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Do Your Finances Pass the Celery Test?

Since coming across the concept of the celery test, I’ve actually found it to be a very useful thought experiment for all aspects of life. But one really particularly powerful application of the celery test is with our personal finances.

But first let’s talk about celery…

celery test finances

What is the celery test?

I’m not sure if this is where the idea originated, but I first learned about the celery test in the book, Start With Why by Simon Sinek. This is a fantastic book about why certain businesses succeed where other fail. I highly recommend it. The strategies and ideas they talk about are certainly applicable as well to medicine, your practice, and life in general.

Anyway, in the book, Sinek talks about the celery test as it applies to businesses. And maybe the best definition is to paraphrase the example he uses.

The business example

Imagine you are starting a health food store. So you go to three successful businesspeople for advice. The first one tells you that the most important thing to see in your store is peanut butter. The second tells you to sell chocolate. And the third tells you to sell celery.

Which advice should you follow? They are all successful businesspeople whose advice is sought by the masses.

Well, in this example, the answer is obvious. You listen to businessperson #3. Why? Because celery is a healthy food and matches with the goal, with the why, of your planned business – a health food store.

However, in real life, the decisions are usually more nuanced and the answer often much less clear. So, it becomes really important to intentionally think about if what you are doing as a business matches with your why. This is certainly a concept I often am thinking about and using to make decisions with this blog!

But I like another example even better…

The grocery store example

Now, imagine that you want to start eating healthier. And you are at the grocery store, checking out. I actually used to work as a cashier at a grocery store locally in Buffalo – Wegman’s – so this example holds a special place in my heart.

Now, you are placing all of the grocery items that you are buying on the conveyor belt. And someone else walks by and looks at your purchases. Think to yourself – would that person know that I am trying to eat healthier?

Well, if your belt is filled with candy, processed foods, and ice cream, then no, that stranger would not guess you are focusing on eating healthier. If the belt is filled with fruits and vegetables – like celery, then they would guess you are a healthy eater.

So the celery test is all about aligning your actions – what you buy at the grocery store – with your goals and intentions – wanting to eat healthier in this example.

That’s a powerful thought and mindset tool!

And it is way easier said than done. I know because I have failed the celery test, especially when it comes to my goal of eating healthier, many times. But that should not stop us from using it!

The celery test and personal finances

Every doctor that I talk to wants financial freedom. And most agree that if all doctors were financially free, healthcare would improve like I believe. However, most doctors’ actions don’t align with these goals.

It doesn’t pass the celery test.

Doctors tell me that they can’t get on top of their finances or save money. And then they buy a new expensive car on a loan or a second home using a mortgage. That just doesn’t make sense.

As I write this, I recognize it can sound a little judgmental. And that is not my intent. Again, I know that I want to eat healthier but had a cookie for lunch yesterday. Just because my finances pass the celery test doesn’t mean I have it all figured out. I don’t.

But, I can offer some advice based on my experiences, mistakes (these are my top 11 financial mistakes), failures, and some successes…

3 steps to get your finances to pass the celery test

Like I’ve said before, it is all about building small habits that stack on each other to lead to massive results. And it takes 66 days to form a new habit. So the best time to start is today!

1. Create a set of financial goals

Without a set of financial goals, you have nothing to base your celery test on. There is no why or answer key for comparison.

And too many people just don’t have their financial goals set out. Sure, you might say things like, “I want to be financially free.” But that’s not a goal because it is not defined or actionable. That’s a wish.

Actually sit down alone or with your significant other if you have one and write down concrete financial goals. Here are some examples:

  • Become debt free in 10 years
  • Have a net worth of $1 million by age 40
  • Buy a new car outright in 3 years

And on and on. They will all be personal and be different. That’s ok. That’s what makes them important to you. I encourage you to write them all down and refer back to them every once in awhile. I include mine in my written financial plan.

These goals, backed by a strong overall “Big Why” for desiring financial freedom, form the standard that you can then compare your actions to. If your actions work towards these goals, they pass the celery test. If not, then maybe some adjustments are needed.

Here is my Guide to Creating Your Financial Goals and Priorities!

2. Budget. Seriously. Make a budget

I get it. I’ve never met anyone who right out of the gate was excited about a budget. But they can be exciting. Because they can help lead you to financial freedom.

The trick is to stop thinking about budgets as a restrictive thing. Instead, change your mindset and think of them as permissive. They tell you how much you can spend while still reaching your financial goals.

Plus, a budget is the ultimate tool to gauge if your finances pass the celery test. Because, in my opinion, the most important variable in the FIRE equation is your spending. That’s your financial output.

Comparing your financial output to see if it matches up with your financial goals is a very concise and clear way to see if you pass the celery test.

Here is my 7 Step Guide to Budgeting for Early Career Doctors!

3. Check your net worth

Your net worth is your wealth scorecard. It will tell you where you are in your journey to financial freedom.

As a refresher and in very simple terms, net worth is equal to your assets minus your liabilities. So then, what are assets and liabilities? Many definitions of assets and liabilities exist including some that are unnecessarily long and complicated. Simply put, assets are anything you own that put money in your pocket. This includes things like stock or bond investments and cash-flowing real estate. Conversely, liabilities are anything that takes money out of your pocket. The most common liabilities are debt and non-cash-flowing real estate like our primary homes.

Net Worth  =  Assets (Put Money in your Pocket) – Liabilities (Take Money Out of your Pocket)

Again, what is interesting to note in this calculation of net worth is that your income does not come into play. You will not find income listed anywhere on any net worth calculator. 

In any event, you can compare your current net worth to your expected net worth for your age and situation for a very macro look at your financial situation.

And you can get an insider view of my most recent net worth update here!

It’s all about perspective

None of us are perfect. And none of us will always pass the celery test. But, like James Clear states in his book Atomic Habits, each action we take is a vote about what type of person we are or want to be.

So, the celery test can help us to think about the votes we are casting and if they align with who we are and want to be – financially and otherwise!

As you look to incorporate the simple financial strategies to improve your net worth and reach financial freedom, here are some helpful resources!

And you can watch my Masterclass Webinar on The 12 Steps to Financial Freedom for Physicians here!

What do you think? Do your personal finances pass the celery test? Why or why not? Let me know in the comments below!

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    Jordan Frey MD, a plastic surgeon in Buffalo, NY, is one of the fastest-growing physician finance bloggers in the world. See how he went from financially clueless to increasing his net worth by $1M in 1 year and how you can do the same! Feel free to send Jordan a message at [email protected].

    1 thought on “Do Your Finances Pass the Celery Test?”

    1. I have not double checked in the book “Start with Why” but in the grocery store and in finances, the Celery Test seems more like a SAT score than a straight pass/fail.

      If people go to a grocery store for celery and also for ice cream, they are probably still ahead of someone else who just went through a fast food drive through.

      If people have a retirement account that they contribute to without maxxing it out, they are still ahead of those with no accounts at all.

      “Atomic Habits” is right. The more individual decisions in which that we chose celery and financial prudence, the better! I doubt that I would ace an overall celery test but the more of my choices that pass it, the higher I will score.

      With that said, I personally plan to keep eating ice cream as well as celery all the way to Fat Fire.


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