Despite our best efforts to improve our finances and be fiscally responsible, things don’t always work out according to plan. If 2023 saw you making some money mishaps throughout the year, rest assured you’re not alone.
Here are five of my own money mistakes from 2023, which I hope to avoid in 2024 (and beyond).
Not saving enough for emergencies
In June of 2023 I finished my fellowship training and decided to take a few months off before starting my attending job. While the break was nice and I got a chance to travel with my family, it was also expensive. I had saved some money for this time off, but I clearly didn’t save enough. During that last month, money got a little tight.
I’m the type of person who likes to make sure I have a certain threshold of money in my emergency fund, so seeing it dip down below that point was a bit anxiety-provoking. Thankfully, I was able to make some money from other side gigs to hold me over, but I sure learned a valuable lesson: Having an emergency fund of 3–6 months of expenses is important.
"A lack of financial security can cause even the most diligent of us stress, but you can avoid this by consistently putting a share of your income in an emergency fund."
— Lisha Taylor, MD, MPH
Not accounting for mandatory medical costs after training
At the end of 2023 I started my first job as an attending physician. (Finally!) While the increased pay, autonomy, and schedule flexibility are welcome additions, I wasn’t prepared for all the extra costs associated with being a doctor.
I thought paying for medical school (via student loans), passing all the USMLE tests, and securing my medical license were all I needed. I didn’t realize I would need to pay hundreds or thousands of dollars every 2–3 years for medical licenses in the multiple states in which I practice medicine. I didn’t realize I would need to pay about $800 every few years for a DEA license to prescribe medications. I didn’t know I had to continue to pay for board certification after I passed the exam, or that it would cost hundreds of dollars each year to remain an active member of my specialty organization.
My lesson? Being a fully licensed, board-certified physician comes with a lot of ongoing costs. Getting my employer to cover all these expenses by negotiating it into my contract should be a top priority.
Underestimating moving costs
I moved to a different state when I finished my training. To be honest, I should have hired a moving service, because I loathe the moving process. At this stage of life, very few of my friends are crazy enough to help me pack boxes and move heavy furniture. Sometimes our backs hurt, and no one wants to volunteer to do free manual labor.
I’d moved a lot during my training, so I was somewhat used to these things, but what I wasn’t quite prepared for was the cost. My new job agreed to reimburse me for moving expenses, but I still had to pay for the costs upfront—and they weren’t cheap. It cost around $2,300 to ship my car across the country, and I was charged an extra fee because I packed it with bags.
I paid for a one-way flight. I shipped boxes. I also had to go through the unfortunate process of throwing some things away, only to have to repurchase them once I got to my new city of Atlanta. Plus, it wasn’t until I actually started my new job—3 months later—that I got reimbursed for the cost.
My lesson? Next time, I’ll ask my employer to pay for the moving expenses up front and consider hiring a moving company.
Overspending on vacations
Like most doctors, I need some time away from my job to refresh and recharge. Although I took a few weekend trips to see family, I planned two rather large trips during 2023: One to Hawaii with my partner in the spring and a cruise to Alaska with my family in the summer. I had a fantastic time, but my bank account suffered.
Things were so expensive in Hawaii—everything from the food to gas to the hotel, and so on. Thankfully I was able to split the cost with my partner, but my share was a bit more than I’d planned.
My bank account had another panic attack during my Alaskan cruise. I erroneously believed that once we paid for the cruise there wouldn't be many additional costs. I was wrong. There were tons of expensive excursions that were not included in the original fee. We also had to pay for certain restaurants and activities on the boat and tip waiters/bartenders for each service. Although I had saved money in a vacation fund in preparation, it was nearly depleted after this trip.
My lesson? Over save for vacations, because there will almost always be additional costs you couldn't have predicted.
Not investing enough
As a self-proclaimed money nerd, I know the importance of investing, especially in tax-advantaged retirement accounts. Unfortunately, I didn’t take full advantage of this in 2023. During the first half of the year, I was still in fellowship and was not eligible to contribute to the retirement plan at my institution. After I finished fellowship, I took a few months off, and when I finally began my job as an attending, I had to wait a month to start contributing to my new job’s 403b.
If I’d planned ahead, I could have put more money in my solo 401k for consulting gigs to make up the difference.
"Although some of this was beyond my control, I also could have saved more in advance to be able to contribute the maximum to my job’s 403b once I was eligible."
— Lisha Taylor, MD, MPH
My lesson? Set aside money for investing and plan ahead to make sure I can contribute the maximum amount in tax-advantaged accounts in 2024 (and every year after that).
What this means for you
We all experience money mishaps from time to time—whether it’s overspending on vacations, not saving enough for a rainy day, failing to optimize our investing, or something else entirely. Instead of feeling guilty, I made a vow to do better this year and put measures in place to help myself succeed.