All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.
Striking that elusive perfect balance between your job and career and your personal life continues to be a struggle for folks not yet retired. Indeed getting closer to one’s personal tolerance for that balance is often a strong motivator for the FIRE movement.
In today’s interview, we meet a couple of CRNAs who have diligently saved and eliminated debt, which has now given them the opportunity to both take a step back in hours worked per week and find for them that balance.
Learn more about their journey, and if you’re interested in participating in one of three interview series, please download the most appropriate form for your life situation: FIRE Starter, FIRE Crossroads, or Post-FI Notes. To see other posts in the series, visit our Q&A archive.
Where are you on your financial independence journey? Have you crossed the halfway point in terms of net worth and/or passive income?
We are just about midway through our financial independence journey. We are starting to build our net worth and have just recently become debt-free. Without any debt eating away at our income, I expect that our ability to invest will increase exponentially, along with our net worth.
Tell us about your household. How many people and at what ages? Are you supporting anyone outside of your home? Where do you live?
My household consists of my wife (32) and myself (33). We have one son (2) and a daughter due in April 2022. We live in the suburbs of a city in the southeastern USA.
In what field are you working? How is your career going? What do you like best and least about your chosen profession?
My wife and I are both nurse anesthetists. Our career is going well overall. We are fortunate to be in a field that is in high demand and one that pays well also.
Ambitious and drawn to leadership, I climbed the ladder to middle management rather quickly and just as quickly learned the downside of middle management.
My wife broke away from standard W2 employment about a year ago and opened her own business in order to begin independently contracting her anesthesia services. This has provided more flexibility and a higher earning potential.
I will be joining her soon in her venture and we will be adding the service of staffing healthcare providers to our list of services. We’ve learned that we are good at both networking and creating relationships. We’ve also learned that businesses have difficulty recruiting people for various reasons and that we can help them fill their needs.
There is much that we enjoy about our career and also plenty that we don’t enjoy, but it balances out pretty evenly most of the time. Overall, we have found our profession to be rewarding. We help people and are in a career that is continuously evolving, which allows us to keep learning and growing. It also provides for good variety as all patients and surgeries are unique in one way or another.
The things we don’t enjoy with healthcare are the typical things that lead to burnout that most healthcare professionals experience at some point in their careers: reimbursement, insurance companies, production pressure, increasingly high acuity patients, politics, bureaucracy, and the like.
Do you feel you’ve come to a crossroads of sorts? If so, tell us about it. What options are you contemplating?
The crossroads that we have arrived at is that we recently paid off our mortgage and do not have any consumer debt. We’ve worked hard to earn a good income and we’ve recently crossed over the millionaire threshold. We have one small child and another on the way. We are torn between frugality–continuing to push on with earning, saving, and investing–and slowing down to spend time with our kids while they aren’t in school and actually want to spend time with us.
My wife decreased her schedule to around 20 hours per week when our son was born and she will continue to work that amount. That amount of work has provided her with a good balance for now. I will likely decrease my hours to around 30 per week from the 50-70 I’ve worked the last few years. With no debt and fewer financial obligations, it should be easy for us to continue to invest heavily and live life, all while working less.
How is your nest egg invested? Approximately what percentage is allocated to stocks, bonds, real estate, and alternatives?
Our nest egg is currently invested in Vanguard index funds, with most of that being in stocks.
Our mid-term plan is that we will max out tax-advantaged retirement accounts and then we will put the excess into brokerage accounts to eventually fund the purchase of 100% cash real estate. I’m not sure what we will do beyond tax-advantaged accounts and real estate.
Are your investments primarily in tax-deferred, Roth, or “taxable” post-tax accounts?
Our investments are almost entirely (95%) in Roth accounts.
Do you have investments in an HSA? How about 529 Plans?
We started an HSA this last year after my wife left her W2 job. We will likely continue forward with an HSA plan once I join her in her business.
We have started a 529 plan for my son and will start another for my daughter soon. We currently contribute $10,000 per year to my son’s plan, and we plan to do the same for our daughter.
What has been your best investment?
Our best investment has been each other and being on the same page with our goals and finances.
Our next best investment has been our choice of career and our income.
Also, our decision to invest early and eliminate debt has been one of our best investment decisions. Early investments allowed for more time compounding and eliminating debt released us from many financial obligations, giving us the freedom to invest more and only select the highest paying positions. These strategies have also directly allowed us to work less while keeping income high and have more time to invest in our family.
Your worst investment?
Our worst investment (kind of) was on me. I began my undergraduate education in pre-med and went to a prestigious and expensive private university without much of a plan. I didn’t have much guidance and didn’t know anyone in the medical field, so I basically racked up a bunch of student loans (to the tune of $120,000 in two years), got scared, and switched paths. Luckily, I had worked hard and earned good grades, and perhaps even luckier, found a good career alternative. Had it not been for those two years and a large balance of student loans, we’d be much further ahead on our journey. My mom would argue that I still learned a lot during that experience and she is probably right. I took some high-level sciences that helped me later on, and also gained a healthy fear of debt. Ha!
We didn’t make many mistakes beyond that. There are some other things we could have been more patient with, or done in a different order to make our lives easier, but nothing substantial that got us off track.
Into the FIRE
Numerically, what is your FI goal?
If we based it on the 4% rule, we would need to get our tax-advantaged accounts to around $1.5 million. I think we will hit that fairly easily, so a more lofty goal would be to get to $10 million, but there isn’t a good reason for us to select that number.
When do you suspect you will achieve financial independence? Will you retire from your career once you’re comfortably FI?
I think we will likely hit financial independence in the next five years. I don’t think that we will fully retire when we hit our FI goal. We believe there is dignity in work, along with purpose, and that there are plenty of other solid reasons to continue working. I do imagine we will work even less than we are planning in the upcoming year and would likely only work a couple of days a week. We enjoy what we do, and with the overall shortage of anesthesia providers in America, we think we have a valuable skillset and an opportunity to help people in ways that others are not able to help.
What are your post-FI plans? How will your life change? What do you look forward to the most?
We plan to travel more and spend more time with family and friends. We plan to increase travel in the upcoming year and even more so as we become more financially independent and work less.
We plan to take a couple of pages from PoF’s book. Haha. We’ve very much enjoyed following along with your story and your FI journey. It’s been so beneficial to read about the way you did things, especially considering the similar careers and shared interest in travel. You’ve provided us with a road map of sorts.
We haven’t mentioned this, but we’ve also done multiple, high-level surgical missions in Africa. It was a life-changing experience for us. We were able to help so many people that would have been unable to receive the help otherwise We’d love to use our time, skills, and resources to do more of this in the future.
Have you made any major changes in your lifestyle or investments to accelerate your FI path?
We’ve lived frugally, worked a lot, and sacrificed some of the finer things in order to completely get rid of debt and invest as much as we could.
Are you facing any unique challenges making FI or RE more difficult?
Nothing unique. Childcare has been a hefty expense. We knew it would be a lot but probably didn’t appreciate how much. After a couple of years of childcare, we’ve basically calculated that we are paying similar costs as we would be for a college education. The cost of health insurance is always a concern.
What advice do you have for others who are seeking financial independence?
Work hard; your income will be your best wealth-building tool. Stay out of debt, as debt steals from your income and your ability to invest heavily. Get on the same page as your spouse.
Find contentment. It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking we deserve to have all of these materialistic things. It’s also easy to think those are the things that will make us happy and content, but it’s not. When you find contentment with life, relationships, and experiences, the material things lose importance. Contentment allows you to grow your money and use it on things that can create real change in the world.
Finally, is there anything under the sun that you’d like some help with? The hive mind would be happy to weigh in.
This one is for you, PoF. How and when did you know it was time for you to fully retire from being an anesthesiologist? Was it hitting your FI number?
Did your other interests outweigh your interest in anesthesia? Was it all of the non-anesthesia variables that come with being in practice? Or did you just not enjoy it as much as you once did or as much as you thought you should?
Also, what do you or others do for health insurance coverage with slow travel to different locations across the US and abroad?
PoF: Catch all the future interviews from those just getting started, at a crossroads, or at the end of their FI journey with a free subscription to Physician on FIRE.
I thank today’s interviewee for sharing their story, and I’ve shared my feedback privately with them. I wouldn’t want my opinions to influence yours. Please give your take and answer any questions they have had in the space below!