2021 Reader Survey Results: A Wealth of Information

After several suggestions to survey my readership over the years, I finally did what my wife told me I should do a few years ago. I surveyed you, the readers.

As you peruse the results, you’ll note the double entendre in the title. I knew that my audience skewed towards the wealthy side, but I did not realize the extent. You, my friends, are exceptionally good at earning and saving money.

Knowing what I now know should help me serve you better. I have a better idea of what does and does not interest you. I appreciate the constructive criticisms that I asked you for, and I’ll do my best to address a few of the most common feedback items.

I know that there is no one on earth who will be interested in everything I write, and sometimes I do need to write for the minority of you who are not yet millionaires or those who might prefer a leanFIRE future to the fatFIRE lifestyle.

Let’s dive into the results, question by question, shall we?

 

 

 

Most of the questions were multiple-choice, and those were the only questions required to be answered to complete the survey. Google Forms gives us a pretty pie chart for each of them.

There were also fill-in-the-blank questions that many or most survey respondents answered. If people are anything like me, I was worried they’d get to those and quit the survey rather than take the time to come up with their own answers, so these were optional.

Altogether, 1,510 people answered the survey before I closed it. Readers learned about the survey via email, social media, or directly on the blog post introducing the survey.

Nearly 80% of those completing the survey said that they are indeed email subscribers, so I feel this is a good representation of the Physician on FIRE readership. Below, I will use the term “reader” to mean survey respondent, and I feel the two are somewhat interchangeable.

 

Where do you live?

There is no surprise here. 97% of my readers are in the United States. We have our own tax code, tax-advantaged investment accounts, and physician reimbursement issues that are unique to the country that I have always called home.

While some international visitors will get something from most of what I publish, some of it is very specific to the U.S.

1.3% of readers (19 respondents) are Canadian, 5 are Australian, 3 are in the U.K., 2 each reside in Israel, Portugal, and Switzerland. There were 21 countries represented altogether, including Bermuda, Malaysia, and Zimbabwe, but again, the vast majority of readers are live in the U.S.A.

 

 

US residents, In which state do you live?

 

The pie chart doesn’t tell us much, but I’ll bet if I were to compare my results to the breakdown of which states are the most populous, the results would be similar. 9.6% of my readers are in California, followed by Texas at 7.3%, New York at 5.4%, and Florida at 5.3%.

Minnesota stands out as having a disproportionate number of survey takers, representing 4.1% of the total despite having just 1.7% of the U.S. population. I attribute this largely to the fact that I hail from Minnesota and lived there for most of the life of this blog. Minnesota also has a strong medical and biomedical presence with the Mayo Clinic, University of Minnesota, 3M, Medtronic, and St. Jude Medical (now Abbot Labs) all headquartered there.

 

 

 

What is your age?

Since I made this a fill-in-the-blank question, I didn’t get a pretty pie chart, so I had to make my own by moving the data to Google Sheets. The next time around, I’ll provide age ranges and make this a multiple choice question.

 

 

The range is from age 20 to 80, with one each at the extremes. The mean age is 44.4 with a median of 43 and a mode of 37 with a pretty significant spike at precisely that age.

 

That spike at 37 is fascinating to me. I believe that’s the age I reached millionaire status, or at least when I realized that I had, and in an informal survey of ESI Money’s Millionaire Mentors, 37 was by far the most common answer for when others became millionaires.

That’s also the point at which I decided I needed to be better organized with my investments and finances. It’s also around the age at which physicians might have been in practice long enough to get that 7-year itch and are no longer feeling the enthusiasm that they once did for the career. That’s a perfect time to discover Physician on FIRE.

So cheers to all of you 37-year olds who are following along. I hope you’re finding the answers you’re looking for!

 

Physician-on-FIRE-survey-results-019

 

 

What is your marital status?

Given the ages and income (that info is coming soon) of most readers, I’m not surprised to learn that 83% of you are married. Another 13.4% of you are single, and 2% are engaged.

Those were the 3 options that I gave, but there was a 4th fill-in-the-blank option that a few of you filled in. Most that did so either said they were partnered in a long-term relationship or divorced. I guess I figured that divorced people would identify as either single or (re)married, but that was not the case for everyone.

 

 

 

Your gender identity?

In the last couple of years, more and more forms have included more than two options for gender, so I followed suit in this survey. I learned that 68.6% of readers are men, 31.2% are women, and 3 readers selected the non-binary / other option.

In the feedback section further down in the survey, I got this comment, and I wonder if it at least partially provoked by the inclusion of a 3rd option in this gender question. “I personally could do without the social commentary. It’s great that you’re woke but the PC qualifiers detract from your writing.”

I found that to be intriguing because I don’t provide much in the way of social commentary. There is the rare moment like when my former hometown was burning as the epicenter of a major cultural event that seems too big to ignore, and ignoring such movements can also be upsetting to readers. I learned long ago that I can’t please everyone, but as a people-pleaser by nature, I do my best not to be too controversial. I’m a live-and-let-live kind of guy for the most part.

Anyway, the audience definitely skews male, and as a man myself, I write from a male point-of-view, so I can’t say that this revelation is all that surprising. I’d like for everyone to find something of value here, and I believe my investing and tax advice is gender-neutral.

 

 

What is your primary profession?

More than half of you are medical doctors, with 57% of readers telling me they’re physicians. Again, not surprising. I’m writing from the perspective of an anesthesiologist.

When including other healthcare professionals, we’re up over 70%, and just under 30% are in non-healthcare professions. Most of you who fall into that latter category have physician-like incomes, as we’ll see below.

 

 

Do you believe you’ve experienced career burnout at some point?

Just about two-thirds of readers have dealt with career burnout. Only 17.4% responded that they haven’t possibly experienced burnout at some point in their careers.

This makes sense to me. A site that shows you how to better handle your finances in a way that leads to a work-optional status of financial independence would attract people that have been disillusioned by their careers at one time or another.

Fortunately, most of you have recovered. I recommend a combination of strong saving and targeted spending as a financial component of burnout prevention or treatment.

 

 

 

Are you currently experiencing career burnout?

While two-thirds have experienced some burnout, just over a quarter of you are currently experiencing career burnout.

With some surveys showing close to half of doctors displaying symptoms of burnout, I’m not surprised to see nearly half of my readers (doctors and other high-income professionals) either possibly or definitely dealing with it.

I do address the issue occasionally on this site, but The Physician Philosopher has more and better content on the subject of physician burnout.

 

What is your household income?

OK, financial voyeurs, this is the part where I start to show you the money!

How much are you earning? Over 92% have at least six-figures in household income. I’d be willing to bet that most of the 7.4% earning five figures or less are students and residents.

Breaking down the six-figure households, about 42% are earning between $250,000 and $500,000. 23% earn between $500,000 and $1,000,000 a year, and 23% and between $100,000 and $250,000.

Nearly 5% of you are bringing in 7 figures in household income annually.

 

Approximate Annual Household Spending

You’re earning a lot. Are you spending a lot?

Nearly 90% of you are spending less than $200,000 a year. 45% of readers report spending under $100,000 a year, and nearly 10% are spending less than $50,000. I assume there’s a strong overlap between those earning under $100,000 and spending under $50,000 a year.

One 1% of you spend $400,000+ per year, and I wouldn’t be shocked to learn that charitable giving makes up a decent chunk of that annual “spend.”

When you compare the household earning numbers with the household spending numbers, you can see that PoF readers as a whole are making excellent progress towards financial independence. I recommend living on half of take-home pay if you have the income to do so, and it appears that many of you are making that happen.

 

 

Do you consider yourself to be financially independent (i.e. you could maintain your desired standard of living indefinitely without earned income)?

More than a third of you are now FI. You’re here for the post-FI content. I love that. The other 64% may not yet be FI, but most of you appear to be well on your way.

 

 

What would you like your household net worth to be (in 2021 dollars) before retirement (or what was it when you retired)?

This question is seeking out that FI number. It’s a roughly 60% / 40% split if you use $5,000,000 as the benchmark, with a majority of you eyeing a net worth under the $5,000,000 mark.

2% of readers could be FI with a six-figure sum, and I’m guessing that’s a subset of our young and single cohort. More than 10% of you, on the other hand, are looking for eight figures to be fully financially independent. #fatFIRE

 

 

At what age would you like to retire (or did you retire)?

The RE in Physician on FIRE stands for Retire Early. So, is that the plan?

Fewer than 8% want to retire at age 65 and above.

Nearly three quarters are interested in retiring before age 60. The 50s seem to be the most likely age, which is definitely still early for my readers, most of whom have extensive education and training before starting careers in their late 20s to mid-30s in many cases.

20% of you would like to retire in your 40s as I did, and just under 2% are hoping to do so (or have done so) in their 30s.

 

 

 

Approximate Current Household Net Worth?

When I said a “Wealth of Information,” I was also referring to the riches you’ve all accumulated. This is impressive!

The pie looks a bit like a Trivial Pursuit gamepiece with the slices somewhat evenly distributed.

Breaking it down, we have 4% of you with a negative net worth, very likely related to student loan debt.

Approximately three quarters of you can be considered millionaires, and most of these are multimillionaires. Overall, 52% of readers report a household net worth of at least $2 Million. Over 30% have more than $3,000,000. 18% report more than $5,000,000, with 4% overall having an 8-figure net worth.

Bravo!

 

 

I've got my 2 acres of non-leveraged, crop-producing, cashflowing farmland via AcreTrader. Get yours.

 

How often do you visit physicianonfire.com?

My goal was to feature my regular readers, and this question shows that I’ve done that. I asked that the survey only be filled out by people who were at least casual readers, which I defined as visiting the site at least a few times a year.

Nearly 85% of respondents visit at least monthly, with about two thirds visiting at least weekly.

 

 

How do you prefer to consume personal finance content?

Since this is a written blog that doesn’t exist in any other format, it makes sense that many of you prefer to get your personal finance content by reading.

I don’t have a podcast or YouTube channel, and based on the survey results, if I were to start either one, it looks like you’d be more receptive to hearing me than seeing me. That’s understandable.

 

 

 

Blogs you read not called Physician on FIRE

It was interesting to see what else you’re all reading. The vast majority of the answers were blogs that I’m very familiar with. The blogs that I’m affiliated with (WCI, PIMD, TPP) were named often, many other physician blogs got at least a few mentions, and many of the other sites listed have been featured regularly in my Sunday Best series.

All of the popular FIRE blogs showed up, and a few of the more obscure ones, too. There were some sites that I’ve never heard of (The Non-Consumer Advocate, Smitten Kitchen, Gilder’s Daily Prophecy), some others that I need to check out, and at least one that will never, ever appeal to me (Iowa Football Blogs).

 

Favorite Podcasts

Although you don’t list podcasts as your preferred source of personal finance content, more than half of you weighed in with a podcast or three. In alphabetical order, podcasts that were mentioned a decent number of times:

  • Afford Anything
  • Animal Spirits
  • Bigger Pockets
  • Bogleheads
  • Choose FI
  • Clark Howard
  • Coach Carson
  • Earn and Invest
  • Financial Residency
  • Freakonomics
  • How I Built This
  • Joe Rogan Experience
  • Mad Fientest
  • Millionaires Unveiled
  • Money Meets Medicine
  • Passive Income MD
  • Pivot
  • Planet Money
  • Retirement Answer Man
  • Stacking Benjamins
  • The Daily
  • This American Life
  • Tim Ferris
  • Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me
  • White Coat Investor
  • Your Money Your Wealth

Physician on FIRE got at least three mentions, which is interesting given that I have no podcast. I have, however, been a guest of dozens of different podcasts, so if you’ve heard my voice more than a few times, it might seem like I’ve got a show of my own.

Thank you all for the recommendations. If I had a commute, I might listen to podcasts more, but alas…

 

Do you belong to either of Physician on FIRE’s Facebook groups?

Here’s an opportunity.

Nearly 28% of you use Facebook, but are not in either of my wonderful Facebook Groups, even though there’s a group for everyone.

I started Physicians on FIRE to be a group exclusively for medical doctors to discuss financial topics, and some four and a half years later, we’re over 25,000 physicians strong. If you’re an MD, DO, or foreign equivalent, join us here at Physicians on FIRE for some great conversation and the ability to post anonymously to get answers to your questions without personal judgment.

I felt bad having to reject so many readers from my doctors-only group, so very shortly after starting the Physicians on FIRE group, I started the fatFIRE group. We’ve got FIRE-minded people in all sorts of high-paying jobs there, and the conversations are lively. Anyone interested in discussing financial topics from a higher-budget frame of reference is welcome to join the 18,000+ members in the fatFIRE group.

I’d like to give a grateful shoutout to the volunteer moderators that help both groups run smoothly and to the 99% of members that give me and the moderators very little work to do. To the other 1%, knock it off, already!

 

Your favorite money quote:

This was fun. Over 600 quotes came in. Note that I haven’t verified these, so there may be some paraphrasing or misattribution among these. A few that stand out for their content or number of mentions:

“A penny saved is a penny earned.” -Ben Franklin

“Don’t look for the needle in the haystack. Just buy the haystack.” -Jack Bogle

“If you don’t find a way to make money while you sleep, you will work until you die.” -Warren Buffet

“Wealth is what you don’t see” – Morgan Housel

“You own the things you own and they in turn own you.” – JL Collins

“You can afford anything, but not everything.”- Paula Pant

All models are wrong, some are useful.”

“Cash rules errythang around me.” -Wu Tang Clan

“Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pound ought and six, result misery.” -Charles Dickens

“Compound interest is the eighth wonder of the world. He who understands it, earns it… He who doesn’t… pays it.” -Albert Einstein [PoF: I don’t know that this one has been verified, but it is often attributed to Einstein.]

“When we’re on vacation, we’re working at playing. We get away from the routine, have new experiences, and socialize. However, it can also turn into a military mission order: Drive that highway. Fish that lake. Hike those mountains. Occupy that beach. It’s not a time for thoughtful contemplation– it’s turned into a time for going places and doing things. … We’ve planned most of our life around work. We do a lot of work, whether it’s productive or not. But when do we get around to planning our life?” Doug Nordman in The Military Guide to Financial Independence and Retirement.

“It’s not how much you earn, it’s how much you keep.”

“It’s not timing the market, it’s time in the market.” [PoF: Several variations of this one.]

“Live Like a Resident.” -Dr. Jim Dahle

“Money is a terrible master but an excellent servant.” –P.T. Barnum

“No one cares about your money more than you.”

“Those who understand interest earn it, those who don’t pay it.”

“We simply attempt to be fearful when others are greedy and to be greedy only when others are fearful.” – Warren Buffet

“When you have won the game–quit playing.” Dr. William Bernstein [PoF: I respectfully disagree.]

 

 

What do you like most about physicianonfire.com?

To be better mentally prepared to hear about what you don’t like, I first asked for some positive feedback. Thankfully, you gave me lots of it!

You love the Sunday Best. My writing is relatable and easy to read. I got kudos for a lack of BS, a focus on physicians and fatFIRE, and practicality.

I was pleased to see words like honesty, integrity, and transparency come up more than a few times. I strive to embody these values in my work here. Humor and humility were also mentioned and appreciated.

My favorite label from the list might be “Good-heartedness (or the appearance thereof). I appreciate you, reader, for giving me the benefit of the doubt while still retaining a smidgeon of that doubt, just in case I might actually be Bad-hearted.

 

How can I better serve you? (your #1 complaint, feedback, or recommendation)

These are the most challenging words for me to read, but also the most useful.

For those of you who said “all good,” can’t think of anything,” and “keep doing what you’re doing,” which is a bunch of you, I appreciate the kind words. They’re useful for stroking my ego, but not so much for improving the blog.

I’ll include a few comments from the 500 or so that did chime in with some suggestions and constructive criticism, along with my thoughts on the matter.

 

  • “A group for people who have fired” [PoF: A post-FIRE Facebook group is not a bad idea, actually. The focus would be very different from the two groups I have, where most of the discussion is based around pre-FIRE issues.]

 

  • “Although PoF is geared toward the medical profession, I’d like to see more articles for subscribers like me not in the medical profession that are interested in FI.” [PoF: Knowing that over 40% of my audience consists of non-physicians, I try to put out content that appeals to anyone with physician-like income, while at times catering specifically to physicians.]

 

  • “Am I able to turn off the frequent emails and just get the Sunday wrap up?” [PoF: Yes — you can subscribe to the weekly Digest, which comes out each Tuesday and has links to the previous week’s posts, including the Sunday Best.]

 

 

  • “Content for those on the lower spectrum of the high income earners. I am a veterinarian with a low income compared to the MD world (~$250,000)” [PoF: That seems really solid for a veterinarian and as good or better than many primary care physicians. That said, I’ve done posts like this case report and the 4 Primary Care Physicians post that speak to the “lower income” high-income professionals.]

 

  • “Less credit card stuff. C’mon man, you make too much to dicker with cards.” [PoF: I don’t know that I’ll ever make too much to not want to “dicker” with credit cards to get at least a few thousand dollars in free travel annually. More importantly, it’s not about me, but about the 64% of you that are not yet FI. I want everyone to travel in style and still make progress toward their financial goals. Also, credit card referrals do pay well. By monetizing the blog, I’ve been able to donate several hundred thousand dollars from online profits over the years. #transparency]

 

  • “Let’s discuss over a beer at Petoskey Brewing.” [PoF: My son’s getting a “free” gingival autograft, which is anything but free, across the street from the taproom next month. You don’t have any issues with breakfast beers, do you?]

 

  • “More topics that appeal to the less affluent” [PoF: At the risk of sounding elitist, I think the appeal of my site is that fact that I don’t do much of that. There are literally hundreds of sites and brands that already do that and do it well.]

 

  • “Please don’t repost from your partner sites, just post your own content.” [PoF: Part of our agreement with one another is to promote the partner sites, and the best way we’ve found to do that is to share each others’ work. Often, their syndicated posts on my site are just as widely read and shared as original work that I put many hours into. Still, moving away from that arrangement could be a future consideration.]

 

  • “Setup some live meetups.” [PoF: I’d love to do more of this! There were a few of these casual meetups pre-COVID, and there will definitely be more post-COVID. Perhaps I’ll arrange something more formal than a random happy hour.]

 

  • “Sometimes tax info isn’t relevant for Aussie audience, but that’s my problem, not yours.” [PoF: Let’s put another shrimp on the barbie! [shotguns a Foster’s oil can] ]

 

  • “Stop selling.” [PoF: Start buying.]

 

Alright, I’m getting a little punchy here. One more.

 

  • “I wish there were more case studies, similar to ESI money.” [PoF: Your wish is my command. We’ve now got three new Q&A series, and I encourage you to join in on the fun!]

 

 

What topic(s) would you like to see covered in future blog posts?

Thank you to all who gave me fodder for future posts. I will look to this well when I am in need of ideas.

With about a third of my audience being post-FI, there were quite a few requests for content specific to making that transition, being happy in retirement, withdrawal strategies, etc… I have published several posts outlining withdrawal strategies, including one quite recently:

 

This will also be the focus of the talk I’ll be giving in person at the upcoming WCICon22 in Phoenix next February.

There were many other suggestions, and I will do my best to accommodate them in the coming months and years. Anything tax-related will have to wait until we know what to expect from the tax code in 2022. I know we can expect significant changes, and it appears I may not be updating the Backdoor Roth post for 2022 as it might not be an option any longer.

 

 

Are you an email subscriber?

Most of the people who took the survey also receive my emails. If you don’t, and you would like to, you can subscribe here.

Every email I send has an option to “downgrade” to a weekly digest, although some of you obviously consider that to be an upgrade. I know the frequent emails can be a bit much, but some people prefer them. You can sign up directly for the once-a-week email here.

 

 

 

Would you like to be entered into a drawing for the $100 Amazon card and virtual Happy Hour with Leif (a.k.a. PoF)?

Just over one thousand said yes and provided an email address, but only one could win, and that was Dr. Chiu who was picked by Google’s random number generator.

We had a nice chat for an hour with tasty beers in our glasses. He represented readers well, and I was happy to see that he and his wife are well on their way to meeting their goals.

I look forward to raising a glass with one of you with a follow-up survey in the next year or two!

 

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What’s the most surprising or interesting thing you learned about Physician on FIRE readers today?

 

5 thoughts on “2021 Reader Survey Results: A Wealth of Information”

  1. On the comment of the “less affluent,” as a reader on the lower end of the FatFIRE spectrum, I like your blog because you post from your experience of being more on that range as well. I feel you are in the middle ground between between chooseFI and financial samurai. So I’d say for the “less affluent” keep on publishing personal topics.

    Reply
    • My spending habits tend to align well with the “less affluent,” but I can also identify with the net worth of some of my more affluent readers. I write about what I know based on the life I’ve led and what’s ahead. I suppose it’s a good mix that leads to content many high-income professionals can relate to.

      Cheers!
      -PoF

      Reply
  2. Subscribe to get more great content like this, an awesome spreadsheet, and more!
  3. Interesting results, thanks for the info. While taking the survey, I was pleasantly surprised by the non binary gender option. Supporting people to be represented for who they are is an inclusive behavior. Thank you for doing so

    Reply
  4. While I don’t fit the mold exactly (not a doctor, not a super-high income earner in my day job – though I do have a bunch of entrepreneurial and passive income streams that are starting to add up), I still enjoy the community and fatFire mindset around here. Keep up the good work!

    Reply

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