It’s not at Vanguard. I was not an accredited investor at the time of purchase. And it’s beaten the S&P in value added every single year since I went all in. Trouble is, it’s closed to new investors. A recent thread on the WCI forum got me thinking about my single most important investment.
It was the summer of 2004, just after the 4th of July. I was obtaining my MPH and held a junior faculty position in emergency medicine at a prestige academic hospital in Boston. A couple of residents I was fond of hit me with a guilt trip one day after a shift - I never went out socially with them after work - and invited me to an arts event in nearby Providence, Rhode Island. A fellow attending at our sister hospital was driving one carload, could I drive the second group? My relationship had just ended, so I had no social plans and no excuses. I said yes.
At the event, I wore my southern California going out clothes - tevas, shorts, and my least stained collar shirt. The attractive female attending who drove the other carload was decked out in heels and fancy clothes (i.e., they needed ironing). A little out of my league, very cute. We had a great conversation about our shared love of California (she’d gone to undergrad there) and she registered on my radar, but I was still in recovery mode from the recent breakup. We fell out of touch when I departed for seven weeks in Ethiopia, part of my international emergency medicine fellowship.
By winter, my funk had lifted, and I had 6 months remaining before I completed fellowship and returned to my home state of California. I figured I could either make the most of those remaining six months in Boston, or mentally relocate and go through the motions. I opted for the former. There’d been a handful of people I’d met over the prior year that I decided to reach out to, and she was at the top of the list.
We went out for Thai on an icy January evening during a month that broke the 100 year record for snowfall. I got a good vibe as we discussed how we were both dissatisfied with our jobs in academia, the oppressive cold...I was having a great time, but what if we had nothing in common except hating the same things about our lives? It warranted a follow-up at the very least, so we made a date for the following weekend. This date was even better - I felt more myself when I was around her. I was smitten.
A month later, she came over and suggested that since I was leaving town in a few months, perhaps we should date other people. I replied that she was free to sow her wild oats and date whomever she wanted; I was only interested in dating her. The month after that she asked if she should get her California medical license. Trying not to act freaked out, I said yes. She’d lived in Boston for fourteen years at that point.
Four months after we met, she put her condo on the market, gave notice at her job, and we moved to coastal LA together. Neither of us are impulsive personalities, but this just made sense.
My wife has increased our financial well-being in many ways. When we started seriously looking at homes in ‘06, she advised we move all our non-retirement funds to a cash position to put aside the biggest down payment we could afford. We gradually moved all our taxable invested assets to a cash position from ’07-’08...taking our investments out just prior to the market crash. It was pure dumb luck motivated by a shared desire to minimize debt.
When I was itching to buy a home in ‘06, she tempered my crazy, suggesting we wait to find the right place and not just any place. She alone kept us from pulling the trigger prematurely until August ’09, when we bought our place fairly close to the bottom of the market. We lucked into a much nicer place at a discounted price.
When she decided to start an entrepreneurial side hustle over a decade ago, and nourished it like it was our third child, I could not have imagined that it would grow into her main hustle.
When I became motivated to manage our finances independently and break up with our financial advisor, she gave me the vote of confidence to proceed. When I suggested a path to FI and laid out a plan to reduce my clinical load as part of the glide path there, she had my back. Frugality, shared values and an aversion to debt combined with serendipity for a good outcome.
Let’s disregard the finances completely for a moment, as obviously timing was inadvertent and several of these stories could have ended quite differently.
The more of life’s challenges I encounter personally and vicariously (kids; career; relationship; parents’ health) the more I realize that the greatest and most important decision was choosing the right partner. Virtually every other facet of life has been affected by this choice.
I write my posts directed at the person I was 15 years ago: single, fresh out of residency with very little financial literacy. If you are that mini-me, you might find yourself in a relationship trying to decide if this is the person you want to share your life with. Please consider all the ways this person will influence your choices and affect your path.
Does this person build you up or tear you down? Will they give or will they take? Are they willing to sacrifice and delay gratification for long-term goals? Over the years, we’ve seen some couples thrive while others struggle among our friends and family. There is a vast difference between choosing a partner who is more asset or more liability.
It was dumb luck and fortuitous timing that led me to meet my wife, but I’m grateful I could recognize her as the gem she continues to be. My life has yet to recover from its upward trajectory.
Choose wisely, and your greatest investment will pay dividends for a lifetime.
Financial Literacy for The Newly Minted Physician