Book Report: The Doctors Guide to Eliminating Debt

Every day is a school day. The school year may be winding down for our boys and girls, but for me, school is always in session. I continue to read, learn, and find inspiration from many different sources.

Today’s source is a volume that I didn’t necessarily need to read — after all, I had already become debt free by forty. Nevertheless, I enjoyed reading Dr. Fawcett’s story regarding his relationship with money and the advice he has for physicians who are buried under a pile of debt and looking for a decent shovel. This book can serve well as that shovel.

 

The Doctors Guide to Eliminating Debt

 

The author was kind enough to send me an autographed copy to peruse. Dr. Fawcett is a general surgeon who worked a couple decades in a busy private practice, transitioned to providing locum tenens surgical services in nearby critical access hospitals, and recently retired early from medicine in his mid-fifties.

He maintains a self-titled website with a blog and has also released The Doctors Guide to Starting Your Practice Right. A third book, The Doctors Guide to Smart Career Alternatives and Retirement, will be available next month.

Through my reading and email exchanges with Dr. Fawcett, I learned that the good doctor and I have a lot in common. Each of us is part of a family of four with two boys two years apart. We both value an early retirement, debt-free living, and time to pursue additional interests including writing. We both believe in charitable giving and live richer lives as a result.

This featured book is organized into nine chapters in 159 pages, with an additional 10 pages of bonus material. Header titles and quotes break up the text nicely. The book can be read on one longer plane ride or over the course of a few evenings.

 

Doctors Guide to Eliminating Debt

 

Who Needs a Book on Eliminating Debt?

 

In my experience, paying off debt is pretty straightforward. You pay it off. Then it’s gone. There it is — a six word book, much like Weird Al’s “This song is just six words long.”

But this book isn’t just a how-to. It also covers why-to. Dr. Fawcett shares his debt story and how he attacked debt when he realized it was getting out of hand. He discusses his perspective on mortgage debt and housing in general. The last couple chapters deal with what you can do when you are debt-free and offers a straightforward introduction to investing.

Dr. Fawcett is certainly qualified to write this book. Although his student loan debt was small thanks to a Navy Scholarship, he found himself a half-million dollars in debt as a young physician. He was inspired to do something about it by a different book from another era — Debt-Free and Prosperous Living — and he wrote this book to motivate others to address their debt burdens and improve their lives much in the way his life was once improved.

 

The Book Report

 

Initially, we learn how the author and his family were keeping up with the “Dr. Joneses” as a young attending surgeon. In  fact, with a motorhome, new cars, and an upgraded home, the Fawcett family’s debt increased from $500,000 to $640,000. We also discover that he made that debt disappear in an incredible six short years using the well known snowball method of debt payoff.

While I love being debt-free almost much as I’ll love being pager-free, Dr. Fawcett may go a tad overboard in calling debt a disease. He uses terms like “malignant credit carcinoma,” ” Alzheimer’s debtmentia” aand “debtabetic nephropathy” to describe the affliction. I still believe there can be such a thing as “good debt” under the right circumstances, but then again, this is a guide to debt elimination, so his debt-as-a-disease proclamation makes sense.

He does make some excellent points on housing and its potential pitfalls. I once fell into the trap of believing I should have deserve to have a “doctor’s home.” You know, because it’s fun to keep four bathrooms and three floors of home spotless. And the schools need the income that comes with the property taxes on a 4,000 square foot waterfront home within the city limits.

Dr. Fawcett asks:

“Does having five acres instead of one really make you happier? Will 5,000 – 10,000 square feet improve your well-being more than 3,500 square feet? If you bought the house for your family, but then you stay at work late to earn the money to pay for it and never see them, who are you kidding?”

These are excellent questions to ponder.

As I stated earlier, there’s only so much that can be written about actually paying off your debt. Dr. Fawcett recommends paying down the smallest debts first and celebrating your progress. The more financially sound “avalanche method” of paying down the highest interest rate debt first is another option. The bottom line is you’ve got to make the goal, maximize income, keep spending in check, and chip away at the debt until it’s gone (or forgiven under certain state or federal programs like PSLF).

One of the later chapters focuses on helping you stay debt-free once you achieved the coveted status. Automobiles, vacations, restaurants, and even coupon clipping are covered.

There are no earth shattering revelations, but I find it comforting to know I’m not the only physician who has no qualms with using a discount coupon or certificate. For the record, we’re not talking about 30 cents off Shake-n-Bake. His example is saving $6 per person on a boat ride around Key West for a family of four. Sign me up! I’ll meet you at Sloppy Joe’s afterwards. White beard optional.

 

Sloppy Joe' Key West

home of the hemingway look-alike contest

 

The book concludes with a chapter entitled “The Finish Line.” The concept of Enough is approached using quotes from John D. Rockefeller, the Onceler from The Lorax, and a biblical parable. Dr. Fawcett’s faith is evident throughout the text — he references his tithing and quotes the Book of Proverbs — but religion is not prominently featured as it might be in a Dave Ramsey book.

 

Who Should Buy This Book?

 

This is a solid, quick read that a late-year resident, fellow, or young attending could certainly benefit from reading. When you’re surrounded by the Dr. Joneses the author refers to, it’s comforting to see a different perspective and understand that the choices you make now can greatly impact your future financial health and happiness.

 

Will Rogers Quote

 

Don’t want to shell out the $7 (Kindle) or $17 (paperback)? [prices at time of this post’s publication] You can have my copy. After all, like Dr. Cory S. Fawcett, I made it a priority to become debt-free and never looked back. Comment below and I will randomly select one of you (via Google’s random number generator) to receive the book, and will ship it to you post-haste. [Update: Congrats to Millennial Doc for winning the raffle!]

Are you hoping to eliminate student loan debt? Visit my student loan resource page for gobs of resources, referral bonuses, and an exclusive offer of $50 to your favorite charity if you choose to refinance via a referral from me.

 


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49 comments

  • Rick

    Great review, thanks!

    Would love a free copy ?

  • Krista Leicht

    Sounds like a great book. As a physician thinking about retirement, I would love to read it!

    • Krista Leicht,
      If you are thinking about retirement, you will need to read my next book also, comes out in June, “The Doctors Guide to Smart Career Alternatives and Retirement. ” Sign up for my blog at DrCorySFawcett.com and you will get updated information as the book gets released.

  • SG

    Thanks for the review, I would love a copy. As someone who will pay off $250,000 in student loan debt in 3 years I feel I am doing well. However I have a hard time justifying going after my 15 yr fixed mortgage @ 3% when the math would usually work out in my favor to invest in taxable account (after fully funding tax advantaged accounts of course) over those 15yrs.

    • SG,
      I had that same inner struggle when it came to one of my student loans at 3%. I tell the story in the book. I finally decided to bite the bullet and pay off the low interest loan. I felt a burden lift off my back that I didn’t know I had. There is a sense of peace one gets when there is no longer any debt hanging over you. I do discuss the “low interest dilemma,” as well. There is great benefit when interest is no longer being taken from you (even at 3%) and instead only flows toward you.

    • Amy

      Thanks for the post!

      SG, I’m impressed with how quickly you’ve paid off your loans and I am currently having the internal debate now that my only debt is my mortgage with whether I should pay it down faster or invest in taxable. I hate debt! My mortgage is 15 year at 3% as well and even my lender thinks I should have kept my 30 and invested what I’m now spending on the loan.

      Thoughts from others?

      • Amy,
        There is a section in the book about identifying biased advice, one of those is your lender. Lenders don’t usually advise you to pay off loans early. They are the ones earning the interest off you. You should read about my struggle with this issue before making a final decision as it may help you with this very expensive decision. I’m so glad I did it.

      • SG

        Amy,
        Thanks for the kind words. It seems there is no right answer. You stated “I hate debt!” I think you would probably bennefit from paying it off early from a psycholgical standpoint. If you had said “I love leveraging debt to better fufill my goals” then investing would be better from a psychological standpoint. As long as your savings rate is under control, youll be just fine with either.

  • Thanks for sharing this review, POF. I’m going to recommend this book to a few of my friends completing their residency here in the next few years.

    Cheers!

    • Grounded Engineer,
      Thanks for recommending the book. Let the residents know that some residencies are contacting me for bulk purchases. They buy 100 books at a discount and give them to all the residents. They can talk to the program director and see if the same can happen at their residency program.

  • Dr P

    Count me in, thanks.
    I’m contemplating paying off about 150k in student loans vs investing the difference. At less than 3 percent interest, my logical self is saying keep the loan, but the desire to be debt free is strong with this one…

    • I had that struggle and discuss it in the book. If you were cutting back on smoking and are now down to only 3 cigarettes a day, is that good? Well it is better than 10 cigarettes per day but there is an even better number. Get down to 0 interest compounding against you. It is hard to compare 3% guaranteed tax free return, against an unknown and possibly negative return. For most physicians, you can invest and accelerate your debt payoff at the same time. Debt free feels even better than you think it does.

  • Dan

    Found you via WCI, who I’ve followed for years. Great to have another engaging and reliable source for all things financial/FIRE related. Keep up the great work!

  • Joe

    Please send me a copy!!! Thanks!

  • Sounds like an interesting book. Thanks for sharing!

  • Millennial doc

    Thanks for this interesting read and also for the WCI podcast that I had the pleasure of listening to on my drive yesterday.

    I had the unfortunate realization of over 700,000 dollars of debt coming out of fellowship 2 years ago (230,000 remaining on 2 med school loans, new 380000 house, 75,000 on house from residency now a rental property, and 36,000 car loans)

    Thanks to a heavy offense (2 physician incomes) and strong defense (saving over 50 percent of income) we have now paid off school and car loans and are months away from paying off rental property. We can probably be out of all debt in around 2 years.

    I do go back and forth on paying off primary mortgage versus starting a taxable account, but the thought of being out of all this debt in such a short time is just so enticing! And we still are maxing out all retirement accounts at about 100k per year.

    And as you said, living on even 100k per year after all debt is gone is still living pretty large!

    • Nicely done Millennial Doc. Were also in a bunch of debt after fellowship. Plus I kept adding to it. It is great you were able to start paying off those debts.

      For me, currently my only “financial error” is the home I bought. Not too big, but in California everything is expensive. I guess the alternative thought is that if you can keep moving forward with your financial goals, there is no reason you can not enjoy some things. For me the home is a very real and daily enjoyment.

      Financially putting money in investments makes more sense, but from a peace of mind standpoint paying off the mortgage may feel better!

      • Hubby will be off fellowship soon and heading to central valley in California. We are low maintenance people but if you have any hacks living cheap in the golden state, we would appreciate it 🙂
        I’m still trying to come to terms with budgeting for a $400K home by next year

        • Undoctored,
          If you are going to be in a fellowship, don’t buy a house yet, rent one. You are very likely to move at the end of the fellowship, even if you think you won’t, and the risk of loosing money on the house after a short term ownership is very high. I spent many pages discussing this idea in my book “The Doctors Guide to Starting Your Practice Right.” Before buying a house as a resident or fellow, please read that book as well. You may change your mind.

    • Millennial Doc
      Great job on paying off the debt but don’t stop when you get to the house. The same principles apply. Keep going. You could loosen the purse strings a bit and enjoy more income though when you get to the house payment.

    • Thanks so much for listening to the Podcast, and with your offense and defense, those debts will disappear fast.

      I would encourage you not to decide between starting a taxable account and paying extra towards the mortgage principal, especially if you’re on the fence. I think you’ll be able to do both — put a little extra towards the mortgage each month and invest in taxable with what’s left.

      Cheers!
      -PoF

  • Gotta get rid of the malignancy that’s debt in my life some how. I would like to receive the free copy.

  • Tim

    Would love the free copy! Currently crushing student loan debt right now

  • Ashley

    Thanks for another great post! Really enjoying your blog. I started my debt snowball this year and love reading blogs like yours for motivation. And I would love a copy of the book!

  • PS

    I would love a chance at the free book, thanks!

  • Alex Zajac

    Would love a chance to read this book. Sounds like an excellent read!

  • Thank you PoF for the nice review of my book

    • You are very welcome and I look forward to passing the book along to someone else who will benefit from its contents.

      Thank you kindly for sending me the book(s). More book reports to come!
      -PoF

  • anonymous

    The avalanche method of debt payment has worked well for me, but I think the important thing is to make a plan and start paying off your debt. Even though I can see the psychological appeal of paying off a small debt with minimal interest since it’s easier to come up with the money to pay off a small balance rather than a larger balance, I wanted to focus on the higher interest debt first, even though this debt had a much larger balance. It got me more motivated to hustle with moonlighting to get these bigger debts off the table.

    Anyway would be interested to check out what Dr. Fawcett has to say. I have enjoyed Dr. Fawcett’s writing when featured on the PoF blog.

    • anonymous,
      I’m glad to hear you are paying down your debt. Any method that works to keep you motivated to get the job done early is a good method. I’m glad to hear you enjoy my posts, makes me want to keep writing. I hope to see you on my blog as well.

  • Steve

    Sounds great, but what if you don’t have any debt once you leave residency?

    • Steve,
      I left residency with only a few thousand dollars of debt left. Three years later I was about $500,000 in the hole. If you are debt free now, stay that way. Pay cash for everything except your first house. You will likely need to borrow for that. Then pay off the house quickly. The first chapter of my book is my story of going from almost no debt to more than half a million back to no personal debt. Reading the book my inspire you to remain debt free. Great job getting out of residency without debt, you are a rare bird.

  • My wife and I have been debating as of late whether to quickly pay off our house or continue to pour that money into investments. Not an easy decision especially having such a low interest rate loan on our house. However, beyond the numbers, I’m slowly starting to see the value of being debt-free in terms of a “sleep well at night” type thing.

    Any mention in the book of good debt vs. bad debt or is it all “a disease?” I may have to pick up the book to see if he can make a believer out of me. Thanks for the review.

    • Passive Income M.D.
      Investing vs. paying off debt is rarely an either/or decision for a doctor. Almost always you can do both, unless you are drowning in debt.

      I don’t discuss the “Good Debt” vs “Bad Debt” issue in the book. I don’t believe debt is good or bad. It is how you use the debt that becomes good or bad. Debt is just a tool. Unfortunately most people don’t do a very good job using the tool. Thus the issue of debt as a disease. A very poor use of the tool is early gratification, such as borrowing to go on a vacation. A reasonable use of the tool is to make you additional money, such as buying a rental property with a positive cash flow. The main point of the book is to convince people that their idea of a good use of debt might not be true. Debt used poorly can be a terrible burden.

      I recommend people stop managing their debt and start eliminating it. Debt free is a much happier place.

  • Dave

    I am in the camp that there is good debt and bad debt. Why pay off the 3% student loan when a basic savings account pays 5%.

    • ZC

      “Why pay off the 3% student loan when a basic savings account pays 5%.”

      What decade are you posting from, Dave? Early 2000’s? If you have a link to where a zero risk savings account pays 5% interest, we’d love to know about it. If you could show us the details of your time machine, too, that’d be great.

      • Dave

        Actually the 90s. I should have been clearer. Just pointing out there are opportunity costs to paying off debt if you can make more money elsewhere.

  • Queue

    Wife is just finishing up her surgical intern year. Currently have about 220k in debt. Going for to keep going for PSLF while putting monthly student loan debt payments in a taxable account once she’s in attending land in case PSLF goes belly up. Feels sort of unfortunate that I started getting interested in the debt free/FIRE lifestyle after we accrued unnecessary med school debt but before we start making any real money. 🙂

    • Queue,
      Now that you know better, you will be able to do better. Keep up the attitude of not wanting to assume anymore debt and that alone will make you debt free, because you will eventually pay off the debt you have. Gaining this understanding before you earn the “Big Bucks” of an attending will keep you out of a lot of trouble. As you start your attending life, pay cash for things from the start. With the exception of your first home, and you should pay it off quickly, you should not need to borrow anymore money.

  • Seth Cohen

    I would like a copy of the book. Sounds great!

  • Nice post, especially the distinction between avalanche method and snowball method. PoF or Cory, in your experience/opinion, what keeps Physicians from learning about finance? Or alternately what triggers them to learn about it?

    • Harjot Singh,

      Thanks for your kind comment. I think the problem is a combination for doctors. First, during medical school we develop “Debtabetic Neuropathy.” It is a term I discuss in the book, but basically, we borrow for so many years with no consequences (don’t have to pay anything back during deferral) that we become numb to the effects of debt. Then we come out the other end with such a high salary that we don’t think we will have any trouble with money in the future. We are so busy living our life, why would we need to put extra time, that we have so little of, into learning about finance, when we will never have any troubles with such a good income.

      It is only later, when our finances are not as rosy as we thought they would be, or when we near retirement and realize we haven’t saved enough, or when debt begins to effect our life, that we think about learning the basics of finance. That is the pattern I encounter the most.

      My aim is to get to the doctors before that period of their life and teach them how to most effectively use their money to get the most out of life before they reach a breaking point and seek me out for one-on-one help. If we can get on the right track the moment our salary jumps, life can be financially amazing. If we go down the wrong path and outspend that income, and go deeper into debt, life can become a ball and chain.

      I hope every doctor will read my book series and get on the right path before they get into trouble. Like Will Rogers liked to say, “When you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.”

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