Why smart veterinarians make bad buying decisions


Our brains move fast! Slow down before you shell out.


(Photo: THINKSTOCK/LJUPCO)We veterinarians face a very specific psychological pitfall when it comes to how we view a prospective purchase in relation to our salary. Here's an example (I swear, the following scenario is completely fictional and has nothing to do with me or my own life):

Dr. Indebt wants to buy a new bicycle. He just got finished watching his DVR'd coverage of the Tour de France, and he's pretty convinced he missed his calling. If he can just push through the initial investment and spend the next few months training, he'll be on the fast track to a career as a professional cyclist and ride away from all of those growling Rottweilers and pissed-off clients.

He fills his Amazon.com cart with everything he needs: bike, spandex, lights, tools, you name it. A pretty darn reasonable purchase, really, at barely over the $4,000 mark. The pitch to his wife? “This is hardly anything! I earn $80,000 a year! We got free shipping! It only takes me two weeks to make this money and the potential return is limitless! It's a no-brainer!”

Why did Dr. Indebt's wife punch him in the face? Hint: She didn't even bother to Google average salaries for professional cyclists. While the answer may be obvious to some of you, this is the exact kind of thinking that lands so many of us in serious financial trouble. When our brain tells us it's time to spend, we often lose sight of the big picture. That's when the focus turns to what we want. We become experts at devising any number of irrational ways to convince ourselves that we're right and that the spending is OK.

Sure, Dr. Indebt is bringing in some serious cheese at the 80K mark. But let's whittle it down: After taxes, he's left with 54K in take-home pay. Now subtract the mortgage he thought he could afford (very reasonable 30-year loan) and the lease (ouch, bad idea!) on his brand-new BMW (I mean, he is a doctor after all). Now he's left with 18K for the year, and guess what? That's exactly what he pays on his student loans every year.

Oh, and by the way, since he leased the car, he has to pay a high car insurance premium. Throw in the utility bills, groceries and payments on other consumer debt and, well, it's a darn good thing that Dr. Indebt married someone who is more financially responsible than he is.

The thing is, danger lurks behind every corner in the way we think about what we owe and what we spend. Our psyche plays a major role in how we feel about our debts and budgeting in general, and when we're facing veterinary school debt, all of this is intensified.

Don't be a Dr. Indebt. Be honest with yourself about your budget. The first step to doing that is to know and live your budget every single day.

Dr. Jeremy Campfield works in emergency and critical care private practice in Southern California. He is also an avid kiteboarder.

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