The Real Reason Doctors Can’t Pay Down Their Student Debt

I was sitting at work once (and many times after), talking to colleagues of mine who were all in their early thirties – fairly young by doctor standards. We were talking about student loans (what else?) and how steep the price has become to get an education (in this case dental, but it applies to education in general). We were going through our numbers and they were going through their excuses as to why it was impossible in their situation to pay down debt. Of course, me being me, I gently stated the obvious which was that the real reason doctors “can’t” pay down their student debt was because they thought they deserve more than everyone else.

This statement may hurt many doctors’ feelings, but actually, it’s true.

For example. I had one person complaining about drowning in student debt. He blamed it on the kids and the fact that he is a single income household. Fine. But he also just bought a brand new Tesla SUV. He gets a nanny to watch his kids so that it’s easier on his stay-at-home wife. He gets help (did he say $100k a year??) from his in-laws that is budgeted for the kids. His dining out bill is $800 a month. But he can’t afford his student debt.

Another person also bought a brand new car after graduation, enrolled his 6-month old in Montessori private school, took wild vacations (without travel hacking!), and bought a grand house for their family of three.

Yet another person owns two medical-grade massage chairs in his home, bought his girlfriend a Tesla, and drops $10k on trips around the world.

What if I told you that this story is repeated many times over? I have spoken with my fair share of indebted graduates, especially after releasing my own personal story with ChooseFI.

They all wish to banish their student debt. They also don’t wish to do the work.

Here’s the thing I see most often with doctors. They work very diligently to get through school. They do anything to get to their dream career, including taking out a huge sum of moolah (hell, I did too).  They sacrifice the best of their young years. They put off buying a home, earning money, and settling down. Then graduation hits and they think, “I’ve made it.” For a brief second, they breathe a sigh of relief thinking it’s all going to be worth it.

So they buy a new car to celebrate. Then they buy a home or a practice. They go out every weekend for food. Sometimes they dine out a few times a week! They want to live in affluent communities. They want to go on vacation. They throw themselves a dream wedding. They buy nice clothes and expensive Figs scrubs. But more than all this are the little purchases. They want the daily coffee, the trinkets from the $5 section in Target, the happy hour events, the spin class – you know, the harmless stuff.

They become obsessed with the high-life and quite quickly, they refuse to give it up. 

And if you think I’m being extreme, I’m not.

Because when I graduated, I wanted all these things, too!

The most excruciating part about facing my student debt, the part that nearly killed me, was realizing that after every sacrifice and sleepless night, after giving up the best of my youth, after working three jobs during school, after wracking my brain on ways to extend $40 for another week, after being a model student, the good daughter, the most loyal employee, the most valuable I could be to the community – the work was still not done.

And when I tell new grads coming to me for advice on making loans disappear that they have to use their beat-up high-school ride, possibly move-in with their parents or take on a roommate, cook dinner every night, manage a budget every week, wear their same scrubs from dental school for five more years, and try their darndest to travel for FREE – well, their faces fall and I can see the disappointment plain as day scrawled on their furrowed brows.

Only thing is, I can’t tell if the disappointment lies in the fact that they have to continue living like a college kid for ten more years or if the disappointment lies in me – because I wasn’t the magic genie they wanted that would grant them their wish.

I can tell you how to repay your loans. You just might not like it.

99% of graduates with more than $350k of debt choose to stay with loan forgiveness. Probably because it hurts the human psyche too much to know that everything you’ve done thus far is not enough.

Becoming a doctor does not end the day you graduate. Not for me. It ends the day everything you need to become a doctor is behind you. Loans included.

Not everyone thinks this way, though. Many people truly believe that the hardship stops the day you get the degree. Ahhh, time to sit back and enjoy the benefits of all our hard work. But how can that be when you don’t even know what a hard-earned dollar looks like?! What makes you better than the rest of ’em?

I know I’m making enemies here but I must pose the question. If not I, who will?

I don’t blame the docs. They were merely children when they signed their lives away for a chance at the American Dream. I blame our upbringing for creating the expectation that a doctor’s life is a rich and easy one. I blame the institutions that are set in place that allow universities to charge this much money to get educated. I also blame lending companies who are handing out loans this large. Child robbery, that’s what I call it.

I implore to all the existing doctors that make it seem like being a doctor is easy. How will we ever change the trajectory if we keep implying to young ‘uns that pursuing this career path will mean they won’t have to work hard for the rest of their life. How will they realize and make an informed decision when the time comes?

I know the real truth.

That behind the facade of wealth is an increasingly long list of medical professionals patiently waiting 25 years for loan forgiveness to hit. Behind every confident thrust of the credit card is an avoidance technique that makes life a bit easier to live. Behind all our heroics and saving lives lies a coward afraid to face our social responsibility to pay back debt that we chose to take out. And behind every accomplishment lies a lifestyle creep that is avalanching too fast out of our reach, propelling doctors further forward towards an unsustainable way of living.

The real reason doctors “can’t” pay back student debt is because they won’t.

They choose not to work hard anymore. It isn’t burn-out, although that stuff is real too. It’s the social expectation that a doctor’s life is breezy. The mindset to pay back debt just isn’t there. Many cannot accept that graduation is not the end-game. They think they already won.

There will be excuses. I don’t buy any of it.

There will come a day when I will finish my loan repayment journey, and people will think it’s a miracle. They’ll think I was one of the lucky ones, rather than a penny-pinching maniac. Perhaps the stars aligned and the pandemic gave me this “unique” ability to pay back loans faster because I was not being charged interest for six months. My parents must have helped me out. An investment strategy probably worked out for me but not them. I can’t wait to see the excuses they make. But none of that will be true.

My current car is a high-school ride that I’ve had for 13 years. The passenger’s rear-view mirror doesn’t match, because when someone broke it (probably to re-sell it), I didn’t want to pay an extra $60 to get one that was white when the stock color was black. Mike even helped me put it on the car myself because I didn’t want to pay a service fee at the auto shop. My neighbor came out of his garage this past week and looked at me funny when he saw me physically hand-washing my car. He said, “That’s … nice…” and walked away slowly.

I sometimes have to wipe graffiti off my windows, because I chose to live in a lower income neighborhood so that I could buy a business storefront AND a dwelling at a very low price. Last Friday night, it was getting ratchet at the club next door since they moved the party outdoors due to COVID restrictions. I’ve had to run away from my own home before when the riots first started and they fired fireworks at the cops.

I spent a third of last year working midnight shifts. I still wear my USC scrubs that I was forced to buy upon entering dental school in 2012. I run with the Nike’s that my husband bought me as a gift when I was attending dental school so that I could “be cool”. They used to be orange but now they’re mostly black. I sell my de-cluttered stuff on Poshmark. I research heavily in order to travel the world for FREE. I come home from work to work. I still actively budget every week. I aim to spend only $200 a month in groceries for the two of us and $150 a month in dining out. I created a lifestyle where my job is three blocks away, to reduce the gas I have to buy. TO REDUCE THE GAS I HAVE TO BUY. I spent my last birthday repainting our bathroom. We spent Mike’s birthday picking up birthday freebies. Heck, even our cat was free.

Do you know the real reason THIS doctor can pay off student debt?

Hard work and a willingness to.

It’s not rocket science.

Small Space Living

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Tip 11: Finding Cable Solutions in Media Consoles

I am really adverse to adding furniture to our small space, especially if it entails taking up floor space. It pains me to clutter up a home, and for this reason I have been fighting the urge to add anything but a couch to our living room. So why did I buy a media console?

To be honest, the media console stemmed from my contempt regarding cables. I wrote prior about how I detest the sight of wires running along walls like snakes, connecting different gadgets throughout the home to each other so that they may work in harmony. It isn’t the tech itself that I despise. It’s the inability to make the tech look neat and tidy and clean.

Currently, we have an amp near the kitchen area that connects to a projector behind the couch that wires to two speakers and a record player, and somewhere in the vicinity sits a Switch console. Don’t ask me how they interplay with each other. The moral of my story is that the unsightly array of wires drives me crazy. And we came down to the solution of trading our five speaker system and amp with a sleeker, minimalist pair of Sonos 5 speakers (in white, of course), which can plug directly into the record player and the projector. Wire management is the name of the game here.

And with a media console, I would have the ability to hide both speakers behind sliding doors. I could connect them to the record player that sits atop, and run the wires out of holes around the back where a plug remains hidden. The Switch consoles and controls can also be tucked safely inside, and the only thing to hide is a single wire connecting the projector to one of the Sonos 5 speakers. Everything moves from the kitchen to the living space and it brings me such peace to know that, finally, the cables can be nearly invisible, even if it means at the expense of floor space.

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However, outfitting a home with media consoles that are sustainably sourced or ethically made is near impossible, barring the case that you know of a particular woodworker who would be willing to custom create you a shelving unit at an affordable price or that you do woodwork yourself. Thankfully, West Elm provides a few options that was aligned with a mid-century style. The particular one we bought was a narrow and short (48″) low profile console which was barely deep enough to house the speakers. All of the wood is FSC-certified and therefore sustainable sourced and the product is a fair trade product. Additionally, it is GREENGUARD gold certified.

There were only a few things I did not like about the console. First, it’s very narrow, so if you were considering hiding a few vinyls behind the sliding doors, then you’ll be out of luck. However, it holds coffee table books well. Secondly, the color was a bit darker than pictured, which isn’t too much of a bad thing. All furniture from West Elm comes with white glove service which is a mandatory additional fee, but the service was actually very good. Plus the delivery came two days from ordering, a few weeks in advance from when we would get the speakers.

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Speaking of the Sonos 5 speakers, we used a perk for being a healthca[;’pre worker during this time, as Sonos is offering a discount of 20% to all medical professionals and first responders. To learn more about potential COVID-19 perks for certain professionals, check out my post here. It could serve to be a very frugal opportunity until the end of 2020.

Ethical Furniture and Home Goods

I know that ethical and sustainable options are few and far between when it comes to home goods. While slow fashion is starting to garner attention, slow homes are lagging behind. Here, I list a few of my favorite go-to sources.

Furniture

Home Goods

Hashtag JOMO: Joy of Missing Out

I was sitting at work one day when a co-worker was walking me through why he throws social gatherings. I had just finished explaining to him that I find him a bit extroverted and he said he definitely is not. So I had challenged him by asking why he throws so many get-togethers if he was, indeed, introverted. In an effort to explain himself, he opened up about some deep, inner wrangling that I think consumes a majority of younger people today, and so I thought I’d share.

“I have a checklist of things I want to do in order to be the type of person I think I should be. Sometimes, when I feel like I’ve been too busy being alone, I think to myself, Ok, I should try to be more social now. So I like to throw get-togethers to check off that box on my checklist. I feel like I have to be social to be a well-rounded person.” 

Whenever I hear millennials verbally rationalize whether or not they should do something or attend an event, I usually hear something similar to what my co-worker expressed. It’s the fear of not being able to check off all the boxes, as if not being able to do everything, achieve everything, excel in everything, socialize all the time, attend every event, and take on every adventure somehow makes you less of a “successful” person. In hashtag terms, it’s the FOMO on life. As if missing out on these opportunities indicates a life less lived. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love opportunities. I love to recognize them and to grasp them, to tackle them head-on. But I think we’ve lost sight of our choices and our lives are being heavily dictated by a four-letter hashtag.

I can relate to my co-worker’s sentiment. Raised to believe that tucking as many achievements under my belt, while knowing as many people as possible, made me a “success”, I was the ultimate “YES”-girl in my late teens and early twenties. I said “Yes” to everything! I don’t even think my brain had time to process what was being asked of me before the positive response flew out of my mouth. It was as if I was a robot programmed for this one particular life mission. Other robots got to shoot stuff or clean houses, and I’m over here spewing “yeses” from my antennae. Sure, it got a lot of people to like me (because I was “Oh so accommodating!”), and yes, I did create a sense of recognition (because “How can one human balance so many achievements at once?”), but honestly, I doubt I did anything much for ME during those early years. Despite all the accolades, saying yes to everything did not actually bring me more joy.

So when did #FOMO start to take root in my generation’s short lives? I think we have social media to thank for the birth of FOMO (literally), however, I believe that “FOMO” was already being instilled in us even before Instagram and Facebook started to compare us against each other. In case you didn’t know, FOMO is an acronym for the term “Fear of Missing Out”. Underlying this fear is the need to be a part of whatever it is that society thinks we should be a part of, which has been shaping us since, well, birth. The biggest factor causing this fear is really our comparison with others, fueled by social media (thanks again!). We can ask, “Missing out on what, exactly?” And the answer is, “Missing out on whatever everyone else has.” We worry that by failing to say yes to everything, we will fall behind our peers, who are in essence, advertised as saying yes to everything. The early bird gets the worm.

What I hate most about this is the falseness of the premise, which is that there is a shortage of opportunities available to us. The reality is, there are way more opportunities available today (too many, at times) than there were a decade ago. By trying to convince us that there is scarcity in the world, we wire ourselves with the need to grab everything we can. It’s a very negative image to paint, dark in color, sour in mood. Instead of seeing someone doing something great on social media and saying, “Wow, that’s so fantastic of you!”, it creates this response of like, “OMG, FOMO”, in a real-life, acronym-only-conversation kind of way.  It’s a concept that sets the groundwork for making people feel as if they are on the outside looking in on the things they AREN’T doing, when in reality, the things they ARE doing may be different, but equally fantastic, too! It creates the need to continually add to one’s life, as if it wasn’t already enough. As if we aren’t enough.

Slowly, societal expectations are limiting our choices. We are brainwashed to think that we cannot create our own definition of success. It’s a pre-determined box that we all have to fit in in order to be considered worthy. And like my co-worker pointed out, there are a lot of boxes to check off. So the fear of missing out (on being “successful”) fuels our need to say “Yes” to as many things as we can, without allowing us to realize that by saying “yes” to one thing, you are essentially saying “no” to other things. We are only one person and it would be impossible to say yes to everything, because the possibilities are infinite. We are given the illusion that we are saying “yes” to everything when in reality, we are saying “yes” to everything society expects us to say yes to. In that sense, we’ve lost our freedom to make a choice, because we are saying no to the things that society has decided has no value.

JOMO is the antithesis of FOMO. It is the JOY of missing out. It’s a concept based around the positivity of abundance, rather than the negativitiy of scarcity. Honestly, we need to take ownership of our lives, and have the power to choose what we do with it. The first step in doing that is to abandon the fear. Who wants to make their life decisions based on fear? What kind of life does that give you? Rather than constantly comparing yourself to the Joneses and living in a state of fear, embrace a heightened state of confidence, of self-belief, of self-freaking-worth. When young people are asked what they want in life, many of them don’t know. They will tell you the standard answers, such as a job, a house, a car, money, a family, but when you dig deeper, they don’t actually know. Was it them that initially wanted this, or did someone convince them that this is what they want? In being shaped at an early age to want certain things and to need to keep up with everyone else, we’ve lost that ability to say, “Hold up. Actually, you know what, that’s not what I want.” Stop the hamster wheel, hop off, and live a human life.

When I attend a party, I am choosing to attend a party, joyously, fully, whole-heartedly, and committedly. Gone are the days when I would be getting ready for a social gathering and dreading it because I did not actually want to go. But I hear this voiced dread ALL THE TIME from people I know. If you don’t want to go, don’t go. There are invitations and events that Mike and I purposefully decline, either because it does not line up with our lifestyle or our values, or what have you. If we determine that we need a weekend to unwind and relax, we aren’t going to try to squeeze in one thing to appease our great aunt, much to a great aunt’s dismay.

The funny thing is that, at times, yes I can be indecisive. But I am the type of person where, when I know, I just know. Once I’ve chosen in a very mindful way, the alternatives kind of disappear. I let them go, wholly and completely, and move on with my life. There should not be any regrets if you really, truly, joyfully choose one thing over another. There’s no looking back and wondering the whole night how the party you declined is faring, who is talking to who, etc. There is no (and there shouldn’t be) any concern for things that do not add value to your life. If you are left wondering about who went where and what so and so did, you have not completely freed yourself from those comparisons. In fact, I would like to point out that you may be obsessed by other people’s lives, at the expense of living your own.

JOMO can only be achieved once you switch your perspective to one of gratitude. It’s seeing that what you have is worth something. You don’t have to keep chasing the grass that may or may not be greener on the other side. Really ask yourself “Why?” Why are you making the choices you are making? If you are here, but you want to be over there, then go over there! But for God’s sake, don’t look back and think, “Ugh, I should have stayed over there.” Understand that you cannot have everything, but you can choose the things that you actually want. It’s the intentionality of it all that attracts me. The ability to choose. The FREEDOM. It’s so empowering. I hesitate to even embrace JOMO – because of the term “missing out” within it. You AREN’T missing out. You simply chose something else. And who’s to say THEY aren’t missing out on what YOU have? Po-tay-toe, Po-tah-toe. 

In 2017, YES-girl realized she had a superpower, and that was the power to say “No”. I was slowly breaking free from my robotic charm. My hardware must’ve gone a bit haywire because I started to say no to more and more things, events, statuses, and even relationships. In doing so, I became more in control of my own life. I was freer, lighter, happier, and ultimately, I learned more about who I was and who I wanted to be.

I had an old friend once comment that “I had reached an unreasonable state of happiness.” It’s not as if I’ve discovered this happiness like some fountain of youth or other mystical thing, and that it was unfathomable, as if it could not really, truly be achieved. I was pretty proud of that statement, false as it may be. I think anyone can reach this happy stage. They just have to stop being tied down by the fear of not being everyone else.

Choose JOMO.

But seriously, I’m not using that as a hashtag.

Thoughts on: Inspiring Change

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

I don’t write for the sake of writing. I write about things that I want to change. Frequently, the topics I embrace include less plastic use, refusing fast fashion, supporting eco-friendly practices, buying fair trade products, standing behind ethical companies, amidst other things. I write not just for myself, but for the world, for young generations, and for future generations. The birth of this blog, and its subsequent series, did not come from a day of boredom, neither did it come from a place of self-interest. It comes from a desire to help people see the effects of their actions in a different, and more insightful, light. The hope is to at least get one person, if not a whole group of people, thinking about the impact their everyday life decisions make on the world. May Martin Luther King, Jr. be an inspiration today, and every day, to progress towards a better tomorrow.

  • To be inspired, read Martin Luther’s letter from a Birmingham jail, here.

If you have the day off today, and decidedly want to spend it browsing Netflix, might I suggest some documentaries that I watched last year that changed the course of my life in one way or another?

Plastic Ocean

Chasing Corals

The True Cost

The Minimalists

If you prefer to spend the day cozying up on the couch, might I suggest some of my favorite, most recently read, books?

  • The Measure of a Man by Sydney Poitier
  • The Book of Joy by Douglas Abrams
  • Glow Kids by Nicholas Kardaras
  • Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert

And lastly, if you are going out to spend this beautiful day with friends and family, might I suggest outdoors, in nature, responsibly and environmentally consciously?

Have a wonderful day celebrating the King.