Juggling the many financial demands that come with being a dentist can be challenging, particularly as dentists often carry the burden of high student debt, making financial obligations and management (an even bigger difficulty). That’s why it’s important for dentists to prioritize building their financial literacy — a financial skillset in management, budgeting, investing, and more — to create a solid foundation that will help juggle these competing demands and reduce stress throughout their career.
We know that many in the field desire to place greater emphasis on growing their financial literacy. Recent research from Laurel Road and The White Coat Investor found that when physicians and dentists were asked to rate their current financial literacy in managing their personal or practice finances on a scale of 0 to 10 (0 being the lowest), only 4% rated themselves a 10. By contrast, when asked to do the same for their future financial literacy, half (50%) of respondents rated their desired level to be at a 10.
The reality is that a financial journey is just that: a journey. Cultivating financial literacy takes attention, and while we know dentists are strapped for time, there are ways to do this without disrupting personal priorities. The good news is that by creating a plan that identifies financial goals and how to meet them, dentists can better balance their finances from dental school graduation all the way through to retirement. Here’s where to start.
Starting your financial journey: identify competing demands and make a roadmap
Building financial literacy starts with getting a solid, baseline understanding of your personal finances and how financial best practices apply to your specific situation. Start by mapping out the current state of your finances to look into your income to spending ratio. Are you saving more than spending, or vice versa? Are you currently managing student loan payments? Have you been allocating the majority of your extra income towards retirement savings, or prioritizing paying down student debt? Map out your finances and be honest about your spending.
Now that you have a clearer picture of your income to spending ratio, think about your goals. How much do you want to save in the next year? What are you working towards, is it a big purchase like a car or buying a house? Your goals should be specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-based. Choosing a specific age to retire isn’t the best strategy; identifying the specific amount of money you need to set aside to reach that goal is, and you can craft a savings plan from there. Also, write your goals down and read them often. With repetition, you’ll be more likely to take actions both big and small that ladder up to your goals since they’ll be top of mind. To that end, understanding your financial goals will also help inform your strategies related to saving, spending and paying off debt.
What’s most important when working toward your financial goals is to be intentional in the tradeoffs you’re making. It’s ok to buy a bigger house or a newer car if that’s what is important to you, but understand that this has an impact on how much of your income you can use to make extra payments toward your debt or set aside for savings goals such as retirement. Making a plan, building out a budget, and tracking your spending all help factor into this.
Customize your plan: Manage your finances in the best way for you
Everyone’s financial situation is different, so your goals should work within your own budget and be dependent on your fixed costs, the amount you allocate towards paying down debt and other necessary business expenses. You might also consider creating subgoals and giving yourself the freedom to make periodic adjustments based on unexpected expenses, business needs or life events. One component of figuring this out could be having a mentor who has a similar professional and financial background. This could be another dentist who has a few more years under their belt, or another medical professional who has experienced a similar financial trajectory and can share their experience and learnings.
There are also a few best practices to consider when you’re navigating between debt reduction and saving for your future. If you’re the type of person who sleeps better if your debts are paid off, then prioritize finding options where you get a better interest rate on loan repayments or a cashback credit card. If savings is your goal, then look for financial options that maximize your savings opportunities, like a high-yield savings account. Consider your options, pick the right one for you and know that you have options to move your money around as your life changes too.
Ultimately, it’s critical that you find a true balance in your own financial strategy. Don’t sacrifice saving or paying off debt for things that you enjoy, like a hobby or upcoming trip. Put your eggs in different baskets to create a rewarding financial strategy.
Prioritize opportunities that help you reach your goals
Now that you’ve made it this far and are ready to continue on your career path, it’s time to develop financial strategies that help you achieve your goals. There are endless options!
One often untapped resource is the financial benefits that your employer may offer. Talk to someone in HR about what partners, educational opportunities or perks they have lined up for employees. This could include special discounts on financial services through affiliate partnerships, or even a financial advisor that you can meet with. Similarly, professional organizations like the American Dental Association have financial perks and resources for members.
Take a close look at your bank – is it working for you? People – especially busy people or those who aren’t tapped into their finances – tend to stay with their bank by default. But there can be a lot of value gained if you are open to making a switch. Aside from promotional “make the switch” discounts, upgrading your bank to one that is tailored to your needs can generate a lot of additional value through money saved and time back.
Another way to save money could be refinancing your student loans. By applying for a loan through a private lender such as Laurel Road, your existing student loan(s) will be paid off and replaced with a new loan, with new terms set by the new lender. This allows you to now work with one lender, have one payment, a new interest rate and potentially a different payment duration. Look for a digital lending platform that is simple and personalized, like Laurel Road’s, that makes the process easy and gives you peace of mind.
Put simply, you should use your goals as your north star and adjust as needed along the way. There is no one size fits all financial strategy, and each strategy should be just as unique as your personal financial situation.
Stay organized and in-tune with yourself: remember, it’s not a race
With high student debt, business expenses and personal financial obligations, managing your finances as a dentist can have distinctive challenges. While there are many competing financial demands, there are steps you can take to position yourself better for financial success. Through thinking about your finances holistically and creating a financial strategy that works back to overarching goals, dentists can reduce stress and ultimately have greater financial literacy and peace of mind.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Christina Klenotic is the senior vice president for Laurel Road, where she oversees strategic partnerships, brand, creative and PR.