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The Best Financial Mistake I Ever Made

I spend a lot of time talking about my mistakes. But what is my biggest financial mistake?

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Well, it also happens to be the best financial mistake that I ever made. And I want to share all the details with you.

Let’s set the scene

I was about to graduate college. For undergraduate, I went to Emory University in Atlanta. It’s a private school. Tuition at the time was around $40,000/year. I worked in the student gym and had some scholarships. But I paid for pretty much the whole tuition in private loans.

financial mistake

I can remember sitting with my parents and them telling me that they could not help me pay for college. And that if I wanted to go to a school like Emory, it would be using loans that I had to pay back. It didn’t affect my decision.

Anyway, so here I am finishing college with at least $160,000 in debt at this point.

I had been accepted to my hometown, state medical school. I was also on the waitlist for another regional, private medical school. Then I got a call from them that I was accepted off of the waitlist.

I had a choice to make.

I chose to go to the private medical school.

This was a very poor financial decision

Why? Well, it’s not hard to read between the lines.

During college, my parents had not suddenly amassed enough to pay for my medical school training. So I knew very well that I was going to pay for it in loans.

And at the time, the difference in tuition between the two medical schools was about $25-30,000/year. The private school was obviously more expensive.

So, conservatively, I accrued $100,000 more in debt by attending the private medical school.

Let’s project this out after 7 years of deferment. Remember that I deferred all my loans throughout my 7 year residency and fellowship training? Yup, more financial mistakes.

After 7 years of deferment at interest rates near 7%, this amount roughly projects to a debt of $161,000.

This financial mistake cost me, at minimum, $161,000!

An important qualifier

I think it is very important to note here that these two medical schools were both very, very good. Each would have graduated me a very capable and successful future doctor.

In this sense, the decision I made looks even worse.

If someone else were in my position, I may advise them to not choose as I did…

At least for financial reasons.

Let’s examine this financial mistake from another lens…

Let’s examine it from a completely non-financial lens.

First, why did I choose to go to the private over public medical school?

I could lie and tell you all sorts of things such as me liking the curriculum better, or me not wanting to live in my hometown but rather to be more independent.

But, if Im being completely honest, it was the relative prestige of the private over the public medical school that drove my choice.

Do I think that is a good reason? No, I don’t. Nobody even asks me where I went to medical school anymore. This perceived prestige is not worth $161,000.

What happened after I started?

Two things happened during my 4 years of medical school that make this choice the best financial mistake that I ever made.

Both are completely out of my hands and pure coincidence, luck, or fate if you believe in those kinds of things.

1. I met the love of my life, my wife Selenid

She was a medical student in my class. We were even at neighboring tables in anatomy class. We started dating during the second half of that first year.

the prudent plastic surgery
financial mistake
Young and clueless!

Selenid ended up shifting gears to pursue her PhD. We stayed together in the same city during my 4 years of medical school and her Master’s eduction. Then we moved to NYC and now Buffalo together.

It’s wild to think that our paths may not have crossed if I made a different decision…

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2. I decided that I wanted to be a plastic surgeon

Plastic surgery is my passion. Doing this is what I am supposed to do on this Earth. I feel incredibly lucky to have found what I am supposed to do. I truly don’t work.

But I likely would not have found plastic surgery if I did not go to the private medical school. Why? Because the state medical school did not have a plastic surgery presence or program at the time.

(Ironically, I now work as a plastic surgeon at the main hospital affiliated with this state medical school. The plastic surgery presence is now very large and continues to build. We even are applying for a plastic surgery residency program. Funny how things work!)

I very randomly found plastic surgery by changing an elective in neonatology to plastic surgery just a week or so before I was supposed to start.

And the rest in history.

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But now let’s shift back to a financial perspective

The two items I shared above really were serendipity. And they made my life much, much better in a personal and professional way.

But they also both made my life better in a financial way.

Without Selenid, I may never have even started my financial education

Remember, she was the one who read our first financial book and told me to read it! That started the dominoes that led to The Prudent Plastic Surgeon!

More than that, she is my partner in everything financial. She is the COO of The Prudent Plastic Surgeon and the CEO of our real estate business. Plus, she works as a professor and even has speaking side gigs related to her field of expertise!

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And plastic surgery increased my income ceiling

It just so happens that my calling pays well. If my calling was something else that paid less, I still would choose to follow that passion. But, it is a nice coincidence.

(Honestly, the reality is that any physician has a calling that pays very, very well.)

But by finding plastic surgery, I definitely managed to increased my lifetime income in the range of likely millions. Now, it’s still my responsibility to use that money wisely to create financial freedom. Millions made followed by millions spent does not equal FI.

But this career choice certainly gave me a greater “margin” of money to invest with a build this foundation and beyond. And I likely would not have made this career choice if I had not attended this medical school.

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And that is why this is my best financial mistake ever!

Sure, could I have predicted any of this ahead of time?..Probably not. But it does allow me to feel some grace when I look at all of my student loans that I continue to pay back!

But, what can you do to avoid future financial mistakes? Start here!

What do you think? What’s your greatest financial mistake? Any silver linings that you have found?

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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].

    11 thoughts on “The Best Financial Mistake I Ever Made”

    1. dude, don’t worry man. I went to state medical school, only $160K of loans, but it did nothing to insulate me from being screwed by Northwestern Mutual. Northwestern Mutual was my biggest mistake, and 7 years out of training, med school debt wasn’t paid off, paid 160K in whole life insurance premiums instead of my med school debt with only 100K of cash value, variable annuity within an IRA, non-true own occ disability, expensive term life insurance policies, and expensive advisor led 529’s.

      Your mistake was not a mistake at all! It ended up valuable in the end because you maximized those dollars with the information that you had, and became financially literate before being screwed like I was. I went to state school and still ended up a financial failure because of northwestern mutual, and had nothing to do with choice of med school. Its not the choice of med school and the cost, but what you do with that opportunity that those dollars gave you with the information that you. Paying a few hundred thousand bucks resulted in an excellent career, beautiful wife and kids! My mistake only lined Northwestern Mutual’s pockets with at least $50,000 (likely I gave them more) and all I have to show for it is unpaid medical school debt, credit card debt that luckily I paid off no thanks to Northwestern, and hurtful arguments with my wife.

      However, Annie Duke says we shouldn’t be resulting, so we should make sure that every future doctor is financially literate. In the end you got lucky with your mistake- mine unfortunately is likely the more common outcome of financial head in the sand behavior.

    2. I love how you own your decisions and reframe this to show the positive effects! I chose the opposite (2 state schools), and I believe these decisions played a big part in me being FI + debt free before age 50 while working part time as a specialist. In the end no one cares where you went to school if you’re doing quality work.

      • Thanks Dawn! And I could not agree with you more. The “prestige” factor is way overrated so long as you have good training. Love all you do and thanks for being such an inspiring example!

    3. We all know that once one starts working and making significant money people come out of the woodwork asking for investment monies. I have found that investing in other’s ideas has not panned out for me.

      I have invested and lost hundreds of thousands of dollars to learn a few simple lessons.

      1. No one values my money as much as I much as I do.
      2. Investing in others has not profited me at all financially.
      3. My best investments have been in myself. The fields that I understand ie. surgical centers, commercial real estate for my practice, PAs, medical imaging, DME.

    4. Here is the crux – the diamond nugget

      “she (wife) is my partner in everything financial. She is the COO of The Prudent Plastic Surgeon and the CEO of our real estate business. Plus, she works as a professor and even has speaking side gigs related to her field of expertise!”

      Truly that’s one of the biggest catalyst for success both in “life” and financial success.

      Great story.

    5. Who knows what would have happened with the road not taken? Likely that if you had chosen the public medical school you could have written a similar article and just changed the names (to protect the innocent)😉


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