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Many people equate high incomes with wealth. While it is true that earning more money can be a driving factor in creating wealth, income isn’t everything. In fact, many high earners find themselves living paycheck to paycheck. The problem is that our spending often goes unchecked. I sat down with Dr. B.C. Krygowski to learn her tips for spending more purposefully to reach financial independence faster.
For most people, there are three main categories that eat up most of our income: housing, transportation, and food. In this episode, learn how to dial back your housing and food costs to make strides toward financial independence.
When it comes to housing, the American Dream might have us believe that bigger is better. McMansions certainly have curb appeal. But people rarely need or use all the space inside of larger homes. Never mind the huge commitment that comes with having such a sizable mortgage. B.C. suggests that physicians buy a house that feels comfortable and meets their needs. She also recommends making sure that your housing expenses fit within a single earner’s income, not both. That way, your family finances are more resilient.
In addition to housing, food is another big expense that can derail your plans for financial independence. One of the reasons why food accounts for so much of people’s income is more of a time problem than anything else. When we are short on time, we don’t grocery shop effectively and we don’t meal plan. That leads to issues with food waste, which is the same as throwing money in the garbage. Other times, people feel so exhausted, they don’t even attempt to prepare food at home. Exploring options like meal services, personal chefs, and meal kits sounds pricey. However, you can actually save a lot of money by simply being more intentional with how you feed yourself and your family.
Growing wealth and achieving financial independence isn’t about feeling deprived. Instead, you want to make sure that you spend money intentionally. Tracking your expenses and adopting some of these purposeful spending tips can free up more money for things you love and push you farther down the path to financial independence.
In this episode, we also explore:
- An in-depth discussion of the American Dream related to housing
- How to track the lowest unit prices on grocery staples at different stores
- Meal planning options for busy physician families
- The pros and cons of personal chefs and other options
- Food waste reduction strategies
Featured on this episode:
- Pick up a copy of Spending Habits for Professionals Who Want to FIRE here.
- See if integrating any of the frugal tips for high-income women in this post might work for you.
- Visit B.C.’s site to see how she shaved down her food expenses in this post.
- Check out other titles B.C. recommends, including Your Money or Your Life, It’s About Time, or Body Love.
BONNIE: Dr. Krygowski, welcome to the show.
BC: Thanks for having me.
BONNIE: So I'm super excited to have you here because I think a lot of people are examining their space lately. Before we get started, why don't you say a few things to those folks who don't know who you are? I already said that you were a physician, but maybe a few words.
BC: I'm a part time palliative care physician. I'm currently on my third sabbatical, and I'm also married to another physician that I met in medical school. And I blog about FIRE from a dual physician perspective.
BONNIE: Cool. And I didn't know you're on a sabbatical right now.
BC: Yeah. I am not going back to work. Well, my paperwork is being sped up because of how things are going right now. COVID in Florida, but yeah, I'm not going back to work supposedly until the end of September, although that's getting moved up.
BONNIE: So If it wasn't for the pandemic, where would you be right now? I'm assuming you have plans. Definitely had plans.
BC: I have been fortunate enough to be selected for a writing program. I'm doing this year-long writing program, working on a medical women's fiction book, and I was going to probably be leaving medicine. That's the way I was going. But with the whole COVID thing, I really looked at it and said, “Well, maybe they could probably use a palliative care physician if things go bad.” So I decided to volunteer to go back and I'll just be per diem. And I'm here in case people get sick and people are already going down and getting sick, you know. Doctors with COVID and they're being out for a while.
BONNIE: Right. Thanks for sticking around. So I thought we could talk about what you think the top three areas that physicians should look at in terms of spending. I guess what I'm thinking is “Where are the three big rocks?” Where are the three areas that we can look at that we can make some rather quick and impactful changes?
BC: Well, the ones that we always talk about are the big three, as far as housing, transportation, and food, because those are big items, mostly. They're recurring items as far as food goes. We can definitely go down a rabbit hole with the transportation because you could go anywhere from, you know, a $5,000 car that is pretty basic up to, you know, hundreds of thousands of dollars. It just depends on what your goals in life are.
BONNIE: Great. Well, let's talk about housing because that is obviously I would say most people's largest expense, right?
BC: Yeah. It is. I'm a big spreadsheet junkie. I love spreadsheets and I spend about an hour and a half every month sitting down with our credit card statements and our checkbook and I just graph it. I add it all up and put it in a spreadsheet so we can see what we're spending. Our biggest line items for our family personally, before the Trump tax law changes were taxes, obviously. After that, it was travel. So maybe that's the fourth thing we should talk about, but housing can be huge if you still have a mortgage.
Right out of residency, we were up to $772,000 in debt, mostly because we bought the typical two doctor McMansion in upstate New York. And after a couple of years, we decided it just wasn't for us. We read the book by Vicki Robbins called Your Money or Your Life. And that book really sat us down the FIRE path because it helped us examine what our values were in life and what was important to us and what wasn't.
After we read the book, like within 10 days, we came back and put our house on the market and we got rid of that big Doctor McMansion.
BONNIE: Talk about taking massive action.
BC: That book is life changing. I will say it again, Your Money or Your Life by Vicki Robins. If you haven't read it, you definitely need to read it. And the other book that we found out about as we bought the big McMansion was a book called The Not So Big House. And it's written by Sarah Susanka and it's probably 20 years old by now. And it's the first book in the series. It’s all pictures, so it's super easy to read, but basically examines how humans feel inside houses. Where do we use the space mostly and where are we most comfortable? And when we looked at our housing through the years, we figured out that we liked smaller spaces and more comfortable cozy spaces rather than the two-story foyers. That might be important to some people, but for us, it wasn't leading them to use the square-foot use. Now, we're in a house that's actually a little under 2000-square feet and we're actually the happiest we've been in. This is our third house purchase.
BONNIE: Yeah. So let's talk about housing, right? Because you're talking about buying a house, you know, and then obviously there's people who rent. So I feel, I think you and I both kind of agree on this whole house thing. I've personally never owned a house. There’s many reasons for that. I guess personally, I would say I've only lived in a house growing up, but my parents were pretty, I would say, lower middle class. So we actually live mostly in apartments. And I also lived in New York City for most of my young adult and, I guess, adult life. You generally can't purchase things in New York City for a long time, just because of the price of housing. It was never a goal of mine, but I do know that for most physicians, it is a goal to buy a home as soon as they finish residency or many are actually purchasing during residency. So what do you have to say about that?
BC: I would say hold off as long as you possibly can. I think that the American public has been sold a bill of goods, as far as the typical American dream of owning a house. I have a friend right now who is agonizing because she's pouring money into rent every month. And I think her rent is like $600 a month. I'm like, “That is a steal!” You can take that money that you save and, you know, you can invest it, you can pay off debt. You could save for that home down the road when your life is more stable. But I also think like the American lifestyle, at least, you know, as opposed to like some European countries--you know, we're a much more mobile population. I was just talking to my husband this morning. I said, “You know, in the last 10 years, if you count how many moves we made between apartments and like moving to medicine in Columbia last month for the summer, like we have moved on average every two years, even though we owned a house in St. Pete for six years.”
I just think that people shouldn't get their heart set on buying houses unless they've been in a job for at least two years, especially out of residency. Don't buy a house out of residency if you can at all avoid it. If you're in a longer residency, that's like five or seven years, you might want to consider something that's easy to maintain.
BONNIE: Yeah, no, I agree. I mean, I think especially these days, a typical physician changes jobs frequently. So just to use myself as an example. I'm about five years out of residency. Let's see. So I moved from California to New York City, and I was living in Brooklyn. Then, I moved from Brooklyn to Brooklyn to move in with my now-fiance.
Then we moved to Philadelphia, and then we moved to New Jersey. I did some locums in between, but we kept our New Jersey residence while I was doing locums. I do agree. I think the first job out of residency these days, typically doesn't last. And I think you and I both have seen people buy something and then they can't sell it, and then that is obviously a huge hole in your pocket.
BC: It's a huge-- You know, you can't leave. You feel like you can't leave. At least if it's on the market, we were in New York for almost three years after residency and we were there an extra year almost because we couldn't sell our house. It was in the downturn and we kept lowering the price. It's like an albatross, you know, and it just weighs you down. I would definitely put off house purchasing as long as you can.
BONNIE: So let's say they've, you know, been at the job for two years and they are finally ready to buy and they feel like they're stable enough to buy. So what are your tips about that? I have sort of my opinion. I'm curious what your tips are when you're looking for a home in terms of price points and budgeting.
BC: Well, for us at least, we're at the point in our lives--I feel like I'm saying I'm old--but I'm 44. We're at the point in our lives where we've become FI, so financially independent and we like having FI. So we looked at the price point and we said, “Okay, how much should we have in the house in St. Pete in Florida? How much are we willing to spend here?” We had a range that we wanted, and then we made up a six point list of what was important. What do we need in a house? We looked at the list, we thought about it. You see six things. Then, we went out and we found it, but it needed work. We've invested a lot in remodeling it, but it's a fantastic property, piece of land actually, and it's just in a great location.
I personally think you have to be frugal when it comes to housing. I think you shouldn't go over the two year rule. I think that the one year rule actually for physicians is great, but that's just me. I've also lived overseas. I've lived in Mexico, and summer times, and like I said before, we lived in Columbia for two and a half months. I probably have a minimalistic view of life. My sister lives in England and their houses over there are a lot more expensive and also a lot smaller. I'm used to a smaller square footage type of lifestyle. And so what are you? What do you think is important?
BONNIE: I really liked that you said that you thought about what you were looking for in a house and you made a list because I feel like two people just start looking and then they fall in love with a home that's way or their price range.
So I think picking a budget or picking a price point. And the way I think of the price point is-- I see couples, especially dual-career, dual-physician, dual-anything, where both are making significant money. They buy a house that fits their dual incomes. And I think that's a mistake because no job is secure, and I think this pandemic showed us that physician jobs are not secure.
So I really think you need to pick a house where half of the income can support the payments. If that makes sense.
BC: Totally, totally agree. We ended up with our house here. We wanted to save about, you know, we tried to save 200,000 when we bought here. Because we were just, we wanted that, that cushion, that leeway with our FI number. But I could not agree with you more that if you could find a house that you're happy with, it hits all of your necessary points for the housing and one income go for it.
BONNIE: Yeah. So that's, my plan is to buy in five years. I'll tell you more about that later. Maybe... It's not going to be in New Jersey, which is where I currently live. I want warmer weather.
BC: And hopefully no taxes. Might I add no state?
BONNIE: Well, that's always a plus. It's funny you say that because I initially picked a state because of the no income tax, but then I was like, “But I want to live where I want to live.” And it's not that state, unfortunately, but that might change. I have five years.
Moving on from housing, I want to talk to you specifically about food--meal planning, et cetera. You wrote a blog post for my website actually, where you talked about the way you put stuff in the fridge. I definitely know that we waste food and it kills me when we do that. I hate wasting food. And so I want you to talk about your system and just sort of any tips. The only tip I have for readers is to plan your meals ahead of time. So you're not just going to the grocery and just picking things off the shelf because you're hungry and “That looks good!” type of thing. And then you don't plan and you end up buying stuff you don't need. And it goes bad.
BC: I totally agree with you. I actually try to meal plan once a week. I sit down anywhere between Friday and Sunday and plan out the next week. I attempt to meal plan and I read this book called It’s About Time by Valerie Burton. It's a fascinating book about time and time management, living a life that is in accordance with your desires. So I got off Amazon, this magnetic strip calendar that sticks to the side of the fridge. It has Monday through Sunday on it and has three slots for whatever category you want to write in. I have a Walmart category and an Aldi category--which is like Lidl because not everyone has Aldi--and then I have a Sam's Club category. So the foods that we buy from those three stores, the ones when we run out, everyone knows to write it in there. And then in green on the bottom of every day, I have the food planned out for the week.
As far as food goes, we waste very little food. What we usually end up wasting is celery. So we chop ours up and put it in glass containers in the fridge.
BONNIE: Oh, I was going to say if you're not going to use it and you have too much--because oftentimes you need celery for like a recipe and you gotta buy a whole freaking thing of it, right?--actually you chop it up and you put it in their freezer to make stock in the future.
BC: Oh, that's a good idea.
BONNIE: You make like a little bag. So I take one of those gallon freezer bags and put chopped celery, carrots, onions. It's just for soup. You can't really use it for fresh stuff, you know, because of the freezer and the consistency. But then you have your little stock kit.
BC: That's a great idea for us. My husband goes through and he chops up the salary and he puts it in the glass containers and you can do that with scallions and just put a little loose bag over it. I do it with cilantro. I can keep fresh cilantro in the fridge fresh for about two weeks by doing that. So if I buy it and then we don't have tacos for two weeks, it's still good.
We compost. So we noticed very quickly what foods we are wasting. I wrote a blog post about it on your blog and early on in my blog as well about what foods need to go where in the fridge. So like mushrooms-- For me, mushrooms are out of sight, out of mind. If I don't see them, I don't eat them. But my youngest kid, he will eat them raw at every single meal with hot sauce on them. So as long as I flipp the mushrooms, so they're on their side and they're facing out, we can see them and we'll eat them.
Then I have a rule that whatever needs to get eaten next, we put in the right upper quadrant of the fridge. We're all right handed. So we open up the right door first and everyone knows you look in the right upper quadrant for the food that needs to be next before it spoils.
BONNIE: I remember you saying that. I don't think I've actually used that system, but you know what I think we're gonna need to do that because today we just threw away--it wasn't a lot--it was just a little bit of broccoli. And I was like, “Ugh.”
BC: Yeah, actually, you know, what I do with broccoli is-- So my husband's a vegan and we eat a lot of vegetables. With broccoli, if we have leftover steamed broccoli, and then if I have some kind of soup, like from Panera or something like that, and it's just like a little film of soup, about two inches, I will dump that soup into a bowl full of broccoli and that's my lunch. So it's like a quick lunch on the go kind of thing.
Berries. I’ve seen this-- What I've seen babysitters do is they'll take the berries and they'll run the entire container of berries underneath the faucet. And then they'll only eat like five raspberries. And I have to tell them, I say, “Wyou do that, the rest of the berries are wet. And then when you put the wet berries back in the fridge, they all mold significantly faster.” The key with that is to keep them as dry as possible. We'll often put paper towels in the spinach, the arugula, and the berries. We'll put paper towels in with them. There’s a gas released by, I want to say it’s by apples… You’d have to go read on the blog.
BONNIE: They don’t go with carrots, right? That's what I've read.
BC: Yeah. I think it's called ethylene gas and the apples release it and whatever's above. It actually gets created faster. So you have to separate them out.
Then, what we do with our berries is we look them over. Anything that’s going bad fast goes in the upper right quadrant of the fridge. That comes in handy. You know if there's an apple that needs to be eaten, it gets put in the right upper quadrant.
Usually on Thursday nights or the night before I go grocery shopping, we open up the fridge and I actually just did this for lunch. I take everything out. It’s like one little piece of salmon or half a salad from a salad kit or something. I spread it out on the counter and I say, “Okay, everyone in this family, this food needs to be eaten.” You can’t eat anything else until all the food here is eaten and I’m just like, “Go at it!” That’s how we use up all our leftovers.
I'm big into meal prep like I told you about. Planning out your meals ahead of time. Before I went to med school, I was a personal chef for a family and I would do the grocery shopping for them. And I would cook for them usually four to five meals a week. And when I would cook, I would actually cook two meals at a time. Luckily, they had two microwaves. So that helped out with the meal prep and everything. If you can make two meals that take similar ingredients, then when you're chopping them, you can oftentimes do double duty.
I saw this total genius YouTube video once of this person’s extended family. They all eat breakfast burritos. So once a month, they would get together and the whole family on a Saturday morning would make all these breakfast burritos. Then, they would roll them up in aluminum foil and freeze them, and then pop them in the toaster oven for two minutes before they left in the morning. That's a way you could do a meal prepping.
I am a huge fan of Kelly Laveck’s book Body Love. She’s the nutrition education that we did not get in medical school. So she advocates shakes and I've never been a fan of shakes. I just I'm like, Ooh, gross. They're like, you know, I'm just thinking of some of the patients. I just can't deal with it. Um, so once I read her book though, and started, you know, learning about nutrition and, you know, just the low inflammation diet and everything, I started drinking her pumpkin tumeric shakes and they take a lot of ingredients that take cinnamon. They take cloves, frozen pumpkin, a half a cup of that and, um, chia seeds and stuff. Alright.
So Kelly Laveck’s Body Love book is fantastic. It's the nutrition education we did not get a medical school, and I highly recommend it to any physician I come across. She advocates for shakes, and I've never liked shakes at all because they're just gross in my opinion. However, after reading about the low inflammation diet that she advocates, which is every single meal needs four ingredients. Those are protein, fiber, fat, and greens. She has an anticancer pumpkin turmeric shake in there. Once a month, I just put all the spices in Tupperware containers, like the turmeric, the cloves, the chia seeds, the protein powder, and stuff like that. So it's super easy to make a breakfast by just dumping in the almond milk and frozen pumpkin, and then the entire plated-out spices and protein powders and stuff like that. And the MCT oil. Then I have a breakfast that can sustain me for up to six hours.
Any kind of meal prep that you can do ahead of time or something easy, I really advocate for that. There's an app out there called Budget Bytes. One of my friends found out about it for me, and she meal preps off Budget Bytes because there's a way that you can set the filter for ingredients or costs, and she's going through a lot of plant-based diet stuff. So she does her meal planning using the Budget Bytes app--it’s B-Y-T-E-S. And it's like $3 or something.
BONNIE: Yeah. So it sounds like we're talking mainly about meal prep in terms of saving time. Do you have any specific tips about saving money on food? Meal planning is definitely one of the ways to save money, but any other tips to see?
BC: Yeah, of course. So I wrote a chapter about this in the book Spending Habits for Professionals Who Want to FIRE. I know a lot of professionals are really busy. They don't have time to cook. Some of them use personal chefs. If you want a personal chef, ask around. I've had pretty bad experience with the two personal chefs that I tried in the Tampa Bay area. So what I ended up doing was I started using Dinner Done. It's a meal prep service that makes small quantities in a kitchen and then they flash freeze them. If you eat meat, they make chickens and they do fish and beef and pork. You just order whatever type of meat you do or don't eat. Then, I called them to make sure that they didn't have antibiotics in the meat because we don't eat a whole lot of meat in our house. But what we do is usually fish and chicken and that's about it. It’s not every day, but what I'll do is I'll take one of their frozen chicken entrees and I'll pop it in the oven, completely frozen from the freezer and stick it in. Then, I'll pair it with a salad or some other type of vegetable and then that's dinner. So it's a way of saving money by not going out to the restaurant.
A lot of people are like, “Oh, I'm tired, so I’ll order Uber Eats or whatever.” But if you just buy a bag salad kit from the store and then throw it in with a dinner prep service, then you can have dinner. And it's like half the cost of going out to a restaurant. So that is one way for busy professionals to save money.
Ask around in your local PMG, your physician mom group network, in the city or the area that you're in for dinner prep, service or even Google “dinner prep.” You can find services like this in almost every major city and even the minor ones.
BONNIE: Tell us what happened. Well, you don't have to give us details, but what made for the bad experience with the chef?
BC: The first chef, he had a lot of stones. This was back when we really ate a lot more meat than we do now. He would make an entire roast and he would buy the roast and he would charge me full price for the meat. And then he would cut it in half and save half for himself and his family.
BONNIE: Oh, that's interesting.
BC: It's pretty obvious. I'm like, dude, you just charged me $30 for a piece of me and that on top of the labor for making it, and then you just cut it in half and saved it for your family. So I got rid of him and then the other one, his food was super salty. And then he would charge me taxes on top of the groceries that I had already just paid taxes on. And I was just like, “Okay, between the salty food that I've just had to throw out because it's not palatable at all and being charged twice for taxes, I'm done. I can figure this out on my own.”
One of my friends, she's like, “I can't believe you feed your kids frozen pizza.” I'm like, “You know what, every once in a while, I just can't deal with going out to the store. I can't deal with going through a fast food restaurant.” This is when my kids were younger. I was like, “I'm just going to pop in a frozen pizza. It's okay. They'll survive.” You know, when I think of what we ate, when we were kids, all the chemicals in our food, frozen pizza is not going to kill them. It's okay. I give you permission to do that.
And as far as saving on groceries, so I talked to you before about how we shop at all these different stores. We use Walmart pickup a lot these days with the pandemic and Instacart delivers from Aldi. Then Sam's Club, and we buy basically the same thing at every grocery store.
Bonnie: Did you do a cost analysis of what's cheaper at what place?
BC: I did. I'm kind of crazy like that. Like I said, spreadsheets are just my jam. So what I did was back when I realized we were just blowing through money--I think this was in 2016-- I was like, “How much money are we spending?” I feel like we spent a lot of money and I hadn't been tracking our expenses for like six years. I had two kids and was doing fellowship and renovating a house. So it was just an overwhelming time in my life. But I sat down and started tracking how much I was spending, and I was just blown away. And I realized if we want FI, we need to get our spending under control. It’s a lot easier to get your spending under control than it is to save like, you know, $5 million versus, you know, $2 million or something like that--whatever your number might be.
And so I started really looking at what I was buying, and I realized that the stores I was going to. I was like, “You know, if I just change my stores a little bit…” You know, instead of shopping at Publix, I would try Walmart. And then, I was shopping at Walmart and then I tried Aldi and the people I actually convinced to go try Aldi, once they go there, they get like reverse sticker shock at how cheap the food is compared to even Walmart. I joke now that I get Walmart sticker shock when I go in there because the food is so expensive in Walmart compared to Aldi.
But I started keeping a memo on my phone, and I would write down the unit price of what it was at Walmart versus Aldi verses Sam’s. At Sam's Club, we buy cauliflower, we buy apples, we buy paper products, and we stock up on those because they're cheaper at Sam's Club than they are at Walmart. Multivitamins are cheaper at Walmart than anywhere. Aldi has the cheapest chocolate chips. So I just know which store has the cheapest per unit price, like unsalted pistachios--which we eat a lot of. Those are cheaper at Walmart usually than Sam's Club. I know this sounds like a huge time investment, but every single time I went in, I just did one or two aisles. And that was it.
It would be like, “Okay, I'm just tracking the three items we buy in this aisle and the four items we buy in that aisle.” And then there were about a month or two months, when I finally had a working knowledge of what was cheaper where.
BONNIE: Do you still do a lot of shopping in person or do you get it mostly delivered now?
BC: We do a lot more Walmart pickup. We used to do Instacart with Aldi. With a pandemic and everything, it's just, you know, I don't want to run into Walmart to buy pencils for the kids and then run to all these for the groceries, so I just lump it all together. I personally do an Aldi run about once a month. Then, I do Walmart pickup the rest of the time. Or once a month, I'll do Sam’s Club. You can do pickup there too.
So that's with the pandemic. Everything's kind of changed. I was using Instacart for a long time, but now that I'm writing more with this writing program that I'm in, my phone has to be on Do Not Disturb. And with Instacart, you have to be available to answer the messages that are like, “Oh, I can't find this item. Is it okay if I substitute?” So you have to be able to answer right away. And I just can't do that right now with my schedule.
BONNIE: Yeah, no, I hear you. I used Instacart a long time ago, but I haven't in a while. We’ll definitely link in the show notes the blog posts that we keep referencing. But yeah, there were some really, really good frugal tips in there, you know, before your book. How can people learn more about you?
BC: I’m at bckrygowski.com. You'd have to put that in the show notes. My last name is just so long. I’m at bckrygowski.com. That's where I blog. And sometimes my husband will do blog posts there. He's the financial guru or the Boglehead of us. I'm the spender and the spreadsheet, frugal person. And he's the retirement FI investing guy. We played to our strengths in order to get to FI. That's how we ended up there. And I'm also on Facebook and Instagram and Twitter at BCKyrgowski.
BONNIE: Awesome. Well, we'll link to all of that in the show notes. Thank you so much for being here and we will give away at least one of your books.
BC: That sounds great.
BONNIE: And it's awesome seeing you again! Take care.
BC: Thanks for having me. Bye.