Interviews with Real Women Physicians – Tran Squared

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 by 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! 

Tell us about yourself:

I’m a 41-year-old Emergency Medicine Physician and have been practicing for 10 years.  I graduated with a liberal arts degree and worked in consulting for a few years before deciding to go to medical school.  I think that was the best thing ever because people often go straight through with tunnel vision and then awaken and wonder if the grass is greener on the other side.  I took a few years to work in corporate America and actually had a great couple of years traveling between Chicago and Southern California, staying in a corporate apartment in Newport Beach, driving a rented convertible to work and expensing meals while pretending to work.  But in my spare time, I was taking lunch breaks to try out for game shows in LA and didn’t find fulfillment in what I was doing day to day and decided to apply to medical school since I happened to take my premed classes to appease my parents during college. I never made it big in Hollywood (I didn’t even make it past round one of any audition) and then the dot-com bubble burst and I got accepted to medical school and traded in my airline miles and heels for books and clogs.   

After residency with 2 kids in tow, I decided to move to a big city in Texas temporarily to be near family. It was supposed to be a short stint until the kids were a little older and then we would move to some beautiful city near the beach, maybe out West… But the reality is money goes further in Texas, especially for Emergency Medicine (this is changing now) and it was great to have grandparents nearby to help on the weekend and when our schedules get complicated. Somehow 10 years have passed and I’m still in the muggy, misquote town and now it's hard to uproot the kids and move and not worry about years of therapy later. 

Do I like EM? Would I do it again? Well I can’t imagine what else I would do in medicine because I’m constantly interested in something for a short amount of time and thinking of the next big thing. I have attachment issues and don’t want to see the same patient again and I don’t like to work when I’m not at work. I like to stack my shifts and jump on a plane and explore a new country in my spare time and I like most EM docs I’ve met. This probably makes EM a pretty good fit for my style but I think of it as a continuum and I’m always thinking of what may come next. I am working on being a writer but I hate grammar. I wanted to be an actress but I don’t have emotional range. I want to be a rockstar but I don’t have rhythm. But I am always daydreaming of what I’m going to do next with my life and just see EM as a step in the journey.  I can’t wait to see what happens next…

Interview with real women physicians -tran squared

Did you graduate with student loans?

I went to an expensive undergraduate (Northwestern) and left with student loans.  Not as much as you would think because I got some scholarships and also I’m from a poor family so I got aid. I did work study and worked a few years after and paid some of the loans back, not all.

I rolled the rest of my undergraduate loans into my medical school loans.  I got a scholarship that covered some part of my medical school tuition and finished with about 80K in total debt (between undergrad/med/residency) which could have been a lot smaller if I hadn’t deferred payment in residency. I was just a lemming like all the others around me and didn’t take the brain space to question financial decisions at the time, instead, I just did what the mob did and racked up interest.  I wish I had the brainpower to spare during med school/residency/early mommy hood to look at my finances and start paying back the loans because I could have saved some money. The interest on my loans is small, something like 2 % so for years I was just paying the monthy payments, spread over 30 years. Then I started making big payments every so often when I would think about finances, then I just decided to pay them off and it feels so good to be without any educational loans. My husband had about 40K of loans from undergrad and paid them off a few years before me so we are both without educational loans. I think we paid them off in about 7 years after residency.

I did med school in Chicago and bought a townhouse when I matched and knew I would be staying for another 3 years for residency. We did an interest-only 5-year loan (not smart) and it could have turned out pretty badly but for us, things worked out.

We moved to Texas right after residency and put our place on the market after we left town.  It took about 5 months to sell and it was during a down market (2008) but we actually made money on it even as the real estate market was tumbling.  

Financial Aspects of Kids

When did you have them?

I’m married with 3 kids.  I had one at the end of medical school, one at the end of residency and the last one 6 years ago.  That’s right, I went straight through med school to EM residency to practice while having kids and not taking time off.  It sounds crazy but if you don’t know any different it all works out. The key is a really supportive partner and the ability to survive on less sleep.

Are you planning to fund their college expenses?

We have 529s for each of them and put about 1,000/per kid per month each (36k per year) and plan to help them out with college as long as they remain normal kiddos and are doing the right thing. We started out putting in smaller amounts and only decided on our current rate for 529 in the past few years. I wish I had parents that could have helped out with my educational loans and I hope to help mine. The reality is with our income, they won’t be getting any money for college no matter how hard they work.

What are your child expenses?

So where am I hemorrhaging money?  My babies -that is my single biggest expense.  Feeding them, dressing them, paying for sports and music and birthdays and taking them on vacation. Flying as a family of 5 is insane…You can’t sneak 3 kiddos into a tiny European hotel room made for 2, maybe 3 small people, you get caught and have to get a suite or double room and so on. I admit it, I pay for private school. And I can’t honestly justify it because I’m a poor public school kid and life turned out okay, but suddenly you have your only little beast and you think you need to do more because you have more. And you wonder if there is something special about that private school with an amazing reputation and so you apply. That is the big mistake because once you have seen the difference in private and public it's really hard to go back but I don’t know if that is a decision that makes a difference in the long run. I do know I’m 60-100k poorer every year because of this (tuition from 25-31k per child). I will have to answer that question in another 15+ years and see where my kiddos end up in life.

Financial Aspects of Marriage

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

No pre-num but if I got remarried I would do that. Just because of where I am in life now, not because I regret not having one. I lucked out so far marrying a ‘nice’ guy with the same values as me and so far it’s been great.  Your partner in life can make or break you in so many ways, so if you hear warning bells…RUN!

"Your partner in life can make or break you in so many ways." Share on X

Do you and your partner agree on finances?

I worry more about our finances than my husband.  I also do more reading and investing than he does. He is a ‘set and forget’ kind of guy. He is pretty chill which works because I worry enough for both of us. No matter how much we make, I always worry about ‘having enough’ and lately I’ve been working hard to let this go and cut back. Being online and seeing the whole FI community has been a great gift in realizing what is “enough”. Also seeing nice young people with terrible diagnosis and having kids really puts life and mortality in perspective and I’ve been working on cutting back big time at work to have time for my life and find myself again.  

Does your spouse stay at home?

My husband works in technology. I don’t know what he actually does, we never talk about work. I know he works from home which is amazing because he can get the kids to school before he gets on a conference call and he can work in his pajamas all day and we can still see each other and have lunch dates on my days off. But it also means he travels randomly and sometimes weekly so I put holes in my schedule and trade shifts and we are constantly juggling. I think this is just the reality of life with kids and 2 working parents. We don’t keep a nanny- it’s a luxury because I’m in EM and he works from home when he’s not traveling. We make it a rule that one of us is always home.  So, he schedules meetings around school activities and I schedule my shifts around his travel dates. We didn’t plan to live in a lower COLA and I didn’t research competitive pay for my specialty but looking back on it, these 2 accidental steps made a big difference in getting to financial independence and we really lucked out there. 

General Finances

What’s your FI (financial independence) number?

My FI number is constantly changing but probably somewhere between 6-8mil.  If all 3 kids get into great schools and we help them out that is almost 160-200k per year in kiddo cost not including our own living.  So we try to factor that into our FI number. And I want a big cushion and to live without worrying about money so why not think bigger?

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

We do not have a financial advisor and both independently manage our finances and meet every 4-5 months and review where we are and make some tweaks.

What is your net worth?

Our net worth is around 3.8 million depending on the market and not including our home (about 4.6 mil including our home). I actually never took the time to look at our net worth until about 1-2 years ago and that was a pleasant surprise. In reality, I know I could stop now and be okay. My husband actually loves his job and no matter how much money we have would always work so I’ve been stepping back to take time for me. I see lots of people way past FI that keep going NOT because they love their life but because they don’t know what else to do. I never want to be that person. I love my life and I’m grateful for my job, but I don’t want to lose myself in that. I don’t like to think of my identity as ‘physician’ or even ‘mom’ and worry I’ll lose parts of me if I keep chugging along with tunnel vision. So I’ve been working less for the past few months and plan to continue to slow down and take the time to tinker and do things outside of my job and family so that I never refuse to retire just for lack of what to do next. I tried to stop cold turkey this year but realized I need to do it slowly. If I hit 10 million suddenly I would stop or maybe work 2-4 days a month at most. I travel a fair amount and would like to do this more, maybe move near the water, maybe do some international work.

How are you saving for FI/retirement?

My husband has 401ks and IRAs. I have a sep IRA (I know everyone else has a back door Roth) and some old IRA/401K from before. We save the rest in taxable accounts. We do a mix of index funds, cash, and stocks and are a bit aggressive in our allocation. I've not taken the time to see our asset allocation but will try to do that in the next year but I think we are 80+% in the market, which is concerning going into 2019. We don’t rebalance and we keep talking about real estate but have not gotten into that yet. Hopefully, real estate will come in the next 1-2 years. We try to save around 20-25% of our income each year and that money goes into retirement accounts and taxable accounts. We finished paying off our student loans and also our home so this was a big milestone for us about 2 years ago and that was when we started tracking our net worth.  

Do you have insurance?

I have disability insurance, which I think I will cancel in the next 2 years. We both have term life policies. We each have a 2 million dollar policy that expires in another 10 years and another 1 mil/each that expires in about 20 years. Our kids are young and if something happens I want finances to be taken out of the worry for them. WE have a 5 million dollar umbrella policy including our home.

Any parting words of wisdom?

For me, the current struggle is learning what is ‘enough’ and how to make the transition from that point. I love my life but I don’t live to work. We spend so much of our life on a planned track… finish college, go to med school, get a job, have a family, etc. But then the track is much more elusive after that point. I don’t want to just keeping going with my head in the sand and I don’t want to be one of those folks that can’t stop working to enjoy living. So many can’t let go because we start to identify and place our worth on our title of physician. There’s so much more to life and I’m at the point where I’m trying to navigate what comes next without a map. I think for most folks, if you live within your means or below your means and save as you go and get out of debt we will all get there as physicians. But recognizing when you are ‘there’ and what comes next is really the next exciting part no one talks about.

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