6 surprising benefits of having a spending plan

 
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In order to practice good money management, we must put a valiant effort into getting our spending habits under control. Although challenging, creating a monthly budget or at least having a “spending plan,” can really help us get on the right track. When I finally started following a budget not only did my finances improve, but I also noticed these 6 surprising benefits:  

  1. I am better organized. Before I created a budget, I used to “guesstimate” how much money I spent each month. After a few weeks, I’d realize that my bank account was lower than I anticipated and would just tell myself to “try harder” next time. As you can imagine, that didn’t work. I was still spending too much money and barely making ends meet. When I finally sat down and made a monthly budget things changed for the better. With a budget, I actually know how much I can afford to spend on certain items and can plan better strategies on how to meet my financial goals.

  2. I know what is happening to my money. Now that I have a realistic budget, my spending habits have changed. I am more aware of fixed vs variable expenses and have a rough idea of how much money is in my bank account at all times. Because of this awareness, I no longer have anxiety opening my mobile banking app or logging into mint.com. I know how much I can afford to spend on food and which times I can splurge on other items. Instead of getting to the end of the month and wondering where my money went, I am now the one telling it where to go. 

  3. I feel less guilty when I spend money on myself. Before I created a budget, I felt guilty spending money on myself. Even though I worked hard, I always felt like I should be using the “extra” money I had to pay off credit card bills or save for retirement. At one point, my guilt was so bad that I could barely walk into the nail salon without feeling financially irresponsible. All of that changed when I actually created a budget. Each month I allocate a certain amount to “personal grooming and self-care.” I now have a small portion of my budget set aside for a monthly pedicure and trip to the hair salon. This minor change adds so much to my quality of life. It makes me happy knowing that I can enjoy myself from time-to-time and remain on track to meet my financial goals. 

  4. I worry less about my bills. Before I had a spending plan, paying bills near the end of the month gave me anxiety. Even though I knew the bill was coming, I had usually spent too much money earlier in the month so paying that bill would lower the balance in my checking account to a level that I was not comfortable with. Facing that reality caused me great angst on a regular basis. When I created a budget, things changed. Fixed expenses that come out of my check are no longer a surprise to me, regardless of when the money is deducted. I am more aware of my spending throughout the month which makes me better prepared to pay those mid-month bills when they come.

  5. I actually save money each month. Before I had a budget, saving money was something I didn’t think I could afford to do. I swiped my card whenever I deemed it necessary and was genuinely surprised that I didn’t have much left over at the end of the month. When I created a budget, this changed. I became much more aware of how my unhealthy spending habits precluded by ability to save. Nowadays, I solve this problem by actually “paying myself first.” I have a portion of my check directly deposited into a totally different bank account. Since I hardly ever use this secondary account, I don’t really “see” the money I am missing. As result, the money in this account has continued to build over time. As I continue to work in residency, I’ll have this separate bank account serve as an emergency fund, new car fund, and vacation savings account. 

  6. I finally started giving. As a well-intentioned Christian, I try to give to others. Generosity not only blesses the other person, but it does something internally to the giver as well. Every time I give, I get this wave of gratitude knowing that I helped make someone else’s life better. Creating a budget has allowed me to continue these good deeds on a regular basis. Instead of feeling like I can’t afford to share with others, having a spending plan helped me see where I could make room in my budget to tithe and make small charitable donations. It might take me a little longer to become financially independent, but to me, this sacrifice is worth it. Giving to others brings me so much joy and helps me maintain perspective. It also allows me to enjoy the work I’m doing so much more. Without a budget, I wouldn’t be able to continue this practice.

For these 6 ways and more, creating a spending plan has really enhanced my life. If you haven’t already, sit down and make a budget and see if you experience some of these same benefits. As the old saying goes “Do something today that your future self will thank you for.” Believe me, creating a budget (and sticking to it) is something you won’t regret.  


Tell me, was this helpful? What other benefits have you gotten from creating a budget?

 

Yes I’m a Doctor, yes I still live on a budget: 4 steps I took to change my spending habits

 
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To the outside world, I’m a rich doctor who can buy what I want. In reality, I’m a sleep-deprived resident physician struggling to keep my head above water. No one told me life would be like this, at least not before I started taking out tens of thousands of dollars in student loans each semester, but I digress. The point is that even [future] high-income earners like myself need to have a budget. Without one, our money disappears faster than a post-call resident leaving the hospital. 

Unfortunately, realizing I needed a budget and actually creating one were two different things. Like a diabetic struggling to shed those unwanted pounds, it takes time to actually move from one step to another. Coming to terms with the fact that I work super hard and still can’t afford all the things I crave is its own beast that has taken me several attempts to tackle. Just in case some of you are in the same boat, let me shed some light on my own come-to-Jesus moment.

Step 1: I had to let go of my pride and accept that I was spending too much money. 

I’m almost ashamed to admit, but a few years ago I didn’t think a budget was necessary. I thought they were for poor people living paycheck to paycheck. Now that I’m a doctor living paycheck to paycheck I have a lot more sympathy (and humility too). It wasn’t until 6 months ago that I finally let go of my pride and began to accept that my habits needed to change. I was tired of running out of money at the end of each month. I was tired of relying on my credit cards for basic living expenses or holding my breath every time I had to pay for an oil change. 

Step 2: I had to sit down and actually write down my budget.

Honestly, I think the only reason I finally sat down and tried to make a budget was because I had this incredible distaste for debt. I had heard horror stories of older doctors whose student loan burden was sapping all of the happiness they once had with their jobs. It’s as if their lack of financial independence had turned the job they once loved into one they despised. I didn’t want that to happen to me. I wanted to know that my bills were paid on time each month and that my credit card debt was getting smaller and smaller. I wanted to make sure all my bases were covered. Creating a budget was one of the first steps I took to get on the right track. 

Step 3: I had to download a budget app to track my spending, and actually check it. 

Sounds simple, but for me, this was not an easy feat. The anxiety I had even thinking about opening Mint.com is one I cannot even begin to describe. But...I got through it. Slowly but surely I began to look at the numbers. I saw how much money I was actually spending on food each week. How my impromptu trips to the mall resulted in unnecessary clothes and holes in my budget. How the Uber rides, overpriced drinks, and club fees from weekend shenanigans added up to much more than I anticipated. I finally opened the app, stared at the numbers on the screen, and faced the fact that my spending was out of control. 

I was barely staying afloat and knew I had to do better. I couldn’t use the fact that I was a med student living on loans as an excuse. The spending habits I had wouldn’t magically change once I started getting paid as a resident physician or even as an attending physician. I needed to get rid of the bad behavior now, so that when I do experience an increase in pay in the future, I don’t just squander my wealth. 

Step 4: I had to put boundaries in place and stick to them. 

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It wasn’t enough for me to track my spending each month. I needed to put some protections in place to “save me from myself.” I opened mint.com and set up budget notifications that send an alert to my phone whenever I’m nearing my weekly allotment for food or entertainment. For example, if I limit myself to $100 every two weeks for transportation, the app will send me an alert whenever my Uber rides approach the $80 mark. That way I know when I need to forgo that weekend party invitation and maybe host a game night at my place instead. I was well-intentioned before, but setting boundaries through budget apps and spending notifications has really challenged me to stick to my goals.

Full disclosure, I am still a work in progress. There are times I ignore those alerts only to face regret when I log into my bank account afterwards. Thankfully, those times happen a lot less frequently than they used to. When it comes to my spending habits, I am far from perfect. I still struggle, but by simply making these 4steps my spending habits have improved exponentially. 

Tell me, what steps have you taken to improve your spending habits? What was it like when you first tried to make a budget?



 

8 Affordable Ways To Take a Vacation

 

It’s summer time and most of us would love to take a vacation. Unfortunately, planning and actually paying for a vacation can be tough, especially for medical students and young professionals who are on a tight budget. Here are a few things I did to lower costs when I traveled:  

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1.     Travel during a different time of the year. Most people like to travel in the summer. The weather is nice, kids are out of school, and it’s easier to take time off from work. However, vacation prices are usually more expensive in the summer. To cut costs and save money, I tried to go on vacation during other seasons. Going to warmer places in the spring not only saved me money but also spared me from the insufferable summer heat. Planning tropical vacations in the winter allowed me to escape the cold weather and snow from up north.  

2.     Find cheaper flights. Call me crazy, but I do not have allegiance to one airline. I try not to make myself suffer through a flight on Spirit or Frontier but besides those two exceptions, I’m open to booking an affordable flight on just about any airline. In fact, I have a separate email address I use for coupons and store discounts. Before I book a flight, I look through those emails for any discount codes, then search kayak or google flights for cheap round trip tickets.

3.     Use Airbnb instead of hotels. As a female physician in her late 20s, I like a certain level of class. I’m not a huge fan of hostels or sharing a bathroom with random people I’ve never met. I left the dorm life in college and I do not want to go back, ever. Airbnb is different. The last two times I’ve traveled out of the country (to Puerto Rico and Mexico) I’ve stayed at an Airbnb. The places were clean, the hostess was reliable, and I had zero issues. Plus, it was drastically cheaper than hotels or resorts and was conveniently located within walking distance of the places I wanted to visit. If you’re traveling with a family or in a group, Airbnb’s can save you lots of money and even provide that “home away from home” feeling that is hard to recreate in a hotel.

4.     Travel with people. Vacations are cheaper if you can split the cost with other people. Sleeping 2-4 to a room drastically lowered my cost per night. Sometimes I would even split an entrée with a friend at a restaurant if the portions were large enough. Traveling with friends can decrease your lodging and food costs, and the make the trip even more enjoyable.

5.     Visit friends and family. If you’re working a tight schedule and can’t coordinate your vacation time with other people, consider the alternative. Go visit your friends instead. As a medical school graduate, I have many classmates who are starting jobs at various places around the country. In an effort to save costs (and maintain the friendship) why not go visit them? It might be nice to go skiing in Utah, hike the mountains in Colorado, or attend a Seahawks game in Seattle. Visiting close friends in other places will not only provide me with a place to stay but will also allow me to explore a new area with people I enjoy. Win-Win.  

6.     Search Groupon. Once I’ve settled on a vacation area and found affordable lodging (or a friend’s couch), I need to also search for things to do in the area. One of my favorite apps for finding affordable entertainment in a new area is Groupon. On this site, I can find discounts for almost anything. When I went to Napa Valley, my friend and I got a private wine tasting at one of the most beautiful vineyards for only $25. When I was in Georgia, my mom and I got spa and massage deals for half the price. That site has discounts for almost anything you can imagine.

7.     Think about going to a conference. This may sound random, but hear me out. As a physician, and even as a student, there were tons of medical conferences each year across the country. From general medical organizations like the AMA to specialty specific organizations and recruitment trips, each year of medical school I attended at least 1 conference in a different state completely free. As a resident physician, I get CME (continuing medical education) money that I can use to attend conferences. Instead of forgoing this money or spending it on phone apps I may never use, I decided to allocate this money for conferences that just to happen to be in a place that I want to visit (wink-wink). Regardless of your profession, ask your colleagues if there are educational conferences your job could help you attend. Doing so may allow you to travel to a new place completely free.

8.     Consider a cruise. As a person who went to medical school in Florida, cruises were a viable option. I only lived a couple hours from many of the major ports, which means I didn’t have to spend money on a flight to get to the dock station. Cruises are usually all-inclusive, so I also didn’t need to worry about lodging or food. There was free entertainment on the boat (i.e. Comedy shows and dance clubs). Plus, I had the opportunity to get off the boat each time we docked at new country. Cruises can certainly serve as an affordable vacation.

 

Tell me, what tips do you have on ways to take more affordable vacations?

 

Becoming a doctor helped and hurt my ability to build wealth

I just graduated from medical school and will begin my first job as a doctor in a few weeks. Yay! Unfortunately, I am not about to hit the jackpot or start making the salary people google online, just yet.

Although it is true that doctors make a high income, we have to complete residency first. This is a period of 3-7 years in which we are paid a government salary of around $60,000 while working 80 hours a week--not exactly the best lifestyle. In fact, there are several ways in which going to medical school and becoming a physician helped AND hurt my ability to build wealth.

 

Ways it helped me build wealth:

1.) I will have a high income. Most doctors make at least $200,000 a year, once they finish residency training. Since everyone needs access to physicians and reliable health care, doctors have a high level of job security as well. Mathematically speaking, it is much easier to pay off debt, save for retirement, and build wealth with a high income, especially when it is virtually guaranteed.

2.) It gives me access to exclusive perks and profitable investment opportunities. Some lucrative real estate deals, such as large multifamily homes and syndications (in which people combine their money to invest in an apartment building), are only available to people who have a high net worth and/or make at least $200,000 a year. Many physicians qualify for these deals. Doctors are also favored by banks (since we have a high income and rarely default on loans). As a result, we have the ability to purchase homes with no down payment or private mortgage insurance and are excluded from paying some of the added fees associated with the home-buying process.

3.) Many people in my network have a high net worth. As a physician, I completed medical school and thus know at least hundreds of other doctors and high net worth individuals that were once classmates or colleagues in the hospital. Having friends and associates who are well-educated and also earn a high salary is advantageous. There is a greater chance that people within my social circle have a high net worth. Not only does this give doctors like myself greater insight on how to build wealth, but it also increases the number of people with whom I can share ideas, pitch investment opportunities, and depend on for various levels of support.

 

Ways it hurt my ability to build wealth:

1.)   I could not work in medical school. As a medical student, I went to class all day then went home to study all that material at night while also trying to squeeze in time at the gym, cook dinner, and maintain some semblance of a social life. Just in case some of us could miraculously do all of this with time to spare, the administration forbid us from working. That’s right. I gave my word that I wouldn’t work a job and would instead focus all of my energy and attention on medical school. This is well intentioned, but the simple fact is that medical school is 4 years long. That’s 4 years of my life that I couldn’t work, 4 years in which I didn't contribute to retirement accounts and work the magic of compound interest, 4 years that I was unable to save up for a car or a down payment on a home, and 4 years of potential wealth building and lucrative investments that I missed out on.

2.)   I have less time to establish additional streams of income. Unlike many of jobs that require their employees to work 8-9 hours a day with nights and weekends off, med school and residency (our first 3-7 years as a physician) are the complete opposite. We often work 12-hour days, have several periods in which we work night shifts for weeks at a time, and are often scheduled to work holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas that most other professions get off. While I absolutely love medicine, it monopolizes my time. Because I work so much, I have less time to devote to passion projects, side hustles, and the creation of additional revenue streams. People typically build wealth by actively investing their money or creating a lucrative business. Both of these avenues require a substantial amount of time and can be difficult to pursue when the vast majority of my time is spent working in medicine.

3.)   I acquired lots of debt. Perhaps the biggest reason going to medical school hurt my ability to build wealth is all the student loan debt I accumulated. The average medical student has $200,000 in federal student loan debt and unfortunately, I was not an exception to this rule. In case it isn’t obvious, having $200,000 worth of debt at a 6% interest rate that started accumulating well before I could even finish medical school is not a winning formula for wealth creation. Plus, there is a good chance I may accumulate even more debt from a [future] wedding, have increased monthly expenses from having kids, buy a newer car, or finally give up apartment-style living to purchase a home. Either way you spin it, having increased monthly expenses with a high debt burden can make building wealth quite challenging.

Overall:

As someone who wants to build wealth, I recognize the ways my love for medicine has impacted my ability to reach financial freedom in a timely manner. Nevertheless, I don’t regret anything. With good money management, I can overcome the obstacles set before me and still reach my financial goals. Even with its disadvantages, I’m glad I choose to go into medicine.

Money Moves I Should Have Made As a Grad Student

 

As the saying goes, “Hindsight is always 20/20.” Looking back over my time as both a grad student and a medical student there are a few things I wish I would have done differently to put myself in a better position financially.

 

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1.     Set up automatic withdrawals for recurring monthly payments. This may seem obvious, but as a female in her early twenties who did not have much experience paying bills, this was not common sense to me. I didn’t like the idea of money coming out of my account automatically and always feared that an if an emergency occurred I might need the money that had already been automatically deducted.  As a result, I would often rely on my memory and attempt to pay my credit card bill, car note, and cable bill on time. Unfortunately, that didn’t work too well.  

I would occasionally forget to send a payment in by the due date and have to call the company in a panic to pay over the phone and beg to get the late fee removed. After a few months, I started setting alerts in my phone to remind me of the payments. This worked well most of the time, but I still missed a few payments. Not because I did not have the money, but because sometimes I would be busy doing something else when the alert would go off. I would then silence the alarm notification and forget to pay the bill later. Finally, I let go of my pride, saved up a small emergency fund to ease my worries, and set up monthly automatic withdrawals. The moment I did that, my life got so much easier. I started doing that about 3 years ago and I don’t think I have missed any payments since then. I paid off my car shortly afterwards and my credit score improved. It’s amazing how much better things got when I relied less on my memory to pay monthly expenses.

2.     Cancel unnecessary [cable] subscriptions. You may be already doing this, but I’ll be honest and say I was not. Many people do not rely on cable and would rarely use it if they had it. I am NOT that person. I love tv. Not because I have an abundance of time to watch it, but because when I can spare a few minutes watching it, I’m better able to relax. I love being able to come home and marvel at the homes on HGTV, watch old comedies to get my mind off of a stressful day, and cheer on my beloved Duke Blue Devils during basketball season. Cutting cable was never something I even remotely considered. From my perspective, it was a necessary stress reliever and source of enjoyment.

Instead of just accepting this as fact and sending Cox Cable $100 a month, I should have done more research. It wasn’t until I was a 4th year medical student that I learned about services like YouTube TV which would allow me to watch live TV for around $35 a month. It also wasn’t until I was 4th year med student that I learned Hulu was free with my $5 student-Spotify account and had a live TV option that was cheaper than cable. If I had simply done more research sooner, I could have saved hundreds of dollars and still maintained my same standard of living. If only I could go back in time...

3.     Consider side hustles for additional cash. As a medical student I could not work. In fact, I think they made me sign some form agreeing to not accept any full-time positions as a student. As a 4th year medical student, I had much more time than I had the previous 3 years of medical school and should have considered side hustles or other ways to increase my cash flow. When I graduated, I desperately wanted to travel the world and make the most of my freedom before starting my first hospital job, but I also needed money for moving expenses. Having money saved from babysitting or some other side hustle would have been very useful.

Ironically enough, some of my friends who had already started their respective careers, told me about things they were doing to supplement their income and fund their tropical vacations. One was getting paid to test out new hair products on Instagram. Another was teaching English to kids online and tutoring current students on academic subjects she had mastered. A few others had created online blogs that were starting to gain traction, offering personal training services to people trying to get fit, and making diet plans for clients seeking to change their eating habits. I even knew of someone who charged people for consulting advice on how to manage finances and invest in the stock market. Regardless of the route, I wish I started thinking about my potential side hustle earlier. Even though I am starting my career as doctor, the high-paying salary is still years away and I needed cash sooner rather than later. Having a side hustle is a great solution to that problem.

4.     Make friends with people who are good with money. We pick up habits and emulate the behavior of our friends. Although the people in my life are amazing, I did not have anyone close to me who was “money savvy.” Most of us were in the same boat with similar spending habits. In fact, with my background in finance and passion for investing, I was the person all of my friends went to whenever they had questions about money. I wasn’t necessarily lacking in knowledge, I simply needed someone to help me implement some of the wise money practices I wanted to create.

I wanted a person around me who had actually created a budget they could stick to without getting discouraged. Someone who would caution me to think twice before splurging on a dress I didn’t need and advise me not to purchase overpriced food from restaurants that I could make at home. Since I didn’t have this ideal person, I decided to seek it out in the people closest to me. I started talking to my brother who showed me a few budgeting tools and apps that could help keep me motivated along the journey. I then let my friends know about my savings goals and we all made a pact to save and invest a similar amount of money each month. Having this kind of accountability and support has helped me so much. I wish I had thought of this sooner.

Tell me, was this helpful? What money moves do you wish you had made as a college student?