A Priority We Pursue vs. A Luxury We Can Uniquely Afford

crispydoc Uncategorized 12 Comments

Pursuing financial independence, especially as a physician, can inadvertently bring about feelings of resentment from colleagues.

Taking cues from bloggers far smarter and more experienced than I am, I’ve learned not to bring up the subject of finances around co-workers, although if asked I’ll volunteer that I geeked out on finance a few years back and took over managing our portfolio since that time.

On the heels of a variety of initiatives I’ve helped to introduce, I’ve developed a reputation in our physician group as a champion of work-life balance who wears his values on his sleeve.

I’ll admit I’m a hands-on father, and I cried during the first five minutes of watching, “Up,” but I’m not the special snowflake that others make me out to be.

I suspect this distinction could be a mechanism for making me other – different enough to be considered an outlier who does not threaten the status quo because hey, I’m an exotic species of sensitive new age guy whereas everyone else is normal. If I’m the strange one, there’s no need to critically examine accepted societal norms.

I understand this completely, but it occasionally brings about this recurrent exchange:

Me: I’d like to to work less in a way that’s fair to the group.

Colleague: Can you make that work with your financial obligations?

Me: Yes. We’ve made adjustments so we can function on less.

Colleague: I don’t get it. I could never do that.

Me: Have you seen our matching 9 year old Kias, which we bought used? We all choose our trade-offs, and those are some of our more visible choices.

Colleague: Right, but you must have a trust fund too.

Me: No.

Colleague: Then I imagine it must be nice to have your parents bankroll your lifestyle.

Me: No. When I work less, it’s a big hit to our income and it hurts us just like it would hurt any other household. We just compensate in other ways.

The unspoken part of the conversation, and the reason it seems to go in circles, proceeds as follows:

Colleague: You aren’t old enough / sick enough / haven’t paid dues enough to do this yet. Why do you get to do it when I can’t?

Me: It’s a priority we pursue, not a luxury we can uniquely afford.

Comments 12

  1. It doesn’t just come from fellow docs. Pretty much anyone who hasn’t been FI Red Pilled looks at you with bewilderment when you bring up this stuff.

    Resentment from some but mostly stark confusion and disbelief.

    A few years ago before my enlightenment a colleague went part time to be with her kiddo. I was confused and couldn’t understand how she could afford it! I asked the same silly questions your colleague did and left thinking she was making a terrible financial mistake……

    Now I get it. 🙂

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      Even for supposed professional empaths (which is part of the job description in medicine) it’s hard to imagine something you’ve never conceived of before.
      Suddenly your map of the world has to accommodate a new terrain, and it’s hard. Eventually, I trust my colleagues to fill in the mental topography, declare a truce with my land’s inhabitants (we’ll feel less weird and threatening over time), and allow for peaceful coexistence.

      Heck, a few of them might move on over and join me!

  2. I do think there are a lot of physicians that will assume the same thing when I hopefully retire early (still shooting for 53).

    If you make it a priority you can alter your lifestyle so it can be accomplished. Anyone can do it, but most don’t because it can require some effort and sacrifice.

    I have been very fortunate that what has allowed me to consider this without really sacrificing much (yes I’m the doc that drives a Tesla and has a nice home) is that I took advantage of geographic arbitrage like you wouldn’t believe. That plus being a radiologist has helped tremendously. And me choosing to live here was actually a choice because I had no clue about geographic arbitrage when I did buy my home in 2005.

    Gives truth to the statement, better to be lucky than good.

  3. The keynote phrase is: what can you (actually) afford. This is the crux, the Atlas, the fulcrum upon which all else balances. Your colleagues belie adherence to a delusion, an expensive mirage of “need”. You have instead chosen to live according to what you can actually afford and in accord to some discipline, and to be very clear it’s a choice. I call the discipline parsimony. It is not frugal, it is not minimal. It is instead a choice of balance, a choice of getting the best deal, not the cheapest deal, unless the cheapest deal also is the best deal. The cheapest deal is often not the best deal because the cheapest deal is often a throw away solution whereas the best deal is persistent and amortizes over time. And the best deal is parsimonious.

    Why do physicians kill themselves? They do not live in parsimony. They instead inhabit an illusion, but under the illusion is a discordinate reality. The illusion successful physician, the reality impotent, debt ridden slob, bereft of discipline unable to be what he/she pretends. The solution is to not kill yourself but to kill the illusion. The solution is to move a couple standard deviation UP the bell curve, out of the tail and into a place more average. It takes courage, but sanity lays in daring to be average. Your colleagues snivel in their cowardice of daring only to be superior. “I could NEVER DO THAT” actually means “I could never give up this illusion to live more rationally”. ” I could never be who I actually am.” Last year for the first time I made enough money I could finally claim some tax credits for my kids college expense. I made enough to fund a Roth for me and my wife. I became part of the great unwashed cohort of Medicare recipient. Instead of funding the state, I became average enough to participate in what the state funding provides. Is it a blow to the ego to no longer be 1%? Hell no. I eat the same hamburgers, drive the same car, live in the same house, all of which were purchased with parsimony. I just don’t have to work for the privilege of eating the same hamburgers, driving the same car or living in the same house. My lifestyle pays me I don’t pay it. It pays me because I lived 50 years in parsimony, not perverse excess, banked the profit and let compounding do the rest. I came to expect a life of hamburger and Honda not Lobster and Beamer. My children also understand hamburger and Honda. This facility of imagination is what your colleagues lack. This facility of parsimonious imagination is what you possess. It’s good to be King.

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  4. Great post, CD! All of our illusions of what we should or shouldn’t spend are so relative. Compared to the average American household, even a general pediatrician makes a mountain of money. I find it interesting that as physicians (outside of cash only plastics or concierge), we interact with folks from all walks on a daily basis. It’s a unique aspect of our profession that I find keeps me grounded, but I’m not sure it has the same effect on everyone.

    I’m not advocating for every physician to live on 60k per year and bank the rest, but it makes me sad when a 65 year old colleague volunteers to take extra night and weekend trauma call to make payments on that 6000 sqft house that only 2 people live in.

    Somewhere in the middle of those two paths would probably make people happier and more fulfilled in work and life. Everyone should make their own priorities. Unfortunately, I don’t think most sit down and spell out what their priorities are and how to align their lives with those priorities. As the WCI says, “align your life with your desired life”.

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      A close friend and fellow physician likes to razz me when I insist on meeting at ethnic dives instead of his preferred foodie joints by saying, “You can afford it. You’re a rich doctor.”

      He’s right. I am rich, as are you, EasyOphtho. But I leverage my high hourly income in order to work less and allocate my time in less remunerative pursuits (playing Othello with my son, or getting a tour of my daughter’s home grown slime collection).

      WCI knows from whence he speaks.

      Thanks for stopping by,


  5. There are reasons why eccentric people tend to be happier. Being comfortable enough in your own skin to openly do what you like is powerful. In our consumption culture, it is even financially powerful. It is about making choices and having the courage to execute them.

    Choosing to do what you think is important or enjoyable is freeing – even if you are the only one. It is way more fun to dance like nobody’s watching. I think most people long for this and if they get angry about seeing someone else dancing, they are really just disappointed in themselves for not having the courage to do so. An uncomfortable feeling. If possible, surround yourself with others who would rather just join in and shake their thang too!

  6. I often try to think of the people/professions where, in my smidgen of materialism remaining, I might expect someone to have the outward appearance of success. Would a doctor with a Kia offend me? Absolutely not. Would I hire a realtor to sell my home if she drives an old beat up car? Maybe. I realize I’m still a bit judgmental, and that’s with being in the FI community. So I can understand someone in a white collar profession wanting to have the accoutrements of success. Perhaps it takes a level of maturity to really understand that what you own and what you spend is not a reflection of your character or your skill level —and success can be an illusion.

    Getting back to that realtor — if I have proof of a good sales record I wouldn’t care if she rides a tricycle for transportation.

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      Mrs. G,

      Interesting you should say that about the realtor – we used a discount realtor (ziprealty) in buying our place, and our realtor was a gregarious but not particularly savvy guy. He was quite the chatterbox, and mentioned he’d purchased a Jag on credit to give the outward appearance of success for “business purposes.” I’d always felt that was an excuse to live large, but your candor is making me reconsider – there are folks who want their realtors to be rich.

      When we first moved to my area, a distant but kind cousin gave us a driving tour. On a particularly beautiful coastal bluff with unobstructed ocean views, he pointed out a home on a prime street and said, “My cardiologist lives there.” I wonder if on seeing my beater he’d admit to, “My cousin drives that.”

      I suspect you are right on about maturity changing you over time. These days, show me a frugal success and I’m smitten.



      P.S. Enjoying making my way through the Groovy Guide as my bedtime read!

  7. A childhood friend of mine was a physician — for a while. She continued driving her 1974 VW Bug to work (this was in the late nineties). People parked fancy cars around her, and those people were not always the doctors, but lots of people on much lower salaries. They teased her and asked why she didn’t splurge and buy something more “normal” or nice.

    She left her job to pursue a lesser paid position in public health because she didn’t like the paperwork and other parts of actually being a doctor. And now she does what she always wanted to do because she could. It’s a luxury, like you say, to really choose what we want to do and not let our purchases do that for us.

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      Susan, your friend sounds like those misfits of medicine I found throughout my training – eccentrics that did not fit the traditional mold of medicine, and whose rare examples shone a light on alternate paths.

      I’m a huge fan of outsider identity insulating physicians from societal and professional expectations of displaying wealth instead of accumulating it.

      Your friend is fortunate to have realized early on those pursuits that made her happy, and saved to splurge on the life she wanted instead of the material goods she wanted.

      Thanks for stopping by!



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