Is Financial Independence the Key to a Global Medicine Career?

If I had to point to one single resource that has motivated and inspired me like no other these past few months, it must be the “FI” community, particularly the Choose FI podcast.

I am a complete newbie to this world. In fact, I got connected to “Physicians on FIRE” on facebook (through my Physician Moms Group), and I did not know that FIRE was an acronym for Financial-Independence-Retire-Early. So for anyone out there as clueless as me, FI stands for Financial Independence, and it’s propounded “Fye.”

At first encounter, this seems like a fairly narrow focus. I was peripherally aware of some nuts who wanted to retire by age 30 and did all sorts of weird financial acrobatics to accomplish this, but I did not consider any of that relevant to me. I finally listened to one of the Choose FI podcast as I was exploring options for accomplishing the Indie Docs lifestyle (although I did not have that term for it at the time). Josh and I kept discussing the best plan for funding our dream of being humanitarian physicians, and without charity funding it seemed that achieving financial independence was essentially mandatory. Otherwise, debt obligations alone would be prohibitive to traveling and working for little-to-no pay. While religiously affiliated programs and some fellowships exist that can fund 1-2 year projects or even longer missionary careers (topic for another post), we ultimately decided to leverage our income potential to control our own destiny. Hence, my portal into the Financial Independence world.

I quickly discovered that FI is so much more than extreme budgeting, saving, and investing. Mr. Money Mustache was for me, as for many people, the gateway to a whole new mindfulness toward how I should spend my attention and time in addition to money. He calls out many ridiculous notions of consumerism in a compelling and entertaining way, and at this point I’m practically inhaling 2-3 of his archived posts every day. On a very practical level, he convinced me to ride my bike regularly to work and for errands around town, and this has been a very enjoyable, economical, and healthy transition. His post “What do you mean ‘You Don’t Have a Bike’?!” is what first intrigued me–Click the hyperlink to judge for yourself!

Saturday grocery trip. Hauled a full load of groceries in the bike trailer with Eddy. Workout-check.

While riding my bike, I’ve listened to several more episodes of the ChooseFI podcasts, and discovered resources like Get Rich Slowly, Raptitude, Frugalwoods, Making Sense of Cents, and many other blogs. I explored the travel rewards section of the Choose FI website and listened to the Travel Rewards podcast episode. This topic also deserves an entire post in it’s own right. The obvious practical implications of finding a way to travel at a huge discount would be a total game-changer for humanitarian physicians. I realized that I had done a very mini-version of their travel hacking by opening the Chase Sapphire credit card years ago and using the miles for airline tickets and recently a sweet deal on a rental car, and subsequently opening two Delta cards between myself and my husband to qualify for bonus miles and free companion tickets. So in the past 6 years we have played this game 3 times, but not in a super-savvy way and totally unaware that there was a whole busy and geeked-out world of travel hacking teeming below the surface.

Yesterday, I listened to the Choose FI podcast episode 48, which featured Jeff from The Happy Philosopher, a radiologist who experienced severe burnout and found a path to professional fulfillment and happiness again as he pursued financial independence. The episode gets fairly deep into a discussion about burnout and it’s effect on all aspects of life, and practical approaches to emerge from this crisis. I myself have experience full-fledged burnout and will definitely devote a post to this topic, and I was again amazed at how relevant the FI discussion is to so many of life’s complex emotional problems.

On the most basic level, achieving FI will open up possibilities to spend our time and money on the projects we are most passionate about. One of the earliest steps in the path to FI is becoming debt-free, and this is a particularly large hurdle for many physicians. It seems that the college and med school tuition and student loan structure are practically designed to keep us working as many hours for as long as possible just to pay back this obligation. When we get past residency and find a “real job,” our work schedules are optimized for billing, and many physicians would find it impossible to spend a significant amount of time pursuing humanitarian projects; in fact, I personally know several wonderful physicians who devote over half their vacation time to short term projects. In addition to paying back the loans, we need to make up for a decade of lost time funding retirement accounts and other funds, such as kids’ college.

However, if you can imagine that suddenly you are financially independent, the game changes drastically. You can insist on a part time schedule, find a work-share situation with another physician, or simply walk away forever. Even if you have a full time physician job that you love, it frees up your financial obligations to make a huge impact on your passion projects rather than paying back the bank.

Josh and I have just started investigated new strategies to start our FI journey. I love the easy equation that comes up often on the Choose FI podcast that (Money Made) – (Expenses) = Your Gap, and the Gap is what you invest to achieve FI. Our income is relatively fixed as two residents, but I do supplement with teaching courses and plan to do Locums this year for some bigger boosts. The big category I’m fired up about now is minimizing expenses to maximize our Gap. I’ve started taking my lunch to work, riding my bike to work, really cut dining out. (I truly enjoy my PB&J, which is super charged with rich omega-3 supplemented peanut butter, rhubarb and strawberry jam, and gourmet whole grain bread).

Packed lunch for the playground, pretty identical to work lunch except more “snacks” for Eddy.

I bring my coffee to work every morning; I don’t have a coffee thermos that I can toss into my backpack, so I rigged one using a mason jar and a breast-milk insulated carrier from my diaper bag (see photo), and I have no plans to upgrade as it works great. We have always used cloth diapers at home (day care requires disposable), and it is a huge money saver that is so easy I have no idea how all families don’t at least have a hybrid cloth/disposable diaper system.

After July, we will no longer employ an au pair, and I will be able to cut out a smart phone line and cable and sell a car (saving money on the insurance also). At that point, I’ll look into budget smart phone carriers to try to find something cheaper than Verizon (have a feeling that will be pretty easy). We have a few low-interest debts that I will look into paying off, but we are in a debate as to whether it’s wise to use part of our emergency fund to do this when we are only a year away from both having full-time attending jobs and can reasonably float these small loans a little bit longer. I think we are paying too much for house and auto insurance, so I’ll look into switching that in the next few months. I have to take my general surgery boards in July, so some of these items will have to wait until that task is complete.

We will revisit FI again and again on Indie Docs, as well as explore other ways of funding a humanitarian medicine career. For now, enjoy visiting the amazing resources available through the hyperlinks above. Please leave comments with your favorite financial blogs, websites, or podcasts, as well as any practical tips and tricks you have for maximizing The Gap.

 

 

2 Replies to “Is Financial Independence the Key to a Global Medicine Career?”

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