Husband and I were married when we started med school, couples matched as general surgery (me) and neurosurgery (him) 6 years ago. Our goal has always been to do global medicine and focus on humanitarian missions. Now I’ve graduated residency and he has one year left. As we started seriously planning for our next steps after residency, we had many options to contemplate, but a few major paths emerged: Pursue advanced degrees in public health +/- academic careers in that sphere, move overseas immediately, or get jobs here in the States and become financially independent. We opted for that third option after doing a bit of research.
During the process of studying the different options, I discovered many great financial resources, including the ChooseFI podcast, and that got me hooked on the topic of FI. I realized that we have huge earning potential and would be foolish to compromise that, as it will be our biggest asset in being able to do some extraordinary work. I started mapping out our strategy and realized that there is a paucity of guidance in this area for physicians who want to do humanitarian work, so we started a little organization called Indie Docs to hopefully organize everything we are learning and help enable other physicians to navigate this path.
We have both dreamed of doing humanitarian medicine since before we started medical school. In fact, the potential to do that type of work is what drove us both into medicine. Over 10 years later, the dream is still alive, but it will be significantly compromised or diluted if we are only able to take vacation time to do short trips, which is what many like-minded physicians must do. We want to have the option to go “all in” if the right opportunity comes up. With a dual-surgeon income, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t leverage our earning potential to make it happen and do as much good as possible. Also, the principles of the FIRE community--of objectively evaluating spending habits and avoiding lifestyle creep-- really resonate with me. I feel like it is very liberating to recognize when a marketing campaign is just trying to convince me to want more and to feel badly about what I am and what I have; I want to be content and realize when we have “enough,” and also be able to enjoy the simple things in life. No matter how big our income is, these principles will still be part of our core values.
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At this point, I am a research fellow and my husband is in his final year of neurosurgery training. I plan to do some Locums (temporary) work this year as a side hustle, and I also teach some courses specific to my field for a little extra cash. Once we get our first “real” jobs, we will probably never have time for side hustles per se, but there are production bonuses that most physicians can get; it will just depend on our schedules.
The first few changes I have made in pursuit of lower cost of living have been switching to a cheap cell phone plan (went from Verizon to Mint, saving an embarrassing $175 a month!), cutting out some subscription services like Netflix, refinancing my student loans (Sofi), and driving our cars until they are literally disintegrating. (We have had two Toyotas for nearly 10 years and didn’t replace them in residency, combined >550,000 miles).
In 5 years, we will likely be continuing to work in our respective fields here in the States, and planning for the next phase, as at that point we will have achieved FI, established ourselves in practice, built a service that is valuable to the rural community in which we will be working, and have a family. In 10 years, we will have global surgery projects ongoing which may or may not require our full-time attention; we will both definitely still be operating but don’t know whether in U.S. or overseas. 20 years is anyone’s guess but I’m hoping that we will have built one or more trauma and neurosurgery systems in areas that had none before, have a measurable legacy in teaching residents and other providers, and enough saved and invested to fund humanitarian missions through our organization (Indie Docs).
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Well, I AM just getting started, so my first three steps over the next 2 years will be:
Get a real job
Pay off all debt, including student loans
Save vast majority of our income, avoid lifestyle inflation
The choice depends on factors way outside of the math. My husband and I will have high incomes coincidentally because our dream jobs, the fields that we are passionate about, happen to pay well. I have to admit that I intentionally pursued this type of career as a young adult; I wanted to find a job that I felt was a calling, and I feel like I was made to be a trauma surgeon. So for me, the answer is increase my income to achieve FIRE. However, if I was in a field I didn’t love and didn’t want to work forever, I would say lower spending so that I could avoid something that didn’t contribute to my happiness. Conversely, there is a lot of gratification to be had in cutting out frivolous spending and in freeing ourselves of the marketing ploys that convince us that we aren’t enough and that our stuff isn’t cool enough. For example, there is a lot of joy to be had in packing a picnic lunch and eating it on the playground instead of sitting in some stuffy restaurant where my 2 year old can’t run and yell and be messy. I guess the answer boils down to subtracting the bad stuff and adding in the good stuff, whether that’s working more or less or spending more or less.
Picnics and hikes. Food is always more delicious on the trail, it’s virtually free, hiking is excellent for both physical and mental health, I can take my dog and baby, husband and I get great quality time and have real conversations, and I get to see beautiful areas of my state.
I have been biking as much as possible during the weekends and for my commute to work after reading Mr. Money Mustache articles on the benefits, and ironically it does feel like quite the luxury. I bike my daughter to the library, pool, playground, etc., and she absolutely loves it.
I found all these financial resources through my facebook group “Women Physicians Personal Finance,” which led me to White Coat Investor and Physician on FIRE. I listened to the WCI interview on Choose FI, and that’s when I really got hooked. The benefits of these communities and resources go way beyond just the financial topics. The ChooseFI podcast motivated me to start our website and blog because they are always encouraging listeners to think outside the box and be bold about starting entrepreneurial projects. I just needed to hear their message of “anyone can do this,” over and over to believe that I should try, and this project that really helped Josh and I focus our goals and solidify a plan for our careers. We could easily veer off course at this point, as the pressures to live a certain lifestyle and raise our kids a certain way are pretty enormous, so the influence of the FI community to both be smart with money and think independently about what really matters in life is invaluable. The Money Mentorship worksheets from Montana Money Adventures have been awesome to work through on my own and discuss with my husband because they challenge us to prioritize what will bring us our best life, our best future. I honestly don’t think I could come up with the right questions on my own to guide me towards pursuing THE DREAM instead of settling for a pretty-nice surgery career.