A medical degree generally confers the ability to earn a high income.
It also comes at a high cost, including 8 years of your post-high school life, another 3 to 8 years of residency and possibly fellowship, and a lot of hard work and sleepless nights.
The rewards can be many. In addition to the earning power, it’s a field that generally garners respect from the public, although perhaps not as much as it once did. I’ll bet your parents are still proud of you, though.
Is obtaining a medical degree a surefire way to become financially free? Hardly.
Yes, the salary makes it easier, but the very late start, heavy debt burdens, and external expectations (perceived or real) to live like a rich doctor make achieving financial independence quite challenging, even with an income in the multiple six figures.
What can you do to improve your odds of financial freedom (used here interchangeably with financial independence although I’ve argued there’s a difference)? You can take the advice of one James Turner, an early-career anesthesiologist who is well on his way to early financial freedom by about age 45. You may know Dr. Turner as The Physician Philosopher.
From Medical Degree to Financially Free
Before I dive into Dr. Turner’s advice, I would like to tell you a little more about him and why I’m writing about him today.
James, or “Jimmy” as he would prefer I call him (but I still don’t), grew up in a household that fell on tough financial times. His father declared bankruptcy when he was a child.
Still, with the help of student loans (which went into forbearance during his residency), and in spite of a learning disability that made reading painfully slow, he managed to get through both undergrad and medical school.
The student loan forbearance was one of several financial blunders he made before learning how to better manage his personal and household finances.
So why should you listen to this guy?
For one, he and his wife (not a physician) managed to pay down $300,000 in debt in two years while improving their net worth by $500,000. Also, as an academic physician, he absolutely loves educating his students and residents on topics pertaining to both their jobs and their financial well-being.
He has stressed to me that he is not just a teacher, but an educator, and he takes great pride in his ability to educate. In an effort to reach people beyond the confines of his academic institution, he has created a course to help physicians and other high-income professionals from point A to point FF, that is, Financially Free.
I was given the opportunity to take this course ahead of its release today, and I was very impressed. James is an educator, and he does a solid job of achieving his goals with the course, which is aptly titled Medical Degree to Financially Free.
A Free Webinar from The Physician Philosopher
To get better acquainted with Dr. Turner and to get a feel for his teaching style, I would encourage you to first take in his free webinar, The 3 Myths to Finding Financial Freedom.
It costs nothing, should teach you something, and it might give you a better idea of whether or not you’d be willing to pay for a course from the good doctor. The webinar is now on-demand, so you can watch at your leisure.
The Medical Degree to Financially Free Course
If you choose to enroll, I’ll give you a good idea of what to expect. If you choose not to enroll, I’m probably giving away more information for free than James would like me to, but that’s not really true. After all, he is an educator and doesn’t want people to make the same mistakes that he once did.
The course is divided into five modules which will be released one week at a time. Each of these modules has a theme and a handful of lessons ranging from a few minutes to 20 minutes or so.
It’s very much an interactive course, and many of the lessons are paired with a worksheet or spreadsheet-based calculator to help you better define your goals and how you will achieve them.
Some of the shorter lessons, mainly the introductions to each module, are simply one-on-one with Dr. Turner speaking directly to you. Most of the rest have these cool sketches and animations that accompany James’ smooth voice. I found the presentation style to be a significant improvement over the typical PowerPoint slide presentation you often see in a typical course.
He also invites a special guest for a series of expert interviews that accompany most of the modules.
I’ll be honest; I skipped a lot of the assigned homework. But if I weren’t already financially independent, the exercises would be invaluable, as would the information gleaned from the cash flow, FI number, and student loan calculators.
While I didn’t write down my hopes and dreams or refigure my Financial Freedom number, I did take copious notes. I’ll share those with you below.
Know Your Why
If you’re familiar with The Physician Philosopher, you may have seen a reference to the Kinder questions. These are three questions that force you to recognize what’s truly most important in your life.
If you’re in a committed relationship, it’s not just your “why” that needs to be considered. There’s a worksheet for your partner, too.
Dr. Turner was a philosophy major, and he kicks off the course from an angle that reflects his education. He’s studied behavioral finance, and he knows that you’re much less likely to follow through and reach your financial goals if you don’t first have a firm understanding of why they matter.
In a chat with Ryan Inman, a fee-only financial planner and his co-host on the Money Meets Medicine podcast, they discuss some of the reasons that so many physicians need a lot of help understanding and better managing their money.
Ryan, who is married to a pulmonologist, pointed out that many of us are too proud to be bad at something, so rather than be bad with something we’ve been taught nothing about, we tend to ignore it. I think there’s a lot of truth to that, and it’s why so many doctors have a “money guy (or gal)” who may not be doing them any favors.
Earn, Save, and Build
Income does not equal wealth. If you’re making a lot of money, but not making quick progress towards financial independence, there’s a reason, and James helps you tease out what your difficulties might be. An obvious one is student loan and other debt payments, and that topic gets its own module.
You’ll learn a specific formula that I can vouch for. It’s designed to get you to financial freedom quicker than probably 95% of all doctors. There are calculators to determine how much you will want to save, and how many years you are from the freedom you desire. Changing the variables can obviously speed up or slow down that timeline.
The order in which you should prioritize funding different retirement accounts is described, taking debt paydown into account. He also includes an optional charitable giving component once you’ve built up a reasonable emergency fund, and I find his dedication to giving admirable.
He interviews Sarah Catherine Gutierrez, a flat fee financial advisor with Aptus Financial to talk about earning, saving, and spending. She’s a great speaker and has a lot of clever ideas, but her comments on financial independence were like nails on a chalkboard to my ears.
She said she doesn’t identify with the FIRE movement at all because she doesn’t believe in complete deprivation now to achieve complete freedom as quickly as possible. Neither do I, nor do any of my readers that I’m aware of. The media likes to portray us as a bunch of miserly folks eating rice, beans, and brown bananas, but everyone I know in this space is living a more moderate or fatFIRE lifestyle.
I found her comments on savings accounts interesting. She believes in having a half-dozen different accounts, including an emergency fund, travel fund, home repair fund, automobile fund, healthcare fund, and insurance fund. If that’s what it takes to be financially disciplined, I’ll bet the system works, but I’ve never found a need for any of these “sinking funds.”
The point is that there are lots of little tricks that you can use to avoid breaking the budget with what Dr. Turner calls “big rocks” that can sink your otherwise seaworthy financial ship. His goal is to help you find the ones that work for you, and there’s no talk of a line-by line budget, because that’s tedious, and frankly, you really don’t need it if you follow his methods for intentional saving and spending.
Keep Your Money
Asset protection is a topic as dry as a used dryer sheet, but it’s important to have a basic understanding of the steps you can take to safeguard your wealth once you’ve begun building it.
None of those will protect you from the biggest threat to your financial solvency, though. I’m not going to reveal precisely what that is, but if Michael Jackson were still with us, he’d be talking to the man in the mirror. He’d be asking him to change his ways.
A subject matter expert will be interviewed for this section, but the talk was not available at the time I previewed the course.
Dominate Your Debt
Call Mr. Plow, that’s my name. That name again is Mr. Plow
– Homer Simpson a.k.a. Mr. Plow
You may have heard of the debt snowball and the debt avalanche, but have you heard of the debt snowplow? That’s the method the Turner family used to clear their financial runway of a huge amount of debt.
Since student loan debt is such a big rock for many physicians, he devotes a decent chunk of time to the strategies one can use to be rid of it. He explains how the goals for those pursuing PSLF are very different from the goals of those planning to pay down their debts completely.
There’s also a formula to help you decide which makes the most sense for you, based on your debt to income ratio and a few other factors.
This topic could be the subject of an entire course itself. He does recommend considering a student loan consult with Student Loan Planner if your situation is at all complex. He brings on special guest Justin Harvey, another flat fee financial planner who is also a student loan consultant with Student Loan Planner, for a discussion about the many mistakes both borrowers and advisors can make when it comes to student loan planning.
Invest for Success
Dr. Turner is very open with his numbers. He presents his own family’s investment portfolio and plan as a financial freedom case study. As I mentioned early on, they’re on track to be financially free right around the age of 45. A look at his plan will show you why.
Like I do, he recommends a simple portfolio consisting primarily of index funds. He touches on the three fund portfolio and his modification, the result of which is essentially a five fund portfolio.
He closes by circling back to his strong point — philosophy and behavioral finance. Setting SMART (that’s an acronym rather than a point of emphasis) goals makes you more likely to achieve them. You do want to reach that goal of financial freedom, right?
MD to FF
I’m not going to try to convince you to take this course, although I believe it is very well done. I’m not a big fan of the hard sell, so I’ll let you decide whether or not it’s worth the price of admission. You can learn more about the Medical Degree to Financially Free course and see how much it costs here <- my referral link #charitablemission.
That cost includes access to a private Facebook community for course students, live office hours with James in that group, and the numerous downloads including the calculators, worksheets, audio files of the sessions, and transcripts. The course is now “evergreen,” meaning you can choose to enroll at any time.
He offers a full money back guarantee if you decide the course is not for you within the first two weeks.
The even better news is that you can get a ton of great info from his “$2 Million book” (see my review) — which can be read in one evening
If you don’t take me up on any of it, I hope you picked up a few tips above to get you started. I also hope James doesn’t give me a hard time for giving away too much or refusing to call him “Jimmy” the next time I see him!