A few years ago, my wife asked me a scary question: “How much do you owe on your student loans?” I honestly didn’t have a precise answer, although I had a vague idea that it was six figures. The number wasn’t something I wanted to know; I thought it would cause unnecessary stress – and besides, what could I do as a (relatively) poor resident physician? To be honest, I was somewhat embarrassed by my debt; and it seemed irrelevant to becoming a skilled, compassionate physician.
Throughout this long road of education, I mostly borrowed without a second thought. I was making minimum payments on my student loans through an income-driven plan that didn’t even cover the interest. I knew my loan balance was growing and that I couldn’t remain in denial about it forever. Moreover, I came to realize that managing my personal life (including finances) well would give me more energy to put towards caring for my patients. Financial stress has been shown to contribute significantly to physician burnout, and I hoped to avoid that.
My wife and I made a plan: first, an honest accounting of all our debt obligations, income and monthly budget. Next, we committed to living a frugal lifestyle until our debt was tackled. Every day we found ways to save money whether by reducing our expenses on food, or walking to work. We also found extra sources of income – everything from moonlighting to paid surveys. The last step was refinancing our high-interest student loans into a single low-interest payment. We have already made substantial progress and expect to be debt-free within a few years.
Tackling a seemingly insurmountable obstacle requires an honest evaluation, a good plan, and dedication to stay the course. As physicians we are privileged to earn high salaries, but that doesn’t preclude us from making poor financial choices. My journey to become debt-free ultimately inspired me to help other residents with their finances, and to start my blog: The Frugal Resident. I hope that it encourages young physicians to make the best financial decisions, to benefit themselves and their patients.
The Frugal Resident is a graduating PGY-4 anesthesiology resident and will be starting fellowship in 2019. Read more about them here: The Frugal Resident