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My residency spending plan: a new way to think about budgeting

 

As a young professional with many competing expenses, it is paramount for me to prioritize my spending. However, adhering to a strict budget can seem a bit daunting and restrictive. To get over this anxiety, I started out with a spending plan that mirrors the “50-30-20 rule” by allocating money into 3 different buckets: things I have to buy, things I want to buy, and things I should buy. Let me explain.

Category #1: Things I Have to Buy 

This category is for my fixed expenses. It includes the bills and necessary purchases I must make to survive. This includes my monthly rent and other bills (like electricity, internet, water, and sewage). I also use this category to pay for groceries, gas, and different types of medical insurance (i.e. vision, dental, and disability). For young adults just starting out in their careers, this category of fixed, necessary expenses can take up about 50% of your take-home pay. For young professionals established in their career, it may be a much lower percentage. For me, this amounts to about 45% of my take-home pay. 


Pro Tip: If your fixed expenses add up to over 50% of your income, consider ways you can cut costs or increase your income. I tried to do both. In order to decrease costs, I decided to live with a roommate. This not only lowered my monthly rent payment, but it also allowed me to split many other bills, which substantially lowered my living expenses. Along with decreasing costs, I also created a second source of income. As a resident physician with limited free time, I couldn’t get a second job, nor did I want to. Instead, I decided to turn something I love (blogging) into a second source of income by monetizing my blog and accepting paying offers to write for other platforms. Whether you enjoy writing or have another area of interest, think about what you love to do and consider different ways you can turn your hobby into a second source of income. 

Category #2: Things I Want to Buy 

 
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This category is for my discretionary spending “aka” non-necessities that increase my quality of life. These expenses can differ for each person but for me they include: entertainment (like weekend outings to the movies, sporting events, and restaurants), self-care (like personal grooming, hair appointments, and gym memberships), and incidentals (such car maintenance, birthday gifts, and other unexpected expenses). This is also the area I dedicate to giving. As a Christian I try my best to give to the less fortunate and donate to organizations that do the same. 

Pro Tip: Everyone’s list of discretionary spending may vary. I choose to drive an older car and spend extra money on entertainment and self-care. You may, instead, choose to drive a much nicer car and opt for a car payment. The items you choose to purchase can differ from mine. The goal is to keep your discretionary spending to about 20-30% of your take-home pay. Mine is 25%.

Category #3: Things I Should Buy 

This category is for monetary growth. It is the part of my take-home pay I use to increase my net worth and build financial security. This can be done in a variety of ways, but I use this section of my budget to save, invest, and pay down debt. For example, I put a certain percentage of money into an emergency fund and secondary savings account (which I will use for unexpected expenses, a future vacation, a house down payment, etc). I also allot a portion of money from this category to invest in my employer-sponsored retirement account (which is a 403b retirement savings plan through which I invest in a combination of stocks and bonds). Lastly, I use this category of money to pay down student loans and credit card debt. 

Pro Tip: You can increase your net worth by either paying down debt or increasing your investments. I do both. The goal is to reserve at least 20% of your take-home pay to this category to ensure you have an adequate emergency fund and are saving enough money for retirement. Since I was unable to work during my time in medical school and incurred some credit card debt when I moved to another state, I am allotting about 30% of my budget to this category to “catch up.” However, your exact percentage may differ from mine. You may need to start off by allocating a much smaller amount to this category and increasing the percentage over time.


Generally speaking: the amount you allot to these 3 categories may vary. The important thing is to make sure you have a portion of your budget reserved for all 3 areas.

Tell me, was this helpful? What percentage of your check do you have allocated to these 3 areas?



 

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?

 

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?

 

8 Reasons Single Young Professionals Pay A Lot In Taxes (and what they should do about it)

It’s tax time and if you’re like most Americans you’re either hoping for a refund or praying you don’t owe Uncle Sam money you already spent. Unfortunately, many single young professionals are in the latter group, my brothers included.

After doing some research, asking other young professionals, and talking with my father (who is a government auditor) I began to learn several key reasons why my brothers’ tax rate, and yours too, may be much higher than the average. Here’s what I discovered….

  1. They make a lot of money. This first reason is self-explanatory. In order to pay a high amount in taxes you usually have to be earning a high income. While everyone’s definition of “high income” may vary, it’s safe to say that if you are a single young professional making at least 6 figures per year (in any city except San Francisco, LA, DC, or NYC) then you are probably doing pretty well for yourself. Our tax code is progressive, which means that the more money you make the higher percentage you pay in taxes. While this may be a huge drag for many people in the higher tax brackets, the government provides services and protections we all benefit from and we can’t expect those struggling to provide for their basic needs to fund it. Much of the burden falls on the high earners.

  2. They earn most, if not all, of their income from their employer. Earned income, such as the salaries we get from our jobs, is taxed at a much higher rate than passive income or investment income. So, if you get all of your money from your job and have not started generating other revenue streams from various investments or business ventures then you will be taxed at a higher percentage. Some young professionals make a good portion of their income from commissions due to sales or may earn end-of-the-year bonuses from their job. If these bonuses or commissions come in the form of a separate check, they are taxed at an even higher rate (22% in 2018). This means that nearly a fourth of the extra money they earned went directly to the government in taxes. Whether it’s all “earned income” from salary or a combination of salary, bonuses, and commissions, the issue is that the type of income they receive is taxed at a high rate.

  3. They are single. It is no secret that married people have lower tax rates than single people. Just look at the tax brackets and you’ll see that a married couple making the same amount of money as a single person will pay much less in taxes each year. Why? Well because back in the day it wasn’t as common for both adults in a marriage to be employed. Typically, only the male worked and the wife stayed home to raise the kids. Thus, the government gave a tax break when people got married because it assumed that there was only 1 person working and didn’t want to overtax that one person who had to also use part of his (or her) earnings to financially support the non-working spouse. Nowadays, it is much more common that both people in a marriage work, but that tax benefit is still in place. Many young professionals are single and have waited longer to get married, thus they end up paying a higher portion in taxes.

  4. They do not have kids. The government wants people to procreate. Having kids that grow up to be productive members of society benefits the country as a whole and solidifies our viability as a nation. But kids cost money. Those little humans have so many needs and require a plethora of resources that can be quite expensive. The government understands this fact and has various tax breaks in place for people who have kids as a way of saying “here’s a small token of our appreciation for taking care of the little people.” Parents get a tax credit for raising kids, additional reimbursements for childcare costs, and other tax deductions for educational expenses. This does not make up for how much parents spend since kids are quite expensive, but it does help. Many single young professionals don’t have kids, so they are ineligible for these credits and tax breaks.

  5. They do not have any dependents. Along with receiving a tax credit for having kids, there are also tax deductions for taking care of other people. Anyone who takes care of someone who can not, or does not, care for themselves (such as a child, disabled person, non-working relative, or elderly parent) can file his or her taxes as “head-of-household” instead of “single” which makes them eligible for larger tax deductions that save them even more money. Now I’m not suggesting that young professionals become fiscally responsible for other people, but I am pointing out the noticeable difference in tax savings that come from changing one’s tax filing status from single to Head-of-Household.

  6. They do not own a home. Many young professionals prefer to live in major cities. They like being close to their jobs and having the convenience of apartment-style living (i.e. free maintenance repairs, in-house gyms, the freedom to move to another place after the lease ends, etc.). As a result, they pay rent. The only bad thing about paying rent and living in an apartment is that they are ineligible for one of the largest deductions in the tax code: the mortgage interest deduction. Many people who own a home have a monthly mortgage payment (since they didn’t pay the full cost for the home up front). While a portion of this mortgage payment is used to pay off the amount they borrowed from the bank, another portion of this monthly payment goes towards “interest” (the fee that the bank charges for loaning you money for the home). The government wants people to purchase homes and have reliable housing so there is an incentive in the tax code that allows homeowners to deduct the portion of their monthly mortgage payment that is “interest” from their taxes. When you first buy a home the “interest” portion of the mortgage payment is a fairly large percentage, so the mortgage interest deduction adds up to a large amount in tax savings. Thus, while many single young professionals are paying rent, some of their counterparts have purchased a home. Even though the monthly payment for the person who lives in a home may be the same or slightly higher than the cost of rent, the person who lives in the home is able to deduct a large portion of their monthly payment from their taxes and could be saving tens of thousands of dollars each year.

  7. They are not putting much money into retirement accounts. Although some jobs may not offer a 401K, the majority of salaried jobs have a retirement account in place for their employees. The advantage of these accounts is that many of them are “tax-deferred.” This means that when you contribute to retirement plans like a 401K, you aren’t taxed on the money you put into the account until years later. As a result, the more money you put into your retirement account now, the lower your tax rate will be when you file your taxes each year. Despite these tax savings, many single young professionals don’t put as much money into their 401Ks as they can. To be fair, it is usually because they prefer to have more money available to them during each pay period. They might have other uses for that money, want to prioritize paying off their student loans, or may simply desire to live a more affluent lifestyle. While these are all understandable reasons, the fact that they are not contributing more to their 401Ks raises their tax rates.

  8. They do not have enough money coming in from investments. The profit you make from investments (whether it is investing the stock market, real estate, or various businesses) is taxed at a much lower rate than earned income from your job. Sometimes it can even be shielded from taxes entirely. If single young professionals really want to lower how much they pay in taxes, they may need to invest the money they have in ways that can decrease their tax rates and add to their monthly incomes.

Despite all of these reasons for a high tax rate, my solution isn’t necessarily to get married, start having kids, or quickly buy a home or condo. While those are all viable things to do, I don’t advise that anyone rush into a decision like that. Making a decision in haste could have endless repercussions that could far outweigh the tax savings.

Instead, single young professionals should start actively investing more of their money. I am not suggesting that they randomly buy some stocks they saw on Bloomberg, or start investing in things they barely understand (like Bitcoin). Single young professionals should strongly consider starting a side business or begin investing in things like commodities or real estate. They will have to increase their knowledge on whichever route they choose so that they make educated investment decisions. Nevertheless, becoming an active investor or business owner will not only lower their tax rate, but it will also increase their monthly revenue and make them less dependent on the salaried jobs that keep taxing them at high rates.

To summarize, many single young professionals pay a lot of money in taxes. While each person’s situation may differ, there are usually 8 main reasons their tax rate is so high. They make a high income, they get most of their money from their jobs, and don’t actively invest a significant portion of their income. They also are single (and forgo the tax benefits of being married), many don’t have kids or dependents (which may save them money overall, but still make them ineligible for the plethora of tax incentives available to parents). Plus many of them prefer the perks of apartment style living (and are ineligible for deductions available to homeowners). Lastly, they do not contribute as much to their retirement accounts (which would further decrease their tax rates). Until these single young professionals decide to get married, procreate, and find a home, they should strongly consider investing more of their money. Profit earned from investments can not only add to their monthly incomes, but it can also substantially lower the amount they pay in taxes. A pretty sweet deal, if you ask me.

Do you agree? What things do you think you could start doing to lower your tax rate?

Money Tips You Didn’t Learn In College

Money Tips You Didn’t Learn In College

Be strategic about using credit cards. While having access to credit cards can provide added “protection” during emergencies, it also can be quite dangerous. I don’t know about you, but knowing I can use a credit card to pay for almost anything I want tests my self-control in ways I could have never imagined.

5 Things To Do As A Young Professional To Set Yourself Up For Financial Success

5 Things To Do As A Young Professional To Set Yourself Up For Financial Success

Learn about finance. I get it. Finance can be boring. You don’t want to spend the free time you barely have studying a subject you don’t really like. Hopefully this site can give you some quick tips about finance so that if you merely browse the info on this site you will have some semblance of what to do. Plus, if you want even more information you can use this site to find the resources and tools you need.