Home > Uncategorized > MD Living in Poverty

MD Living in Poverty

        I have received several inquiries on a recent posting where I mentioned that I live under the poverty line.  According to the 2009 poverty guidelines, for a single person in my state one needs to make under $10,830 to qualify. I am here to tell you that I do indeed live in “poverty” as my annual expenses throughout my working career since graduating from medical school have been under this amount. How is this possible and even if true, how could I allow myself to suffer like this?
        I do concede that living so frugally is not for everyone. For starters, it is very anti-American to not spend spend spend. I will be perfectly honest with you when I say what you read on this blog you will rarely see elsewhere. Why is that? Well I am not getting paid to sell you something that you really don’t need! When you live in a capitalist consumer throw away society where advertisers are working hard to part you from your hard earned dollars, it can be hard to say NO. Wherever we look, we are being constantly bombarded with images of how we should be living the “American dream”. It is as if the media and society are programming us on HOW we should live. Everything from the kind of car we drive down to the brand of underwear that gets to caress our ass has now become some sort of status symbol.  Are we that unhappy or insecure that we need to buy “stuff” to fill an empty void?  Rather than looking at others for approval through the silly tokens of importance that we buy or the degrees after our name, we should instead realize that it is by being a good person at heart that inevitably leads to contentment and fulfillment.   So part of the reason why I live this way is out of protest.  The protest of turning into a person I do not want to become.  I do not need “things” to validate myself to others.  I will leave that to my actions, contributions, and the way I treat others.   If you are throwing scalpels across the OR or belittling med students on rounds, I guess buying a lot of stuff is the only way you get to make yourself feel important.
        Everyone has their threshold for what they can tolerate.  As I’ve mentioned in the above posting, a major impetus for living below my means is to achieve financial independence.  The cornerstone of my plan to get out of a highly toxic career is to break my golden handcuffs (aka student loans).   If one is able to live below their means, one is able to live the life they always wanted.  Think about that for a second.  Ironically, it is almost tantamount to asking yourself if you won the lottery, what would you do for the rest of your life?  It is incredibly liberating to know that you can spend your time doing whatever it is you wish if you are able to live in this manner.   And this is the reason why I am happy as a clam living in poverty.  I do not see it as suffering at all.  Every dollar that I am able to save  is one minute less that I have to suffer in the hospital.  If this isn’t motivation than I don’t know what is.  I know that one day soon I can walk away from medicine forever and pursue an alternative career that I will greatly enjoy.  As if this wasn’t enough of a reason, by continuing to live under my means (spending less than what I make), over the course of time I will SAVE more money than I could ever imagine simply by refraining from buying into the American lifestyle trap.  One day I hope to find myself in a position to upgrade my lifestyle (if I so wish) while many of my fellow Americans will drown further into debt.
So how do I exactly live under the poverty level? I will keep this brief as I don’t think the numbers are as important as the reasons which I discussed above. If you take the $10,830 annual amount and divide it up over 12 months, you are left with approximately $900. Here is the rough breakdown of my monthly outflow as a resident:

RENT: $550 -for an old small, but perfectly adequate, studio (found off craigslist) in a good part of the city 3 blocks from the hospital. Needless to say this is not NYC or LA but still a major culturally vibrant city in the top 20 in terms of population. Housing is the number one expense in anyone’s budget and this is the one place where anybody can save the most. If you are willing to live small in the right location, you can save big. Europeans already do this, I don’t know why we can’t???
TRANSPORTATION: $5 -I purposefully chose my apt near the hospital so I didn’t have to get a car and pay $9400 a year which is what the average American pays a year to own a car. No monthly car payment, no car insurance, no gas, no paying for a monthly parking spot. Everything I needed was within walking distance of my apt since it was literally in the middle of everything. I could always drop a dollar here and there to take a bus if I needed to hoof over to the opposite side of the city. I never took taxis. Taxis are for lazy people or those who don’t know how to use public transportation.
FOOD: $150- spent roughly 35 dollars a week at the local major chain grocery store. Whatever is on sale is what I eat that week. Online coupons help somewhat. I also got about 50 bucks a month to eat on call which also helped. I eat healthy and didn’t starve. Would eat out maybe once a month, and usually for lunch. Prefer cooking myself.
UTILITIES: $35- water and cable were free in my studio. Since my place was small, my electric bill was only 15 bucks on average. In summer, I would open the windows and turn on the fan- I only turned on the window AC unit if it went over 90 degrees and only for like 15 minutes since again my apt was small (notice a trend here). Another 20 bucks for gas to cook.
CELL PHONE: $42 with employee discount. My contract is now up and considering going pay as you go to save here.
INTERNET: $30 This is the one NEED in my life. I can’t live without it.
GRAND TOTAL:$812 which is well under 900 dollars as you can see.  This left me with an extra 90 dollars a month that I could use as I pleased for MISC EXPENSES.  I would usually bank this into my “vacation fund” so I could put as many miles as I possibly could between me and my residency program during my four weeks of allotted vacation time. Here’s an actual pic from a recent domestic excursion to illustrate this point ==> [Yes, I felt more relaxed being a mere earshot from communist Cuba than remaining within a thousand miles from the hospital] 

        Interest earned off my savings helped supplement this expense but I am quite the budget traveler as you could probably guess.  Per year, I averaged one international trip, one domestic trip, and two visits home which was about 200 miles away.   I love to travel and this is where I will be spending more and more money in the future as my debts begin to quickly erode away. 

        On one last note- someone suggested that I must moonlight in order to be able to do this. Absolutely not!  No amount of money was enough to entice me back into the hospital after already being there 60-70 hrs a week.   My coresidents who lived in their 1500 a month one bedroom apts and had expensive car leases had to.  I felt sorry for them while I ate bons bons in my pajamas watching a free movie on hulu.com.  Only if they knew about this blog.

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  1. December 16, 2009 at 10:46 pm

    I am so glad you posted these details about your living habits. It’s great. I’ll be living the same way when I leave the country, and I can’t wait!

  2. medicinesux
    December 17, 2009 at 3:08 am

    Less is indeed more. It is such a liberating way to live when you cut off the cycle of desire. Only if I had known sooner what I know now, but I guess it took what I went through to get to where I am right now. My mother always told me that everything happens for a reason. I am very excited for the future and can’t wait to enter this new phase of my life when I can finally break free.
    You will be teaching in Europe? Sounds really exciting…madly jealous here! Hopefully you will keep blogging and I get to read all about your adventures while I keep venting about my wondrous days in medicine back in America.

  3. December 17, 2009 at 7:42 am

    I’m so glad you broke this down. I too believe the US is the land of excess, and the “need to have more” is just a trap to get people into debt and a resultant state of slavery, both mentally and physically. I am not a US born citizen, and I know what real poverty is. Most US born citizens do not. They know excess, and unfortunately they believe the lack is EXCESS is poverty. They are so wrong. It is very possible to live a modest life and be very happy and comfortable. Thank you for another informative post.

    • medicinesux
      December 18, 2009 at 11:08 am

      You are welcome. Most US citizens have never been overseas. Those that say they have been abroad will only venture to high end resorts in Cabo or the Caribbean which doesn’t count. Staying in the Grand Hyatt in London or Paris doesn’t either. The majority of Americans have no perspective regarding the imbalance in wealth and poverty in the world. To have so much and than want more while others can do without really makes you question the American lifestyle.

  4. December 17, 2009 at 1:14 pm

    I won’t be teaching in Europe, but in Asia. I am quite excited.

  5. December 17, 2009 at 1:14 pm

    And I intend to continue blogging about the student lending crisis.

  6. medicinesux
    December 18, 2009 at 10:57 am

    What an experience that will be:) I am glad to hear that you will keep blogging…wouldn’t be the same without your presence!

  7. simplelifeinfrance
    December 28, 2009 at 9:43 pm

    Oooh, I just found your blog. Fun stuff. I life in Europe now and I definitely agree that the cost of living in the US is ridiculous–and it’s especially ridiculous because we allow it to be. People assume they must spend money on certain things–not so.

    By the way, sorry med school sucks so much. I always thought being a doctor would be fascinating, but becoming a doctor in the US has become such a strange feat (I was a high school teacher in ‘high-ranking’ high schools for a while so I got to see some of the insanity first hand as my students with their sites on med school seemed to become increasingly insane).

    As for those loans, in France, once you qualify for med school (through earlier studies and exam) it is free! I’m positive that the fact that doctors are not over-leveraged by student loans is part of what makes health care work here. How else could a GP afford to charge only 25 euros a visit–that’s the rate I pay mine and she’s awesome!

    • medicinesux
      January 2, 2010 at 2:28 am

      We will see in the near future how France’s commitment to public education is really going to start paying dividends while our overpriced greedy education “industry” violently fueled by the banks is going to plunge our future generations and country into insolvency.

  8. Anonymous
    January 7, 2010 at 6:27 pm

    Thanks medicinesux, for the outline of your expenses. It will be my guide for residency living. Thus far in the interview process, I have found a variance of $8000 in PGY1 salaries. Some of the residents I’ve spoken to in high cost of living areas with relatively low salaries have told me how they were in forbearance for the next 5+ yrs. I really want to avoid this, wherever I end up, by sticking to a sub-poverty budget, like you have described.

    Best wishes,
    Cassandra

  9. Steve
    January 21, 2010 at 11:05 pm

    Hi Medicinesux,

    This is an excellent post! I’m an engineer by training, and I agree with you 100%. I enjoy my work, but the people I work with make my life very difficult. There is plenty of abuse by my managers. I’m 40 years old, and I have been living below my means for almost for over 20 years. In that time, I have been able to save over $300,000. I have no debt other than a modest mortgage on my house. I went to an in-state public school on a scholarship so I have no student loans. Any raises I get at work go directly into savings. My colleagues think I’m nuts for not spending more money and taking on more debt to live a “better” life. What they do not understand is that I have achieved a level of financial independence they will never know. Many of them live pay check to pay check and are scared to death of a layoff. My annual expenses are about $40,000/year (this includes $18,000 for my mortgage) so even if I were laid off today I would be able to live my life for over 7 years without worrying about money. Having this peace of mind is priceless to me.

    • medicinesux
      January 22, 2010 at 12:05 am

      Thank you Steve for your comment. If any good can be learned from my ordeal it is that I have learned that by living below one’s means one is able to buy freedom which is PRICELESS. This freedom gives you incredible piece of mind and the power to walk away from an abusive work situation and pursue whatever it is that you wish to do. Congrats on saving up 300K! Just think….that puts you over half a million ahead of med school grads nowadays. Unfortunately those on the med school path can’t afford to put anything away for their retirement until they are into their 30’s.

  10. JW
    February 6, 2010 at 12:50 pm

    I also lived under the poverty line until I paid off my student loans. This was easy to do as I have never been impressed with expensive houses and the rest. While my loans are now paid off I still live on a small budget and bank the rest. It has allowed me to take on legal work for the poor and engage in a career that is more fulfilling.

  11. moop
    February 18, 2010 at 12:56 am

    I suggest Page Plus Cellular for your cell phone. Cheapest pay as you go plan you can possibly get. $10 gets you 12 cents a minute, but $80 gets you 6 cents a minute. There’s other options in between. They are affiliated with Verizon and use Verizon’s network but are CHEAPER than Verizon.

    Love your blog. I still want to be a doc, but money is truly unimportant to me. I grew up poor, but I now view it as an advantage. It was rural poverty, not inner-city, and I’m grateful every day for the fresh air, clean food, safe town and good people I was raised with. I can’t imagine ANYTHING else when I finally have a career down the road, let alone when it’s time to start a family, so I’m genuinely a person who wants to avoid the city and practice in a rural area. When I make lists of what universities I should consider, nothing in NYC or California is present. I would love to stay in the Midwest.

    What’s sad is what people are missing that they don’t know they’re missing. They use money to replace something they genuinely DO NOT KNOW exists. And because they are raised in a bath of numb self-indulgence, they become terrified when any real emotion intrudes into their phantasmagoria of consumption. That’s why so many of them attempt to replace their own FAMILY with money. To do otherwise would mean admitting they have wasted most of their life doing something that means nothing, and that’s too painful a truth.

  12. chinocochino
    February 18, 2010 at 1:32 am

    Nice post. Last year, I actually lived on 500 dollars a month in a major Michigan city. (the average rent is roughly 600/month) Thus, I my food/transportation/entertainment expenses beat yours. :)

    I admire your approach to saving and being frugal to have more options. Good luck and I’ll read your SDN posts with greater interest.

  13. bethers
    May 4, 2010 at 12:34 pm

    On the phone, I’m using a combo of internet phone service (MagicJack) and pay-as you-go (Tracphone). The MagicJack is $19.95 a year. The Tracphone is $99.00 a year for service and 400 minutes. Total phone service cost is approximately $10 per month. There is some initial expense, ie the Tracphone cell phone (cost varies), and the MajicJack device ($39.95). I’m now in my third year using this “phone system” and it’s not bad at all. Initially, MagicJack had some quirks but it’s gotten better. So, most of my lengthy long distance calls are made at home using MJ and shorter calls away from home using the Tracphone.

  14. bethers
    May 4, 2010 at 7:21 pm

    Wow. Thought I was doing great on $1,000 per month but can see there’s room for improvement. Car: Minimum of $50 which includes gas, insurance, tabs. Service is extra if needed. Rent: $100 more. Food/household: $50 more.

  15. Geoff
    September 25, 2010 at 1:02 am

    Great Blog, I like this article as it strikes a chord with me. I also work in a hospital and cannot understand why so many of my co-workers pick up hours at other hospitals. I am frequently miserable at work, and need to restructure my life so that I too can have a countdown to freedom.

  16. February 18, 2011 at 5:31 pm

    Wow! I love your writing and great insights.

    I look forward to reading and learning and adding this to what I write.

    Yes, one can be happy “in poverty”, AND part of my “job” is to help people see that, so that they will be able to see that there is a base about which we can be happy and that all else is strictly an unrequired bonus.

    Anyway, good work, of great value, methinks!

  17. June 4, 2011 at 1:31 pm

    Wow ! Congratulations, it took me 65 years to figure that out !! I suggest you find an outpatient specialty, or go into some type of medical administration. There are many non medical careers out there. I am sure you have already checked that out. Work part time when you are done. MDs make relatively high incomes and can make 500/day or more. With your discipline and continued frugality, and the compound interest curve in 20 years of a reasonably not hard lifestyle you will be monetarily well off and secure. What is the best think you do in Medicine each day? Are there any? Good luck, keep me posted
    @glevin1

  1. January 5, 2010 at 8:02 am
  2. December 28, 2011 at 1:27 pm

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