Working in the medical field can provide you with an incredible income. When you truly have control of your spending, your six-figure medical income can open doors you never thought were even possible.
Chester from Relentless Financial Improvement shares how living on 50% of his medical income has allowed his family to become millionaires in their mid-30’s. His future family plans for are inspiring.
Here’s Chester’s story!
How old are you? If you have a family, tell us about them and their ages.
I am currently 37 years old. My wife is 34 years old. Our son is about 3.5 years old and our daughter will be 1-year old by the end of the year. We also have a 5-year old dog.
What part of the country do you live in? Do you own your home or rent?
We live in Southern California. We have a mortgage on our home.
When did you start tracking your net worth? What was it at that time?
I started tracking my net worth and expenses when I started college. I first started tracking my spending because I had a poor habit of spending my entire paycheck balance. I was tired of getting hit with bank overdraft fees. At that time, my net worth was negative as I had student loans. Once we got married, it was easy to track our finances and net worth by adding all of our accounts into one joint Mint and Personal Capital login.
What is your current net worth? What are your assets and what are your liabilities?
Investments (401Ks, IRAs, Taxable): $402,402
Cash Emergency Fund: $23,887
Home Value: $809,746
Mortgage Balance: -$299,980 at 3.125% interest rate
Rental Property Value: $406,225
Rental Property Mortgage: -$199,601 at 4.0% interest rate
Net worth (assets – liabilities): $1,142,679
What are your current sources of income?
We both have W2 income from our jobs. I am an optometrist with a local hospital group. My wife is a project coordinator at a tech firm. We earn income from our rental property. We have some income from our blog. I teach part-time at the local university optometry school. I occasionally do locum tenens fill-in work with some optometry private practices. We do some side hustles such as participating in research studies, online surveys, and consultation work.
What has been the single best thing you’ve done to increase your income up to this point?
After finishing optometry school, I completed an optional one-year residency for further training. This enhanced my skill set and helped me get into my career of hospital-based medical optometry.
We both work hard to make ourselves invaluable assets in our places of employment. We both go above and beyond what is required of our job descriptions, taking on extra projects, and acquiring extra qualifications. This helps with being recognized regularly for being dependable, resulting in job security and regular promotions.
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What ways do you invest your money?
We invest in our 401Ks, Roth IRAs and taxable accounts mostly with automatic contributions. We do not try to time the market and keep our contributions consistent, regardless of market sentiment.
The majority of our investments are in boring index funds tracking the US total stock market (VTSAX) and International total stock market (VTIAX). We have some money in the Vanguard Healthcare fund (VHCIX) and we also have some money in the Vanguard US Total Bond Market (VBTLX).
We have invested in a rental property in the past, but are no longer interested in further real estate property investments.
We are also investing money in our children’s 529 accounts to help with their future college/graduate program expenses.
Did you receive an inheritance or windfall of some kind during your life so far?
My biggest windfall has been being born without any major health problems and raised in safe, crime-free neighborhoods. No matter how much financial trouble my parents got into, they always managed to make sure my sister and I had a roof over our heads. We never went hungry.
I got a few scholarships and grants for college that helped tremendously with keeping costs low. I also received some help with housing costs while in college. Having a frugal single mom has taught me a lot about the value and power of money.
After graduating optometry school with over $146K in student loan debt, my mom gave me a 0% loan to pay off my loan balance. I pay her back $500 monthly and she treats this money as an annuity payment. I treat it like a gift. If we get any tax refunds, I give the amount to my mom as well. Starting a career and not having to worry about making extra interest payments on student loans gave us a huge head start on our journey towards financial freedom.
In turn, we are saving for our children’s higher education costs so that they won’t have to feel the burden of overwhelming student loan debt.
What debts do you have (if any)? If so, what are they? Which have you paid off?
We currently have two mortgages, one for our personal home and one for our rental property. Our mortgage has an interest rate of 3.125% and should be paid off within 10 years. Our rental property mortgage has an interest rate of 4.0% and should be paid off in 27 years. The neighborhood is going through some big improvements, which may increase the property value significantly. If that happens, we will likely sell the property.
When I graduated from a public university in 2003, college costs were much less than today. With scholarships, grants, work-study income, and help for housing expenses from my mom, I had very minimal college student loans. I was able to completely pay off all of my undergraduate education loans within 6 months of graduating. I always worked 2-3 jobs during college. Some were very easy, such as being a computer lounge or information booth attendant. I was basically paid to study! I tutored math and science. I did data entry for a small insurance firm. That job paid $15 an hour, which was a huge amount back in the early 2000s. I even worked for a medical office as their fish tank cleaner – a job that paid $100 an hour!
I also did plenty of side hustles in college. I participated in paid research studies – I remember needing to wear a heart monitor for a week and donate saliva samples to monitor stress levels. In the early 2000s as the internet was being refined, there were very easy ways to perform retail arbitrage – basically buying products for cheap and then selling them on eBay for profit. I spent a lot of time on the Anandtech, Fatwallet and Slickdeals forums, searching for the most profitable deals. I drove high school students to school dances and other events as a paid chauffeur.
My wife also received scholarships and grants for college so she did not graduate with any debt.
Related article: Increase Your Salary in 7 Steps
How do you track your net worth?
What are your annual expenses?
Living in Southern California, we have very high annual expenses.
Property Tax: $7,588.30
HOA fees: $2,040
Home Insurance: $880.56
Gift payment to my mom: $6,000
Dining out: $2,482.74
Vehicle Fuel: $2,652.26
Vehicle registration: $422
Dog food and supplies: $1,073.52
Vet Bills: $1,478.53
Health and dental: $318.42
Car Insurance: $1,198.62
Vehicle maintenance: $94.87
Life Insurance: $1,256.26
Gas Bill: $420.72
Baby Supplies: $1,079.04
Miscellaneous expenses: $2,000
Rental property mortgage: $12,271.44
Rental property taxes: $3,917.84
Rental expenses: $932.49
While our annual expenses seem extremely high, we save over 50% of our income. Housing-related costs take up the bulk of our expenses ($40,518.82), which makes up almost 47% of our personal expenses. We chose to live in a high cost of living area to be close to family, friends, and good schools. We are choosing to pay off our home at an accelerated pace; paying a mortgage for 30 years didn’t sound appealing to us. Owning a home in Southern California is not cheap, but we should have our home paid off within 10 years. We intend to say here long-term.
To offset our expensive housing costs, we cut back on other spending categories and live a frugal lifestyle. We bring our lunches to work almost every day and rarely eat out. I haven’t eaten out for lunch during a workweek for even a single day for over 2 years. We get our haircuts at home. We hang dry clothing to save on electricity. We rarely purchase clothing. Our kids wear a lot of hand-me-down items, as well as used clothing purchased off Facebook Marketplace, Letgo, 5 Miles, and OfferUp.
Daycare is our second highest expense ($11,960), and this expense should cut in half when our son starts school next year.
This past year our veterinary bills were pretty high ($1,478.53) due to our dog developing some medical problems (recurrent UTIs). We offset our pet expenses by having me do all of the grooming, bathing, nail clipping, and teeth brushing at home.
My employer pays for our cell phone bill, which is a nice perk my job offers.
Related article: 15-Year Mortgage Paid in 5 Years
What is your favorite fintech tool that helps you grow your wealth?
I like tools that help me track my income, savings, and investments. This includes Mint, Personal Capital, and ClearCheckbook. I use Mint to automatically track our spending and savings. I use Personal Capital to get a better idea of our investment asset allocations. I use ClearCheckbook to manually track my spending. If you don’t track your finances, you won’t be able to improve your finances. I’m always open to trying out new fintech tools!
Why is it important for you to build up your wealth?
With 2 growing young kids, my priorities have shifted and my family comes first. I want to spend more time having fun with my kids and nurturing them as they grow. Reaching financial freedom provides options. Once we hit financial independence, we can do whatever we want, whenever we want. I can choose to work part-time. I can choose to work 6 months out of the year. Or more. Or less. I can volunteer my skills to help underserved communities. Once we hit financial freedom, earning money won’t be the purpose of work.
I love my career in optometry. I love taking care of people’s eyes and helping them see well. I enjoy optometry so much that I spend 4 to 8 hours a month teaching future optometrists about eye care at the local university optometry school. I will probably always be involved with the field of optometry. While I love my career, my career does not define me.
What is one financial mistake you’ve made during your young millionaire journey?
I’ve made many, many financial mistakes in my life. The important thing about making mistakes is that we can learn from them.
When I landed my first job making 80K a year, I thought I deserved a fancy new 35K Lexus instead of keeping my paid off Accord. I didn’t think about the total cost of vehicle ownership.
A “luxury” car comes with luxury expenses that go far beyond the initial vehicle sticker price. I now needed to pay for premium 91 octane fuel instead of regular 87 fuel. My car insurance premium went up quite a bit. My fuel economy went down. Vehicle parts and maintenance were more expensive. I suddenly cared more about how my car looked; dents and dings were suddenly an eyesore. Keeping my car clean was an extra expense; I will never own another black vehicle! The new car excitement wore off quickly for me. I went from no monthly car payment to over $500 a month in car payments. What a colossal waste of money that was!
What book has been most influential to you?
I Will Teach You To Be Rich, by Ramit Sethi. This was the first financial book that I got my hands on, and I read it all within 3 days. This book was straightforward and easy to read. It was a great introduction for me into properly saving, investing, and earning more. While I’ve read many influential books (my favorites include: You Are Not So Smart, The Power of Habit, The Millionaire Next Door, Stop Acting Rich, and The Simple Path to Wealth), I Will Teach You To Be Rich has been the most influential to me because it was the book that got me started with investing. I was so pumped and motivated to start investing after finishing this book that I immediately opened a Roth IRA account.
What is one financial hack that has helped you that you think most people don’t know about?
Living close to work has had huge benefits for us. We are both lucky to live within 6 miles of our jobs. This saves us fuel, vehicle wear, reduces stress and increases our available time. The last thing I want to do after getting off work is sit for 45 minutes to 1 hour of Southern California traffic to get home. Having a short commute allows us more time to be with family.
Prior to having kids, we house hacked by having roommates; this cut down our housing expenses significantly.
If I may discuss one other financial hack… it’s about choosing the right partner/spouse. Try to find one with similar financial goals. Reaching financial freedom is a lot easier in 2-player mode and working together. There’s a lot less stress and resentment if both of you are headed in the same direction of financial independence.
Related article: $400,00 Home Paid Off in Less Than 4 Years
Where do you find the most joy in your life?
Right now, I find the most joy with raising our children. It’s amazing how much they can learn from us, and how much we can learn from them as well. I love teaching our kids how the world works. I love watching their creativity and their problem-solving struggles. While people have FOMO (fear of missing out) – when it comes to our kids, I feel like we have “Reverse FOMO” every time we are apart from them.
For the 20-something with a $0 net worth, what advice would you give them to become a millionaire in their 30's?
Start networking. The connections you make today will help you succeed now and in the future. While connections won’t guarantee you jobs, it could help get your foot in the door of new opportunities, and you could get front of the line access to the people making hiring the decisions. Many companies look to hire from internal referrals before putting out advertisements on websites like Indeed, Glassdoor, Monster or LinkedIn. You can have the perfect resume, but without the right connections, it’s just another application among a pile of applications.
When it comes to investing, don’t worry about reading and learning everything you can about all the different types of investments available. Just simply get started. If you are investing for the long-term, it doesn’t matter how the stock market is doing right now. Try to max out all available tax-advantaged accounts such as your IRA, 401K, and HSA. While it may seem extremely intimidating to fully contribute to your retirement accounts, don’t let the maximum amounts intimidate you. Saving 1% is better than saving 0%. And if you aim to increase your savings rate by 1% more each month, by the end of the year, you will have increased your savings rate by 12%! A 1% increase in 401K contributions each month is so small that it won’t be noticed.
When it comes to being financially successful, you need to focus both on increasing income as well as decreasing expenses. This is known as “increasing the gap”, and you can do it by earning more and spending less. Saving money is necessary to reach financial freedom, but being frugal alone is not enough. It’s also significantly easier to save more money when you earn more money.
Small savings can add up tremendously over time but don’t forget to focus on the big expenses. You can save the most money by reducing your housing, transportation, and food costs. Savings here will yield the biggest payoff.
Life can be short. But for most people, life is long. And we should plan accordingly. We should spend it pursuing a life of meaning and happiness, not living paycheck to paycheck.
Where are you in your net worth journey?
Please let me know in the comments below!
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