Why I Wear My Scarlet Letter of Financial Mistakes

By Jimmy Turner, MD
The Physician Philosopher

Aristotle was known for many famous philosophical ideas.  One such idea is called the principle of “golden means,” which is the principle that extreme outcomes are usually not an ideal goal. Instead, we should be aiming for the middle. Here are some similar ideas that may be more familiar to you, but branch from this way of thinking:

Perfect is the enemy of good.” ~ Voltaire

Or maybe you’ve heard people say, “moderation is key” which was originally said more eloquently,

Everything in moderation, including moderation.” ~ Oscar Wilde

Aristotle recognized early on that life is all about balance – which is something we often preach here on The Physician Philosopher.

Speaking of preaching, it is something that occurs far too often in the financial independence community.  This produces the fallacy of looking perfect.

If you – like me – aren’t perfect, keep on reading.  I want you to feel at home.

The Claim to Perfection

The Physician Philosopher has social media accounts (follow me on Twitter and Facebook).  Yet, I am almost completely off of personal social media.  If I log on twice in a month, that’s a lot.  I just couldn’t take it anymore.

The reason is that I started to notice something that really bothered me: social media tends to be specifically curated for the “best” moments in life.  Everyone looked perfect, and I was (and still am) far from it.

No one shared when they were struggling.

It was all rainbows and unicorns.

For those of us who frequent the financial independence and personal finance blogs of the world, you might notice something similar happening there.  We don’t often discuss our failures.

We quickly move past the basics of increasing our earning potential, decreasing our spending, and building wealth with the difference.  And we rarely speak about our failures to meet these goals.

We make it look simple. But it’s not.

We move quickly to deeper topics like sequence of returns risks (SORR), the 4% rule, and whether we should invest in a non-governmental 457.

Talking about these things is fine, of course, if they are kept in moderation.

However, it must be said. To the outsider looking in, it probably looks like we are all perfect.

We are doing everything right; all of the time.  It likely seems that we have little room for the mistakes that others make.  We are quick to judge when someone finances a brand new car, builds the Dr. Jones home, or joins the expensive country club.

To a newcomer it probably feels like we are ready to cast the closest stone.

The Scarlet Letter of Financial Mistakes

There is still a large portion of people – including the vast majority of physicians  – who have an extremely low financial literacy.  What does it look like to this crowd when they stumble upon our musings?   Do they feel at home? Or do they feel scorned because of their Scarlet Letter of Financial Mistakes?

If we want people to join the counterculture of money so that they can pursue financial independence, then this display of perceived perfection must stop.  It sends readers – humans who err, just like us – running the opposite direction.

Our readers need to know that we were once all there.  Some of us are still there.  We know their plight.  We’ve made mistakes and, yet, we are still well on our way to financial independence.  They need to know that they can be successful, too!

I’m here to say that, when it comes to money, I am far from perfect.

I’ve spent some time discussing some of my prior financial mistakes.

I’ve invested in the market (in actively managed mutual funds) when I was swimming in 6.8% medical school debt.  My borrowed money also came from unnecessarily inflated lifestyle expenses during med school.

Even after my “financial enlightenment” I decided to finance a car and join (a cheap) country club to play more golf. While those recent decisions were made very intentionally, they are still classic “financial mistakes”.  That money could have been used to achieve financial independence faster.

Instead, I jumped on that hedonic treadmill for a little bit and drove the hell out of my naturally aspirated V-8.  I also drove a lot of golf balls.

[Yes, you can “drive” both of those things.  Admittedly, I am much better at driving a car than a golf ball – I’ve got a wicked slice].

A Recent Frugal Fail: Google FI

If that weren’t enough, I’ve not only failed at spending.  I’ve also experienced what it looks like when the pendulum swings the opposite direction – when my frugality has gone too far.

I switched to Google FI from Verizon.  It was a really interesting experience. Immediately, I felt a lot of freedom, but not for the reason you’d expect!

See, when I made the switch I could make phone calls and make/receive texts. However, I could no longer receive phone calls. They would go straight to voice mail.  If someone didn’t leave a message, I wouldn’t even know that someone called.

This might sound great to my minimalist friends out there.  The problem is that I am a physician who takes home call for a week at a time.  If people cannot get in touch with me, it’s a problem. A really big problem.

So, I spent hours on forums, search engines, and on the phone seeing if there was a fix to the problem. Alas, it is a well known problem for Google FI.

With my tail between my legs, I realized that my “frugal win” wasn’t worth the money I was saving.  I called Verizon back, begged forgiveness, and rejoined the nation of red cell phone coverage.

Note:  If you leave Verizon, and then switch back in 30-60 days they have a “win back” program that will give you money. For us, it was ~$200.  Not too bad for my frugal fail!

Take Home: Finding the Golden Mean

I’ve failed at spending too much money.  I’ve also failed at being too frugal.

Yet, I remember the words of Aristotle – the golden middle way.  It’s all about moderation.  Hopefully, the people that find this website will see that help is out there.

And, if you – like me – wear the Scarlet Letter of Financial Mistakes know that it is okay.  We can both make it, if we just try and find a little bit of moderation.

Have you noticed this about the personal finance community?  Has this turned you away?  What financial mistakes have you made?  It’s okay to admit it.  Leave a comment below.



  1. Xrayvsn

    I completely agree about how social media can paint an unrealistic picture for the observer. Some people on Instagram, for example, spend money renting out jet planes or cars just to take the picture and pretend to their followers they have made it.

    I started out my blog pretty much confessing every mistake I made (at least that I could think of as there are some I am sure were not included that have slipped my mind).

    It seemed counterintuitive to try and build a reputation of knowing something you want people to follow you for by saying “hey I’m a big failure” but for me I wanted to show people that I made some very very big mistakes and still was able to turn my life around.

    Perfection is unattainable. You will waste your life trying to reach it. Contentment is what you should strive for and that can be in your grasp.

    • ThePhysicianPhilosopher

      I think that’s why everyone enjoys your blog! You keep it real and have never said it was easy. For you, it has seemed quite challenging in fact. People can relate to that. And honestly …. The honesty is refreshing.

  2. Harold Paul Koller

    Thank you!


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