What financial advice I wish I would have known before starting residency
Today is a very special day, its the day that I am no longer in residency and have graduated to an attending. Now that I have graduated with a plan to aggressively pay off debt and increase retirement contributions I wanted to take a minute to look back at what financial advice I would have like to received when I was a pre-med or medical student.
Have a job while in college and before starting medical school:
Post high school I’ve almost always had a job at any given time which was the best financial advice my parents ever gave me. These jobs were often times not glamorous. I worked in restaurants or in the HVAC installation business but nevertheless they brought income into my household so that I could have a cushion. Now I will agree that college is tough and requires a lot of dedication but even with this dedication I believe that most students should have enough time to work a job. I also believe its important for students to have some “skin in the game” while in college. This allows student to get a sense of how many hard hours of work it takes to pay for college. In following this advise in college plus scholarships this decreased my student loans burden to zero for college. Medical school is too busy for a job but decreasing loan burden prior to medical school will minimize compounding interest that continues to build.
Live like a broke student:
Regardless if your parents are gracious enough to pay for your education, this is the time in your life to be humble and to live like a broke student. I’m not talking about eating Ramen noodles every night. I am talking about living with room mates to decrease cost of living and living in an affordable apartment. Other students while I was in school had HBO, cable TV and would go out to the bars almost nightly which is a sure way to eat up a lot of cash that you should be saving or spending elsewhere like your education. Skimp on the luxuries. Eat well but from food that is store bought not restaurants and learn to appreciate living like a student.
The little things matter and add up:
When you graduate you will be happy that you did not get a Starbucks coffee almost every day and ended up saving >$1,000 as a result. There are a lot of areas as a student people often spend money on without thinking that over time significantly add up. Coffee is the easiest offender but other examples include paid parking, parking tickets, going out often, eating as restaurants, splurge last minute purchases at the grocery store.
Keep a budget and hold yourself accountable:
Sounds easy but I’ll be the first to admit that in college initially I did not have a budget and the results were a disaster. I ended up not having any free money left over at the end of the month and had to ask my parents for $150 to help make ends meet. In a way this was the best wake up call I ever had. I realized that I was in the dark when it came to how much money I was to spend on each category of my spending habits. Keeping a budget and regularly updating to see how I was doing was one of the best things I could do to ensure that I stay on track. Most of my budgets were done in excel, which you can see here in a previous post.
Summer is not a time to do nothing:
This may be more for college than medical school as most medical schools now no longer have summer breaks. This is not a time for you to lay around and do nothing. During the summer I signed up for community classes instead of classes at UT Austin to save money per credit hour obtained. This helped me graduate early and to spend less money per hour on my education. Looking back I would have been perfectly fine spending 2 years at a community college to lessen the load even less. If you are not in school full time you should have a full time job.
Choose your medical school wisely:
This of course needs to come with a caveat that if you get into one medical school then the choice is simple. However, going to a state school will decrease your overall loan burden, sometimes by 6 figures or more. Some out of state tuition in the north east charge $60,000 per year compared to the $10,000 a year I paid to go to medical school in Texas. Your medical school matters to a certain degree (i.e. there is a difference between Caribbean med school vs US based school) however, beyond this and the top 20 programs the rest are very similar and offer a great education. Think twice about going $300,000 in debt if you have the option to half that based on your choice of school.
During your free time you should be vigilantly searching for any scholarships that you can obtain. Treat this like a job and take several hours per week to hunt for scholarships.
Medical School is your job:
Work hard studying in medical school. This is your job and its your duty to do everything you can to do well on step 1 and all your exams. This will also give you the opportunity to go into more lucrative specialties if you so desire.