It’s never too early to start saving for your long-term needs, financial planners say. But if you’re still early in your career and training, how can you build a savings habit in the face of med school debt, day-to-day expenses and the complexity of financial planning?

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Despite the obstacles, it’s worth investing the time and money. Many put off financial planning for years and live to regret it, financial experts and older physicians say.

“I didn’t really start figuring out finances until residency, and that put me years behind,” an established physician said. “Now I’m on the right track, but the catch-up was painful.”

A recent study by AMA Insurance found that more than one-half of young physicians feel they don’t spend enough time on financial planning. Nearly 9 in 10 feel somewhat or not at all protected in the event that a disability would prevent them from practicing, according to the 2015 Report on Young Physicians’ Financial Preparedness: Young Physicians Segment.

With those physicians in mind, AMA Insurance asked Jerry Moran, a senior wealth strategist with Millennium Brokerage Group, to offer five strategies for building a strong financial foundation.

  • Pay yourself first. Start saving from Day 1. Put 20 percent of your monthly salary into savings, knowing that just one unanticipated crisis can upend your finances. “Start thinking and planning about finances in residency,” one established physician suggested, “and carve out time on a regular basis thereafter to address it.”
  • Develop a budget beyond debt repayment. Don’t let loan repayment block saving for retirement. Build a realistic budget and adjust it as your income changes. Living with student loan debt—73 percent of physicians graduate with it—means keeping to a budget. “Live like a resident for the first three years of your practice,” one experienced physician advised.
  • Understand the financial aspects of your employment contract. Get educated on contract negotiations, and seek out older physicians for advice. Look beyond salary to things like office expenses, life and disability insurance, and employer-matching retirement funds.
  • Prepare for the unexpected. Protect your family. Only 24 percent of young physicians have an updated will and medical directives. About two-thirds of young physicians have less than $50,000 in emergency funds. “Make sure you have that financial cushion, because you can’t count on things going as planned,” a physician said.
  • Engage a professional financial adviser. Physicians with a financial adviser make smarter investments, have more savings and feel more confident they are making the right choices for their families. Physicians should rely on recommendations and interviews to shop for an adviser that is right for them. “Don’t assume financial matters will take care of themselves once you have an income,” an established physician said.

If you’re a physician under 40, Moran said, you are probably weighing these issues. Young physicians tend to begin their savings years behind many other professionals because of a lengthy education. With the transition from austerity to earning a good living comes an obligation to be smart with money, Moran said.

That calls for discipline and expert help to lay the foundation of life-long financial security, Moran said.

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