Veterinarians and Life Planning: Getting Your Priorities Straight
There is one point that I tend to hammer home over and over again: personal finance is more than just the numbers.
Focusing on the numbers alone is not guaranteed to motivate someone to change their money story. The central question to ask yourself is “Why?” What is it about your current situation that makes you want to take action?
Maybe you’re deep in debt. Or you want to buy a house. Or you’re starting a family. Or you’re worried about saving for college and retirement.
All of the above?
There are so many financial obligations, and it’s hard to know where to start.
If you’ve hit this stage and you’re looking for some financial clarity, then maybe you need some life planning to help you prioritize your financial goals.
WHAT IS LIFE PLANNING?
George Kinder, a CFP (certified financial planner) and CPA, is considered the father of life planning. First as a CPA, then as a financial planner, he put a heavy emphasis on going beyond the numbers and getting to know the individual client on a very personal level. What were their dreams and their hopes for the future? How could he help them live a life of freedom?
Having this knowledge then allowed him to develop a financial plan that aligned with those values. He has written books and developed an institute that trains financial planners who want to incorporate life planning into their practice.
A ROADMAP WITH NO CLEAR DESTINATION
The idea of life planning is especially important for veterinarians. For many of us, becoming a veterinarian has been a lifelong pursuit since early childhood (I am an outlier- I didn’t know until college!) Doing well in school was a top priority. Even with stellar grades, high test scores, glowing recommendations, and animal experience, there was absolutely no guarantee of getting admitted into vet school on your first try. Once you finally graduate with your DVM, you go out and become the veterinarian that you had envisioned for all of the years leading up to that point.
However, life as a vet doesn’t always live up to our expectations. You start wondering if you need a change. Do I stay at my current job or move? Do I continue practicing, or should I start exploring other areas of vet med? Do I start my own practice?
Unrelated to your career (but still very much impacted by your DVM), you ask questions like: Do I stay in this relationship or no? Should I get married? Have kids? Do I want to pursue and focus other areas of my life that are not related to my career?
What had been a relatively straightforward path is no longer clear and well-defined. This can be terrifying when you feel like you’re no longer on a particular trajectory. Add in some major student debt, the unique stresses within the veterinary profession, and all of the messy ways that life unfolds around us. No wonder veterinarians are feeling overwhelmed and burned out.
It’s no surprise that there would be a link between financial wellness overall wellbeing; just look at the results from the Merck Veterinary Wellbeing Study. This is why it’s crucial that financial wellness is not ignored when it comes to improving overall veterinary wellbeing.
When veterinarians get to this stage where they feel overwhelmed with their finances and seek out financial advice, many traditional financial advisors/planners will only focus on the numbers. You may even find yourself going to someone who you think is providing you a financial plan, but in reality, they are more focused on selling you products that earn them a commission and have not had proper training in making a comprehensive financial plan.
If terms like fee-only, fee-based, fiduciary, CFP, FINRA, and AUM mean nothing to you, then get educated about how financial advice works. I can assure you that the quality of financial advice is all over the map because there is no minimum standard, so you have to be extra vigilant about choosing the right person.
THE THREE QUESTIONS
Regardless of whether or not you seek out financial advice, asking yourself a few questions is a great way to get in touch with your individual priorities
Here are the 3 Kinder
Imagine that you are financially secure and that you have all the money you need for the rest of your life. How would you live your life? Would you change anything? What would you do?
Let yourself go. Don’t hold back on your dreams. Will you change your life and how will you do it?
This is similar to the question: What would you do if you won the lottery? H
Money is a resource and a tool, and when it is restricted, you will live within the boundaries of what you can afford. But in this hypothetical situation, money is now an infinite resource. You now have a resource and a tool that knows no bounds. What can money provide for you that you don’t have at this moment?
Now, on to the next question.
This time you visit your doctor who tells you that you have only 5 – 10 years left to live. The good news is that you won’t ever feel sick. The bad news is that you will have no notice of the moment of your death. What will you do in the years you have remaining?
Will you change your life and how will you do it?
This is when the questions start getting uncomfortable (and why I personally avoided answering these questions for a while). Now we need to confront our mortality, a task that none of us want to do.
But the reality is that none of us know what the future holds. The first question gives us a scenario where we have an unlimited resource: money. This second question now shifts the focus from money to time, a resource that some argue is more valuable than money.
If we were to somehow know that the end was coming sooner rather than later, this brings a sense of urgency. If you’ve ever had someone close to you die, then you have undoubtedly gone through a process of self-reflection.
Instead of material wants, which may have dominated the answers to the first question, you will likely see that you will want to focus on optimizing your time and using it as wisely as possible on what makes you happy. What would you choose to keep in your life, and what would you choose to let go? What does your version of happy look like?
This time your doctor shocks you with the news that you have only one day left to live. Notice what feelings arise as you confront your very real mortality. Reflecting on your life, on all your accomplishments as well as on all the things that will remain undone, ask yourself:
What did I miss?
Who did I not get to be?
What did I not get to do?
To be honest, I was completely dreading this question. Twenty four hours? Are you kidding me??
Now you’re left with your collection of life experiences and memories up to this point, and you have to do a hard evaluation of whether you’re satisfied with how your life has played out so far.
Although not explicitly asked in this question, you might want to imagine how you would spend those precious 24 hours/1,440 minutes/86,000 seconds. These are the people and experiences that are truly important and sacred to you.
I think that everyone gets to a point in their lives where you start to reflect back on where you’ve been and where you want to go. Whether it be during times of complacency/slight boredom, or times of complete and utter chaos and stress, it’s human nature to wonder if life could be lived any differently going forward.
Too often, we think of money as inanimate, neutral. But when you start envisioning your life goals, there’s no doubt that money will play an integral part as to whether those dreams will remain dreams, or if you can turn those dreams into reality.
So the next time you feel like you are lost or confused about your money, maybe it’s time that you think about these life planning questions. Answering these questions will really drill down on what you truly value and how you would ideally choose to live your life now and going forward.
If you have a partner, ask him/her these same questions; you might be surprised by their answers. Focus on the shared values and goals as a starting point for making your financial goals as a team.
It’s never too late to take action, and sometimes we need to remind ourselves why we should even bother putting the time and effort into initiating change in our lives. Change may not be easy, but if you’re making changes based on what truly matters to you, then you know that you’re doing it for all the right reasons.
Have you ever heard of life planning or these Kinder questions? How did you feel about your answers? What sort of steps have you taken as a result? Comment below!
We went through those three questions a few weeks ago and it was very helpful/illuminating. It was interesting how the idea of “what if we won 10 million dollars” was approached differently from, “what if we are financially independent”? Figuring out the “enough” is a challenge for those on the FIRE path.
That’s true- there is a subtle difference between winning a lottery versus financial independence. As you said, figuring out your “enough” is hard, and it will likely change over the years.
I feel the whole life path question is even more difficult for clinical academics. You go undergrad-> vet school-> internship -> residency -> tenure. Once you reach Assoc Prof or full Prof, it can be difficult to find goals to keep you engaged. This is a problem throughout the academy. For 17+ years you have a very clear path then, suddenly, it’s gone. You need to find internal motivation at that point, rather than seeking external rewards. It’s a hard transition.
That’s a great point…the academic path is definitely not an easy one! I would imagine that it takes some different skill sets to thrive in that atmosphere.
I like how you mentioned that a lot of people know they want to become veterinarians from early on in their childhood. My niece has always loved animals and is currently looking for a veterinary internship to start after her preparatory schooling is finished. I’ll pass along these tips to help her develop good strategies to take care of herself from the start of the internship!
I hope that your niece finds these tips helpful! Thanks for sharing with her!