[FPMD: Welcome to another installment of Future Proof Docs. I am very thankful to today's guest for his guidance and generosity in all things blogging. In fact, he was one of the inspirations for me starting FPMD nearly 2 years ago. Long time readers would remember back then this site went by a different name - White Coat Money (WCM). As they say, "Imitation is the sincerest of flattery." You all know who I am referring to - here is the FPMD Q&A with the godfather of physician finance blogs - White Coat Investor.]
James M. Dahle, MD, FACEP is the founder of the most widely read physician-specific personal finance and investing website and the author of the best-selling book The White Coat Investor: A Doctor’s Guide to Personal Finance and Investing. He is a practicing emergency physician who took on a second career as a financial blogger due to a passion to help those who wear the white coat get a fair shake on Wall Street after getting taken advantage of over and over again by financial professionals due to a lack of financial training during his formal schooling.
[FPMD: I think a lot of physicians can relate to this sentiment. Personally I haven't had the opportunity to get taken advantage of by some of the bad financial professionals out there. I credit Dr. Dahle for making me aware of some of the pitfalls.]
When and why did you decide to become a physician?
While I was certainly on track to be a doc before ever going to college (first time I thought about it was probably junior high), I didn’t really commit to it until my junior year in college after a conversation with my dad. He wisely pointed out that in 8 years I would be 31 whether I went to medical school or not whereas I thought spending another 8 years in school and training would leave me old, poor, and decrepit. Amazing how much my parents learned between the time I was 16 and the time I was 22.
[FPMD: Agreed, parents learn so much during our teenage years. They really ought to fund some research on that - could be the secret to making America great again!]
Why your specialty?
I started medical school thinking family practice, but after one lunchtime lecture from an emergency doc I realized where I fit into the house of medicine. Rotations confirmed my suspicions and by the time I became an MS4 there was no stopping me. In retrospect, I think I would have also enjoyed anesthesiology also and should have looked at it more closely, but emergency medicine is probably a better fit. My second choice was actually OB/GYN. That would have been a mistake! Not that it isn’t a great specialty, but it isn’t a great specialty for me.
[FPMD: Seems like a lot of us start medical school thinking family medicine. Here is my "Me too!" post.]
When and why did you start your blog? Surely it wasn't for an overabundance of free time?
It actually was an overabundance of free time. You see, as an emergency doc, the majority of my working hours are in the evening, at night, on weekends, or on holidays. But due to the rotating shifts and high pace, most emergency docs don’t work that many hours. So what hours did I have free? Weekday mornings, while my kids were in school, my wife was busy, and my friends were at work. You can only ski or mountain bike solo so many times before you start looking for other things to do with your time.
I was already spending gobs of time on the internet helping others with their finances. I think I was the eighth most prolific poster on the Bogleheads forum, for instance, but was also active on several other forums. But I got sick of typing the same thing over and over again into forums. So I thought it might be easier to start a blog I could just link to. I could see this huge niche that had nobody in it - personal finance and investing information for doctors from someone that wasn’t trying to recruit them as a client. I saw a huge need knowing that I had no financial training in med school or residency, and I was rapidly becoming aware that I knew more about this stuff than just about any doc out there. Plus, by 2011 (5 years out of residency) when I started the blog we were rapidly becoming financially successful. We were debt-free aside from our mortgage, I was on track to make partner in my group and have a very nice physician income, and our net worth was rapidly approaching 7 figures. I had “been there and done that” and could share the tale with others.
But I was also interested in the idea of passive income, and particularly internet entrepreneurship. I was fascinated to learn how websites, browsers, internet marketing and advertising worked. So I started the blog not only from a missionary zeal to help other docs avoid my mistakes, but also as a way to learn more about passive income and business myself. I told myself if I couldn’t figure out a way to make $1000 a month within 2 years, then I’d quit. I barely made that goal, but eventually figured out a way to eke out a pretty good online income which at this point has turned practicing medicine into a well-paid hobby for me. I actually credit this “for-profit” mentality with helping me stick with it long enough to be successful. I think I would have quit long ago if I had tried to do it for nothing. I’m not quite that selfless I guess.
[FPMD: That's a very different origin story than this blog. But I agree with Dr. Dahle that I became more motivated to write more consistently once FPMD started generating income.]
What is the biggest challenge running your blog while being a doc at the same time? How do you deal with it?
Balance is definitely difficult. The biggest challenge, however, is spending your limited blog time on those activities that will be most worthwhile- those that will help you most fulfill your mission and those that will make you the most money. I get bogged down sometimes in less useful activities.
I do a lot of multi-tasking (I do a little blog work each day even when on vacation). I have also automated as many processes as I can and I have hired a few people to help me. Granted, one of the main benefits of hiring my wife and kids is to get access to additional retirement accounts, but I also have someone to handle all the advertising. We are basically 3 people working part-time on something that could easily be a full-time gig for 5.
What are the top 3 life lessons you have for FPMD readers?
- Instead of trying to figure out how to retire as soon as possible, why not focus on making your career something you’ll enjoy for several decades? Not only can you then be happy now instead of later, but it makes the finances all work out a lot better.
- Learn to love finance. If you’re interested, the knowledge and discipline necessary to be successful as a do it yourselfer will come. If you’re not interested at all, even a good financial advisor isn’t going to be able help you. Think of an advisor like a personal trainer at the gym. They’re teach and encourage, but at the end of the day you’ve got to get up and drive over to the gym and get on the treadmill.
- Learn how to spend money. Most of those reading financial blogs are good at saving. But spending in a way that maximizes your happiness might be a lot harder. It can take more work to spend and give money away than to earn and save it!
[FPMD: #2 seems to be at least partially a genetic trait. I've learned over time there are some people you will not reach. It doesn't hurt to try though...]
Give me 3 blog posts that FPMD readers can visit to get the “core” of what you stand for.
- The 10 Commandments of The White Coat Investor
- BackDoor Roth IRA Tutorial
- The Perfect Financial Advisor
[FPMD: I've personally read all three. Highly recommended to all readers. I can't wait to try #2 personally once I actually qualify for a BackDoor Roth. I hope you've all enjoyed this peek behind the curtain at the man who is responsible for inspiring the vibrant community of physician finance bloggers we have today. Stay tuned for our next Future Proof Doc!]
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