The X-Ray Beam: Dr. McFrugal
For an audio version of this post, please click on the speaker icon (top left)
For this rendition of the X-ray beam I would like to go behind the scenes and get an in-depth look into a fellow physician blogger who runs the website, Dr. McFrugal.
I thought I was pretty clever with my use of credit cards in medical school where I would transfer balances from one credit card to the other to take advantage of 0% introductory rates (this was before the credit crisis hit. Balance transfers came with minimal if any transfer fees).
However I, as David Carradine would say in the 70’s TV series, Kung Fu, am just a young grasshopper compared to Dr. McFrugal.
Dr. McFrugal is an absolute wizard with his mastery of credit card hacks and how to get amazing travel rewards, including scoring first class suite tickets to Singapore.
Well the X-ray machine is turned on and pointed at our young doc, so let us get beneath the skin surface:
If you can please give a brief introduction of yourself (age, medical specialty, years of medical practice)
I am 35 years old and I specialize in both anesthesiology and interventional pain management.
I completed residency and fellowship in 2013, so I’ve been in practice as an attending for about 5 years now.
I have been married for almost 3 years and I just became a father earlier this year to a beautiful baby girl.
My wife and I would like to have one or two more kids some time in the future.
1) I absolutely love your moniker (for some reason it transports me back to days of watching Duck Tales and Scrooge McDuck).
Please tell us how you ended up choosing Dr. McFrugal as your moniker and website.
What were some of the other names you considered before going with this one?
LOL! I used to love Duck Tales when I was a little kid.
Back then, my sisters and I would build fortresses out of sofa cushions and pretend that we were Scrooge McDuck swimming in a pool of coins within our cushion money fortress!
Unlike a swimming pool of coins, however, the origin story of how I came up with Dr. McFrugal isn’t quite as glamorous.
I settled on “Dr. McFrugal” because “Dr. McDreamy” was already taken by some dude on Grey’s Anatomy.
That name would have been perfect for an anesthesiologist!
I’m kidding of course.
But seriously though, I had a hard time coming up with a cool name.
Being a personal finance blog, I knew that the name had to relate to finance.
When I started my blog, I had little experience in side hustles, real estate, or investing.
The only aspect of finance that I had a firm grasp of was frugality.
So then I decided that “frugal” should be a part of the name.
“Dr. Frugal” just didn’t sound right to me.
“Frugal MD” doesn’t sound particularly cool.
“Dr. McFrugal” seemed to have a ring to it.
The domain name was available. So I went with it.
2) When did you know you wanted to become a doctor?
Were there any influential people or events that made you embark on this career path?
Throughout childhood, I always thought about becoming a doctor someday.
My parents definitely had a role in influencing me.
Especially my father, who is a retired pharmacist.
My grandparents would also influence me.
They would take care of me and my sisters when my parents were at work.
They would say things like “You should be a doctor when you grow up.”
Of course they didn’t say this all the time, but it was definitely enough to plant the seed.
By the end of high school, I was pretty sure that I wanted to be a doctor.
I was so certain that I applied to a combined program that would allow me to earn both an undergraduate degree and medical degree in seven years.
I was fortunate to make it all the way through.
I am the first doctor in my family.
3) What were some of the deciding factors that led into choosing the medical specialty of anesthesiology?
Were there any other specialties that you considered?
I chose anesthesiology because I felt like it was the best fit for me.
It combines everything I love about medicine.
I enjoy doing short (yet satisfying) procedures without having to stand hours on end in the operating room.
I wouldn’t like to be in a sterile gown for a long time without the ability to scratch my face.
Therefore, I immediately eliminated surgery.
With anesthesia, I have the opportunity to apply my medical knowledge and diagnostic skills without being inundated in clinic.
Since I don’t really like clinic, internal medicine and family medicine was out.
I like the instant gratification of treating medical problems immediately in the operating room versus hoping that a patient is compliant with his/her meds after seeing them back in two weeks.
Poor patient compliance would probably frustrate me.
In anesthesiology, patient compliance is 100% 😉
There are other aspects of anesthesiology that I like.
There is minimal paperwork.
The patient interaction is relatively brief, yet intensely valuable at the same time.
I never have to worry about doing work from home.
Finally, once I leave the hospital, I’m done with work and I can focus my time with family.
I never saw myself becoming a OB/GYN or a pediatrician.
I briefly considered Emergency Medicine.
But that consideration was short-lived.
I realized that I like treating one patient at a time instead of multi-tasking patient care.
Radiology was never in the picture because I could never see myself working in a dark room all day long. (Puns intended.)
4) If you had to do it all over again, would you choose the same medical profession/specialty?
If I were to do it all over again, I would absolutely chose anesthesiology.
So far, I love my job and I can’t really see myself doing any other specialty.
5) If you were not a physician, what alternative career would you have gone into?
This one is tough. I’m not really sure.
Since I’ve spent almost half my life (17 years) either preparing to be a doctor or actually being a doctor, it’s hard for me to imagine myself doing anything else for a career.
I do enjoy history, different cultures, and traveling.
I have to admit that I have fantasized about being a part time travel agent / tour guide / digital nomad / travel blogger.
I think that would have been totally cool.
Or maybe I would have gone into another career in health care.
I could have been a pharmacist like my dad!
6) What is the biggest non-medical accomplishment you have achieved to date?
The biggest non-medical accomplishment I have achieved so far is becoming a father.
I think being a parent is bigger than any monetary or academic accomplishment.
There is such a huge responsibility knowing that another human being’s life depends on you.
7) Have you personally fallen trap to any of the typical mistakes physicians make, and if so can you name some of your biggest ones?
Fortunately, I haven’t made too many physician mistakes.
But I can name a few.
Buying a “doctor McMansion” is one of them.
Around the time my wife and I got married, I bought a 3,000 sq ft house in an affluent suburb of Southern California.
Being in a high cost of living area, it was expensive and more house than we needed.
However, in some ways it wasn’t a terrible mistake.
We could comfortably afford the mortgage payments on my income alone and the house appreciated quite a bit in value.
Plus we had always planned to have kids, so eventually we will grow into it.
Another mistake was being suckered into buying unnecessary term life insurance when I first started residency.
I was 26 years old, single, and had no kids.
I listed my parents as beneficiaries, which is silly because they are financially independent and don’t rely on my income at all.
I just couldn’t think of any other “dependents” as beneficiaries.
The “financial advisors” explained that I should lock in a good rate since I’m young and healthy.
Thinking back, it’s likely that they were trying to pressure me so that they can earn a commission.
Luckily it wasn’t a catastrophic mistake.
On the bright side, I was not suckered into buying whole life or universal life insurance.
That would have been so much worse.
The monthly payments were not too bad, about $45 a month.
8) When did you develop an interest in personal finance and was there an event that brought personal finance to the forefront of your consciousness?
My interest in personal finance developed when I was in medical school.
I was fortunate to earn free tuition for my undergraduate studies through a scholarship.
My housing and living expenses were covered by my parents.
I lived frugally, so it wasn’t that much money for them to provide.
Taking out student loans for medical school was the first time I experienced debt.
Borrowing money for school and living expenses was new to me.
Toward the end of medical school, I owed around $127,000.
It doesn’t sound like a lot compared to the amount that current medical students owe, but it’s still a lot of money.
Knowing that I owed so much money was what brought finances to the forefront of my consciousness.
Because I knew that my loan balance would increase over time due to interest, I was determined to pay it off as soon as possible.
9) What inspired you to start a blog? Were there any surprises along the way? Any advice to individuals who may be contemplating starting one of their own?
The funny thing is, Dr. Peter Kim from Passive Income MD inspired me to start a blog.[Passive Income MD had a post on how to start a blog that essentially inspired me to also take the first step in creating Xrayvsn.com. So please send your hate mail to Peter if you think he created a couple of monsters in the blogosphere.]
For a long time, I had been a lurker on various blogs mostly related to finance, medicine, and travel.
White Coat Investor was one that I followed from the beginning.
Then a few years ago, Physician on Fire started his blog and I thought: “Cool! Another anesthesiologist, and he wants to retire early. I gotta follow him!”
So I followed his blog too.
Then I started following other physician personal finance blogs.
One blog that I started reading was Passive Income MD.
As I read through it, I thought: “Awesome! Another blogger who is an anesthesiologist. Wait a minute… Hmm, this sounds like my friend Peter!” (I knew him because he was an anesthesia fellow turned attending at the institution where I did my residency. So yes, I trained under PIMD.)
Anyway, I messaged him and said: “Hey, are you Passive Income MD?”
At the time, he was still anonymous, so he said something like: “Yup, it’s me. But don’t say anything though.”
Since I hadn’t seen him since I graduated residency, we caught up and chatted for a little while.
I told him how impressed I was with his site.
Then he encouraged me to start my own blog.
I mulled over it for a few months. Eventually I decided to do it.
And the rest is history.
I’m glad I started it, because I enjoy blogging.
A few things surprised me. One thing that surprised me is how long it takes to create a great website.
Even crafting a single blog post takes so much time! [This was my biggest surprise as well]
Knowing this makes me respect my favorite bloggers so much more.
I was also surprised to find how collegial, collaborative, and supportive the blogging community is.
This is especially true among the physician bloggers.
It’s truly amazing and I love the aspect of community.
If anybody was contemplating about starting a blog, my advice would be to absolutely go for it if you love writing about topics that you are deeply passionate about.
Make it a passion project!
10) Complete the following sentence: I would consider The Dr. McFrugal website to be a success when I achieve….
100,000 page views per month or generate $100,000 per year.
I’m just kidding.
To be honest, I don’t have any specific viewership or monetary goals.
However, it would be nice to see my viewership continue to grow.
It would mean that people find my content valuable and enjoy my writing.
I generally write about things that I deeply care about (finance, health, wellness, minimalism, veganism, environmentalism, travel, etc.).
So I suppose if people were to gain more exposure to these topics, I would consider my website a success.
At this point I would like to provide a little background.
Dr. McFrugal had agreed to this interview under one condition, which I obliged.
Because of Dr. McFrugal’s ultra frugal nature, he insisted that we should use the X-ray machine only in the wee hours of the morning to take advantage of the “off-peak” electricity rate.
As the sky was slowly brightening I could see a look of consternation cross Dr. McFrugal’s face.
He realized if he said another word we would start having to pay premium electricity rates and refused to continue.
I tried to plead with him but he was adamant.
I therefore acquiesced to his demands and shut down the power.
Dr. McFrugal agreed to come back and complete the interview (which will be posted tomorrow) when the off-peak electric rates come back into effect.
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