Underspending Can Be a Problem Too


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By Dr. Jim Dahle, WCI Founder

I received an email in 2022. I obscured some details to protect the innocent:

“My spouse is obsessed with White Coat Investor advice. My spouse listens to the podcast daily and researches the financial advice given. We are currently in residency. I stay at home with our four children so we live on a single resident income. Each year of residency, we have filled both our Roth IRA accounts and other retirement accounts that I cannot remember the names of. While doing this, we are on the WIC program, are shopping at the local food bank, and are being tight with money in other ways (such as not purchasing a new van even though we have the money set aside for it)—all for the sake of ‘living within our means’ and ‘saving for retirement.’ I know both of those are good things. My spouse’s biggest fear is inflating our lifestyle too much so that we can no longer enjoy the way we ‘used to live.’

Quite frankly, Dr. Dahle, I’m not enjoying the way we ARE living. I’m not a keep-up-with-the-Joneses person, but I loathe every time I step into the food bank or use my WIC card at the store knowing that we are putting money into retirement accounts. My spouse is likely to sign a contract for over half a million upon completing training. And if we do the contract negotiation correctly, the student loans will likely be paid off as part of the contract (we only have $150,000 due to our frugality during medical school).

My question is, how much would you actually save for retirement while in residency? If you had $40,000 in the bank, would you put it into accounts that lock it away until future years, or would you be willing to spend it during residency? Not all at once, mind you! But on groceries and babysitters and dates and vacations? I feel great guilt every time I overspend our budget (not that I ever overspend the entire monthly budget, just a specific category which then I have to cover with other categories which leaves them depleted for future months), even though I know that our pockets are quite deep for residents and getting deeper by the month. Our net worth increased by over $70,000 last year even though my spouse’s salary is only $60,000. I know it was in great part due to COVID government stimulus packages, but still!

We are currently not paying off student loans since all interest accumulation is being postponed by the government at this time. I’m sure you can tell I’m looking for an advocate here. But perhaps that is not what I will get. I would appreciate your honest opinion even if it does not coincide with my desires to spend more and inflate our lifestyle at least a bit.”



They’re Going to Be Rich If I Can Keep Them Together

Without a doubt, these guys have got the X factor. It’s not just the resident either. Any partner willing to even go along halfway with this sort of frugality has what it takes to be super, duper rich, too. Their biggest financial risk is divorce from being overly frugal. Here is how I replied. Let me know in the comments if I got it right.

“Congratulations! You guys are going to be very wealthy someday. You certainly have the X factor:

About 95% of docs need to spend less money. You two are NOT in that 95%.

Moderation in all things. The goal is to save lots of money but to do so without ever feeling deprived. Right now, you feel deprived, so you need to dial it back until you don’t. Until BOTH of you don’t. Just because he’s doing the earning doesn’t mean you don’t get an equal say on what the proper level of spending is.

These posts might help:

You don’t need to become rich as a resident. Save something, but maxing out all retirement accounts with a family of six on a single resident income? Come on, that’s super duper hardcore and totally unnecessary.

Yes, I’ll be your advocate. Go spend more money. You two will be fine in the long run; I have no doubt about it. Go blow some real money on a date this weekend to help the two of you get out of the scarcity mentality. While you’re there, talk about when you’re going to get that van . . .

Don’t worry about your spending getting out of control and ruining your lives. I have met dozens—maybe even hundreds of people—like you (and me, frankly, as I don’t spend very easily). I assure you that you are NEVER going to let your spending get out of control. You will spend your entire life dealing with the opposite problem and then your kids will fly first class everywhere they go after you die.”


5 Money Activities to Master

There are five money activities to master during your life:

  1. Earning
  2. Saving
  3. Investing
  4. Spending
  5. Giving

underspending is a problem

This couple has absolutely mastered #2. They can teach classes on it. They could write a best-selling book. There should be a monument with a sculpture of both of them on it placed in Washington DC. I suspect they’re pretty good at #1 and excellent at #3, too. I bet they’ll be good at #5. But you know what? They suck at #4 right now. I can’t criticize too much; that’s my weakness, too. But I’m getting better at it. Heck, we spent nearly $300,000 (not counting taxes and giving) in 2022, and we don’t even have any payments. We must not be too bad at spending anymore. So, I just told them what I am constantly telling myself.

Now, the advice above doesn’t apply to everyone. As I said at the beginning, most doctors DO NOT have this problem. But if you do, recognize it for what it is and fix it. I got an email back a couple of days later:

“Thank you so much! Your response was even more thorough and helpful than I had anticipated. We had a lengthy discussion about finances after reading your email. It was so helpful to have someone in my corner; someone whose financial advice my spouse really respects. We are more on the same page about budgeting than we have been for a while. We came together on what is reasonable for both of us. And we’ll continue to have many more helpful discussions about finances, I’m sure! Thank you for the advice you gave/give—both in this email and all general White Coat Investor advice. We will continue to come together financially because of your work.”

There you have it folks. That’s what winning at money looks like.


As a doc, you have valuable knowledge and information. Various companies want that knowledge, and they are willing to pay you for it. If you’re interested in starting a side hustle as a paid survey-taker while also making a difference in the medical field, check out our favorite physician survey companies today!


What do you think? Did I give the right advice? How much should a resident save? Comment below!

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