I Was a Confused, Trapped Pharmacist Living Paycheck to Paycheck

In 2002, I graduated from high school and was on my way to start pharmacy school at Ohio Northern University. At the time, I did not have a penny of debt. My parents had done an awesome job of teaching me the importance of work and managing that income in a responsible way divided between giving, saving and spending.

Fast forward to 2009, just 7 years later, and I had obtained a doctorate degree, was married, and finished residency training. I was now over $200,000 in debt.

It all seemed so normal and manageable. ‘I had it under control,’ I thought. I was making a six-figure salary and never thought twice about taking on that much debt.

‘It wasn’t even stupid debt,’ I rationalized in my mind. No credit card debt. No fancy cars. No extravagant toys. My wife, Jess, and I seemed to be living a normal, reasonable and responsible life.

In 2012, the humbling moment had arrived. I was broke.

The reality was sinking in…I had a great income, but didn’t own anything and owed a whole lot. At the time, I had a net worth of negative $225,000.

The reality of being broke with a net worth of negative $225,000 hit Jess and I over the head pretty hard. We had come to realize that this reality of being broke meant that:

  • Despite our hopes and dreams, we were not in a position to move to a larger home in a more convenient location.
  • We were not able to go on the vacations we had desired or if we did, we would feel stressed due to delaying progress on paying down the debt.
  • We were not in a position to give to those in need at the level we had desired.

With the reality sinking in of what it meant to have a negative net worth of $225,000, I found myself confused. Why in the world was I broke and feeling like I was living paycheck to paycheck despite having a six-figure income?

I also felt trapped that in the event of an emergency or wanting to make a job change in the future, that decision was largely made for me since I had so much debt.

Like many other pharmacy students, I once had dreams of a great income that would allow me to have financial flexibility and freedom. Being strapped with $200,000 in debt was far from flexible and free.

No More Being Broke

In 2015, just 6 years after finishing residency training, Jess and I hit submit on our very last payment of over $200,000 in non-mortgage debt. We finally had financial freedom, flexibility and peace of mind!

When we hit submit on that last student loan payment, the feeling was one of pure joy. We now had more than $2,000 per month now freed up to pay off the mortgage early, save for retirement, give, have some fun and save for our kids’ college education.

The feeling of living paycheck to paycheck each month was finally gone.

Rather than being trapped and confused, Jess and I felt in tangible ways the reality of being debt free:

  • We were able to cash flow vacations within 1-2 months of saving and enjoy these vacations free of any worries of whether or not we should be having fun or paying down debt.
  • We were able to give over $8,000 to urgent needs in our community within a 12-month period.
  • We were able to start paying down our mortgage and build some equity in our home so we could have the flexibility and freedom to move if we desired without having to go back into debt.

There is a Better Way

If you are in the weeds of paying off debt, feeling like you will never get those loans off your back or frustrated with the fact that you are feeling financially pinched despite making a great income, I’m here to encourage you that it can be done and is worth the hard work to get it done!

Pharmacists today are facing an unprecedented financial situation that pharmacists in the recent past did not have to deal with. It is not normal, nor healthy to be in six-figures of debt despite making a six-figure income. Graduates are coming out of pharmacy school with a median student debt load of $150,000 and an income that is slowly eroding because salary increases are marginal compared to the increase in debt loads.

More than ever, you, as a pharmacy professional, have to take control of your personal finances or it will take control of you.

By working hard and following a step-by-step plan, Jess and I went from a net worth of negative $225,000 to a positive net worth of $265,000 in an 8-year period. That is almost a half-million dollar swing in just 8 years!

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