Thursday, October 17, 2013

Making Mistakes: Part 1

About the same time I started this blog, I also began researching common mistakes, that we in the medical family make, so that I could prepare a personal defense sufficiently strong enough to prevent such unfortunate events from befalling my family. Quite an undertaking, I know.

I was going to be the best prepared and most informed spouse in history. I was going to be Super-hero ready! There would be no mistakes. I would not be tricked or deceived. Our performance would be flawless.

Guess what? Even knowing what pitfalls might be up ahead I walked straight into them. Not blindly, but fully aware of what the consequences were going to be. And for that moment I didn't care. Had I been able to look ahead to the next 12 months maybe I would have. That's life for you -  you don't get to see around the bend.

What do I define as a mistake? A mistake is something that happens because you did something that you knew you shouldn't have. You intentionally ignore logic and reason in the hopes that the consequences will not be as bad as you imagine them. Or better yet, that the consequences are imagined!

So let's begin. The mistakes are plentiful and I only recount them as part of my many confessions.

Mistake #1 - Making large purchases immediately following the long-awaited stipend.

Some residents secure jobs long before they are ever qualified to work. If you have a signed job contract 2 years before you can work, your stipend will be $XX,XXX divided by 24 months. If you obtain a job later in your training with say 9 months to go your stipend will be $XX,XXX divided by 9 months. The longer you receive the stipend the smaller the monthly installments are. The shorter the payment duration the larger the amount. (Depending on your speciality you may or may not receive a stipend and stipends very greatly among specialities.)

Immediately after signing the contract my husband marched off to the dealership. I was preparing myself to be mad... how dare he look for a car for himself. We talked about this, we weren't going to buy anything. And when we did we would replace our family van. I knew he hated the car he was driving, but it was reliable fuel efficient. We had a plan - but he was just window shopping. Where is the harm in that?

Perhaps he knew I wouldn't be too mad when he drove up in exactly the van I wanted. Every detail perfect. How can a girl say no to that gift? What was I supposed to do, ask him to return it? I am so weak! I think he was counting on me being in bliss for a good while so I wouldn't notice what happened next. Three weeks later he came would come home with his new wheels. And how could I say no? He has worked hard. I had a new van, why shouldn't he have something he liked.

This is how it happens. Once you start spending you can't really stop. If one of you gets something nice the universe demands that the other get something as equally nice. Messed up.

It is never a good idea to start spending money before you actually have it. I know that! We had to empty our savings account to pay for the title/licensing fees.

My defense game up until this point had been rock solid. I watched those dollars like a hungry hawk watches a mouse. I didn't blink. And then something happened. I looked away for just a moment, and it only takes a moment. I was distracted by beautiful things. I wasn't prepared for the euphoric feeling that would come with a signed contract. Hormones were released into my brain that made me agree to things I never would have considered under normal circumstances. My vision was blurred, my thoughts were cloudy, the words coming out of my mouth weren't the same ones I was speaking. It was an out of body experience.

The numbers on the paper were amazing. We had been saved! Our problems had been solved! I could take a break from my hawk-like ways! Money was coming our way! And the best part is that it would be there before the first payments on our two new cars were due. Spoken like a person who knows they just spent money they shouldn't have.

If I had to do it all over again I would stay focused like a hawk. That money would have helped considerably with a down payment, and that is what I really want. Our cars were just fine. Yes, they were old. Yes, my husband didn't like his. But they were cheap. And saying no to one purchase makes it easier to say no to the next. It is true. Sadly, the opposite is true. Saying yes to one purchase makes it easier to yes to the next.

Here is the warning, given in love, from someone who was very recently there:

It is going to be hard to get that check(s) and not do something with it. You will be tempted by 100 things every day. Keep your eye on the ball. What is it that you really want? What are you willing to sacrifice to get it? What is a few months longer in the whole scheme of things? I can tell you it isn't long at all! Look at how far you have come.

Don't fall into the trap that you've worked hard and deserve this, whatever this is. Yes you have and you do, but you deserve more - and there is more. Make a plan, and stick to the plan, and then forgive yourself when you don't follow it exactly and try again. Don't give up on the plan just because you didn't follow it exactly one day.


Open up a new checking/savings account at another bank before you sign your contract. When the HR office asks for a deposit slip for  your stipend give them the new account. Don't let it get mixed into your everyday checking account or it will get lost (spent). Unless your plan is to spend it all, then don't go through the trouble of opening up an account at another bank. That's a waste of time:-)

There you have it. The first of many mistakes. Stayed tuned next week for mistake #2 - I am coming clean!



  1. True true true! We just bought a very modest vehicle. I wanted to get docH a newish vehicle as well. He refuses for now. And we put the stipend in MY account out of state as a necessity--we were in between accounts closing a local and opening another local. worked out perfect because it's like a little nest egg i forget about. i pay tuition, credit cards and babysitters with that nest egg. and our regular account is a sad little thing like always. i appreciate your honesty. i will say it's hard. i have done some DUMB things and watch one cc go up and up and up. time to rein in my spending as well.

  2. Thanks. I needed to read this. I am not a Dr, nor a Dr wife, but a newly graduated nurse making more money than I ever have before, and it's a struggle to be practical and pay off debts and save for a house when you could so easily spend on more frivolous things now. I too have been craving a new car that I don't yet really need. Thank you again for the light reality check.

  3. Thanks for writing this! Our plan has always been to not spend the stipend and save it for a down payment on a house. Now that we are *THIS* close to signing a contract I can see how it could be difficult to follow through! The temptations! The delayed gratification! You have renewed my strength to hold on ;)

  4. I wished I had learned that lesson earlier in life so now I'm playing catch up. It doesn't matter how much money you make or don't make, you should live within your means on a budget. Rich and poor people go bankrupt everyday.

  5. Thanks for sharing! Hubby and I have something of the same problem. I make a good salary, but the purpose of it is to pay off student loans and save for a down payment. Still, it's really difficult when we're both working so hard all the time not to "treat" ourselves to things now and then... until the "treats" end up happening every day! I know what you mean about the gut feeling of the mistake when you know you shouldn't do it, but the temptation is so strong. I find that a good phone call with my parents or Hubby's parents generally does the trick if we're thinking of big-ticket purchases--they remind us about our goals and priorities and really question us about the shiny new thing we suddenly seem to need.

  6. This is great practical advise for us on the lower rung of the ladder. I appreciate it.


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