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?

 

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? 

 

9 Things I learned when I tried to purchase disability insurance

As an incoming resident physician, I need disability insurance. Although a group policy is offered through my employer, it doesn’t provide enough coverage to adequately cover my monthly expenses or insure my future income. Thus, I purchased an individual long-term disability insurance policy. This is what I discovered:

 

1.     Disability Insurance is expensive. Quotes from different companies from $100-250 per month.  Apparently, a substantial number of people use disability insurance, so companies raise the price to cover the payouts and ensure they aren’t losing money. Many companies offer “graduated” premiums (which allows clients to pay a reduced monthly premium for a few years in exchange for a higher premium later in life) to make it more affordable. I still opted for a “level premium” with a set rate and it’s $110 a month.

2.     The definition of disability is important. The definition of disability is variable. Some people might consider themselves disabled if they can’t work full-time, while others may only consider themselves disabled if they are unable to work at all. The broader the definition of disability, the harder it is to claim the benefit. Physicians need “own-occupation” disability insurance so that if we are unable to meet the specific demands of our own specialty (i.e. Surgery) we will get compensated, even if we can technically still do the work of another specialty (i.e. Family medicine). As a family medicine resident who plans to specialize in sports medicine, I still opted for an own-occupation definition of disability.   

3.     Gender bias is real. Disability insurance is more expensive for women than it is for men. Insurance companies claim that women are more likely to get disabled and seek payout from disability insurance (due to factors like pregnancy) so they charge us more for it. To avoid paying such high premiums, I purchased a “unisex” policy (which is the same price for men and women). These policies offer similar coverage and tend to be cheaper than gender-based policies for women.

4.     Some companies are better than others. When I contacted a few disability insurance brokers, I realized that one company was vastly cheaper than the others. Mass Mutual was the only company that offered an individual unisex disability insurance policy for female resident physicians. Since unisex policies are cheaper for women than gender-specific policies, the monthly premium for disability insurance from Mass Mutual was vastly cheaper than any other company. On the flip side, Principal offers discounted gender-specific policies for men, so many male residents purchased individual disability insurance policies through that company instead.

5.     Certain “riders” or added protections are essential. When I shopped for disability insurance, I had the option to buy additional protections. As a resident physicians with high-income potential there were 3 main riders I needed: 1) a cost-of-living-adjustment rider (so that my payout will increase with inflation each year), 2) a residual & recovery rider (so that I am compensated for any partial disability until I am back to my full productivity), and 3) a future purchase option (so that I can purchase more disability insurance after residency when my salary increases without having to re-qualify or pay a much higher price). Since I have a substantial amount of student loans, I also purchased a student loan rider so that if I get disabled before I pay off my debt, the disability insurance policy will pay me an extra $1700 for up to 10 years to cover my student loan payments.

6.     There is a limit on how much individual disability insurance we can buy. By law, resident physicians can only purchase an individual disability insurance policy with a max benefit of $5,000 per month. (They don’t want to incentivize us to become disabled by compensating us more than our current salary). We can purchase more disability insurance as attending physicians, but we need to have an individual disability insurance policy as residents so that we are fully covered now and can upgrade our coverage later for a cheaper price.

7.     It’s cheaper if you’re healthy. As I filled out the disability insurance policy application, I answered a TON of personal questions. Insurance companies take a very thorough history to determine our risk of being disabled in the future. I was asked about my own medical history and that of my family. They wanted to know if I had broken any bones, got in any recent car accidents, and whether I had ever smoked cigarettes. I was also asked if I had plans to travel out of the country or engaged in any high-risk behaviors like rock climbing or sky-diving. They wondered if I had ever gotten pregnant and the result of my last “wellness check” from the physician. Because I was young and healthy, my rate remained low.

8.     The price varies by state. I currently live in Florida, but I will begin residency in Atlanta, GA. Apparently, my disability insurance premiums are lower with my Georgia address than they are when I use my Florida address. Insurance companies look at hobbies, accident rates, and other data and determined that we pose a greater or smaller risk to them depending on where we live. California is one of the most expensive places, Georgia is one of the cheapest.

9.     Be wary of group policies through professional organizations. As physicians, we can buy into the group disability insurance policy through the American Medical Association or our specialty-specific organization. These policies seem cheaper and looked enticing. However, after doing some research I saw several drawbacks. First, the premium was not “level,” meaning the cost of policy could increase every few years as I aged. Secondly, they did not offer sufficient “future purchase options” so I couldn’t upgrade my coverage as often as I’d like (i.e. when my salary increased as attending physician). Lastly, buying into these group policies would negate or significantly reduce the payout from any disability insurance coverage I already have from my residency. Group policies usually cancel each other out, individual policies do not.  

My point? Disability insurance is a must for resident physicians. It’s a bit expensive, especially for females, but we can get around that issue by purchasing a unisex policy and/or opting for a graduated premium. When we buy this insurance, we need a definition of disability specific to our own specialty, with the 3 main riders for complete coverage. Purchasing this policy in residency is cheaper and gives us the protection we need. Be mindful of what address you use on the application since the price varies by state and remember that group policies through professional organizations may be insufficient.

 

Types of Insurance We All Need (in addition to health insurance)

Many of us are young and healthy with our entire lives ahead of us. As we continue to progress in life, we need to make sure we are doing so with the right protection. In other words, we need insurance. I don’t just mean medical coverage and car insurance though. Let me explain.

 

1.     Almost everyone needs long-term disability insurance. Unless you have a huge trust fund, enough passive income to completely cover your monthly expenses, or enough retirement savings to deem yourself financially independent, you need disability insurance. Why? Because if some unfortunate event were to occur that prevented you from working, you’d still need a way to support yourself. Disability insurance guarantees you a certain monthly income if you were to get fully or partly disabled, suffer from some medical illness, or get into an accident that prevented you from working your job. Since you can’t predict whether you’ll be disabled in the future, you need to insure against that risk right now. The younger, healthier, and earlier in your career you are, the more important it is to have disability insurance.

Although long-term disability insurance may be provided through your employer, group policies from your employer may not offer sufficient coverage. The payout from your employer is usually capped at a certain amount and may not fully replace your income. Plus, group policies may be less likely to pay out if you do become disabled because their definition of disability may be too broad. In other words, it may be harder to meet their definition of “disabled” and thus you may be less likely to receive the benefit when you need it. My point? Most high-income young professionals should purchase an individual, long-term disability insurance policy outside of their employer.

 

2.     You may also need life insurance. Life insurance guarantees a portion of your salary to your spouse or dependents should you pass away sooner than expected. This is critical if someone else depends on the money you make. I will be honest and say that as a single female with no kids, I don’t have an individual life insurance policy. However, if I get married to someone who is dependent on my income or have kids, it will be one of the first things I purchase.

There are two types of life insurance: whole life insurance and term life insurance. Term life insurance provides a benefit to your family if you die during the term of the policy (usually 30 years). Whole life insurance provides a benefit to your dependents regardless of when you die. Whole insurance may sound more appealing, but you may want to think twice before purchasing it. Unlike term life insurance, whole life insurance is insanely expensive (about 10x more than term insurance), has a lot of hidden fees, and is unnecessary for many high-income earners who can provide money to their families in a more efficient manner.

My point? Most people need term life insurance to make sure their families don’t struggle financially if they were to die sooner than expected (within the next 20-30 years). If you were to die after that time, then you should hopefully have enough money saved (via retirement accounts and other high-yield investments) to take care of your family.

 

3.     Some professionals need malpractice/liability insurance. Most physicians are familiar with this type of insurance and most non-physicians don’t have to worry about it, but even still, I think it deserves a quick blurb. Malpractice insurance protects you in case you make a mistake at work that severely impacts someone else’s quality of life. You want to ensure that the patients or clients you work with can’t sue you and take everything you own. The ideal amount of liability insurance depends on your career specialty and other risk factors that put you at increased or decreased risk of being sued.

There are two main types of malpractice policies you can purchase: a “claims” policy and an “occurrence” policy. Claims policies cover you if someone files a claim against you during a certain period of time or while you work for a certain organization. The downside is that if someone waits to file a claim against you when you no longer work for that company, then a claims policy will not cover you. On the other hand, an occurrence policy covers you for any event that “occurred” during the time frame you were at the organization or under the policy. With an occurrence policy, if someone waits years to sue you then you are still covered because the action in the suit “occurred” during the time you were covered under the policy. As you can imagine, occurrence policies are more expensive but offer much better coverage. If you are working a job that only offers a claims policy, then you need to make sure you have what’s called a “tail” (added protection that will cover you in case someone sues you after you’ve changed jobs).

My point? Consider getting malpractice or liability insurance. The best kind is an occurrence policy, however, that is also the most expensive. If your job already covers the cost of a “claims” liability insurance policy, be sure to purchase “tail” coverage so that you have liability insurance after you change jobs.

 

4.     Consider adding an umbrella insurance policy to supplement your car and home insurance . While liability insurance covers you if someone sues you for something you did at work, umbrella insurance covers you in case you’re sued for something you did outside of work (i.e. civil disputes, business deals, etc.). For example, umbrella insurance can pay for your legal fees if your dog bites someone in the neighborhood, you accidentally injure someone at a social function, or some toddler gets injured at your child’s birthday party. It also acts as additional automobile and homeowner’s insurance. Although umbrella insurance doesn’t cover your own injuries or damages to your own property, it does protect you and cover your legal fees from harm you may cause to someone else.

Since umbrella insurance is added insurance, you can only purchase it after you have already purchased a certain amount of automobile or homeowner’s insurance. As a rule of thumb, umbrella insurance is purchased in benefit increments of a million dollars and it is usually best to purchase enough to fully cover your net worth (including the value of all your assets and potential future income). A policy with a benefit coverage of $1 million usually costs $100-$300 a year.  

 

To summarize, get insurance and enough of it. In addition to medical coverage, car insurance and homeowner’s insurance, most high-income professionals need disability insurance if they themselves are dependent on the income they receive from their jobs. They also need term life insurance if someone else, like a spouse or kids, is dependent on their income. Malpractice/liability insurance is useful in case someone tries to sue you for something you did at work and an umbrella insurance policy protects your net worth from unforeseen lawsuits outside of work. As [future] high-income young professionals, it is imperative that you get the insurance you need to protect yourself and your net worth.