Question. I am a 61-year-old emergency physician. I am healthy and still enjoying my practice and make about $300,000 per year. However, for various reasons, I only have $300,000 saved for retirement. I would like to retire eventually but feel like I am way behind my peers. What can I do to still have a comfortable retirement?
A: The first thing to realize is that you are not alone. Due to inadequate financial education, poor discipline, a late start, a divorce, and/or bad investment advice, many physicians arrive at retirement age with far less than they need to continue their current standard of living in retirement. While starting early obviously makes everything much easier, it is never too late to improve your financial position. Here are eight steps to help you make the most of your situation.
1. Cut Back a Little Now Rather Than a Lot Later
Unfortunately, there is no way, short of winning the lottery, for a physician spending most of his $300,000 salary to reproduce that entire salary with his investments in less than 10 years, particularly starting with such a small nest egg. The 4 percent rule indicates that to replace a $300,000 salary, you need $7.5 million. Social Security reduces that need somewhat, but there is no realistic way to get from here to there. Most physicians won’t need to replace anywhere near their entire income to maintain their standard of living since they will not need to contribute to retirement accounts, fund college savings accounts, pay for work-related and child-related expenses, and pay premiums for disability and life insurance. Hopefully, their mortgage will also retire with them. However, if you have been spending nearly your entire income, you are in for a drastic reduction in income upon retiring. Your Social Security may provide $30,000–$50,000 per year, but that $300,000 portfolio will only contribute another $12,000 per year. While there are many people in America who retire quite comfortably on that size income, it will be a dramatic change from spending most of a $300,000 salary. The sooner you cut back on your current spending, the less dramatic the change at retirement will be.
2. Work as Long as Possible
The best solution to an inadequate nest egg is simply to keep working. This has numerous benefits. You have more time for your nest egg to compound. You also have more earnings to contribute to your retirement funds. Your Social Security benefits grow with more contributions. The longer you work, the shorter retirement will be, so the smaller the nest egg you will need in retirement. Even if you are only working part-time, you will still reap many of these benefits.