12 patients (ED, Clinic, and IP combined) per day at these particular sites. Unlike a busy ED doc, I am usually seeing only 1 patient at a time.
I have complete veto power over my schedule. I often work a total of about 10 days/month currently. It is a pretty chill lifestyle. This is made possible by my low paying specialty which is in short supply. If time is the currency of life, this job pays pretty well. So, I consider it a wash.
#3 – buying a house
I do actually regret this one. On the other hand, I am not sure I had many other great options. We moved to an area dependent on tourism. Many of the rental properties had been bought up to use as short-term rentals. Long term leases were difficult to come by.
We ended up buying a house on 5 acres that bordered public land. It was pretty sweet. By urban standards, it was very affordably priced and well within our price range. We moved after 13 months. Luckily, it appreciated about 5-10% in that time, so we only lost about 10% of our down payment plus the $6,000 we had to pay rent and a mortgage.
Looking at it a different way, my wife and I realized that we don’t like spending a lot of time and energy on our house. Cleaning a large house was a pain in the ass and neither of us enjoyed it. Finding out that you don’t want to own a large piece of property early in life is probably worth a lot of money and headache in the long run. So, I even found a silver lining here.
#4 and 5: Travel with people you love
These trips were worth every goddamned, interest-bearing penny.
Have you eaten grapes and brie with a warm baguette under the shade of the chestnut trees next to the canal St Martin on a warm, summer Paris afternoon? Have you done it while polishing off a bottle of wine with the woman who will be mother of your children? WORTH IT
What about taking an overnight Soviet-era train with your soon to be wife, mother, and brother from the beaches of the Black Sea to an ancient Orthodox monastery nestled among the spring acid-green of a Balkan beech forest? Retiring to the old monks quarters after watching the Alpenglo fade from the Peaks? WORTH IT.
Or, hiking back from a glacier-fed waterfall, eating roasted Icelandic lamb, and washing it down with a cool, crisp beer? WORTH IT
Or, remembering sitting next to a spring in the shade of a walnut orchard at 6,000 ft in the mountains of North Africa. Relaxing there with your wife of 13 months while being served a three course meal of salad, mint tea, tagine, and fresh fruit that was packed over a mountain pass on a mule by your grouchy but affable Berber muleteer. WORTH IT.
Standing on the summit of the highest mountain in North Africa and the Arab world with her two days later? WORTH. IT.
There are times in one’s life when you realize the window for a certain type of adventure is fading quickly. Is it worth letting the window close because that money could get you a 7-8% ROI? Life is complicated, messy, and that’s what makes it great. I refuse to give that up in the pursuit of financial stability and gain.