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WHAT IS THE COST OF FINANCIAL IGNORANCE?

Job#1

I’ve been working as a PA for nearly 10 years, but only within the last 1.5 years did I understand my finances. I had no idea about investing upon graduation, and can still remember declining the 401k at my first job, as for some reason I thought of it as “gambling”. Whoops. Should I have started maxing out my 401k from day 1, I would have another $375,000 to my name (estimated for simplicity)! Take a look below and you can see for yourself:

$375k is the amount I would currently have if I had been maxing out my 401k/403b since day 1 of my PA career.

So, just by not taking the step of maxing out my retirement accounts at my jobs, I’ve lost between $300-400k!

Job#2

At my 2nd job, I was a bit wiser and took the 403b offered, but only was putting 3% in to get the 3% match. So, not all bad to know enough and take advantage of this “free money”, but still far from putting me on the path to financial independence.

Job#3

It was during this third job though that my financial interest was piqued, so I decided to listen to Tony Robbins’ book Money: Master the Game. At the time, it was enlightening and motivating, and I rushed out to get myself a Registered Investment Advisor (RIA) to help me get on the best path forward. I found a group that seemed to align with my goals and interests, so I signed up for them to manage my investments, and they helped me organize my finances. This included me putting some savings to work by investing it, and then automating a set amount to go to those investment accounts each month.

Fast forward 3+ years, all of which was during one of the best bull (for the uninformed: A Bull market is good, a Bear market is bad) markets in history, but my investment accounts didn’t seem to be reflecting those gains at all. I asked for an explanation, received what I thought was an appropriate and reassuring answer, and moved on with my life.

An Awakening

Then the pandemic started and my whole world seemed up in the air. Like many others in medicine, I was unsure if I would be furloughed, laid off, have a pay cut, or even get COVID and have my health suffer. I wasn’t sure if we really had 6+ months of emergency funds, nor did I understand if our finances were strong enough to give us the option to make career moves. I kept asking myself: “How financially resilient are we?” 

With our investment accounts not moving in a positive direction despite thinking we were set up for success, I decided that my financial ignorance needed to go. It was at that time that I discovered the F.I.R.E. (Financial Independence, Retire Early) movement. I read a few books (at the cost of <$100) and dove headfirst into some recommended blogs. 

With just minimal time and money invested in my education, I could look at our numbers as an informed participant in our finances, which allowed me to ask better questions to our RIA. I also knew what to watch out for, such as expense ratios and AUM (Assets Under Management) fees, and I quickly realized that our investment accounts were far from optimized.

So, as many other Type-A people would do, I hit the spreadsheets. What I found astounded me! I compared what we were paying in fees with our financial management team, as opposed to what fees would be should we switch over to self-managing Vanguard index funds, and my mind was blown! I ran and re-ran the numbers to make sure they were correct, and here’s how much we were slated to lose to fees if we stayed on our current path:

$250,000!!

Finding this out really pissed me off, frankly. I was upset with my financial team for feeling led astray from my “financial best interests”, but I also realized that they weren’t doing anything abnormal or illegal. I was also left mourning all of those investment gains that could have been with a better financial plan. On the positive side, I was relieved to be figuring all of this out now and saving nearly $500,000 in fees over the course of my lifetime!

When I approached my financial advisors about my findings, they gave me a bit of a run-around about how Index Funds aren’t for everyone and how their returns had not been what they expected. I informed them that I was likely moving my assets to Vanguard, and wanna know what they did: They immediately offered to lower their fees from 1% to 0.5%, just like that! Did YOU know that these fees were negotiable??? I sure didn’t, and with that offer, I could see that I was in the more leveraged position, and still said “Bye-bye” to them and headed towards greener pastures.

Fast forward to now, and what a very different financial picture! Within the first half of 2021, our net worth has grown by $70,000, and all signs point to sustained and healthy growth in the future. I am also now on track to reach financial independence in 10 years, granting me the option to retire at age 50! 

Here’s what we are doing to reach our goals:

  • Maxing out retirement accounts (Fidelity Index Fund for 403b via my employer).
  • Maxing out Roth IRAs.
  • Investing in Index Funds via Vanguard for IRAs/Roths.
  • Paying off student loan debt aggressively (so far, >$200k in 2 years of payments!)
  • Sustaining a savings/investment rate of close to 50%
  • Tracking everything through Personal Capital and homemade spreadsheets
  • Keeping expenses low by living our rich life

Back to the original question: What is the cost of financial ignorance? For me, it was $375,000! It’s a challenge not to think about that and ask the “What if” questions, but dwelling on the past is pointless. So, I choose to focus on the money that we are saving and earning with our new financial plan, knowing that we’re on the path to FIRE now. 

If you feel financially ignorant yourself, then you are at risk of being taken advantage of, or at least not being positioned to optimize your finances. The potential losses due to your ignorance will cost you hundreds of thousands, maybe millions, such as what happened to me. The idea of this should piss you off, or at least scare you into considering learning a little bit about finances and investing. I can tell you from experience that it’s not that hard to get yourself on the optimal path forward, but the key is being willing to take ACTION!

Consider reading The PA Blueprint as the first step in your financial education!

DISCLAIMERS: 1) The views expressed here are my own and do not necessarily represent the views of my employer. 2) I don’t know what I don’t know, so feel free to message me if you don’t agree with something that you read. 3) By clicking any links from Efficient Clinician to their helpful website and purchasing any of their products, I will receive a percentage of the purchase. But, as I said previously, I will never commit to any agreement that will sacrifice my integrity.

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