I have another great interview decked up with Dr. Supertasker – a doctor in St. Louis who’s a breadwinner, a millionaire, and earns six figures. As you read, be sure to remember why doctors aren’t automatically wealthy, for all the reasons we discussed back in my interview with Hatton1. So without further delay, here’s her story.
Tell us about yourself!
I’m 37 years old and living in St. Louis, MO with my husband and two sons (ages 5 and 9). My husband and I are originally from Tennessee and moved to St. Louis for residency training. After residency in 2010, I took a job in academics and now work as an associate professor at a large academic center. My work hours are really quite good (roughly 7-5 Monday through Friday with no call). Outside of work I enjoy traveling, cooking, playing piano and teaching my children piano.
2. Let’s get some details – how much money do you make, and how long did it take you to get there? And are you a millionaire or are you on the way?
After completing residency, I started with a yearly salary of $275,000. Now, I am 7 years out from training and have been able to secure a significant bump in my yearly pay with additional administrative duties and clinical responsibilities. When my residency was complete, my husband and I had a negative net worth with $120,000 in student loans and a $20,000 car loan. We had no credit card debt, no retirement savings and probably $5,000 in the bank. We sold our home from residency with no loss/no gain and embarked on our life as high earners with a new 100% physician mortgage for $650,000.
Seven years later, our net worth is between $1-2 million. With full disclosure, this is in no small part due to the early passing of my father-in-law in 2011. At that time, my husband inherited half of his estate totaling approximately $800,000 in land, cash and investments one year after my residency training. With this money came an obligation in my heart to “do right” by him, and to take control of our finances including our investments and taxes. I had always been interested in saving and investing, but knew very little about being my own “financial advisor.”
3. How did you get started in the workforce?
I grew up in a small/mid-size town in West Tennessee. My grandfather had a heart attack when I was in the 7th grade and was in the ICU at our large regional hospital. Never had I seen such a busy and exciting place and I knew then that I wanted to become a physician. I went straight from high school to college to medical school. When deciding on a specialty, I did consider the pay and work hours and chose a well paying specialty with good hours. Residency began when I was 26 and I became an attending physician at the age of 30.
4. How did you get from where you started to where you are now?
I wish I could tell a tale of trials and tribulations or back-packing through Europe, but the truth is I was laser focused between 1997 (high school graduation) and 2010 (residency graduation). During the summers, I was working odd jobs or doing research. I didn’t take time off, and travel was mostly limited to research presentations during residency. I lived off student loans during medical school, paying for my tuition and all my financial needs. Medical school tuition was about $16,000/year. I managed to keep my med school loans at about $120,000. Residency was really a wonderful experience and my department gave me the confidence and desire to pursue an academic career. I am currently a faculty member in said department.
5. Where do you want to go in your career – and your financial life?
I’m sure I’m not the only one feeling this way, but now that I’m finished with training and have received my first promotion there are times that I feel a bit restless or feel like “what is the next goal.” Being in charge of our finances/investments has helped fill some of my goal-oriented voids. At first, there were some really great investing books that I needed to read and that kept me busy.
In reality, now that I have a handle on the finances, our investments do not require much time or attention. I check on balances way too often but I only consider rebalancing our portfolio once a year. At this phase, my goal is to get out of debt. The student loans are gone and our only debt is our home mortgage, which will be paid off in the next three years. We are currently saving about $100,000/year towards retirement and there are no plans to substantially change that savings rate.
6. A. What’s the biggest challenge in being a breadwinning mom? What’s the best part?
Being the breadwinner is great. My mother wasn’t the breadwinner in our family, but she was definitely the one in charge. I’ve always envisioned a life where I make most of the day-to-day decisions for my family as well as the financial decisions. Being busy is good for my psyche, and my work schedule is not such that I can’t attend occasional school field trips or cook weeknight dinners. I enjoy that balance.
My husband’s flexible schedule has been key since we don’t have family support in town. Now that the children are both in school full time, I feel less guilt about working. Summertime is hard for me, as I know they are home and that is time that we could spend together. It was also hard when they are small but my husband stayed home with the children full time from birth-18 months and that made a huge difference. The biggest challenge is staying motivated to do activities with kids on the weekend. Often, I’m tempted to do activities I enjoy such as reading or cooking.
6. B. Becoming a millionaire is a dream of many people. How did you get there?
Being a millionaire is not something I envisioned for my future, but if I had, I would have imagined lavish spending far beyond what we can do as millionaires. We buy luxury cars (no financing), but we buy them used and only after searching the internet for a good deal. I’ve had my car for 6 years with no plans to trade it in. We travel overseas 1-2 times a year, but it is typically for work so that my half is paid. All of my children’s clothes come from target or JC Penny, and neither my husband nor I have expensive hobbies.
We do splurge occasionally (i.e. my friend Jimmy Choo) and I purchased a beautiful Steinway grand piano about 4 years ago (bought used and on the internet). Probably the biggest thing that has changed since becoming a millionaire is the realization that in 10 to 15 years I may no longer need to work. Thus starts my mid-life crisis of “do I want to work for 25 more years” and if not “what in the world am I going to do?” Most likely, I will work well in to my 50s, but it is nice to know that at some point in the future, the decision to work will be my choice.
7. Have you ever experienced issues in the workforce because you’re a woman? What did you do in response?
This is topic that has commanded a lot of my thoughts lately. For years I have had patients address me as “Miss” instead of “Doctor.” Patients often appear a bit stunned when I enter the room. My practice is interesting because some days I treat patients from age 1-95. My pediatric patients and their parents rarely comment on my age or gender, but it is a topic of constant conversation with my older patients. I say that to mean that things are changing with the younger generations.
All in all, I have felt that looking younger than a doctor “should” has been more of an issue for me than being a woman, but I’m sure these go hand in hand. My older male colleagues likely save time during patient consults with less need to explain the rationale for treatments to doubting patients. But then again, I would like to think that some patients feel more comfortable asking me questions and, in that case, I consider it time well spent.
Outside of the clinic, I have been fortunate to practice in a group of physicians in which I’ve never noticed overt issues related to my gender. However, whenever I’ve branched out more towards the business side of medicine there are times when I have experienced more of a boy’s club atmosphere that I’m sure many female professionals go through everyday.
8. Chief Mom Officer is primarily a personal finance blog – tell us about your saving and investment strategy
Once I started working as an attending, I committed to maximizing savings in all the investment vehicles available at work. This includes maximum savings in my 403(b), 457(b) as well as enrolling in the high-deductible medical insurance plan at working and maxing out my healthcare savings account (HSA) at work. My husband and I also contribute to a traditional IRA each year and convert this to a Roth IRA. Including the match provided by my employer, these accounts add up to roughly $70,000 in savings each year. We typically save about $20,000-30,000 a year in our taxable account and contribute around $6,000 a year to our sons’ 529 college savings account (my employer also provides a nice tuition benefit). We opened up 529 accounts for our nieces and contribute money as part of their birthday/Christmas gifts.
While this has been my saving strategy, I also started out with a debt strategy with the goal of paying off our house and student loans within 15 years. I’m a big believer in the 15-year mortgage and never considered a 30-year loan. I also paid an extra amount on my student loans each month that would put us on a time course to pay them off in 15 years. However, as the student loans dwindled, I received some nice bonus checks and I ended up paying the student loan off in full last year. I was paying $2700/month towards the student loan and now I put that money towards the mortgage. Our mortgage will be paid off in 3 years (8 years after we purchased our home). This is a controversial approach as the home loan interest is deductible and our interest rate is only 3.25%. However, in three years I’m going to have an additional $7000/month in my pocket and I think that’s gonna feel pretty darn good.
Lastly, on my investment strategy – right out of residency I was hired along with a fellow recent graduate and we became great friends. Over lunch one day we began to discuss finances as he was thinking of getting rid of his financial advisor due to high fees. I had just started to invest and had no advisor, so we charted the course together learning all that we could about investing on our own. Some part of us figured “hey, we’re decently smart, we can probably figure this out.”
I’m here to tell you that you can! The amount we’ll save in investment fees over the life of our career and retirement will be huge. I invest in low-cost index funds and use Vanguard when I can. The overall expense ratio of my portfolio is 0.07% and if you don’t know what that means….Google it. It’s not a hard concept and makes a huge difference in the returns of your portfolio. The savings in expense ratio is not the only benefit of taking charge of your investments. Before I started this journey, any interaction I had with financial advisors started and ended with a discussion of whole life insurance.
At the time I was looking for term life insurance and disability insurance, and it’s only through sheer luck that I didn’t commit to an expensive whole life policy. In my opinion, there is no need for whole life in my portfolio, and gaining knowledge on my investment goals saved me this expensive lesson. I currently have about 75% stocks (comprised of 60% US stocks with a small cap tilt, 30% developed markets, 10% emerging markets), 20% bonds and 5% REITs. For US stock, I mainly invest in the Total US Stock Market Index (institutional shares, expense ratio 0.04% woohoo!). Additionally, I do our taxes and I consider this an important exercise in understanding one’s finances.
9. What advice would you have for someone just starting out in the workforce, struggling with their career, or just looking to improve how they handle their money?
For starting out in the workforce, I’m not kidding when I tell you that one reason I consider myself a “supertasker” (see below) is that I have NO COMMUTE. I know this isn’t feasible for everyone, but it takes me 6 minutes to bike from my front door to my office and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. It allows me to stay home a little later in the morning and see the kids, and get home in time to make dinner. If you have the ability to shorten your commute…… do it!
For those struggling in your career, I would suggest thinking about why you chose your career in the first place. I did an exercise from author Tara Mohr’s Playing Big book. You visualize visiting a future version of yourself and ask him/her “what was the most rewarding part of my career?” My answer was “teaching.” I had considered a career in teaching since I was child, and I have the chance to interact with our resident physicians everyday as their program director. However, if I had to pick what currently gets put on the back burner the most, behind patient care, research, etc…it’s teaching. I’m working on this and will admit that when I interact with my residents in meaningful ways regarding their research or clinical learning, it is so rewarding.
For those looking to improve how they handle money, I would suggest setting up an account with the free app Personal Capital. Using the app, you can put in all of your current assets and liabilities. You can actually link all of your accounts so they update automatically, but that just made me too nervous so I enter the information manually. You are then able to evaluate your net worth as well as your current investments. Next, commit to reading some books on investing. I like the White Coat Investor (written by a doctor for doctors but it contains great advice for anyone), the Four Pillars of Investing and The Bogleheads Guide to Investing.
10. Where can people connect with you?
In real life, I often find myself talking to friends/peers about taking control of their investments, but they are usually skeptical about the time commitment or skill required. One of my colleagues and I have taken the initiative each year to lecture our residents on saving for retirement. It has been really fun and has inspired me to post more formally on the topic. In addition to finances, I’m interested in travel hacking, healthy eating/cooking (i.e. plant based diet) along with discovering new music and reading and parenting …..blah blah blah the list goes on.
CMO Here Again
Thanks again to Dr. Supertasker for sharing her story! I love how she’s taken the inheritance as a mandate to get better with managing money, as opposed to looking at is as an opportunity to spend. It would be much easier to just spend it all, plus all her income, and enjoy the high-flying lifestyle that many associate with being wealthy. Instead she learned about saving and investing, lives below her means, and eliminates debt. Great job!
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