Introducing Ether to FI: A New Attending Striving for Financial Independence

This is the first of what I expect to be many posts from a reader who reached out to me eager to share his path to Financial Independence in real time. I’m excited to introduce you to our new online friend who will be known as Ether to FI (E.T.F., for short).

E.T.F. and I have a lot in common — we are both anesthesiologists, husbands, and fathers with an interest in personal finance. The big difference? E.T.F. is just launching his career while I am starting to wind mine down.

E.T.F. has a keen interest in attaining financial independence and he would like to share the details of his journey from his first day as an attending as he progresses towards the goal.

You’ve gotten used to hearing the perspective of a financially independent physician — now you’ll get the additional perspective of a young physician who has made financial independence a priority. We plan to update this series on a recurring basis, sharing the numbers, thoughts, pitfalls, and celebrations along the way.

Here’s E.T.F.!

 

Meet Ether to FI

 

Hello FIRE nation.  I am E.T.F.  You are probably wondering what happened to the missing “RE” in my name.  That was not an accident.  I will probably have many different occupations in my life, but I am on a mission to find work that I love. Charlie Munger working at 93 is my inspiration. The day I become financially independent will be my last day of “work”.

I am a 31-year-old anesthesiologist starting my career in middle America, where the cost of living is low, but rising steadily. I am married with two kids under the age of five.  I am a financial nerd, and proud of it.  I love everything finance related; podcasts, blogs, and books.  If you have any recommendations, send them my way.

My qualifications to teach anyone about personal finance: absolutely nothing.  I am just a doctor who loves this stuff who thinks sharing my experience might help other people.

 

Before I tell you about where I am starting and where I am going, here are the most important reasons for my future FI success:

  1. I married the right person
  2. See #1, this woman has an intense allergy to spending money
  3. I find the process of FI extremely interesting.

 

What is my FI number?

 

$3.3 million.

 

How did I arrive at this lofty sum?  I stuck a finger in the air.  Ok, maybe I did a little more than that.  I want to live on $100,000/ year in retirement.  This will be plenty to spend once a few things are eliminated.

Luckily for me, I decided that residency was going to be hard, so it would be a perfect time to wallow in misery and not spend any money (you can start strumming the world’s smallest violin for me).  My wife and I decided to live on her income and give my salary to Sallie Mae.  We did it Dave Ramsey style, smallest to largest, and dispatched $102,000 in debt in twenty-one months.

For the record, my wife came into the marriage with zero debt, and the $102,000 was my medical school loans.  We purchased a car for $5,500 at the start of residency for me in cash.  She continued to drive her car from college.  Paying off that amount of debt in that period of time was not easy, but without kids in retrospect, it was a breeze.

I would define myself as a reformed Dave Ramsey follower.  I still believe in his approach to debt, lack of credit cards, and paying cash for major purchases (a.k.a. houses, more on this in a future post).  I do not agree with his investment advice, I am basically a “Boglehead” with slight modifications. My current portfolio as of July, 2017 is as follows.

 

ETF Net Worth

 

Why do I need $100,000 per year in retirement?  I arrived at this figure with a 3% withdrawal rate from my “number”.  I figure 15-25% in taxes, will leave me between $75,000 to $85,000 to spend. FI includes the $3.3 million, a paid for house, fully funded kid’s college funds, and no other fixed expenses besides daily living and property taxes.  I estimate living expenses of $3,000 to $4,000 a month once FI.  The rest of the money is to travel and take care of unplanned expenses.  I plan on having a passport full of stamps.

The largest part of our current budget is daycare; I cannot wait for public school to start. We plan on maintaining our current lifestyle regardless of income.  We will be in the same apartment, drive the same cars, and shop at the same places.  We have a list of goals that have to be accomplished before buying a house, so I anticipate renting for five more years.

 

Current FI Status and Goals

 

Goals:

  1. Fully fund Backdoor Roths: $11,000/year
  2. Max out retirement options at work: $72k for ETF and $36k for Mrs.
  3. Buy a 4-year-old minivan in cash: $25k
  4. Increase emergency fund to 6x monthly budget: additional $30k to fund
  5. Finish 529s for each child by age of 4: $40k each child
  6. Taxable Investments: Freedom fund and college savings
  7. Save for a house

 

Where are we starting?  Our current net worth is a hair over $80,000; this includes an emergency fund and retirement accounts.  Our combined salary plus bonuses now that I am an Attending Physician will approach mid six figures.  In order to stem lifestyle inflation, we have capped our spending number at $8,000 per month. Stay tuned, and keep me honest.

My goal is to beat the PoF 10-year timeline to FI, but I am planning on enjoying the process.  The budget could be slashed, but speeding to FI is not my only consideration.  Remember, I am on the Charlie Munger plan. I will be working at 93, so I will likely not spend the money I am saving.  My purpose in pursuing FI is to have choices.

Working is only a chore when you have to be there.

-E.T.F.

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34 comments

  • I appreciate you sharing the journey and the timeline. If you can avoid lifestyle creep you will hit your goals quickly. Just don’t go overboard with the frugality to the point you aren’t taking advantage of some of the life enjoyment opportunities that financial freedom could bring.

    • CM

      He’s going to spend up to $96,000 per year ($8K/month)! Only 13% of the country earns that in gross income.

      I don’t think he needs to worry about going overboard with the frugality on that budget. (Nothing wrong with that, mind you, but it’s hardly spartan.)

      • Ether to FI

        Hey CM, I was waiting for people’s opinions on the budget. $4200 of the budget is daycare and housing. With those things eliminated in 3-5 years, we will probably spend $3,000 a month. The excess is for travel and to take care of parents. My goal is not to be spartan, I will be working at 93, hopefully.

        • CM

          You’ll be rich in no time. Just put your savings plan on auto-pilot and forget about it while you live your life.

  • Very interesting! I like your writing style and look forward to following you on your journey. You have obviously made some very good choices along the way to put you at positive net worth just after training. Just to clarify, are the $40k savings per child for college an annual goal or a total?

    • Ether to FI

      The $40k each is the total in 529s by the age of 4. The rest of the college/graduate school savings will be in taxable investments. I want to avoid too much money in529s. Lets pray for those scholarships, so the money can compound for future grandkids.

      • snowcanyon

        Just curious- why??

        • Ether to FI

          I want the flexibility to use the money for other purposes if they don’t need the money for college. We plan on working hard with them to get good grades etc. and go to undergrad on academic scholarships. The money is being saved for grad school. “College money”, not in 529s can be redirected for other purposes such as helping them with money to buy a house or start a business.

  • Welcome! That’s a very ambitious F.I. number, but it gives you a great starting point! I think that geographical arbitrage will be a key factor in your financial growth, and you picked the ideal location in the country for doing so.

    Looking forward to seeing more of your journey!

  • mrsytf

    Welcome to the journey! For the record my husband and I are 8 and 9 yrs out post fellowship and are essentially FI. So you can definitely get under that 10 yr mark. If we sold the house or paid off the mortgage we’d be there. We got there in <10 years mostly by the fact that we are both in medicine, live in a LCOL area, waited to buy a house for three years post training and had minimal student loan debt (80k). What stalled us a bit was the third kid, and having him 3.5 years after the second. Our first two are very close in age and we achieved economies of scale with a nanny. A nanny for two or three is a $1 or $2 more per kid as opposed to daycare. Having the little guy meant we had to have the nanny for longer and at the same rate. We couldn't decrease her salary even though at a certain point she did little for the oldest two. I also leased a BMW for 3 years for no real good reason. I have to say it amazes me how expensive cars are. 25k for a four year old vehicle! Guess I'm holding onto this 7 year old minivan for a little no a lot longer.

  • HDent

    Congrats! Im in essentially the same position: newly graduated from anesthesia residency, although Ill be doing a year fellowship. Wife also went to grad school and had significant debt, thus while we have a bit more in assets our net worth is six figures in the red.

    May I ask how you got to the $72k and $36k? Im curious as Ive been maxing $18k for spouse and I, but hope to get enough moonlighting in this year to open a solo 401k. I look forward to ‘comparing notes’ as I follow your journey through!

    • Jason K

      I too would like to know how you got to $72k…..I run our 401k plan, and we will max out at $54k this year. I’m also a fellow gas-passer.
      -Jason

    • Ether to FI

      We have an additional option called an Optional Retirement Plan (ORP). This has additional matching, $1.25 for every dollar contributed. Due to the 54k max employee/employer contribution rule, I max out at $54k between 403B/my ORP contribution/ORP employer matching. 457B does not count towards the limit. Total for me is 72k.

      • Ether to FI

        I forgot to answer about the 36K for my wife. She has a 403B option and a 457. She does not currently have an option to do extra retirement savings.

  • Wow you have such a great plan for early retirement. And I have no doubt that with careful planning and dedication, you will get there one day. Our biggest expense is also daycare, and I can’t wait for Baby FAF to go to public school. We might have another kid by then, so it will save us so much money!

    Best of luck with your FI journey! 🙂

  • Hatton1

    Great story and I look forward to following your progress. I think you can do it if you decide that is your goal.

  • Thanks for sharing and I like the concept. Real time FI….

    I think you are well on your way to FI. Cost of living in your region and a strong idea on how to save and not spend all your money will lead you down the right path.

  • G

    Sounds very similar to myself. Same profession, similar location, wife is in grad school (future salary will be negligible…). We paid off 75k of student loans during our first 1.5 years of residency. I will have been at my first job 2 years in a few weeks, and we now have over 600k in savings. I did buy a house after renting for the first year out to make sure I liked the job. I also arrived at a similar FI number (I est I needed 3 mil, and a 3-4% withdrawal rate for 90-120k/yr). Depending how the market does, I think it’s possible to get there in 10 years, but 15 years was the original plan. I don’t live super frugally, but I try to be more careful with the bigger item purchases. I probably live on about 120k/yr, but that gets you a lot in the area that I live.

  • Nice to meet you! And welcome. I look forward to hearing your perspective and seeing future posts!

  • Welcome to the road to FI. I like your lack of RE in the same way. I think “what will I do after/during medicine?” And how can FI get me there. I’m about 10 years ahead of you in my career with the same FI number. We’re basically there. I started with blogs then books and forums.
    Sounds like you’re ahead of the game timeline wise. I would say that your estimated taxes on your 100K annual expenses are probably too high IF your income is mostly from your investements. You could even be in 0% bracket if you tax diversify enough during your accumulation phase. There are plenty drawdown plans posted. I found this one by Dr Curious to be helpful as it’s lucid, short and close to my (and your) number.
    https://mycuriositylab.com/show-me-the-money-my-retirement-drawdown-plan/

    Look forward to following your journey and learning from you.

    • Ether to FI

      Thank you for the link, POF also has a good article on the topic that you probably read. Lower to no taxes sounds excellent. If I have more money to spend, I will work on developing expensive taste.

  • EnjoyIt

    Great plan. Just want to let you know that even withdrawing $100k/yr you will not be paying anywhere near 15% in taxes. I suspect at worst it will be about 5-10% depending on state tax.

    According to taxcaster if you withdraw $100k from your tax deferred accounts every year. Your tax liability will be $5896. If some of that $100k is coming from a taxable account then you are taking about qualifies dividend aNd long term capital gains.

    For example if you take $50k of long term capital gains from a taxable account you are also able to take out $60500 from your tax deferred accounts and pay $0 in taxes. Leaving you at least 10500 to do tax free Roth conversions for the future.

    That is using today’s tax code and ignoring state tax. You will have to do your own calculations to figure out your own situation.

    EDIT: looks like aGoodLifeMD beat me to it.

    • Ether to FI

      Another person trying to lower my taxes, I am making friends all over the place. The less taxes I have to pay, the happier I will be, probably will let me live longer and spend my kid’s inheritance.

      • EnjoyIt

        Well let me help you more.
        At 3% withdrawal rate there is a very high probability you won’t run out of money, but you also will likely die with much much more than you started with. I believe there is even a chance of hitting over $10million.

  • Keep up the great work!

    “FI includes the $3.3 million, a paid for house, fully funded kid’s college funds, and no other fixed expenses besides daily living and property taxes.”

    I liked that quote. I’m there. I once had a large negative net worth. Stay humble. Save, invest and you will be there sooner than you think.

    My only quibble is your estimate of future monthly expenses is likely low. The average American household spends $4,500 per month or so. For physicians I budget at least twice that for normal living. They often want to spend more at some point. That will be fine for you – especially since you want to keep working.

    • Ether to FI

      Hey Wealthydoc, I appreciate the response. I should clarify, the 3-4K estimate is to run our house when FI, which will be pretty comfortable without housing or school expenses. I anticipate spending more money on travel and entertainment, but that spending will be optional.

  • PEDs Allowed

    Great post, ETF!

    I am the same age as you and on a similar journey as you with a young family chasing FI. I am looking forward to following your progress.

  • Millenial Doc

    Welcome! I have pretty similar demographics and goals, and therefore found your story very interesting. In the back of my mind, I had come up with an pretty much identical number of just over 3 million for my FI number. My reasons: while I realistically plan on having pretty similar spending habits as PoF once all debt is gone (probably 70-80k per year on “most” years), I want to leave room for some unexpected expenses, or some big ticket expenses that one may encounter every couple of years (i.e. new roof/windows, home upgrade, new car, etc.). Therefore 100k/year of spending. Furthermore, while I believe that the 4% withdrawal rate is most certainly very safe for the typical retiree, I am probably going to aim for a 3% withdrawal rate, because to FIRE from a well-paying job that I genuinely “like”, I would like to ensure that there are absolutely ZERO financial regrets. At 3%, not only will you never run out of money, you can probably have a gradual and continuous upgrade in spending throughout your retired life (if you plan on spending all of your money), or just plan on passing along a ton of money to heirs when you die.

    While I agree that 100k with no debt is a very nice lifestyle, I did want to ask you if you are including health care in your $48,000 per year of basic living expenses that you alotted for. In my budget, I am assuming that health care for a family of 4 would probably be my single biggest line item expense as an early retiree, maybe even up to 25-30k per year for premiums plus max deductible. Again, even accounting for this, there is a lot left over if you are withdrawing 100k/year, but just thought that this should be brought up.

    Also, agree with others that you probably overestimated your taxes, as I have learned from this site that I can hopefully look forward to paying next to nothing in federal taxes when I retire (hey, if you can be happy spending 100k or less per year, might as well make our progressive system work for you!!!).

    • Ether to FI

      Hey Millenial Doc, healthcare is not yet on my radar because I don’t plan on retiring early. I need to stay busy, boredom comes easily. Healthcare is provided at my job as a benefit after a certain number of years of service. If not, I think the 100k budget will still cover our costs with a good deal of leeway. Thanks for your comments.

  • Natasha

    I didn’t see any mention of an HSA…

  • Ether to FI

    Hey Natasha, I don’t have an HSA option. If that ever becomes an option, I would be the first person in line.

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