This small animal veterinarian, who wishes to remain anonymous, works in emergency medicine. She is married and a mother of a 2 year old, with another one on the way. Read how she is on her way to paying off over $500k (between student loans, consumer debt, and real estate) in 6 years!
1. Please introduce yourself! Give us a little of your background and how you got started in veterinary medicine.
I grew up showing animals in 4H and knew from a young age, as most of us did, that I wanted to pursue veterinary medicine. When I was old enough to drive, I began working for my local, small town veterinary hospital. I considered human medicine for a brief time and worked for an ENT, but soon found that people are gross and the work was boring. So I went back to veterinary medicine and never considered anything else. I graduated with my DVM in 2012 and began practicing small animal private practice medicine.
2. How much debt did you have upon graduating from veterinary school (if any)?
Fortunately, we did well with 4H, and my parents allowed me to save my prize money for college. I earned a lot of scholarships in my undergrad that paid for tuition, and I saved the rest. My parents were nice enough to pay my living expenses. My 4H money and leftover scholarships paid for the first 3 years of in-state veterinary school, while my parents chipped in the last year.
I got married my last year of vet school. My husband had since moved to another state to pursue a PhD. In doing so, he took out a truck loan as well as his first student loan (which I did not know about; I will get to that later). So upon graduation, we had $48k in debt from those 2 loans.
3. What was your level of financial literacy prior to veterinary school? Were you price sensitive when pursuing veterinary medicine?
My dad owns his own business. While I never worked with him or learned really anything about finances, I remember him telling me to never buy anything you can’t pay cash for. I’ve always been a natural saver, but really had no formal knowledge or life experience dealing with finances. As far as tuition goes, I never compared tuition prices for any degree and had no grasp how much veterinary school really cost.
4. Did your veterinary school provide personal finance education? If so, what did you think of the quality?
No personal finance education. Since I personally had no loans, I never visited with the loan repayment people.
5. Describe your debt payback strategy and how you decided to use that strategy (if applicable).
When I graduated, I moved 12 hours from my family to where my husband was getting his degree. We lived in a tiny 600 square foot barn apartment for 3 long, LONG years. I learned to cook with a hot plate and a toaster oven. You couldn’t use both at the same time without throwing a breaker! We had 2 space heaters for winter and put in two window unit ACs in the summer. Thus, we were cold in the winter and hot in the summer! But we made it work. It was an adventure. We had no satellite or cable, and internet was spotty at best. We had Netflix (again, spotty) and got 3 channels on the antenna, which sometimes would only work when you held your arms a certain way. With all of our first world problems, our rent was only $400/month, utilities included, allowing us to save a lot of money.
My first month of work right after graduation, I began to put all of our expenses in a spreadsheet. Not really a budget (I did not even know what a budget was), but rather just watching where our money went. We went out to eat a lot. The first month, we lost money. Not much, but it scared me so much so that was when we began our journey in learning about personal finance. (Editor’s note: Just keeping track of your expenses is so important, even if you don’t have a formal budget. You learn a lot about where your money goes.)
While my husband was working/going to school all the time and I couldn’t stand being in the tiny apartment, I went to work. My first job after graduation was a part-time job but picked up enough extra hours filling in for others that it was almost full time. After a few months, I picked up a relief job 1.5 days a week in a town 45 minutes away. By October after graduation, I began working at the local emergency clinic. With all my driving, I found Dave Ramsey on the radio and was introduced to his principles (Editor’s note: if you have a long commute, you can multitask by listening to your favorite personal finance podcasts!). We began making anywhere from 2-4 payments/month on the truck loan. After a year of that, I was making good money from my 3 jobs, we paid the truck off. We celebrated being debt free and began saving for a house for the next three months, then my husband told me that he had forgotten that he had the student loan (how do you forget?!). I was devastated and mad, then realized that I needed to get over it and deal with it. We had the money in our ‘house fund’ to pay off the loan, so we just paid it all.
At that time, we finally began saving for a house. My husband took a job in the same town we were living in, finally earning a salary, and I was still working 2 of my 3 jobs. We had been looking for a house for a while, still saving as much as we could. The apartment seemed to get smaller and smaller every day. I finally found a house while he was out of town for work and put it on contract (he won’t leave me for 10 days again!). We had saved enough to put a large down payment. After being in the house almost a year, some land behind our home came up for sale. We had the money to be able to pay cash for it, but with a baby due in 2 months, we financed and purchased it. After the baby and I were home and healthy, we went to the bank and paid the land off. We started in heavily on the house, as I was not entirely happy with my full-time job and wanted to spend more time at home with our baby. Our house payment prevented me from doing that. After 2 long intentional years, we were finally in a position to be able to pay it off. We have not paid it off just yet as there is another baby due in less than 2 months, but we plan to as soon as baby and I are home and healthy.
**Editor’s note: This veterinarian is now a mom of 2 and has made that last payment on her home. She is now officially debt-free! Congratulations!!**
6. How long did it take for you to pay off your debt (if any)?
Consumer debt: 13 months
Land: 2 months
Home: 38 months
7. If you have a significant other/spouse, what role did they play while paying off debt?
I was definitely the saver and keeper of the books. My husband wanted very much to pay debt off too. Does he look at the budget every day? No. Do we have regular budget meetings? No. But we do discuss it. He will make sure we have money before he makes an out-of-the-ordinary purchase, and he does have input on all budget items.
8. Did you have any challenges while paying back your debt?
Nothing major. The biggest thing probably was getting hit with a big tax bill my first 2 years out of school. We were able to pay it, but it just knocked us back a little bit as we were just getting started.
9. What are some financial mistakes that you’ve made?
The biggest thing probably was while we were paying off the truck, we were making extra payments rather than applying to the principal. We had paid the truck 2 years ahead of schedule. I hate to think about how much interest we prepaid.
My husband would say financing a brand new truck while in school with a stipend that didn’t even cover his tuition.
10. What is your financial advice for other veterinarians?
Live frugally, stay on a budget, be content, don’t compare yourself with what everyone else is doing, go to work doing extra jobs (relief, ER, etc). It’s for a short period of time and well worth it. Allow yourself to celebrate victories, within reason, as well.
11. Feel free to add any other information that people may find helpful!
Having a ‘why’ was a big thing for me. Being able to stay at home with my baby more, being able to travel and go and see family…that was my ‘why’.
While I personally did not have any veterinary student loan debt, in 6 years, we still purchased and paid off over $500k worth of consumer debt and real estate while also cash flowing a number of smaller assets and saving some for retirement. It can be done, no matter what type of debt it is.
Yes, the journey has been tough; yes, for us it was a daily struggle to stick to the budget while seeing friends drive new cars and eat out all the time. But you can bet once we get our baby home and the house paid off in a few months, we’ll never go back.
Editor’s note: Many people in her shoes would have taken decades to pay off this amount of debt. What did she do right? She hustled by earning more income. She prioritized saving and paying off debt. And last, but not least, she had a “why.” If you have your own “why” motivating you towards whatever goal you set for yourself, you will succeed. A big thanks to our contributor- and an early congratulations on welcoming baby #2 to the family!
Are you interested in submitting your own Vet Success Story? I’m currently accepting submissions for student loan debt payoff, FIRE, and Entrepreneurs. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.