Recently, I was lucky enough to attend the 2018 AVMA Economic Summit. I have attended my fair share of veterinary conferences as a student, a practicing veterinarian, and as a stay at home mom who was still keeping my license active. However, this was my first veterinary conference as a blogger. And let me tell you, I never would have guessed even a year ago that I would attend this conference. I didn’t even know it existed back then!
For those that are not familiar, the AVMA Economic Summit is a place for veterinarians and those in the industry to gather and talk about the veterinary market and its intersection with economic themes. It allows attendees to see not just the current landscape, but also the trends and future outlook for the profession. And I’m not joking when I say that I was legit excited about attending this summit.
Yes, apparently I’m a closet economist who likes to look at data and numbers. Go figure, considering that I really could have cared less about my Econ 101 class in college.
STARTING WITH THE MACRO LENS
Dr. Matthew Salois, the new chief economist for the AVMA, gave a presentation that provided an overview of the general macroeconomic landscape. Although I focus on personal finance in this blog, by default, I also end up educating myself on quite a number of macroeconomic topics because our personal financial lives are inevitably impacted by these forces. So I found myself nodding along to his slides as he discussed the many issues that we see in our economy today.
He highlighted a plethora of conflicting headlines regarding our economy. We see declarations of a strong economy, low unemployment rates, and rising wages and household income. In the same breath, there are also headlines that underscore the widening wealth gap, ever-increasing debt, and a possible trade war with China.
No wonder people get confused. There are those in more disadvantaged areas of the country that see absolutely no growth in their local economy, so what exactly is all this talk about rising wages? Then there are those who live in an areas of low unemployment, and they may wonder if there’s something wrong with someone that can’t seem to find a job halfway across the country. What we see in the news may or may not match our own reality.
What did Dr. Salois recommend with all of this information overload? Many of his key takeaways included age-old advice that we should all heed no matter the economic situation: focus on paying off debt and increasing savings, don’t overreact to economic news, and look at your investments to ensure that you have the right amount of risk/reward built into those investments.
There were some cautionary notes as well, such as thinking about changing jobs if you’re already inclined to do so, as well as applying for a line of credit now versus later if you feel that you need that access in the near future. What I gathered from these tips is to take advantage of both the strong job market for veterinarians and the low barrier to credit that we have at this moment. As we know from the past, economic downturns are NOT a good time to go job hunting for a better position, and creditors aren’t too eager to hand out easy money during times of financial distress.
I personally like to focus on timeless advice because it works no matter the current economic landscape. Sure, paying off debt and increasing savings is never a fun or exciting topic, but IT WORKS. It may not get those great returns that people drool over, and you may have a smaller portfolio than those who were more aggressive with their investments. But as always, there is that balance between risk and reward. The flip side is that you may also be doing much, much better than the person that took on more risk.
No matter your risk tolerance, the important thing is that you have some sort of plan. Rather than being purely reactive to your environment, you need to develop a plan that places you in charge of your money. Changing this mindset is so key to making your financial decisions.
As much as I like to click on headlines pertaining to the economy, I’m placing most of my energy in what I can do with MY financial goals. Right now, it consists of paying off the last of our debt (mortgage), continuing to save for the future, and spending according to what I value. This gives me peace of mind as the economy continues to go through its roller coaster ride.
THE ECONOMICS OF A VETERINARY SCHOOL
The theme of macroeconomics can be applied at the level of a college of veterinary medicine. Dr. Peter Constable, dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, gave us all a peek into how he has to balance the needs and wants of a veterinary program.
It’s no secret that state funding for education has been decreasing for years. How each school reacts to these cuts is very individual to that school. Remember, these colleges of veterinary medicine are a part of a larger university setting, and each university will have its own budgetary rules and regulations. I imagine that each department is constantly in survival mode, trying its best to grow and thrive within its own ecosystem.
Dr. Constable shared how the CVM at the University of Illinois has had to find ways to increase its revenue streams in the midst of these cuts. Unfortunately, this included raising tuition prices, although he stressed that this was always seen as a last resort.
What I found interesting was that he focused much of his talk on alternative modes of learning outside the classroom. Here are some examples that he gave during his talk:
CVM at U of I i-learning Center: a resource for online veterinary education
Sustainable Food Production Through Livestock Health Management: an online Coursera course
U of I Executive Veterinary Program: a certification program for veterinarians
This is an example of a growth mindset, where we see challenges as a way to grow and become innovative. Sure, there is always the budget to worry about. But the college is taking it a step further and emphasizing continuous learning as a way to make the most of what they have. The goal is to meet the future demands of an education that is more tailored to the student, providing flexible educational options that so many people crave.
Again, a plan is critical. A plan for a veterinary school and a plan for your own finances boil down to the same basic concept: it forces you to think ahead and be proactive. It allows you to envision and shape your own future.
GROWING VERSUS THRIVING
Dr. Salois concluded his talk with one sentence that really got me thinking.
“There is a difference between a growing economy and a thriving economy.”
We usually think of growing and thriving as one in the same. But there is a key difference. Growth focuses on one metric only, which is usually expressed in the form of a number. The bigger the growth, the larger the number.
Growth is good to a certain degree. But we’re all aware of times when growth becomes too much of a good thing. One common example is cancer, where unchecked growth is the cause of so much harm and destruction. Even having too much money can cause more harm than good if excess money causes relationships to break up and people to continue feeling unfulfilled despite having great monetary wealth.
To thrive does not necessarily depend on growth. To thrive is synonymous to being in a healthy place, a place of wellbeing, and sometimes people find this with less versus more.
To grow AND thrive means that you have found that beautiful balance where growth is contributing and sustaining your wellbeing, rather than overpowering it.
News headlines can be overwhelming. Trying to stick to a budget in order to keep a veterinary program going could, I would imagine, feel restricting. However, all of us can use advice that never goes out of style. We can think outside the box and find ways to work with what we have with a growth mindset. Just taking one step in the right direction can get you started on a path that leads to financial wellbeing in your own life.
Here are some simple steps you can take to better your financial wellness, in no particular order. Start with just one, then work your way from there!
- Track your expenses.
- Start an emergency fund.
- Learn more about student loan debt repayment.
- Start the simplest budget of all by paying yourself first.
- Create a spending plan.
- Learn about investing.
Did you happen to attend the AVMA Economic Summit? What were some key takeaways for you? Comment below!