Avoid Lifestyle Creep and Improve Your Quality of Life
High earners in any profession can be vulnerable to “lifestyle creep,” a phenomenon in which you spend more as you earn more. Medical professionals can be especially susceptible because of the long hours they spend with their high-earning peers, and because of how inseparable that hard-earned M.D. or D.D.S. and appropriate compensation can become from your sense of self.
After studying, stressing, and sweating for the better part of a decade in medical school and residency, new doctors and other healthcare professionals deserve to enjoy the perks that come with their profession. Usually, that includes great benefits and high salaries. For example, based on data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics program, 23 of the 30 highest-paying jobs in the U.S. are in the healthcare industry.
Here are three tips that can help medical pros and other high-earning professionals avoid lifestyle creep and stay focused on improving their Return on Life.
1. Build a budget and follow it.
According to the American Medical Association, the average first-year resident physician earns approximately $60,000. That might feel like a lot of money if you’re young, single, and thrilled to be finally cashing a paycheck. But it could also be a fraction of what you owe in student loans. Before you start applying for credit cards and upgrading your home theatre system, work out a budget that will allow you to live comfortably while also paying down your debts and putting some money into saving and investing accounts.
I admit to hesitating before using mentioning the word budget. For many, it has negative connotations. But knowing what you spend your money on can help. Knowing how much I was spending gave me the confidence to buy my first home. Before signing a purchase contract, I monitored my daily expenses and put them in a spreadsheet. That did more than tell me how much I was spending. It also helped me identify what expenses I could cut if times became more difficult.
It’s important to spend your money on what matters most to YOU. Doing so can significantly improve your quality of life.
Once you complete your residency, you should be prepared to manage the jump in income responsibly. According to Salary.com, the median starting salary for a doctor in the United States is $207,532, and the numbers only climb if you’re an in-demand specialist. Don’t treat that bounce like a windfall. Instead, revisit your budget, scale up your comforts appropriately, increase your regular savings, and continue to pay down your debts and invest in your future. The easiest way to increase savings is to Pay Yourself First!
2. Don’t worry about how others spend their money.
Again, issues of money, accomplishment, respect, and identity can be very difficult for some healthcare pros to navigate, especially at the beginning of their careers. You deserve to enjoy the money you work so hard to earn. But trying to keep up with Dr. Jones and his new boat could stretch your resources too thin too quickly. And replacing all that student loan debt you just paid down with high credit card bills or luxury leases could hurt your ability to grow your wealth in the long run.
Besides, buying stuff rarely provides the kind of sustained happiness we think it will. After a few laps around the lake, your new boat will just be … your boat. That’s when less disciplined high earners might start eying sports cars for that next hit of pleasure.
Remember that driving a fancy car or living in a big house doesn’t necessarily mean someone has a lot of money. You don’t know how much debt they may carry or how much they have saved for the future.
Stay focused on your own goals, not someone else’s. And if you do feel like treating yourself, consider spending your money on an experience that will create lasting memories and expand your view of the world. After all, experiences matter.
3. Regularly review your life and financial goals.
As you progress in your career, you can expect your goals to change. Maybe you’d like to scale back your hours, so you have more time to mentor, teach, or volunteer. You might develop an entrepreneurial itch and consider opening your own practice. Or, if you’ve gone above and beyond when it comes to saving, investing, and planning, you could start eying an early retirement.
Sticking to a financial plan can give you the tools you need to make these kinds of changes. A powerful part of our Life Planning process is that it can help you adapt and work towards new long-term goals without sacrificing the experiences that will make your present fulfilling as well. Wherever you are on your professional journey, let’s talk about how we can help you take the next step.
While the above was written more toward those who are early in their careers, the suggestions apply to everyone.
I often highlight the benefits of Roth conversions. This week’s first article can help you determine if a Roth conversion makes sense based on your facts and circumstances.
Here are the links to this week’s articles as well as a brief description of each:
1. When is a Roth conversion beneficial?
I have written several times in the past about some of the benefits of Roth conversions. (See here, here, and here.) Having diversity in the type of accounts you hold from a tax perspective can help minimize the cost of withdrawing your retirement savings. Unless your company offers a Roth 401k option, you will likely find it difficult to build a large balance in a Roth account unless you complete Roth conversions. When the market has a down year, Roth conversions can provide even more value. This article focuses on the considerations you should evaluate when determining whether to convert traditional IRA funds to Roth IRA funds. If you would like to discuss these issues in more detail or have questions, please schedule a free call.
2. The Fingerprints of History.
Imagine reading every issue of Time Magazine ever published, starting in 1923. What would you learn? How would it change you? This blog shares some of the key things learned by Scott Krisiloff who read every issue from 1923-2000. He stopped once his first child was born. As part of the process, he reduced each issue to its most important points and overlaid them on a stock chart at the time. The article shares 10 things Scott learned from the experience. Make sure to read the article to the end. Scott’s final thoughts are good reminders for all of us.
3. 5 Common Estate Planning Mistakes to Avoid.
Whether your situation is simple or complex, everyone should have an estate plan. You can write out a simple will or work with an estate planning attorney – I recommend the latter. In general, the more thought and care you put into your plans, the easier you will make things for your heirs and beneficiaries. Overlooking an important step or making a misstep can undo the benefits of all your care and planning. This blog’s author shares the five most common mistakes he has seen in his practice. The last mistake he notes – not keeping track of beneficiary designations – is also one of the easiest to fix.
4. If You Want Success, Pursue Happiness.
Arthur Brooks writes a regular column for The Atlantic that I consider a must-read. To learn more about him, I recommend this podcast appearance as well. In it, Mr. Brooks provides a formula for happiness: enjoyment (pleasure + elevation in relationships), satisfaction (reward for a job well done), and purpose (meaning in life).
We often seek success first, believing it will lead to happiness. According to Mr. Brooks, we should reverse that order. One of the hardest places to find happiness is at work. Finding balance often improves our work-related happiness. According to a study cited in the article, workaholic behavior strongly predicted workplace incivility. Workaholic behaviors also degrade the quality of our family life. Mr. Brooks states, “the two key aspects of meaningful work are earned success and service to others.” The article also cites research indicating that “the most meaningful jobs tend to be those that are the most service-oriented.
5. Pros and Cons of Renting Versus Owning in Retirement.
When you retire, many of the important questions revolve around where you want to live. These questions include the following:
- Where do you want to live?
- Do you want to have a mortgage?
- Do you want to rent or own your home?
This post addresses the pros and cons of the last question. Factors to consider when making this choice include the following:
- Do you plan to relocate;
- How often do you plan to move;
- The cost of relocation;
- The interest-rate environment; and
- The prospect of annual rent increases.
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We hope you find the above articles valuable. We would be happy to address any follow-up questions you have. You can complete our contact form if you would like to talk to us about financial topics, including your investments, creating a financial plan, saving for college, or saving for retirement. Once you do that, we will be in touch. You can also schedule a call or a virtual meeting via Zoom.
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Phil Weiss founded Apprise Wealth Management. He started his financial services career in 1987 working as a tax professional for Deloitte & Touche. For the past 25+ years, he has worked extensively in the areas of financial planning and investment management. Phil is both a CFA charterholder and a CPA.
Located just north of Baltimore, Apprise works with clients face-to-face locally and can also work virtually regardless of location.