The X-ray Beam: Wealthy Doc (Part II)
For an audio version of this post, please click on the speaker icon (top left).
I would like to welcome everyone back for the conclusion of Wealthy Doc’s examination underneath the X-ray beam.
If you need a refresher or haven’t seen it, you can check out part I here.
In your website you mention that you grew up “dirt poor” and your entire family lived in a “dilapidated one-bedroom cabin” with little income or assets to speak of. How much of an impact did having a childhood such as this have on your views on finance and subsequent financial success as an adult?
The cabin served as our house.
My family built it and gave it to my grandmother, who later sold it to my father for $1.
I think it was supposed to be a temporary place to sleep until my Dad got on better financial footing.
Trouble is that never happened.
So I lived there until I was old enough to move out.
Looking back, it was pathetic.
It had one toilet, a tub, but no shower.
There was one tiny “bedroom.”
No air conditioning.
We had some baseboard heaters but mostly heated the house with a Franklin wood-burning stove.
We lived in what was clearly dead-center of the poor part of a poor town.
Complete with trailer parks, poor schools, power plants, gravel and broken glass, burglaries, and PCB superfund dredging projects.
We didn’t have a car, color TV, cable or whatever else other middle-class people had back then.
But back to your question as far as the impact it had, I’m not sure any of this is conscious.
But I’m sure that environment fueled me toward financial success.
People say, “money doesn’t buy happiness.”
And they are right.
But I saw firsthand that “poverty buys misery.”
I knew money wasn’t the most important thing, but it was still very important.
I was determined to not spend my whole life destitute and living in squalor.
Do you feel your childhood offered you certain advantages over someone who was “born with a silver spoon” in his or her mouth?
I have no idea what a “silver spoon” even is.
I had never seen one, let alone had one in my mouth!
It is hard to imagine living a life other than the one I lived.
All I know is that I was eager to make a better life for myself.
I wanted a good education.
I wanted opportunities.
I was eager to learn more about how some people had mastered money management and my parents did not.
When did you develop an interest in personal finance and was there a particular event that brought personal finance to the forefront of your consciousness?
There wasn’t an event or conscious decision.
I remember being interested in investing and financial planning from my teenage years.
I wrote a computer game program as a kid.
That was published in PC Magazine and later re-printed in Compute’s Book for Apple.
I received royalties from sales around the world for years.
That was my first taste of intellectual property rights, royalties, foreign market sales, and passive income.
I did the “work” of creating a game and a description of the game once.
Then I received checks for years.
The subsequent money came in whether I worked or not.
What a concept!
I wanted more of that.
I started writing a column for a local newspaper and received $50 for each article.
That was a lot of money for a teenager in the eighties.
Since I was a published programmer and software reviewer, game companies sent me free video games for review.
It was a dream come true for a nerdy broke teen.
Free video games and checks in the mail?
It couldn’t get any better for me at the time.
Not much has changed.
I still feel the same way when I receive free finance books to review.
Much later, I witnessed physicians making poor financial choices.
It pained me to see intelligent, capable people struggling financially in adulthood.
I saw no excuse for that given how much money they were making.
They spent too much.
They were overly-trusting.
They knew little about business, finance, or investing but that didn’t stop them from investing and being confident that they could outsmart professional investors.
I didn’t want to copy them.
Plus, I wanted to help them.
Or help other younger doctors before they got to that painful place.
Can you name 5 things that had the greatest financial impact on you?
Choosing a faithful and frugal spouse has been key.
That factor was identified in “The Millionaire Next Door.”
I have seen financially prudent physicians spiral down from a spendthrift spouse or from a divorce.
I have been very lucky and blessed in my marriage.
Choosing medicine as a career has provided countless blessings including challenges, meaning, and a consistently high income.
Living below my means:
I maxed out all my retirement accounts from day one of private practice.
I worked on multiple “side gigs.”
Reinvesting profits, dividends, and bonuses accelerated getting out of debt and building wealth.
I maximized any upside income potential by buying into our building, PT, MRI, surgery center, practice, etc.
I learned from those few financially successful doctors who went before me.
I invested with broad-based low-cost index funds for the bulk of my portfolio after first learning of the S&P index in 1985.
They aren’t new.
I avoided getting caught up in the technology stock market frenzy of the late 1990’s.
Learning about FI:
I read about FI in the 1980s and in 1998 started working towards that goal.
FI isn’t new either!
What is the biggest non-medical accomplishment you have achieved to date?
Well my kids come to mind.
They are still young though, so it is yet to be seen how well I’m doing as a parent.
If they turn out well, most of the credit should rightfully go to my wife.
So, let me think of something else.
I’m proud of all the writing, talks, publishing, teaching, and mentoring I have done over the years.
I guess you could consider that medical, but it wasn’t a job requirement.
I enjoy teaching, helping, and mentoring others to help them as people.
Many of my mentees have gone on to do amazing things, become my friends, partners or even became my boss or mentor later.
I see the karma and circle of life in action.
I didn’t do all the work for extrinsic rewards or for political reasons, but those former mentees have become my allies and benefactors.
It is a blessing on so many levels.
If you had a time machine and could go back to any point in time and change just one thing, what would it be?
I live by the credo, “No Regrets!”
Or “No Ragrets” as the tattoo reads in the movie, “We’re the Millers.”
Enjoy every moment as it rolls out.
Everything in my past has prepared me for what I can do now.
All I’m doing and enduring now will better prepare me for the work ahead.
For me this also has a spiritual foundation back to my purpose in life, but I won’t get too deep into religion here.
It is different for each of us.
But if I absolutely HAD to change something it would have been interviewing my grandmother about her life and writing it down.
She was a humble and kind person who was born in 1905.
She lived through the roaring twenties, the mother of all stock market crashes, the Great Depression, two world wars, unemployment, loss of family members, the development of cars, airplanes, and computers.
What was that like?
How was she so resilient and loving after decades of hardship.
To me she was just Grandma.
I missed an opportunity to learn more from her.
For a reader unfamiliar to your website, what are three posts you are most proud of that they can gain an insight about you and your philosophies?
Well despite my long history of investing and blogging I’m really a beginner.
I made so many mistakes with my old site that I finally blew it up last year.
I started over with a new host, new software, new photos etc. just last summer.
As a new blogger I don’t have a ton of posts.
I like to think my best material is yet to come.
I always comply with radiology requests though, especially when they are aiming at me a beam of ionizing radiation.
So here it goes:
- Negotiation Basics
- Earn the most you can.
- Don’t let an employer exploit the value of the human resource you are providing.
- Financial Freedom without Budgeting
- Save consistently and put it on autopilot.
- It is easy and effective.
- Build Wealth from Nothing
- Get out of debt and invest wisely.
If readers read those three and start earning more, saving consistently, and investing wisely they will end up fine.
Is there a book (or books) that has made a major impact in your financial well-being?
This is always a tough one for me.
I envy those who have read 1-3 books and they are done.
I have read hundreds of books on this subject over the last 30 years.
Few have read more, except maybe Taylor Larimore.
That doesn’t mean I understand and remember what I read, mind you.
These are four that had big impacts on me:
Eric Tyson’s Personal Finance for Dummies
Benjamin Graham’s The Intelligent Investor
Bill Bernstein’s The Intelligent Asset Allocator
Burton Malkiel’s A Random Walk Down Wallstreet
Other books gave me hope and motivation.
They helped me get my head on straight were also important: Atlas Shrugged, Think and Grow Rich, The Power of Positive Thinking, Nicomachean Ethics, and the works of Brian Tracy.
Can you share with us a hidden talent that most people would be shocked to find out about you?
I’m not sure anything about me is shocking.
I can’t even think of any hidden talents.
I’m mostly average and boring.
I have done some interesting things though.
Does that count?
Like getting PADI scuba certified off the coast of Fort Lauderdale, being one of the very few high school dropouts to make it into Who’s Who in America, and walking across the skybridge connecting the world’s tallest twin towers (Petronas) in KL, Malaysia.
You get to pick one person who is dead and one person who is currently alive to answer any questions you may have. Who would you choose and why?
He would be amazing to get to know.
I have been reading about him my whole life and keep learning new things.
If he were alive now, he would own the internet.
I bet he has learned a lot during his life of building a great company, constantly reading, improving technologies, being friends with other billionaires, and traveling the world to better improve humanity through his foundation.
The topic of physician burnout has been gaining momentum in social media. Have you experienced burnout in your medical career? What steps have you taken to minimize the chance of burnout?
I didn’t think burnout applied to me.
After all, I loved my job.
A few years ago I started reading about burnout and hearing complaints from other physicians.
The EMR was one of their big issues.
I joined the informatics team and spent time at EPIC HQ.
I learned how to make doctor’s charting life easier.
But they still had other burnout concerns.
When I learned the signs and symptoms and tools to help them, I realized I was heading down that road myself.
I wasn’t all the way burned out.
But I was getting crispy like a mutual friend of ours.
I read Dr. Dike Drummond’s excellent book, Stop Physician Burnout.
I also arranged for him to come to my hospital for a day.
He talked a lot about comparing your current practice to your ideal practice.
I found there was a lot of overlap of those two circles in my case.
Things weren’t terrible.
I just needed to remove some tasks that I hated.
And I needed to decrease my overall hours, so I could have a life outside of work.
After cutting out the early meetings, optional depositions, paperwork etc., and downshifting to a 3-day-a-week schedule I have been much happier.
By all accounts you have attained financial independence, yet you continue to practice medicine. Can you elaborate on the driving force that keeps you practicing medicine now that money is no longer an issue?
You are correct.
Using any reasonable and conservative assumptions I have “made it.”
I have more than enough assets and have investment income streams that exceed not only my expenses (FI), but also exceed my compensation as a physician.
Money was never the ONLY reason I worked.
If it were, I should have quit when I made “enough.”
I paid attention to money.
I wanted to be paid well for the work I did.
A good salary was part of that.
But I love working as a doctor.
Becoming a doctor was not an easy road for me.
I’m proud to be in this noble occupation.
I help many of my patients (not all).
I enjoy my workplace, my coworkers, my mentors and mentees, medical conferences and learning.
I keep learning, teaching, and growing.
My work isn’t physically demanding.
I’m told I’m good at it and I’m paid well for it.
I believe the happiest people are those with high productivity and meaning/purpose.
Not everyone can find meaningful and worthwhile work, but I have.
I have a deep religious conviction and see my acts of service to others as something I should continue.
The paychecks are nice validation that I’m providing value.
I give more of my time and money to charities since I have a lot of both now.
I enjoy my work more now that it is part-time.
I also enjoy my time off work partly because I have work to be “off” from.
Some in the FI community ask, “Wouldn’t it be great if every day could be Saturday?”
I’m thinking, no.
I enjoy Saturdays.
But I don’t want every day to be Saturday.
I have always enjoyed workdays too.
How has achieving financial independence impacted your medical practice?
FI gave me the confidence to be persistent when making changes at work.
When I dropped an administrative role or went to part-time, I pushed aggressively.
In the back of my mind I thought well, worst case, I’m terminated.
In which case I would be fine.
I cut out parts of my practice I didn’t enjoy.
I spend more time with my patients.
It is much more enjoyable.
I don’t feel a pressure to run on a treadmill.
I just do what I can at work, and I enjoy it.
In retrospect I could have made the changes much sooner.
Doctors have more bargaining power than they realize.
A good doctor on staff is worth a lot.
Doctors add to reputation, volume, and revenue.
Replacing them is extremely expensive and disruptive.
Administrators would much rather keep a known doctor in a modified routine than start over with a $300K, 12 month recruiting process.
There was minimal pushback for any of the changes I suggested.
Do you have any plans to retire earlier than the traditional age for a physician and if so, what things have to be in place to make that transition?
At age 52 I’m within 10 years of 62 when many physicians retire.
I plan to take social security at 70, but I could stop working at any point.
Currently I love working in clinical medicine part-time.
I don’t see a reason to stop.
But I have also never been good at planning.
Or with predicting my own future.
If part-time is no longer an option or if regulations and reimbursement changes make things worse, I will have the option of taking down my shingle.
I will take my life year-by-year, day-by-day and see how it goes.
I would much rather enjoy the journey and not focus on some mythical nirvana in the future.
I try to figure out whatever I would enjoy about a potential retirement and pull that into my current life.
Days off? Travel? Sleeping in? Hobbies? Exercise? Time with family?
Okay, let’s figure out how to implement changes in that direction.
There is no need to give up a job and practice I love to enjoy any and all those things.
Again, thank you so much for your time answering these questions and being placed under the “X-ray beam.” I look forward to your continued posts and wish you much success.
The honor is all mine. It was quite painless, although I do feel a little exposed right now.
If you are interested in checking out previous individuals that were brave enough to expose themselves to the beams of the X-ray, please check them out here.
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