Are Doctors Savers or Spenders?

Jennifer Nelson

October 17, 2022

We wanted to know if doctors, who typically earn a high salary, focus on living in the moment or saving for the future, or a financially healthy combination of both. So, in a Medscape poll that ran from August 30 to September 21, we asked physicians if they lived within their means. By that, we meant that they pay their bills on time, save at least 20% of their monthly income toward retirement, pay down student loan debt and contribute to their kids' college savings or a rainy-day emergency fund. In other words, whether they consider themselves a "saver" or a "spender."

Medscape polled 468 US physicians and 159 living outside of the US. Eighty-nine percent of US respondents report living within their means, while only 11% said they don't.

Medscape's Physician Wealth & Debt Report 2022 similarly reported that of 13,000 physicians in more than 29 specialties, 94% said they live at or below their means.

For example, over half of physicians have a net worth above $1 million. In contrast, according to Credit Suisse's Global Wealth Report, less than 7% of the general population has a seven-figure net worth.

So just how do physicians we polled stack up financially? Here is some insight into doctors' wealth, debt, savings, and spending habits.

Habits of Physician Super Savers

Physicians who consider themselves savers likely have money habits that correlate. They buy things on sale, are DIYers for home projects and maintenance, and wait to buy luxury or large expenses when the timing is right, an item is on sale, or they've saved for it.

For example, when it comes to life's luxuries like buying a new car or dining out, overall, physicians seem to be more frugal, as 43% of those who buy cars said they only buy a new car every 10 years; 30% said they buy a new vehicle every 6-7 years, and 22% said every 4-5 years.

When asked about weekly dine-out or delivery habits, 82% of those polled who said they dine out, or order takeout, do so a nominal 1-2 times per week. That's on par with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), which reports that 3 in 5 Americans eat out once weekly. Another 14% of polled physicians said they dine out 3-5 nights per week. Only 4% revealed they eat out or grab to-go food more than 5 nights a week.

When hiring for essential home maintenance, like house cleaning and pool or lawn service, almost a third of physicians we polled who require such maintenance employ a service for these tasks, and 23% hire out often while 21% hire out only sometimes. However, 14% say they rarely hire out for home maintenance, and 11% never do.

Since physicians are typically tight on time, they tend to favor outsourcing things like housecleaning, lawn service, landscaping, maintenance, and even cooking. So, the fact that a quarter of physicians polled rarely or never hire out for household help is somewhat surprising.

Most physicians also prioritize saving. When asked how important it is to save money consistently, 93% think it's either extremely or very important, while only 6% think it's somewhat important.

Barriers to Wealth

When asked what barriers prevent them from saving at least 20% of their monthly income, physician respondents who said they live within their means and encountered barriers reported that family necessities (35%), student loan debt (19%), and mortgage sizes (18%) were the top reasons. The average doctor earns five times as much as the average American, according to the Global Wealth Report.

"What prevents me from saving is holding too much debt, responsibilities at home, bills, being unprepared for what is coming, and making excuses to spend even when it's not necessary," says Sean Ormond, MD, a dual board-certified physician in Anesthesiology and Pain Management in Phoenix.

When physician respondents who said they didn't live within their means were asked about the barriers preventing them from saving at least 20% of their monthly income, they cited the cost of family necessities (49%), the size of their mortgage (47%), credit card debt (30%), student loan debt (21%), other loans (15%), and car lease/loan (13%).

"My most significant financial splurge is vacation since I always choose the best and the best comes at an extra cost," says Ormond.

What's Your Financial Grade?

Finally, we asked physicians who they considered better at saving money, themselves or their spouse/domestic partner. Forty-four percent think they are the better saver, whereas 41% said that both they and their partner were equally good at saving. Thirteen percent credited their partner with better saving habits, and 2% said neither themselves nor their partner was good at saving money.

More than half (63%) of physicians polled pay off their credit card balance monthly, but 18% carry a $1000-$5000 balance, 10% have $5000-$10,000 in credit card debt, and 6% hold more than $10,000 of credit card debt.

"I would grade myself with a B because however much I love having the best, I still have a budget, and I always ensure that I follow it to the dot," says Ormond.

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