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 – Melanie!
Tell us about yourself:
I am a divorced mother of a special needs kid living in a HCOL area on the West Coast. I have been an attending obstetrician gynecologist for over a decade. Pretty much went straight through school with only a year off and I count my blessings that I didn’t take my sweet time. I think if I were to pick a specialty at this age it would be dermatology [Editor's note: It is THE best field]. But having picked my specialty in my 20’s, it was the right one for me at the time. I loved the subject matter: deliveries, surgeries, clinic, women’s health, birth control, abortions.
But the wear and tear on my body and my psyche have been immense over the last 14 years. A more peaceful practice with flexibility to raise my kiddo sounds amazing right now. I grew up on the East Coast and although I love the West Coast weather and all the wonderful hiking, skiing and climbing it affords me, I regret not staying closer to home so that my parents can watch my child grow up.
Did you graduate with student loans? How much & what are the interest rates?
I went to a private university and public medical school. I was lucky and my grandfather paid for college. I left medical school with about $35,000 in loans at an interest rate of about 2% that dropped to 1.75% after I paid it on time monthly for a year. I did receive scholarships and loans throughout although I cannot remember how much. I had worked throughout college and medical school in work study programs. I lived in student housing during residency and managed to save about $30,000 during residency.
How fast (or not) are you paying them off?
Because of the low interest rate on my loans I did not pay them off until about 8 years after residency. But enough was enough, I wanted something happy to celebrate that month and paid them off happily. It was also one less bill and account to keep track of on Mint.
Financial aspects of kids
When did you have them?
I had my child when I was already an attending. I made sure I had been working at the job for at least a year to make sure I had full benefits and saved all my vacation so that I could take four months of mostly paid maternity leave.
What are your child care expenses?
He goes to public school with a one-on-one aide paid for by the school district. We pay a nanny about $19/hr to take care of him after school and during vacations, which runs anywhere from $200-$1000/week. The state helps fund a portion of my nanny expenses. I have about $55k in a 529 plan right now that I will likely convert due to the ABLE act for disabilities. We also have a Special Needs Trust.
Financial aspects of marriage
Are you married?
I am divorced.
Did you get a pre-nuptial or post-nuptial agreement?
I had gotten a prenuptial agreement beforehand due to vast differences in finances and the fact that he had been divorced prior to our marriage. I did not want to get married at all but he wanted to, so I acquiesced, and he suggested the prenup. Therefore, I might have ended up poorer due to the marriage to a certain amount but not as much as I would have if we had not had the prenup.
What have you learned financially from divorce, and what advice would you give to unmarried women planning to marry?
By the end of the marriage I made almost 3 times his salary. He got to write both the prenup and the marriage settlement agreement so no wool was pulled over his eyes. Although because he managed all my finances while we were married, I didn’t really understand my finances coming out of the marriage, which frightened me and caused me to become obsessed with making sure I learned everything I could. There is a suspicion that he might have been squirreling away money for himself a year before we separated but I am doing ok without that. I also ended up helping him pay off a large chunk of his student loans while we were married.
Have you experienced a financial catastrophe?
I have been lucky and have experienced no financial catastrophes thus far. I had resigned from a stable well benefited job with a pension over a year ago for the unknown. I currently am barely taking in house call (which I realize I hate), doing part time clinical work and part time contract non-clinical work.
And I absolutely love it!!! When you don’t do the same thing day in and day out burn out is prevented. You don’t get repetitive stress injury and you don’t have to deal with politics at your only place of employment. It is mind blowing and soul freeing! I also have 6 or 7 different streams of income and multiple employers have all asked me for more time so if one stream ever dries up, I will never be without employment. The best thing is that I have found remote non-clinical work that pays 6 figures a year. The downside of contract work is the lack of benefits but my part time clinical job provides the benefits. The part time clinical job is lower paying but unionized and extremely flexible. I love all my jobs now!!
What’s your FI (financial independence) number?
Financial Independence is a tricky thing. I guess you can say I am there since I don’t practice as a traditional obgyn. Some of my friends joke that I am retired. I took my first 24 hour call in over a year and realize that is my idea of hell on earth. I wasn’t willing to do it unless my locums company paid 1.5x my normal rate. That is my idea of financial independence. No one can tell me what to do. If I don’t want to do it, I don’t. I have the money to say “No”.
Real financial independence will remain elusive for me because I am a single parent of a special needs child. My child may always need support throughout his life and beyond my life. My goal at this time is to somehow accumulate $30 million in order to fund a community for the disabled not just for my child but also for others.
Are you DIY or do you have a financial advisor?
What is your net worth?
I have a net worth of $1.8 million dollars.
How are you saving for FI/retirement?
I max out my retirement accounts annually. I have a 401(k), SEP IRA, 403(b) and traditional IRA and have not done a backdoor Roth IRA. I am conservative in my cash investments, mostly in a money market account and I also hold mutual funds/index/bond funds outside of my retirement accounts. I have paid off my home and have no mortgage. I do not know my asset allocation as of this moment as I am trying to figure that out.
Do you have insurance?
What is your biggest financial regret?
My biggest financial regret was not putting excess cash in the stock market 2 years ago after a windfall because I thought the market was too high. After some more reading, it seems the stock market tends to go up a lot more than it comes down and I lost out on the 20% gains on a large chunk of cash that sat in a MMA for 1% interest rate. That is why I need a financial advisor since I am too chicken sh** to invest myself.
Do you give to charity? If so, where and why?
I give to charity: school, special needs groups, ovarian cancer and anyone who asks.
Any parting words of wisdom?
Live life with purpose and happiness now. Do not suffer today for possible better security tomorrow since that day may never come. I have no regrets. There is no room for regrets. Depression and anxiety can happen when you regret the past and worry about the future. Be present now.
There is a reason for everything that happens in your life. Always believe that you are in control of your life and you will be happier. Do not think “things happen to you.”
And … that's a wrap! If you're interested in doing this please follow the instructions here!
Melanie is one kick-ass single physician mom! I'd love to hear from more single moms!