Playing with FIRE Documentary Review: A New DVM’s Take on Financial Independence and Her Future

The documentary Playing with FIRE has been playing around the country all summer long. Unfortunately, I haven’t had a chance to see it yet, which has given me a major case of FOMO.

Luckily, fellow DVM Rachel Luoma decided to go, and she was kind enough to share her story. Here is her bio:

Rachel Luoma DVM is an associate veterinarian at a private feline-only practice. A 2019 graduate of the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine, she enjoys reading, archery, business management, and teaching others. She lives with her two greyhounds and two cats in sunny Arizona.

I am SO excited to share Rachel’s story with you- read on and see how this documentary has affected her outlook on life and what she has planned for the future!

On July 1 of this year, I arrived in Arizona. I had just spent four days in a car with two greyhounds, two cats, and my mom, driving cross-country from Georgia. I graduated from the University of Georgia earlier this summer, and I was excited to start my new (*first*) job as a feline-only practitioner at a wonderful practice. Once we got into town, we busily started unpacking and decorating my new apartment. 

One morning a few days after we arrived, we went to Panera so we could use the internet since it wasn’t set up at my new place yet. I was catching up on all my newsletters when I came across the Playing with FIRE documentary mentioned in Richer Life DVM’s latest email. On a whim, I pulled up the website and found out that there was a showing nearby later that week. I watched the trailer for the documentary and was intrigued; I was somewhat into finances, I prided myself on knowing how to manage my accounts, and I knew I wanted to own a practice someday, but I really was unfamiliar with financial independence. Because my mom would be out of town by that point and I knew I needed to do things out of the house (and I wouldn’t have started my new job yet), I decided to buy one of the three remaining tickets to the showing. 

The few days leading up to the documentary, I received a few emails from the local ChooseFI group about the documentary and events that were happening around it. Interested, I joined the local ChooseFI Facebook group but didn’t do too much more digging. The night of the documentary, I waited in line with many ChooseFI-ers who welcomed me to their group and invited me to sit with them. Then the documentary started to roll, and I was fascinated.

Being a veterinary student, I was aware of the massive amount of student loan debt I had. I also had figured the best way for me to pay off my debt that came at a 2:1 debt:income ratio was for me to pursue forgiveness. I knew that I’d have to save for the tax bomb that would come, but I was scared about the savings needed for that massive amount. But when the documentary showed that these people, not much older than myself, were experiencing severe lifestyle creep and barely saving, I realized that I was not the only one in this situation. 

Scott and Taylor changed their narrative. They left their jobs in favor of a LCOL (low cost of living) area, and they drastically ramped up their savings rate while getting rid of any debt they had. They determined what made them happy and made those things priorities. Comparing all of their decisions to the ones I had made in my life, I realized I could be similar. I had purchased a used car during vet school, and while purchasing a car while in vet school wasn’t ideal, I was smart to buy a used reliable car that would last me. I was currently living in a high cost of living area, and while I wasn’t sure I was willing to leave so quickly, I now knew there was more to reducing my costs in the housing sector. Ultimately, when I thought about my list of ten things that made me happy, I realized that practically everything on the list didn’t cost much money at all. But I was scared; how was my life as a debt-laden veterinarian going to compare to the rest of these FI-ers?

In the few days prior to this documentary, I had been making sure I was on the right path for loan forgiveness. I calculated how much I would need to save to pay for the tax bomb. I pondered where to put this saved money. I was assessing my budget, questioning whether or not moving to this HCOL area was right for a new grad, especially since it was completely across the country from all my family. And this documentary felt like it had now blown that into the open, and I was worried. I now wanted to pursue financial independence. But how on earth would it be possible with the debt I was in and the area that I had moved to?

Even with these reservations in mind, I left the documentary feeling hopeful. I had learned a great deal about what was possible when you invested in yourself and your future. These were things I thought I had already done with my six-figure education, but I realized there was more to it. And I was going to learn.

I started binge-listening to the ChooseFI and Afford Anything podcasts. I joined a number of other financial independence Facebook groups. I signed up for newsletters and read a plethora of blog posts. I downloaded calculators and searched for people in my shoes who were on this journey. Ultimately, I found out that most vets pursuing financial independence were aggressively paying down their debts. But I ran the numbers and met with a student loan consultant (shout out to Student Loan Planner!) who helped me determine that I could pursue FI even while pursuing loan forgiveness. 

Being a single, new grad with a 2:1 debt:income ratio in a HCOL area isn’t going to make things easy for me, but I am now determined. I’ve refinanced my car loan for a lower interest rate so I can save a couple hundred dollars. I’ve determined how much I need to save so I can buy into a practice down the line. I’ve run the numbers again to make sure I’m on the right forgiveness plan (PAYE) for now; I might end up switching or deciding to pay down my debt sooner if I do buy into my practice. And now, I feel like I’m on the right track. I know that by saving as much of my income as possible, I’ll be able to reach FI in around twenty years at the exact time I’ll pay my tax bomb. If my situation changes and I go for rapid debt payoff, I’ll have some savings already netted to help smooth the ride. Financial independence might be a long journey, but I’ve got a team of FI-ers behind me, including fellow veterinarians, who will be rooting for me the entire way.


Thank you so much for sharing your story, Dr. Luoma!

Here are some takeaways from this post:

  1. The power of “small”: A thought, an action, a conversation, a book, a step, an e-mail in this particular case…’s amazing how much power we can find in the “small” things that happen every single day! Had Dr. Luoma not come across that e-mail (and shameless plug- I think the blog’s monthly newsletters add a LOT of value to my e-mail subscribers!), she likely would not have seen the documentary, nor would she have gone down the path of learning about financial independence, at least not this early in her career.
  2. Priorities: Determining what is important to you and making those priorities sounds so simple: shouldn’t we be doing this already? Unfortunately, so many of us find ourselves running on a hamster wheel and feeling less than fulfilled with how we’re spending our time and money. Without intention and purpose, life can be relentless and lead us down a path that we did not plan for ourselves.
  3. Being Proactive: In Dr. Luoma’s case, she is learning from others and has taken a proactive approach to building a life that will afford her choices, control, and financial peace of mind. She came to the (right) conclusion that your learning doesn’t stop when you graduate. You are now the proud owner of a DVM degree, and it’s up to you to use that degree to your fullest advantage. Your DVM is just the beginning.
  4. Taking Action: Specific steps she took to taking action included listening to FI-related podcasts, reading blogs, downloading calculators, refinancing her car, and finding like-minded people. It’s so much easier to go on a journey knowing that others are along for the ride.
  5. Student Loan Plan: She also decided to take action with her student loans by meeting with student loan consultant Student Loan Planner and getting a completely customized student loan plan. For those that are stressed out about their student loans and not completely sure that they’re on the right plan, PLEASE find someone that can help you figure it out. Get that peace of mind of having a workable plan NOW so that you can focus on other important things in life. Dr. Luoma’s story is a perfect example of how having a plan allowed her to move on with her financial life and dream big! Check out my Student Loan Advice page for further resources.

I love the fact that the concept of financial independence allowed a new DVM graduate to feel hopeful and determined about her future, rather than scared and resigned due to student loan debt. Thanks again, Dr. Luoma….you are going to have an amazing career and life ahead of you!

Interested in learning more about financial independence? Check out these blog posts.

Be sure to subscribe to the Richer Life DVM blog so that you have exclusive access to the monthly newsletters, as well as getting the blog posts delivered straight to your inbox!

Join the Richer Life DVM- Money Talk Facebook group so that you can connect with other like-minded veterinarians who are informing, inspiring, and motivating one another along their money journeys!

Anyone else watch the Playing with Fire documentary? What did you think? Comment below!


  1. The Vetducator on September 4, 2019 at 10:40 am

    I despaired of seeing this documentary, but after reading this post, I checked out their locations and have spotted one which _might_ work. Hopefully we’ll get to go! With regards to the author’s HCOL area, I think it’s all relative. EVERYWHERE is a HCOL area compared to Athens. Athens is like Neverland- it’s not the real world. Compared to the coasts, Phoenix is quite affordable. We managed to find apartments in the valley for right around $1000 within walking distance to work, the pub, and the grocery and around the corner from Arizona Broadway Theater. If you want to buy a house near downtown Scottsdale, yes, it is expensive, but living in Arizona doesn’t HAVE to be.

    • RLDVM on September 4, 2019 at 9:55 pm

      I think that lots of things seem like sticker shock when you’re no longer at school and having to actually figure out how to pay for everything with earned income!

      Would be interested to hear your thoughts about the documentary!

    • Rachel Luoma on September 11, 2019 at 10:04 pm

      You’re definitely right that everywhere is more expensive compared to Athens! Scottsdale itself unfortunately is more expensive that Phoenix and surrounding areas. True, it doesn’t compare to LA or NYC! It’s even more difficult to find an affordable place to live when you’re single and have multiple pets – so many places in Scottsdale didn’t allow pets (or had very strict requirements). I would have had a 30-45 minute if I lived in one of the neighboring cities which is something that definitely isn’t FI and puts a damper on my personal happiness!

  2. Anne Marie on September 5, 2019 at 2:55 pm

    I attended the documentary with my husband about two weeks ago. I have been learning about financial independence for about one year now. I have listened to almost all of chooseFI and also listen to Paula Pant. I have read several financial books. I have tracked our expenses and made major changes to lower monthly bills, paid off our auto loan and solar panel loan, changed our investment accounts to low cost index funds, etc. I have come a long way, but there is always more to learn at each stage of the path. My husband has been supportive, but not necessarily on FIRE! I thought by attending the documentary it would get us more motivated and working together more. It was inspiring to see how much change the young couple went through to make a different life for themselves. We came home and as a family we wrote down a list of what makes us happy and have learned some new things. We are being even more intentional with our time to better meet the items on the list. The documentary did show the challenges of making change and the transformation that it brought them. I think everyone went away with what is your “why” to FI and what really makes you happy? Once you have that you can take action on different parts of your life to get there. It is a struggle sometimes to be so hyper focused on a goal and what I have learned that it is ok to slow down a bit once you have made new changes habits. I recommend watching the documentary and look forward to learning more. I happen to be in AZ too!

    • RLDVM on September 5, 2019 at 9:12 pm

      Thanks so much for your perspective! It is definitely a journey that has no clear cut path because everyone’s “why” and situation are different. I think that’s the fun part- you just make it your own!

  3. goatdogsimple on September 7, 2019 at 11:22 am

    Very inspiring post! I love that a new grad can start off on a good financial track. I’ve heard so many good things about the Playing with FIRE documentary but it hasn’t come down to my area in Florida- a little FOMO here, too. Thanks for a great read.

    • RLDVM on September 7, 2019 at 9:04 pm

      You’re welcome- thanks for stopping by! Hopefully the rest of us can watch it once it hits streaming services!

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