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Can I retire by age 50? The answer is a firm maybe

June 1, 2017
Dentists: if you’re going to become financially independent, you need to know these four enemies of financial freedom.

If you’re going to become financially independent, you need to know these four enemies of financial freedom.

What would happen if you were to ask a large room of people the following question: “Would you like to be wealthy?” An overwhelming number would probably raise their hands. But after laying out the requirements to obtain wealth and asking the question again, fewer hands would go up. The moral of the story: While most would like financial success, few are willing to put in the work, effort, and sacrifice necessary to achieve it. This is why the answer to the question posed in this article’s title is maybe.

Over the past 25 years of working with dentists on their financial health, I’ve come to appreciate certain things about them. One of the things I love is that they generally share a basic philosophy with me: begin with the end in mind. I say this because, as the title to this article suggests, many dentists begin with plans of ending their careers on their own terms at an “early-ish” age.

Before we get into the behaviors that both aid and hinder progress toward this elusive goal, I would ask that you change your vocabulary. Your goal is to achieve financial independence. “Retired” carries such finality! Maybe you still want to practice a little dentistry, own a few practices, or begin down an entirely new path. You want the choice to do these things, without regard to financial implications. In a word, you want true independence.

But if you’re going to be successful, you need to know these four enemies of financial freedom. Let’s look at each one and how to avoid it.

Undisciplined spending

Reckless purchases are near the top of the list when it comes to outlining the pitfalls to financial independence. As I’ve heard Brian Cogan with Bank of America’s Practice Solutions Group say, “High levels of credit card debt, high car payments, and a multi six-figure home mortgage are very telling to a loan underwriter.”

Unfortunately, the story these habits tell doesn’t always have a happy ending. It makes conventional financing with competitive terms harder to come by, and in turn, difficult to make other financial goals a priority.

I get it. You put in four years of undergrad and four years (at least) of dental school. Then, when you finally receive a decent paycheck, you want to flex your newfound spending muscles. But resist the temptation to overspend. It’s OK to reward yourself, but temper this impulse with your long-term goal for early financial independence.

Home-run investing

I’ve often opined that one of the biggest pitfalls for the practicing dentist is the “hot investment tip.” There have been more than a few occasions where these scenarios played out much differently than dentists anticipated. Oftentimes, the individual investor is so blinded by perceived potential upside that the risk exposure is ignored.

In the middle and late 1990s, I had a young dentist who fell into this trap. He became enamored with high-risk penny stocks. I’d often hear about the successes, and less frequently about the losses. This is where my concept of “home-run investing” was born. I told this particular client the following:

You are a young dentist in your mid-thirties, and you are earning a multiple six-figure income. There are some people who aren’t in your position and may feel like they must take that risk to get where they want to go. But you don’t have to hit a home run. You are young enough and make enough money. All you need to do is save with discipline and invest prudently, and you can reach your goals. You are the biggest threat to derail your balance sheet!

This is one of the biggest takeaways of this article. Start hitting singles and doubles, and keep doing it. The more you swing for the home run, the more you strike out. Don’t let inappropriate levels of risk put your balance sheet and your goals of financial independence in jeopardy.

Financial disorganization

Average dentists begin their professional journeys in their twenties and stay the course until their sixties. This 30- to 40-year time frame covers many distinct stages of life. Dentists begin purchasing financial products early in their careers, and this behavior continues throughout their lives as circumstances evolve.

On the surface, that may not sound like a problem. But imagine you are one of these dentists and you come meet with me. Upon further review, we discover that you own three or four different disability insurance policies. Add to that four or five different life insurance policies. Before you are finished, be sure to account for the multiple IRA, ROTH IRA, 401(k), 529, and other investment accounts you’ve set up over the years that are just “out there.” Moreover, most of these accounts and policies don’t really “communicate” with each other, meaning they aren’t working in concert to advance your personal financial agenda.

This disorganization can mask underlying issues that can manifest into larger problems if left unchecked. It also makes it very difficult for you to plan for your future, because it’s next to impossible to determine where you are currently.

You can’t begin to chart your course for financial independence if you don’t know where your starting point is. Organizing your financial household gives you the best chance of being successful in reaching financial independence.

Risk-management vulnerabilities

When making plans for financial independence, it’s easier to narrow down your time horizon. It’s similar to investing in children’s college funds. Before you begin, you may not be able to write down an exact future date, but in most cases, you know it’s several years down the road. However, assessing the risk management vulnerabilities in a balance sheet is more complex. Unpredictable perils such as a disability, premature death, or even a liability lawsuit are just that - unpredictable. The randomness of these threats make them the most emergent needs to address. All too often human nature takes over, and perceived invincibility puts these issues farther down the priority list than they deserve.

Mitigating risk in your portfolio is one of the keys to successfully reaching financial independence. Oftentimes, this is only thought of in terms of your investments and asset allocation, but it is much more involved. Dentists who successfully reach their early financial independence goals usually address their exposure to the above-mentioned “unpredictable perils” and ensure that their balance sheets and plans will not be derailed in the event they are realized.


Initiative, mixed in with hard work and discipline, is what propelled you to become a dentist. These same traits can also help you reach financial independence on your own terms. Time is one commodity that cannot be purchased. Reaching a level of financial independence earlier in life can enable you to live the life of significance of your choosing. Approach your goal of early financial independence with the same tenacity that earned you your dental degree. Commit to doing the things that many will not do, so that you can achieve what many will not achieve.

Andy Upchurch, RHU, REBC, is the president of Continuum Financial Solutions. Based in Charlotte, North Carolina, Andy travels throughout the United States as a dental- and medical-specific financial advisor. Andy can be reached at (317) 701-2226 or at [email protected]. You can read more about Andy and the type of work he provides for his clients at


Registered Representative and Financial Advisor of Park Avenue Securities, LLC (PAS), 4201 Congress Street, Suite 295, Charlotte, North Carolina, 28209. Securities products/services and financial advisory services offered through PAS, a registered broker-dealer and investment advisor, (704) 552-8507. Financial Representative, The Guardian Life Insurance Company of America, New York, New York. PAS is an indirect, wholly owned subsidiary of Guardian. Continuum Financial Solutions is not an affiliate or subsidiary of PAS or Guardian. PAS is a member of FINRA, SIPC.

Material discussed is meant for general informational purposes only and is not to be construed as tax, legal, or investment advice. Although the information has been gathered from sources believed to be reliable, please note that individual situations can vary. Therefore, the information should be relied upon only when coordinated with individual professional advice. This material contains the current opinions of the author but not necessarily those of Guardian or its subsidiaries, and such opinions are subject to change without notice. 2017-39109 Exp 4/19.

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