After Four Years of Retirement, All is Well

This month marks four years since I turned in my beeper and walked out of the hospital to the song 18 wheels and a dozen roses, by Kathy Mattea. It was a bit scary to give up surgery at age 54, hoping we had enough money saved to meet our needs for the rest of our lives. Following is a summary of what I have done in the last four years. If you read all the way to the end, you will find out about the greatest thing that happened to me last year.

My original target date for retirement was age 50.  I set up my early retirement plan as a medical student. Although I reached financial independence by age 50, I did not pull the trigger until I had found a purpose for my life after medicine. 

By age 51 I had decided to do part time locums work in critical access hospitals who only had one surgeon. It was great fun to help those overworked surgeons. I learned a lot about being a locums doctor and put all my knowledge into an online video course, The Doctors Course to Thriving in Locum Tenens. If you want to get started in locums, but are not confident in what steps to take and how to do it well, take my course and you can do locums with confidence.  

After three years of locums, I then actually retired from medicine, but I call it repurposed. I had a new mission in life, teaching physicians about personal finance. 

My Psyche

One of the biggest concerns I had when I retired was whether or not I would miss practicing medicine. I did not. I developed a new passion, teaching physicians about personal finance and coaching them through tough times. My new mission in life has kept me busy enough that I have not missed my life as a surgeon. 

I am especially thankful that I was retired before the pandemic hit. Many doctors faced tough times during 2020 and I was very thankful I didn’t have to weather this storm. I did think about volunteering to help with understaffed hospitals, but I had been retired too long, so I wasn’t eligible to simply reactivate my license.

It is very important to stay busy during retirement as boredom must be avoided or it blows the entire purpose of being retired and free. Even though I stay busy, I have especially enjoyed the flexibility in my new life to drop what I am doing and go do something fun when the opportunity arises. When my kids drop in for a visit or I decide to just pop over to mom and dad’s for a visit or someone asks if we want to go on a trip with them, I’m glad I have the ability to rearrange my schedule at the drop of the hat. It is great to be able to just do it. 

My new mission

I have been teaching personal finance for decades, formally by leading financial study groups and informally over the operating table or in the doctor’s lounge. I have now turned my passion for personal finance into a business. I began by publishing books in The Doctors Guide to series. These books have become best sellers and have won several awards, one of which was non-fiction book of the year

The 5th book in my series, The Doctors Guide to Navigating a Financial Crisis was published last June. I wrote it to help everyone, not just doctors, who were hit hard by the pandemic shutdown.

I started a blog in the spring of 2016, after my first book came out, and have published a new article every Thursday since its inception. I later introduced Fawcett’s Favorites on Mondays, which is a collection of my five favorite articles discovered during the previous week. 

My second course, The Doctors Course to Automating Your Real Estate Investments, was released last fall. This course was in direct response to a question I repeatedly was asked: ”How could you possibly manage 64 rental units as a full-time general surgeon?” I included all my tips and tricks so others can make their real estate investing as passive as they want it to be. I am especially proud of this course as it is making real estate investing possible for so many doctors.

I am currently working on two lectures I will be giving in the White Coat Investor’s 2021 Physician Wellness and Financial Literacy Conference March 4-6. My first lecture will be on Debtabetic Neuropathy, a disease I covered in my book,The Doctors Guide to Eliminating Debt. The second lecture is on using real estate for your retirement, which is from my book, The Doctors Guide to Real Estate Investing for Busy Professionals. If you would like to attend these lectures as well as the other 50 lectures in the virtual conference, you can get access here. (Of note, I do get paid an affiliate fee if you buy access to the conference through my link. This is at no additional cost to you and helps keep my business afloat.) At only $899, the CME is a bargain. You don’t have to travel or take time off as this conference is attended virtually from your home, and you can watch the lectures as many times as you want. Here is a chance to spend some of that CME money you built up over 2020 while you couldn’t travel.

Giving lectures on finance has been a lot of fun, but my favorite thing to do is one-on-one coaching. I started a financial makeover program to help doctors who want to optimize their finances for debt reduction and meeting their retirement goals. That has been a lot of fun.

Recently, since I haven’t been traveling, I opened up my High Performance Coaching program to more people. A few years ago, I got certified as a High Performance Coach to become better at coaching my Financial Makeover Clients. In December I decided to increase my one-on-one High Performance Coaching clientele by opening up a dozen slots for new people. It was a big leap for me to commit that much time to these new clients, but since I’m not traveling I have extra time to devote to my clients.  I have thoroughly enjoyed taking these students to a higher level through High Performance Coaching. 

My Finances

One big worry I had before I pulled the trigger on retirement was, do I really have enough money to last until my wife and I die. My wife, an accountant, kept reassuring me we had enough. I could see the numbers, but I was still worried. If we ran out of money in a few years, I could not return to surgery without being retrained.

It turned out she was right. We have more than enough money. The year I retired we started taking a 3.9% distribution from my retirement plans, which was the calculated requirement for the IRS using the substantially equal periodic payments method, also known as rule 72(t). (Clicking on that link gives you the instructions as to how you can do this also.) Under this rule I am required to take the same dollar figure each year for five years, at which time I will be sixty. Following these guidelines, I will not pay any penalties for taking my money out of my retirement plan before I’m 59 ½ years old. After that, I can take out whatever I want until I reach age 72 when my required minimum distribution kicks in. The 72(t) rule proves that it is a myth that you can’t take your retirement money before age 59 ½. 

In addition to 3.9% distribution from my retirement plan we had our real estate investment cash flow from our four apartment buildings totaling 55 units. You can read all about my rentals in The Doctors Guide to Real Estate Investing for Busy Professionals. We weren’t sure we needed to take any of the money out of the retirement plans to supplement this cash flow, but since we wanted to travel and didn’t know exactly what that would cost, we took it to be sure we had enough to do what we wanted. It turns out the cash flow from our real estate has been enough to fund our retired lifestyle without taking any withdrawals from our retirement plan.

During the four years we have been making those withdrawals, we have seen our net worth increase by 24.6% and our retirement account value has increased by 22.2%. We clearly have not gone backwards despite losing my surgical income and living off our retirement accounts. We have not put any more money into our retirement plans since I left my practice at the end of 2013. Yet despite taking three distributions from the plans, they continue to grow. For those who are interested, my retirement plan money is invested in stock mutual funds. I don’t own any bonds. 

Our real estate net operating income has gone up 22.8% in the last four years and its spendable cash flow is up 51.1%. My real estate cash flow is more than keeping up with inflation and exceeds our personal expenses.

The retirement police on the internet will say I am not retired since I run Financial Success MD. I can assure you, I feel retired. Also any money I made from this new business is not reflected in the real estate and retirement plan numbers listed above. It does, however, have an impact on my net worth.

Travel

My fourth year of retirement was a drastic departure from my first three years retired as the pandemic changed our plans just like it did for everyone else. We had a trip booked to China in March 2020 with another couple and a two-week cruise to Iceland with a group of 12 friends and relatives. Both trips got canceled, we got money back on the cruise and credits for future travel on the China trip. We have stayed home all year. 

Our timeshare traveling came to a halt, so we have built up some more credit for when things open up again. There is no point in traveling to someplace that won’t have restaurants or activities open when we get there. Since we have been staying home, we are doing all the home repairs that backed up during our extensive retirement travels. We were gone on an adventure 56% of the time during 2019. During 2020, we left in our motorhome in January to go to Southern California and Arizona for some good weather. We arrived home just as the lock down began and our motorhome has sat idle ever since. 

We did take it out to a nearby lake one weekend in August. We stayed at our third choice of lakes, since everything was full. Camping has become very popular during the lock down. While we have been at home we have finished the plans for our new home. But since construction has slowed due to the pandemic, we are still waiting to break ground and pour the foundation.

Since I retired from medicine we have crossed the border of more than 2 dozen countries, hiked 450 miles on the Camino de Santiago in Spain, and our longest cruise has been 31 days. 

The best thing about my fourth year of retirement

The best and biggest news of my fourth year of retirement was my becoming a grandfather. My oldest son blessed me with my first grandson a few weeks ago. I forgot how tiny a newborn child is. Since we were not able to see him in the hospital due to COVID restrictions limiting hospital visitors, my son and daughter-in-law stopped at our house to show off the new baby on their way home from the hospital. 

When they asked me what I wanted to be called as a grandfather, I looked up nicknames for grandfather. Every one of those nickname made me feel old. When I was a kid, I remember thinking that my grandfathers were old, but they were younger when I was born than I am today. The thought of being called Grandpop, makes me feel old. 

It has finally dawned on me that I am old! At least I am old based on my definition of old when I was a kid. I sure don’t feel as old as the term grandfather makes it seem. 

I am so grateful that I am retired and can babysit for my grandchild whenever needed. Well, at least when we are in town.

The Future

I now have grown accustomed to my new life and don’t see ever going back to a regular job that requires me to stay home all the time and take call.

We will resume traveling after we get vaccinated against COVID-19 and things open up again. Hopefully this will be in the summer.

Our new home will hopefully be finished by the end of summer, but I’m not holding my breath since they were supposed to start building last September and we don’t have a foundation poured yet. Our new house will be smaller than our current house with a low maintenance yard to care for. We should be able to walk out the door and go adventuring without worrying about our home. No more ponds, waterfalls, fish, gardens, and trees to care for.

I will continue to use my time writing/teaching/coaching/speaking to doctors about personal finance as helping doctors achieve financial success brings joy and purpose to my life. I should be releasing my next book this summer. 

If you are contemplating retirement, and it goes anything like mine, it will be better than you anticipate. When you think you have enough money to retire, you probably do. Travel has not cost nearly as much as I thought it would, and the freedom to come and go as you please is very nice. 

What do you want to do after you retire? If you have already retired, what have you learned that you could share with those who are getting ready to make the leap?

Share this article:

9 thoughts on “After Four Years of Retirement, All is Well”

  1. Dr. Fawcett,
    Congratulations on your retirement, financial success, marriage, grandfatherhood and altruistic mission to help other physicians. Hoping for your expeditious return to travel.

    Reply
  2. Thanks for the update.

    Congratulations on your many achievements and blessings. I’m so happy for your guys.

    So far, I’m still enjoying my part-time practice. It is reassuring to know that I would likely also do fine if I were to stop practicing.

    Jim Otar is one of the brightest financial planning guys that I follow. He says that the best test of long-term finances during retirement is his “year four rule.” If you have more money after four years than when you started you will survive any SORR just fine. You made it.

    My favorite line in your post was, “It turned out she was right.” You sounded surprised. Ha! Men.

    She has always given you the best guidance and has been right about every major decision in your life that I’m aware of.

    Reply

Leave a Comment