FIRE Starter 006: $800k Increase in 14 Months

While many of our interviewees choose to remain anonymous, today we hear from the Prudent Plastic Surgeon, Dr. Jordan Frey.

Now in his second year out from fellowship, he has made tremendous progress. Not only has he seen his net worth increase by over $800,000, he’s also seen his financial knowledge base increase at least 1,000-fold. He made plenty of mistakes early on, and he knew very little about smart money management until recently.

Clearly, he’s been making up for last time, and it shows. Below, he’ll detail how he’s made such a tremendous turnaround.

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.

 

 

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’m pretty close to the beginning of my financial journey. I graduated training after 7 years of residency and fellowship in June 2020. Before that point, I was really totally financially clueless. And I can’t emphasize that enough. I basically ignored all of my finances up until that point.

I had undergraduate and medical school loans and deferred them for all 7 years – huge mistake! And at the end of my training, when everyone was telling me that it would all be good when I graduated, I really didn’t feel that way.

I had $500K in student loans, credit card debt, no savings, and no investments. And I realized a big part of the burnout that I was feeling was due to how stressed I was about my finances.

So my wife and I made a decision to get our financial wellbeing under control. We started reading books and blogs and before long we developed a financial plan.

At that point, we weren’t making a cent more. But just having that plan made me feel so much better. At least I knew that if I just followed this plan, I would be able to reach my financial goals and I would be ok. My burnout got a lot better just by improving my financial well-being.

Anyway, I then became an attending plastic surgeon in July 2020, with a starting net worth of -$420,000. But, we chipped away at things based on our financial plan. We paid off debt, avoided lifestyle creep, and invested in retirement accounts and real estate. And 14 months later, our net worth crossed the “0” line and now stands at +$410,000!

 

Tell us about your household. How many people? Are you supporting anyone outside of your home? Where do you live?

I live with my wife, Selenid, and my 2 young boys Samuel (3) and Emery (2) in Buffalo, NY. My wife and I met in Rochester, NY and then moved to NYC where I did my training and she completed her Ph.D. in Education.

Then, when we both finished, we ended up moving back to my hometown of Buffalo where I work as an employed physician, and she works as a college professor. We don’t fully support anyone outside of our home although we do help our respective families financially each month.

 

In what field are you working? How is your career going? What do you like best and least about your chosen profession?

I work as a plastic surgeon with a specialty in microsurgery. So far, I am really happy with how my career is going. I credit that to a total mindset flip that happened when I was looking for a job.

For the longest time, I was looking for a job based on other people’s values and trying to “fit” myself into a job. Then I realized this was so backwards and started to focus on what I wanted and looking for a job that “fit” me.

I ended up taking an employed position with great partners doing exactly what I want. And I love it.

Another unique aspect of the job that I took is that I’m paid on basically a flat salary. Most surgeons work based on RVUs. However, I knew that I am the type of person to chase a carrot over a ledge and didn’t want to constantly worry about meeting and exceeding my RVU goals. So I negotiated a flat salary that pays me very fair and that has contributed to my satisfaction.

The best part about what I do is helping people to gain back something that cancer, trauma, birth defects, etc… has taken away. It’s a very tangible way to help people which I enjoy. For example, if someone has a mastectomy for breast cancer, I can take tissue from somewhere else on their body and make a new breast. That’s rewarding!

The worst part is probably that I chose the only part of plastic surgery that still has emergency call. If a tissue reconstruction goes bad, I have to come urgently and fix it even in the middle of the night.

 

What is the most challenging obstacle to making progress towards financial independence?

The most challenging obstacle in working towards financial independence is definitely finding that balance between now and later. It’s so easy for me to get caught up in saving and investing and reaching FIRE that I have to remind myself to not neglect the present.

It’s ok to spend on stuff that makes us happy now. So, I have to constantly work on intentional spending. But this is why it’s so great to have a partner like my wife who helps to ground me and keep me focused on what’s important.

 

Investing

 

How is your money invested? Approximately what percentage is allocated to stocks, bonds, real estate, and alternatives?

Within my equity investments, I have 75% in stocks, 20% in bonds, and 5% in REITs. I also invest heavily in real estate. My wife and I are active investors and have bought 3 properties (8 doors) in the past year. They all bring in cash flow and have appreciated via forced appreciation significantly.

In any month, we save 40-55% of our W2 income and about 1/3 of that goes to debt payments, 1/3 to equity investments, and 1/3 to real estate.

All of our real estate income goes back into real estate investing and the same goes for my blog income.

 

Are your investments primarily in tax-deferred, Roth, or “taxable” post-tax accounts?

At this point, ~98% of our investments are in tax deferred or Roth accounts. We just have a very small taxable account since most of the rest of our savings is put towards debt or real estate.

 

Do you have investments in an HSA? How about 529 Plans?

Neither of us has access to an HSA so we don’t invest in one. We do contribute monthly to 529 accounts for both of our kids.

 

What has been your best investment?

I’ll give two answers, one being tangible and one being less tangible.

Starting with less tangible, my financial education has far and away been my best investment. I mean before that, I was hopeless. And I felt hopeless, which is terrible. I thought money was too hard and I couldn’t do it.

But just by reading one blog post a day and 10 pages a day in a personal finance book, I made a huge turnaround. And this is why I try to encourage everyone to just start taking little steps because they add up to big changes before you know it. And that goes for non-financial things too!

The best actual investment so far has definitely been our rental properties. They have contributed the most to our increase in net worth. I am a big proponent of hybrid investing however so I don’t plan to alter our allocation more heavily to real estate at this point.

 

Your worst investment?

Hmmm…I actually don’t really know. I paid for undergrad and med school completely with loans. But I don’t consider my student debt a bad investment on their face.

I did make them a much worse investment by deferring them through 7 years of residency and fellowship. I could have paid minimal amounts and then been very close to forgiveness via PSLF. But regardless I’m on pace to have them paid off in less than 5 years since graduating training, so I’ve come to terms with them.

 

 

FIRE Kindling

 

What attracts you to the FIRE movement? Do you think you’ll retire early when you’re in a position to do so?

I LOVE the idea of working because I want to, not because I have to. It just really appeals to me. I don’t plan to stop working soon. I mean, I just started! And I love what I do. But in general, with anything, I’m so much happier doing it because I want to.

 

How do you anticipate your life changing post-FI?

Honestly, it probably won’t change too much on its face immediately. I’m sure my wife and I will still work because we love what we do. But we will probably be able to back off a bit with more vacations and fewer early mornings and late afternoons.

 

What steps have you taken to hasten your time to FI?

Pretty much everything in our financial plan. Maxing out retirement accounts, creating a big savings rate, spending intentionally, investing in real estate.

 

Are your friends, family, or coworkers aware of your interest in financial independence?

Yes, they are! I don’t come out and advertise it. But it usually sneaks out some way or another and then we get to have great conversations about it.

 

What advice do you have for others beginning their own FIRE journey?

Just get started! It seems really intimidating. At the beginning of my journey I was really scared. I was terrified to look my mistakes in the face and have to address them. But in doing so, I realized that I took the power away from them.

Once I did that, I could finally start taking steps forward and making things better. I’ve really met few people starting in a worse position than me…so if I can do it, you can too!

 

Finally, is there anything under the sun that you’d like some help with? The hive mind would be happy to weigh in.

Why can’t the Jets find a good quarterback? 😢

[PoF: Mike White!]

 

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.

 

 

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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!

Again, if you’d like to partake in a future Q&A, please download a FIRE Starter, FIRE Crossroads, or Post-FI Notes interview form.

 

4 thoughts on “FIRE Starter 006: $800k Increase in 14 Months”

  1. Subscribe to get more great content like this, an awesome spreadsheet, and more!
  2. Prudent Plastic Surgeon, congratulations on the remarkable FIRE progress so far. I agree with you that being able to work because you want to, not because you have too, is a liberating feeling and it encapsulates my current vision for FIRE.

    Also the Jets aren’t alone, the Broncos haven’t been able to find a good QB in ages!

    Reply
  3. This is great, but this “negotiated flat salary” thing is absolute bonkers, especially as a microsurgeon in an undesirable area.

    Unless of course its like 500k/y and you’re only working 3.5d/wk and are really slow as you build this out. Otherwise…you’re going to be getting taken.

    There is nothing scary or difficult about wRVUs, its dead simple and makes everything clear. You can have a base and bonus system. You dont have to go over the ledge, set your limit and keep it.

    Reply

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