A Week In A Midwestern City On A $300,000 Salary

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Today: a physician who makes $300,000 per year and spends some of her money this week on an Under Armour running cap.

Occupation: Physician
Industry: Healthcare
Age: 37
Location: Midwest
Salary: $300,000 (plus bonuses totaling ~$25,000-$35,000/year)
Net Worth: High six figures, close to seven depending on the markets. This figure includes house, car, HYSA, 401(k), and investment/brokerage accounts.
Debt: $0 (student loans, car loan, house mortgage paid off a few years ago, credit card balances paid in full every two weeks)
Paycheck Amount (biweekly): $7,000
Pronouns: She/her

Monthly Expenses
Housing Cost: $500 (I live alone in a nice suburb; the $500 monthly housing cost includes property tax, HOA fees, and insurance. I finished paying off my mortgage.)
401(k): Employer matches 5%, I max out the contribution each year
Health/Vision/Dental Insurance: I don’t know the exact amount because it is subsidized by my employer; I opt for low deductible plans because I have a few chronic health issues
Utilities: ~$75
Gas: ~$75-$120 (varies seasonally)
Electricity: ~$90-$150 (varies seasonally)
Internet: $75
Vehicle Registration/Insurance: $75
Cell Phone: $50
Netflix: $16
Amazon: $10
HBO: $15
Waxing: $70
Fitness Studio: suspended since March (COVID)
Charity: $700 (I split this amount between two different 501(c) orgs, which I change up every year or two. The choices this year are a specific type of cancer and substance abuse among homeless populations.)

Was there an expectation for you to attend higher education? Did you participate in any form of higher education? If yes, how did you pay for it?
There was an expectation that after high school I’d find a way to support myself, and while my parents ostensibly pushed college as a way to do that, they might have been fine with me just marrying someone rich too. I’ve never really considered this before and the realization is both disheartening and amusing. To summarize post-high school: I began med school in my late teens (seven-year program; no need for prior undergrad degree in my home country), which required student loans, then internship (grueling, miserable, but at least I had a paycheck and could start repaying loans), then matched to a residency program in the U.S. (finally a livable salary!), and three years later began fellowship training. By the time I landed my first real job here (as a board-certified subspecialist physician) and got my first real salary (six figures) in my early thirties, all student loans and car loan were fully paid, and I was officially debt-free. Financially, I might be in a somewhat better position than the average U.S. physician my age, mainly because med school was cheaper in my native country than it is here and I was able to immigrate to the U.S. (a whole other struggle in itself). But if you’re thinking that I sacrificed about 15 of the best years of my life to get to where I am today… you’re not wrong. Was it worth it? I really hope so.

Growing up, what kind of conversations did you have about money? Did your parent/guardian(s) educate you about finances?
My parents never had things like retirement savings or investment accounts (they barely had checking and savings accounts), so I guess I learned how to balance a checkbook and maintain a basic household budget, but anything over and above that came from teachers, mentors, and friends along the way. After starting my current job, I found a financial advisor (or “wealth manager” if you want to get fancy) who is both smart enough and patient enough to explain highly detailed concepts without making me feel stupid or overwhelmed. If you’re looking for someone to worry about your financial future so you don’t have to, I highly recommend meeting with various advisors until you find the person or group that is the right fit for your needs.

What was your first job and why did you get it?
Technically, my first job was babysitting neighborhood kids when I was 10. Looking back, it’s amazing that anyone would entrust their children to a 10-year-old but somehow our neighbors did. My mom lined up these jobs for me, her way of reinforcing that if you want literally anything in life, you have to work for it, and don’t ever expect anyone else to take care of you.

Did you worry about money growing up?
I grew up poor. Like “second-hand clothes” poor. Like “paper towels were an unattainable luxury and aluminum foil was reused multiple times” poor. I learned at a very young age that money may not buy happiness but it can buy comfort and security, which are the next best things.

Do you worry about money now?
I wouldn’t say I worry but there’s a fairly constant general awareness of costs and luxuries vs. necessities. I don’t take lavish vacations or fly first class or buy designer clothes. I’m nowhere near the kind of wealthy you need to be in order to not think about money at all.

At what age did you become financially responsible for yourself and do you have a financial safety net?
I became completely financially independent when I finished med school in my 20s. I repaid all the money that various extended family lent me up to that point and took full responsibility for my living expenses. My safety net is my investment and retirement accounts that I built myself. No one’s coming to save the day if things go wrong and this fundamental awareness directs most of my financial decision making.

Do you or have you ever received passive or inherited income? If yes, please explain.
Nope, never, not a chance.

Day One

5 a.m. — Alarm goes off and after half an hour of that sweet, sweet morning snooze, I get out of bed for coffee and some light yoga. I quickly shower and skip any kind of skincare or makeup (efficiency or laziness?). Pager goes off at 7:15, cutting my news and social media perusal short, so with barely any traffic, I’m in the hospital by 7:30.

8:30 a.m. — Breakfast from the staff lounge. The food here is both convenient and free so I don’t mind repetitive offerings. A protein shake with coffee gets me through a morning of patients, procedures, phone calls, etc. Nothing really noteworthy, this is pretty much every weekday of my life and occasional Saturdays depending on patient volume. (I buy protein shakes online by the dozen so both office and home are always well-stocked and it’s a lot more cost-effective than buying them on the fly.)

12:30 p.m. — Break for lunch, which is a sandwich (roast beef) and salad from the lounge. I take a brief walk outside afterward to clear my head. I grab some green tea from the lounge when I get back.

1 p.m. — My afternoon is busy and somewhat stressful but overall no disasters. Mid-afternoon snack of crackers with almond butter and sliced banana, a sprinkling of salt and cinnamon elevates this bland choice.

5:30 p.m. — Time for the treadmill! I’m not an impressive runner by any stretch but my goal is to improve lung capacity (not specifically related to COVID but not entirely unrelated either) and to maybe one day run a mile in under 10 minutes. The latter goal is completely arbitrary, it really doesn’t matter how fast or how slow I am because I’m not planning a marathon any time soon, I just like having a measurable objective. Quick locker room shower. The basic amenities and towel service at the hospital make this super convenient.

7 p.m. — Meet a colleague for dinner under the guise of catching up and proceed to thoroughly enjoy a solid bitchfest about the many, many COVID-related stresses right now, mostly professional but also personal. Venting feels good, the social interaction definitely feels good too. My colleague kindly pays for dinner, which isn’t exorbitant because we’re short on time therefore no drinks, appetizers, or dessert. Sort of amazing that this charming little restaurant near the hospital managed to re-open considering how many have shut down entirely since the spring.

9:30 p.m. — I am home and feeling energetic enough for dishes and kitchen counters. My house is generally in a state of mild disorder but I’m barely getting away with the word “mild” here, mostly hoping readers are feeling generous and forgiving while visualizing this. I don’t have a professional cleaning service and I’ve never really been conscientious about domestic chores so I do my best and try not to sweat the small stuff (See? Lazy/efficient!). Nighttime routine commences around 11 — floss and brush teeth, mouthwash, Thayer’s witch hazel toner, off to bed.

Daily Total: $0

Day Two

5 a.m. — I’m up with my alarm because it’s Friday and the sooner this day gets started, the sooner the workweek ends! I change into shorts and a sports bra and turn on YouTube for some Pilates with light hand weights. Coffee and a shower, and I’m at the hospital by 7:15. Breakfast from the staff lounge — omelet bar today, fancy. I run into a neurosurgeon I rarely see and we chat while we get coffee.

10 a.m. — One of our nurse navigators storms into my office, bemoaning the ever-changing COVID guidelines at this hospital, which are suddenly no longer consistent with testing algorithms at other mainly outpatient facilities. This may sound like irrelevant bureaucratic nonsense but it causes major confusion when patients are told to appear at a different location or at a different time due to last-minute restrictions, and needless to say, the nursing staff gets the brunt of it when patients and their families are upset. I can’t do much, but I offer her some chocolate.

12:30 p.m. — Quick break for lunch at my desk, sandwich (turkey and swiss) and soup (honestly don’t remember) from the lounge. Trying to get admin stuff out of the way, so I can skip out of here as soon as possible this afternoon. Our staff tries to schedule light Friday afternoons because we’re all tired by this point and it’s pretty late in the week to order labs, imaging, procedures, etc anyway.

4 p.m. — Protein shake and a bag of chips (staff lounge has a full array of snacks throughout the day) then four miles on the treadmill, the fastest of which is just under 11 minutes — an improvement compared to yesterday! Locker room shower and head home.

6 p.m. — Boyfriend comes over with steaks and veggies, which we prep for dinner, then head out to the pool so we can make the most of the lovely twilight hours. Sunsets in the midwest are highly underrated, especially in summer.

8 p.m. — We eat while watching TV and then demolish some tiramisu.

11 p.m. — We disentangle ourselves from throw pillows and blankets, brush teeth, and head to bed. Asleep by midnight.

Daily Total: $0

Day Three

7:30 a.m. — Any morning that doesn’t begin with an alarm is my version of “sleeping in” and it’s glorious! Two pots of coffee and some porch-sitting later, we decide to be semi-productive so tomorrow isn’t a mad scramble. He leaves, I spend some time on the elliptical, shower, and get started on household chores (floors, mirrors, toilets, laundry, you get the idea). At some point, I eat boiled eggs with smoked salmon and wheat crackers. Boiled eggs are always readily available because I typically boil half a dozen eggs every couple days and then leave them in the fridge to complement future snacks/meals — minimal effort, super convenient. I make a smoothie around 1 with almond milk, pea protein, oat fiber, flax, hemp, chia, berries, and a frozen banana.

1:30 p.m. — I place orders for some of the items currently sitting in my Amazon cart: bug killer for the patio ($10), 12-pack of RXBAR protein bars ($17), 24-pack of flavored sparkling water ($18), Under Armour running cap ($16). $61

2 p.m. — I do a quick online review of finances — credit card charges, account balances, etc. I try to do this at least once a week because regular reviews help me identify spending patterns and reflect on what proportion of each paycheck is going to savings/investment accounts. A sizable bump in high-risk brokerage portfolio prompts me to check the latest share prices and I see that the S&P 500 is killing it right now. I also see that my spending over the past week has been more or less the same as usual. After paying off CC balances, I transfer a couple grand to high-yield savings (my readily available emergency cash account, balance typically hovers around $25,000, which would cover one year of living expenses if I were unable to work). Whenever my HYSA hits $75,000, I transfer $50,000 to my wealth management portfolio (money I won’t see or touch until retirement). I sort of pretend the money doesn’t even exist so I’m not tempted by unnecessary extravagance.

5 p.m. — I change into a tank top and shorts. I should be more specific but I’m not what anyone would call fashion-conscious, most of my non-work wardrobe (limited as it is) is chosen more for comfort and functionality than for style. And yes, I wear tights and yoga pants in public the way normal people wear trousers, go ahead and shame me if you like, I probably deserve it :). I pick up sandwiches ($22) on the way over to my boyfriend’s house and we load his boat with drinks, snacks, and blankets for a relaxing evening on the water. Not many boats out tonight so we have boat sex after sunset, 10/10 highly recommend. $22

11 p.m. — We get home, shower, and settle in with Netflix and ice cream sundaes (basically adding fruit, nuts, cookies, whatever we have on hand really, to generous bowls of various ice cream flavors). Head to bed sometime after midnight.

Daily Total: $83

Day Four

7 a.m. — We wake up naturally, good morning world! Out of bed before 8, coffee and yogurt, then I get a three-mile run in while boyfriend goes grocery shopping. A few friends are coming over today to watch the Indy 500 with us, so we need food. When he gets back, we marinate shrimp, chop piles of fruits and veggies, turn pounds of ground beef into trays of seasoned burger patties, and set up crockery and flatware. Dessert is already taken care of (cake, ice cream, berries) and beverages well stocked. As there’s no real time crunch, the morning is focused yet laid back and we have fun in the kitchen.

12 p.m. — Guests arrive throughout the afternoon in ones and twos, not that many people over the course of the race (which goes on for hours), and we realize that we have waaayyyy more food than necessary but it’ll all keep in the fridge so there’s minimal waste. The race itself is quite dramatic and then ends with an anticlimax, robbing us of what should have been the most exciting three minutes of the whole affair. I’m not a huge racing fan but typically watch at least part of the 500 every year as someone invariably hosts a watch party. This usually symbolizes the beginning of summer in the midwest, it’s a little jarring to do this so late in August (race delayed due to COVID).

6 p.m. — After the last friend leaves, we take a meandering bike ride. A warm, breezy evening out, the sky is picture-perfect.

8 p.m. — Back at the house, we shower, and then I spend a few minutes tweezing my upper lip (easy peasy) and eyebrows (ugh). A kind esthetician once described my eyebrows as “luscious” and it amuses me to think about this when I’m fussing with them, trying to achieve elusive symmetry, tamping down irritation at how quickly they grow in.

8:30 p.m. — Not really hungry after eating so much earlier. We nibble on leftovers, clean the kitchen, and relax out back with dessert. Teeth flossed and brushed sometime later, in bed around 11.

Daily Total: $0

Day Five

5 a.m. — My alarm goes off and my boyfriend gets up before my brain even really registers the sound. I hear him starting coffee and taking a shower while the snooze button and I spend quality time together. My boyfriend has already left by the time I’m fully out of bed. Quick shower, leftovers packed, and we’re off! Luckily for me, his house is super close to the hospital so the commute is even easier from here than it is from my house.

8 a.m. — Meetings and emails handled, I end up eating my lunch. Am I the only one who packs lunch and eats it before it’s even breakfast time? I swing by the lounge to collect some fruit and protein bars for later.

12 p.m. — Busy morning of patients, procedures, etc. Nothing wild or exciting, the day ticks along, punctuated by sunshine and fresh air during a mid-day walk. Lunch is a salad from the staff lounge.

4 p.m. — Doesn’t seem like that many hours strictly by the clock but I’m exhausted! It often feels like I spend the entire workday making micro-decisions related to patient care and while I typically push through, by 5 my brain gets tired. By 6, I typically defer anything really important because mental acuity feels like less than 100%.

5 p.m. — Minimal traffic on the way home and no urgent errands, so I have time for a post-work nap! I allow myself 20 minutes of sleep, 10 minutes of snoozing, and then some YouTube yoga. When a few drops of sweat escape the mat and hit the underlying rug, I vaguely consider re-directing the fitness studio fees, which I no longer pay, toward professional cleaning for rugs and carpets at home.

8 p.m. — Showered and relaxing on the couch with more reheated leftovers, time for some mindless TV while I scroll through the news, social media, and Amazon. You could ask what I’m watching lately but the answer is rarely specific or meaningful. I order a new pair of Bluetooth headphones ($40) because Airpods aren’t great for workouts and some tea tree body wash ($25). I try to shop mindfully online and constantly remind myself that browsing Amazon is not, in fact, a hobby and that the $ I’m spending is still real, even if it feels so easy and painless when credit card info is already stored and purchasing is a simple single-click action. I even use the branded credit card for Amazon and Whole Foods purchases because 5% cashback rewards are hard to resist (sigh). $65

10:15 p.m. — Bedtime routine: flossing, brushing, mouth wash, glycolic acid toner — why glycolic acid you ask? I don’t know, I read an article or something at some point and it resulted in an impulsive (online!) purchase? Perhaps I was feeling adventurous, perhaps I like pretending to be someone who understands skincare. Ceiling fan lazily spinning, bedroom windows open, perfect weather tonight. Asleep by 11.

Daily Total: $65

Day Six

5 a.m. — Up with my first alarm, feeling well-rested enough for a 45-minute workout before a quick shower. Same deal as every other workday — scrubs, hair brushed (low-maintenance hairstyle because my hair gets as much cosmetic attention as my face does), rose water spritz on my way out the door. Coffee, my unfailing sidekick, gets me through all of the above at a reasonably brisk pace. At the hospital by 7. Scrambled eggs, yogurt, granola, and fruit for breakfast this morning.

10 a.m. — I catch up on personal emails and see this month’s invoice for basic lawn care ($160), I pay it online using a credit card — this one offers 2% cashback on all purchases, if you know of better offers right now please share below 🙂 I try to address all bills as soon as I receive them because getting things off my to-do list as quickly as possible saves a lot of mental energy. Luckily, lawn care is really only a summertime expense here (which is why I didn’t list it under monthly expenses above), I can pretty much ignore it from October to April, depending on when seasons change. $160

12:45 p.m. — Exhausting morning, break definitely needed. Lunch is a sandwich, salad, and slice of lemon cheesecake. When writing this diary, I considered including a few interesting patient-related anecdotes but I see a somewhat specific patient population and it would be devastating for a patient to read this one day and think “that shameless doctor used my personal experience to entertain strangers on the internet, how vile.” So I deleted them all, sorry. If you’d like to get a sense of my average workday, imagine doing something you really love and feel passionate about but it’s almost constantly fraught with risks, trade-offs, and administrative hurdles. Like most healthcare workers, I sometimes question the wisdom of my career choices but I also can’t imagine doing anything else with my life.

5 p.m. — Finally done in the OR, I wrap up a few things in my office and then head home.

6 p.m. — Easy weeknight dinner — I chop and saute a sweet potato then add veggies from the freezer (broccoli, corn, peas), a can of black beans, and a can of albacore tuna. It’s all seasoned with spices that work in almost any mix of protein + vegetables (garlic, pepper, thyme, steakhouse rub) and a generous splash of balsamic vinegar. I never really learned how to cook (obviously, haha) but decent meals from previously-stocked staples don’t require much planning or imagination and I’m clearly not a foodie, so the bar is pretty low here.

7 p.m. — I wax my underarms, exfoliate and epilate my legs, and condition my hair. My skin is dark enough that you probably wouldn’t mistake me for Caucasian but unfortunately light enough that it fails to obscure hair so waxing and epilation are boring, time-consuming tasks that simply have to be endured. The upside is that I really enjoy bath products — Lush and L’Occitane are my two favorite indulgences (I know they’re expensive but they also last a really long time so the cost per use is still reasonable).

8 p.m. — I turn on the TV as I eat and catch up on CME activities online. What I thought would be some quick reading and post-tests somehow takes a few hours, after which I head over to my boyfriend’s house. We’re in bed by 11.

Daily Total: $160

Day Seven

4:45 a.m. — We wake up naturally, which allows time for morning sex and planning for after work. We decide kayaking would be a relaxing way to spend what should be another gorgeous summer evening and my boyfriend says he’ll take care of dinner, an offer I am unable to refuse.

5:30 a.m. — Coffee already poured, I do an hour of yoga, take a shower, and throw on a fresh pair of scrubs. In the hospital by 7:15 and today’s breakfast includes a selection of berry and bran muffins, nice! Patient volume is on the low side today, so I’m hoping for a smooth morning and maybe even some downtime to work on a research project that hasn’t received the attention it deserves lately.

1 p.m. — Break for lunch (chicken wrap, fruit salad, bag of chips). I walk around the hospital campus, the temperature hovering around 80 degrees but it’s pleasantly breezy. Back at my desk, I return phone calls and emails, then spend some time on the aforementioned project. I’m out of the hospital just after 3, how exciting to have a free afternoon!

3:30 p.m. — I squeeze in a few errands on my way home — I drop off packages at UPS, get my car washed ($20), and stop at my optometrist’s office to have a new pair of eyeglasses re-adjusted. I try to get such mundane little tasks out of the way whenever I can during the week so I don’t waste precious free time on weekends. Back at my house, I do some light yard work in the back garden, eat two boiled eggs with cottage cheese and a handful of pita chips, then lie down for a half-hour nap. $20

6 p.m. — I put a bikini on under shorts and a light tee, throw my hair up into a messy bun and head out.

6:30 p.m. — By the time I get to my boyfriend’s house, he’s marinating fish and slicing veggies. We hang out for a bit and then take the kayak out on the water. It’s mostly peaceful paddling for the next hour or so, punctuated by discussion of issues of the day… e.g. should schools re-open in the time of COVID? This doesn’t directly affect me because I don’t have kids, which I’ve always felt are an expensive luxury in terms of time, energy, and material resources (things I’ve never really had in abundance). Besides, for medical reasons, I’m not the best candidate for parenthood anyway so there are layers to this and I made peace with it years ago. I certainly sympathize with all parents right now, what a challenging time to navigate childcare. How on earth do people cope with being both a full-time caregiver AND a full-time employee? That’s superhero-level stamina.

8:30 p.m. — A late-ish dinner, then we settle on the couch with tea, cookie selection, and Netflix. Teeth flossed and brushed around 11, in bed soon after, goodnight MD community!

Daily Total: $20

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