It's difficult to achieve your financial goals without a solid plan. Creating that plan is simpler than you might think.
Physicians are high earners, but most do not have a long-term plan for retirement or wealth-building. Despite the large amount of money that passes through our hands throughout our careers, most of us end up with very little of it by the time we retire. There are lots of reasons doctors will give for that phenomenon. Many complain about the declining reimbursements or the rising costs of doing business. There is the astronomical cost of MOC, CME, and licensure. You probably have some ideas of your own.
These excuses aren’t the real reason that physician net worth is typically so low compared to earning potential. Don’t get me wrong—those issues definitely don’t help matters. But other professionals and industries face challenges too. The problem is really much simpler. It comes down to poor planning. Most of us are too busy getting through the day-to-day routines to spend the time we should planning our financial futures. There are patients to see, charts to finish, phone calls to return, and staff to deal with in a never-ending parade across our to-do list. We are busy. I understand. But planning is just as important.
Don’t feel bad though. Planning — or goal setting – is a problem for most people. In fact, only about 3% of adults actually write down their goals. However if we do not write down clearly the financial goals we have, what is the likelihood we will actually reach them? I can assure you that the likelihood is very, very low.
So if you don’t have a plan, or haven’t looked at yours for quite some time, I encourage you to set aside an hour or two this weekend to set out your long-term financial goals for retirement and your short-term financial goals for the next two to three years. From there, the next step is just taking an assessment of your current situation. What assets do you have? What debts or liabilities do you have? Subtracting your current liabilities from your current assets gives you your current net worth.
If the results aren’t quite what you had hoped for, there is good news. Because physicians are high earners, we have the ability to make up ground more quickly. We can cut back on discretionary spending, save more, and even find additional ways to earn more. All of these will increase our financial margins, and it is in those margins that we find the money to invest for our long-term wealth building goals.
You do not need to hire a certified financial planner or buy fancy software to do this for you. A pen and paper work just fine, or you can put it on a spreadsheet. Since most of us already have those things, creating your financial plan is free! How many times can you say that any more? Even if you do have a financial advisor, it is important to see the big picture and know where you are financially. A large number of advisors only look at part of the picture — the part they are paid to manage. But there is more to a financial plan than having a retirement account or money in mutual funds. It is time we as physicians take responsibility for our own financial health.
I have heard it quoted many times. “If you fail to plan, then you plan to fail.” It is especially true with finances. It is well worth the time it takes to create a plan for reaching your financial goals. In fact there are not many other activities that you can do this weekend that will have as big an impact on your financial future.
Christopher Burton, MD is an Amazon best-selling author and founder of the physiciancoach.guru website. He is a consultant for medical practices and coaches physicians on areas of career development, leadership, communication, and finances. He serves as Chair for the Florida Medical Association’s Young Physicians’ Section and Adjunct Clinical Professor at the Florida State University College of Medicine. Connect with him on LinkedIn and Twitter.