Dane Lacey, 49, a radiologist from San Diego, has saved nearly $1.4 million for retirement in eight years by living below his means.
Did you always have a goal to front-load your savings? Yes. I want to retire when I am still young enough to travel, hike and body surf. It was a race for me to put a large amount away so that I could enjoy it. I knew that if I got it in early, it could grow.
You've been in practice for 14 years. Why the big push for the past eight? During the tech bubble, I put every cent into Cisco and other tech stocks. Within two years, I had accumulated $300,000, while I was living on about $35,000 a year. I went on vacation and came back to find that my $300,000 was worth $10,000 because the bubble had burst. So I started over at age 41.
How did you make it happen? As a resident physician, you get paid about $26,000 a year for four years. Then when you're in practice, you start making big money. My first job paid $220,000 a year, so I had all this money coming in, but I didn't feel like I needed that much. I live in a small bungalow and drive a Chrysler PT Cruiser. I decided to live on what I was making before and just pay myself a little bit more each year. It would seem like a pay raise but still allow me to put a lot away for retirement.
In at least two of the past eight years, you contributed more than $250,000 to retirement savings. How did you do that? Until recently I worked as a navy contractor, and I was basically self-employed, so I was able to save more money in tax-deferred retirement accounts than the average employee. In addition to funding my 401(k) account, I established a traditional defined-benefit pension plan for my business, which allowed me to contribute as much as $240,000 in one year. I used any excess money to pay down my mortgage or to add to personal savings and my IRA.
How do you manage your money? I used to keep all my money with a Merrill Lynch manager, who invested it in mutual funds. The approach was diversified, but he wasn't as aggressive as I wanted to be. Three years ago, I diversified my money managers as well, and I split the money in the defined-benefit plan in half. My guy at Merrill Lynch invests in mutual funds with half of the money, and I have a guy at Schwab who invests in stocks with the other half. It has given me peace of mind that I'm not basing my future on one person's decisions or one company's philosophy.
How did you learn to be so disciplined? My parents were very good with money and taught my brothers and me to be responsible. At age 14, we were required to get a job and budget our money. We budgeted for clothing, college, and room and board (which went into a college account), and we kept 20%. My family instilled good financial sense in me -- your salary is for day-to-day expenses, and anything to play with, you work extra for. I don't borrow, except for my mortgage, and I pay my credit cards off every month.
What is your best advice for savers? Save first and pay yourself later. If you pay yourself first and then try to save, your standard of living will always adjust up to what you're making, and you're not going to have money left to put in savings. Figure out a goal and what you need to save for that, and then keep the rest.
Now that you've saved so much, what's next? Although I want to have the money to retire locked up by age 50, the savings habit is so ingrained in me that I'll probably just keep saving the way I have been and look at retiring early and getting out of the rat race. I plan on having a second career in retirement, something to get up to do every day, but without the responsibilities of being a physician. I'd be happy living a more comfortable lifestyle, although not a rich one. Still, I've always said that when I turn 50, I'll buy a doctor's car -- a BMW or a Mercedes.
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