Financial priorities to set on a resident salary

As resident physicians, we work a ton! Fortunately, it’s not all in vain. Unlike our life as medical students, we finally get paid! Before we spend all the money from our first checks and start treating ourselves to overpriced dinners, let’s set some financial goals and create a spending plan.

Since everyone’s priorities may differ, it’s important to tailor your spending plan to your own individual needs. As you start getting your finances in order, you must first determine what’s most important to you by answering these six questions:

1. Do you have an emergency fund? Those of us who are just entering the workforce may not have started saving money just yet. However, building up an emergency fund is something we all may want to prioritize sooner rather than later. If our car breaks down or a family member gets sick, money in this fund gives us the means to pay for these events without relying on a credit card or accumulating debt. Although the exact amount may vary from person to person, having anywhere from $1,000 to three months of expenses is a decent starting point.

2. Do you want to be debt-free as soon as possible? Some of us are debt-averse. We despise having a credit card balance and loathe our student loans more than anyone could imagine. Other people are more debt neutral. They feel that debt was a necessary expense to get to this point in their lives and are in no immediate rush to get rid of it. Regardless of which camp you’re in, it’s important to have a plan. If you are debt-averse, you may want to decrease your living expenses and allot a larger portion of your budget to paying it off. If you are more debt neutral, you may simply aim to meet the minimum payments on your student loan balance and spend your money on other things.

3. Do you want to save money for retirement? No matter how invincible we feel, we likely won’t work for the rest of our lives and will need a plan in place to support ourselves during that time. Although retirement can seem a long way away, we have to start planning for this period as soon as we can. It often takes 20 to 30 years to accumulate enough money for retirement, and as doctors who have spent the majority of our lives in school, we have some catching up to do. While some residents may prioritize paying off debt, providing for their kids, or managing expenses in a high-cost-of-living area, others of us may able to set aside 5-10% of our income for retirement. Although we may be tempted to delay retirement contributions, the sooner we start contributing to retirement, the sooner we can allow the magic of compound interest to work in our favor and build our net worth.

4. Do you want to have money for vacations? As resident physicians, we are often overworked and underpaid. I’m in family medicine, and even I average around 60 hours per week, so I can only imagine how what life is like for some surgeons. Since we work so many hours, it’s important for us to take advantage of our vacation time. While laying in bed for a week may sound like heaven on earth, we may actually want to consider taking a trip away from home. In fact, it may be a good idea to prioritize putting a couple hundred bucks a month into a “vacation fund” so that we can afford to travel the world or have a relaxing vacation once or twice a year.

5. Do you want to live comfortably? As young professionals who have sacrificed most of our 20s to practice medicine, we can get a bit overwhelmed. While self-care for some people may involve an expensive vacation once a year, others of us may need to find more frequent sources of enjoyment, one of which may include our home environment. Instead of saving hundreds of dollars each month to take a vacation, you may instead choose to spend that money living in a nicer place. Or, perhaps you’d rather spend that money on personal massages, monthly concerts, or fancy gym memberships. Regardless of your version of self-care, you must decide how big of a priority it is for you so that you can make room for it in your budget.

6. Do you want to give money away to others? This last question may seem a bit out of place, especially for us residents barely keeping our heads above water. However, many people find that they get more enjoyment out of life when they give to others rather than spend money on themselves. It’s as if the act of generosity has a boomerang effect that blesses our own lives as much it does the recipient of our gift(s). For many Christians, this may mean giving 10% of their income to the church as a tithe. For others, it may mean donating to charity, supporting a cause with which they most identify, or perhaps sharing resources with someone less fortunate. Regardless of your method, you may find that setting aside money to give to others adds more value to your life than you expected.

What am I doing? A little bit of everything. I don’t have an emergency fund, so setting aside $1,000 in a savings account is a top priority for me. Since I’m enrolling in Public Service Loan Forgiveness I am in no rush to pay them down. However, I do have some credit card debt from my days in graduate school that I plan to pay off as quickly as possible. Once that debt is gone, I’ll start putting 5 to 10% of my income into my job’s 403(b) retirement plan — each month. I set aside a couple hundred bucks for self-care, have a separate vacation fund, and carve out 10% of my income for tithes and other charitable donations.

Altelisha Taylor is a family medicine resident and can be reached at Career Money Moves. This article originally appeared in Doximity’s Op-Med.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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