Financial Planning for Doctors

People are sometimes confused about why I combine personal finance and wellness (i.e. fighting burnout) on The Physician Philosopher.  Why do I spend time discussing life planning and building an intentional life?  Can’t he JUST write about finances? Nope.  In my mind, these concepts are intrinsically linked.  It is pretty challenging to have one exist without the other.  And today, you’ll learn about a life planning tool that will help you sort it all out – The Three Kinder Questions.

Painting the Big Picture

A person who has all the wealth in the world, but yet has no one to share it with will ultimately live a pretty joyless life.  On the other hand, a person who is trying to live an intentional life with those they love will have a tough time doing so without having a secure financial situation.

Financial stress is a very real threat to our wellness.  Once we have achieved financial independence – or we, at least, have a solid plan for getting us there –  we are given the keys to the kingdom.  At this point, we can start to plan the life that we want to live.

Fortunately, there are specific tools available to us to help us paint the big picture of our life planning.

Earn More, Save More

The design to getting to financial independence is pretty simple.  You can earn more, save more, or (ideally) both.  Getting to early financial independence is 1/3 earning capacity, 1/3 frugality and 1/3 high savings rate.

Of course, the money that is saved should be invested in the market.

The trouble is that a large part of that 3-part design (earning more) often leads to people burning the wick at both ends to help produce a high income.  Sometimes this occurs through picking up more shifts, earning money from a side hustle, or additional responsibilities.

For people that do this, the hope is that the increased income will allow them to reach financial independence sooner.

But, at what the cost?

Unfortunately, the cost can be quite high sometimes.  While we work, work, work to earn more… we often ignore other critical aspects of our lives.

Don’t worry.  The pot is calling the kettle black today.  This has been a constant struggle for me over the past few years.

Fortunately, there are life planning tools to help us figure out the balance we need so that we can design a plan to get there.

The Three Kinder Questions: Life Planning

The ultimate commodity that we are seeking is not money.  It is time.  Time to live the life that we find most satisfying and full of purpose.

A great tool that many financial advisors use to help people sort all of this stuff out – and to make a specific life plan – involves the Three Kinder Questions.  If you haven’t gone through this exercise, I’d highly encourage it.

It’s a great thing to do on a date with your significant other!

Here are the three kinder questions:

Question 1: Design Your Life

I want you to imagine that you are financially secure, that you have enough money to take care of your needs, now and in the future. The question is, how would you live your life? What would you do with the money? Would you change anything? Let yourself go. Don’t hold back your dreams. Describe a life that is complete, that is richly yours.

Of course, the purpose of the first kinder question is to figure out what matters to you in life.

This has been my struggle lately as I have spent an inordinate amount of time on things that don’t matter much to my “intentional life.”  This is what led to creating my Hell Yes Policy where I only say Yes to things that make me say, “Hell Yes!”

Since that time, I have started saying “no” to anything that I am not extremely passionate about.  Why?  Because, in the end, I need to be wildly passionate about my wife and my kids.

I cannot choose to do everything anymore, and so I chose my family.

Question 2: You have less time 

This time, you visit your doctor who tells you that you have five to ten years left to live. The good part is that you won’t ever feel sick. The bad news is that you will have no notice of the moment of your death. What will you do in the time you have remaining to live? Will you change your life, and how will you do it?

What if life sped the clock up?  You had a plan to reach financial independence in 12 years, but now you only have 5 to 10 years left on this earth.  How does this change things for you?  That’s all wrapped into kinder question 2.

For me, it placed a higher importance on today.  Waiting to “live the good life someday” is no longer acceptable when our timeline no longer extends to what “someday” was supposed to be. We can and should live the good life today.

Take note. This is not an excuse for hedonism. Don’t go out and buy all that stuff you hoped you could have someday.  That’s not what life planning is about.  Hollow spending will not make you happy.

I encourage you to sit down and to figure out what your ideal life looks like now so that you can take steps toward pursuing it today.  All the while, the hope is that you are creating a financial plan that allows you to continue to live it every day from here on out.

Question 3: Today’s the day

This time, your doctor shocks you with the news that you have only one day left to live. Notice what feelings arise as you confront your very real mortality. Ask yourself: What dreams will be left unfulfilled? What do I wish I had finished or had been? What do I wish I had done?  [Did I miss anything]?

Are your priorities in line with your life plan? Is your time reflective of what you care about?  What do your financial habits say that you value?  What “bucket list items” have you missed?

Having seen the end of life issues that often arise in medicine, I have spent some time writing about what truly matters to most people in the end.

Typically, people do not say that they wish they had earned more money, worked one more shift, or had one more side hustle.

Most often, they wish they had spent more time with family, had more experiences with those that they love, and made sure that those they left behind would be taken care of once they were gone.

If today was your last day, what have you left unfinished?  Of those things, what would bother you the most?

Good, now go chase after it and stop making excuses for why you aren’t doing it right now.

Take Home

Don’t forget that – while we talk about investments, budgeting, and financial independence – these things are ultimately less important than many of the other people and things in our life.

If you haven’t done so, use the three Kinder questions to help you create an intentionally designed life.

Take time to invest in your friends, family, and true passions.  Design the life you want to live and take steps everyday to start living it right now.

Have you spent time thinking about these questions or questions like these? Did you find it helpful? What are you not doing today that you realize you should?  Leave comments below.


22 thoughts on “Life Planning: The Three Kinder Questions”

  1. Agreed. I just turned down a terrific locum tenens opportunity (in addition to my regular job) because it would suck away what little free time I have. Just one week a month would have significantly accelerated my trajectory towards FIRE. But that would be one week away from home and my newborn baby vs. paying down the mortgage. In all three of your scenarios above, the newborn wins each time!

  2. I love this, TPP.

    “What if life sped the clock up? You had a plan to reach financial independence in 12 years, but now you only have 5 to 10 years left on this earth. How does this change things for you?”

    This question, in particular, is on my mind right now…and I think everyone should ask themselves what they might do differently if they were in this situation.

    We are within a few years of FI, but I have a health issue that could easily interfere with our planned path. Though it hasn’t changed the fact that we continue to save, it has definitely shifted our focus – away from reaching FI ASAP and toward being more cognizant of not sacrificing our time today to get there faster.

  3. From time to time, I ask myself these Kinder questions and the answers shape my decision-making. I can get carried away and work more and make more, but to what end? Time is the most precious commodity because you can’t make more of it. Once time passes, it’s used up and gone. These questions are valuable because they block out all the noise and distractions and focus your mind to answer the ‘why’ question. Thanks for the reminder.

  4. It seems everything changes when we have to face mortality. These questions are a good way to remind you that some things can’t be put off indefinitely or how somethings needs to be prioritized or you will live an unfulfilled life.

  5. Great post TPP. You hit upon something that has always concerned me about those pursuing FIRE. When that pursuit keeps us from living for today, not so much financially, but with the things, as you say, that really matter, it’s a dangerous path IMO.

    One of the most important things that is often left out of the FIRE discussion is estate planning. If we ask ourselves what we would do if we only have a few years left, would we get our affairs in order to take care of our families? I hope so. But I wonder. It’s something too many people ignore or put off.

    Thank you for challenging us with this post.

  6. This reminds me of Wait But Why’s The Tail End and a little bit of DocG’s recent appearance on Choose FI where he shared the 5 Regrets of the Dying.

    Even though it feels like we have more than enough time to spend with our families and loved ones, in reality the time is finite and short.

    Things left unfulfilled? For me the tragedy of an early demise would be my son not having a dad.

  7. I love this. Without realising it, these questions – especially the first one – are what I’ve been trying to ask myself as I face a major career pivot due to health reasons. I have a degree and a license, and although in a short while I won’t be able to do the clinical medicine I want, I will still be able to do lots of things. So how do I decide? What do I want my life to look like? It’s tough to answer, especially when you haven’t been out of residency long (I don’t know about you, but by the time I graduated residency my desires had kind of atrophied. It took a year of being an attending to even begin to get an idea of what I truly wanted). This was very timely, and a blessing to read. Thanks!

    • I am glad that it was helpful for you! I think in all of personal finance this is probably the most important piece. These questions really help us nail down what is most important to us so that we can then design a life that chases after that. Otherwise, we are flying blind to a destination we haven’t defined.

      I hope your transition is a smooth one with an intentional and happy result!

  8. What a great blog post! I really like how you talk about using your finances to live life with intention. I always stress to my clients that truly great financial planning is about more than money; it’s about connecting your money with your life!
    I use George Kinder’s Three Questions as part of the onboarding process for my new clients. It really helps clients to define what matters most in life. It also helps give clients a perspective for making decisions. Like Roy Disney once said, “When your values are clear to you, making decisions becomes easier.”
    Thank you for helping make the case for financial life planning.

  9. Insightful post. It is so easy to lose balance especially when you are busy with work and encumbered with financial issues. As a physician in ICU, I feel the need to really listen to my inner self and remember that life can only be full when you learn how to mix/balance everything.

    all the best! GL with your book.

  10. My day of reckoning came when I became a grandfather to a grandchild living 1200 miles away. I missed seeing her but for about 3 weeks/year. I hated leaving her after my visits! After much soul searching, I decided to retire early from a job I loved so I could move to her town and see her everyday ( if I wanted too…). My wife and I sold our home of 25 years and downsized significantly and moved from the deep south to New England. It’s been the best thing we could have done…plus we were here for the birth of granddaughter #2! They grow up so quickly and being here to see it is worth more than any amount of money.

    • Kids can certainly change things. I know my kids did. I can’t imagine what it’s like for grandkids. I would bet I’d try and move the world just to see them more, which is what it sounds like you did! Way to be an awesome grandparent!

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