What would you buy with $10,000?

Or $5,000, or $20,000, or $50,000?

I recently was faced with this question. Last year, I had withheld a boatload of federal tax since we were having a great year, but when I took our paperwork to my CPA, he did his magic and minimized our tax liability, so we got a 5-figure refund.

As I left my accountant’s office, ideas started swirling of how we could spend the money: I could buy a newer car, we could renovate our kitchen counter-tops and bathroom vanities, we could take a trip, or we could buy a fancy home entertainment system.

Almost as quickly as those thoughts came to my mind (I say almost because I’m not perfect), they were driven out of my mind by my overarching personal financial goals and vision. I knew where the money was going; I had just forgotten for a moment.

High earners are often in a similar situation where they get a lump sum of money, whether it be a bonus check, a royalty check, a profit-sharing check, or some other way. Often in this scenario, the big check comes, they look around as if they just won a small jackpot at the casino, and the question is then asked, “What should I do with all this money?”

The problem with this scenario is that if you wait until you have money to make a plan for your money, you are already set up to lose. You will never become rich until you make a plan for your money.

Having an idea or plan for where this money should go, before you have it, can help you avoid some common pitfalls and snares that are set by and for our consumer-driven society. Every year many people experience this situation when a large chunk of money shows up in the form of a tax refund. Marketing companies and retailers know this, and are hyper-vigilant to get people to spend it on stuff they don’t even need or want, even before they actually have it. Some companies offer, or used to offer, a high-interest loan against the tax refund for those individuals who couldn’t control their urge to spend the money for a couple weeks.

There has to be a better way, especially if you experience lump payments on a more frequent basis.

Now, my financial situation is not yet perfect (again, I am in the ‘high earner, NOT rich yet’ consumer category), but three steps I have taken have helped me avoid some pitfalls I see in my way of ‘becoming rich.

  1. Make a personal financial dream/vision board. Don’t rely on someone else’s vision or dream or goals. Make it personal so you can stick to it. No one else is making it for you; it is self-prescribed. It can be big and lofty, or simple and minimalist. The point is, it’s YOUR dream, YOUR vision.
  2. Make a plan to accomplish your dream. Start with the end vision in mind, and work your way backwards from there. How much debt do you need to pay off? What are your interest rates, and terms on your debts? Where will you invest? And most important in this plan, address what aspect of your financial plan keeps you up at night the most. Be sure to include all aspects of saving, investing, and paying off debts in your plan that will help you accomplish your goal.
  3. Finally, execute the plan that YOU made to accomplish YOUR goals and dreams. You are not accountable to anyone else for making YOUR dream happen. At the end of the day, you are the most accountable to yourself. You had the dream, you made the plan, now make it happen.

I personally have a dream and vision of early retirement, and the freedom that will allow me. So I wrote up a plan, including paying off my student loans and  investing in mutual funds and retirement accounts (and eventually real estate). In my dream, I envision taking a family trip yearly, to create lasting memories for my young children. So I plan for that, and save for that. Nothing in my personal dream has anything to do with consumer goods or products, because I have found that they do not bring me as much happiness as experiences. (Of course, everyone may have different dreams which may include a product or object. Mine just doesn’t).

Over the past year and a half, I have been executing my plan, and I am loving the results. I am watching our retirement accounts grow, our investments rise, and my student loans drop. I can see some light at the end of the tunnel, and it is very satisfying to work towards a goal that I set.

What would I buy with $10,000? I’ll check my plan, but I’m sure it’ll say that I should buy my freedom.

Millennials vs. Boomers

I don’t know about you, but I’m getting sick and tired of baby boomers telling me (either directly or indirectly) how bad millennials are with money, or how clueless we are to how the world works.

Their criticism comes in various ways: the oft-repeated joke about how all of us millennials live in our parents basements; the snide comments about how we all leave college with huge debt and demand a great-paying job right away; or the joke that all of us need congratulations for work accomplishments, akin to our childhood participation trophies.

These comments drive me bananas, especially because many of my patients are boomers, so I have to hear them in one form or another day after day. Occasionally when I tell them that I’m a millennial, they will say something like, “Well you’re the exception. You’re a doctor with a family…” (or something like that to excuse their rudeness)

True, I am a doctor, so I may break some of the mold that society has crafted, in which they cram all millennials. But I am very much a product of my generation, so my thoughts are similar to those of my demographic. Most of my millennial friends, many of whom are not doctors, are also very successful and break the mold boomers put them in.

First, the joke about living with our parents. When many millennials came out of college, we were met with the great housing collapse that older generations had created for us. For me, I’m glad I didn’t get to buy a house while in doctor school, because if I had, I would have lost a fortune. Instead, we waited until we could afford a house, without breaking our budget, and got in on some undervalued real estate. I was 31 when we bought our first home (I actually signed the documents on my 31st birthday), which is right around the median age of when millennials are buying homes. (Some sources say 31, others say 30.)

The fact is, according to Zillow, the median age of first time home-buyers hasn’t changed much in the past 40 years. Millennials are buying homes right around age 31, and boomers bought around age 30. Same difference. Most millennials aren’t even 30 yet, so cut them some slack.

Second, the comments about our debt and our demands. We are saddled with huge debts partly because the educational system which is run by boomers decided that they can charge as much as they want, and they have trained us since childhood to believe only a college education can provide for a happy life. College tuition seems to have kept pace with the ability of students to qualify for more loans, instead of the other way around. Tuition now has to cover the pensions the colleges promised to boomer teachers, thereby enrolling current students in one of the largest Ponzi type schemes ever. (The largest Ponzi scheme in history is Social Security. Think about it.)

And of course we demand good jobs. We have been promised them since we were kids. “If you work hard and study hard, you will be successful.” Other generations demanded similar employment, but instead of forming unions, we take to social media, or create our own companies and economies.

Finally, when I was playing soccer at age 8, I did not go buy myself a trophy for participating in the league. It, and many others in subsequent seasons, was given to me by a baby boomer coaching staff, and applauded by the baby boomer parents section. Now we are accused of demanding trophies, but we were trained to believe that accomplishments should be applauded.

Everyone likes to be recognized for their accomplishments. We may be more vocal about our needs, but everyone likes recognition, regardless of demographic. Boomers may be upset that they didn’t get as many ‘atta boy’ praises from their parents, but we got a lot from our boomer parents, and we are grateful for them.

None of this post should be misconstrued as me wearing ‘complainy-pants’ or placing blame. I only write it to show the flip-side of boomers attacks on me and my fellow millennials.

WHOA…WE’RE HALFWAY THERE…

I can’t help but sing that classic Bon Jovi song today. Today I made a large payment towards my monstrous student loans, and brought the total down below half of the $215,000 that it was at it’s peak.

In other words, in the past 20 months, I have paid off more that $107,000 in student loan debt!!!

I did this in large part due to the early retirement studying I have done over the past year and a half.

If I had not read and applied the principles of Mr. Money Mustache (www.mrmoneymustache.com), as well as some other early retiree bloggers, I would likely be following the same script as other high-earners; spending most of the money I earn on stuff I don’t need or really want, and afterwards making small token payments towards debts and retirement.

I know I still have a lot of debt to crush, but I can actually see a little light at the end of the tunnel. I can taste the freedom I am buying for myself and my family, and this taste is driving me to want to pay down the second half in less time than the first.