Q: How can I stay organized and on top of my finances?
DR. ADAM STEWART
A: Doctors are busy. Our lives can often feel chaotic. And of course the task of organizing your finances quickly drops on the list of priorities. But I can tell you that when you neglect to attend to your finances, things can snowball and recovering can seem insurmountable. Fortunately, I have gathered some insights over the years that you may find helpful, especially if you are new to practice and feeling in disarray. I’ve also come across many mid-career physicians who have never really found the time to get organized in this area. So, if you have ever felt overwhelmed or disorganized when it comes to your banking and finances, you’re not alone. And just a little bit of attention may save you hours of time and stress. Here are five things you can do that may help you get on top of your finances.
1. Educate yourself
As the old saying goes, “No one cares as much about your money as you do.” Although I believe doctors should surround themselves with a team of trusted professionals to help manage their finances, it is imperative to have at least a foundational knowledge about banking, accounting, and investments.
There is an endless wealth of resources for those who are interested – books, websites, online videos and podcasts. I suggest even just some basic, introductory-level learning on the topics of personal finance, accounting, and investing. As physicians and small business owners, you may want to seek out resources that are focused on managing finances and interests within professional corporations (for physicians and dentists).
Doctors have their own expertise to worry about. We need to be good at caring for patients and managing our practices. We need not become experts in investing and economics as well (but feel free if that is your passion!). But having at least a foundational knowledge comes in handy when making decisions that financial professionals present us with.
2. Go paperless
Ditch the old, traditional paper and file folders. So many bills, invoices, letters and documents are already sent to us digitally anyway. Invest in a high quality, fast, scanner for any paper documents you may receive.
With today’s technology, there are many options for saving and organizing all of your documents– financial or otherwise – including cloud-based solutions that can synchronize across all of your computers and mobile devices.
Here is a simple way to organize your digital file system: Name all your files starting with a YYYYMMDD date format. A handy trick, since file folders will organize themselves in chronological order.
This can also make it easy to search and find your files if you know the date of the item. For instance, if you need to find an invoice that would have been dated March 20, 2019, you can simply search your files for “20190320” and reveal a concise list.
3. Use accounting and financial tracking software
I am amazed that many doctors still neglect to take advantage of financial and banking software. Without it, monthly bookkeeping can be painstakingly laborious, having to sift through transactions line-by-line. What is worse, I have encountered many doctor colleagues who do not even summarize their finances each month. I get the impression that sometimes people prefer to avoid and procrastinate – and that is what leads to snowballing chaos.
Monthly banking and accounting can take as little as 15 minutes each month – for both your personal and business banking. There are some options for software programs that allow for seamless tracking and categorization of monthly transactions. Once the software knows which transactions fall into certain categories, it will automatically categorize each transaction, making subsequent months quicker.
One of the best parts about staying organized with accounting programs and paperless filling systems, is that when it comes tax time, the information is all readily available to hand over to your accountant. Often, it can take as little as 30 minutes to prepare year-end information for your accountant.
4. Set reminders and automate payments
We doctors have enough to remember and stress over. Take a load off your mind by taking advantage of simple technological solutions.
Online banking allows anyone to set up scheduled, automatic, monthly transfers and payments. For instance, you can set up your online banking to automatically transfer transactions from your corporation, such as your monthly salary.
Take advantage of “Reminder” or “To Do” programs and apps. Set monthly notifications for regular, recurring tasks such as monthly Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) installments, clearing credit card balances, and so on. You may even want to set a simple reminder to sit down and do your banking on a monthly basis in order to keep things organized.
5. Surround yourself with a team of trusted professionals
I think it is essential that healthcare professionals surround themselves with a team of trusted professionals to help advise and organize their finances.
This team may include an accountant, a lawyer, a financial advisor or planner, a “go-to” contact at your bank, and other specialists. All of these professionals should be unquestionably familiar with the unique needs of physicians, particularly incorporated physicians.
The key is to find those professionals who you can trust, who continue to demonstrate their expertise, commitment, and credibility on an ongoing basis. I’ve found my team and I rely on them for support and advice on issues big and small. I hope you’ll find yours too. In the end, it may give you a sense of confidence around your overall financial picture that you might otherwise lack.
Dr. Adam Stewart is a family physician with a practice based in Madoc, Ontario. In 2017 he was named by the Canadian Medical Association as one of “17 physicians who have helped shape the future of health care.” More information on his practice can be found at www.stewartmedicine.com.