I don't practice what I preach, haven't really retired, and don't have the right letters behind my name. 5 good reasons you shouldn't listen to a word I say.
PIMD welcomes Physician On Fire as our guest post. POF is a personal finance website created to inform and inspire both physicians and our patients with insightful writing from a physician who has attained financial independence and the ability to retire early.
Did you not read the title? What exactly are you doing here? There are some totally legitimate reasons that you simply should not listen to a word I say.
Yet, here you are, reading the introduction, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see you stick around right until the bitter end.
Maybe you’ll just skim the article, scan the headings, nod in agreement, and never come back. I wouldn’t blame you, but I’ll admit that I don’t actually want to lose you as a reader.
I do want you to know what my shortcomings are, how we’re probably different in all sorts of ways, and what other resources might be out there for you.
If, after all of that, you’re still willing to listen to me on occasion, know that I appreciate your ongoing support and attention.
#1 The Only 2 Letters Behind My Name are MD
In 2002, I was awarded a Doctor of Medicine degree. I haven’t used that degree since 2019, and now I’m some kind of Money Dude, but that’s not the name of any kind of actual degree.
There are plenty of money dudes and dudettes with letters behind their names that actually mean something in the world of economics, and investing. Letters like MBA, Ph.D. CFA, or CFP.
Early Retirement Now is written by Karsten Jaske, Ph.D., a degree he received in economics from the University of Minnesota while I was blocks away dissecting cadavers. The Oblivious Investor‘s Mike Piper has his CPA, and it shows. That dude knows his stuff, as he proved time and time again at WCICON21.
Many more people have put the time in and paid the tuition to obtain an advanced degree directly related to the topics I like to discuss. I have done no such thing.
Is there value in my MD degree now that I’ve retired from medicine? In the context of speaking to other higher-income professionals, I suppose there is.
If you’re in medicine or any other well-compensated field outside of the business and finance world, I know how little you were taught about those subjects. I didn’t know much either until I had to figure things out for myself.
I’ve been through the rigors of medical school and the long days and nights of residency. I had to memorize and understand facts and concepts far more complicated than anything I’ve come across in personal finance.
I know that if you were able to obtain the MD, DO, or another advanced degree, you can easily and quickly learn what it takes to manage your money effectively. If you’re struggling, I’ve got your back. Money is much simpler than medicine.
#2 I Didn’t Retire
The primary message here at Physician on FIRE is that once you have financial independence, you can do whatever you want with your time and money. The only limits are those that you set for yourself.
I thought that I wanted to retire. At least, I thought that I did. By the time came to hang up the stethoscope, I had built this website and related online activities into something that demanded a good amount of time and attention.
If I didn’t love it, I wouldn’t do it, but when I first discovered the concept of FIRE back in 2014, I never would have guessed I’d be running a website of my own exploring these topics instead of just being a retired person in the 2020s.
I must say, though, that on a scale of full-time MD to retired beach bum, my life is more sunscreen than scrubs. Yes, I have this passion project, but I also have a gazillion freedoms that I didn’t have in my past life as an anesthesiologist.
I have location independence. A pandemic has limited that a bit, but this work that I do can be done from anywhere in the world at whatever time I feel like.
Every day, I wake up when I want to, not when I have to. I set aside time to better my body and mind with exercise and education, and there’s no longer a question of whether I’ll have time to do these things or not.
I see a lot more of my family than I ever did before. I like to say that we don’t take vacations anymore. We just travel, living life away from home, sometimes for months at a time.
If your vision of retirement is a nightly mai tai at the 19th hole, I can help you find that place — and I might even meet you there for a bit — but it’s not the life I’m living quite yet.
For example, one can set up a Series of Equal Periodic Payments (SEPP) as described by IRS Rule 72(t) to make regular withdrawals from a traditional IRA (or 401(k) if you’ve separated from your employer) at any age.
However, as I recently learned from a talk by the Oblivious Investor Mike Piper, CPA ( <- see those letters!), if you withdraw too little one year, you’ll owe a penalty on all the withdrawals you’ve made in the current and all previous years!
Fortunately, with greater than 50% of my portfolio living outside of retirement accounts, my drawdown plan doesn’t call for touching retirement accounts until after age 59.5, so that’s one conundrum I’m not worried about.
Here’s the thing, though. Despite having been out of medicine for a year and a half as I write this, I haven’t had a reason to enact my well-thought-out plan. Online income covers our spending.
A few years back, I would have guessed I’d be in the decumulation phase by now — and it’s true that I’m drawing down my 457(b) by starting withdrawals in 2021 — but from a purely financial standpoint, I’m pleasantly stuck in the accumulation phase of life for now.
I can help you decide which accounts might be best to access first and what money is readily available when, but if you’re looking to learn from someone whose only income is passive, I’m not your guy.
The psychology of entering into full-on retirement and making regular withdrawals is assuredly more challenging than the math and mechanics of enacting a drawdown strategy. That may very well be why I haven’t done so yet.
Most people are mentally ready to job-free before they’re financially able. For super-savers like me (and perhaps you), it may be precisely the opposite.
#4 Your Life Looks Different Than Mine
At Dr. Jim Dahle’s mostly virtual “WCICON21,” he put a few of us up on the studio stage and asked us what we thought the financial blogosphere was getting wrong.
I answered for myself, stating the biggest challenge is a lack of empathy. It’s not that I don’t want to relate to others. It’s just that it’s difficult to pretend I know what it’s like to walk some of these other paths that were never even a fork in my own.
When I started reading blogs, I first discovered Mr. Money Mustache. I then found The White Coat Investor and shortly thereafter, 1500 Days. I enjoyed their writing styles, was learning a lot from them, and I felt a connection to the lives they were living.
One was a doctor and all were (or had been) highly-paid professionals. They were all relatively frugal and had achieved significant wealth at a fairly early age. They were husbands and fathers born in North America in the mid-1970s. They were me.
I’m not saying that I wouldn’t have read their blogs if they were of a different gender, age, nationality, or ethnicity. Those are terrible reasons to reject one’s writing, and I have broadened the blogs I read and feature here on this site several-hundred fold from those first discoveries to include a far more diverse group of talented individuals.
I firmly believe in getting your information from a wide variety of perspectives. This is true for policy and politics, money and medicine, and any topic that invariably invites varied opinions. Listen and silently challenge everyone’s beliefs, including your own.
Still, it’s natural to gravitate towards the words of someone whose situation in life resembles your own, especially when it comes to money matters. You’ll want to learn from someone who is contemplating or has answered the same financial questions and faced the same quandaries that you now have.
I also recognize that there are people in true dire straits with more immediate concerns like where their next meal will come from and under which roof they will sleep tonight. While this site does donate to causes designed to help them, the content here won’t be much help to someone whose life looks that much different than mine.
I try to educate, enlighten, and even entertain my audience, but I can’t be everything to everyone. If you happen to find others who speak to you better than I do, I won’t blame you for diverting your attention their way.
I’ll welcome you back any time.
#5 I Don’t Practice What I Preach
I might as well be the chain-smoking, pear-shaped, angry doctor telling you to quit smoking, eat right, exercise more, and treat people better.
Doing so scratches an itch that the index funds can’t scratch, exercising some gray matter that craves a little excitement. It’s his “play money” fund that contributes to other desires of his, including charitable giving and reducing his tax burden.
Like Allan, I also devote a portion of my portfolio to higher-risk, higher-reward investments. I maintain that the size of such a fund should be small in your pre-financial independence existence, but once you’ve set aside your 25+ years of expenses invested in a sensible manner in a diversified stock and bond portfolio, as I have done, much or all of the extra can be considered play money.
While I do preach the importance of a 3-fund portfolio or similar, I do give you permission to take 5% to 10% of your investments to allocate as you please. After FI, feel free to increase that percentage if your personality and risk-tolerance are agreeable.
You’re Still With Me?
The fact that you’re still reading tells me that there might be something here for you after all. Either that or you want to give me a proper sendoff my reading a post of mine from start to finish for once.
Whichever it is, there are plenty of reasons not to listen to one word of mine.
If you disagree for any reason, you can always find me here at Physician on FIRE, doing the best I can to help you out.
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Disclaimer: The topic presented in this article is provided as general information and for educational purposes. It is not a substitute for professional advice. Accordingly, before taking action, consult with your team of professionals.