I'm Struggling to Live on $160,000 a Year: MD Lament

Dennis G. Murray, MA


June 03, 2011

In This Article

Set Clear Goals and Stick to Them

Like someone who resolves to eat less and exercise more, it is easy to fall off the wagon after an initial push toward a goal. The excitement of making a big change wears off, and all that's left is the hard work.

If you are a primary care physician, lamenting that specialists make more than you while you endure the headaches of being on the front lines of medicine isn't going to make your bottom line any fatter. You are going to have to work with the paycheck you've got, even if what you've got is half or less of what the orthopaedic surgeon or radiologist in the next office suite is making.

Still, there is a way to potentially boost your income when everyone else is staying flat or reading water: buy into your practice. Although becoming an owner has its own headaches, the financial rewards can be great.

"There's a lot of work involved, but from what we've seen, the doctors who do better financially are the ones who own the practice vs being an employee," says Matthew Kelley. If you're already an owner, hiring an associate -- or perhaps a physician assistant or nurse practitioner -- can also increase your income. So can offering new services, like cosmetic procedures or nutrition counseling.

In short, anything you can do now to improve your financial standing will have serious ramifications on the road to retirement. "Doctors have the ability to save more than they do," Kelley says. "We all probably spend more when we're younger and getting established, but if you don't change that pattern, eventually you might have to adjust your goals downward: work longer or have less to spend in retirement."

No matter where you're currently at financially, it is never too late to get your house in order. If you are at a loss for where to begin, schedule a meeting with a professional. Most financial planners offer a complementary evaluation and can help you set or adjust your goals. The first step will have to be yours, of course, and it may be the most important step you make.