Debt Free Doc Interview 6
Here’s our latest interview with a debt free doctor (or soon to be). These stories allow us to continue to learn from those who are free of debt or currently on the path to do so.
If you’d like to be considered for an interview, drop me a note and we can talk about specifics.
Be sure to read all the way to the end and either leave your questions or comments.
My questions are in bold italics and his responses follow in black.
Let’s get started…
How old are you (and spouse if applicable, plus how long you’ve been married)?
Jana is 40 and Scott is 48. We’ve been married nine years.
Do you have kids/family (if so, how old are they)?
Yes, we have two girls ages 2 ½ and 4.
What area of the country do you practice in (and urban or rural)?
Jana is the medical doctor, an Ob/Gyn hospitalist practicing in California. Scott is also a doctor, but helps “sick” organizations by teaching them ways to perform better.
How much student loan debt did you have?
Between the two of us we had about $180K for Jana’s medical degree and Scott’s doctorate degree.
How much other debt did you have?
If you include our house, we had about $400K, most of that being our house and a little on one credit card (~$20K).
Is your house paid off? If not, is it on a 15 or 30 year mortgage?
Yes, we paid our house off in October 2017. We took out a 15 year mortgage and paid it off in three years.
What was the defining moment that made you decide to tackle your debt?
There really was no “defining moment” where we decided we’d had enough. Scott just decided one day to create a really complicated spreadsheet to start tracking our expenses and the debt-free journey started from there. It took a bit for Jana to get excited about getting out of debt. She didn’t resist, but it wasn’t until she saw the budget we were doing as not restricting her spending but freeing her to have permission to spend.
We also learned that complexity kills enthusiasm for getting out of debt. When we simplified our approach and ditched the spreadsheets for simpler tools it got much easier, and a lot more exciting to see the progress we were making.
What type of plan did you use to pay off your debt?
We more-or-less followed Dave Ramsey’s baby steps. We didn’t do the starter emergency fund, but instead had a larger (not quite fully-funded) emergency fund in place, and then paid down all the debt before we purchased our home five years ago.
Did you make any mistakes or hit any snags along the way?
A few mistakes were over complicating the process early on. Scott is a numbers guy so he liked the complexity and long-range planning of where we might be financially in the future.
A better approach would have been for the two of us to start with why we wanted to be out of debt and use that to fuel our actions instead of a bunch of cold numbers.
How long did it take you to become debt-free? If you are currently on a debt free journey, when do you plan on becoming free of debt?
It took about two years to get rid of our student loan and credit card debt, and three additional years to pay off our house.
What is your profession?
Jana is an Ob/Gyn hospitalist. Scott is self-employed and consults with organizations to help them perform better.
What is your annual income?
Household income varies a little based on the consulting work, but the past few years it’s averaged around $500K.
What’s your work-life balance look like?
Work-life balance has significantly improved in recent years since becoming debt-free. Jana has changed jobs to allow for more flexibility and time off. Scott’s work has also decreased to less than 10 days a month. The ironic thing is our income hasn’t changed much since we’ve slowed down. We’ve been blessed with opportunities that pay more and require less hours. So overall, we’ve been able to be more selective to what we say “yes” to.
Do you have any sources of income besides your career? If so, can you list them, give us a feel for how much you earn with each, and offer some insight into how you developed them?
Not a lot of additional income from other sources outside of around $20K / year that Scott makes teaching online for a state university.
We are also working on a new business venture called Debt-Free Millionaire Doctor that is focused on helping other doctor couples early out of residency make good financial decisions that lead to becoming debt-free millionaires. We know many doctors who are making big money and are completely broke and we want to help them do what we did to find financial freedom.
What is your annual spending (personal not business)?
Total annual spending is around $170K if you include our giving.
What are the main categories (expenses) this breaks into?
This is what it looked like for the past year.
- $60K Giving (mostly our church and two other faith-based organizations we support)
- $37K Housing (property tax, utilities, insurance)
- $34K Living expenses (daycare, housekeeper, vacations, Internet, Netflix, etc.)
- $20K Medical (health care premiums, meds, we have a high deductible plan)
- $17K Food
- $5K Transportation (gas, car maintenance)
Do you have a budget? If so, how do you implement it? (who creates it, who monitors it, how do you work together on it (if married), etc.)
Yes, we currently use Every Dollar to create our monthly budget. We do it together each month and use the app to track expenses as they come in through the month.
What percentage of your gross income do you save and how has that changed over time?
Since we’ve become debt-free we save around 60% of our after-tax income. It went up slightly after we paid the house off.
What do you secretly love spending money on?
We’re not really big spenders. When we paid our house off we both bought a new pair of shoes. I would say we are somewhat overly frugal at times. However, last year we took a trip to Maui and splurged on first class tickets. Ironically, it was the exact day a year earlier that we had paid off our house!
What is your investment philosophy?
It’s changed a little since Scott read J.L. Collins book The Simple Path to Wealth. We used to follow Dave Ramsey’s advice about splitting savings into the five categories of mutual funds that he suggests, but are having much better results using an index fund approach Collins prescribes.
Most of our investments are in Vanguard’s S&P 500 index fund and their Total Stock Market index fund.
What’s been your overall return? (rough estimate is fine)
Using Dave’s approach our returns have been around 8%, but the index fund investments we have are returning over 12% per year.
What is your current net worth?
Do you have a target net worth you are trying to attain?
We have a goal to have a net worth of $5M by 2029.
What are the main assets that make up your net worth (stocks, real estate, business, home, retirement accounts, etc.) and any debt that offsets part of these?
We are pretty typical of your millionaire’s next door with about a third in our paid off house and the other two-thirds in investments.
When do you plan on retiring?
Some would say we’ve already retired with the reduction in days we work. We’re not sure we ever see ourselves fully retiring. We both like what we’re doing so it really doesn’t feel like work. If we do retire and work less it probably won’t be for at least another 10 years.
What are your retirement plans? (both financially as well as activities in retirement)
Most of what we want to do in retirement is focus more on others instead of a traditional retirement centered on ourselves. We’d love to be able to give more of both our time and money to the organizations that are doing work we feel is close to our hearts.
What advice do you have for Debt Free Dr readers on how to become debt free?
The very first place to begin is with your spouse. If you are both on the same page go for it, but in many cases one of you will start the discussion to make changes in your life to become debt-free.
You may be able to get out of debt on your own, but staying out of debt is nearly impossible if you don’t get your spouse on-board. This is one of the key reasons we started Debt-Free Millionaire Doctor to help couples start walking the path of getting out of debt so they can begin building wealth together.
Too often we find that one person in the couple is running all the finances and the other is in the dark on what’s going on with the family’s money. This turns tragic when the one driving falls ill, or worse, passes away, and the remaining person is not only grieving their loss, but also clueless about the finances.
Part of being on the same page is sharing everything – accounts, passwords, documents, etc. You can’t win with your finances if you’re not working as a team!
It’s also critical early in the process to do some estate planning by setting up a will and / or trust, getting term life insurance for both of you, and long-term disability insurance for those earning an income. For your readers who don’t have these three things in place they need to get started today!
We would also suggest early on in the process that you determine why you want to get out of debt. Anyone intelligent enough to become a doctor can do the math it takes to get out of debt, but debt is not really a math problem, it’s a mind problem.
Money problems are just the physical symptom of a deeper problem that starts in your mind and eventually leads to your behaviors. Those behaviors turn into problems you can see (i.e. bills piling up, living paycheck-to-paycheck making six-figures) and often that is when a change starts to occur.
Another thing we would suggest is once you have your why figured out is to dream big about what you want your future to look like (i.e. marriage, family, house you live in, job, net worth, etc.). Using your dream you can start to work backwards from where you want to end up long term all the way down to the next 90 days in front of you that leads to better understanding what you need to do to take one step forward in making your dream become reality.
One thing we’ve found helpful is setting dream goals out 10-20 years and then breaking them down into mid-term goals (3-5 years) and then short-term goals for the next year and 90 days. Once we’ve set the goals, we only focus on the 90 days ahead of us because it’s hard to think past the next few months and stay motivated to achieve goals years from now.
We also break our goals down into seven categories that include:
- giving/helping others
When you focus on each of these seven areas we believe you will have a full and joyful life. You don’t have to focus on all of them at the same time. We’ve found that as your seasons of life change so does the intensity of the focus in each of these areas.
Another thing that is helpful, in fact it may be the best starting point of all things in your life, is to establish your family values. Values describe who you are as a family and can be a good check against your goals to make sure they are in line with your values.
Our family values are:
- Eternally Focused
- Humbly Confident
- Helping First
(I love these values!)
When we set goals, we try to make sure they are in agreement with our values. It’s also a great way to determine what to say “yes” and “no” to in life. The answer is usually “no” when it is out of alignment with our goals!
A final element to success is creating a monthly budget together to plan your spending. This way you’re telling your money where to go instead of it telling you where it went.
How did you learn about finances? Was it from someone you knew, school, books, etc.?
It was a combination of things. Some came from formal education (Scott has an MBA and doctorate in management), much came from reading various books on personal finance, and also listening to many different podcasts on how to better manage money. We consider Dave Ramsey to be one of our key mentors when it comes to finances.
Both of us also took Dave Ramsey’s certified master coaching program (I completed this as well!) to better understand personal finance and how to coach others through the process of becoming debt-free.
Thomas Stanley and Sarah Fallaw’s millionaire next door research has also provided some guidance as well as Chris Hogan’s recent study of everyday millionaires. Your blog and many other physician, medical professionals, etc. blogs have also provided a lot of great practical wisdom and inspiration as well. There is no shortage of learning materials if people will simply seek them out.
Who inspired you to excel in life? Who are your heroes?
As a Christian family we look to the Bible for inspiration and guidance for both our lives and money. Both of our grandparents also played a significant role in who we’ve become.
Do you give to charity and/or tithe? If you do, what percent of time/money do you give?
We give both financially and with our time. Both of us lead various ministry groups at our church and in our home, and we tithe to our church and give to a few faith-based groups we also lead in.
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