One of my first memories in life is asking my twin brother, Camilo, to play doctor with me. His job would be to fake an illness. Mine was to mend his ailment by pretending to listen to his heart using a pair of suspenders as a stethoscope. My four-year-old self didn’t realize that listening to someone’s heart wouldn’t cure their broken arm.
Most other kids were playing hide-and-go-seek. I wanted to be Doogie Houser. I am one of the lucky ones who knew at an early age what I wanted to be when I grew up.
Over 20 years of school later, I am finally a doctor and I can barely believe it. Maybe it’s from the lack of sleep, but either way, it’s hard to believe. When I set my sights on becoming a doctor I honestly didn’t realize how long and difficult the process would be. I don’t think most people realize the sacrifices required to become a physician. Especially if you come from a poor family. If you are only in this field for the money, that desire won’t be enough to get you through the years of training. Not even close.
I feel lucky to be where I am, but that doesn’t mean the path was easy.
And yes, there are still days when I start to wonder if I made the right decision. But then I remember exactly why I went into the field the instant I connect with a patient or figure out their diagnosis. I honestly can’t imagine doing anything else.
Preparing for medical school forces you to be 100% focused on only one thing: medicine. If you take your eye off of the prize, you’ll have a misstep along the way and your hopes of becoming a doctor will be out the window. The weeder classes in undergrad, the MCAT, the tests, endless interviews for med school and then residency, and board exams. A series of hurdles – each more difficult than the last.
My Time At Mayo Clinic School of Medicine Was Transformational
From 2013 to 2018, I had the opportunity to attend my dream medical school, Mayo Clinic School of Medicine. As the medical school with the lowest admissions rate in the country, I still need to pinch myself to believe my good fortune. During my time at the world-famous Mayo Clinic, I transformed from the young doctor-wannabe to a budding, hard-working physician-in-training.
I was surprised to learn that the traits required to be successful in this competitive environment are also essential to reaching financial goals. The lessons I learned can help anyone save hundreds of thousands of dollars over the course of their life and I want to share them with you.
1. I Learned Discipline – Both Academic And Financial
During medical school, I spent thousands of hours studying and taking care of patients. After a long day at the hospital, the only thing on my mind was going home and relaxing on the couch. However, my “work” for the day was only half done. I would get home and study until it was time for bed. These grueling years taught me the discipline to do what needed to be done instead of what I wanted to do.
If I took a few days off to relax, the next set of exams would punish me by reminding me that no amount of studying was more painful than doing poorly on a test and being reminded that not everyone graduates. Failure wasn’t an option for me. Our mom sacrificed everything to bring us to this country and I knew I’d have to help care for her in the future.
This discipline allowed me to be successful in medical school and it transferred over to other areas of my life. It was during medical school that I began to use a monthly budget to minimize the number of loans I would need to obtain. We boiled down the budgeting process for you, so that you can also follow the same steps that saved me so much money.
This discipline eventually turned into a habit. The discipline to stick with the budget translated to saving tens of thousands of dollars. Over the course of my life, this habit will easily save me hundreds of thousands of dollars.
2. I Mastered My Ability To Delay Gratification
After our father died from a brain tumor when I was 7 years old, my desire to be a doctor grew stronger. I wanted to help heal other people so their time with loved ones wouldn’t be cut short the way my dad’s was. This goal would take me another 24 years of education to accomplish. I knew it would be a long and difficult goal to attain.
Not a single day goes by when I don’t think about him and how I’d do anything to spend another minute with him. My desire to give other people more time with their loved ones is what drives me to push ahead when I am tired, sleep-deprived, and hungry.
By the time I finish my training, I will have completed 15 years of school and residency AFTER high school. That is 4 years of college, 4 years of medical school, 5 years of residency, 1 year of research during medical school, and 1 year of fellowship training. With the odds stacked against me, I have taken advantage of many opportunities to achieve my goals. There aren’t many Latinx immigrants raised in poverty by a single mom who become doctors. Though I am still in training, a huge milestone was achieved in May when I graduated from medical school and earned the title of Doctor. About time, right?
We all have a common long-term goal to reach financial freedom. It takes even longer than medical training, so you have to stay focused.
But saving for retirement requires an even LONGER path. It requires you to set a goal in your early working years (20s-30s) and work toward it for 30-40 years (or more!). Just like becoming a physician, saving enough for retirement will require sacrifice. It all boils down to making small decisions each day that will get you closer to achieving your goals.
This highlights the importance of setting short and long-term savings and investing goals so you can work toward them. Our retirement calculator is a great place to see how much money you’ll need for retirement. Keeping my sights on the finish line during medical school taught me that you need to know what you are working toward, otherwise you’ll fall off course.
3. I Learned the Virtue of Wealth Through Good Health
As a physician, I have the privilege of caring for very sick patients in the hospital. Seeing the heartbreak of patients and their loved ones when delivering bad news is impossible to describe. On the other hand, seeing the gratitude in a patient’s eyes after they get better is incredible. Each day in the hospital I order blood tests, imaging tests, and consult with other physicians to ensure we provide the best care possible to the patient and an accurate diagnosis is made.
While this work is extremely fulfilling, I can’t help but cringe when I think of the massive hospital bills my patients will have delivered to their home after leaving the hospital. This is something that is not discussed enough in our country.
Medical bills can completely bankrupt a solid financial plan. One of the best way to protect your future wealth is by maintaining good health. By avoiding processed foods and exercising on a regular basis you can literally save yourself hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical expenses over your lifetime.
As a society, we are always looking to save time by eating pre-made, packaged, or fast food. While convenient, this has led to dramatic increase in chronic diseases (diabetes, heart disease, etc.), which cost us billions of dollars. I think this is the most under-discussed topic in personal finance. As a physician and Finance Twin, I am uniquely positioned to bring this topic up. Health, like building wealth, requires tremendous discipline and delayed gratification. Start treating your health like it’s priceless. Your retirement depends on it.
4. I Learned To Keep My Expenses Low
My wife and I decided to share one car to save money. To make this possible with my hectic schedule we found the cheapest apartment to rent near the hospital. Each day I would walk through one of the staff parking garages to get to work. I distinctly remember wondering who drove all the luxury cars in the garage. One day, I finally figured it out.
After a long day at the hospital, the resident I was working with offered to drive me home. Seeing the rain pouring down on the sidewalk, I accepted gratefully. After talking about the crazy amount of loans we both owed, I expected to climb into a rusted-out beater. It turns out that they could barely afford their minimum loan payments because the monthly car payment on their Mercedes-Benz was nearly 50% of their monthly rent payment. What?!
The second you start to compare yourself to others, it’s game over.
When most of your peers (from predominantly affluent backgrounds) don’t have any debt and drive luxury cars, you may start to think that you deserve to drive a luxury car, too. This is a slippery slope and creates a scenario where you are earning six-figures after residency, but still living paycheck-to-paycheck. Sure, you’ll be able to impress all of your Instagram followers with your big house and flashy car, but you’ll be drowning in debt payments and unable to reach financial independence earlier on in life.
I get excited driving around town in my used car knowing that it means I can invest more money every month for my future. But don’t worry, I know many of you will still want to lease a new car, and the good news is that we wrote the most comprehensive guide on leasing a car that exists online. We wanted you to get the best deal possible.
5. I Learned That You Are Responsible for Your Own Education
Before my first day of medical school, I had many visions of what it was going to be like. I envisioned sitting in a lecture hall being spoon-fed everything I would need to know to be a great physician. It didn’t take long for me to realize that it’s impossible to teach you everything you need to know. Even during full workdays spent in lecture. On board exams, no questions are off-limits. If you want to excel, you need to know more than what is covered in lecture. It became obvious that in order to be successful I would need to sit down with textbooks, videos, and other resources and learn on my own after lecture was over. I also learned that with enough time and patience, no topic was too tough to learn on my own.
During these five years, I created roughly 8,000 flashcards. I would go through the ink in a new pen in roughly 1,000 cards. There were days when my fingers would cramp up from so much writing. I didn’t realize that was possible.
Medical school teaches you the foundation to build upon for the rest of your training and career. You learn to consume tons of information and synthesize it in a small amount of time. Though I don’t remember every single fact I’ve ever learned, I have developed a framework that allows me to review an article and quickly retrieve factoids in a hidden corner of my brain I forgot existed.
When your back is pressed against the wall, you have no choice but to figure it out.
It was this sense of self-responsibility that originally inspired me to learn as much about personal finance. I realized that much like in medicine, no one was going to sit down and teach me everything. I knew I needed to self-study to learn about personal finance and managing my money. Much like teaching a more junior medical student about a disease, I found myself transitioning from student to teacher of personal finance. However, much like in medicine, you will never learn everything there is to know about personal finance. You will need to be a lifelong student. Our free personal finance boot camp is an awesome place to start. You can sign up in the form right below this!
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When I got to the Mayo Clinic I knew I’d be graduating with an incredible amount of new knowledge. Between anatomy, cardiology, and a host of other topics, it often felt like drinking water from a fire hose. What I didn’t expect was to graduate with a skill set in personal finance. The good news for you is that I am here to help you do the same.
Francisco Maldonado, MD is a personal finance expert who was raised in poverty by a single mother and had to learn everything about personal finance on his own. In addition to running his personal finance site, The Finance Twins, with his twin brother, his site has been featured on Forbes, Business Insider, CNBC, US News, The Simple Dollar, and other top publications. Francisco is a physician who borrowed over $200,000 to pay for his medical training and understands debt payoff strategies and frugal living. He received his M.D. from the Mayo Clinic School of Medicine, the most selective medical school in the country, and a Bachelor’s degree in physiology from the University of Minnesota. He is currently a radiology resident at Northwestern University.