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Can Doctors Retire Early?

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Can Doctors Retire Early?Today’s post is from the Physician On FIRE, a doctor who writes about financial independence, retiring early, and physician’s issues at www.PhysicianOnFIRE.com.

About a year ago, at age 39, I was studying for an exam required to maintain my status as a board-certified anesthesiologist. Most of the study materials were only peripherally related to my actual job, and the practice questions were equally inane. I started wondering if I would have to repeat the process in 10 years. A google search between study sessions quickly opened my eyes to the concepts of Financial Independence and Retiring Early. RetireBy40 was one of those links and I am grateful to Joe and others for sharing their stories so openly.

Living a relatively frugal life compared to most physicians, and having taken an interest in managing my own finances positioned me pretty well after 9 years in practice. Once I tracked our expenses more closely and sold a house where we once lived, the numbers lined up beautifully. With 25 years of expenses in my portfolio, most of which would be immediately available in early retirement, I could call myself Financially Independent. Fantastic!

So I gave 2 weeks notice. I made note of the accomplishment and showed my wife the numbers, and well… not much has changed since then. Eventually, I started a blog of my own to share the concept of Financial Independence to physicians and others with similar professions and income, but other than that, life has been status quo. I’m most definitely on board with an early retirement, but for me, it can wait another 5 to 10 years.

Why did I choose not to Retire by 40?

1. It took a lot of time and effort to get here.

I made a large investment of my time and money towards education and training. In college, I studied dutifully to get excellent grades and smoke the MCAT exam. I volunteered and performed research to help my medical school application stand out. In med school, I was fed information in a fashion frequently described metaphorically as drinking from a firehose. In residency, most workweeks were 60 to 80 hours long. I finished my training at age 30 with a healthy 5-figure debt.

To bust one’s butt for 12 years to only work 9 years on my own terms would not seem to be a good return on investment. If you are young, and want to retire by 40, medicine would not be a good choice. It can be a tough row to hoe, and choosing to become a doctor has been described as a “million dollar mistake“. On the other hand, if you’re into hard work, love science and people, and want to retire by 50, medicine might be a great choice. Many physicians wouldn’t recommend the career, but it has been good to me, so consider me among the minority.

2. I’d like a bigger cushion that even a few more years can provide.

The frequently used goal of 25x expenses to allow for a 4% initial withdrawal rate is proven to be safe based on historical returns for a 30-year retirement. I’ll be more comfortable with 33x to 50x, which I can realistically expect to have in 5 to 10 years by investing the majority of my take-home pay. That safety net will insure me better against a poor sequence of returns, a longer than average retirement (I’d better get more than 30 years!), unanticipated lifestyle inflation, etc… I’d rather have too much than too little. I may not need the excess, but there are plenty of charitable causes that do if I don’t identify a different need. I’m more than willing to work until my mid-to-late forties to help myself sleep better and perhaps help others down the road.

3. I still enjoy my job.

I enjoy my days off more than my workdays, but I went into anesthesia for a reason, and I still enjoy the job. It’s fast-paced, active work (I usually supervise multiple rooms) and I make people happy. I perform hands-on procedures with cool technology. I generally feel respected.

There are downsides, of course. It can be stressful and the days can be really long. I get called in from a deep sleep on a routine basis. I could live without certain aspects of my career, but there seems to be enough good to offset the bad. I feel strongly that I’ll like having no job even better, but I’m comfortable continuing on with this one for awhile longer.

4. Money doesn’t come from trees, and I want my boys to know that.

I have 2 young boys. I don’t want to retire when they’re too young to remember that I worked hard to provide for our family. I think it’s best for them to see firsthand that I make sacrifices to provide a good life for us. If I retire when they are in middle school, they will know that I wasn’t always home for dinner, and that I sometimes worked all night. I’m not saying I want them to go off to college thinking I was never around. I’m actually home quite a bit with a flexible schedule, and I don’t expect to be working when they’re in high school, either.

I also want them to be able to comprehend how I am able to retire when their friends’ parents will still be working. A pre-schooler isn’t going to grasp the concept of frugal living, paying yourself first, etc… I hope to make my early retirement a wonderful life lesson for them at a time when they can more fully appreciate it.

5. I care (too much) about what other people think.

I’d love to say I couldn’t care less about what my colleagues, friends, and family might think about an early exit from the workforce, but that would be a bald-faced lie. Retiring at 39 would have led to so many questions and judgments from just about everyone I know. I’ll still face those questions if I follow through with my plan and retire later on in my forties, but I will be in a more secure position financially and the extent of the earliness will have lessened. I will also have time to plant seeds of my plan or outright express it (as I am doing anonymously online) as my early exit draws nearer. For a physician, retiring at 45 or 49 seems more easily justifiable. Not that it should matter to me, but it does.

What are your thoughts? Do you continue to work beyond FI? Are you looking for the earliest out? I’d love to hear your comments below.

Image credit: Seattle Municipal Archive

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{ 49 comments… add one }

  • Financial Samurai March 4, 2016, 12:26 am

    Makes sense! A good ratio would be to go to work for the same amount of years you go to college. Hence, 12 years of work at minimum, or else it seems like such a waste of time! Might as well have gone straight to the army or to work at age 18, got a pension at age 38 and retire 🙂

    I hope you work until 70 as a doctor! We need more doctors.

    Sam

    • PhysicianOnFIRE March 4, 2016, 5:05 am

      Thank you, Sam!

      That 1:1 ratio makes sense to me. Although, when I used this line of thinking on the MMM forum, I was reminded of the “sunken costs fallacy” and advised by some to move on. I think that applies more when you’ve sunk money or time into something that is not going well, which is not the case.

      The “golden handcuffs” may be more in play here. There’s no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, but bits of gold along this path every couple weeks, making it difficult to contemplate taking a divergent path.

      Oh, and sorry, but I doubt I’ll be doctoring at 50, let alone 70, but I’m glad there are doctors who have that ambition.

      • retirebyforty March 4, 2016, 10:29 am

        I agree completely with your reasoning on the sunken cost. If things are going badly, then it would be time to cut loose. You’re enjoying your job so there is no point leaving until you’re really ready.

  • Ernie Zelinski March 4, 2016, 12:44 am

    I fully support you for your first four reasons for not retiring at 40. But you begin to lose my by saying: “5. I care (too much) about what other people think.”

    These words of wisdom by people much more successful and much smarter than me apply:

    “If someone cares [about you], they’ll stick around. If they don’t care, they don’t (shouldn’t) matter (anymore) to you anyway.”
    — Seth Godin

    “The world in general doesn’t know what to make of originality; it is startled
    out of its comfortable habits of thought, and its first reaction is one of anger.”
    — W. Somerset Maugham

    “Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds. The mediocre mind is incapable of understanding the man who refuses to bow blindly to conventional prejudices and chooses instead to express his opinions courageously and honestly.”
    — Albert Einstein

    “Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambition. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great.”
    — Mark Twain

    “A tiger doesn’t lose sleep over the opinion of sheep.”
    — Unknown wise person

    And here are two passages from “Life’s Secret Handbook” that form part of the story in my inspirational fable “Look Ma, Life’s Easy”, of which the print will be released in the next week or two:

    “Don’t be afraid to be outrageous. Your critics will say nasty things about you whether you are outrageous or not. And your supporters will love you for it.”
    — from “Life’s Secret Handbook”

    “Surround yourself with individuals who support and encourage you, who are genuine voices of praise. Words that inspire the human soul are more precious than money, diamonds, and gold.”
    — from “Life’s Secret Handbook”

    • PhysicianOnFIRE March 4, 2016, 5:18 am

      Those are some excellent words of wisdom. I particularly like W. Somerset Maugham’s quote on originality. Thanks you taking the time to share.

      I’m not sure if my eventual plan to retire early represents ambition or a lack thereof. I do know from survey data that a majority of physicians would retire in the near term if they were able, so I am not alone in my “ambition”. Burnout is rampant, unfortunately.

  • Mr. Tako @ Mr. Tako Escapes March 4, 2016, 1:28 am

    I think doctors have more meaningful work than most everyone else. They’re out saving lives every day. Helping people.

    For me, my work consisted mostly of enriching those who were already obscenely wealthy and the work would have no lasting value in the world.

    Probably most people have jobs like that. I’m glad I quit.

    • PhysicianOnFIRE March 4, 2016, 8:07 am

      Thanks for chiming in, Mr. Tako. I checked out your site, looks like we have a lot in common with similar ages, 2 boys, and a shared interest in an early retirement. Congratulations on pulling the trigger!

      My job does help give me that sense of purpose and fulfillment that not every job can supply, but it doesn’t define me. I think I can find other ways to achieve those objectives when I decide it’s time to move on.

  • Pennypincher March 4, 2016, 4:56 am

    You have brought up some very good points. First I have to say-If you stop caring what people think, it’ll set you free! And to simplify life-Don’t care about people who don’t care about you. Of course you care about your patients, but it’s all about friends and family, really. Keep it simple.
    Lucky you, using your talents and skills to help mankind. There’s always (always!) a catch in life-your insane hours, etc. I read once that the key to a successful retirement is to have a “second act” in place. Maybe for you, it would be teaching what you’ve learned/sharing your talents at a great university w/a flexible schedule.
    Your boys will pick up and learn your sensible lifestyle and eventually thank you. The appreciation from them (from all your sacrifices) will come-usually by high school, college and beyond. Let your colleagues buy their big McMansions and big expensive cars. It’s easy to look rich theses days w/jumbo mortgages and auto leasing. Who cares? We all end up in the same place-6ft. underground, ha, ha!
    Lastly, I just have to say, I have always believed in the US/Global stock markets. It’s how I reached my freedom-money working for me instead of me working for money.
    Nice post, thanks for sharing.

    • PhysicianOnFIRE March 4, 2016, 8:20 am

      Good to hear your thoughts, Pennypincher. As you and Mr. Zelinski above graciously point out, my fifth reason represents a weakness. We humans aren’t very good at recognizing or admitting our weaknesses.

      I’ll admit that fear plays a role in my decision to keep working. Fear of what others will think, fear of a bear market welcoming my early retirement, fear that my lifestyle will change and I’ll wish I could have my old job back. Working another 5 years or so is my fear insurance.

      • Pennypincher March 5, 2016, 4:13 am

        Ok, forget what others will think upon retirement. They’re probably jealous. I survived when the stock market crashed upon retirement, you will too if you are well diversified. As the Boy Scouts say-“Always have a plan B”, in case you want back into your profession, or want to take another route. Just make sure the boy’s college funds are mostly in safe, secure, cash “parking places” five years before starting college.
        Don’t worry about life/things beyond your control-this skill/philosophy only comes w/time, wisdom, experience, but it will come to you.
        Follow Consuelo Mack’s website, Wealthtrack.com and her #1 rated financial TV show on PBS. You will learn so much from her interviews from Wall Street experts.
        Best of luck to you!

  • Financial Nirvana Mama March 4, 2016, 5:30 am

    I really resonate with your reasons: 1 to 4. Thanks for also building a blog and sharing your journey. My experience has been is that if you are used to a certain pace in life, it is hard to ‘retire’ …once you try it out, you find a way to build back to a certain pace…but on all the stuff that matters to you:), which could alleviate your concerns for number five. I’m suspecting having a blog, while continuing your practice which comes with long hours (maybe not all the time) and having a family amongst life makes you a very busy person. What do you find fun? What can you retire into? Those two questions helped me.

    I took a a sabbatical as a test to check if I could ‘retire’. It was a great experiment. I realized what interested me and decided to quit engineering and go into consulting on non engineering projects. I now work because I want too, not because I have too and for similar reasons: I love it right now (and the consulting work has a defined end date), to be a role model for my kids that life is about building your own life and making an impact, and to build up more liquid cushion (Over half of my net worth is in real estate). And I look forward to my next break in life…I like mini retirements as I’m still young 🙂

    • PhysicianOnFIRE March 4, 2016, 10:42 am

      Glad to hear your thoughts, FNMama. The sabbatical is a great idea for those who can make it happen. I had a quasi-sabbatical a few years ago when I took a job with a new hospital that was still under construction when I arrived. I put in some time each week to help with some of the logistics of opening the place and preparing for our first live patients, but I also had a lot of time at home with my wife and boys, who were toddlers at the time. It was a great few months.

      You are correct in that I would love to have more time. Having a full-time career, trying to be a good Dad, and starting a website / blog have limited my free time. Luckily, I am happy doing all of those things. I think there is some truth to money buying time, and I’ve got a post lined up that addresses that. Nice work on the career change, and doing what you enjoy.

      Cheers!
      -PoF

  • Mike Drak March 4, 2016, 5:35 am

    The ability to save lives and help people is special. My question to you is what would you retire to? Finding a fulfilling replacement for what you currently do would be a challenge.

    • PhysicianOnFIRE March 4, 2016, 12:02 pm

      Great question, M.D.

      Joe wrote a great post the other day about finding something meaningful to do in retirement. I can think of lots of ways to spend my time, but I think it’s fair to say that I will want to find something to replace the sense of purpose I get from being a physician.

      If my blog is around in 5 years, I could be helping burned out colleagues discover the concept of FI and a path to RE. I don’t want doctors to retire en masse; that’s not the goal. I want to enlighten, educate, and show how a lifestyle that doesn’t fit the doctor stereotype can be beneficial.

      Small scale philanthrophy will play a role as well. I have pledged to donate half of my site’s earnings annually, and will be building up my donor advised fund to 10% of my nest egg prior to retirement. I should be able to do some meaningful good with that. In retirement, I’ll have more time to donate my time and skills as well.

      • Mike Drak March 5, 2016, 7:03 am

        I’m doing something similar to what you plan on doing and I know it will give me a great deal of personal satisfaction along with a good reason to get out of bed in the morning. I’m concerned sometimes when I get the feeling that many people view early retirement as the answer to all of their problems. It is not. The most important question is how you plan on using your new found freedom so that it delivers a fulfilling life. Sounds to me like you have a good handle on it. Best of luck!

  • Ronnie March 4, 2016, 6:34 am

    I really like this and it makes sense. I see so many posts for 20 year olds wanting to retire by 30.

  • Cynthia March 4, 2016, 6:38 am

    I love how your thinking this through emotionally too. I retired last year, I’m 63 & had my own healthcare recruiting business. It was great working from home & the money too. My husband just retired 2 years ago & was on call a lot ( pilot) and our life was not our own. He traveled all over the world. Missed birthdays, school programs, vacations cut short! The joke at our house ( which was true) don’t buy concert tickets because you’ll be bringing a friend. At only 63 I’ve still had people say, well lucky you! How can you do this? I’ve got plenty more years to work. I think the trend in most articles you read are to work longer, wait to take your SS. I LOVE not working!! I started working at 15. I’m fine. I planned and am enjoying life with such an appreciation of simple things. I babysit each week for short periods of time my grandson.
    I am so blessed!

    • PhysicianOnFIRE March 4, 2016, 12:14 pm

      I bet you’re loving life, now! Congrats on reclaiming your time. Interesting that you have people wondering how retiring in your early 60’s is possible. To say that you’re “lucky” is rather insulting, or at least ignorant. You obviously made sacrifices to make it a reality.

      Keep enjoying that grandson and freedom!
      -PoF

  • Mike H. March 4, 2016, 6:45 am

    Using your career and early retirement as a life’s lesson for your kids is a great idea.

    As somebody who also does not plan on retiring the minute he hits financial independence, it’s good to know that you find your career fulfilling enough to stick around.

    • PhysicianOnFIRE March 4, 2016, 12:20 pm

      Thanks, Mike. I’ve got no problem with someone retiring with younger kids (like Joe) or before having one (MMM), but I think it will be a good lesson for my boys when the time comes. In Joe’s case, his boy was in daycare 13 hours a day! His decision to be the caregiver for his son seems like a no-brainer.

      My boys will both be in school full time this fall, and my wife has been able to stay home with them since day 1, which has been wonderful for our family.

      Good luck with your FI journey and whatever life brings after that!
      -PoF

  • Dividend Growth Investor March 4, 2016, 8:34 am

    Thank you for sharing your story with us. I would agree that you want to make the most out of your “investment” in your degree, especially since you are still enjoying doing what you studied.

    I think that you are doing the smart thing in requiring 33 – 50 times annual expenses, than merely 25 times expenses. A higher margin of safety is better. Plus, if your portfolio yields 3%, you will never have to worry about outliving your money, since dividends are a more stable and more reliable source of returns than capital gains alone. And a 3% yield that covers your expenses is equivalent to a portfolio that can pay for 33 times annual expenses.

    On the other hand, have you explored all options to save money through tax-deferred accounts like solo 401 (k) and solo pension plans? With a solo defined benefit pension plan, you can potentially sock up something like $200K/year.

    Either way, good luck in your journey!

    Dividend Growth Investor

    • PhysicianOnFIRE March 4, 2016, 12:27 pm

      True. I think my plan goes beyond safe. If a planned 2% to 3% withdrawal rate doesn’t work out, something has gone terribly wrong, and a comfortable retirement may be the least of our concerns.

      I do max out a 401(k), 457(b), and an HSA. As an employee, I don’t currently have the ability to start a solo pension or 401(k). If the blog really takes off, we’ll revisit that.

      Cheers!
      -PoF

  • mike March 4, 2016, 8:53 am

    Here’s a question I’m curious about: Is it possible for someone in your field to work 1 day/week or 1/2 day/week?

    If so, it seems to me, you’d still be doing something you enjoy, make good money, and have the rest of your time to do as you please.

    • PhysicianOnFIRE March 4, 2016, 12:41 pm

      Good question, Mike. The answer is maybe. Technically, the answer is Yes, but with qualifications.

      You would need to find an employer that needs you 1 day a week. Surgical volumes tend to fluctuate, so a consistent 1 day may be tough to find. I don’t think that would be available locally, and I’m not interested in moving my family to work somewhere else just a little bit.

      It’s definitely possible to work an occasional week or weekend at a time to cover vacations and that sort of thing. I have done a lot of this type of work (called locum tenens) which helped me become FI by 40. Again, this is all done away from home, although sometimes my family traveled with me. Now that my boys are in school, I would have to be away from my family to do locums work, which makes it less appealing.

      Any time I think about working part time, or occasional / as needed as you suggest, I think about what it takes to maintain that ability. Manual skills get rusty when you don’t use them regularly. There are many courses to take, CME to earn, and hoops to jump through to maintain board certification, state licensure, and various individual certifications, like BLS, ACLS, PALS (all full day how-to-save-a-life classes), etc… It’s a lot to keep up with.

      Hence, the 5-year plan (which I’ve referred to as 5 to 10 years, but more likely closer to 5).

      Your plan sounds good in theory, though!

      Cheers,
      -PoF

  • Tawcan March 4, 2016, 9:31 am

    Great perspective, #1 makes a lot of sense to me, especially considering how much time and effort you’ve put in to get where you are today. You want to get “more” out of your effort. Saving people and enjoying what you do still are important reasons not to retire yet. 🙂

  • David Michael March 4, 2016, 9:36 am

    Thanks for sharing. It’s unusual for a physician to share about his work and lifestyle. It helps in our understanding of other professions.

    I have two children who are doctors, one a specialist and another who works for Kaiser. They have given up a lot to work in a challenging but rewarding occupation. But…their financial rewards are amazing. Now as I see them repeat some of my own errors in buying big houses and cars, etc, my hope is that they see a blog like this to help with possible early retirement. Maybe! My wife’s first husband is a heart surgeon who is still going strong at age 80 (with a million dollar salary), perhaps necessary because his third wife is 30 years younger.

    I, myself will reach 80 in another ten months, and I chose to work off and on during my over 20 years of retirement. The difference, however, in part-time pay is dramatic!
    As a college teacher and later as a CEO of a small company I was well paid, in the top five percent. Now, I am paid in the lower 5% at $15 an hour doing mostly physical jobs like Costco, Camp Hosting, etc. I enjoy the work mostly, but recently I met a physician who also is retired and works one weekend a month on Call as an Orthopedist. His take for a three day weekend…$7500. My take for a whole year of seasonal or part-time work…$7500.

    So the moral of the story, think twice…three times before retiring early. You may live for an additional forty years in retirement and it takes a slug of money to pay the expenses over that time. The great advantage for physicians is they can make a great salary for part-time work even in retirement.

    • PhysicianOnFIRE March 4, 2016, 1:27 pm

      Thanks for sharing, David Michael.

      I’m guessing your wife’s first husband will never retire, although the physical demands of cardiovascular surgery may force him into a different role. You don’t see many 80-year old surgeons with a busy surgical slate.

      The younger third wife reminds me of a quote from one my neurosurgical attendings when I was in medical school, “My third wife hasn’t even been born yet.” Pretty sure he was joking, but the stereotype exists for a reason.

      I’m sure you are proud of your children. Are you sure they are making mistakes with their finances? Depending on the specialty, they may be able to afford some luxuries and put away a lot towards retirement. Feel free to refer them to retireby40.org, , physicianonfire.com, and whitecoatinvestor.com. Lots of good information to be found if they have an interest.

      I like how you refer to your age as being 10 months shy of 80. My Grandpa started the countdown to 80 at about age 76. “Well, I’m doing pretty well, considering I’m 4 years shy of 80!” He was a funny man.

      I will take the moral of the story to heart. I should be in excellent shape to retire at 45 unless something drastic happens.

  • retirebyforty March 4, 2016, 10:27 am

    Your #3 is spot on. If your work is meaningful, you should continue to do it. It’s probably better to cut down your hours to reduce stress than retiring from the profession completely.
    I wouldn’t worry too much about the kids. My kid know I still work hard. I’m on the computer after putting him to bed every night.
    I’m sure #5 would matter less and less as you go on. You just need to convince your family and close friends.
    Thanks for sharing!

    • PhysicianOnFIRE March 4, 2016, 1:35 pm

      Thanks again for letting me share my story with your readers.

      I’m sure the kids will be fine, and I totally get why you chose to retire to be home rather than subject your boy to 60+ hours of day care a week. Good for you.

      You’re right about #5 as well. It will probably come easier if I let on slowly that early retirement is in my future. If it comes out of leftfield, it might look like a midlife crisis. There I go again, caring what other people think. Doh!

      Cheers!
      -PoF

      p.s. What’s a guy got to do to get a conversation going on his own site? 722 page views today, 0 comments.

  • Andrew Fin March 4, 2016, 1:53 pm

    Really really great article, and one that has helped me personally. As a newly graduated doctor, I have been trying to plan out my future (as well as anyone can). Financial independence was always the goal, but I wonder about the whole retiring early perspective sometimes. I have had the pleasure to work with so many amazing doctors who are unfortunately burnt out and cant wait to retire. I may be new, but I love my job and my profession, and the thought of retiring from it early leaves me sad. It is SO NICE to hear of doctors who still enjoy their work and want to stick with it, even past the point that they no longer NEED to. Thanks for the encouragement!

    • PhysicianOnFIRE March 4, 2016, 2:31 pm

      Glad you enjoyed the article. I see you’ve got a site of your own. I’ll have to check it out a little more in depth when I have time. Looks like you’re off to a great start!

      Congratulations on becoming both a doctor and blogger. Good to hear you approach the career with optimism. There are a lot of half-full glasses at the doctors’ table.

      • Smart Money MD March 9, 2016, 10:41 am

        Great article. I think the toughest aspect of being a doctor who can retire early is living up to the lifestyle a la “Millionaire Next Door”. It is very easy to move up into a comfortable lifestyle and very difficult going backwards. I see this in several of my Hospitalist friends who decide to go back into fellowship.

        • PhysicianOnFIRE March 10, 2016, 12:53 pm

          Lifestyle creep is a double whammy against Financial Independence. Lower savings plus a higher savings requirement. I value time and freedom over money and possessions, an attitude which lends itself well to accumulating wealth.

  • Virginia March 4, 2016, 3:23 pm

    I can really relate to number 5. I’ve been thinking about early retirement but I am nervous about what my friends and family would say. I also worry that I won’t feel like I have a meaningful life. Now I’m starting to think more about starting a second career–one that I truly enjoy and one that I don’t just do for a paycheck.

    • Virginia March 4, 2016, 3:29 pm

      I wanted to add to my first comment because I just started reading the comments. It looks like people had a problem with number 5 but I thought it was the most honest. I know we aren’t “supposed” to care about what people think but the fact is, I do.

      • PhysicianOnFIRE March 4, 2016, 5:33 pm

        I’m not sure if the readers had a problem with #5, or if they are suggesting it can easily be overcome. My defense will be to put myself in a surefire financial position to withstand a nasty market swing or major expense early in retirement without worry.

        Good luck with the path you choose!
        -PoF

  • Special Agent Dividend March 4, 2016, 4:43 pm

    Thank you for the post and I understand your points very well. I had to work very hard to get to my current position, which was a childhood dream. So, with all the education and experience needed, I feel I owe it to ‘myself’ for a long rewarding career. However, I want to ensure I build wealth over that time and have all the things my family and I need for an enjoyable life. With that being said, if I wake up one day and just don’t feel it anymore, I’d love the option to retire early or not scared to try something else.

  • TheHappyPhilosopher March 4, 2016, 4:53 pm

    Nice article. I want to applaud you for having the courage to address number 5 and admit it. It’s only when we are honest with ourselves can we really start to make decisions that are true to us. As you know, physician burnout is almost endemic in our profession, and part of the complicating factor is we become our job. We never really dissociate the profession with the person. The ego is pretty heavily involved for better or for worse and early retirement would be a challenge to our ego.

    A thought to leave you with…how would number 5 be different if your were a woman? Would anyone think twice about it? I find gender differences and how they relate to medicine quite fascinating.

  • freebird March 4, 2016, 8:59 pm

    I aimed for FI in order to RE from a job I disliked, but I found that reaching FI allowed me to make changes to my work such that I’d rather stay on than leave. Thanks to the roaring 1990s bull market I got well past 33x annual living expenses before I was 40 years old, and I found the resulting lack of insecurity made the fun parts of work worth sticking around for. A decade later a health scare pushed me out, but after only a few short weeks off I ran out of stuff to do during the day so I let management talk me back in– with major changes on my job wish list. Your story about being forced to climb pointless learning curves was on my list and I got my exemptions. I found work is most fun and relaxing when I have control over the content, without having to worry at all about raises, career growth prospects, risk of failure, or even management’s perception of how I use my time.

    One thing I learned recently that you might consider in the future– long ago I developed a negative attitude towards teaching as a young graduate student who earned his stipend doing that kind of work. But after getting talked into teaching courses in my specialty decades later I got a pleasant surprise. Teaching is actually a lot of fun when you have highly motivated students who feel an urgent need to absorb what you know. For me that’s a possibility for later, right now I prefer doing the work over supervising. Or staying home!

    • PhysicianOnFIRE March 10, 2016, 3:01 pm

      Good story and equally good moniker. FI indeed makes you “free as a bird”. And this bird you can not change, as they say.

      The 80’s and 90’s were amazingly good years to be invested in the American stock market. My parents’ generation (the first baby boomers) were in excellent position to become wealthy once the inflation of the 1970s subsided. I will be very happy if I can manage returns half of what was enjoyed in those days. I believe there was a 20 year period where the S&P 500 returned 18% + annually.

  • Dr. Mo March 6, 2016, 11:11 am

    Thanks for posting this. I, too, am really glad that this website exists because it’s a big reason how I reached my own financial independence. I reached my number actually just a few days ago.
    As docs we are very fortunate to have high incomes and congrats to you for reaching your number. It’s easy to find oneself in that no-mans-land zone…. we have enough that we could retire but 33x is better and 50x is better still….

    One thing I have learned from this website is that there are many ways of doing it but sometimes just jumping in is the only way to pull that trigger. That said, I think I need til the end of this year to feel comfortable enough to pull my own trigger 🙂

    • PhysicianOnFIRE March 10, 2016, 3:07 pm

      Way to go, Dr. Mo! That no man’s land could be a vast space. I can see where the 33x goal becomes 40x. Once you get there, 50x is easily within sight. Why not 75x? At some point, the investments in an average year will boost your nest egg more than your job. At that point, you are most definitely working by choice. Nothing wrong with that, of course.

      I see that you’ve got a target date, which might make more sense than an exact number target once you’re comfortably FI. Market fluctuations can vary your nest egg by a years’ expenses in a single day, particularly if you are heavily invested in equities.

  • Early Retirement Actuary March 6, 2016, 11:49 am

    Awesome post, PoF! I love the honesty, and it sounds like you’re doing an excellent job evaluating all of your options before jumping off the ER cliff.

    I spent some time trying to figure out how you could reconcile points #3 and #5. My ideas are as follows:
    1. Cut back on your hours
    2. Write a book about working in anesthesiology
    3. Transition into research
    4. Teach at a medical school
    5. Perform consulting services for hospitals

    Not sure how realistic any of these are for you, but it’s some food for thought.

    Connor

    • PhysicianOnFIRE March 10, 2016, 3:29 pm

      Thanks for weighing in, Connor. Several of those options would require a move or time away from home, which I’d rather avoid.. #2 is certainly feasible from anywhere, but I’m not sure how much interest there would be in a book about my life as an anesthesiologist. Perhaps a book about an early exit from clinical medicine?

  • James March 6, 2016, 5:52 pm

    Another reason for anyone considering retiring around 40 should be, “what to do with the rest of my life”? That’s probably the most difficult question for most people. For example, if you won $20 million after tax in a lotto, which is enough to live comfortably, but not enough to buy any major influence, prestige, status, power, or the connections necessary to easily get the type of roles in society you want. You’ll be financially secure, but you’ll still will have to outwork others to get the type of work you want as if you’re not financially independent.

    • PhysicianOnFIRE March 10, 2016, 3:34 pm

      Definitely. A sabbatical or part-time work can come into play here. Developing hobbies or other outside interests prior to retirement are good ideas. I would also recommend keeping licensure and board certification active for a year or 2 after retiring. It can be very difficult to reopen those doors once they are closed shut.

  • Adam and Jane March 7, 2016, 5:31 am

    PoF,
    Thanks for sharing! Congrats that you are able to save so much. I think 25x is not enough since you are still young and a min of 50x is safer. You just don’t know what the future will bring since life ALWAYS throws a curve ball.

    Seven years ago, we went to Hawaii and it was a life changing experience. We were so happy being there with just the stuff in our backpacks. We realized that we don’t need to buy so much stuff to be happy. We used to waste so much money on dust collectors for the house and on ourselves. After Hawaii, we stopped spending on junk and only brought essentails. Our pipe dream is an oceanview condo in Hawaii but we know that renting there for a couple of months is more realistic.

    For the last 5 years, we saved 85% of our income. We just reached 55x and we are 51 years old. We reached FI two years ago when our passive income from tax free individual municipal bonds cover 133% of our expenses. We want 3 separate streams of income and each stream to cover all expenses in case one or two sources of income are gone. Our 3 streams of passive income will be from munis, pension at 55 and 401K at 59.5.

    We want financial security. Although we are FI, we will continue to work until age 55 so that our pension will double and if we retire at 55 our company will provide 7-9K to each of us for medical coverage. If we quit before 55 then we will not get any medical coverage and we will have to pay 20K a year for medical for the next 14 years until we can receive medicare at age 65. These are truly golden hand cuffs.

    We have several doctors in the family so I understand your POV. A couple of years ago, the eldest doctor retired at 62. His two kids went to his Ivy league university and he also paid medical school for one child. He paid over 750K for their education. He loved being a doctor but didn’t recommend it to his children. One child still became a doctor and enjoys being one.

    The eldest doctor was able to retire because he was frugal and saved. He did buy luxury cars but he kept them for at least 15 years each. He brought a modest home and never upgraded to larger homes. He spent a lot of time with his family and took them on many vacations. Now that he is retired, he and his wife travels a lot and enjoys their hobbies. They are very happy. All of his doctor partners are still not able to retire since they brought bigger houses, vacation homes and many luxury cars.

    I agree with your reasons 1-4 but not 5. Life is too short. I am respectful of other people’s opinions but I don’t let them limit or define me. If I cared what people think then I may not have reach FI or any of my goals.

    Adam

  • PhysicianOnFIRE March 10, 2016, 3:54 pm

    Thanks for sharing your story, Adam & Jane. You seem to be in a position to give quite a lot to charity or heirs. Saving 85% of income is pretty amazing. Good for you!

    Healthcare costs in early retirement can be a major determinant of whether or not it works out for you. In your situation, I can see why choose to continue working another 4 years or so. The ACA has been a boon for early retirees, but it seems to be under constant threat of change or complete abolishment (which is probably unlikely).

    The doctors that can’t retire due to lifestyle inflation are the ones I have tried hard not to emulate. From an outside perspective, it’s easy to be jealous of the luxuries, but I’ve learned to appreciate other things in life, and won’t have my hands tied by a need for a doctors’ salary to maintain a lifestyle and appearance.

    You’re right about #5, of course. I’ll get over it in time.

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