Interviews with real women physicians – Diana

Welcome to another installment of Interviews with Real Female Physicians. The goal of this series is to share their story so that you, the reader, may learn and be inspired from their experiences – good and bad. We all come from different backgrounds and have different situations. Some of you are married, some are not, some with kids, some with blended families. Let’s show other women that any of these can work financially!  So let’s introduce our next woman physician rockstar – Diana .

Tell us about yourself:

My name is Diana and I am 47 years old. I am completely debt free as I type this and it feels fantastic to say that! I have been out of residency for 12 years. I trained in internal medicine and while I was considering continuing in critical care and pulmonary medicine, I realized that I did not want to be ‘on’ all the time and bailed out on an offered fellowship spot. As many of my colleagues did at the time, we took the easiest path which was becoming a hospitalist. The money was good and the jobs were all over the place. Initially, I chose to stay on board the same residency program and was an academic hospitalist for two years. While I really feel passionate about academic medicine, I am not passionate about the bureaucracy and the nonsense of being short staffed and having to work extra without being paid properly. My husband who was getting paid ‘soft money’ in academics (i.e., grant money that could run out any year) decided that he wanted to pursue medicine. We had a baby and I was quite unsure, but he got into a school he wanted and we moved to California. I worked 10 years as a full time hospitalist, and although I admit the money was better than good, my schedule was terrible. Working nights and weekends and swing shifts was tolerable when my kids were babies but once they were old enough to do stuff, I didn’t want to do this anymore. I got interested in Palliative Care Medicine (which was not a subspecialty when I was in training) and took the proper steps and became board certified. I could make a case to my group to get me out of hospital medicine and transition to PCM. Initially I did 50/50, but like you all know that was like 75/75 and I had to make a request to switch entirely. So for the last 2 years it was PCM only. I enjoy what I do, and it was a good career decision. I was also very caught up in administration, I was always the type to show up to meetings, so I ended up being chair of medicine, chief of staff and director of palliative care. I was compensated for all these roles, but the work was getting too much and I was ready to switch roles. When my husband finished training, as a radiation oncologist, he could not find a job at the state we were living in. California being such a desired destination, it turned out what he could find was not acceptable in my opinion (no guarantee to make partner for 3 years, etc). The first year out he worked as locum tenens and being a week out at a time with two little kids got old fast. He heard of a position in Hawaii after looking into to it deeper and we moved there! Now I only work 2.5 days a week as an inpatient PCM and feel like I have good work/life balance. My hours are very nice and I found a family up the street that we share car pool duties with our kids. I love palliative care medicine. I recommend people who are not gunning for top specialty to consider it, do a month and see what you think. It may not be for everyone, and in some way, it’s best to choose it after you have done other primary care type medicine, so you have a more robust experience dealing with complex patients. The pay is not what gets you to do this, but I think that the workload can balance the average pay somehow. And if you find meaning in this type of work, like I do, it’s rewarding for the work that you actually do.

Did you graduate with student loans? How much & what are the interest rates?

I did not have any loans in undergrad and my parents had paid for those. I got my masters and by the time I went to med school I was older than most. I got into medical school as a full ride scholarship as it was a dual degree with PhD. So my first year tuition was paid. It was very clear that I did not want to do bench research that year, so I asked to be pulled out of the PhD program. The following three years I accrued about 140 thousand dollars, but I will say that I could have saved more had I chosen to have roommates, etc. I lived alone in my own apartment and that peace of mind of not dealing with someone else’s drama was worth the money I could have saved.But, I still had my loan repayment on a 30 year plan. I think I had it consolidated to 3.15 percent and stopped thinking about it altogether. It is true that it was the Mom Finance Physician Group on FB that kicked my ass into paying it in chunks at the end. When my husband went to med school, his loans were not bad because ‘his wife’ had moved to CA for job so he had in-state status. While he accrued about 160,000 in loans as well, we paid 60,000 with bonuses here and there and did something interesting with the 100,000. We had saved for a down payment for a house as we were renting in med school not knowing where he may end up. We bought a home for $600,000 with 20% down and had a 15 year loan hoping to pay it all fast. As we had quite a bit of equity, our FP at the time told us to get a HELOC on our home for 100,000 and pay off his loans. It sounded crazy, but, his loans were 6.8 percent and we got no kick back on the interest of the loans. Our HELOC was 2.75 percent and helped with end of year taxes…

Financial aspects of kids 

When did you have them?  

I am a mother of two girls, one I had as an academic hospitalist, the second one I had in the second year of my job as a full time hospitalist.

Are you planning to fund their college expenses?

We have saved over $50,000 for each in scholarshare which is a CA 529. At this point our rent from the property we own (paid off), gets divided into two payments that go into those accounts indefinitely. When they are done with the school, I’ll continue contributing, but will put my grandkids as the beneficiary and myself as the primary account holder.

What are your child care expenses?

As far as the kids go, when I look at my social security income history website, I am wondering where all our money went in the early years of my attending salary. I am sad to say, most of it went to childcare. Excellent child care can be expensive if you live somewhere when you don’t know anyone to watch your kids for free. I had my older one in a preschool that was $1200 a month and even though I worked a week on and off, I still had to pay the full amount. Then when my little one was born, I had a nanny that would watch her at home for the weeks that I worked the first two years. That was another $1500 a month. That is a lot of post tax income that could have gone into savings, investing or paying off debts. But, when you have little ones, excellent care trumps saving money so I am glad I had the insight to not panic.

Are your kids in private or public school? What is the cost including after care if needed.

For the kids, we have chosen private school, because of the philosophy of what is being taught to them more than the experience of a private school. They go to a Waldorf school, and while it is pricy, I’ll take it over the senseless testing of the public and academically rigorous schools out there. For high school, we will switch gears and go to mainstream school depending on what they end up liking.

Financial aspects of marriage

Did you get a pre-nuptial or post-nuptial agreement?

I do not have a prenuptial agreement. This is my second marriage and my first one was to another physician, too. We kept everything separate, bank accounts, rent money, etc. That spoke more to the quality of marriage we had than our financial differences. When we separated, I took the things I wanted and he kept the things he wanted. Very amicable marriage and a very amicable divorce. There was no exchange of any type of money. We are good friends to this date.

Do you and your husband agree on finances?

I should say that my husband and I don’t have any fights regarding finances, because he doesn’t know nor care about what is going on. I make all the decisions, and he is happy with the outcome so far. At one point, I was panicking that he had no idea of what we had and if I died he’d be screwed, so I thought having a financial advisor going through our finances and getting him involved was the way to go.

Are you the breadwinner?

With my current marriage, for the longest time, I was the breadwinner. There was a calculation that I used in the beginning so that we felt that we both contributed fairly. It was something like, you add the total expenses of your home, say $5,000 and you add the total income of the family. And then what that ratio would be for one income vs the other. So for example in that case if I made 4 times more than my hubby, I paid $4000 and he paid $1000. And so on, that way we could also have our own money for what we wanted to spend it on. That was more than 13 years ago. We don’t do this anymore. All in one bucket. We save aggressively, and if anyone wants to buy something, like let’s say a paddle board, it gets paid with no question asked. We work hard and we spend on things that give us good life experiences… neither one of us is abusive with money and we both encourage each other to spend freely. Two years ago on an auction night he encouraged me to bid on a round trip to NYC to see Adele for $5000 dollars! I did it with my sister and it felt like absolute magic, but as a rule, we are Target and Costco shoppers if you need a visual.

General Finances

What’s your FI (financial independence) number? 

I don’t know what our ‘number’ is. Online, I had calculated something like $4.5 million and our one time financial advisor said $10 million! He was calculating that we needed 80% of our income. Well, dude, we are saving almost 50 percent of our income now, so that can’t be right! But we don’t have a number, we keep living the way we do and saving the way we do. It’s not like a cake in the oven, we hit the number and stop working. We both feel like you want a life that you can live comfortably so you are not looking forward to stopping the life you are living. Living in Hawaii is expensive but the quality of life is fantastic. Different beaches every weekend, people are very relaxed and we appreciate evening walks and morning hikes and the weather is predictable all year.

Who handles the finances in your relationship? Are you DIY or do you have a financial advisor? 

It became clear to him that I knew as much in many cases not if more than our FA, and if I couldn’t get him interested neither could he, and we decided after having a relationship with the FB physician mom group to cut the ties with our financial advisor. He did help us with some things so I can’t say it was a total loss as some docs mention and because I had knowledge I didn’t ‘buy’ anything and they were only managing a very small portion of our portfolio. Having a financial advisor is good only if you know what they know and you ask questions to clarify. The FB mom group did that for me for free.

What is your net worth?  

$1.6 million

How are you saving for FI/retirement?

I have been known to spend money lavishly, but that only pertains to going on vacations, eating at nice restaurants and treating my family and friends to generous gifts (I took my sister to Paris for a week as a surprise present as an intern: all expenses covered by me). But I never spend the money I don’t have. That money was saved and planned for. I also helped pull out one of my friends out of a bad financial situation by giving $10,000 dollars and never asked for the money back (update, 15 years later, that person is in a 100 times worse shape, a lesson in why you don’t give money to people with money problems…). That was a one time thing, but I am using it as an example of my extravagant spending habits. But as a rule, I am not the type of person to spend money on ridiculous stuff. I am not image conscious and I don’t care that I drive a (be it brand-new) minivan and not a high end flashy SUV. As far as saving for retirement this all was a new thing to me after I split with my first partner. I was a second year in residency and had to pay taxes for the first time on my own and I owed like $2000. Then someone told me to put away money in traditional IRA for $3000 and then I didn’t have to pay taxes since it lowered my earned income. This was all new to me. I didn’t know what retirement was and the word 401K was what older people were doing. I got a book called “smart women finish rich” and the rest is history. I read that book over a weekend in Barnes and Nobles and that book changed my life in terms of understanding compound interest, dollar cost averaging and retirement savings. I started optimizing every dollar that I could save for the pre-retirement and I became a mega savor in 2004. Even though I continued my lavish travels, now I had the notion of what paying yourself first and saving meant. Meanwhile, we have always maximized our retirement accounts. 401k and 457b (hubby) backdoor Roth IRA has been a priority. When he was doing locums we were able to put additional money $15k each year in addition due to his income. My old job had  some pension which will be about $250,000 when I turn 65, which is not bad. Currently, we have about $1.3 million in retirement accounts alone which considering we started in 2004 it’s pretty amazing. We also have about $50,000 in Metropolitan (2% interest/Emergency fund) and about $250,000 in a taxable account. This will sound crazy, but I look forward to turning 50 for all the catch up contributions!! My current job also allow for the the Mega Roth IRA, which is a new option for us and I will be maxing every year to $54,000 total. As far as my investing philosophy and strategy, I am a true believer that saving trumps strategy. I am sure someone with more knowledge than I have had, could have pulled another 5 to 10% on top of what we have done so far, but I have stuck to low cost index funds and some international money in there too and cannot complain with what is happening. I probably need to dial it back a bit and not be so stock heavy (more than 90%) but we don’t need the money anytime soon and a huge drop in the market, would just get us to investing more at this stage of our lives. In 20 years, I am sure that we would be 50/50 stock and bonds, but we are ok for now. Well, long story short, when it was time to move to Hawaii, our home had increased in value significantly and we were able to sell the house, pay off my student loans, the HELOC (essentially his loans) and the mortgage on the condo we had been using as a rental in where I trained. All that and we had about another $200,000 to keep for down payment for the next house. Which brings us to where we are now. The homes are so expensive here that we are thinking of renting for the next ten years. It’s nice not to have all the responsibility of a new home, taxes, insurances, upkeep and anything else is not our problem. The money we won’t put toward the mortgage will go into a taxable account in a low cost index fund and at that point if we need to move or go elsewhere to buy the money is there. And on a very visceral level, since we technically own a townhome in Arizona, I don’t feel like we are homeless.

Financial Regret:

My one financial regret is: when our group closed the 457 we had an option of rolling it into our new 401k or cashing it out without the penalty. It was about $73,000 and we cashed it out because we had just bought a house and were remodeling. In the end, it is all gone and we had to pay taxes on it that year. In retrospect, I wish it was still in our retirement account. But on the other side, all the money we put into that house came back to us in folds.

One thing you wish you knew:

I wish I had paid off all of our loans much sooner. I had no reason not to have paid it off sooner. When I had money collecting 1% in ally bank and the same amount in student loans charging me 3% interest, it makes no sense why I didn’t pay it all off then. But I think since we were always about to move etc. I didn’t want to not have immediate access to a large sum of liquid money. That will always stay with me. I rather have 12 month emergency fund sitting somewhere than riding in my fancy boat. But that is just how my brain works I guess.

Do you have insurance?

In terms of life insurance, I have about a million on myself and 2 million on my husband. We decided to forgo my disability insurance, and my husband bought something over what the group offers (group offers $10,000 own individual policy, we bought an additional $13,250). We also have the umbrella insurance policy as well. We are in the process of updating our will (new state) and trust etc. It is very important to both of us that it is squared away.

What does FI/retirement mean to you? What does it look like?

I can imagine wanting to do what I do indefinitely, and if the girls are gone to college I may up it to full time for three years to benefit our pension policy that goes off of highest salary of your 3 consecutive years of service the last 10 years. At the same time, my hubby loves what he does and would love to keep doing what he does, we both hope for more vacation than we have now, so we can travel more freely. Ideally, I would like 6-8 weeks of vacation a year and I think with that, I can work forever… When I was in my last practice the cardiothoracic surgeons had 12 weeks off a year. That is NICE! I’ll take that too if that is ever an option.

Do you give to charity? If so, where and why?

As for charity, I have been giving locally (local NPR) and globally (Doctors Without Borders) for years. I also, pay a lot for the girls schools’ charitable events (auctions etc).

Any parting words of wisdom?

I want to thank Bonnie, I think that since being in that group on FB and reading what people have shared, has really accentuated a philosophy that I have always had – which is live like a resident today so that you can live like a millionaire in your older years. It’s nice to be able to be generous and help friends and family and also benefit from years of education that has allowed us to have access to an income that we can use to live financial independence comfortably. At the end, delayed gratification, is a kick all on its own, and once you learn to experience it, going to a pre-planned and pre-paid two week European trip does not feel like a luxury but a necessity for your family’s mental health. Life is short, but if you play your cards wrong, it may feel painfully long for the unfortunate few.

And … that’s a wrap! If you’re interested in doing this please send me an email – I’d love to hear from you!

I loved reading Diana’s story and I hope you did too. Love her no nonsense attitude!]]>

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4 Comments

  1. njlmeeks on November 7, 2017 at 6:23 pm

    Interesting about doing the low interest HELOC to pay off a higher interest student loan and capture some mortgage interest deductions. Are there downsides to doing that? One I can think of is then your loan isn’t forgiven if you die, but otherwise it sounds like an interesting strategy.



    • Miss Bonnie MD on November 8, 2017 at 8:16 am

      I know quite a few people who do this.



  2. My Early Retirement Journey on November 30, 2018 at 6:07 pm

    This was such a nice essay and look into someone else’s life. New to your blog. Nice to see not everyone is running away from the workforce. “I can imagine doing what I do indefinitely” is definitely something I’ve NEVER said about anything! I applaud Diana on choosing a profession that suits her needs and allowing the way it looked to evolve over time. I tend to get stuck in a rut. Applause for making a conscious choice to rent based your lifestyle choice and not just because you have a family!



    • Miss Bonnie MD on December 2, 2018 at 9:21 am

      Thanks for stopping by! My goal is to empower physicians to set up their finances so that they can practice medicine freely. Definitely not encouraging early retirement per se (although that is totally fine too!).



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