Another week, another great interview with someone working towards freedom in their lives – Syed from The Broke Professional! Syed is an optometrist who, through his blog, helps educate new graduates about the basics of saving, banking and investing. He is working hard to pay down his student loans and has some great pieces of advice and information in his story!
Syed – take it away!
Give us your 30 second elevator pitch. What is your story?
Most Americans are bad with their money. That’s just a plain fact that many studies have proven. As a whole, we don’t save much money, let alone save for retirement. We don’t budget and we almost always overspend. I’ve found that this is especially true for professionals, doctors and lawyers and the like. Keeping up with the Joneses is a big problem in this crowd. The amount of financial misinformation and apathy among professionals is incredible, and since they make a good income there are all sorts of people trying to take their money as well.
Being smart with personal finance is not difficult. There are a few key steps to take which will put you light years ahead of the average American. My goal is to make personal finance simple and actionable for professionals and anyone else who cares to listen.
Take us back to when it all started. When did you have your money epiphany?
Right after I got my first paycheck as an optometrist. Before school I had very few obligations. No student loan debt, no rent, no mortgage and no mouths to feed. But once I had some responsibility thrust upon me (aka student loan payments around the corner), I knew I had to learn more about what to do with my money. I did find some good personal finance blogs, but the majority of my information came from reading almost every personal finance book at the library.
I learned about so many things I had absolutely zero knowledge about before. Investing, taxes, budgeting and debt management. This was such important information that I actually enjoyed reading about.
People normally only share the good things in their lives. What is the biggest money struggle you have had to overcome (or are still working on)?
Student loan debt by far. I had accumulated about $150K in debt after all my schooling was done in 2009 (It should be all paid off within the next 2 years!). And that was less than many of my colleagues in school. Some people had debt in the $250K range!
While it is a struggle, there is no way I wouldn’t change it if I could. I love the field of optometry and being able to help patients with their vision every day. I’ve also met some very intelligent people along the way and gained some lifelong friends. There is a lot of opportunity for advancement in the field as well whether you’re employed or self employed. So while paying off the debt is a grind, it was worth the cost. And paying it off quicker only increases my return on investment!
What is your proudest financial moment?
Landing my new job which greatly increased our families quality of life. I tend to get comfortable where I am, but I had to fight that by looking for other opportunities. After working for the same company for 5 years, I was able to find a new position that increased my salary by 20%, cut my commute by more than half and provided more opportunities to make extra money.
It was then I realized that most financial gains are made by going out of your comfort zone. Whether it’s looking for a new job, moving to a different state or starting a new business, trying something new will most likely produce the high returns. Staying in the same place feels “safe”, but it probably won’t get you much farther than where you currently are.
We don’t want to be always looking in the past. Currently, what is your main financial focus this year and how do you plan to achieve it?
I have two overarching goals this year. Number one is to get more aggressive in paying off my student loans. In general, wealthy people tend not have debt payments. This fact was made very clear in one of my favorite books The Millionaire Next Door. So I want to get a little more aggressive in allocating money to pay off my highest interest debt.
My second goal is to make more money in an area other than my regular job. I tend to be all over the place when it comes to making side income. I’ve done just okay with my blog, freelance writing and selling things online. I’m done with dabbling and am taking steps to sharpen my focus this year.
Financial freedom means something a little different to everyone. What is your definition of financial freedom?
My definition is always evolving. Currently, financial freedom for me is being debt free (including mortgage debt) and having enough income to cover your basic expenses for the rest of your life. This can be done by amassing a large portfolio that you can draw from or having a steady stream of passive income that can provide for your expenses. While I’m still working on increasing my retirement accounts, I’ve realized that having a steady stream of income is the ideal way to go.
My answer might change in a few years because there are so many variables in life. Family, friends and religion can all shape what financial freedom can mean.
There is more to life than just money. In your freetime, what can you be found doing?
Spending time with my wife and son. Sounds boring and cliche, but it brings me joy. Raising a child is a full time job on its own and carries so much responsibility so I try to take it seriously. As seriously as an energetic and playful 3 year old will allow.
I’ve always enjoyed reading, and not just personal finance. I enjoy books about religion, motivation and also enjoy reading some fiction as well. I’m a big nerd so Lord of the Rings has a prominent place on my bookshelf.
I’m also a huge sports fan, basketball and football especially. The New York Knicks and Giants are my favorite teams. I just hope the Knicks can win a championship in my lifetime. Or my son’s. At least I will always have the memories from the two epic Super Bowl runs by the Giants to think about. Sorry Patriots fans! Actually, I have no sympathy for Patriots fans at all.
Time is our most precious non-renewable resource. What actions are you taking to make sure you are living the life you want to live (your remarkable life)?
In the past few months I’ve started to focus on self development first thing in the morning before I go to work. Hal Elrod’s book The Miracle Morning was a big influence on me. It taught me the importance of making self development a priority.
I like to get some meditation, exercise and reading done early in the morning before work. It sounds like a lot to do but takes about an hour at most. Waking up an hour early is a small sacrifice to make to ensure my self development. And doing these tasks early in the morning lets me focus on family in the evening and not take any precious time away from them.
Imagine that someone just starting on their financial journey reaches out to you. What books or resources would you recommend to them?
I already mentioned two books and I’ll mention them again: The Millionaire Next Door by Thomas Stanley and The Miracle Morning by Hal Elrod. The first book taught me the characteristics of a truly wealthy person and the second book was an eye opening read about how prioritizing your self development will produce lots of success in your life.
The book that jump started my love for personal finance was I Will Teach You to Be Rich by Ramit Sethi. It’s a must read for recent graduates especially. The Bogleheads’ Guide to Investing by Taylor Larimore and Mel Lindauer taught me the most about investing and has been the guiding light behind my investing philosophy.
If there was one thing you could ask the people reading this to do, what would it be?
Don’t underestimate the destructive power of debt. It makes your money beholden to another entity when that money should be making you richer.
Credit card debt is an emergency and should be paid off as fast as possible with every fiber of your being. Student loan and mortgage debt have lower interest rates than other forms of debt, so people often don’t pay too much attention to these. They can also be tax deductible but that doesn’t help you that much. The bank will ultimately make a lot more money since most people will relax on paying that debt back quickly.
But just putting $100 extra towards your loan every month will most likely save you a lot more money than any type of tax deduction. Make paying off debt high on your list of financial priorities.
Where can people get in contact with you? (ex. Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, etc)
Thanks Syed! If you are interested in participating in Pursuing Freedom Interviews, let me know through my contact page!
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