Book Review: A Doctor’s Guide to Personal Finance

I have been religiously reading the White Coat Investor (WCI) blog for a few years now.  The information I have learned there has guided a huge number of my personal and professional decisions.  I now teach personal finance to the house officers and students who take an elective practice management rotation and have gotten positive feedback on those classes.  I figured it was finally time to buy the book he wrote and recommends.

The book is short- just 150 pages, and I finished it in a few days of light reading between cases.  It was written just 3 years after starting the blog, so you can tell he hadn’t had as much experience as he has now.  Although I find the WCI blogs engagingly written, the book was slightly more sophomoric.  It read like a self-help self-published book, which I suppose is what it is.  The opening reads almost like a “get rich quick” scheme, which is unfortunate because that’s exactly the opposite message throughout the book.  Let’s look at each chapter.

Chapter 1 – The Big Squeeze.  Although veterinarians may find some relevance here- mostly in the relatively high debt:income ratio we face on graduation, a lot of this is specific to human medicine.  Worth a read for curiosity, but not much specifically for us.

Chapter 2 – Millionaire by 40.  This gives a brief description of how you accumulate wealth.  The best part is a series of short narratives given by those who DID reach millionaire by 40.  It took my wife and I until I was 43 and my wife was 38, so we were pretty close.  You, too, can earn and save and become relatively wealthy.

Chapter 3 – If I Had a Million Dollars.  He lays out the foundation for spending in retirement, how much you need, and why some people don’t reach their goals.  Good stuff.

Chapter 4 – Medical School and Your Wealth.  I wish this were required reading for everyone who wants to go to vet school.  This chapter alone is worth the cost of admission.  It sets out perfectly why an expensive school is so destructive to your future wealth and happiness.  “Congratulations, you’ve been accepted to three different schools!  How do you choose between them?  That’s easy.  Go to the cheapest one.”  I see pre-vet students all the time asking “which program has a better equine program” or “where should I go if I like exotics?”  It doesn’t bloody matter.  Get your DVM as inexpensively as possible.

Chapter 5 – Residency and Your Wealth.  This has virtually nothing for veterinarians.  As veterinary residents make ~$25-35k, much below what human medical residents make, a lot of it isn’t relevant.  Like, what veterinary resident buys a house?  None that I can think of.  Nonetheless, there are some foundational concepts every vet should learn here.

Chapter 6 – The Secret to Becoming a Rich Doctor.  Unfortunately, his advice “live like a resident” isn’t helpful since few veterinarians do residencies.  For those that do, this is great advice.  For those that don’t, I say “live like a student”.  This lays out the steps you need to take to pay off loans and start accumulating wealth.

Chapter 7 – The Retirement Number You Control.  This is all about calculating how much money you need in retirement.  Useful for anyone.

Chapter 8 – The Motorway to Dublin – This provides the basics of investing in stocks and bonds.  It’s fairly good information, but it definitely assumes the reader has some information, like why a 401k is advantageous and what an HSA is and how it benefits your finances.  Important information for anyone.

Chapter 9 – Getting Off the Motorway – These are other investment options, which are good to be aware of.  Not much detail here, but that’s good for the novice.

Chapter 10 – Paying the Help – This covers financial advisors.  I rant as often as possible about vet students, veterinarians, or my friends who just have a “money guy”.  This chapter explains why that’s terrible, and what to do if you need help with your finances.  Terrific stuff.

Chapter 11 – The Basics of Asset Protection – Not much a veterinarian needs here.  We are rarely sued and, when we are, it’s usually not for more than the value of the animal.  Still interesting things to know, as there’s always some liability in life.

Chapter 12 – Estate Planning Made Simple – Get a will.  Maybe do a living trust.  This information is important and he presents the key points you need to know.

Chapter 13 – Income Taxes and the Physician – This is the first topic I cover when I teach vet students about finances.  Although he tries to explain marginal tax rates, I think he assumes some basal level of knowledge which I find veterinary professionals just don’t have.  A nice summary of 13 ways to reduce your taxes.  I guessed 8 of them correctly, and the 5 I missed were because they are not relevant to me (e.g. having children).

Chapter 14 – Choosing a Business Structure – The basics of being your own boss.  Good if you’re interested in buying a practice or doing contact work.

Chapter 15 – Enjoying the Good Life – This is basically a summary chapter.  If you follow his steps, you get to enjoy the good life and we agree.

Chapter 16 – The Mission of the White Coat Investor – What it says on the box.

Overall, I thought this book was pretty good, particularly considering the price.  I do think it should be updated- I’m sure Dr. Dahle has learned a lot since he wrote it.  I also think it would benefit from some professional editorial work to make it sound less “home-made” and more professional.  If I could just take out Chapter 4 and give it to every high school student who wants to be a veterinarian, the world would be a better place.  If you haven’t been taught about personal finances, I strongly recommend this book.

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