Sunday, May 3, 2015


Before I started medical school, I was a pretty financially responsible person.  Since the age of 18, I had invested a minimum of 10% of my income in long-term savings, even when I was an undergraduate student living off of scholarships and low-paying summer jobs, or a graduate student earning a stipend that was too small to permit "extras" like clothing or bus fare to the grocery store.  My only travel was home for Christmas and maybe my birthday, paid for with my Dad's Aeroplan Miles from his job.  I didn't even own a car until I was 28, when I had saved enough money from a contract job to pay cash for my mom's 10-year-old beige Chevy Malibu.

(It was basically an ugly boat with wheels.  I called her Mabel.)

The polite way of describing the person I used to be would be "frugal", although it would not be inaccurate to say "cheap".  But it served me well; when I started medical school, I had over $60,000 squirreled away towards school costs and my eventual retirement.

And then medical school started.  And suddenly, I was no longer friends with graduate students who brought peanut butter sandwiches for lunch and had pot lucks on weekends because no one could afford to eat in a restaurant.  Instead, I was going to school with people who had grown up in rich families and who thought nothing of dropping $200 on a night out or of flying to South Africa for safari over Spring Break.  I was also surrounded by the mentality that debt didn't matter, because someday we would all be making so much money that our $200,000 (or more) lines of credit would just disappear without effort.

So I changed.  Slowly at first, but with increasing speed as I got more and more comfortable with debt, I let go of my frugal habits and started to spend like the people around me.  I stopped bringing lunches to school and started spending $10 a day on terrible cafeteria food.  I went to Cuba (my first international trip since finishing my undergraduate degree in 1999) for Spring Break.  When my beloved Malibu got totaled by an idiot who was texting while driving in the rain at night, I got a shiny new Toyota and started making lease payments.  And the debt piled up.

I barely paid attention to my debt until September 2014, when something terrible happened at work.  As I was trying to put the pieces of my professional life back together, I thought a lot about what would happen if I couldn't practice in medicine, and I realized that I had so much debt that I would probably never be able to pay it back.  And it terrified me.  Night after night, I would lie awake in bed, thinking about the imposing six figures of doom on my line of credit statement, wondering if I should start buying lottery tickets, because I couldn't think of any other way to get it under control.  Eventually, the stress got so bad for me that I did the unthinkable; I put myself on a budget.

I had thought about sticking to a budget prior to the terrible work event, but I never seemed to have the motivation to give up on all the fancy dinners and concerts and exotic vacations that had somehow become my life over the previous eight years.  After the terrible work event, visions of myself moving back in with my mother because I couldn't make rent and loan payments simultaneously became that motivation.  And it worked.  For the past nine months, I've stuck to a budget, and I'm now $12,000 ahead of where I was at the start of this whole experience.

And my stress level?  So much better, knowing that I'm finally chipping away at the imposing six figures of doom.  And that I likely won't ever again have to share space with my Mom.


  1. I'm one of like 3 people in my class who don't have a line of credit (yet), because the though of it scares the crap out of me. I obviously haven't had a "something terrible happened at work" scenario yet, but it's always in the back of my mind. Or a "what if I get sick and can never practice medicine" scenario. I think I can scrape through one more year without a LOC...but I'm so scared about 3rd year when I do have to walk into the bank and then start to see negatives on my account for 20+ years.

  2. I really applaud you. I have a budget... but I find it hard to stick to it. Home ownership seems to lead to all kinds of unexpected expenses.... Do you use any apps to track your spending?

    Do you have disability insurance? The group policy through the Alberta Medical Association is pretty reasonable. I am sure the Saskwatchewan Medical Association must have something similar.