Christopher Guest Post: Dads Dollars and Debts

He’s a Dad. He earns Dollars. He’s conquering Debt. He is… Dads Dollars Debts!

EJ also happens to be a cardiologist with an interest in financial independence. He settled down in a high cost of living area, bought a million dollar home, and promptly had it burn to the ground after a harrowing middle-of-the-night evacuation.

His interest in minimalism promptly became a forced reality, and one of the first things he picked up after the disaster was a new laptop so he could continue to share his story with the online community.

We’ve been communicating back and forth for the last year, and I have a standing invitation to join him for happy hour at Russian River brewing — an event I partook in just a few months before I realized I had another friend there. Until next time…

 

What’s a Christopher Guest post?

 

Inspired by Nigel Tufnel, the character portrayed by Christopher Guest in Spinal Tap, I took Mr. 1500’s ten questions, and amped them up to eleven.

 

If you’re not familiar with the scene, take 50 seconds to watch this video and enjoy the dialog between Nigel and Rob Reiner.

 

I decided I’d start a Q&A of my own. Not satisfied with just ten questions, “this one goes to eleven”. Just like Nigel’s amplifiers.

 

 

What is your specialty or subspecialty and why did you choose it? If you could turn back time, would you choose to practice medicine and choose the same specialty? Why?

I am a heart doctor…aka Cardiologist. I break the hearts and then I mend the hearts …oof… my wife is going to make fun of me for that one.

I ended up as a Cardiologist through my friends. You know they say you are who you know and back in medical school I knew a lot of cardiology fellows. They were kind enough to take me under their wings. I would eat lunch with them, do research with them, round with them, and drink with them. They were just really cool. So it made sense that I would end up becoming a cardiologist.

I also thought it would be cool to shock people like I see doctors doing on tv…for the record, it is cool.

I did briefly toy with the idea of being a Urologist, but after watching my brother go through a year of general surgery internship, I knew it was not for me.

If I could go back in time now…well I would probably pick a field with no patient message in-box. While I think the message basket improves quality of care, it still is a pain to deal with. After a weekend off, I will come back to an inbox full of message. Pathology or radiology sound good. Though after reading the Happy Philosopher’s experience working full time, I am less convinced about radiology.

Pathology it is. Though I failed my first histology exam in medical school…so maybe I should just stick with Cardiology.

[PoF: Shocking people, er… I mean… cardioverting people is pretty darned cool. I’m involved in those pretty regularly since most cardiologists prefer the properties of our propofol to the results they get with your standard versed and fentanyl routine.

I’d say you chose wisely, even if it is a long path to become a cardiologist. If a full internal medicine residency was not a prerequisite, I might have considered the field.]

 

Non-Physicians: What do you do (or did you do) for a living? What do you like best about your job? If you were a physician, what type of a physician do you think you would be? Why?

If I was a non-physician, I would want to be an astronaut. Is that okay to say? I actually interviewed as a finalist in 2009 and 2013, but was not picked in either class. Alas, a person can dream right?

Maybe I should have been a Flight surgeon or a doctor with a focus on Space Medicine. Yes, that is what I want to do. I take what I said above all back. Make me a Space Medicine doc, join the reserves as a flight surgeon, apply to be an astronaut, and then go to space. Bam! Mind blown. No early retirement needed as I will be drifting around orbit and living in the Space Station is kind of like living in an RV.

[PoF: Awesome. No one has ever answered both versions of question #1, but I’m completely thrilled that you did. You were interviewed as a finalist to be an astronaut not once, but twice? Outstanding. Brandon the Mad Fientist applied, but I don’t think his application ever got off the ground, so to speak.]

 

Describe your blog and tell us why your blog would appeal to a physician seeking FIRE in eleven sentences.

I started my blog as a dad who was trying to get his financial house in order so I can focus on my family. That being said, I was a doctor before being a dad. So the doctoring part permeates every bit of my thinking and being, but does not define me. So I write about doctoring too, which should interest physicians.

I am seeking FIRE; you can too. My blog is not just about FIRE though, it is about finding contentment now. Being able to find that work-life balance whether it means working part-time or seeking FIRE. So if you want to hear from another doctor about how to live moderately, while seeking a balance in life, then check out my site.

Be happy!

Live moderately!

Seek financial independence to give future you choices!

[PoF: Good plan. Past you will thank present you. Or is it future you? Is future you an astronaut, floating around without care in the vastness of space? Well, without care except for the need for oxygen and the tether to not break?]

 

What inspired you to start a blog of your own? Was there a particular event you remember that made you feel your blog had arrived? Any big plans for your blog in the future?

I had been thinking about starting a blog for about 3 years. I had read White Coat Investor, Financial Samurai, and Mr. Money Mustache regularly and was moved by their recommendations and personal stories.

So for 3 years I would have coffee with one of my colleagues, discuss my thoughts about Financial Independence and general life philosophy. I wanted to start a blog that entire time but never was motivated (or maybe secure enough) to do it. Finally, one day I told myself to just start. What’s the worst that will happen?

At worst I could have spent $100 bucks trying something new. That is the worst outcome.

I am not sure I have arrived yet. Guest posting on your site and White Coat Investor’s site was pretty cool. The other day my cousin read an article on Kevin MD I had written and thought it was pretty good. He then looked at the author and realized it was me. So having a family member accidentally read your stuff and think it is good is also cool.

I am going to keep writing Wednesdays and Saturdays. Hopefully my viewers will keep coming back and enjoy what I have to say. Other than that, I have no big blog news. Just keep on trucking as they say. Much like investing, slow and steady often wins the race.

[PoF: You let this idea simmer for 3 years? Dang.

I credit MMM and WCI as my main inspirations, but I also discovered the venerable  Financial Samurai before I launched a blog of my own. I think there’s plenty of room for new and different voices in this space as long as they have something unique to offer.

From what I’ve read, I believe that you’ve got that. If you had only started a couple years earlier, I’d probably be answering a Q&A on your site.

If you do start one, I’m game. These are my favorite kind of posts to write. I had so much fun filling out Mr. 1500’s questions, that I was compelled to start a similar series. With his permission of course; Mr. 1500 was my first guest, and he knocked it out of the park.]

 

Give me eleven posts you think Physician on FIRE readers might want to read.
  1. Work for freedom
  2. Setting up a revocable living trust with LegalZoom
  3. Saying no to doctoring
  4. Why financial freedom?
  5. Moderatism versus Minimalism
  6. Sunk cost fallacy
  7. Entropy: Nothing is permanent
  8. Debt is the great equalizer
  9. Embracing contentment
  10. Being in private practice makes me a better doctor
  11. Paying off debts as asset protection

[PoF: The sunk cost fallacy is a huge one for physicians to both understand and psychologically overcome. It does no good to look back on what you’ve done to be where you are at this precise moment; you need to evaluate your life and options from this moment forward.

That is extraordinarily difficult to do when you’ve been through what we’ve been through.

That post on private practice sounds provocative. Are you just trying to anger up the blood of your academic compadres?]

 

At what age are you most likely to retire (or at what age did you retire) from full-time work? What are you doing to help realize your retirement target?

The earliest I can imagine retiring is age 48. That is 11 years from now. Though I plan on going part time sooner. Likely in 2019 (age 39) I will go down to 90% and by 2022 (age 42) down to 80%. Then I will ride it out until I am at vested in my pension as explained in my drawdown strategy.




The other option is to drop down to 60% work at some point (3 days a week is not too bad) and work until I am qualified for full early retirement at age 60. If the job is good, then I will keep working and enjoy the fruits of my labor.

As for short and long term goals to realize my retirement target, I am paying down debt and saving money. I do live in an expensive house with a beautiful sunset view. I am going to stay put for now, but if I decide to retire early, I will likely sell it and buy a smaller property for cash.

[PoF: It pains me to read about your beautiful house, because I know this was written before your life was turned upside down by the Tubbs fire.

I’ve said it many times, but I will reiterate the fact that I am thankful to have been clueless to the whole concept of financial independence until I had set enough aside to have it.

Having dropped to part time work at 60% of my previous pace, I can tell you that it does make the work / life / blog balance much more manageable. In three days, we’re heading out on a three-week family Spanish immersion adventure. No way that would have been possible with a full time job. I hope you’re able to pull it off!]

 

What does an ideal retirement look like for you? What will you do with your time when full-time work is in your rearview mirror?

The first thing I want to see in my rearview is my house. [PoF: check!] I fantasize buying an RV and driving around the country for at least a year. Visiting national parks, hiking, visiting family and friends all over this great land.

After that I suppose I will audit some classes at the local community college and maybe get into wine making (I do, after all, live in wine country).

I imagine living January though April in New Orleans and then coming back to Northern California for the rest of the year. I would have the best of both worlds. The parties and festivals of NOLA and the nice weather of Cali. I think buying 2 condos or small homes would make this feasible.

[PoF: If my wife’s browser history is any indication, an RV is in our near future, too. I think she spends more time on RVtrader.com than I do on this stie!

I’ve spent many a New Year’s Eve  on Bourbon Street, and braved the crowds for Mardi Gras one time, but I think I got all that out of my system. I still do love the city for the architecture and history, but I’m not sure I’d want to spend extended time in New Orleans.

If you’d rather learn to make beer and not wine, I know a guy. ;)]

 

pat obriens new orleans

 

I’ll give you eleven sentences to dish out advice to a young physician. Any and all advice is welcome. We talk about personal finance, so money is fair game, but if you have advice on being a better doctor, a better parent / spouse / friend / human, we’re all ears.

Start saving money in medical school and definitely by residency. You may burnout sooner then you expect, so it is good to be financially able to step away if needed.

Self-care is the best care. Often we our so deeply involved in taking care of our patients that we forget to take care of ourselves and our families. If we take the time to protect ourselves then everyone will benefit. Your family will be happier and more patient with you, your patient’s will receive higher quality care, and you will be content and less likely to burn out.

Think long and hard before buying a home in residency, fellowship, or even your first job. I did not follow this advice and while I did not lose large amounts of money, it did tie up capital that I could have invested, time I spent fixing things, and stress about managing and selling a home. There is a beauty in renting and having no real commitment to the home you are living in. You can focus more on training and learning to be a good doctor.

Try to learn as much as you can in training because it does not get easier when you get out.

[PoF: This interview, written well before the Tubbs fire, is a fascinating read after the fact. Great advice all around, EJ.]

 

You’ve got eleven days to visit anyplace in the world with an $11,000 budget. Where do you go and what do you do?

Eleven days. My next continent to visit is Africa, so I would fly a red eye in and spend the 11 days visiting various countries. I would plan on seeing Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania and going on a dry Safari. Seeing a volcanic lake would be pretty amazing too.  Mount Nyiragongo which rises hundreds of meters above Goma in the Democratic Republic of Congo would be one such lake. So those are 3 pretty big things to want to do.

I imagine we could do it well under $11k. The airfare would be the biggest issue. We don’t mind staying in hostels. Even with a young child we could get a private room for cheaper than in a hotel.

[Way to stretch that travel budget! Go big or go home, I guess. Use some travel rewards bonuses for the airfare and you could probably spring for the hotel, too (or use points for the lodging, too!

I’d like to get to Africa at some point, but I don’t do well with shots. Or animals twenty times my size. :)]

 

Name eleven beverages you enjoy. You can be as general or specific as you like.

The Good

  1. Coffee. Start my day with it every day.
  2. Tea. Preferably Persian Black Tea, but I will have a glass of camomile or green tea at night.
  3. Water. I really don’t drink sodas or juices so I end up drinking a lot of water

The Bad

  1. Whiskey. Nothing like a good glass of whiskey neat. I am currently partaking in a bottle of Tullamore DEW. [PoF: That sounds neat!]
  2. Red wine. There is no shortage of this where I live. My current favorite is Russian River Vineyards.
  3. Beer. I typically only drink local beer. There is a lot to choose from here in Northern California. [PoF: I managed to visit all 3 of these last year]
    1. The Bear Republic: Racer 5
    2. Lagunitas Brewing Company: A Little Sumpin’ Extra
    3. Russian River Brewing Company: Blind Pig I.P.A. Yes, the Russian River is down the street from me and yes I enjoy their beer, but I save it for special occasions with friends and family
  4. Moscow Mule. It is simple and easy to make. Personally, I am not good at making cocktails, but will seek out cocktails when I go to restaurants. I will start with the moscow mule (preferably in a non-poisonous copper mug) and work my way through some other cocktails, always with a designated drive on hand (thanks Uber and Lyft).

 

bear republic sample platter

pof visits bear republic

 

The ugly

  1. Dough. I grew up drinking this delicious (or weird) yogurt drink. I prefer the carbonated kind that you can by from the stores. I will drink this any time I have the chance.
  2. Mate. I enjoyed this throughly in Argentina. It is a tea like beverage that is shared with a group through a single cup called a gourd and sipped through a straw named a bombilla. Once you get over the sharing of group germs, it is quite the social experience. Honestly I have not had much of this recently, but in 2012 it was my go-to drink. Makes me want to  go have some right now.

 

 

Now, eleven foods.
  1. Hamburgers…with bacon and blue cheese. While I can make a hamburger easily at home, I am always suckered into buying one at restaurants. I am curious to see how delicious they can make this staple.
  2. Persian Kobideh Kabob with basmati rice and grilled peppers and tomatoes. A Sunday staple at our house.
  3. Pizza. Man, I love pizza. Preferably meat lovers though a prosciutto and fig pizza can be quite delicious. One of the worst part about our move in 2016 is that we have not found a delicious pizza place in our new town yet.
  4. Ghormeh Sabzi. This is my favorite Persian dishes of all the persian dishes out there. Eat it with some rice and plain yogurt and there is nothing more comforting…
  5. Well, except for mac and cheese. Mac and cheese is very comforting and outside of hamburgers, I will often go for a good looking mac and cheese meal at a restaurant.
  6. Seafood Paella. A delicious mix of rice and seafood with delicious flavoring. I have never made this for myself, but my brother-in-law puts a pretty spectacular version together.
  7.  Lamb. I will eat lamb in any form, flavor, shape. There is something quite rich and succulent about this meat. The best is slowly roasted over an open flame as they do in the country side in Argentina.
  8. Fried chicken. Not one for the cardiologist to be recommending, but give me some good fried chicken any day. If you ever have the chance to be in Memphis go to Gus’s Fried Chicken. It is the best fried chicken around.
  9. Bar-B-Que, preferably pork to beef. My favorite spot is in Memphis also. It is called Central Bar-B-Que. Get the full rack of ribs, dry. Thank me later.
  10. Crawfish. While they can be a pain to eat, it is an experience. A good crawfish boil in March or April in New Orleans with a cold beer is the perfect way to spend an afternoon. I prefer the sausage and potatoes to the corn found in the boil, but to each their own.
  11. Chocolate cake. It has to be moist and fresh, preferably with a chocolate ganache.

Man, that was fun. I do like to eat and am now very hungry.

[PoF: Yeah, I’m hungry, too! But I need to let the beer settle before I can eat. The last section made me so thirsty, I couldn’t resist!]

 


You’re still not using Personal Capital? Track all your accounts in one place like I do.


 

How did you first learn about PhysicianonFIRE.com? What one piece of advice do you have for me? 

You know, I am not quite sure. I stumbled upon this site some time in the last year and have been reading it since…Maybe it was through the White Coat Investor or some random Google search.

As for advice, hmm…I am not sure how much you work out, but as a Cardiologist I recommend 20-30 minutes of moderate activity. You should be able to speak in sentences, but not full paragraphs. That is moderate activity. It will help you live a long happy retired life. Also, lift some weights and stretch. Please stretch. None of us stretch as we get older and it messes us up majorly. So stay healthy, my friend. We have a long ride ahead of us.

[PoF: Have to be able to write. In full sentences. Before I can. Speak in full sentences.

Sorry, I was just getting a little exercise in. It was great to get to know you, better, EJ, and I encourage my readers to pay him a visit over at Dads Dollars Debts.

Interested in hearing how other top personal finance blogger have answered these questions? Check out the following Christopher Guest Posts:

35 comments

  • Great post… I didn’t wait three years but I did mull over blogging for a full year myself. Analysis paralysis

    And I’ve been on a wicked Moscow Mule kick for over 6 months now. It’s my happy time!

  • Dude, you were almost an astronaut!? Dads Dollars Debts in Deep Space, hehe.

    I just read a nice review of a trip to Mount Nyiragongo (https://www.neverendingfootsteps.com/hiking-mount-nyiragongo-drc), and promptly added it to my bucket list. It sounds amazing, but the author advised not reading any safety news about the DRC before you leave. 🙂

    I don’t know where The Happy Philosopher works, but I must say that my radiology practice is pretty sweet. There is a lot to be said for shift work and lack of direct patient contact.

    Good luck with your continued recovery from the fire!

    • Reading safety information seems like a bad idea…or does it? I am not sure how safe the DRC is these days, but prior to heading that way I will definitely be reading a lot of safety info.

      My dad was a radiologist. I wish he had steered me down that path. Then again, being a cardiologist is like part time radiology reading echoes, CTs, and nuclear scans. It is the other part that is taxing (call, clinic, in baskets).

  • Wow I’m impressed that you made it to the astronauts finals. Will you apply again sometime in the future ?

    If you ever make it, make sure you record yourself and give a shoutout to the personal finance community. We would go viral overnight 😀😀😀

    I also like your travel plans. I eventually want to visit all continents hopefully within the next 5-7 years.

    And please keep us updated on the fire/home situation.

    • I will apply again and keep applying until I am in my mid 50s. Luckily my wife has been supportive all along. Though as I get older I am not sure what my chances are. I suspect they are going down every year.

      Mark Vande Hei (@astro_sabot) found on twitter interviewed with me in 2008 at a slightly older age and he is currently in space. So he gives me hope!

  • These are always a fun read and it’s interesting to hear how people get into medicine… it’s as casual as any other field. Oh I knew cardiologists… so I became a cardiologist! No big deal haha.

  • I also let the idea of starting a blog simmer for 2-3 years!!!

    And as a former California resident, just the mention of Bear Republic Racer 5 and Lagunitas Little Sumpin’ has my mouth watering 😉

  • Pingback: Christopher Guest Post- Physician on Fire - Dads Dollars Debts

  • My wife asked me to pick up bread and booze last night. Racer 5 was on that run and we had some when I got home…those beers are delicious.

  • hatton1

    Interesting post. I live in a city where lots of people work in the space industry. When I was growing up and NASA test fired the big Saturn 5 rockets that powered the Apollo program the whole town would shake. Still want to go into space?
    Sorry about your house and I hope the insurance is smooth and the rebuild also.

  • GYM

    This was a great read 🙂 that’s so cool that you almost became an astronaut! Hopefully you’ll get in, in the next round.

    I went to Mt Kilimanjaro 3 years ago and it was amazing! The glacier there is melting so I recommend going sooner rather than later. When your child is a bit older it would be a great educational trip too- a real safari with animals that we learn about all the time as kids!

    It must be a bit frustrating as a cardiologist, do you deal with a lot of noncompliance with lifestyle modifications from patients? (Since it’s so hard to change habits for a lot of people)

    • Thanks! Ah I hope we can get to Mt Kilimanjaro some time in the near future.

      Oh man and a real safari would be awesome. We have a place called Safari West here in Santa Rosa. It luckily did not burn with the fire. They have elephants and giraffes, so pretty cool.

      As far as non-compliance, I do deal with a lot of it. I tell people that I am there to advise them and not force change. So I will be here to help them through the tough times and the good. I will give them advice and encouragement but I will never chastise them.

  • The space thing definitely adds a whole new dimension to my perception of you DDD. How has your wife reacted to that interest? How old where you when you last where a finalist? What were the late selection stages like?

    Almost 16 years ago my first job in person interviews out of college was around writing navigation software for the shuttle. I didn’t get the job, but it did allow me a brief behind the curtain view at that culture. I found it fascinating.

    • Navigation software for the Shuttle! That would have been awesome. It definitely is a fascinating place and I am fortunate to have astronauts as friends.

      I applied when my wife and I first met in 2007. She was supportive then and the other 2 times I have applied. She said she will keep supporting me because the chances of actually getting picked are slim. I was a finalist at age 28 and age 32. I applied again last year at age 36 with no luck. My friend got picked at 39 but he was military and actually worked at JSC.

  • Arrgo

    I’m not in the medical field but really into reading FIRE blogs etc. Your blog sounds good and I will check it out. I really like reading other peoples ideas and philosophies. Maybe I’ll even pick up a few health tips too.

  • I think your advice to young doctors is bang on – was just having that exact conversation with some residents here yesterday.

    I am an intensivist, so I have chunks of work on and chunks off. I also live in Canada and the southern US climate is a real attraction this time of year. I bought a used diesel pusher motorhome a couple years ago, renovated it, and we now use it for travel. It was a dream of mine too – my wife not so much. We landed on it as a way to travel with our kids, dogs, and guinea pig. Sadly, we could be at a beautiful resort and all of us would want to be home by day 4 because we missed them. Now we can take two week trips and have had great family adventures. Lots of lessons along the way. Happy to talk RVs any time!

    • That is awesome. Literally a home away from home. Awesome!

      The guinea pig is a nice addition to the kids and dog. We have yet to take the leap. My colleague and I are looking at splitting a Airstream Bambi. That way it is half the cost for both of us and we get an RV. Plus I can park it on her lot.

  • Dr. Darewreck

    Really cool you were almost an astronaut.

    I was looking at your favorite foods and was thinking that all of these foods are a cardiologist’s nightmare. Any thoughts on switching to a more plant-based diet? I know the permanente group really encourages it.

    • I am all for plant-based diets and think people who want to do them should.

      I am also a realist and realize the plant-based diet is not for me. Now all in all I eat healthy. Wheat grains, fruits and vegetables, and rarely red meat, but I know what habits I will stick with and a plant based diet is not it.

      There is a joke that a guy goes to a doctor. The doctor tells him that if he stops eating meat, drinking, smoking, and starts exercising that he will live 10 years longer. The guy looks at the doctor and says “That is not living”. Obviously this is the extreme and I don’t recommend smoking, but you get the point.

      • Dr. Darewreck

        Thanks for your insight! Much appreciated.

        Best of luck to you and your family during such a challenging time. I look forward to following your journey.

  • Nice to see you over here DDD and hear a little more about what makes you tick. I also LOVE mac & cheese, beer, fried chicken and Moscow Mules. What a combo. I’ve been to Lagunitas (but in Chicago), haven’t been to the other 2 breweries. Did I mention that we are headed to South Africa next year? Super, super excited!

    PoF: I also have a standing invitation to join DDD at Russian River, me thinks we need to make this happen with all of us. Everyone needs a little Pliny in their life!

  • I enjoyed getting to know you a little bit DDD. My father is a cardiologist, and for many years I thought that was what I would be as well. I ended up in software development instead, but there is still a part of me that wonders about the alternate universe in which I took the other path.

    I’m sorry about the loss of your home, that is awful. May your rise from the ashes give the phoenix a run for its money.

    • Let’s switch spots…a out of body experience maybe. I have always thought I would be good sitting in front of a computer typing code…

      Thanks for the kind words. I will also take the money that the phoenix provides in terms of insurance pay outs. They have to pay for those possessions lost, so that is good.

  • Good to see you here DDD. All you MD bloggers inspired me to start my own. As a radiologist, it used to be cool when the pace was more manageable and you could spend time discussing cases with the other docs and do rad rounds. Now there is one pace- fast. No patient inbox though. AI and machine learning is supposed to replace us soon, but I’m doubtful. Still it’s an interesting field and I’d do it again.
    Sorry about your house. Looking forward to your posts on rebuilding.

  • Nice job EJ.

    Maybe I should stop writing, hence there be a shortage of radiologists in the future!

    In all seriousness though it’s really tough to know what it is like to be “X” specialty without actually becoming it. Even as a resident you don’t know completely what it will feel like 10 years into your career.

    Sorry about your house, but the silver lining is you can start from scratch and be very intentional about what you let back into your life…and the process should make for some fantastic writing 🙂

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