I've been undergoing more frequent bouts of financial incontinence of late. I bought five sweaters in a recent end-of-season sale and a side table from Serena and Lily that is made of carved wooden swans. My husband describes this purchase as the Most Ridiculous Thing We Own.
I can feel the end is in sight. I am almost done with my training, after which I will be making several times more money than I ever have before.
Saturday morning I went to a financial planning seminar for graduating medical residents and fellows. After a brief introduction, the speaker guided us through a program he had developed specifically for medical trainees to calculate exactly what income was required to develop and maintain the life we projected to lead with our future salaries.
I don't know what my salary is going to be next year. I am looking at positions that vary over $130,000 between them, adjusted for part time vs. full time, and private vs academic. So I entered a figure somewhere in the middle. It's even more difficult to project my husband salary as he owns his own company with a salary that varies month to month. He's gone months without a salary at all, which I've always thought taught us to live beneath our means.
Beneath our means, but perhaps not beneath our expectations.
It took about 90 minutes to complete the program. There were a few numbers I didn't know how to estimate - like the expected rate of inflation and expected rate of return on our investments. There were some shocks along the way - the projected cost of a 4 year state education for my 1 year old son is $360,000 if tuition costs continue to climb. I entered the tuition cost for two kids at the most expensive elementary and high schools in the city, the cost for two weddings, and my medical school debt. I figured in the cost for a standard 3 bed, 3 bath house in our community with a 20% down payment. The program included costs I hadn't thought of before, like the cost of an accountant, orthodontia x 2, and home owners' insurance. It calculated the estimated yearly expenditure of feeding and clothing two kids. I felt pleased to enter the amount we've manage to save in retirement and savings accounts.
I got to the end.
That's the amount of yearly income we lack in order to meet what I thought were fairly modest goals.
I've heard medical training as the world's longest adolescence. I've never felt it to be as true as I do now, starting down the last few months of my training and still uncertain of what I am going to do next year.
After a collective gasp, our speaker smiled and admitted to a slight "glitch" in his program - while the program took into account the rate of inflation, it did not adjust the physician salary for that rate of inflation. In other words, the cost of every itemized expense would go up, but our purchasing power would go down with time.
That didn't seem right. Of course my salary would go up, perhaps to cover the gap between the estimated salary and the projected cost of our lifestyle. And then he made what I think was the most striking point of the presentation. The partners he left in private practice anesthesia in 1993 are making the same salary now as they were 20 years ago.
OMG x 2.
It is unlikely that physician salaries are going to go down, but it is highly likely that, with the restructuring in health care underway, salaries won't go up with inflation. I've heard that said before but didn't think too much of it. Now seeing a dollar amount placed on what had seemed like conjecture has given me pause. And in that pause seeped a now recurring frustration.
How is it that I started med school a few short weeks of my 22nd birthday, I will graduate when I am 33 and I still can't decide what I want to do next year? What is in the best interest of myself, my family, and the longevity of this career I've been working for since I was 21?
During my ongoing job hunt, I received the unwelcome advice to "not make any decisions based on money alone", which does seem like sound advice and in keeping with the best interest of my young kids, who would benefit from a mother who is around more, and my career should I decide on an academic path over the more lucrative private route. But in that room I started to re-appraise the relative benefit of the options ahead of me. If I work part time in academics, does that mean my kids don't go to college?
The exercise served to broaden what had been a frustration specific to not knowing myself to include the more generalized frustration that I don't know anything.
And it put to rest any lingering consideration I'd had on the idea of a third child.