Interview with EJ from Dads, Dollars, Debts

Hey everyone!

Today I have this week’s installment of our segment: Interviews with Money Experts. I talk to EJ from Dads, Dollars, Debts.

Without further ado, here’s the interview.

Could you give a little background about who you are and how you came to start your blog?

I always knew I wanted to be a doctor. I knew that by becoming a doctor I would make a high salary. I assumed that this would equate to financial success. High salary = set for life.

That is not how it works. I started my actual job at the ripe age of 32. I quickly realized that maybe I will not want to do this for 30+ years. Maybe having options when I hit 50 or 60 years old would make more sense.

This was while I was already weighed down with over $300K in debt through various mistakes I had made. I was working and making very little progress despite the high salary. I realized something had to change. I started reading and making plans.

By 35 I had a positive net worth and now by 37 am debt free with personal assets over $1 million. A lot of this gain was due to an insurance payout after my home burned down, but I was already on the right road before the fire.

As for why I started a blog? I have been reading personal finance blogs for over 5 years now. It started with the White Coat Investor and from there I made it to Mr. Money Mustache’s site. As time went on I read more sites and felt like sharing my own thoughts on personal finance. So I started Dad’s Dollars Debts.

The site is less than 2 years old but is doing okay. Through it I discuss my thoughts on personal finance, being a physician and father, and moderatism in life.

How’s life as a dad? Any key lessons you’ve learned along the way?

Life as a dad is simultaneously exhilarating and exhausting. Nothing will take as much energy (emotion, physical, and financial) as raising a little one. I suspect that is why people will say their passion projects or business are their babies.

Oh man, lot’s of lessons.

The most important is probably to be present. Try and disconnect from your phone. Come home from work at a reasonable hour. When your kid is talking to you pay attention and just absorb it. Then respond in an intelligent, engaging way. Let them know you heard them.

Also, don’t forget to plan financially for your family. If you have a spouse who is working, that is one thing. I think you should still have disability and life insurance.

If you have a kid, that is an entirely next level game. You must have life insurance and disability. That kid is depending on you for 18 to 25 years.

So please, please, please get your financial ducks in a row.

Do you have any advice on applying for life and disability insurance?

Get them young. The younger the better. Only go for term life insurance as whole life insurance is rarely necessary and is more of an investment strategy than protecting yourself from catastrophic events.

As for disability insurance, again the younger you get it the better. I would recommend getting a personal policy outside from your employer as it is portable with you if you ever change jobs.

Also make sure you get an own occupation policy as you want to be sure you are insured for your job, and not just the ability to do any job.

What type of doctor are you? What are some lessons you’ve learned in your career?

I am a cardiologist. I spend most of my days seeing patients in the clinic and reading various studies like echocardiograms and nuclear stress test.

The biggest lessons I have learned is that we can live happy, active lives well into our 80s and even 90s if we take care of ourselves.

So plan accordingly when it comes to retirement and healthy living. Don’t abuse your body too much in your youth.

Beyond that, patience is important in all aspects of life. Just remember that when flustered. There are always worse things that can happen and hard times will always pass in time.

When/how did you figure out you wanted to be a doctor?

I have known I wanted to be a doctor from a young age. My dad, great-grandfather, and numerous cousins are doctors.

I suspect if your dad is a fireman, you will become a fireman. That’s what it was like for me. He always loved his job and told me how great a career it was.

It is not surprising that I became a doctor.

Any tips for someone currently in med school/interning?

Watch what you spend. Do not max out your loans just to have a good time. Be smart about money because once you are out, that debt becomes real and will weigh you down.

As for interns, figure out how you can contribute to your 401k (if there is a match) and/or a Roth IRA. This is a great time to start putting money away for retirement.

You may think you can do this job for 35 + years, but believe me when I say burn out is real.

Any advice for someone staring at six figures of student loan debt?

First, I am sorry society requires so much debt to then contribute back to society.

Second, start thinking about how you can pay it off once you get your first attending job. Ideally, you will live frugally and pay it off in 5 years. If that seems too crazy, then aim for 10 years.

Do not let it linger around for 30 years. It is not a good idea and is not fun. You make enough to where you can pay it off.

What are some lessons you were taught growing up that you appreciate now?

My mom was always good at telling me to save. I remember from a young age she would reinforce that thought. I, unfortunately, was not good at listening to her but finally at 32 got the point.

Now I am an avid saver and my wife and I try to save between 20-50% of our salary annually.

Work hard young. This was my dad’s advice.

He said I should try and do everything I want and can at a younger age. Specifically, he was talking about education and testing. He recommended getting through degrees as quickly as possible and then taking the certificate or board exams right away.

By not delaying you make more progress. Additionally, over time testing and certifications tend to get harder. Thus finishing it now may prevent more work in 1 or 2 years.

Those to pieces of advice stay with me. Save money now and work hard now….it will make everything easier down the road.

What are some lessons you hope to pass onto the next generation?

The main lesson would be to work hard young. When you are young and unbridled by a spouse, career, or child; that is the time to shoot for the stars. I am not saying it is impossible to do later in life, it is just more complicated.

So get out there, work hard in your chosen field, put in the hours, and succeed. Then as you get older and life gets more complicated, you can slow down or at least not put in the hours you had to in your 20s to get to where you are now.

Also, save…save…save. Skip buying rounds for all of your friends. It is expensive and unnecessary. Limit the amounts of drinks you have out.

One or 2 beers may be affordable. Five or 6, not so much. Plus it is not good for your health. So cut it out.

Start saving a small amount of money now, put it in an investable account (whether it is a 401k or IRA which I recommend really depends on your situation), and don’t touch it. Consider that money gone until the future.

Quit trying to impress everyone else. Buying stuff to impress people is not cool.

Buying stuff to boost your confidence is okay, but you would be better off working out, reading, or learning a skill to build your self-confidence. It may be more expensive than a new purse, but the benefits will last forever.

What situation would warrant a 401k? How about an IRA?

If your company has a match, you should invest in your 401k at least up to where you get the match. Free money. Plus if it is placed in a traditional 401K, you get to write off that portion of income from your taxes.

If there is no match, then you can invest in either the 401k or IRA. Just make sure to invest.

As for IRA, I think everyone should have one. Whether it is on top of your 401k depends on your income and saving ability.

Ideally, you will max out your 401k at $18,500 and max out a traditional, Roth, or backdoor Roth IRA  up to $5,500 based on your income bracket.

I have a few posts on both these topics I am happy to share.

How does one avoid lifestyle creep or keeping up with the Joneses?

By realizing what’s important in life. If the new car and bigger house will give you true happiness then go for it. For most of us though, the happiness is fleeting.

There for a few days, months, if lucky years but then no longer present. Saving and being sound financially is a lifelong happiness. Decreasing that money stressor in life is invaluable.

What’s an app, book, and blog/podcast you’d recommend to someone that wants to improve their financial situation?

Here is a list of blogs as that is my main medium.

As far as books, “The Bogleheads Guide to Investing” is a classic as is “The Millionaire Next Door.” Start with those and hit me up again when you are ready for more advanced lessons.

What are some important takeaways from those two books?

From the Bogleheads Guide, it is keeping investing simple. Passive index funds seem to work pretty well for people. Figuring out your risk tolerance and allocating your assets appropriately. If that is too complicated, then at minimum just start saving and investing. That is step 1.

From the Millionaire Next Door, it is that displaying wealth does not make you wealthy. Most millionaires are driving modest cars and living in modest homes. It allows them to save a larger portion of their modest income.

Where can people go to learn more about you and your work?

They can go to DadsDollarsDebts.com if interested in the blog and my writing.

Wrap-up

That concludes my interview with EJ. I hope you gained some new insights into how to improve your Financial Health and grow your Wealth.

Come back next week for my interview with Brian from Debt Discipline.

So readers, what was your favorite point made here? Any questions for him?

Published by

Financial Health and Wealth

I am a Financial Consultant and Blogger. I live in the Greater Milwaukee area. I am married with a six-month-old son. My goal with this blog is to educate people to better understand basic finances and to help save them money along the way

5 thoughts on “Interview with EJ from Dads, Dollars, Debts”

  1. Awesome, EJ. Working hard when you’re young is some of the best advice I ever heard. Not working hard in my 20s was probably the worst financial mistake in my life. And I love you blog and book recommendations. Those seven recommendations should be the foundation of any FI enthusiast’s education. Great interview, my friend. Cheers.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Really nice to get to know a bit more about a fellow physician blogger. The most impressive thing about EJ is how he handled the tragedy of the Tubbs fire. It was heartbreaking just to read his account of it let alone what it must have felt like to live through it in person.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thanks Mr Groovy. Appreciate that you came over to read this. Working hard when you are young is so important and so many of us don’t do it. Then when we are trying to raise kids and be a good spouse, we are also scrambling to make money. So work hard young folks!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. It seems to me that many doctors can’t fathom any kind of early retirement or career change given all the planning and education you have to go through. Was there one thing that hit you when you began your career that made you realize there could be other options?

    Liked by 1 person

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