FIRE Starter 007: An Emergency Vet in the Pacific Northwest

I’ve always been in awe of veterinarians. They take care of animals weighing anywhere from a few ounces to a few thousand pounds. And, since the patients are very unlikely to have any idea who you are or what you’re trying to do to them, they may instinctually want to hurt you.

Additionally, animals are often intubated in the prone (belly down) position, which seems bizarre to me, although when I got to know a vet student back in my residency days, I was told that we people doctors are the ones intubating patients upside down.

The reward for the incredibly difficult job of a veterinarian is pay that is much lower than that of the typical human physician. Today’s interviewee, however, has found a way to double her salary in veterinary medicine.

Now, five and a half years into her career, she’s off to a great start, and she has her sights set on financial independence at a relatively early age.

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.

 

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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 am still early on my journey to FIRE. After graduation, I had $125,000 in student debt and no financial education. I knew I wanted to get rid of the debt quickly and made a plan to do so within 5 years of graduation.

I actually paid my last loan off 3.5 years after graduation and felt a huge sense of relief. But then I realized I had all this ‘extra’ income that had been going to my debt and no idea what to do with it.

I found the White Coat Investor early in 2020 and subsequently started learning everything I could about finances. Now, 5.5 years out of school, I have no consumer debt, have bought my first house, and have $112,000 invested.

My goal is to continue the wealth-building over the next several decades. I’d like to be able to work part-time by the time I’m 45, have my mortgage paid off within 15 years, and be well on the way to financial independence.

 

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

I am in my early 30s, married with no children… well, no human children. I have two dogs, four cats, three horses, and a few dozen chickens and geese.

I live in the beautiful and rainy Pacific Northwest. I have no dependents, though suspect we may be helping parents out as they get older.

 

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

I am an emergency veterinarian. I love it! I worked a few years in general practice after graduation, but discovered that, although incredibly important, preventive medicine was not my passion and not something I was interested in doing for the next several decades.

I made the transition to emergency medicine and absolutely love it. I love the chaos of admitting triages while managing hospitalized patients, jumping into a procedure or emergency surgery, and then getting on the phone to counsel owners.

I recently started working at a brand new emergency and specialty hospital and enjoy the challenge of getting a new hospital off the ground. I’m looking forward to the learning opportunities present here.

 

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

Finding the balance between saving for the future and enjoying the here and now. Working in emergency, I recognize on a daily basis how fragile and short life can be.

I strive to plan appropriately with savings, while not being a frugal miser. We only get one chance at this beautiful life and I want to enjoy the journey! To me, financial independence is a lifestyle more than an endpoint. As I gain financial security, I gain options and flexibility in how I live my life.

 

Investing

 

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

I am invested in index funds, solely. I have about 55% total stock market fund, 15% total bond market fund, 20% total international stock market fund, and the remainder in REITs.

 

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

Split. I have about $28,000 in a taxable brokerage and the remainder of the $112,000 in my 401(k) (~$32,000), my IRA (~$38,000), and my husband’s ROTH IRA (~$7,800).

 

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

Yes. We have almost $10,000 in HSA accounts between my husband and me. No 529 plan.

 

What has been your best investment?

My best investment has been in my financial education. I have been listening to the WCI podcast for nearly 2 years now. I follow several financial podcasts and blogs, including this Physician on FIRE.

If I hadn’t taken an interest in learning all this stuff, I’d be in trouble. I have years of schooling to get my DVM degree and have to take CE classes annually, but not once has a financial class been required. As Dr. Dahle says, an interest in finances is the best paid hobby there is.

 

Your worst investment?

I think this was both the worst and best investment I made. When trying to learn about finances, I hired a financial advisor.

After sitting through our first meeting together, I felt like I had just sat through an insurance sales pitch. That meeting really spurred me to take charge of my own financial education.

 

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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 that having my financial ducks in a row gives me options. For example, when making my most recent job switch, I took a month off, which extended to several months as the new start up construction was delayed. But I was able to do this without stress because I had an emergency fund and FU money set aside.

Someday, I’d like to work completely on my own terms and not have to work another Christmas or weekend again if I chose not to. I like the idea of creating my ideal life and being able to live it without being dependent on an employer.

I don’t have plans to truly retire early. I love what I do. I just want to work fewer hours with fewer nights, weekends, holidays, etc.

 

How do you anticipate your life changing post-FI?

FI is still a long way off! I really intend on creating my ideal life along the journey, rather than waiting until a specific number to make changes. Things that I would like to institute along the way include working fewer holidays and weekends, eventually going to part time.

I plan on adding in more international vacations, maybe asking for 1-2 months off during the year for extended vacations. I want to plan some international volunteer veterinary work as well. I see working towards FI as a way to add these things in while I go.

I know this may extend the time until I hit my true FI number, but it’s a trade off worth taking for me, especially as I love my career and can’t really see myself doing anything else.

 

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

I am working on increasing our savings rate from 20 to 30%. I have made an Investor Policy Statement and I stick to it. I seek out continuing financial education through podcasts, blogs and books. I’m hoping to add in some conferences in 2022!

[PoF: Might I suggest the White Coat Investor Physician Wellness & Financial Literacy conference? It’s in February of 2022, and both Dr. Dahle and I will be speaking. And one of us will be drinking. 🍻]

Overall, we’re just working to live below our means and save/ invest the difference as much as we can!

 

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

My family is aware to some degree, but finances aren’t a usual topic of conversation with most of my friends or peers. I would love to have a group I could chat more about financial topics with.

My husband listens to me and supports our goals, but isn’t really interested in it the way I am.

 

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

Take control of your own financial education. No one cares as much about your money as you do. And even when the final destination seems a long way off, keep taking the daily steps to get there. You don’t have to be full FI to make changes to your life- even small financial victories start to buy us options.

Also, for veterinarians specifically, there is a lot of variation in salary and compensation out there! Although school debt can be large, I was able to pay my loans down relatively quickly and start the wealth accumulation phase, in large part due to my change in career paths.

Switching to emergency work effectively doubled my salary. Even if emergency work isn’t for you, there are so many options for relief work and other career paths outside of traditional clinical practice.

Look into options near you and see what you can do to accelerate your income generation. Veterinary medicine is a tough career. Having control of our finances allows us to work because we want to and helps to combat compassion fatigue.

 

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

I’m always looking for more financial education content. Some of my favorite podcasts include WCI, Afford Anything, and ChooseFI.

Any other favorites out there? Any financial conferences you have particularly enjoyed?

 

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!

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.

 

2 thoughts on “FIRE Starter 007: An Emergency Vet in the Pacific Northwest”

  1. Strong work and I admire you achieving a comfortable balance between YOLO and FI.

    I feel that your 20% total international stock market fund may be a bit high.

    Are your REITs in a tax-advantaged account? If not, as you move forward, considering building that portion of your portfolio into tax-advantaged account(s).

    Reply
  2. Subscribe to get more great content like this, an awesome spreadsheet, and more!
  3. Congratulations on your financial (and life!) progress. Thank you for your valuable work as a vet. Much-appreciated and admired by this animal-loving MD.

    Re recommendations for other FIRE blogs: ournextlife.com by Tanja Hester

    She was a prolific and for my $$s perhaps the best blog writer in this space up through ~2018, winning several awards. Once she actually retired from her previous job, she started writing less on the blog and has written a couple of subsequent books: Work Optional and now Wallet Activism

    She’s not a physician or veterinarian, but she’s thoughtful, intelligent, and her entire blog archives from January 2015 through Nov 2021 are freely available and relevant to just about anyone interested in financial independence and trying to make that financial independence mean something. Her posts since 2018 are often more political and values based, reflecting her evolution and life experiences, but I think are valuable to consider, even if you’re not on her exact wavelength politically.

    Reply

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