When splurging is worth it

February 19, 2001

Doctors tell us about times when they spent extra?and were glad they did.

 

When splurging is worth it

Doctors tell us about times when they spent extra—and were glad they did.

By Susan Harrington Preston
Senior Editor

FP Bob Hill recalls the memorable week when he threw caution to the winds. "It was 1975, and I was a third-year medical student. We were up to our eyeballs in school debt," recalls Hill, who now practices in Powder Springs, GA. "We were living on loans and my wife's wages as a bank teller.

"I went to a bank in another town and asked to borrow $500," Hill continues. "When the guy looked at me funny, I told him I was broke, tired, and burned out, and I needed a vacation. I said I'd pay it back when I could. He loaned me the money, and my wife and I drove to St. Louis in our old Volkswagen and stayed for four days," Hill says. "We went to the zoo, the Gateway Arch, and the botanical garden, and we had a lovely time.

"The hardest part was convincing my wife that I needed that vacation badly enough to borrow money," Hill concludes. "But she got over it, and she's still with me after 34 years!"

Hill's experience was just one of many that doctors recalled when we asked them about times when they'd overspent and were glad they had.

Impulse vacations with a spouse, like Hill's trip, loomed large among physicians' memories. Internist Virgilio G. dePadua tells of an unexpected spa weekend: "My wife and I were driving from our home in Jacksonville, FL, to Miami to pick up our kids, who'd been visiting my mother. When we neared Miami, we called ahead and found Grandma reluctant to part with the kids just yet.

"We'd passed a hotel with a spa, and we went back and spent three days being pampered," he recalls. "We had only overnight bags, so we bought clothes as necessary. It turned out to be one of the best times we've had alone since we've been married."

Other doctors took to the air. "We spent six days in the City of Light for my 50th birthday," recalls plastic surgeon Caroll Toledo of Bonita, CA. "It was a real splurge, because my wife and I had gotten back from a vacation only three weeks before.

"The usual party with friends just seemed a little stale for a landmark birthday," he explains. "I mentioned the Paris idea to my wife, and God bless her, she had the arrangements made within two days.

"The trip was magical. We walked along the Seine, climbed the Eiffel Tower, ate in cafes, and welcomed my 51st year at the Lido on the Champs-Élysées. "My colleague at work said it best: 'If you stay home, you'll feel old and tired on your birthday. If you go to Paris, you'll feel young, happy, and in love.' And we did!"

For Anthony Schwartz and his spouse, romance meant Venice. "We had plans to travel in Europe with our two grown sons," says the general surgeon, who practices in Farmington Hills, MI. "My wife had had major surgery and was a little depressed, so to cheer her up I was showing her videos of the places we were going to go. The video about Venice showed a couple having breakfast on the patio of their room overlooking the Grand Canal, and she liked it a lot," he continues. "So to surprise her, I had the travel agent find out which rooms overlooked the canal in that hotel. Turned out there were only two of them. One was a suite, and the other could be rented in conjunction with it so there'd be a second bedroom for our sons to stay in.

"It cost $1,000 a night for three nights," Schwartz says. "I don't usually spend money like that, but it was worth it. When my wife walked out onto the balcony, she started crying, she was so happy."

Other splurges also involved kids. "Two years ago, I led a team of professionals and laypersons to set up three health clinics in rural Zimbabwe," says FP Alan R. Drake of Sparta, TN. "My wife and I decided to take our 15- and 12-year-old sons.

"The trip was an incredible experience," he says. "We saw people in immense poverty by any standards, and they were grateful for even the tiniest aid. Our sons worked as hard as any members of the team and made friends with African natives, with whom they're still in contact. The three weeks was lost income, and the trip cost us $20,000 instead of perhaps $4,000 if I'd gone alone," Drake concludes. "But was it worth it? YES!"

Another FP, whose name we've withheld, considered his "splurge" a lifesaver. "When one of my children decompensated in his second year of high school and became violent, my wife and I were desperate," he says. "Our splurge was to send him to a wilderness program and then to a therapeutic boarding school.

"The wilderness program cost $16,000 for six weeks, and the special high school cost $4,500 a month for two years—more than $100,000. But now he is a new young man, with dreams for the future. He graduates this December and will attend college."

"I'm thankful we were able to afford this type of intervention," the FP concludes. "I cannot think of a better way to splurge than to invest in the future of your child."

FP Debbie Heck of Muncie, IN, and her husband would undoubtedly agree. They splurged on their son, Kyle, at two money-tight junctures. Just as Heck finished her residency, they paid $4,000 to send Kyle, then a seventh grader, to New Zealand and Australia with a missionary group. "The maturity he gained was beyond anything I could have imagined," Heck says.

A few years later, as Heck was starting an independent practice, they sent Kyle to St. Petersburg, with another missionary group, for three successive summers. "He has just graduated from high school with a full-tuition scholarship to study trombone performance and ministry," says Heck. "Whatever short-term sacrifices my husband and I made, the long-term benefits are priceless. I will never regret a single penny spent toward his future."

Some splurges doctors found the most satisfying were rewards for their own hard work.

"When I got back from Operation Desert Storm in 1991, after seven months on a Navy hospital ship, I treated myself to a three-day respite at a bed and breakfast in Carmel, CA," says forensic psychiatrist Deborah Wear-Finkle of Pensacola, FL. "In one of the Carmel art galleries, I was drawn to a watercolor of orchids. It was stunning, but expensive. I didn't even think of buying it.

"Then, the next day, I had to go back to see it again—and this time I knew I must have it," she says. "I maxed out my credit card to buy it, but I've never regretted it. It has been one of my favorite possessions—almost more like a friend."

Hot cars meant sweet memories for several doctors who bought them during residency. "My big splurge during residency in upstate New York was a Sunbird convertible, which made it tougher than usual to pay the bills for a while," says Debi Dalton, who now specializes in pediatric emergency medicine in Atlanta. "I loved driving that car for the two months of summer we had in Buffalo each year. I only got stuck in the snow twice over the four years I had it."

Internist Faisal Shamshad, who now practices in Dyersburg, TN, opted for automotive muscle when he faced a two-and-a-half hour daily commute to his residency in Newark, NJ. "I was staying with family at first, and I'd saved $27,000," he says. "I paid cash for a brand-new Pontiac Trans Am. It brought my account down to $1,500, but at the time, it was my only payback for the hard work. I've often pondered that decision, but I've never regretted it."

Internist John A. Turner of Friendswood, TX, feels the same about the Mazda RX-7 convertible he bought after he passed his board exams in 1994. "A few years later, I sold it to buy the car I wanted even more—a 1962 Corvette," he says. "I find doing the repairs on it as therapeutic as driving it. I tell my wife, 'It's cheaper than a shrink!' "

Alda Knight, an internist in Knoxville, IA, feels deep satisfaction when she walks into her kitchen. "When my 22-year-old refrigerator stopped keeping things cold, I looked at some kitchen remodeling plans I'd had for years, which called for a wide Sub-Zero fridge with a stainless steel surface," she says. "My carpenter explained that there was more to it than just 'sawing the cupboard off to here,' but I bought it, anyway. Every time I walk into the kitchen to open it, I am thrilled."

That wasn't all. Her dishwasher broke, and she went with a friend to hunt for a new one. "When I saw the Bosch dishwasher in stainless steel, it was running almost without a sound. My friend said, 'We can buy this now, or you can stall a while, but I can tell by the look on your face that you're going to buy it.'

"Now I keep asking the kids, 'Don't you just love my new dishwasher? Isn't it lovely?' They say, 'Yes, Mother—it's stainless steel. We know!' "

Ophthalmologist John C. Hagan III of Kansas City, MO, was willing to spend extra money on several favorite things, including high-end guided travel. "We've made nine trips, to every continent," he says. "I've also splurged on automobiles: a Datsun 280ZX, BMW 633csi, a Lexus SC400, and now, a brand-new Porsche 911 Carerra 4. I wear good shoes, and good computers are a necessity. Other than that, I'm pretty practical."

Several doctors were keeping their fingers crossed that splurges in progress would prove worthwhile. Among them was FP Christine Hoffman of Murfreesboro, TN. "I'm currently planning my wedding and spending far more than I expected to," she told us. "I'll let you know if I'm glad I did."

 

Sue Preston. When splurging is worth it. Medical Economics 2001;4:133.