Our careers are very rewarding, but it came at a price. Literally, it cost us years of dedicated study and a total of $152,000 in student loan debt between the two of us.
My wife finished her Masters Degree two years before I finished my Doctorate. By the time I graduated, she had completely paid off her $36,000 student loan debt.
After a year into my career, my initial plan to pursue public service loan forgiveness (PSLF) had backfired. I accumulated an additional $8,000 in student loan interest during that time. Sickened by my growing debt and limited employment options due to PSLF criteria, I developed a plan to aggressively pay off my entire student loan balance.
During that time, I learned a great deal about student loans and utilized many strategies on paying off those students loans quickly.
Within two years into my career, I paid off $116,000 in federal student loans with a 75-90% savings rate coupled with personal loans from family.
Now, I am comfortably paying back one remaining personal loan while my wife and I work towards the goal of financial Independence (FI), giving us the possibility to retire comfortably by age 40.
When I say retire, I really mean retiring from the rat race. I anticipate we will continue treating patients to some capacity even if we no longer need to work for money. We worked hard to be good at what we do and we enjoy helping people get back on their feet, literally.
We are pretty happy right now, but it did not used to be this way.
Our Pre-FI Fog
We both had a rough start to our careers. In 2014, a few unfortunate events made us realize how easy it is to lose sight of the really important things in life – your relationships with those you care about and your health.
Despite this realization, the reality was that we needed to devote most of our time and energy to our work in order to pay the bills. We frequently left early during rare gatherings with friends and family because we needed to be well rested to deliver patient care the next day. We missed holidays with family due to mandatory work and we felt like we were just living for the weekends.
When people asked when we were planning to have kids, our answers were:
“We feel the need to be more financially stable,”
“We need to find a better hospital to work for,” or
“We need to create a better work/life balance.”
It was clear that the unhappiness in our careers bled into our lives. We questioned our career paths that had cost us over $150,000 and questioned what we really wanted out of life. Ultimately, we both decided we could not bring a baby into the picture until we figured things out.
Not knowing what to do, we continued to pay down debt, save for a house, a new car, and eventually a baby. We understood this was the “normal” thing to do and just hoped we would eventually be happy with it.
Deep down, it did not excite us because we knew we would be working to pay for the house that we would barely be able to enjoy, working to pay for the car primarily used for work and working to pay for children who we would barely be able to see.
It was not a life we wanted to live. Any changes we made within our respective careers did not make a difference in how we felt. We were lost in a thick fog.
Then We Found FIRE (Financial Independence Retire Early)
The FIRE lifted the fog and we were able to see clearer. It reinvigorated us and gave us the fuel to pursue something more valuable than our career goals and more valuable than a bigger home. It was the goal of being financially independent and becoming free from the 9 to 5 grind so we can have more time to spend with loved ones while pursuing other passions.
Our curiosity in financial independence lead us to become more financially literate. We began reading more about how to put our high savings rate to good use, learning about various investment vehicles and utilizing tax advantaged accounts. Subsequently, it allowed us to develop a financial plan that changed the entire perspective on our current and future lifestyle.
We now acknowledge that we are more financially secure than we initially thought as we already have 8 times our annual expense saved. We no longer feel like we are stuck in a void and have come to appreciate our employers and the work we do on a daily basis. We both read books and listen to podcasts regularly. I began writing in my journal more often and enjoyed writing so much that I started this blog. Best of all, my wife began exercising with me more frequently.
By becoming consumers of knowledge and practicing habits that better align with our values, we are much happier, healthier and smarter. We are cultivating the relationships that matter to us and caring less about the material things that don’t. We are working to build the life we want and plan to have it fully funded before we hit 40. All the while, we are enjoying our journey along the way and providing great care to our patients.