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Dentists, double-down on your potential by investing in further education to achieve true financial freedom.

Double down to achieve financial freedom (and retire sooner!)

Jan. 22, 2024
Dr. David Phelps provides insights on reinvesting in your dental journey to achieve the financial freedom and security you want.

You invested significant amounts of time, money, and resources to graduate from dental school and practice dentistry. It took many years to become degreed, licensed, and ready to build your long-awaited practice with the commensurate lifestyle. At this point, many docs shift in mindset from development to execution, the vision quickly turns to gross revenue, profits, and efficient scheduling.

From exponential growth to an exhausting plateau

Unfortunately, many dentists enter a plateau over the next two to three decades in which lifestyle grows commensurate with income, and production quickly becomes a treadmill that accelerates faster and faster.

They let the daily grind of running a practice consume them with little plan for how they will create the financial basis to evolve into the next phases of their life. In terms of income growth, the most successful docs are those who diligently invest in themselves to increase their skill sets or expand the technological capability of their practices. Each of these investments is a “bet” on yourself. These investments should yield significant ROI in the right hands. For every dentist who invests in a cone beam, x-ray machine or other technology and sees a significant return through diligent implementation, there is a doc who purchased the same equipment only to have it gather dust in the back of the office.

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For some, the investment continues as you acquire your specialty. Dentists who become oral and maxillofacial surgeons significantly increase their income potential. “Employee dentists earn an average income of $195,800 and practice owner or partner dentists earn $289,550,” according to the Dental Economics’ 2023 Salary Survey Report.1 In contrast, the salary for an oral and maxillofacial surgeon in the United States can go well above $421,000.00 per year.2 In fact, “the opportunity cost of spending two years going to medical school is often known as “the million dollar decision,” per a recent article in AccessOMFS.3 “The reasoning is that by spending two years in medical school, you are foregoing two years of average lifetime pay.” By continuing your education and increasing your skill set, you make a reinvestment in your original investment—you are doubling down on yourself.

Continuous investment in yourself

This is just one example of how continuing education and investing in yourself can significantly increase your income and change your financial trajectory. Unfortunately, many dentists fail to apply these same principles to the stewardship of their wealth, choosing instead to abdicate their hard-earned nest egg to a money manager. Without a concrete, actionable plan (with a defined timetable) for reducing your financial dependance on trading time for dollars in the practice, you will find yourself waking up one day to realize that you are chained to a demanding practice with limited choices and options on how you spend your time—the ultimate denominator of wealth.

Yes, becoming adept at orchestrating your own finances takes time, money, and resources just like when you started dental school. But this is the only way to see the return on your investment, increase your wealth, and experience the Five Freedoms of life. Like Abraham Harold Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs,4 which includes physiological, safety, love/belonging, esteem, and self-actualization, the Five Freedoms pyramid depicts the journey from dependency towards personal freedom.5 At the base, you take control of your finances. Then, you have more time to do the things you want to do in life with the people you love. You can focus on your health and the legacy you want to leave. Most importantly, you eliminate the need to trade time for dollars and can live life on your terms without worrying whether you have enough for retirement.

With today’s economic uncertainty, this is no time to put your head in the sand and wait for change. Participation in some form is not optional. You will either take the default path or one with intention. It’s essential to be strategic with your practice and take control of your financial future.

The problem with the status quo

Most practitioners follow the conventional advice sold by Wall Street and financial advisors, socking profits away into a 401(k) “lockbox” until age 59.5.6 In doing so, they lose any kind of generational wealth transfer strategy, tax benefits like depreciation and cost segregation, and long-term capital gain tax treatment opportunities. They also put freedom off until a distant “someday.” When you can finally access your money, will there be enough? After all, you’ll likely be in a higher tax bracket at that point!

That plan may have carried some hope in a previous era, but the markets are turning the corner on a major secular shift. There are many indicators that we are beginning a relative stagnant period without big growth for a decade or longer. The era of big multiples and equity growth can no longer be relied upon. You’ll need to be operationally efficient and hang onto a business or investment assets for much longer.

Do you know how to do that effectively?

We all want a “guaranteed” model where we just show up and do good work. But, unfortunately, that’s not the world we live in. There is disruption and chaos for everyone, and change is inevitable. It is critical to be intentional about what you’re doing, so that you can secure your future. Freedom will be attained not by relying on outdated retirement models, but by careful stewardship and advocacy of your own investments. This starts with an eagerness to become as much a student of orchestrating your investments as you applied to achieving a license to practice dentistry. Now is the time to develop your financial acumen, grow your skill sets, and find guides who can help you achieve the financial freedom and security you desire. These are volatile times, but you can make positive changes happen if you act now and avoid the status quo.


Editor's note: This article originally appeared in DE Weekend, the newsletter that will elevate your Sunday mornings with practical and innovative practice management and clinical content from experts across the field. Subscribe here.


References

  1. Lanthier, T. The 2023 Dental Salary Report: Results are in! Dental Economics. January 12, 2023. https://www.dentaleconomics.com/macro-op-ed/professional-trends/article/14286760/dental-salaries-and-staffing-in-2023
  2. Oral and maxillofacial surgeon salary in the United States. Salary.com. April 11, 2023. https://www.salary.com/research/salary/hiring/oral-and-maxillofacial-surgeon-salary
  3. 4-year vs. 6-year programs: Part II- The Million Dollar Decision. AccessOMFS. https://accessomfs.com/4-year-vs-6-year-programs-part-ii-the-million-dollar-decision/
  4. Mcleod, S. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Simply Psychology. March 21, 2023. Updated January 17, 2024. https://www.simplypsychology.org/maslow.html
  5. Phelps. D. What’s Your Next?: The Blueprint For Creating Your Freedom Lifestyle. Advantage Media Group; 2021.
  6. Phelps, D. Retiring on your terms: Break from the majority and take charge of your money. Dental Economics. March 26, 2023. https://www.dentaleconomics.com/14289071

When his young daughter was hospitalized with leukemia, David Phelps, DDS, founder of Freedom Founders, was able to turn to his alternative investments, step away from his dental practice, and be by her side. He created the Freedom Founders community in 2012 to help dentists and other professionals take control of their retirement investments to produce passive cash flow, security, and live life on their terms. To contact Dr. Phelps, visit freedomfounders.com.