Our fifth FIRE Starter is a single dentist in New England with a passion for teaching dentistry, learning about money, presumably the Patriots, and, you guessed it, financial independence.
While he realizes that he could probably afford to retire before he reaches his 40th birthday, he knows himself well enough to understand that it’s unlikely that he’ll leave dentistry completely so soon. The key will be to find what interests and excites him the most and to do more of that and less of the mundane stuff that has him occasionally dreaming of FIRE.
He regrets purchasing individual stocks, but he does take some gambles on cryptoassets, blackjack, and presumably the Patriots.
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Getting to Know You
Where are you on your financial independence journey? Have you reached a positive net worth? It’s OK if you haven’t! Most of us started out in the red.
I certainly have a positive net worth at this point, mostly attributed to my undergrad and dental school scholarships. The passion for personal finance and learning how to keep money came a bit later. Making money is easy; keeping it has always been the challenge, especially when the delayed gratification devil comes to chat.
Tell us about your household. How many people? Are you supporting anyone outside of your home? Where do you live?
I’m a single male in my 30s and I don’t support anyone outside of my home. I live in the northeast near friends and family. I never lived anywhere else, so New England is home to me.
In what field are you working? How is your career going? What do you like best and least about your chosen profession?
I’m a general dentist in private practice. I work as an associate/employee in a small town practice with very nice patients. I also work part-time at the local general practice residency (GPR) as an attending dentist, where I see patients and supervise dental residents.
I enjoy the blend of teaching and clinical practice. Despite only being in practice for about 5 years, it’s great to see the growth of students after just one year of a GPR.
I think the politics and drama of private practice can be a challenge. Business concepts and owning a dental practice can come with growing pains. This is something I’ve witnessed in multiple practices as I transitioned from my GPR to multiple part-time associateships to my current working situation.
Each practice functions differently, just like every business or company operates differently. Managing personalities and “wearing the many hats” to run a practice can be a major source of stress but many dentists believe the financial trade-off is worth it.
To sum it up, the best part of general dentistry is treating patients and providing a service to people who appreciate your care. Fortunately, that comes with great pay working minimal hours.
I average about 3.5 days/week, never accused of working too hard or being too stressed during clinical hours and make a comfortable income that allows me to save and invest heavily on a monthly basis. In addition to teaching residents that value your opinion and help as they continue to learn during their additional training.
The worst part of dentistry is probably the physical and mental toll it can take on you. Being a healthcare provider can be difficult because you always need to be the best version of yourself because that’s what your patients deserve. I believe it’s very important to take care of patient #1, yourself.
What is the most challenging obstacle to making progress towards financial independence?
As I mentioned, I think practice ownership would accelerate my path towards FI from a financial standpoint but I enjoy the benefits of being an associate. I’m free from the extra headaches of owning a practice and I feel my time and freedom are much more valuable than the potential financial benefits of ownership right now. This could certainly change in the future but it works for me, for now.
Another personal challenge towards FI is the idea of delayed gratification that I alluded to earlier. Many of us have gone through years of studying and sacrifice to become healthcare professionals. It is very difficult to continue making financial sacrifices (i.e living like a resident or avoiding the Latte Factor), especially after feeling like we’ve made it and have earned the right to splurge.
That being said, I will continue to delay gratification to some extent. And my main motivation for that is obviously FI and the ability to work because I want to and not because I have to.
How is your money invested? Approximately what percentage is allocated to stocks, bonds, real estate, and alternatives?
$180,000 Vanguard Brokerage Account (40% US stock / 40% International stock / 20% Bonds)
$35,000 Vanguard Roth IRA (backdoor conversion) – REITs
$13,000 Fidelity HSA (100% stock)
$200,000 Home Equity ($130,000 remaining mortgage)
Approximate Net Worth: $319,000
Although my long-term time horizon could justify 100% stock, I prefer to keep some emergency funds in Bonds/Cash. I aim to rebalance with additional contributions each month because that helps me take the emotion out of investing and continue to “buy low”.
Are your investments primarily in tax-deferred, Roth, or “taxable” post-tax accounts?
I’ve never had an employer 401(k) available to me and I don’t really like the idea of waiting until 59.5 years old to access my savings anyway. Therefore, all of my funds are either taxable brokerage accounts or backdoor Roth IRAs. I guess my HSA is the only true tax deferred investment.
Do you have investments in an HSA? How about 529 Plans?
My Fidelity HSA is fully invested and I hope to use it as a stealth IRA in the future. That being said, all of my healthcare costs are covered out of pocket and I save the receipts for future reimbursement.
What has been your best investment?
Vanguards low cost index funds and ETFs – I love the low expense ratios and the concept of buying and holding. I have to remind myself that the cream rises to the top when it comes to index funds. And nobody really knows what that cream will consist of in 20+ years.
Your worst investment?
Individual stocks – yes, I’m guilty of trying to make a quick buck. I like to gamble so that filtered into some of my investing. When I revisit my Investor Policy Statement, I’m reminded to stay the course and accept market returns. With that said, I stick to blackjack or sports betting if I’m looking for a thrill.
The jury is still out on my crypto and NFT ventures. It’s obviously a new space that seems to be gaining some traction so I’ve done some research and allocated a small percentage of my portfolio to it. We’ll see how it goes. You can’t win if you’re not playing the game.
What attracts you to the FIRE movement? Do you think you’ll retire early when you’re in a position to do so?
I think the FIRE movement can garner criticism if you’re too open about it (which I have been). I like to voice my opinions and hear them out loud but sometimes that falls on the wrong ears. At the end of the day, I think there are plenty of different ways to live your life, depending on your goals.
So just do what you think is right. Do your own research, listen to other people that may agree or disagree. Try to play devil’s advocate with yourself. It’s easy for us to align with people who have similar views or opinions, but that tribe mentality can be very narrow minded.
The idea of retiring in my 30s sounds cool, but I know I’ll never truly retire. I’ll just transfer my passions and interests to something else. If money wasn’t an issue, I’d just find something I’m excited about and pursue that passion. Whether it’s a new hobby, old hobby or just relaxing with relatives and friends. Maybe settling down and starting a family of my own someday.
Unfortunately, it’s difficult for me to strike that balance right now because I’m too focused on entrepreneurial pursuits outside of my training as a dentist. Finding a balance between work and play can be difficult enough, let alone a serious relationship.
How do you anticipate your life changing post-FI?
I’d like to think it would involve more teaching, volunteering, and labors of love, as well as fulfilling my own passions and enjoying hobbies. I used to golf a lot and I’d love to get back to scratch handicap days or find more time for exercise and travel. Recently got into cycling so I’ve been enjoying that as a form of therapy and great cardio.
What steps have you taken to hasten your time to FI?
Just save and invest. Keep it simple. Live like a resident. Cook more, eat out less. My most valuable habit towards FI has probably been tracking my expenses. By the end of each month, I can evaluate how I did with my savings goals and decide if I need to cut back or loosen the leash. I think that’s a good way to “rebalance your life” between work and play because I’ve been guilty of being too frugal.
Are your friends, family, or coworkers aware of your interest in financial independence?
I think some of them are aware of my passion for personal finance, but it can be a private conversation topic. Maybe a bit off-limits for some individuals. My parents engrained the idea of saving more than you make so I’ve always had that concept in the back of my mind. I might have taken it to another level.
Although I think personal finance is important, I think I’ve shared too much with some coworkers and colleagues. It can be a very sensitive topic because everyone’s financial situation is different. I’m aware of this and I think I will be a little less open about my FI goals, unless it’s a very close family member or friend or a peer who may be looking for advice, and I think I can help.
What advice do you have for others beginning their own FIRE journey?
Live below your means. Delay the gratification a little bit longer. When you can actually afford to buy your dream car, you might not want it anymore. But remember to rebalance your life between the YOLO and FIRE mindsets.
Finally, is there anything under the sun that you’d like some help with? The hive mind would be happy to weigh in.
None come to mind right now but I’m sure that will change in the future. At this point, I’m just grateful for like-minded individuals with a passion for personal finance and freeing up their time to enjoy their life however they choose. Thanks for giving me the opportunity to share my story. Cheers!
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I’ve shared my feedback privately with today’s guest. I wouldn’t want my opinions to influence yours. Please give your take in the space below!