Money Problems That Come with Financially Successful Careers

For people like doctors, lawyers and engineers, success takes time ... and sacrifices along the way. Once you finally make it, you probably have the urge to start living large, but that could be a mistake.

(Image credit: Abel Mitjà Varela)

Professions that take a long time to develop into fruitful careers come with unique financial challenges.

For example, doctors sometimes make bad decisions with money. Part of the issue is they get caught in a perfect storm of circumstances that lead to poor financial choices.

In my experience, financial advisers can be just as inattentive with their personal money as other professionals. Let me first explain the challenges many professionals face, and how they relate to financial advisers.

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Doctors and Money

While it is true that doctors tend to make very healthy incomes, they usually have a long road to get to that point. That road is filled with medical schools and the corresponding debt they accumulate in order to start practicing medicine. Once they finally break free from the shackles of medical school and residency it’s time to start living the doctor lifestyle, they so often think.

There is a presumption that doctors make large incomes, which can be true. But often they are hampered by hefty student loan payments. They may not earn as much as their paychecks would lead you to believe. That doesn’t matter to many M.D.s; they put in a great deal of time and effort and they feel it is time to start enjoying the fruits of their labor.

Have you ever seen a surgeon driving a Honda Civic? Didn’t think so. When they pull up to the hospital or medical offices, they are usually driving some type of expensive luxury car. Their kids often go to private schools. They live in nicer neighborhoods.

Although doctors are very intelligent when it comes to their field of medicine, being an expert in medicine does not translate to being an expert in personal finances. There is a false equivalence that since someone is an expert at one thing — medicine, law, engineering — they are also an expert in a totally unrelated thing, money.

Other Professionals and Financial Advisers

Many different professionals follow a similar path to doctors. Lawyers go through years of school, and it takes even more years to develop a practice or grow their careers within an established firm. They are also experts in their field, but that doesn’t always transfer over into handling their money.

That’s the challenge with high-earning professionals. Being intelligent and making a lot of money does not mean you know what to do with it when you have it. These careers also take more time to start bearing fruit. That extra time puts the professional behind on their savings goals, which creates an even greater need to be really good savers when they start making money.

The same can be said about your financial advisers.

It takes many years to hone your craft and become an expert in the field of personal finance. It also takes many years to build a profitable practice. During those years, there is a lot of delayed gratification and spending. Once an adviser’s income starts to grow, it is easy to fall into the trap of buying into the lifestyle one has always wanted for themselves. Advisers are usually always around money, given the nature of the job. That also skews one’s perception of the world. If their clients all have million-dollar portfolios, live in nice houses and drive fancy cars, that might begin to seem normal to them.

A successful financial adviser can face many of the same challenges that their clients can face. Does this make them bad financial advisers? I think it’s quite the opposite: They can relate to and better understand the challenges successful professionals face.

The Takeaway

We all hear about 20-year-old tech billionaires. They still face financial challenges, but they are a rare breed. Most people take a long time to start earning big paychecks, and there are challenges with making smart and savvy choices with those hard-earned dollars.

Whether you are a small-business owner who has grown your company one customer at a time, or a doctor who took years to go through school and training, the challenges are the same. It took a long time to get to where you are, and many of you want to celebrate the success by treating yourselves and your family. It is important to balance out the short-term spending with longer term financial goals and strategies in mind.

Find someone who has had a similar path as you but also has the knowledge and expertise to help you beyond just understanding the struggle. Professionals would be wise to find a mentor to help with career planning as well as a trusted adviser to help with financial planning.

Securities offered through LPL Financial, Member FINRA/SIPC. Investment advice offered through SFG Wealth Management, a registered investment advisor. SFG Wealth Management and Synergy Financial Group are separate entities from LPL Financial.


This article was written by and presents the views of our contributing adviser, not the Kiplinger editorial staff. You can check adviser records with the SEC or with FINRA.

Joseph C. Conroy, CFP
Financial Adviser, Harford Retirement Planners

Joseph C. Conroy is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professional who is passionate about helping his clients pursue their goals. He founded Harford Retirement Planners to provide objective advice and knowledge to his clients. By partnering with an independent broker dealer, it allows Joe to sit on the same side of the table as his clients. It is this experience, working with many individuals over the years from many backgrounds, which inspired Joe to write the book "Decades & Decisions."