By Charles Cooke, CFP®
Dentistry may be a male-dominated field, but the times are rapidly changing. More women than ever are dentists, with even more in dental school. As a financial advisor who specializes in working with dentists, I’ve watched this trend play out—and welcomed it. On an individual level, these changes mean more and more women are realizing financial empowerment. On a collective level, these advancements will force the glass ceiling to shatter in the near future.
Nonetheless, female dentists still face numerous struggles that their male counterparts often do not, and those conflicts can hurt women financially. This article briefly discusses some of the challenges and presents steps to help overcome them.
Wearers of Many Hats
Traditionally, women have been the homemakers and raisers of children. Nowadays, gender roles have blurred causing more couples to share these responsibilities; however, many times, the primary responsibility still rests with women. I have worked with many female dentists who end up filling a multitude of roles—that of a dentist, business owner, wife, and mother, and from what little time is left over, she must find some leisure time to enjoy herself!
Women must also find time to be the family CFO—to manage cash flow, school loans, taxes, and investments in order to take care of their family now and be prepared for retirement later. The problem is making the most of financial resources requires time¸ and that is one thing many female dentists have very little of.
Financial Confidence Needed
A recent survey* found that men were better at answering personal finance questions than women: 21% of the men answered 75% of the questions correctly, while just 12% of the women had the same success.
I cannot overemphasize how important it is for women to be financially savvy. Women tend to outlive men, making financially literacy crucial. In addition, women, more than men, will often reduce their work hours, or quit altogether, to raise their children. This makes comprehensive financial planning critical, and emphasizes the importance of saving for retirement now.
Women also tend to invest less than men, seemingly preferring the steadiness of cash over the risk of equities. Investing offers an opportunity for returns to fund retirement that cash cannot compete with. A million dollars in the bank today will not have the same buying power as the same amount in the bank at retirement when inflation is calculated.
Ultimately, the balancing act of life leaves little time left over to focus on finances, yet women especially need financial empowerment. What should they do to close this gap?
6 Steps to Take
Here are six steps that I generally recommend for busy female dentists:
- Read personal finance books. I know you do not have a lot of time, but financial literacy is extremely important. I recommend these two books to give you a good overview of the personal finance areas that will likely affect you: “The Wealth Solution – Bringing Structure to Your Financial Life” by Steven Atkinson, Joni Clark and Alex Potts and “Own It-The Power of Women at Work” by Sallie Krawcheck.
- Start a budget. A budget can help you automate your savings, work toward your goals, and understand your cash flow. YNAB and Mint are two online services that can give you an overview of your money.
- Save for retirement now. Do not put off saving towards retirement. It may feel like decades away, but your contributions need a chance to compound, which takes time. Start with a 401(k)-retirement plan if one is available through your work, and make sure to take the employer match (which is essentially free money). Also, look into an individual retirement account outside of work, and try to contribute the annual maximum that the IRS permits.
- Pay off your debt. Given the high interest rate on many education loans, my practice makes debt consolidation or refinancing a priority. Reducing or eliminating your debt can give your finances flexibility to meet your changing needs.
- Save for emergencies. Consider having six months’ worth of living expenses on hand. This can help protect your family should you or your spouse lose your job or you face some other financial emergency.
- Manage your risk. Part of your financial wellness plan should include disability insurance, in many cases, life insurance as well. The peace of mind that comes with protecting your savings and loved ones against these risks can make you comfortable that the insurance is worth the cost.
Ultimately, you may find that you do not have the time to develop the expertise to manage your finances as well as you would like. Many professionals do not, since the demands of career and family require most of their time. Your status as an associate, partner, or sole practitioner will have its own benefits and challenges, so strive to find an advisor or accountant who has an expertise in the needs of dentists.
Female dentists may find it challenging to balance their career, family, leisure time, and finances; however, proactively managing your finances can help lift the stress you may feel about your financial direction, improving the quality of the time you devote to the rest of your life.
* Elizabeth Harris, “New Studies Highlight Why Women Must Become More Financially Savvy,” Forbes, April 30, 2018.
This article was originally published in the North Carolina Dental Society’s Gazette.
Charles Cooke, CFP®, is the founder of Cooke Capital, a wealth planning and investment management firm specializing in dental practices.