This is a two-part series.

First part talks about pre-med and medical school. Second part is about residency and fellowship.


This post is inspired by Boglehead author Michael LeBoeuf. In 2014, he gave a talk to a room full of college students at Arizona State University called “If I knew what I know now.”

It was epic.

Read it for yourself here: If I Knew Then What I Know Now

I’m here to share with you my version of “If I knew what I know now” and the mistakes I have made during the medical journey so far.

By mistakes, I’m not talking about the time when I bought cheap trash bags that leaked. (Get the good ones.) I’m also saving the things that really matter like eating nutritious food, working out, and nurturing relationships for another post.

Today, I am talking about the kind of mistakes that seem small but given time and loss of opportunity cost will make a difference of four or five figures.

May my life be a lesson for you.

Experience is a very tough, expensive teacher because you get the test first and then you get the lesson. It’s always cheaper and easier to learn from the experiences of others.”
-Michael LaBoeuf

YMMV: YOUR MILEAGE MAY VARY

First, I need to go over some terminology here for those who are new to this site or to the medical journey.

MS = medical school, so MS1 means first year of medical school

PGY = post graduate year, so PGY1 means intern year (think: first season of Scrubs)

I also need to tell you that finances are very personal. YMMV (your mileage may vary). This is our authentic journey. While we will have a ton of similarities, yours will be different.

This post is list-heavy because it was the best way to deliver my information. There’s a reason why I love grocery checklists.

So get ready to be hit in the face with one hundred bullets.

Let’s begin.


BEFORE MEDICAL SCHOOL

You may know the story of how my husband and I met, which was before medical school.

If you missed it, see here: How I met DocH

What you may not know is that my husband was non-traditional pre-med. In a previous life, both of us worked and earned two tech salaries as engineers.

Family situation:

  • We were dating/engaged.
  • *No kids — yet.

Actions:

  • We were rolling in it and maxed out all accounts available to us.

What we did well:

  • Not freak out in 2008 during the recession and sell. Had we pulled out our money, we would have missed out on the bull market that came after.

What we wish we knew:

  • *What the heck did we do with so much free time before kids!?!?

My advice:

  • Keep the course. Stick to the plan. Ignore the noise.
  • Choose the cheapest medical school your spouse can get into.

MEDICAL SCHOOL

When my husband became a medical student, he made zero income. Not only was he not bringing anything in, he was accruing tuition debt.

Family situation:

  • We got married during the first year of medical school. At the end of medical school, we had Kid #1.
  • We owned our home. #nontraditionalpremed #wereolder
First day of intern year (left), Last day of intern year (right)

 Actions:

  • I worked to support him and funded all accounts available to me.
  • He no longer had a 401k he could fund.
  • *We stopped funding his IRA.
  • **We opened a 529 for Kid #1.
  • We wrote a will when Kid #1 was born.

What we did well:

  • Discovered Boglehead and FIRE culture. Binged White Coat Investor and Boglehead Guide to Investing. Repeat with other books.
  • Switched from “big name brokerage” with high-fee funds to Vanguard low-cost, well-diversified index funds. (Shout out to Vanguard, btw, for being awesome. There’s no affiliate link because they don’t offer it, but I would recommend them to everyone even without one.)
  • Lived well below our means.

What we wish we knew:

*I should have continued to fund his spousal IRA while he was a medical student. I thought he had to have earned income to do so, but I was wrong.

**We didn’t have to wait to have a kid to open a 529. We could have had a head start and opened one up for me, then transferred it to Kid #1 when he was born.

My advice:

  • Don’t carry a balance on credit cards. If you are, cut up your cards and go cash-only.
  • Once you have dependents (kids or spouse), get a will. While using an estate planning attorney is the way to go, you can use a FREE one from LegalZoom for now.
  • Read one financial book a year. I suggest starting with Boglehead’s Guide to Investing book.
Continue to Part 2 to read about our mistakes during residency and fellowship.

Imagine yourself going back in time. What would you tell your younger self, colleagues, or co-residents? Share below in the comments. It may help a lot of people.

DocWife