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MD Living in Poverty

December 15, 2009 23 comments

        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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