The Week I Paid Off $50,000 in Student Loans

This article was originally written and submitted for the Business Insider series that highlighted a week of spending for various people.  I think it highlights the debt burden that doctors face and how we have to deal with it to make it go away quickly.  The week that I highlight is an interesting week in July where I showcase how we have dealt with our debt, but also enjoy some of what we make to live a balanced life.

Here are some examples of what that series on Business Insider looked like from people you may know:

Physician on Fire
ESI Money
Think Save Retire

Introduction

Becoming a physician is a long road with a bright light at the end of the tunnel. That’s what we are told, at least. I finished training at the ripe age of 31 without ever taking a gap year from the moment I started kindergarten 26 years ago. My training finally finished at the end June 2017 after four years of undergrad, four years of medical school, four years of anesthesiology residency, and one year of additional training in fellowship.

A year out, I am now 32 years old.  Who am I?  

I am a husband married to a saint, father of three little philosophers, inventor, author, and a man who is passionate about teaching other doctors about the power and freedom provided by financial independence.  I also happen to be a doctor practicing anesthesiology.

All of the 60-80 hour weeks over the past ten years have finally paid off. I now work as an attending physician in academic medicine where I have the honor of teaching medical students and resident physicians how to become great doctors.  

To understand my journey, it must be said that the medical education system that trains our doctors is simply broken.  While no one finds it a problem to hand would-be doctors hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt, they also don’t see it as a problem that the system often fails to teach many of the doctors in training about student loan debt management or personal finances. I made loads of financial mistakes along the way in part because of this failure.  

Watching my family go through bankruptcy at a young age was tough, but the financial light bulb moment came much later.  My parents didn’t teach me any more about personal finances than I learned while in my medical school or residency training.  Debt was normalized for me in youth, just like it was during medical school.

Fortunately, my eyes were opened by the Financial Independence Retire Early (FIRE) community during my fellowship year after coming across a couple of books and physician finance websites.  

After catching FIRE, it became my mission to teach these financial topics to up-and-coming medical students, residents, and early career attending physicians.  While I accomplish this goal in person with my own students and residents, the passion to correct this problem also led to the creation of The Physician Philosopher website in November 2017 to help others achieve wealth and wellness, too.

My wife is an elementary school educator who works full-time as an early learning coach for kindergarten teachers.  We started tracking our spending when my financial enlightenment happened two years ago.

All together, we started off with $200,000 in student loans after the end of my fellowship.  As of July – during the week of spending written about below – we had paid off $128,000 in 12 months, and anticipate paying off all of our student loan debt in 20-22

months after finishing training.  We improved our net worth by $254,000 in just one year by following The 10% Rule and by sheer discipline.  

Looking at a week of our typical expenses will help explain just how we did this! 

A look at our monthly spending

After taxes, our take home pay varies a bit, but is usually right around $17,500 each month. I also receive bonuses for working extra shifts, teaching, and academic productivity.  

This is what a typical month would look like in terms of spending from our monthly paycheck:
-$5,500 to student loans
-$1,800 in child care costs
-$1,750 in church tithing/charity
-$1,300 in car payments (our one financial weakness!)
-$1,100 into three kids’ 529 plans
-$2,150 in gas & groceries
-$700 mortgage payment
-$700 for bills (utilities, cell phone, gas, cable, etc)
-$2,500 for everything else

My base salary is $310,000 annually. My bonus pay over the last 12 months amounted to about $90,000 pre-tax, or $58,500 that we took home.  We saved this all up and shipped a $52,000 check directly into our student loans in the month of July. The other $6,500 went towards vacations (i.e. a beach trip) and fun throughout the year.

You might be able tell from my story above that I hate debt.  A lot. The week’s spending that I share below will also highlight how I hate, loathe, and otherwise abhor debt.

Here’s what a week in July looked like for us.

I should preface the following spending with saying that this week is a typical week for us outside of two major expenses.  We worked our tails off this year and saved all of our bonus checks. We then used this money to send a massive check to pay off a large portion of our student loans.  This is, obviously, not a typical monthly expense.

There is one other atypical expense below, but I’ll talk more about that when we get there.  For the week – excluding the large student loan payment – we spent $3,911.05, which is a little higher than we typically spend, but within the realm of normal.  

Monday 7/23

Itemized spending:
-Childcare for previous week: $550

This was a tough week.  My wife started back to full-time work the week prior after 7 years of part-time work in various jobs in education. We didn’t know that she would be doing this back when I signed up for a week of second shift, which is where I work from 2:30pm until 10:30pm each day.  

Let’s start with the morning, though.  I woke up early and helped my wife with the kids.  Feeding three hungry monsters and getting them ready is a challenge.  As evidence, we paid our babysitter for the last week of work prior to daycare starting, and this cost us $550.  Daycare will now cost us $1,800 each month for our two youngest kids.

Early in the afternoon, I spent one hour teaching first year medical students everything I wish I knew about money – but was never taught – in a single lecture. It is very well received by the students. They even invited me back to give the same talk to the second year med students in August.

Later on, I head in for work.  My wife gets the first taste of what this week will be like with three kids and no dad at home to help. Let’s just say, she isn’t a fan.

Our total spending for this day amounted to paying for childcare: $550.

Lawrence B. KellerTuesday, 7/24

Itemized spending:
-Zero dollars

This isn’t too exciting of a day in terms of spending.  We did what we try to do most days, spend money only on things that are important to us.  On this day, that amounted to zero dollars spent, which is a great way to build wealth. These kind of days are what allowed us to put around 60% of our income towards building wealth this year.

Oh, and it was taco Tuesday.  So, naturally my wife and the kids ate tacos while I was at work making sure patients woke up from their surgery so that they get to enjoy Taco Tuesdays – or whatever family traditions they have – with their family the next week, too.   

Wednesday, 7/25

Itemized spending:
-Qalo Wedding Ring $19.99

I have a confession to make.  My nickname at work is Dory.

Yes, as in Dory, the famous fish from the movie Finding Nemo.  Why? Because I have a great sense of humor like Ellen? Nope. It’s because I have some issues with remembering small details.  

At work everyday, I have to take my wedding band off to perform sterile procedures. My memory and these sterile procedures are not a good combination. Honestly, my wedding ring just doesn’t stand a chance. 

So, about a year ago I decided to purchase a Qalo ring to continue to show an outward sign of our marriage while I keep my real wedding band safely stored. Losing the Qalo ring would only cost me $20.

Well, guess what? It didn’t take one month this time – like it did for my first wedding band – to lose my ring. It took one year. And this day in July was the day that I replaced that Qalo ring with another.  Yes, I still have it.

While my short-term memory is quite unimpressive, I did store some good memories this week, too. My little girl played in her first ever local qualifier for the Drive, Chip, and Putt contest.  

The “worst feeling of the year” occurred shortly thereafter when she got last place and was devastated. Guess that’s what happens when you love to drive the golf ball, but don’t like practicing chipping or putting. They don’t say “drive for show, putt for dough” for no reason!

On a serious side note, I almost cried after seeing the look on my little girl’s face.  She was really embarrassed. It was one of those really good life lesson moments, though.  I am proud to say that my little girl has decided she wants to practice more – and not give up – to get better at the game her daddy loves.  Hopefully, she’ll love it just as much as me someday.

My bad memory cost me $20 to buy a new Qalo ring.  The good memory with my little girl cost me nothing, except a few tears.  There’s something to be learned there.

Things don’t make us happy, experiences do.  

Thursday 7/26: The Best Day of The Year

Itemized costs:
-Mexican for the wife and kids $24.84
-Sticking it to our student loans $52,000

Today was the day that I had waited a year to enjoy.  It was the day I got to stick it to our student loans. I mentioned earlier that we took home around $58,000 in bonus pay during the year.  

Well, on this glorious day, I used $52,000 of that to pay off a bunch of our student loans in one fell swoop. It felt great! Actually, to be honest, it felt like it just vanished.  It was pretty hard doing the right thing with that money.

However, sending that check put our family’s net worth in the positive for the first time!  All the way from negative $208,000 twelve months before. On a high from this, I had the chance to meet with one of our resident physicians that afternoon to discuss personal finances and student loan debt management.  

I should probably apologize to that resident for the giddy spirit I had that day after realizing our net worth had gone up $254,000 in one year. If that resident is reading this, I am sorry. I was probably a bit overwhelming.

My wife and kids also enjoyed a $25 Mexican meal since I was at work again that night.  Taco Tuesdays apparently isn’t enough to meet the Mexican food-quota my family has for each week. This particular restaurant is also super family friendly and has a killer queso dip.

Friday 7/27

Itemized spending:
– Gas $37.46
– Groceries $226.88
– Shopping $50.63
– Bills $206.59

As we finished off a crazy week of second shifts and my wife in full time work, we prepared for the upcoming week by buying some gas and groceries.  This week was insane in terms of work-life balance, which probably explains why I won’t be working too many second shifts going forward.

Speaking of groceries, we use an online grocery pick-up, and paid $226.88 in groceries for a family of five. Having three kids – including an almost two year old that throws herself in the floor when you look at her the wrong way – we just cannot imagine what life would look like without online grocery pick-up.  

Thank God for whatever awesome person came up with this idea. Seriously, you’re a saint.

This bills we paid for included our cell phone bill (~$130) and our cable bill (~$75). My wife also filled up the Swagger wagon – a.k.a. our minivan – for $37.46. During the same trip, she went shopping for some things for the kids who will be starting school soon.  This accounted for the remaining $50.63.

Fire your financial advisorSaturday 7/28

Itemized spending:
-Golf driver/Custom fitting $736.49
-Costco $167.20
-The Incredibles 2 – $57.51
-Gas $48.97
-Chipotle $34.85

All work and no fun makes Jack a dull boy, and the weekends are for fun.  

We showed an impressive amount of discipline in sending that $52,000 check earlier in the week.  While that certainly helps us to build wealth for tomorrow, it also certainly doesn’t help us to enjoy today.  For this reason, I teach others – and follow – what I like to call The 10% Rule.  

In essence, you should apply The 10% Rule anytime you receive an increase in pay, bonus, or unexpected money.  We used 90% of the annual bonus that I received in July – plus 90% of the other bonuses we saved – to make our student loan payment. Then, we took 10% and enjoyed it on whatever our hearts desired.

What did my heart desire?  A new custom fitted golf driver.  

My old driver was more than ten years old and was pretty banged up.  So, I went all out and got fitted for a driver, which ended up being a Cobra F8 driver head with a 53 gram Fujikura custom shaft.  Stiff, of course. My hope is that this will increase my driving accuracy and distance.

Let’s be honest, though. You don’t care about my golf game.  I just felt the need to justify my almost $750 expense. Being frugal is a lifestyle. When it comes time to spend money, it hurts.

What did my wife’s heart desire?  Two things.

The chance to go shopping for new clothes for her job, which she totally deserves – and she ended up doing a couple of weeks later.  She also desired some time by herself after spending a week doing two full time jobs – being a mom to three kids and her job at work. So, on this Saturday, I took two of the kids to the movies to see The Incredibles 2.  

Speaking of The Incredibles 2, Jack Jack – the baby in the movie – is a spitting image of our youngest kid.  Remember, the one who throws herself in the floor when we go shopping? She is happy one moment, and a fire-breathing monster the next. My older kids really enjoyed watching the movie, eating some popcorn, and being entertained by their younger sibling’s twin on the silver screen.

We also made a trip to Costco and spent some money on bulk grocery items (diapers, wipes, chicken, drinks, bathroom supplies, etc).  This cost us $167.20. Following the theme of giving the family a break, we also ordered some chipotle to be delivered to the house. Another modern day invention that makes our family of five quite happy.  The remaining money went to my one financial weakness, my car: $48.97.

Sunday 7/29

Itemized expenses:
-Church Tithe $1,750

On this Sunday, we did what we do every Sunday.  I played golf with my two oldest kids, including my little girl who still wanted to play despite getting last at the Drive, Chip, and Putt only four days before.  It was great seeing her still want to play. This is usually one of my favorite moments each week. Jack Jack had to stay home, because she isn’t old enough – or quiet enough – to play golf yet.

We then enjoyed a lazy Sunday afternoon before church.  Given that pay day was this week, we also tithed to our church.  Our church is very open about their income and expenses.  Most of this money will go to a combination of the pastoral salaries and to the local charitable organizations that our church supports (local homeless shelter, food ministry, and the mercy fund for the needs of the church members).

I love ending our week this way by giving money away.  With all the focus on building wealth and financial independence, it is very easy for money to become an idol.  We work really hard to prevent this by giving to our church and others in need. I’d certainly want others to help my family out if we ever land on tough times.

This was a crazy week of spending and building wealth.  What does a typical week look like for you?  What did you think of mine?  Leave a comment below.

TPP

 

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