Managing debt without deprivation

Dental school is expensive, and someone has to pay for it. By the end of dental school, both of us had accumulated significant debt. Unlike many of our colleagues who borrowed (or allowed their sponsors to pay) more, so that they could dine extravagantly and enjoy Caribbean vacations as a reward for their hard work as dental students, we were both very uncomfortable knowing that we owed so much money. Understanding that the only way to alleviate the stress we felt from our debt was to repay it quickly, we came up with independent strategies that – we’re happy to say – worked!

Drs. Eric Studley and Ivy Peltz

Drs. Eric Studley and Ivy Peltz

While many systems exist for managing debt, we found that the tricky part was managing our debt responsibly without feeling deprived. After all, we’re dentists! We thought the struggle was going to end with dental school. Since graduating does not guarantee immediate financial solvency, here are some tips to maintain happiness and sanity while you repay your debt and build up your financial portfolio.

 

  • Live within your means. You work very hard, and you deserve to reward yourself from time to time. Just make your rewards reasonable. Even though spending money on yourself may create some degree of transient satisfaction, spending money that you don’t have will ultimately increase your stress and diminish your happiness. We’re not saying that if you cannot afford to do something, you should not do it. We’re saying that if you cannot afford to do something, you need to find a way to do it that will cost less. We have traveled to many exotic destinations, but rather than spending thousands of dollars a night on a room that will only be used for the purposes of sleeping, we try to find a quaint, charming (translation: small and inexpensive) hotel that is reflective of the new culture we are exploring. The object is to make the unaffordable affordable while remaining enjoyable.
  • Determine what you need vs. what you want. We love to shop. But over time, we’ve found that as our houses become full of clutter, we need to distinguish between what we need and what we want for the sake of space. We are suggesting that you do the same for the sake of finances: fill your houses and your lives with what you need rather than with what you want. Once you have what you need, you may find that there’s no room (both literally and figuratively) for what you want.
  • Gratify yourself incrementally. In their book Engineering Happiness: A new Approach for Building a Joyful Life, Baucells and Sarin contend that “the secret of happiness is to use a crescendo strategy, always going from less to more.” After several decades in the profession, we’re now fortunate enough to be able to fly first class, and we revel each time in the joy of boarding a plane before most other passengers, being able to stretch out flat and really sleep, and, last but not least, the possibility of unlimited drinks. But we’re always interested in the children who are flying with us in first class. What will make them joyous when they grow up? Will they be able to appreciate all that they have, when they have had it all, all along? Or will their quest for more and better be never ending? If you reward yourself in increments, each upgrade is new and sensational and satisfying, ensuring your long-term happiness by warding off boredom and monotony.

Rather than viewing your present financial status as a negative, realize that not having everything at the outset helps you to appreciate what you have when you finally get it. Also, as you manage your finances responsibly, you can reap the benefits of your hard work at the same time that you reduce your debt and grow your financial portfolio. Just use a little creativity to minimize your expenses, and keep holding back until you can afford to splurge.

The more effectively you manage your finances, the sooner that day will come.

 

Dr. Ivy Peltz and Dr. Eric Studley are New Dentist Now guest bloggers and are both GP directors and clinical associate professors at New York University College of Dentistry, their alma mater. They are the co-founders of Doccupations, an algorithmic dental job matching website. Dr. Peltz and Dr. Studley live in New York City and Port Washington, NY. When they have free time, they enjoy traveling, listening to live music, and resting! They exercise daily, they try to eat healthfully, and they walk on the beach weekly.

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