Behind the Screen Interview Series with Physician on FIRE


We have another special interview when it comes to the world of retiring early. It’s also our first interview with a medical professional too! If you have never heard of the term F.I.R.E. (Financially Independent Retire Early), it’s a growing theme in the personal finance community. Many people are focusing on become financially free at a younger age so that they can do what they want.


There is a world of difference in working when you can chose whether or not you go to work. (Personally, I don’t know, but from those who have this option I hear it’s amazing!) Physician on Fire is in this boat. Make sure to check out his site, there are a ton of great articles linked in here too.


Let’s Begin!

Let’s talk a little bit about who you are and where you are coming from. Tell me about your money journey? What got you started in learning about personal finance?


I’m a forty-year old anesthesiologist. I put people to sleep with drugs and sometimes words. My goal with this post is to not bore you to the point of general anesthesia.


I have a lovely wife and two young boys in elementary school. I’ve got one bad dog and no cats, which is enough cats for me. I come from the northern United States, a place that is further north than parts of Canada (I’m looking at you, Toronto).


My money journey… hmmm… It’s tough to know where to start, but I cheated and looked ahead at the rest of this quiz, and I know there’s a question about my first money lesson, so I’ll start from the present day.


I am currently financially independent, and I continue to work full time. I like my job enough that I’m not ready to walk away just because the numbers tell me I can. There are certainly aspects of the job that I will miss, but I will be retiring early, likely before my 45th birthday. I’ve written about the top reasons I haven’t retired yet, and the top reasons I want to retire early.


I have been a relatively frugal physician all along, a frugal without a cause if you will. I never really knew why; it just came naturally. My upbringing certainly has a lot to do with it. We had money, but for the most part, it didn’t show.


When I discovered Mr. Money Mustache and a handful of other blogs that have gotten some mainstream media attention, I realized that there may be a very good reason I’ve been saving all this money. Soon after, I discovered The White Coat Investor and I realized there was a need to bridge the gap between WCI and the FIRE blogs.


Most physicians I know aren’t going to live on $2,000 a month, and frankly they don’t need to, either. But, financial literacy among physicians is surprisingly low, and money mistakes are frighteningly common. My aim is to help physician colleagues learn about personal finance and perhaps realize that more saving and less spending might actually make them happier, which is counterintuitive at first blush.


After about a year of contemplation and very little preparation, Physician on FIRE was born in January, 2016. By most measures, it is now the #2 physician personal finance blog, and I’m totally cool with being second best. I believe a rising tides floats all boats, so I do as much as I can to help other bloggers gain exposure and readers, just as others have helped me.


What would you say the biggest money obstacle has been for you to overcome?


I had some student loan debt coming out of medical school, but it wasn’t insurmountable, especially on an anesthesiologist’s salary.

There’s no way to say this without invoking the world’s smallest violin #firstworldproblems (shut the full cup), but it’s probably learning not to hoard money. I need to be better about not sweating the small stuff and realize it’s alright to splurge a little sometimes. I’m better at spending on others than I am spending on myself.

How has overcoming that obstacle changed you?


I’m still tripping over hurdles, but I would say the biggest change is that I realized I don’t need to work until I’ve built an eight figure net worth. I have no idea what I would do with all that money. It might be cool to have my name on a building or something, but I’d rather have my freedom in my forties than a hand on a golden shovel in my seventies.


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Golden Shovels

Are there any obstacles you are still working on ?


I was kinda into obstacle course racing, but after an injury laden Tough Mudder, I’m done with that.


I’d like to figure out the best way to balance the full-time job, the family, my health and well-being, and of course the writing and all else that goes into being a blogger.


It’s awfully difficult to do it all really well, and if anything is going to suffer, I’d like it to be the blog. In a few years, I expect to free up a lot more time by letting go of the full time job.

There’s a moment in the Godfather 3 when Michael Corleone is trying to get out of the “Family Business”, and he says: “Every time I try to get out, they pull me back in.” What is one bad money habit you just can’t seem to shake?


I’m not saying I don’t have any bad money habits, but I don’t think there are any I’m trying to shake. We spend more than the average bear on good beer, travel, and maintaining a small cabin a couple states away, but those are choices we make as a family.

If paying high taxes could be considered a bad money habit, I’d gladly shake it off. Shake, shake, a shake it off.


If you were to start your money journey all over what would you do differently?


I thought I was Dr. Big Stuff when I got my first real anesthesia job, and in hindsight, it’s fair to say I overbuilt when planning our “dream home”. The dream became something of a nightmare when the local hospital closed, and I had no job, and few people left that could afford such a home. I have a post describing five things I would tell myself as a newly minted physician.


bankrupt hospital


What is your proudest money accomplishment?


I made it my goal to be debt free by forty. I paid off everything, including my student loans and mortgage, and incidentally became financially independent in the process.

It also makes me proud to be starting to teach my boys about money. The subject is taboo in so many households, but we try to talk plainly about how money comes and goes so that they understand it. Eventually, they’ll be old enough to read your blog and mine and understand what we’re talking about. I’ll be especially proud if they make good money choices down the line.

Who is your money hero?


Is it bad that Enrique Iglesias’ “Hero” is now playing in my head? And that I’m picturing the scene in Hot Tub Time Machine where the guy winds up to throw the ultimate punch? Yes? OK, I’ll stop.

If anyone could by my money hero, baby, I would say it’s John Bogle of Vanguard. He could have chosen to be much, much richer. Instead, he set up his company to be owned by the funds themselves and the people who own them.

He’s got an eight figure net worth, but it could easily be nine or ten figures. He chose to create a company that would help millions of others become wealthy at the cost of accumulating a massive fortune of his own. He understand the concept of Enough, and wrote an excellent book with that title.


What was your worst money mistake?


The aforementioned house. 4,000 square feet spread out over three stories. Waterfront, of course. Typical doctor.


this was my house

this was my house

What was your first money lesson?


I lost my wallet when I was about ten years old. It had six or eight dollars in it. That day, I had biked all over town, and spent the night at my Grandparents’ house. I retraced my tracks on the bike looking for that royal blue velcro wallet. Repeated the route the next day. No luck.

I learned to be more careful with my money. The wallet turned up about ten years later in my Grandparent’s laundry chute. There was a ledge in the basement ceiling where the clothes-hole was cut out, and my wallet and money had been sitting there all those years, collecting no interest.

In my junior high years and beyond, I pushed a lot of lawnmowers and did manual labor jobs for my Dad for money. I learned that I didn’t enjoy doing manual labor for money, or doing manual labor at all.

My Dad also taught me the Rule of 72 in junior high. Years later, I would write about it and be featured by Rockstar Finance. Understanding compound interest at that age set me up for success later on.

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What money habits do you see in yourself (or others if you are perfect) that make you cringe?


It drives me crazy to drop $1.79 on a bottle of soda at a gas station, when I can buy a can for a quarter (12-pack for $3).

Cigarettes are horrible. “Let’s see, how can I waste several thousand dollars every year while simultaneously making my clothes, car, house, and self smell awful, and increasing my risk of many cancers? Cigarettes!” Obviously, I never touch them.

In a more general sense, it pains me to see people living at or beyond their means, working jobs in which they’ll be trapped in more or less indefinitely at the status quo.

I started my blog because I see many physicians overworked and burnt out, trying to spend their way to be happier. While I would love to see working conditions improve, much of that is beyond the control of the individual physician. What can be controlled is personal finance, and achieving financial independence gives you the ability to practice medicine in a way you find fulfilling, or not at all.

Would you classify yourself as a Spender or a Saver?



Has anyone said “Spender” yet? I don’t think the self-described spenders are blogging about personal finance much.

We have another special interview when it comes to the world of retiring early. It’s also our first interview with a medical professional too! If you have never heard of the term F.I.R.E. (Financially Independent Retire Early), it’s a growing theme in the personal finance community. Many people are focusing on become financially free at a younger age so that they can do what they want.

What’s the one personal finance book that had the biggest impact in your life?

When I was in medical school on a particularly brutal rotation, and not loving life, I wondered if I might rather get rich quick than spend another 40 years in medicine. I sent my Dad, who was pretty money savvy, an article about swing trading. He responded by sending me The Only Investment Guide You’ll Ever Need by Andrew Tobias.

I read it, forgot about swing trading, and decided I could stick it out in medicine for awhile. Reading that book probably kept me from making a lot of money mistakes later on when I started making real money.


Ok now for some non-money questions. Let’s give our readers a glimpse of what makes you who you really are. 


Give me a list of your top 5 foods?


  1. Steak. Preferably tenderloin or sirloin, medium rare.
  2. Potatoes. In any and every form. Au gratin is excellent, but I’m happy with them baked or boiled or French fried.
  3. Ice cream. Coconut is probably my favorite. I also love me some with mint, chocolate, or peanut butter mixed in, but not all at the same time. That would be nasty.
  4. Lakefood. I like seafood too, but some of the best fish are pulled out of lakes. Walleye, crappies, northern pike, etc… Whitefish, salmon, and Steelhead from the Great Lakes. So good.
  5. Beer.

What is your favorite drink (alcohol or non-alcohol)?


  1. Beer. I have invested in two small town craft breweries, and both give me free beer. Some would consider an investment in a small craft brewery to be illiquid, but I’ve found the dividends at least to be literally quite liquid. I enjoy ridiculously hoppy beers, but I drink a wide variety. I also brew beer at home. One of the fan favorites is a rhubarb wheat fermented on Sour Patch Kids. It tastes like Sour Patch Kids.
  2. Milk. I was probably the only freshman in my dorm to routinely have a gallon of milk in my mini fridge. I had a meal plan for three squares a day and all the milk I could drink, but that did me no good at midnight when I was jonesing for skim milk.
  3. Diet Mountain Dew. I don’t drink coffee. I do drink Diet Mountain Dew.
  4. Water. When really, really thirsty, nothing quenches a thirst like H2O. Lately, I’ve been squirting a little of that concentrated flavoring into my water. Kool-Aid 2.0.
  5. Beer. Not sure I mentioned beer yet. Beer


What kind of daily traditions or habits do you have?


Basically none. Every day is different. On workdays, I’m up at 0515. Other days, I might sleep until 0815, or 1015 if I was up all night on call. Some days, I have plenty of free time. Other days, I might work 20 hours or more. It’s tough to have a daily routine with my job. I do kiss my wife goodnight every night and goodbye every morning.

I look forward to more routine in early retirement. My boys thrive on routine, and I think I could benefit from some routine of my own. I’d like to carve out some time each day for book reading, exercise, and uninterrupted family time. We’re planning on learning Spanish as a family, so I need to make some time for that, too.

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Which group do you fall into:


Apple or Samsung? Definitely not Apple. I have a Motorola phone on Republic Wireless and I do own a Samsung TV. So Samsung, FTW.

Coke or Pepsi? Diet Mountain Dew, which is a PepsiCo product. But between the two options, I’d choose Coke over Pepsi (or Diet Coke over Diet Pepsi).

Coffee or Tea? Beer.

Night owl or morning bird? Morning bird. If I didn’t have a job and young kids, I might revert to the night owl I was in college.


I’m a huge music fan, what’s one (or more) of your favorite albums?


Growing up in the 1980s, I had a handful of vinyl LPs. I clearly remember being gifted two albums at my first commmunion gathering: Cindy Lauper’s She’s So Unusual and Culture Club’s Colour By Numbers. In hindsight, given the occasion, those albums in particular seem like odd choices for an eight-year old celebrating his first Eucharist.

I remember rocking out to a handful of others around that time, notably the Footloose soundtrack, Phil Collins’ No Jacket Required, Michael Jackson’s Thriller, and Prince’s Purple Rain.

All had excellent songs that still hold up, but if I had to name a favorite album or two, I’d have to leap forward to my college days when I was old enough to make my own choices in music.

Back when Columbia House was offering a dozen CDs for a penny or something absurd like that, I picked up Beck’s Odelay and the Foo Fighter’s The Colour and the Shape. I listened to both of them over and over and knew every song by heart.

I was lucky enough to catch them both in concert when they were touring for those albums. I will never forget crowdsurfing to the Foo Fighter’s Monkey Wrench and Beck’s Loser (from a previous album Mellow Gold). Oh, to be young again.

So yeah, I’d go with those last two albums.

What’s the one movie you could watch over and over again and never get tired of it?


I can’t name just one. This one goes to eleven.

  1. Spinal Tap. “Yes, but this one goes to eleven.”
  2. Dazed and Confused. Ben Affleck, Matthew McConaughey, Beck’s wife, Renee Zellweger…
  3. Billy Madison. “Stop looking at me, Swan!”*
  4. Airplane. “What’s your vector, Victor?” “Roger, Roger.”
  5. Hot Tub Time Machine. “Great white buffalo. Great white buffalo.”
  6. Tommy Boy. “Hey, a lot of people go to college for seven years.” “I know. They’re called doctors.”
  7. Boogie Nights. A classic tragedy depicting the epic rise and fall of a porn star. Also Heather Graham as Roller Girl.
  8. Goodfellas. A classic tragedy depicting the epic rise and fall of a mobster. No Heather Graham as Roller Girl unfortunately.
  9. Super Troopers. “Who wants a mustache ride?” “I do! I do!”
  10. Fargo. “I was just thinking we could take care of that right here. In Brainerd.”
  11. Old School. “We’re going streaking! Through the quad to the gymnasium!”


Honorable Mention: Slapshot, Beautiful Girls, Dumb & Dumber, The Lego Movie, Unbreakable, Reservoir Dogs, Bottle Rocket, So I Married an Axe Murderer, American Psycho, Anchorman, The Big Lebowski, Lost in Translation, Better Off Dead, Rushmore


What book are you reading right now?


I’m not reading eleven books. Just one, “The White Coat Investor: A Doctor’s Guide To Personal Finance And Investing “ by Jim Dahle, MD

I mentioned on my blog that I hadn’t read it, and he offered to send me an autographed copy. Actually, he offered to send me a copy if I would review it, and I requested the autograph.

Finish this sentence with the first thing that comes to mind


I would rather have a bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy.

Unoriginal, but it works.

Do you have a favorite quote?

“Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in awhile, you might miss it.” – Ferris Bueller.



Where can people find you online if they want to get ahold of you?


In addition to my website, I have a Twitter account, a Facebook account, and I recently added Pinterest. My e-mail address and the rest of these are on my Contact page.

Thanks for the interview, Andrew. I had a blast!


Now that is a great interview, make sure to check out his site  and if you have any questions or comments leave them below!


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