When it comes to lifestyle inflation, where do you draw the line?

As the husband of a physician, I know what it’s like to live on a low income while watching your spouse go through the grueling process that is residency. I know what it’s like to want a nicer car, a nicer home, and just about nicer everything.

One one hand, I think physicians have earned the right to a better than average lifestyle. After all, doctors are some of the hardest working and selfless people on the planet. On the other hand, I see the dark side to lifestyle inflation all too often.

Ultimately, there has to be a line between rewarding yourself and going overboard.

So, below, I’ll offer three steps that will help physicians learn how to reward themselves in a way that allows for maximum enjoyment without affecting their long-term wealth goals.

Step 1: Ask yourself what you’d do if you had one year to live

It’s kind of morbid, I know, but by seriously answering this question and writing down your first gut reaction, you’ll know exactly what you want out of life.

For example, if you said “I’d stop practicing medicine immediately,” maybe you might want to consider how much savings it would take to retire early.

If your first reaction is to say, “I’d finally take that trip to Italy I’ve always wanted” then perhaps you should focus more on your travel goals.

Or, maybe you’ll say, “I just want to stop everything and read books and bake cookies with my kids.” In that case, perhaps it’s time to talk about how to afford more quality time with your family by cutting back on your work schedule.

The truth is, when we think about what we’d do when we’re out of time in life, our true passions and dreams come to the surface. Once you know what those are, you can move to the next step.

Step 2: Create concrete plans on how to reach those goals

Sure, you can put a picture of Italy on your fridge as inspiration, but that alone isn’t going to lead you to reach your goals.

You really need a strategic, concrete plan to get there. So, if you want to retire early, it’s time to start running the numbers. How much do you need to save every month to grow your retirement account quickly?

If you want to travel more, what do you need to cut back on in your current lifestyle so you can save up for that plane ticket?

If you want to go from working a full schedule to halftime, do you need to downsize your home or car to get there?

Step 3: Start to implement the plan

Identifying your dream and making concrete plans are great first steps, but now it’s time to implement them.

After all, as physicians, you’ve been through so much. Your family has been through years of tough schedules and student loan debt.

It’s about time you use your education and income to get the experiences you really want out of life.

It might seem overwhelming, but the best way to get started is to implement a strategy immediately. Make a to-do list. Start with simple tasks like calling your insurance company to get a lower price on car insurance (and putting the savings towards what would actually help you live your ideal life.) Then, work on more complicated goals like overhauling your investment strategy.

Ultimately, I encourage you to share your goals with your spouse and your family so you can work together. Identify specific goals, ones that you can focus your efforts (and your money) on so you can achieve your goals.

Remember, without a plan, physicians are at risk of having too much lifestyle inflation and improving every aspect of their lives, which might not leave enough money to live a life that is truly fulfilled.

Ryan Inman is a financial planner and founder, Physician Wealth Services, and host of the podcast, Financial Residency.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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