Coming Clean: How Financial Independence Came More Easily & I’m Not Exactly Retiring.

With all the talk about early retirement around here, you would think I’m about to retire.


Given the plethora of posts I’ve written on financial independence, you’d think I’d have covered all the angles.

You would be wrong on both counts.

Recently, our friend Tanja at Our Next Life wrote a blogging manifesto (<– that’s called a back-link, which helps send traffic to the target site and improves its rank and position with search engines) calling out the FIRE bloggers to be more honest and transparent about their true plans, side hustle income, advantages they’ve had, and more.

I fail to see excessive opacity or misleading rhetoric among the blogs that I follow, but I also realized any post of mine being read in isolation might make me appear guilty of being one of those nefarious bloggers. I also understand that I’m less likely to follow blogs that don’t pass the sniff test of being up-front and honest in the first place. Finally, I’m willing to admit I may have blinders on and implicit bias likely plays a role in my failing to see the injustices that others pick up on.

 

transparent translucent

like some blogs, my homebrew is more translucent than transparent

 

In the spirit of being fully transparent, this is my attempt to share the many ways my path to financial independence might look different than yours, and how this blogging venture has changed the way I approach my pending retirement from medicine in terms of both financial and lifestyle standpoints. While I’m not necessarily revealing anything new here, I’ve never put it all in one big, long disclaimer of a blog post before.

 

Coming Clean: How Financial Independence Came More Easily For Me

 

I don’t believe I’ve ever represented reaching financial independence as being easy. Like losing weight, it is fairly simple, but I wouldn’t call it easy. That being said, early financial independence will come more easily for some than others. I’ve benefited from a number of advantages and a few relative disadvantages, too.

 

Advantages I’ve Had in My Path to Financial Independence

 

I’m a man. I have white skin. I’m taller than the average white man. All of these features, none of which I had to work for, are known to be associated with higher income and other privileges.

My parents were good financial role models. Despite my father earning a solid income as a dentist, my parents have always enjoyed shopping at thrift stores and garage sales. I learned the Rule of 72 as a pre-teen.

Contract DiagnosticsThey helped me start an IRA when I worked at a grocery store in high school and continued to help fund it when in college and most of the work I did was of the volunteer and research variety. I earned enough in the summers to justify an annual $2,000 contribution, but not a whole lot more.

My brother and I certainly didn’t grow up poor. Dad was a dentist, my mother was a nurse turned stay-at-home Mom, and her father had been a physician. He passed away when I was young, and what could have been a small inheritance for my mother was invested in high-interest savings bonds (this was 1980) that turned into about $40,000 dispersed over six years to help fund my collegiate and medical school education. His other two grandchildren received a similar gift.

 

The Cost of Education

 

I graduated from college debt-free. I was granted one of four full-tuition scholarships from the real U of M (I don’t want to hear it Michigan or Miami. What’s that, Montana?!? I don’t think so). These were made available based on proceeds from Golden Gopher license plates sold by the state for the first time when I was a high school senior. I now have these plates on both of our vehicles.

I also received a Byrd scholarship worth $1,500 a year for four years and a number of additional one-time scholarships. Between these scholarships, the $6,000 to $7,000 a year from my deceased grandfather, living in cheap apartments near campus, and summertime work, I was able to graduate from undergrad with a positive net worth.

My final medical school loan balance was below average. Remaining at the University of Minnesota, where I was awarded a $5,000 endowed scholarship, and again living close to classes and some rotations, I was able to finish medical school with a loan balance between $50,000 and $60,000 when the average indebted student had nearly $100,000 in debt in 2002.

 

**I’ve created a Student Loan Resource Page which is designed to help you learn how to best approach your loan balance, save you money, and earn money for this site. More on that last bit below.**

 

My Career and Side Gig

 

I chose a high paying specialty. Anesthesiologists typically earn 50% to 100% more than the lowest paid medical specialties. I further grew my income and savings rate by taking advantage of geographic arbitrage working as a locum tenens physician (<– these are internal links designed to give you additional information without you leaving my site) on some of my weeks off, particularly in the first six or seven years of my career.

Our boys have never been in daycare. I know that daycare can be costly. We have chosen to have my wife stay home to raise our boys full-time. She’s not using her master’s degree to earn a second income for our household, but we’ve been happy with this tradeoff.

We’ve been relatively healthy. I have a family of four and outside of a handful of minor surgical procedures, we haven’t had any particularly costly medical problems. My wife and I enjoy a healthy marriage and are very much in agreement when it comes to money and most other things in life, country music (<– this is a “smile” affiliate link to amazon.com. if you make a purchase after clicking the link, this site receives a referral fee. The smile means a small percentage is donated to a charity of your choice by Amazon) notwithstanding.

I have a side gig*. You’re looking at it. I’ve chosen to work part-time clinically, but the blow to my overall income has been somewhat softened by the income this site generates. I donate half of my website profits, and I’ll detail what that looks like below.

While I’ve had many advantages, I haven’t had every advantage. There’s been no inheritance, and I’m not expecting anything substantial. I didn’t marry into money. Some or all of the above are assumed when colleagues I work with hear about my new part-time schedule.

I use the terms “I” and “we” interchangeably when talking about family finances, as our financial independence is based on our household spending, but we’ve essentially done this on one income. My wife has occasionally worked as a very part-time teacher. Her contributions to the income side have probably been less than 1%, but her contribution to the household duties are far in excess of 50% (and she might tell you in excess of 99% and not be too far off).

 

*If you’re a physician looking for a side gig of your own, consider joining the Physician Side Gigs Facebook Group. (<– a polite request to join my friend Dr. Nisha Mehta’s group. She may notice an influx of new member requests and reciprocate in some fashion.)

I Am Financial Independence, and So Can You!

 

Riffing off of Stephen Colbert’s best-selling title (<– yes, another amazon affiliate link), I want to distinguish between sharing my story and believing that you can precisely replicate it.

The households in my Tale of Four Physicians each earn $300,000. That’s way more than the average household earns, and it’s more than many physician households earn. I know that and I trust my readers do, too.

I write for other physicians and those with a similar income and demanding workload in stressful careers. Some of the lessons are universal, but many of the strategies I discuss, whether it’s minimizing capital gains taxes, increasing income with locum tenens work, or investing heavily in a taxable account are only high-yield for my target reader.

Your path to financial independence will look different than mine. You might have five times the student loan debt. You may earn less. Or more. You face unique challenges being both a surgeon and a mother. You have a son with disabilities. You’ve been divorced. Twice.

For all kinds of reasons, most people won’t reach financial independence within ten years of starting their career. I’ve quantified the effect of financial help from family and its effect on my timeline to FI.

I figure without the help I received in college to help pay for school and fund an IRA, it would have taken me six to nine months longer to become financially independent, based on our recent years’ savings rate exceeding 50% of gross and 75% of net pay. Each of the last two years, we spent about $62,000.

Our other advantages are tougher to quantify, but there’s no doubt the many other advantages listed sped up my path to financial independence. It would have been even quicker with a working spouse, no debt, no kids, no second home or extensive travel, etc…

The fact is I didn’t even know I was pursuing financial independence. When I discovered the term, we more or less had enough to retire right then and there if we had wanted. That was a few years ago, and I’m still plugging along while I figure out what the rest of life is going to look like for my family and me.

 

 

I’m Not Exactly Retiring

 

I discovered the concept of financial independence and started dreaming of retiring early in late 2014. That inception is what ultimately led to me starting this blog about 14 months later in January of 2016.

I didn’t know if people would find my blog or find it worth reading, and my plans at the time were to retire from clinical medicine after another five years or so of full-time work.

A funny thing happened.

People did find the blog. They stuck around to read. I knew that blogs could be monetized, but I also knew that most blogs earn little to nothing. According to a recent post from Passive Income MD (<– a business partner of mine — I’m financially incentivized to send him traffic), only 13% of ProBlogger (a blog about blogging — how meta) readers earned $1,000 or more per month from their sites.

This particular site is now among that 13% and is on pace to soon be among the top 4% of sites earning even more. Sites without obvious advertising can also lead to lucrative money-making opportunities for their authors. One’s popularity as a blogger can be leveraged to drive book sales, book public speaking gigs, attract coaching clients, and more.

At this point in my career, when my alarm goes off at 0515, I’m not excited to get up and go to work. I look forward to the end of the workday. I work with great people and get to do some cool stuff, but it’s just not how I would choose to spend most days. And so, I’m working part-time now, and I may be done working as an anesthesiologist as soon as next summer.

I used to think I’d simply retire after that. Then I discovered blogging. I enjoy writing. I have fun trading barbs and insights on Twitter. I wake up and I’m excited to see what my new friends are talking about in my Physicians on FIRE Facebook group (<– a subtle plea to other physicians to join and see what we’re up to there) and what my blogging friends have posted on their sites.

The argument over what retirement is and isn’t has become a tired one to me. I don’t care to wax philosophical about the precise definition of the word “retired” or summon the internet retirement police. But when a stranger asks me what I do for a living in 2020, I’ll probably tell them I’m a writer and a digital marketer, because that’s essentially what I will be. Or maybe I’ll just tell ’em I’m a homebrewer.

 

This Site Makes Money

 

The final piece in today’s transparency puzzle is the fact that I unapologetically earn an income here. Feeling a bit guilty about monetizing a site I started after achieving financial independence, which by definition means I don’t need any more money, I have pledged to donate half of the profit this site generates for me. I could have chosen to donate all of it, but I know me, and I know I’ll do a better job if I have more skin in the game.

Anticipating dropping to a lower tax bracket due to working less and tax reform, I’ve already donated over $136,000, mostly to a donor advised fund (<– a link to my quarter million in DAF post, which will be seen as grandstanding by some, but inspirational to others, and I believe the ends (more people donating generously) justify the means in this case), since starting this blog.

Meanwhile, I’ve only seen about half that total in personal profit from the site. Rather than donating half, I’ve donated double. I’ve done so to take advantage of tax arbitrage by donating in my peak earning years as an anesthesiologist while planning to earn enough from the site later on to make good on my pledge.

Essentially, I’ve donated enough to satisfy the pledge on the first $272,000 in profits. Once that number is reached, and I’m confident it will be eventually, I will begin adding to the charitable fund and will also be compelled to donate more from our donor advised fund.

I would love to be able to dole out a six-figure sum annually based on the income made from this site. That’s the ultimate goal.

 

How This Site Makes Money

 

This could be a whole series of posts, but people generally don’t come here to learn how to make money blogging  — there are plenty of sites dedicated to that — and they make good money talking about how to make money online. I’ll keep it simple and direct.

I’ve got ads in the header, right sidebar, and a couple in each post. There are also ads at the bottom of my e-mails and on some of the other pages on this site. Those are sold directly, mostly to small businesses, by Cindy, my ad manager. If you have an interest in advertising, you can find more information here.

I also have affiliate relationships with student loan refinancers, crowdfunded real estate platforms, Personal Capital (which I’ve been using since late 2014, long before I had a website), and a few others. If you use one of their services after reaching them via a link here, this site may get a commission for the referral.

My best performing affiliate relationship has been with Personal Capital. If you are a blogger interested in an affiliate relationship, please accept my invitation to work with FlexOffers to create your own affiliate links. Doing so could result in some small commissions for me. I’ve earned $13.20 lifetime via this underwhelming program, the equivalent of one quality six-pack of craft beer. Bottoms up!

Another avenue that I’ve started to explore after several years of enjoying nearly free travel via my own efforts accumulating credit card rewards is the recommendation of particular cards via CardRatings. You may have seen a banner or two above.

I have a few served ads, which come from either Google or InvestingChannel. There are also Amazon affiliate links and an ad in the sidebar that may display products related to the post you’re reading or a recent search you’ve made.

I’ve had one paid speaking gig, one freelance writing article commissioned, and some freelance income from articles syndicated at Physician’s Money Digest.

I don’t share this information on the site, but if you’re feeling voyeuristic, I’ll be sharing site revenue in my next quarterly progress note which will be sent out in a few short days. You can subscribe to the newsletter and new posts right here. (this is known as a “call to action,” piquing your interest and asking you to become a subscriber via the text field below –>)

None of This Negates the Validity of Safe Withdrawal Rates

 

My final point is that just because the people sharing tips, tricks, knowledge, and wisdom are generally earning money in some way, shape or form, that doesn’t mean the research is invalid.

With or without this side gig, I’d be comfortable retiring on a safe withdrawal rate of 3.5% or less. Millions of people have retired successfully with smaller nest eggs and spending a higher percentage. I don’t know the exact number, but the ratio of people earning money writing or talking about safe withdrawal rates to the number of people successfully using them is probably in the neighborhood of 1:400,000, give or take a few hundred thousand.

Safe withdrawal rates (SWR) are based on historical worst-case scenarios for a retiree. For a primer on SWR, start with Big ERN’s first post on the subject and stick around for the next twenty-some posts in the series if you’re hungry for more. If you’re more of an auditory learner, look to the Mad Fientist’s podcast with money savant Michael Kitces.

While there are no guarantees that the future will look anything like the past, if it isn’t worse than what was seen in the Great Depression, a low SWR such as the 3.5% or so I mentioned should be adequate. It also helps to have redundancies and contingencies when it comes to spending and income.

 

 

[Post-publication edit: I sent Tanja Hester a sneak preview of this post the other night, but her response was lost to the ether. From Ms. Our Next Life:

“High five, PoF. This level of transparency is fantastic. You’ve always been upfront that you’re a high earner (it’s kinda implied by the title of your site), but as loads of comments on the manifesto tell us, that’s not something high earners are universally upfront about.

And I bet readers would find it interesting to know exactly how you crunch your savings rate since there’s no standard definition of what goes into that. It’s admirable that you say you’re not really retiring, but also, you still are. You’ll be leaving your career and big bucks and giving yourself total freedom of time. That counts as retirement if you say it does. [PoF: I don’t know what to say anymore!]

On the validity of the SWR, my concern is that we make our biases clear to readers, which is really the point of the transparency. And while we can say that our belief in a 3-4% safe withdrawal rate is based on hard data, not emotion, that’s not true. We have zero hard data about the future. We can make some very good guesses based on data from the past, but ultimately it’s a guess. And what sways us when we’re guessing? Our emotions and biases!

So if you’ve generally always had things pretty easy financially, you’ve saved more than you’ll ever need and you’re now pulling in a solid blog income on top of all that? Well you have every reason in the world to be optimistic, and that’s where readers need to know your bias. Because you may be inclined to be more optimistic when interpreting things like SWR research, and your optimism could push you to conclude that 4% really is overkill, and a 5% rate would be totally fine.

Fortunately, you’re on the more conservative end of the spectrum with the 3.5% SWR, so I’m not worried about your readers not saving enough for all the many unknown unknowns out there, especially around health care. Keep telling it like it is! – Tanja”]

 

There you have it.  I encourage other bloggers to “come clean” to give our readers a better understanding of where we’ve been, what we’re up to, and what our futures might look like in a world where we’re allowed to retire from something and continue earning an income.

 

 

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130 comments

  • Hahaha, awesome post/blog tutorial/manifesto/etc.. How’d you manage to merge all into one? Brilliant! But yeah, you are indeed a lucky bastard and it’s good that you realize this. Well done on becoming FI, being a successful blogger and all-round good guy. You worked hard for it, it’s well deserved.

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  • “At this point in my career, when my alarm goes off at 0515, I’m not excited to get up and go to work. I look forward to the end of the workday. I work with great people and get to do some cool stuff, but it’s just not how I would choose to spend most days.”

    Wow, I could have written that verbatim. Kudos on your success. And I’m sure your blog will continue to grow.

    So it wasn’t clear, you like country music and she doesn’t, or the other way around?

  • Thanks for being a leader in this space, POF.

    I think transparency is always so important. I appreciate all of the help you’ve provided along the way to all of us up and comers, too.

    By and large, I think that your story is still a story of great success, even if you did have a little help getting there. And having additional income on the side to help retirement (and decrease your withdrawal rate) is a fine thing, but I also write a (Very-non-profitable-at-this-point) blog.

    I’ll have to write a similar post in the future explaining my background, the help I’ve received to get to where I am, and where I am going. This way people will be able to know if they can follow a similar path.

    P.S. Looking forward to the newsletter.

    TPP

  • Marie

    Thanks for sharing. I love both your blog and Tanja’s, and am happy to get a fuller picture from both of you. It keeps it real!

  • I think you have always been very transparent! I love how you made all the links transparent too. Hilarious.

    Carrie @ Hippocratic Hustle

  • Love this article! Especially when you explain what all the various links are. Non-bloggers might not even know there’s a difference so it’s good for them to see behind the curtain a bit. I, for one, welcome as much transparency as possible for everyone! I thought you were already doing a good job at doing so! Keep up the great work.

  • I love it. My response was to call myself out as a fraud. Yours was to take a very precise, scalpel-like approach to peel back the onion that is PoF – Early Retiree Extraordinaire.

    Nice work laying out the details. Yours and most other sites, in my observation, have been quite clear with respect to the “how” and the “fails” and all the side hustle income as well.

    Thanks for being a leader in the space, and for representing the state of Minnesota FIRE so eloquently. Leave the non-eloquence to Cubert! 😉

    • I give you mad props for your Fraud post, which was far more humorous than my matter-of-fact statement of truth here.

      While I didn’t agree 100% with the accusations in the post that sparked our responses, it’s certainly a worthwhile discussion to have.

      Cheers!
      -PoF

      • That is super gracious of you to back-link to abandonedcubicle.com, PoF! Your comments are generating as many views as Google search, thanks to that.

        And thanks for the mad props. I like that this community is willing to take an issue “to the mat” from time to time, and come out better for it.

  • Having good financial habits and making a great income as a physician is all the tailwind I ever needed to reach FI quickly. You will enjoy FI, the free time is awesome. Spending more time with your family will be awesome. And not waking up at 5:15 am will be the best of all!!!!

    • Glad to hear from someone on the other side, Dr. MB.

      The thing I enjoy the most when I’m off for extended periods isn’t being away from work. It’s getting a good night’s sleep and waking up when I’m good and ready.

      Maybe I just need to find an anesthesia job that I can do from 9 am to 1 pm. Remote would be nice, so I can work from anywhere in the world. Sadly, that job doesn’t exist yet in my field.

      Best,
      -PoF

      • That is exactly why I stopped my anesthesia residency the year of my fellowship exams. My husband and I looked at one another and said “I don’t think we want to live like this!”

        2 sets of call, 2 young kids. Wasn’t what we wanted for our lives.

        You struck exactly on my work schedules in general practice. I always worked 9am- 1pm. That’s hilarious how spot on you are!

        You think outside the box PoF. You will have a fantastic retirement/ semi-retirement/ encore career….

  • Very cool post. Most of which I knew, some of which was new. I’ve always seen you as one of the more transparent bloggers out there and I think that (and your 90’s pop culture references) has been a factor in your success.

  • SG

    Great article, I did like some points in Tanja’s article. Specifically how just having a supplemental income (aka work) can give you a rosier outlook on early retirement. If health care costs go up in RE, no big deal since my blog income can cover expenses and I don’t really have to dip into nest egg etc.

    However, I just don’t know of any examples, on sites that I frequent, of misleading readers. I think it would be helpful if she just called out articles or blogs that she did not agree with. It has left content producers and readers feeling paranoid.

    I love this site because I am a physician who desires early Financial Independence. I believe what is unique to physicians is the struggle to step away early from a career that was hard to achieve, and the prospects of returning after time away is filled with hurdles making it unattractive. This is the struggle in my mind all the time. I am envious of other professions that can have a mini retirement and go back to work without having to re-license, complete CME, and perhaps retrain for an extended period of time. This is why I come to this site. Keep up the great work POF!

    • Great points all around, SG. It’s not impossible, but very difficult to come back to the profession after taking more than about a year off. That’s a big reason my transition from FI to RE (from medicine) has been so deliberate and painstakingly slow.

      Cheers!
      -PoF

  • And here I thought you came out with no med school loans. I am impressed. My loans were near $190K and I was not as diligent about paying them off. I think part of the issue is the bigger the number the more we let it sit. With 60K you might be tempted to pay it quick and just be done with it because it is relatively easy to do (mentally). With $200k it seems more daunting and thus more likely to be left smoldering for years.

    • Thanks, DDD. Smoldering… pun intended, no doubt.

      I actually let them linger for 6 or 7 years at a very low consolidated interest rate. But when I got a signing bonus about 6 years ago, I paid off what was left of my loans and my wife’s loans, too (another $15,000 or so). Might not have been the best move in hindsight, but I never looked back. Like Oasis, I don’t look back in anger. 😉

      Cheers!
      -PoF

  • As a follower from near the beginning of PoF this post was mostly a (good) review for me. I’ve always thought you genuine and transparent, however, I see what you mean about taking single posts rather than the body of work and passing judgement. Well, problem solved….

    Almost makes a “Transparency” page akin to the About page of a financial blog.

    Not that I don’t bare my soul blogging on occasion, however, since my blog isn’t financial and doesn’t make money, I’ll just make like a jellyfish and stay translucent : )

    • Make like a hockey player and get the puck out here. You don’t make money on the blog? Let’s fix that! 😉

      Of course, the day job is going to pay far more than a website for 99% of us physicians. Pretty much everyone except Jim, basically. As long as you enjoy what you’re doing, keep at it. And I like the idea of adding this under the “About Me” or “Start Here” section. I may just do that.

      Cheers!
      -PoF

  • Good post. I’ve always thought many of the criticisms lobbied at the FIRE folks were just sour grapes. Things like “You’re not retired if you have a blog” or “being retired means you can’t work” and other stuff like that. MMM calls it the early retirement police.

    However, one valid criticism is that many FIRE bloggers do make money from their blogs and that income goes a long way to allowing for FIRE. People who don’t have income form a blog just have to know that they have to approach things a little differently but it is very possible to achieve FIRE without side income, just diligent work, and high savings rate (or income or both)

    • Yes, the IRP. They’re everywhere!

      As more people freelance and have location-independent jobs, the less weight the term “retirement” carries. I’m not going to worry too much about it. Just do what it is I want to do and not worry about labels.

      Cheers!
      -PoF

  • Nice! As a guy who worked longer at his 9 to 5 than most others plan to in the FIRE community I have often felt that many bloggers were not living the same dream they wrote about. They weren’t withdrawing 3-4% annually but were in fact amassing greater wealth as they wrote. I’ve been clear about the fact that I am not typical. My withdrawal rate is zero and has been for the three years I’ve been retired because my part time side gigs earn six figures. In a way I feel like the advantages of a high paid, long successful engineering career and no student loan debt make me unworthy to give advice. I struggle at times with imposter syndrome because my path to FI was literally a walk in the park compared to most. And the side gigs I started in retirement have been so lucrative. However blogging is not one of them, it is something I pay to do for fun, a hobby, that is not monetized in any way.

    • It is a bit convoluted how spreading the FIRE message can put you in a position where you don’t feel like you retired at all. The more people read your site, the more e-mails you get, the more notifications, the more comments you feel compelled to respond to… at some point if you really want to be retired, footloose and fancy-free, you have to draw boundaries.

      Best,
      -PoF

  • Only one point was WAY off base. Of course U of M is for Montana. Only Montana. =)

    • OK, I expected to hear from some Michigan and Miami fans — there’s lots of those. But Montana? Who ever graduated from that U of M besides J.K. Simmons and Joe Montana… no, wait… he’s a Golden Domer named Montana. 🙂

      But I should have expected it from you, Ms. Montana.

      Cheers!
      -PoF

  • Aile

    I was surprised to find your dad is a dentist. In a lifestyle stand point, is there much difference between dentist and physician?

    • Some differences. Most dentists don’t have a residency, so they enter the workforce 3-7 years earlier. But in recent years, the average salary for dentists who don’t have ownership in a practice has trended downwards. And student loans for dentists are sky-high. We probably have more in common than differences, and of course things were a lot different 50 years ago when my Dad was in dental school.

      Best,
      -PoF

      • Sai

        Hi … Im a dentist too. Would love to have more discussion about Dental professionals …. Totally agree that salary for dentists if they dont own practice is not good …. Thank u

  • This was a fascinating post. I only first heard of Donor Advised Funds from Tanja, and I’m glad to hear you have set one up as well. I don’t see it as grandstanding, but as important acknowledgement of giving back, which is somehow usually missed in the FIRE community. A supercharged savings rate is awesome, but so much the better if you realize that some of that should that be then used to give back.

    • Thanks for the comment, Angela.

      I first opened a DAF in 2013, well before I read any blogs, let alone had one of my own. In this post, I’ve got a list of about 20 blog posts from bloggers who have started DAFs and written about them. I love seeing this from our community.

      Cheers!
      -PoF

  • Dr microbe

    I didn’t notice any reference to being employed with presumably extra income during the biggest economic collapse in modern history. The bulk of my wealth was obtained through the opportunity that the 2008 collapse presented. Having extra income to invest in a severly depressed market was really a once in a lifetime event. Did this help your situation and if so to what extent?

    • Funny you ask! The hospital where I worked starting having substantial economic problems in the aftermath of the great recession. After a prolonged circling of the drain, I was let go in 2011 and the hospital closed six months later.

      But… an anesthesiologist can find work quickly if willing to travel. I did some locum tenens work until we found a longer-term job.

      I did benefit by investing on the way down, at the bottom, and on the way back up. I called it the Nike Swoosh market when describing how that boosted our returns.

      Best,
      -PoF

  • Holy OverDisclosure Batman! 🙂

    I work MORE since becoming financially independent. Weird huh? Oh well, life is weird sometimes.

  • Yup, love the transparency my friend. And, that’s all that we can really do, here. Just be as transparent as possible. Some people will love it. Others will hate you for it. In the end, you can’t control how other people respond. So long as we’re genuine as bloggers, that’s all that matters.

  • Thank you! I found this really interesting!! Everyone has such a unique path and financial journey, I enjoy hearing about the different ways folks get to where they are today.

    Also- Pre-blog, I had no idea about backlinks, affiliates, internal links, etc. this is a great tutorial and transparency blog post all wrapped into one!

  • Great does this mean we’re gonna have to do something like this as well.

    It’s interesting. Well done! Even given certain advantages it still takes persistence and drive to make it happen.

    And DMX. Where’s the reference to DMX?

  • I started writing books and blogs after I was FI. That made failure irrelevant. If the new gig didn’t work, I would just be retired. If it did work, I would have a fun new mission in my life part 2. I’m enjoying the journey and I think you are too. Keep up the good work.

    Dr. Cory S. Fawcett
    Prescription for Financial Success

    • It’s certainly easier to take a risk when you’ve already earned your way to financial independence.

      Your approach to PFS is similar to mine for this blog. If it catches on, great! If not, I can say I tried, and never be upset that someone else followed through on the idea I had first.

      Cheers!
      -PoF

  • I don’t know if the post was specifically necessary as reading your stuff I already grasped most of it, but it was interesting.

    I guess I’ll add this one somewhere into my queue of future posts. While my transparency probably won’t be quite the level of financial streaking as this post, I’d like to think the whole target audience high income professionals or in your case physicians kind of gives the game away. 😉

    • Thanks, FTF. I know you’ve been reading my posts for quite some time, but probalby 3/4 of today’s readers weren’t following me a year ago, so it’s not a bad idea to get everyone up to speed as to how exactly FI was achieved.

      Cheers!
      -PoF

  • Go Michigan! What a great school. You guys are doing well in the final four 🙂

    Are you guys in the FIRE Community getting a lot of flak from readers hence the need to write these type of post and be more transparent?

    I don’t think I’ve had a single commenter question my early retirement for the past couple of years because Financial Samurai is not considered a FIRE blog. I talk about early retirement and financial independence maybe about 10% of the time. The rest is just about kids now, investing, real estate, and life and so forth.

    Maybe the key is to just mix of the topics every single week.

    I plan to always throttle my income to the max of around $200,000 a year. I found that with this income level living in an expensive city like San Francisco, nobody really hate you or looks down upon you. Much more than $200K a year and people start getting angry.

  • Thanks for sharing. I’ve always thought you were pretty transparent in your posts. I think being a personal finance blogger is tricky. Everyone has different circumstances, paths, goals, and financial literacy. Do you write for a specific audience? Or do you stick with content that’s more generalizable? How do you write about living on “only” 50% of your income when you make $300k and the median household income is $59k? It’s complicated, and you can’t please everyone.

    As a blogger, I’m not that transparent. I don’t share specifics of my net worth or income, although you could probably back-calculate based on some of my posts. I do, however, try to acknowledge that my situation (dual physician household) has allowed us to tackle some of our financial goals rather aggressively. I also try to highlight concepts that are generalizable.

    As a reader of blogs, I do appreciate writers that are transparent, although I am not put off by those who are not. I know that content isn’t universally applicable, and I kind of just pick and choose concepts that apply to my personal situation. But I can understand how readers might have some issues if a blogger isn’t practicing what they preach, so to speak.

    Thanks again for sharing and for the great content.

    • Thanks for chiming in, SRGO.

      I don’t think we owe it to anyone to be 100% transparent. As long as you’re not being intentionally deceptive or misleading, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with less than full disclosure. There are some things I haven’t shared, like my name and face, and I haven’t posted my net worth online on this site at any point, and I stopped sharing it on Rockstar Finance a while back.

      Share what you like and be honest with what you share. Then, I think you’re fine.

      Cheers!
      -PoF

  • You weren’t one of the bloggers I thought of when I read Tanja’s post but I appreciated reading this anyway 🙂 As you noted, you’ve not gathered this all together in one place before and it’d be good for newer readers.

  • Nice post revealing even more transparency behind your journey to FI. As a regular reader, I always thought you were already very transparent. But I do think people will appreciate a post like this because it gives folks a clearer picture of how you achieved FI and how you plan to build upon it.

    Oh and btw, my wife is a country music aficionado too (much to my chagrin, sorta… but it’s growing on me). One of her favorite bands is Home Free, an acapella country band from (you guessed it) Minnesota. If she hasn’t heard of them, tell her to check them out! 😉

  • fiberguyr1

    I feel like I got lucky all the way around, except I’m only 5’8″. Family was fairly frugal growing up and I didn’t really want for anything. I credit my wife for making me start putting money away for retirement (Roth and 401k) years ago. I got lucky in that her grandparents were huge believers in education and single handedly covered my children’s 529 plans. I got lucky in that my step-mother has a 1/6 interest in land has several natural gas/oil wells on it over the last few years. From that money, she also put money towards my kids’ education and just recently paid off the balance of our mortgage. I know that there will be some kind of inheritance in the future, but I still put money into all of my buckets and act like it isn’t going to happen. Even without it my wife and I would have been good to go in another 10 years which is right when I want to retire. So I’m a big believer in luck. Makes me think I should go buy a lotto ticket.

  • Seabass

    Agree with a prior commenter. As a follower most of this was review and I commend your continued transparency

    Some feedback about the Ads
    I found that I only check the site on my phone now because when on desktop (with fiber optic network) maybe it’s my antivirus (though one shouldn’t have to disable antivirus to visit your up and up site) but the Video ads in the right column slowed the page loading in a very annoying way. Would consider a less is more approach. Less embedded video ads. Less clunky that way and less like a NASCAR circuit.

    Love WCI site which he makes tons of money from yet doesn’t have the same amount of ad burden to deal with.

    Granted. I know I consume your great site for free. So not judging the monetization.

  • From the discussion in the MMM forums to Tanja’s “manifesto”, I’ve been feeling like a bit of a lurker but it’s been a discussion/debate that I can’t seem to look away from.

    Mr PoP and I have been blogging for coming up on six years now, with pretty much every month publishing an income statement (income AND expenses) and balance sheet… but in 2018 so far we haven’t (multiple reasons, but largely we thought they were getting boring).

    So are we transparent bloggers, or did we somehow lose our transparency street cred by switching to less frequent updates? Honestly, I’m not sure it really matters one way or another to me. I feel like we’re pretty honest with our lives and our situations, and when asked questions for details (like blog income specifically, we’ve happily pointed out where it is in our numbers – because it’s such a small percentage of our overall income it’s quite easy to miss it…).

    Or are hard numbers actually enough? Reading the MMM thread, I’ve had to wonder – is there ever enough disclosure to satisfy every person? I think sometimes things we talk in generalities about (here I’m thinking our family backgrounds after reading about yours above), we dance around a little because they aren’t really our stories to share. For better (in one case) or worse (in another), those stories belong to our parents, and sharing too many details there might make them uncomfortable. So we don’t. =/

    • My intent on my part of the discussion at least isn’t to make you feel anxious or question what you’re doing as a blogger! The main question to ask yourself is whether you provide enough information to your readers that they can determine how applicable your story or advice is to their situation as well as assess what bias you might be bringing to your posts (for example, telling readers not to worry so much about sequence risk because you just generally tend to be optimistic financially rather than cautious). You don’t have to share specific numbers or tell family stories that aren’t yours to tell to be able to do that. You just have to be honest about your general income range if you’re touting how much or how quickly you can save, and it’s all the better if you can share some general context like PoF did here of the context that makes you think about money the way you do. I hope that helps! 🙂

      • What she said.

        As long as you’re true to yourselves and honest with your readers, I think you’re doing enough. Some details matter. Some don’t. If you’re writing about personal finance, you’ll know which is which.

        Cheers!
        -PoF

  • McHaleCapMgmt

    Great post. My only plea. Find some other avenue for us non Facebook people to engage.

    The news this past week has only cemented many of us into the Never Facebook camp. But am certain there is a contingent who would like to engage in the group discussions.

    • Yeah, I chose a bad time to start a Facebook group. But the news doesn’t seem to have phased many, including me.

      A forum could be an option in the future, but the barrier to entry for both me and the readers was lower with the FB group.

      Can I count on you to be a forum moderator if I do take that next step?

      Cheers!
      -PoF

  • Dr. Joe

    Don’t understand how you can live on 62,000/ year.
    Almost impossible in Northeast if you want nice community with excellent schools. Certainly can’t do it if you plan on paying college tuitions for your children.

  • Maybe I’ll write a blogging manifesto as well so I can get a dofollow link from you 🙂

    Great post PoF

  • I note that you failed a key SEO objective with only using the word “privilege” once. 😉

    Just kidding – good write up!

  • DocB

    I do appreciate your candid review on how you came to your “FI(RE)”.
    As most things, it seems like an evolution of thought. A large part of your current success is the decisions you have made, avoiding financial traps (disease, divorce, drugs), an early start on investing and inherent advantages given to you by your parents.
    Keep up the honest and insightful posts.
    The whole world of high income physician finance blogs could use a dose of your honesty. A few come across a bit sanctimoniously.
    I think we both graduated high school the same year but have way different ideas on what the real U of M is. As far as I am concerned there is only one U and that is where 2/3 tuitions went and are going currently in sunny Florida.

    • You’ll be even more incensed to know that within the state’s borders, we simply call it “The U.”

      For what it’s worth, I spent a few years in sunny Florida, too. My first locums gigs were in Punta Gorda and Naples.

      Cheers!
      -PoF

  • Gasem

    Honesty is the currency that connects you to your readers. It’s the reason I read his blog (and Tanja’s) and ignore so many others. Honesty takes courage. How is anyone going to know how to do this with any granularity if you don’t share your experience?

    I decided retired is what you become after you grow weary of being perpetually tired.

  • I started at the same time as you but not in the 13%, in fact haven’t earned a buck yet. As far as honesty, thanks for the information, didn’t seem like you were hiding anything.

  • Great post, Doc. I have always appreciated your sincerity and genuineness – it’s kinda obvious who’s real and who’s really made it from reading blogs over the years. That’s why I keep coming here.

    Still, love this new ‘transparency’ post, because of which I learned a bit more about you. Sensitivity towards reaching FI isn’t just a prerogative of those who grew up poor, but for everyone, even those who had privileges early in life like you have had. It actually makes your dedication towards FI/RE that much more commendable, because you didn’t squander the advantages you had. This deserves a serious “tip of the hat” for you Doc!

  • Vagabond MD

    I was an early reader and occasional (disclosure, unpaid volunteer) contributor to the PoF blog and am a big fan (disclosure, unsolicited compliment) of his message.

    I wonder often if this business model is sustainable? There are more and more entries into the physician/personal finance/early retirement/optimal living/etc. space, and eventually, almost every message will be delivered from almost every perspective. Will people keep reading? Will advertisers keep paying?

    PoF and WCI (and most Doc bloggers) appear to be in the position such that they will be fine, with or without the blogging income.

    • Full disclosure: we’ve also met in person over a Squatter’s beer or two.

      It might seem like a crowded space from the inside looking in, but if you ask 10 docs if they’ve heard of WCI, you’re lucky if one answers in the affirmative. And WCI’s by far the most well-known of us. So I think there’s plenty of room for the audience to grow.

      The tough part is convincing physicians that they should care about money. We’re conditioned to think about it as an afterthought.

      Best,
      -PoF

  • Nice transparency. I’m looking forward to the quarterly numbers. That’s what regular readers are interested in, I think.
    I don’t think blog income is very sustainable. The income from affiliate is not stable. It will drop and we’ll need to find new affiliate that works better.
    Does your credit card affiliate work? I started again and haven’t had any conversion. I guess it’s not a good fit for my site.

    • I think as long as you give readers a reason to continue reading, which you certainly do, there will be opportunities to continue writing while earning a profit in some way.

      I have been pleased to be able to earn some money without charging the readers a penny. Regarding the credit card bit, I’ve gotten more personally from my efforts with them (in terms of free travel from points earned) than I’ve seen from the little bit of promotion I’ve done. The income may be effort dependent, and I haven’t devoted a single post to them.

      Best,
      -PoF

  • Syd

    Did Tanja form ONL reveal their household income in their request for others to provide transparency? If not, why do you think that is cuz I can’t find it.

  • RocDoc

    Wonderful disclosure! Although in my opinion, you have always been very open about your financial situation and I have found most of the FIRE bloggers incredibly transparent on their financial situations. I enjoy Tanja’s blog and respect her need to raise these issues in her Manifesto, but I don’t agree that the bloggers are painting too positive a financial spin on FIRE. Early retirees don’t have to blog to make a bit of extra money if needed. Most already have fairly low budgets and can make extra money fairly easily to supplement their savings.
    In any case, everyone knows that U of M clearly and undoubtedly refers to University of Manitoba.

    • I’m practically a stone’s throw from Manitoba and have never heard of the University of Manitoba.

      I started the site after I was comfortably FI. Anything I do here has little to do with whether or not I’ll be able to retire, but income earned could alter the way we live in retirement. I can’t deny that.

      Cheers to the Bison of Manitoba!
      -PoF

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  • Bill

    don’t forget, you also post in Reddit at the FI sub that points back to this article. you forgot to mention that one

  • Nice post POF. I read tanjas post, thought it excellent but never put you in the category of someone “non_transparent”. I know of a couple of bloggers…that until you read carefully…seem to paint altogether too rosy a picture.

    I wish we called this corner of the web “financially responsible”, instead of “retire early” . Financial responsibility allows early retirement or work you enjoy or flexibility or any of the benefits we enjoy from being responsible.

    I started work at age 12…real work…every summer and by high school was working nights in the cotton gin and driving a school bus every morning.

    When I realized I could go to med school it was a God send.

    Sadly I didn’t know…and had no one who had been financially successful in my family. I wasted some years. The only smart thing I did was max out my retirement accounts. When I had the spend thrift spouse…..and the subsequent divorce…I went back to my roots. (live frugally) and worked out of debt.

    Now…FI enough to only work as I want…how I want….and it’s liberating.

    I do some anesthesia…some limited office….and fly in the summer…(for pay). The classic Venn diagram of “ideal lfe” and “what’s attainable” and pursue the overlap works.

    Keep writing POF.

  • Love this, love love love this. I giggled too much at the pro blogger comment, it is very meta hahaha.

  • Your last point is key, and it’s the point I try to make in these conversations every time they arise on reddit: If the blog makes money, that does not mean the blogger is a fraud and could not have otherwise retired early.

    But more importantly, do not diminish the value of Stephen Colbert’s book. I learned more in an afternoon with that book than I did in three years of law school.

    • Steve

      The link to Colbert’s book is a smie.amazon.com link. Missing an important L!

      • Thanks, fixed!

        I take the trouble of altering every “www” to a “smile” in the Amazon links to force shoppers to donate a little to charity, but occasionally, I goof and the move backfires.

        Thanks for the heads up!
        -PoF

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  • Drsan1

    Amazing article! You are truly a gifted writer. You have had many good things to help you along the way as you mentioned, including the medical/dental background in your family. It sounds like because of that you went for medicine initially but that’s obviously not your true passion. You are a writer for sure. Your path was obviously exactly what it needed to be, not sure if you knew or how your dad would have felt about you being a writer and not a doctor. But that’s the beauty of FI…you can do what you want! I enjoy reading your material.

  • Happy1

    Thank you for coming clean. You definitely had a “Leg Up” with a dentist father and not growing up poor. I am a black female physician which makes me from two discriminated classes. My father earned an income as a janitor and mother as a substitute teacher. My career path was not smooth with a steady upward trajectory in income. I am however grateful to be a physician and have an income greater than the national average of $56,000. I would recommend the book Dream Hoarders: How the American Upper Middle Class Is Leaving Everyone Else in the Dust, Why That Is a Problem, and What to Do About It by Richard Reeves.

    • Thank you for the recommendation, Happy1.

      You’ve certainly had more obstacles to overcome, and sadly that will continue. I think about the woman who offered to give assistance in a medical emergency on a plane and was denies because according to the flight attendant, she didn’t “look like a doctor.” I’ve assisted in three mid-flight emergencies, and have not once been questioned or asked for proof (which I don’t carry on my person).

      Be proud of what you’ve accomplished and are able to do every day. I’m happy for you.

      Cheers!
      -PoF

  • “I have white skin.”

    I find this stunning that the FIRE blogosphere is conspicuous by its lack of colour. Obviously this is not a dis on your part. I’m probably pointing out the obvious (also might be citing my ignorance) but I haven’t seen any blogs by African-Americans or Hispanics.

  • Talk about timing! I happened to be out of the country (in Honduras with no running water, let alone wifi) when Tanja’s post came out and when I came back, I guess you could describe it as sh*t hitting the fan within the FIRE blogosphere. I’ve had some major catching up to do, hence me just getting around to reading this post. It was also such an interesting juxtaposition coming from a poor, underserved area and walking back into a heated conversation about privilege, wealth, affluence, etc. Needless to say, I feel that you have always been upfront with your blog and high income and I really appreciate that. The fact that you went even further to unveil more details is just icing on the cake.

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  • Janet

    Am I missing something? Tanja from Our Next Life doesn’t reveal their income or net worth or passive income numbers on how they got to FIRE, yet they wrote a post telling all other bloggers to do so?

    How did you fall for this?

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