This Decision Cost Us 13 Million Dollars, But Was it a Financial Mistake?

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We’ve recently learned how to deal with the guilt of early retirement and how to spot a financial scam that could cost you millions. Today’s post somehow manages to combine elements of both into one potentially huge “financial mistake.”

I haven’t formally calculated the time value of the money I’ve given up to pursue this early retirment dream, but I know it’s substantial.

The analysis done by Dr. Brent Lacey of The Scope of Practice bears this out. Dr. Lacy is a practicing gastroenterologist, putting the “Scope” into Scope of Practice among other unsavory places.

He is also a father of young boys, a financial coach, public speaker, and writer.

Dr. Lacey, tell us more about this ginormous financial mistake.

 

This Decision Cost Us 13 Million Dollars, But Was it a Financial Mistake?

 

What was your biggest financial mistake?

Most people who read financial blogs have made at least one major financial mistake. Maybe you’re familiar with some of these:

Those mistakes can cost tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars.

My biggest mistake will conservatively cost 13 million dollars over the course of my life. I’m not at all worried about that. In fact, I think it has been well worth it.

What was the big financial mistake?

 

My physician wife quit working.

 

It was an incredibly costly financial decision, but it was absolutely the right decision for our family.

 

How did we make the decision?

 

My wife was a year behind me in training. The year I finished my GI fellowship, I got orders to Naval Hospital Pensacola.

We were living in San Diego at the time and had a 7 month-old son. She had one year to go on her pediatric GI fellowship.

Suddenly we had to decide whether she should stay and finish her fellowship or stop. There was no fellowship opportunity close to our new Florida home.

She could stay and basically be a single mom for a year. Alternatively, she could stop a year short of finishing her fellowship.

It was a tough choice.

Ultimately, we decided that the right thing for our family was for us all to move to Florida together. She decided to stop working and stay home to raise our kids.

 

 

How were we able to take such a big financial hit?

 

We were debt-free!

 

We decided during medical school that we would live on only one income and bank the rest. Our goal was to pay off all our student loans before completing fellowship.

We were debt-free just a year into my fellowship, and we just kept living on one income.

It turned out to be the smartest financial position we could have created. Suddenly faced with this very difficult choice, we knew that we were in a financial position for her to quit working for a while. We knew it would slow our savings rate, but it wouldn’t cripple us financially.

This is why I am so militant about paying off student loans. I reject the notion of keeping student loans around and investing in the stock market instead.

That math might make sense, but debt always limits your choices!! I choose autonomy over wealth every time. Financial freedom to live as we choose is critically important to us. I don’t want debt to constrain the choices we make.

We bought a small home in Florida, packed up, and moved across the country.

 

A $13 million dollar financial mistake? Really?

 

I keep calling it a financial mistake, and it certainly hurt us economically. But, I don’t consider it to be a mistake for our family. It was a conscious choice, and we’ve been incredibly happy with it.

This is what the FIRE movement is all about: financial independence gives you choices!

Here’s how I came up with the math:

 

13_Million_Retirement

 

Imagine a pediatric gastroenterologist’s salary of $150,000.That might be a little conservative, but most of them work at academic facilities, not private practice. I’m also taking into account time off, part-time work, etc.

If we had banked all her income, which was the plan, I’m estimating she’d have had $105,000 left after taxes. I’m figuring a 30% tax hit based on my projected future income.

If we had just put that in an S&P 500 index fund for 30 years, it would have grown (at 8%) to $13,040,644.

 

 

That’s the cost of doing business.

 

Again, it was totally worth it!!

We made the decision together and with eyes wide open.No one forced us into this.

We made smart financial decisions for many years to make this choice possible. We lived in a smaller apartment than we could have. Our first home purchase wasn’t until several years after we became debt-free and finished fellowship. We’ve never had a car payment. We don’t buy lots of expensive things.

 

13_million

 

The small sacrifices and smart choices put us in a position to have the choice to eliminate one income altogether.

The lesson? Freedom from debt should be a goal for everyone!

 

What my kids gain from our “financial mistake”

 

One of the most important factors in our choice was the impact to our kids. At the end of the day, we determined that the best choice for our kids is for their mother to be at home with them.

That’s not the right choice for everyone’s family, but it’s the right choice for ours. The boys have benefitted hugely from having their mother around full-time.

She’s involved in their lives in so many great ways! She volunteers at their school and finds great community activities for them. She teaches them reading, arts/crafts, sports, social interactions, and so much more.

Her approach to being a stay-at-home mother is the same as her approach to medicine was: total focus on being the best.

Of course, I think she’s succeeding. She’s amazing.I’m incredibly lucky to be married to such a wonderful wife and mother.

The boys benefit from her direct involvement in their lives. She spends a lot of time coaching them on personal responsibility. They’re learning to be independent at a very young age.

She thoroughly enjoys the work that she does. It has been a lot of fun for me to continue working at least in part to facilitate that.

The great thing about being debt-free and living well below our means is that she can choose to go back to work eventually if she desires.If she chooses not to, we’re still in a position to do that.

Stay-at-home parents have an incredibly tough role, just as working parents do. We both have full-time jobs.

Dual-income families have an equally tough position, and each family has to make that choice for themselves.

 

 

What did we give up?

 

Mo’ money, mo’ problems, right?

Well, yes and no.

I think that ultimately comes down to attitude and choices. I’m not sure money gives you more problems, but it does magnify problems that you already have.

If you’re financially irresponsible with a little money, you’ll be a financial disaster with a lot of money. If you make good choices with a small income, you’ll build habits that will lead to financial success once you build real wealth.

When we made the conscious decision to go down to one income, it cut our savings rate tremendously.Like I said, we were basically banking her entire income and living on just mine.

That’s going to delay our FI date. Not that it matters, as I plan to continue working for a long time. I love what I’m doing too much to quit anytime soon.

We live in a much smaller house than we could legitimately afford.

We drive old cars, for which we paid cash. My car is 9 years old, and hers is 8 years old. That 8 year old car was an upgrade last year from a 14 year-old car.

We don’t take expensive vacations. Our main travel is to go home to see family or go on short weekend trips in our state.

I do a lot of moonlighting, partly to maintain procedural skills but partly to supplement my income. That takes me away from family some weekend mornings.

How much did we really give up? I don’t know, but I guess it depends on your point of view. I don’t think it was giving up too much, and certainly our boys seem to handle it just fine.

It comes down in the end to what choices you want to make for your family.

 

Would we do it again?

 

You bet!!

The truth is, we live very comfortably. Even so, we still live way below our means. I don’t feel deprived of anything, and yet we’re on schedule for an early FIRE date.

In the last 12 years, we’ve never lived on more than 50% of our income. The rest goes to savings, charitable giving, and some taxes. Our taxes haven’t been too bad yet since I’ve been a government employee. Once I go into private practice, I expect that taxes will go up.

We’re still debt-free, living well, and we’ve saved aggressively for retirement. We’re incredibly blessed.

My wife and I both wake up every day secure in the knowledge that we’re living exactly the life we want. Neither of us can imagine doing anything different right now.

 

Final Thoughts

 

Going from two incomes to one, especially losing a physician’s income, is a huge financial hit. Is it a financial mistake? That’s a question each family needs to answer for themselves.

We don’t feel like we’ve missed out on anything major. What we’ve gained has been the family life that we always wanted.

We made very deliberate choices and intentional sacrifices to make this lifestyle possible. I encourage each family to follow our example (as we followed the example of others) and get debt out of your life as quickly as possible.

Becoming debt-free is crucial if you want the financial freedom to choose the life you want. Live well below your means, save and invest regularly, and feel the peace that comes with having choices.

Then, if you want to make your own 13 million dollar “financial mistake,” it’s a choice you can feel comfortable making.

 

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78 thoughts on “This Decision Cost Us 13 Million Dollars, But Was it a Financial Mistake?”

  1. Yawn… So she gave up her career for his? Yeah, that’s never happened before. It’s 2020- how about an article from someone who took a more creative balance and found a way to show respect for the professional efforts of both parents? Maybe your kids would’ve benefitted more from having their father around a bit more instead of being the sole breadwinner who’s off doing “a lot of moonlighting” that takes away from “family some weekend mornings”. Watching a father being solely responsible for the care of his children is a powerful lesson. Doubly so when they see their mother head out of the house to support her family.
    I often wonder whether the analysis that goes into these decisions takes adequate stock of the unsubtle lesson you’re giving your daughters (or sons who may marry a woman someday). Mom spent 4 years in college, 4 years in med school, 3 years in residency and 1-2 more years of fellowship in order to give it up for dad’s career, his moonlighting and his website side hustles… Kids are smart enough to read the subtext.

    Reply
    • I agree. The wife in this case gave up her career, her ability to build and achieve on top of all that she had accomplished in school, and her ability to be fiscally well off if her marriage doesn’t last. It is the last one that I worry about the most.

      Reply
      • That last one would certainly be a concern of mine. Even if divorce didn’t happen, spouses can and do die unexpectedly. Hopefully he has kept a large life insurance policy on himself. This is one situation where I feel life insurance truly serves its purpose well – to prevent financial devastation if the main (and in this case, only) breadwinner dies. And I say that as the child of a mother who suddenly became a widow at age 40, and was left holding the bag with nothing but husband’s debt and no life insurance proceeds.

        But if they are both happy with this choice, then power to them.

        Reply
        • Lynne-
          Thanks for reading the article. I understand the concern about divorce and death. For us, we determine a long time ago that, no matter what, we would just never get divorced. 13 years later, our marriage is stronger than ever. You’re right that death can happen, and that’s why we’ve kept up her medical licenses, CME, etc. So, she can jump right back into medicine any time she likes. That’s an important fallback plan in our situation, you’re right. You’re also right about life insurance being critical. Sorry to hear about your own situation, that’s a horrible situation.
          -Brent

      • Cheryl-
        Thanks for reading the article. You’re right about all of this. She gave up a lot, but it was to gain what was most important to her: time with family. Fortunately for her and for me, we have a totally committed marriage that is mutually supportive. We simply aren’t worried about “the marriage not lasting.” It’s literally not something either of us have ever thought about. I recognize that’s not the norm, but it’s our reality.
        -Brent

        Reply
      • Noah-
        You’re right, the love of money is the root of all evil. That’s why we worked hard to get debt out of our life quickly, so money wouldn’t be the thing shackling us and preventing us from choosing things for our lives that didn’t revolve around money. I agree that one shouldn’t focus only on money. That’s the main point of the article, to point out that we made choices that limited our income potential because other things were more important to us.
        -Brent

        Reply
    • MK-
      Thanks for reading the article. I wanted to correct a couple of misperceptions, and I’m sorry if it wasn’t made clear in the article. She didn’t give up her career for mine. She chose to take time away from her career to focus solely on family. I was very deliberate in making sure that she was the primary person making the decision about her career. It was her choice, and I supported it. If she’d thought that she wanted to make the long-distance thing work for a year, I would have supported that too. I’m a devoted father and husband. We made all of these choices together, for the good of our family and marriage. That’s the subtext that my kids read: a husband and wife that are totally devoted to each other.
      -Brent

      Reply
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  3. No, I agree with the commenter above. This is such a depressing read for women in medicine.

    We decided to negate all of my wife’s desire to be a doctor but we’re still rich, yeah!

    Reply
    • Completely agree. This article feels like it should have been written 50 years ago not in 2020.
      And well said to MK for pointing that out.

      Reply
      • SH-
        Why do you feel that way? Are you concerned that the choice negated my wife’s wishes? On the contrary, it was her choice to stop her fellowship. Isn’t that what’s best about the FIRE movement: making wise financial decisions that facilitates you having choices?
        -Brent

        Reply
        • Was one of the choices that you put your career on hold for one year so she could have finished her fellowship without having to live apart with a young child? Anyway I wish you the best and I respect that you put yourself out there. This just reads as a well worn tale of wife putting her career on hold to support husband which is why I said it felt so old fashioned to me.

    • WKB-
      Sorry it read that way. To be more clear, I was very deliberate and intentional about making sure that my wife was making the decision she wanted to make for her life and career. I supported it. Had she elected to finish her fellowship requiring us to live apart for a year, I would have supported that too.
      In the end, it was primarily her choice, with my support. The point of the article is that we’re less well off financially now having lost her income stream, but we’re happy with the choice we made, which was made possible by making wise financial decisions early in our training.
      I’m sorry it depressed you. I thought it would be encouraging to folks to see how a supportive relationship nurtures mutual decision making that benefits a family.
      -Brent

      Reply
  4. Is $105k the true opportunity cost? What if you hired a nanny to watch over the kids for the first five years until grade school? You probably avoided $30k-$40k per year there. And then, you could remove the cost of a second vehicle, maybe another heap of dough saved there, though most stay at home parents appreciate having a car… Also savings with more prepared meals vs. dining out.. Anyways, whether your opportunity cost is $13M or $3M, it’s still a helpful lesson you’ve raised here. Thanks!

    Reply
    • Cubert-
      Good point. The goal of the article wasn’t so much to provide an in-depth financial analysis as to highlight the benefits of making tough but wise financial decisions early on (like paying off debts) so you have the freedom to make choices later on without worrying about money as much. Your last sentence hit the nail on the head. Thanks for reading!
      -Brent

      Reply
  5. Choosing autonomy over wealth is a good phrase when motivating to pay off loans. We paid outs off in < 3 years and the psychological and habit forming benefits of doing that have outweighed the mathematics. The efficiency part of me cringes though when I think of the amount of training and the potential your wife gave up though. That's why personal finance is personal, and you can decide what is best for your family and situation. I do think MK has a point in the general scope of society, but I don't think that should be an attack on you or POF. If MK want's to read that story than by all means go out and find it, and create your own blog/content.

    Reply
    • Saildawg-
      Thanks for reading the article! Yes, the financial opportunity cost of going to a single income family was painful, but we gained the family life that we wanted. As I said in the article, it was the best choice for us, but I acknowledge it’s not the right choice for everyone. Sounds like you guys worked hard to pay your debts off to gain autonomy over your life too. That’s what FIRE is all about, right? Good for you guys!
      -Brent

      Reply
  6. Wow! The hater comments above are sad. The mother of my children and I had our first child at the end of our third year of medical school. Yes we were in the same year of training. Needless to say it was a difficult time and we had to hire babysitter on student loans. We waited until after we were out of our residencies to have our second and third children. She chose to stay home for a few years to raise the kids. She gradually went back to work part-time as the kids entered preschool then elementary school. The difference in our life parenting experience between our first child and our second and third children is hard to describe. Yes we also gave up significant income but it was worth it. She and I now share a private practice in psychiatry and our kids are grown and have moved away. The point is to always prioritize your life over money and other people’s expectations of how you should live.

    Reply
    • John, you’ve hit the nail on the head. I am a very independent woman who’s always earned her own way through life and while it galls me more than a little to read yet another story where the woman gave up her career to be a SAHM, life is about personal choices and this couple made theirs.

      I think the bigger take-home is that they lived so frugally and debt free before this move to FL happened that they actually had this option. And apparently they are true partners to each other; something I’ve really not had the pleasure of experiencing in relationships.

      Reply
      • Lynne-
        I appreciate your respecting our family’s choices, as I certainly respect yours. For what it’s worth, the decision for my wife to stay at home came primarily from her, with my support. It was very important to me that she not feel bullied or coerced into making a choice that she didn’t want to make. Thanks for reading!
        -Brent

        Reply
      • Agree – but sometimes when written by a man, even those who believe they are the most supportive husband in the world, they miss the subtle and societal push that is placed on women to sacrifice everything for family. I’ve been asked constantly if I’ll change my career when we have kids – my husband not once (and I’m the breadwinner).

        Reply
        • Agree Sara Also when stories like this are circulated ,it gives admissions committees and residency directors pause when they are considering female candidates. Also, it puts women at a potential disadvantage when being considered for jobs.

        • Sara you’ve brought back a memory of mine. When I was close to graduating college I interviewed for a job in my chosen field. The interviewer spent 25% of the encounter talking about the position, and a depressing 75% quizzing me, a single woman, about my future marital, reproductive, and childcare plans. Then he said he had reservations about hiring me because so many women quit their jobs when they have kids. The year was 1989.

          I was appalled by the sexist focus – I know of no man who’s been subjected to this line of questioning.

        • I was asked on every interview when I planned to have children . It was very depressing. This was after 4 years of dental school and 2 years of a general practice residency. My credentials were the best but it was difficult to get hired as an associate. After several interviews , I did get hired . I missed one day in 2 years and the owner dentist called my home and asked if I was pregnant which I was not. I started my own practice shortly after that but many MDs may not be in a speciality that would work as a solo owner.

    • John-
      Wow, great points!! Sounds like you guys did a lot of great things, and you made some really tough choices. The mutual support of a loving family is priceless. And, you’re right, you should prioritize your life over money and especially other people’s expectations of how you should live.
      -Brent

      Reply
  7. Lol. “Hater comments”? Sorry to offend your snowflake sensibilities, but the author of this piece provided a guest post to this site. The purpose of doing so is to draw attention to his own site/business. He’s doing so on the power of his personal story and leveraging eyeballs on PoF’s site, which makes it fair game for discussion…

    His wife basically had to make a decision; be alone with a 7 month old for a year or give up her fellowship and move across country with her spouse. We all know people who’ve been in similar situations and there is never any expectation on the father to sacrifice any element of his career to do what’s right for his family. It ALWAYS falls on the mother. Using language like “what’s right for our family” glosses over the reality of the unbalanced expectations. And as another commenter points out, plenty of women in this situation lose their ability to earn if the marriage doesn’t last. And this factors into many women’s decision to stay in unhappy/abusive marriages even when they don’t want to.
    Finally, I’d also point out that the calculation of your opportunity cost doesn’t factor in the cost of disability insurance you hopefully keep. A fellowship-trained spouse is the greatest form of self-insurance and you wouldn’t necessarily have to pay for outside disability coverage.

    Reply
    • I’ll also point out that true feminism means giving women the opportunity and freedom to stay home if they want. It’s just that the situation described here sounds like she had a figurative gun to her head

      Reply
      • “I’ll also point out that true feminism means giving women the opportunity and freedom to stay home if they want.”

        MK, those are your own words. How do you know that isn’t what happened here? Isn’t it more offensive for you to read this post as if his wife was a weak, dependent woman, and she just followed her husband because he said so? Where did this “figurative gun” come from? I got the impression from the post that his wife is a very strong, independent woman. And that they made the decision together. When he talks about what’s best for the “family” above, he’s really talking about his wife mostly. He would be fine if she worked, of course. And their kids would be fine if she worked, and they were in daycare or stayed with a nanny.

        And, yes, my wife works outside the home.

        Reply
      • MK-
        I’m sorry it read that way to you. The analysis provided by JWeb below is more of an accurate representation of how the situation presented. It was primarily her decision, with my support. I was fully prepared to support her decision either way. It was important to me that she not feel coerced, bullied, or forced into making a decision that wasn’t right for her. She’s a strong, independent woman, and she made the choice freely because it’s what she wanted.
        -Brent

        Reply
      • Agreed. It’s hard to imagine anyone was asking him to take a one year Sabbatical so she could finish…it doesn’t appear to have been considered.

        Reply
        • Sara-
          Being active duty in the military, I didn’t have the option for a one year sabbatical. We actually looked into that, but that was a total non-starter unfortunately.
          -Brent

    • MK-
      You make some valid points.

      1. “His wife basically had to make a decision.” Yes, she made a decision, but it was ultimately her decision. She wasn’t tricked, coerced, bullied or forced into the decision. I was prepared to be totally supportive of either the decision to continue her fellowship or choose to stay at home. Unfortunately, being in the Navy, I didn’t have any choice in the matter of where I was to be sent. Had I been able to make that choice, we definitely would have considered the option of me staying home for a year to let her finish fellowship. We work hard to support each other, and it’s always mutual.

      2. “plenty of women in this situation lose their ability to earn if the marriage doesn’t last.” It’s a good point for society at large, even though it’s nowhere near ever being a concern for us. More pertinent to our situation was the possibility that I could die young, for example if on deployment. In order to make sure she’d be financially secure, we kept up her medical licenses and CME, as well as carrying appropriate levels of life insurance.

      3. “calculation of your opportunity cost…” It’s a good point. The math isn’t all-encompassing. The point of the article wasn’t so much to give a highly accurate financial analysis of our choice, but simply to point out the tremendous opportunity cost associated with dropping a full-time income stream. For those considering such a move, they should consider the financial implications of it. It was freeing to us that we had the ability to make the choice because we had made wise financial choices prior to reaching that point.

      Thanks again for reading!
      -Brent

      Reply
  8. Pointing out that it would be different if the genders were reversed just showed how dumb of am argument that is. I know a few couples where the female is the physician and the male either doesn’t work or in a much lower paying job. Being a stay at home parent is a tough choice no matter the gender. Having kids changes you and what you thought was important in med school might feel back burner now. Good for them for finding a balance to make it work.

    Reply
    • Yes Lordosis. It’s totally dumb. Just like the fact that you can name a few lottery winners means that it’s a fantastic idea to invest your savings in Powerball tickets..
      The reality is that women don’t always have a choice of a spouse who is going to encourage their career. If you have professional goals, sometimes that means marrying someone you know you’re going to end up financially supporting.
      Don’t be ignorant of confounding factors. You’re proving my point with your mentality

      Reply
      • MK-
        It’s sad and too true that many women don’t have a choice of a spouse that will encourage their career. My wife did, and she still chose to stay home. But, it was her choice. We’re both very happy.
        -Brent

        Reply
  9. Wow what a shock, a woman gave up her job to stay at home with kids. If not for the blog post, I’m not sure I would have ever known that this was a thing that happens in America. Thank you for sharing your unique story of male empowerment with the world!

    Reply
    • Burt-
      Thanks for reading the article. I’m surprised you read “male empowerment” in the article. I thought people would appreciate seeing that a strong, independent woman could make any decision she wanted that was best for her. It was a tough choice, but it was her choice, and I was happy to support whichever decision she thought was best.
      -Brent

      Reply
      • You keep calling your wife an “independent” woman, but she’s not. She’s financially reliant on you. Her decision to leave her career wasn’t independent either – I doubt she would have bailed on her medical training in the final year independent of the fact that she was already married to you and had already a child with you 7 months earlier. The reality is that most working mothers continue to do the majority of child and household care, which may have weighed into your wife’s decision even if it was not vocalized. Staring into her future wondering how on earth she would balance demanding work as a physician and caring for your child (or children if she already knew you intended to grow your family) while you continued to put your career first, I can see how she came to decision she did. But if she believed you would support her career by making sacrifices in your own and taking on the lion’s share of child and home tasks, she might have decided differently. I have no doubt your wife is incredibly strong – it must take a great deal of strength to handle the inequity in your home with grace – and you and your sons are very lucky to have her.

        Reply
        • JJ-
          You’re proceeding from the assumption that either of us were focusing on our career as the primary motivator. On the contrary, both of us are totally focused on building the life we wanted as a family. We make decisions together. She ultimately decided that a full-time career wasn’t what she wanted. The timing of my transfer to a new duty station forced us to actually make the decision, but she made it with eyes wide open, and she has no regrets.
          Perhaps the majority of working mothers do the majority of child and household care, but I couldn’t give any stats on that. She’ll be the first to tell you though, that I do my share of work at home as well. There are many men who work full-time and still manage to do a lot of the work at home as well. I’ve certainly met many such men in my career: good husbands and fathers who work as hard on serving their family as they do at advancing their careers.
          Being active duty in the Navy, I didn’t have the choice to abandon my career, so I couldn’t have that option. However, we did have the option for her to continue her career, and she decided she didn’t want to continue. It was absolutely her decision, and it was really important to me that it be her decision and not mine. You’re right about one thing: if I had made the decision for her or guilted/bullied her into it, it would have been unfair and would have rightly generated resentment.
          Your critique of my wife not being independent is interesting. Technically she is financially reliant on me generating an income for the family, but so what? She doesn’t want to go back to work, so should she be forced? I don’t think it’s reasonable to demand that she continue a full-time career that she doesn’t want, in the name of some misguided attempt to “equalize” the relationship when there’s no inequity to be found.
          Perhaps the better way to describe us is inter-dependent. We depend on each other, support each other, and build each other up. I support her, and she supports me. That’s what a loving relationship looks like: mutual support of each person’s goals and support of the family.
          I reject outright the idea that there is inequity in our home. Your implication is that she is somehow inferior in our home because she’s not working in a full-time career. Anyone with a stay-at-home spouse will tell you that they serve an equally vital role in the family. In fact, I would argue that the work of raising children and instilling good values in them is the most important aspect of the family, and both of us work hard on that. Your accusation of inequity is just wrong. Maybe you’ve had colleagues or friends/family who have experienced actual inequity in similar situations, but to generalize that to all working spouses and project that to our family is presumptuous.
          The goal of the article was to share our FIRE journey and discuss how making wise financial decisions together facilitate choices that come with being debt-free and on a path to financial independence. Thanks for reading!
          -Brent

  10. As said above it’s scary for the wife to take such a gamble early in the relationship.
    Was there an agreement for alimony in case of a divorce?
    It all turned out fine but with the current statistics I wouldn’t have bet my career before it even started.
    Plus they’re military so they move every 3 years making it harder for a spouse to find a new job and for a divorced couple to handle custody.

    Reply
    • Dee-
      Good points. It’s scary to take a gamble in a relationship. To answer your question directly, there was no agreement for alimony. We determined during our engagement period that divorce would just never be an option for us. In 13 years of marriage, the subject has never come up. We just work on the marriage constantly so that we never have to worry about it. I recognize that may not be the norm for everyone, but it just isn’t a worry for us.
      My death (e.g. on a deployment) was a bigger worry. To that end, we made sure to keep up her medical licenses and CME, and we had good life insurance set up so she’d be financially secure if anything happened to me.
      -Brent

      Reply
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  12. This was a frustrating post to read for all reasons made above. Seemed like a very one sided decision to give up a partner’s physician career, and seems still one sided:

    “I do a lot of moonlighting, partly to maintain procedural skills but partly to supplement my income. That takes me away from family some weekend mornings.”

    Would love to hear the side of your wife on this.

    Reply
    • SurferboyMD-
      I’ve had several people ask for a follow up post from my wife’s perspective. I think that would be really interesting, if PoF would be interested in posting it at some point. For what it’s worth, the decision was mutual, but primarily it was her decision. It was important to me that she not feel bullied or coerced into making a decision that wasn’t right for her. She’s been very happy with the decision.
      -Brent

      Reply
  13. I think many of the commenters are missing out on the fact that the husband had no choice in his own ability to not move or to stay home due to his mandatory obligation to pay back time to the Navy. In the military, when you get orders to go somewhere, you go, or get thrown in jail. It would be nice to have a follow-up to describe how his wife went through the mental calculus of the decision- what if she absolutely hated her fellowship (and/or medicine)?
    Other choices would have been for her to move with the family and practice as a pediatrician (she had to have successfully completed a residency in order to start a fellowship in the first place).
    Sadly, she likely gave up a much more than $150k/yr. The peds GI docs I know who work in Children’s Hospitals make anywhere from $300- $500K/yr (some even more). Also, the sunk cost of 4yrs of med school, as well as the menial labor of a 3yr pediatric residency makes this all sound like a poor idea financially, compounded by the loss of future income. Hopefully she decides to work at least part time doing pediatric hospitalist or outpatient work of her choosing at some point.

    Reply
  14. We are a dual physician couple, both subspecialties (income potential of $600k/yr ++) and we decided after her fellowship that she would stay home with the new baby. After a few years she came back part time and did not enjoy it so she pretty much quit and now does many big projects and we have many business that she runs and she has many ambitions not medicine related. It doesn’t all have to be about medicine.

    WE chose for her to stay out temporarily for the benefit of the family. Then SHE chose to quit to pursue other projects and ambitions.

    The author’s wife could have gone back to finish fellowship after if she really wanted. Life is much more than medicine. There’s so much more to do, build, experience,etc.

    Reply
  15. My MD wife hated private practice and quit to stay at home with the kids and kept the nanny too, all against my wishes.

    It’s not always the man dictating this, I assure you.

    She was making 500k per year inflation adjusted.

    In the eventual divorce, her decision stung me a second time.

    Reply
    • Ouch. In your case it sounds like your spouse made unilateral decisions, which as you’ve experienced, are toxic to a relationship. I’ve been there too.

      Reply
      • Thanks.

        It amazes me that people here think a women determined enough to become a physician is too meek to say no to her husband.

        It’s actually insulting to women to suggest her decision was forced by either her husband or society.

        Do these critics believe women are children? They aren’t!

        Reply
  16. I get that this is a thing that could be 100% true for your family in terms of her not feeling pressured/what she really wanted to do. But it’s tacky and disingenuous for it to come from the perspective of the partner who didn’t give up their career. No matter how many times you say it was a mutual decision, it’s not nearly as powerful than if she had written it herself. Given the past history of women and prejudice in society and the workforce (that continues to this day, albeit to a lesser degree), surely you can realize why this would touch a nerve with people. Another man speaking for his wife about how happy she is giving up her job for him- this is the narrative you are up against and I think it’s a bit foolish that you didn’t anticipate it. I’m happy for you guys if it works for your family. But we needed to hear it from her, not you.

    Reply
    • CD-
      I appreciate you reading the article.

      If people want to project their bias and personal experience onto an article, it’s going to be impossible to stop it. I think “tacky and disingenuous” is an unfair characterization. Not that you asked, but I’ll tell you that before I posted the article, my wife read the entire thing and even edited it. She’s in total agreement with everything we wrote. So, I’m writing on our behalf, but it’s entirely a mutual thing. I recognize that such a level of mutual spousal support perhaps isn’t seen in all relationships, but that’s how our relationship works.

      I also contend that the implication that she threw away her career needlessly is disrespectful to all the men and women who choose to stay home with kids and not pursue a full-time career. I think each person should feel free to choose for themselves and their family, and it’s not incumbent on any of us to shame someone’s decision just because it’s not the one they would have made. I would never shame a man or woman for pursuing a full-time career and leaving kids in care of a nanny or after-school program. Every family has to make the decision that’s best for them.

      The point of the article was to share a part of our FIRE journey, made possible by wise financial planning and a mutually supportive relationship.

      I understand that everyone has their own viewpoint, which is why I said in the article so many times that it was our family’s choice, and we didn’t want to speak for anyone else.

      Also, it’s important for readers to recognize that she gave up her career of her own free will. It was her choice, not mine. I supported it, but if she had wanted to continue her fellowship and kept up a career full time, I would have supported that too. Also, please recognize that she didn’t give up her career for me. She gave it up because it’s what she wanted. When faced with the choice to be a full-time stay-at-home mom or full-time doctor, she chose the former. But, she chose it for herself, not because I bullied or guilted her into it.

      The point of the article wasn’t that she gave up a career, but that we were able to make a choice between two tough options instead of being forced into one we didn’t want. That choice was made possible by making wise financial decisions, eliminating personal debt, and saving aggressively so we could have the ability to make that choice freely.

      There have been a number of requests for a follow up post from her perspective, and I think she’d be interested in contributing that to the PoF readers. Hopefully we’ll get a chance to submit that soon.

      Thanks so much for reading and for contributing to the discussion!

      -Brent

      Reply
      • There’s nothing wrong with any man or woman being a stay at home mom and we only do get one life and you should spend it as you wish (my own husband stays at home). But if the goal is to be involved with family and go to school events, why are you moonlighting on the weekends away from your family? Is the goal for her to be involved but you not to be? I’ve read in the above comments that she has kept up her CME & license, but medicine isn’t a field that you just jump back with no issue into if you don’t practice, certainly if you’ve never had an attending job. POF can relate to this.

        I am operating under the assumption that this is all 100% above the table, but was just trying to get you to understand why others would take it another way. Not addressing the elephant in the room about the history of women in the workforce and discrimination is still foolish IMO and still should have come from her.

        Reply
        • CD-
          Good questions. The main reason for the moonlighting (which is only one weekend out of every 5-6 weeks) is that I currently work at a low-acuity hospital and honestly need to do some moonlighting at higher-acuity centers just to maintain my skills. I end up being on call (between moonlighting and primary call) about 6 nights a month, which is about average for GI.

          I appreciate the concern regarding discrimination, etc. I abhor and detest any notion of discrimination in the workplace or in society more broadly. I hoped that my many mentions in the article of how it was her choice and how neither of us would ever seek to judge someone else’s choice just because it was different from our own would prevent any concerns from readers.

          I appreciate you assuming the best intentions on our part, as that was certainly our goal.
          -Brent

  17. Sorry, but this is just pure foolishness and planning failure: ‘We determined during our engagement period that divorce would just never be an option for us. In 13 years of marriage, the subject has never come up.’ This is not a binding agreement. The world is full of people who were never going to get divorced, until suddenly they did, and often not by mutual choice.

    Reply
    • Caro-
      From a purely pragmatic viewpoint, I see your point. Divorce is common and often unexpected. However, for us, marriage is a covenant relationship, binding in permanence. We just determined prior to getting married that we would just work on the marriage no matter what, and just keep working on it forever. There would never be a need to get divorced because we would just work on it constantly. Foolishly optimistic? Perhaps? But, it has worked for us as for millions of other couples who remain married decades later.
      -Brent

      Reply
      • Brent, I’m concluding that your commitment level informs your day to day interactions with your spouse… in that you’re both putting in the effort to put a priority on the other person’s welfare and happiness. And that’s a good thing.

        Reply
  18. This title and article feels more like a clickbait article. The analysis of how you got to “13 million dollars” is pedestrian and lazy for a financial website. If this article was an in-depth analysis of the potential cost calculations of giving up a medical career to raise a family, it could actually be good, but as its written I can see why so many of the comments focus on misogynistic comments than financial comments.

    Reply
    • BP-
      Thanks for reading! Yes, the title was chosen to be eye-catching, and it’s not intended to be an in-depth financial analysis. The primary goal was to demonstrate that aggressively paying off debt early in our training years allowed us to have a choice to give up an income stream when the opportunity presented itself, without having that decision cripple us financially.
      I think your characterization of any part of the article as misogynistic is unfair. Why would you assume that my wife giving up a career is somehow oppressing her? It was her decision, not mine, although I did support the choice. Should she be forced back into a career that she doesn’t want? When a woman (or man) gives up a career to stay home with kids, it’s not incumbent on society to shame or demonize that choice. That’s what’s great about the FIRE movement: financial independence gives you the opportunity to have choices, and that was the main point of the article.
      -Brent

      Reply
  19. Brent, it is only a financial mistake if you regret it or did something wrong (like Uncle Sam is now looking for you). It was a hard decision, but you and your wife worked through it together and went with what was best for the family at the time. The question is, does your wife have any big regrets with the path you picked together at the time? If not, and it does not sound like that is the case, then it was simply an expensive decision. Time is the one resource we all get an equal amount of, you guys chose to spend that year together as a family instead of apart, time you would not get back, cannot fault you for that.

    Was your move a military directed one, as in you did not get much say in when/where you were going, only optional piece was for your wife? If so, that may be a piece others are missing.

    Reply
    • Martdoc-
      I agree that it’s only a financial mistake if you regret it, which is why the title is posed as a question, not a statement. The tough decision was made less complicated by us being debt-free, which we achieved by working hard on paying off debts early in our training years.
      I’ve asked my wife many times if she has regrets about the choice she made, and she has none. Furthermore, I’ve asked many times if she would want to go back to working full-time (which I would totally support), and she just has no interest in that right now.
      Yes, the move was a military directed one, and I had no choice in when/where we went. I guess I assumed that was obvious from the description of move being to a new duty station, but that may have been a bad assumption on my part.
      The goal of the article was to demonstrate that financial independence facilitates choices. Being debt-free is worthwhile because it gives you options you wouldn’t otherwise have. If we hadn’t been debt-free, she might have had to take a job she didn’t want just to generate enough income to keep paying off our debts. Thanks for reading!
      -Brent

      Reply
  20. I think the comments are as fascinating as the article. I can feel the passion behind both arguments. Since a big part of this piece was a financial analysis, and that type of analysis should include probabilities and risk management, I do think there could have been a mention of divorce statistics and the onerous toll that taking time off creates for the female partner. That isn’t to say these arguments would have effected a different decision for this particular couple but it would provide a more balanced perspective on the $13 mm mistake.

    Reply
    • Caroline-
      Very good point. Divorce has never been a consideration for my wife and me, so I honestly didn’t even think about including it. But, you’re right, it’s important to factor in loss of a spouse, either through divorce or death. We’ve maintained my wife’s medical licenses, kept up with CME, etc. So, anytime she might want to return to the workforce, she’s ready to go. Thanks for reading!
      -Brent

      Reply
  21. Brent thanks for sharing your story. As a woman, a gastroenterologist in a dual physician marriage, and a mother I had a hard time reading this post honestly.

    Did your wife decide at the 10 yard line that she hated medicine? What was the discussion prior to marriage and children about childcare? I imagine having a family was always in the cards. I find it hard to reconcile that she would go through 13 years of education and training if her plan was to be a stay at home mother. I’m not knocking SAHMs of course – it’s harder than being a gastroenterologist – but it doesn’t require all that education and training. I just wonder what happened to her hopes and dreams for herself?

    Also, your comments about “we are just not getting divorced“ is quite naïve. I do applaud your commitment, but I’m sure many divorcées out there had the same thought.

    It’s not so easy jumping right back into the workforce. Is there a fellowship out there that will just allow her to complete her third year? Probably not.

    Lastly, your comments about your kids being better off with her at home harkins back to the age old debate regarding working versus SAHMs. There have been plenty of studies ad nauseum that show many benefits of having a working mother, not least of which is having higher earning/higher achieving daughters (this is a finance blog, right?) and having sons who are more egalitarian in their own marriages. This is an important motivator for me to continue my career because I want to set an example for my children and show them that women do not always need to put their careers second.

    Reply
    • Celine-
      Thanks so much for reading! You had some great questions. Catherine is writing a follow-up post from her perspective, so be on the lookout for that coming up soon. I think it’ll answer a lot of questions.

      To answer some of your questions more directly:

      1. Did your wife decide at the 10 yard line that she hated medicine?

      answer: that’ll be in the follow-up post

      2. What was the discussion prior to marriage and children about childcare?

      answer: She had pretty much always planned to be a working mom. We decided we would do daycare/preschool, and we did do that for the first 7 months after our son was born until she decided to stop working. More on that in the follow up post.

      3. I imagine having a family was always in the cards. I find it hard to reconcile that she would go through 13 years of education and training if her plan was to be a stay at home mother. I’m not knocking SAHMs of course – it’s harder than being a gastroenterologist – but it doesn’t require all that education and training. I just wonder what happened to her hopes and dreams for herself?

      answer: hopes and dreams change, as they did for her. Again, more to come in the follow-up post.

      4. Also, your comments about “we are just not getting divorced“ is quite naïve. I do applaud your commitment, but I’m sure many divorcées out there had the same thought.

      answer: Some call it naive, and I understand why. I call it dedicated/loyal/steadfast. I’m in this for the long-term. Divorce just isn’t an option. We’re both committed to each other forever.

      5. It’s not so easy jumping right back into the workforce. Is there a fellowship out there that will just allow her to complete her third year? Probably not.

      answer: Her fellowship program has a standing offer for her to come back and finish if she ever decides she wants to. We talked to them about that before we left San Diego.

      6. Lastly, your comments about your kids being better off with her at home harkins back to the age old debate regarding working versus SAHMs.

      answer: The comment was regarding our kids, not everyone’s kids. I recognize that it’s not the right choice for everyone, which is why I was deliberate in saying several times throughout the article that it’s everyone’s choice to decide for themselves, and no one should judge or shame anyone else for their choice. What’s right for us isn’t always right for others.

      7. There have been plenty of studies ad nauseum that show many benefits of having a working mother, not least of which is having higher earning/higher achieving daughters (this is a finance blog, right?) and having sons who are more egalitarian in their own marriages.

      answer: What about studies showing the benefit of having a working dad? I’m a working dad. I’m very dedicated to my kids! They’re learning from me how to be dedicated to their wives (see my comments above about committment). They see from my example how much I love and respect my wife, celebrate her accomplishments, and build her up. They also see her do that for me.

      This is an important motivator for me to continue my career because I want to set an example for my children and show them that women do not always need to put their careers second.

      answer: I want my kids to see that they can choose whatever is best for their family. I have family members with 2 working spouses and some with one working spouse. They’re able to see that there are lots of options.

      Final thoughts:
      The primary goal of the article was to demonstrate that the value in becoming debt-free early in training was that she had the flexibility to choose what to do with her career without being confined by financial constraints. I tried very hard during the article to state clearly that this was our decision, but that it’s not right for everyone else. Every family has to decide for themselves what’s best for them. It’s not up to anyone in society, or in medicine, to choose for another family. That goes for working moms/dads and stay-at-home spouses. The more we guilt and shame each other, the more we alienate each other. We should all be building each other up, which was the point of the article: to highlight how making wise financial decisions together facilitates choices due to elimination of financial burdens.

      Thanks so much for the great discussion!
      -Brent

      Reply

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