Dr. Cobin Soelberg sheds light on how intentions can impact financial independence for physicians.
“Does this align with the things that we as a family value? Does this give us the choices that we want in five or ten years? I think back to this trip that my family just took. Having a newborn at 45 is life changing. It’s life changing at any point, but I want to spend all the time that I can with Wes while he’s young. And if that means I need to work less and earn less, I’m willing to do it. And thankfully we’re at a point in our careers and in our financial lives where that’s a choice we can make, where my most important priority, which is time with family, is something that we can actually do.”
-Dr. Cobin Soelberg, M.D., J.D., Owner of Greeley Wealth Management
How can physicians achieve financial independence and financial freedom in a way that identifies with purpose and value in their life? For Dr. Cobin Soelberg, that purpose is family. Through today’s conversation with DocWorking CEO and cohost of the podcast, Dr. Jen Barna, Dr. Soelberg brings his expertise as a physician and owner of Greeley Wealth Management. Dr. Soelberg helps physicians to climb out of debt and find financial independence and stability by first defining their own values and intentions.
In today’s episode, Dr. Barna and Dr. Soelberg recognize and empathize with the common expectations for doctors to make extravagant financial purchases once they financially “can.” Dr. Barna and Dr. Soelberg talk about the distinction between making major purchases based on what other people value versus exploring one’s own values, and how taking the time to clarify what you truly value, and your intentions, can be a game changer that can set you up for reaching your long term financial goals. Listen to today’s podcast to learn how you can change your mindset towards your finances, and most importantly, how you can build the life you truly want.
Book referenced in this podcast episode:
Wanting: The Power of Mimetic Desire in Every Day Life by Luke Burgis- https://www.amazon.com/Wanting-Power-Mimetic-Desire-Everyday/dp/1250262488
You may also enjoy this previous episode of DocWorking: The Whole Physician Podcast featuring Dr. Cobin Soelberg:
139: “Financial Independence for Doctors with Dr. Cobin Soelberg”- https://docworking.com/2022/01/24/139-financial-independence-for-doctors-with-dr-cobin-soelberg/
Cobin Soelberg, M.D., J.D. is the Treasurer of his private practice anesthesia group located in Bend, OR. Cobin is also a Certified Financial Planner candidate and owner of Greeley Wealth Management, a financial planning firm run by a physician for physicians.
As a practicing anesthesiologist with legal and financial training, Cobin has a unique expertise and understanding of his colleagues’ clinical pressures and the financial worries that keep them awake at night. Cobin helps his colleagues destroy their student loan debt, protect their income and assets and create a retirement plan that would make you jealous!
Medical School – University of Utah School of Medicine
Law School – University of Pennsylvania School of Law
Anesthesia Residency – Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania
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Podcast produced by: Mara Heppard
Please enjoy the full transcript below
Dr. Cobin: Does this align with the things that we as a family value, does this give us the choices that we want in 5 or 10 years? I think back to this trip that my family just took, and having a newborn at 45 is life changing. It’s life changing at any point, but I want to spend all the time that I can with Wes, while he’s young. And if that means I need to work less and earn less, I’m willing to do it. And thankfully, we’re at a point in our careers, in our financial lives, where that’s a choice we can make, where my most important priority, which is time with family, is something that we can actually do.
Jen: Welcome to DocWorking: The Whole Physician Podcast. I’m Dr. Jen Barna, cohost of the podcast. And I want to have today a very brutally honest conversation about financial decisions that we make as physicians and the consequences that those can have. I’m bringing back a guest, who I really enjoy talking with, Dr. Cobin Soelberg, who is a practicing Board-Certified Anesthesiologist, as well as an attorney, Founder and Principal Advisor of Greeley Wealth Management in Bend, Oregon. Dr. Soelberg is a father, and husband, and has so much insight into work-life balance, as well as how we as physicians can position ourselves in a way that we will be able to thrive financially. Dr. Cobin Soelberg, welcome back to DocWorking: The Whole Physician Podcast. It’s terrific to have you here as one of our trusted resources.
Dr. Cobin: Thank you, Jen. It’s so good to see you again.
Jen: It’s great to see you, too. So, please tell me, catch me up. What’s been going on?
Dr. Cobin: Well, you got to just meet our sweet little baby boy, Wes. We have an eight-month-old at home. And so, as you know, everything revolves around him to some degree. We all just got back from Spain, which was a wonderful trip. The three of us went, plus grandma, it was so special and so sweet to see both of them together in Spain just wandering around. For Wes, it’s the most people he’s ever been around. So, his eyes were just saucers the entire time. It was so fun.
Jen: What a wonderful thing to be able to do. And it really, actually brings us into the conversation that I’m hoping to have with you today about financial choices and setting yourself up in a way that you can be able to do some of those really meaningful things, like, take a trip like that with your family.
Dr. Cobin: Yeah, it’s perfect. Honestly, the whole time I was there, I kept thinking, like, “This is why we do all those things.” It’s this time where we get to be together as a family, there’s no agenda, we just get to spend this time together. For me, that’s one of our highest priorities. And so, it was really neat to be able to do that and reflect on why that was so important. I think the hard work is to actually spend that time with yourself and the people that you love, and are important to you, and prioritizing and sitting down saying, “These are the things that we value.” It could be time with family, it could be a new boat, so, you can take them out on the water, it could be travel. Whatever it is for you, that’s what’s most important. I think it’s really easy, especially in medicine. I don’t know if you feel this way, but to look around and see our partners and other physicians and see the things that they have, whether that’s a new car, a big house, or a big vacation and say, “Oh, I want those things, too,” without reflecting on if that’s actually what we value in our own life.
Jen: One thing I love that I’ve heard before is, you can have anything but you can’t have everything. What you’re saying makes sense, because you have to make choices, no matter how many resources you have, you still can only use your resources in so many ways. And so, when you look around and decide to have the expensive car or the expensive house, you’re choosing that over something else. The question is, have you sorted out what you really want? And if that is what you really want, by all means it’s perfectly a wonderful thing to do, if that’s what’s right for you.
But I’m really interested in delving into this question of how do we as physicians figure out what the consequences are for each decision and how do we navigate that path, especially as we’re coming out of training, which has taken usually over a decade altogether, and suddenly, we’re going to come into a real substantial salary for the first time. We have no experience with knowing how to manage that. So, going back to that very beginning, how do you advise people to just take the first steps?
Dr. Cobin: That’s a great question. When you start from residency, you actually have all sorts of freedom. You have more control over your time, you’re not being told where to be and when to go home anymore, and you’re, of course, making quite a bit of money. I always tell people, it’s okay to spend a little bit more money. But again, going back to what you said, you can have anything you want, you can’t just have everything you want. And so, what I try and get my clients to focus on is paying themselves first and paying their future selves. Paying off those student loans, saving for a house if that’s something that’s important to them. And certainly, one of the biggest things is starting to save for retirement, for all of us who have started so late saving for retirement, in those first five or seven years, really, the only thing that matters is your savings. What I mean by that is, how much money you’re cramming into those accounts. Because when you have $10,000 in there or even $100,000 in there, it really doesn’t matter what the stock market’s doing. But when you have a million dollars in your account, the stock market can earn you quite a bit of money. That’s when the compounding really starts taking over and it really doesn’t take that long. For most people in the seven to 10-year range, they’ve paid off their debt, they have significant retirement savings, and they can start making much different choices over how they spend their time.
Jen: I heard one person recently who was talking about saving for retirement and I loved what she said. She said, she named her future self, like, she literally gave her future self a name and so, she would say, “I’m going to put this money aside for Betty Lou.” To put a name on herself, so that she really feels she’s saving it for a specific person, because it’s a little bit of a difficult concept and especially when you’re young and you feel that’s really far away.
Dr. Cobin: I love it. Behavior is everything when it comes to things like this. It’s the same with our health, whether that’s getting exercise and getting the right amount of sleep. What you’re doing is giving Betty Lou better choices in the future. I love that. [chuckles] That’s great. I’m totally going to steal your analogy.
Jen: And it comes back to that caring type of mentality where you’re making, generally speaking, you put yourself last, but if you’re thinking of this person as a separate person, you’re almost more inclined to take care of them than you are to just think of yourself sometime down the road.
Dr. Cobin: Right. Because I have no idea where I’m going to want in 5 years, much less 10 or 20 years. But what I do know I want is choice. It’s easy to reflect on those things. And yeah, if you have that image of that person, it makes it so much more powerful.
Jen: As physicians and healthcare professionals at large, I think there’s often that knowing doing gap. We notice it when it comes to healthcare-related issues like exercise.
Dr. Cobin: Sure.
Jen: We know we should exercise, we know what eating right is, but we don’t necessarily [laughs] do it, and it could be the same with financial choices. Often maybe we don’t know, we don’t realize the consequences of making large purchases early in our careers for example. Have you ever worked through the numbers to see what the consequence is of purchasing an expensive car or an expensive house early in one’s career compared to saving early and then maybe waiting 5 to 10 years to make those major purchases?
Dr. Cobin: Yeah, it’s interesting because it really doesn’t seem spending $50,000 or even $100,000 would make that big of a difference. The reason that it does is the power of compounding. That $50,000 or $100,000 sitting in the market for an extra decade ends up making two to three times that. When you look forward even further 20 or 30 years down the road, when you are retiring that ends up being a half a million dollars, $800,000 more that you could have had in savings when you go to retire. It’s not insignificant.
Again, it’s not telling you that you can’t have some of these nice things. It’s just telling you, maybe wait two or three years until you’ve made some progress where– I mean, let’s be honest right? Most med students and residents these days, it’s not even that they have a net worth of zero. They have a negative net worth in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. And just like if you’re taking care of a patient with cancer or another serious disease, that kind of debt is a cancer on your financial life and making it a top priority is a really big deal in terms of setting yourself up for future success.
Jen: One thing I’ve never really thought about until you just said that is that paying off that debt versus investing. Paying off the debt is obviously critical, but it also doesn’t have the compounding effect like your payments aren’t compounding toward paying off the debt faster. I’m sure you get this question all the time, of course: “Do I put all my resources into paying off the debt as quickly as possible or do I invest some and pay off the debts?” What’s the best mix?
Dr. Cobin: Well, it’s a great question. It probably is the most common question that I get is exactly what you just said. And so, you really do want to do both. You want to be paying off that debt. You know exactly what you’re getting for that based on the interest that you’re saving. But you also really need, especially for many of us, I think I was 34, 35 when I finished residency. You really need to start getting the money into your investments, whether that’s real estate, whether that’s your 401(k), so that it can start compounding. I think for most of us, a good timeline is three to five years to pay off your student loans. I think that’s pretty reasonable for most physicians on most physician salaries. And also, starting to put money into your 401(k) and depending on how you’re set up, whether that’s in academics or private practice, you’ll be able to save different amounts in pretax accounts. But what you’re aiming for is to save 20% to 25% for retirement. That’s not counting debt repayment.
I think for most docs early in their career, you can easily live off half your salary and use that other half to start building wealth. When I say building wealth, certainly, repaying your debt helps get that net worth up. Both of those things are totally doable for almost every single physician out there. I’ll ask you something. Thinking back when you made the decision to be a physician and then looking at where you are now, did you know what you’d want 10, 15, 20 years down the road?
Jen: I have to say, I made all the wrong choices financially. So, that’s why I like [laughs] talking about this because if I had known better, I wouldn’t have made those choices. And of course, hindsight is 2020, but I remember thinking like, “Oh, I’ll never have to have a junky car again. I’m in my last year of residency, I can buy a really nice car.” I haven’t had a car that nice since that car, because ever since then I figured out, this is not worth it to me. I really don’t care that much about this car and therefore, I’m going to buy used cars from now on. But it is a matter of and of course, the house too. My first house out of residency was, for lack of a better word, ridiculous. It was a money pit and I did it because I had always dreamed of living in a house like that. What I found out is, [chuckles] it sucked a lot of resources. But it was a fun experience and I’m grateful that I got to have it.
Dr. Cobin: There’s a fantastic– I feel I always give you book recommendations when we’re on, but the author’s name is Luke Burgis. It’s B-U-R-G-I-S. I forget where he’s a professor, but the book is called Wanting. It’s all about a concept which I had no idea what it was, called mimetic desire, which is, you don’t want anything just because you want it, you want it because other people want it. Our desire to go to medical school, or for a house, or the vacation. The book is pretty mind blowing to read because it really does structure, it forces you to slow down and say, “Why do I want these things in my life and who am I using to model that behavior on?” Yeah, it’s a little frightening in some ways and really positive in other ways.
Jen: We will definitely reference that in the show notes. That sounds like a terrific recommendation.
Dr. Cobin: It’s so powerful because I’m sure you’ve heard, like, you are the five people you spend the most time with. Part of it, I think is this mimesis, if your friends are building businesses or getting into real estate, you will probably start getting interested in real estate. And so, to me, what I took from it is, think really hard about who you spend your time with and if that aligns with the person you want to be, because it’s so powerful, more than we even realize.
Jen: You can see it. If you think back and realize the choices that you’ve made over time, and also that whole concept of people pleasing like, “Are you making these choices because they align with your values or because they align with someone else’s values that you care about?”
Dr. Cobin: Right. Yeah, it’s very powerful.
Jen: If you take the time like you just suggested of actually sitting down with people who are important in your life and sitting down with yourself to first outline what matters to you, and what matters to you in the short run and the long run, then at least, you can make those decisions in a more educated way than I did. I think I hope my kids will do that going forward. So, that’s why I really am interested in hearing your wisdom on this topic because I think a lot of people could do a better job than I did.
Dr. Cobin: Thank you. And part of it is, I think about how we talk to patients. We’re not like, “Why didn’t you exercise more, why weren’t you taking your blood pressure medicine?” Has that ever worked when you talk to a patient like that? They immediately shut down. They feel they were wrong and they made the bad decision. What I find helps more than anything is instead of judging like that, get really curious. “Can you tell me more like, was it difficult for you to get your blood pressure medicine, can you pay for it? Did you remember where it was and how you’re supposed to take it?” And let’s be honest, the people that were hardest on are always ourselves. You think about all the work that we do with mindset, it’s how do we talk to ourselves.
Jen: We would never treat a patient that way, we would never treat our own child that way. Sometimes, it’s helpful to step back and try to see ourselves from the lens of someone that we would be counseling outside of ourselves.
Dr. Cobin: I think we can do the same thing with ourselves with any behavior change of saying, “Is this purchase important to me, does this align with the things that we as a family value, does this give us the choices that we want in 5 or 10 years?” I think back to this trip that my family just took, and having a newborn at 45 is life changing. It’s life changing at any point. But I want to spend all the time that I can with Wes, while he’s young. And if that means I need to work less and earn less, I’m willing to do it. And thankfully, we’re at a point in our careers and our financial lives, where that’s a choice we can make where my most important priority, which is time with family, is something that we can actually do. It’s one of the first times I feel everything is in alignment, and it’s a wonderful feeling. And so, if we can help other physicians do that, and you don’t have to have the same values as me, but living with that sense of purpose and the sense of values, I think is so important for all of us. I think that’s fundamental to being human.
Jen: I absolutely love that and I completely agree with you. I think making choices with intention can be life changing and it does have implications for your financial wellbeing, as well as your personal wellbeing. I always love talking with you and hearing your insights.
If someone is interested in learning more about you and what you do with Greeley Wealth Management, how can they get in touch with you?
Dr. Cobin: Easiest way is to go to our website, which is that greeleywealth.com. There’re ways to schedule time with me or you can reach out to me at [email protected]. People ask me questions all the time. This is stuff that I really enjoy talking to other physicians about.
Part of the reason I love what you’re doing, Jen, is that you normalize talking about these issues, talking about our money like, “Hey, I made all these mistakes, how do I move forward from it?” I think it’s really important that we get our entire community talking about these issues. So, I always love talking to our colleagues about it.
Jen: You can also find Cobin on the DocWorking trusted resources page at docworking.com. We’re thrilled to have you as a trusted resource, and I really appreciate your valuable insights. Thank you so much, and I look forward to our next conversation.
Dr. Cobin: Me too. I always enjoy catching up with you.
Jen: Thank you for joining us today on DocWorking: The Whole Physician Podcast.
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