They say live like a resident… but sometimes it’s worth it to live like an attending

Mar 1, 2018

If you’ve read even just a few articles posted by physician finance bloggers like White Coat Investor, you’ve almost certainly encountered the advice to “live like a resident” after completing residency. A physician’s salary going from training to an attending position can triple, quadruple, and often more. It’s an exciting opportunity to ditch the medical resident budget!

Enter lifestyle inflation. It’s easy to revel in the higher expendable income and start making more purchases and buy more expense items. But a drastically higher annual spending means a lower savings than what you could have if you continued the spending habits that you’d had as a resident. Lower savings corresponds to less money invested, and less money growing and compounding over time.

So I agree with the sentiment of “live like a resident” since, if done well, it means increased financial security and earlier retirement. But I don’t follow this rule strictly. It can come at the loss of optimal enjoyment of life as a young, practicing physician.

Reasons to stop living like a resident

Each of us has a personal balance to strike between living like a resident and sensibly using the income we’ve worked hard for. These are the main reasons I feel we should not continue to live like residents, and some situations that I’ve found real value in living “like an attending.” Here are six.

1. You can spend less time figuring out how to save a buck or two

Clipping coupons and planning out a detailed shopping list in order to expend said coupons takes a lot of time. (Have you seen Extreme Couponing on TLC? Couponing is a full-time job for some of those ladies!) Researching several websites to find the best product at the lowest price can eat up your life fast. If you throw in reading reviews and searching for discount codes, that’s even more time you could spend doing something else – like actually enjoying the product once you have it!

These are just a couple examples of how saving money often uses up your time. Maybe it’s just a minute or so, but these moments and minutes and hours add up.

I don’t enjoy driving. When I need gas, I go to the most convenient gas station. A few cents per gallon does not sway me and I have absolutely no regrets about the money I could have saved at the pump across the street.

If the time you’ve lost saving money isn’t worth the savings, where is the value to you?

2. A larger home means quality time with people you love

I have a fairly large house that sometimes even seems too big when it’s just my husband and me at home. When we have guests, though, it’s wonderful. It doesn’t feel cramped, and everyone can have some personal space. I’ve had parties with 30+ guests and it didn’t feel overly tight or loud in the house. I really appreciate being able to do this. Because I have a lot of family and friends who live far away, it’s important to me that I be able to host them whenever they want to visit. And I like to host a dinner party or brunch now and then, and love being able to do it in my own house instead of renting space and without having to slash people from my guestlist like I’m planning a wedding!

Traveling is worth mentioning here as well. I won’t argue with anyone who promotes travel hacking, airline and hotel point accumulation, and other techniques for saving money while traveling. You can get some awesome deals that way. But if you’re also open to spending extra in certain situations when you’re traveling, you’ll be happier in the long run. Especially when the weather or another unforeseen event interferes with your original plan, such as a sick relative or family emergency – spend the money to make your travel convenient! Save the time you might otherwise spend trying to find all the best deal, and use it to relax in a stressful situation or spend extra time with a loved one. You’re an attending and it’s worth it.

3. It will help keep you and your family safe

It’s natural to cut out products and services from our lives when we don’t see the rewards right up front. I have friends who have gone without health insurance because they were healthy. It’s embarrassing to write this, but I’ve walked through unsafe neighborhoods in unfamiliar cities to avoid the cost of a taxi. Choices like this are absolutely not worth the risk! I’ve found that a “live like a resident” mindset makes me more apt to make poor decisions like these.

I also live like an attending when it comes to paying for:

  • An alarm system and home monitoring for my house
  • Food and supplies to stock my storm shelter in my tornado-prone area
  • Canisters of pepper spray because my self-defense skills are deplorable

I value the peace of mind that results from these decisions.

4. The belongings and services you depend on will be more reliable

Along similar lines of safety, reliability is another biggy. Reliable things tend to be more expensive. Reliability is worth it in so many situations! Having a car that won’t break down on you. Hiring a contractor that will actually show up when you need him. Buying clothes with seams that don’t start falling apart after the first wash.

These may cost more, but the unexpected happens and it’s a pain when it does. When you have an attending salary, there’s no need to make these circumstances more painful than they need to be.

Another quick example:  Between my husband’s protein shakes, my smoothies, and all the cooking I do, our blender gets used at least twice per day. We wore out several low-cost blenders before finally deciding to live like an attending get a $500 Vitamix. Why did we wait?! The Vitamix is powerful, well-designed, and will definitely last a whole lot longer than our previous blenders. To us, it is worth the money. We probably could have saved several hundred dollars by just getting the Vitamix three or four blenders ago.

5. You will buy what you actually want instead of what has the best price

When I was focused on saving money, paying off loans, and trying to not be broke, I would often end up purchasing things that weren’t what I actually wanted.

I love group fitness classes – yes, like step aerobics in full on spandex. Once I was purchasing a new gym membership and got one without group fitness classes included simply because it was less expensive. The treadmill and elliptical are pretty much the most boring ways to exercise ever. To me, it would have been worth spending $30 extra per month to have some enjoyment during my workups.

For you, maybe it’s worth it to pay an extra $50 for good quality running shoes if it means more comfort while running. And therefore an increase in your motivation to go running. I’m sure you can think of other examples – whether it’s settling for a lower-line model, a knock off that is not constructed as well as the real thing, or services from a company that doesn’t do as thorough of a job as their more expensive competitor.

Moreover, some higher-cost purchases are simply more enjoyable and will add value to your life. I like beer, and tend to enjoy pricier beers. I used to let price weigh into my decision-making when purchasing beer. But now I drink beer like an attending physician. If the bar sells Bud Light for $2 as well as a beer that’s not reminiscent of sparkling pond water for $10, I will not blink before ordering the more delicious $10 beer. And I thoroughly enjoy every sip of it plus the lingering tipsiness.

If you can’t relate to my love of beer, simply replace beer with whatever you truly enjoy that typically costs money. If you find yourself making a purchase, but then not feeling fulfilled with what you got, consider if spending more would have added value to your life. As an attending, you can probably afford it.

6. Spending money can make you more productive

This is one of my favorite ways to live like an attending! Products and services that make me more productive have proven to be worth their cost and then some. A couple examples of how I’ve spent money in this area:

  • I purchased an extra-long adjustable height desk that allows me to walk on a treadmill, stand, or sit while working.
  • I signed up for a few subscription services that make work processes easier, like LastPass.

There are plenty of other ways to increase your productivity by spending a bit of cash. Hire someone to do a household chore you dislike and use your extra time to do some CME. Or purchase the in-flight wifi so you can get some work done during a flight.

We can balance living like a resident with living like an attending

Live Like a ResidentLive Like an Attending
Don’t buy a new car just to be fancy…but do buy a reliable car in good condition, and even pay for features that make you more productive
Don’t buy a huge house in an expensive neighborhood…but do consider that having enough space for visits and socializing can be a real plus
Don’t pay extra just for a brand name…but do spend money for a brand that is known to be reliable and is a good fit for your needs
Don’t go on frequent extravagant vacations…but do travel often and be accepting of the costs that tend to come with travel
Don’t forego your safety to save money…but do shop around for good rates on insurance and other products
Don’t outsource every chore and task you have…but do hire people if you can be more productive or earn more with the time you’ve saved
Don’t buy everything that strikes your fancy…but do purchase items or experiences that add value to your life, make memories, and enhance your relationships

 

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