Is Your Spouse Worth More Than Gold?

Physician's Money Digest, June30 2004, Volume 11, Issue 12

You've heard that a good spouse is worthmore than their weight in gold. I've oftenwondered, is this just an old saying or is itactually true? I resolved to find out onceand for all. Just as Einstein sat down and figured outthe Theory of Relativity by doing calculations on hisscratch pad and Newton calculated the paths of theplanets by doodling under the apple tree, I aim toensure my place in history by proving Constan'sTheorem of the Worth of a Spouse.

Let's first calculate their contribution to your lifetimeearnings. These numbers are especially vital whenyou reach retirement, when you need every cent youcan get, as I'm sure you're fully aware of by now. Nothaving a research budget, a roomful of data, or a complicatedaccounting program at my disposal, I'm goingto make a lot of assumptions here. I'm also going toshamelessly profile just one man—me—and onewoman—my wife of 35 years. The following are thekey areas in which that one woman has contributedsubstantially to our net worth.

• Medical education—$30,000This is the easy calculation. She worked and supportedour household budget for 3 years of medicalschool. Having received a pre-med degree, she humblytook a job decapitating rats for brain research andrisked her health by surrounding herself with radioactivetracers for DNA research.

• Practice startup and maintenance—$300,000This is a more complicated calculation. Here shedid something that many medical spouses may notdo. She placed her own life on hold. She allowed meto pick a practice location solely because that locationwould be the best for my career. She placed nostipulations on whether the climate was suitable forher, whether she was near her family, or whether itwould be a good place for her own career. Unfortunately,many young doctors often wind up unhappywith their first choice of practice situation, necessitatinga move within the first year or so. Suchmoves are costly. My wife saved me that extra costby denying her own needs and desires at that criticalstage in my career. The fact that my wife allowed meto pick the ideal location and setting for my careerallowed me to save the money that I would havespent starting, then changing, locations.

And, by the way, she also developed an interest andcareers in management and education. She used thoseskills to serve as my office manager, saving me the costand aggravation of attempting to manage my own officeusing my own meager management skills.

• Raising the family—$500,000+Children are one of the costliest aspects of family life.She did several crucial things that saved money in thisarea. She was frugal, used coupons for everything,shopped at the less-expensive stores, and eschewed luxuriesfor the kids, or herself. She saved at least $100 to$200 per week, and thus, over 20 years, $104,000 to$208,000. Because she encouraged the children to succeedin school, my son was able to become a NationalMerit Scholar and receive scholarships worth $110,000over 4 years. And because he was so successful in college,he received grants that paid for 7 years of graduateschool, worth $210,000.

My daughter's education was more costly. She requiredan expensive private school, then an Ivy LeagueArt School and college. Nevertheless, those expenseswere a good investment. She was able to obtain a wonderful,well-paying position in the art department of theMayo Clinic right out of school.

• Assuring that husband doesn't burn out—$200,000I came close to burning out twice so far in my career.The first happened when I was sued. The suit dragged onfor 5 years before it was dropped. During that time, shestayed by my side and kept me sane. The second timewas when I was working myself into the ground becausethat is what family doctors in my community do. Sheconvinced me that I would need to give up some aspectof family doctoring to take the stress off. In this case, itwas obstetrics. A doctor who burns out probably suffersat least a 50% decrease in income for a year. Then addthe cost of counseling. I calculate $100,000 saved foreach instance of burnout avoided.

• Encouraging husband to pursue his interests outsideof practice—$300,000It was my wife who realized that I was moreskilled at expressing myself on the written page thanface to face, and that I had an inner need to be creativethrough writing. While she was taking her educationclasses in the evening, she encouraged me tospend the time tackling that all-important book (sofar unpublished) that all true writers must write. Shealso urged me to write for the local medical society,for the state family doctors' organization, for multiplenewspapers, newsletters, and physicians' publications.She made sure that I had the time by myself to do theactual writing, came up with many of the ideas forarticle topics, and proofread and critiqued every singleone of those articles. If you have enjoyed herefforts, let her know at karenconstan@go.com. To theextent that I am a successful writer today is in largepart attributable to her.

Though I don't get paid for most of the things I write,I do get paid for some of them. I calculate that I bring in$3000 to $5000 a year from writing projects. In addition,I find that the publicity of publishing articles in variouslocal newspapers and magazines attracts patients tomy practice. I also find that the exercise of doing articlesabout practice management has helped me thinkthrough the problems in my office and enabled me to runa more efficient practice. And finally, the contacts I makethrough readers (like you) give me the ideas for additionalarticles, enhancing my ability as a writer. I calculatethat these factors result in at least $10,000 in extraincome yearly or $300,000 over 30 years.

Let's review the calculations. If a good spouse isworth more than their weight in gold, then my wife willhave saved me more money than I would have made byconverting her into gold and selling it on the open market.I calculate my wife weighs 2240 ounces (pleasedon't figure out what that is in pounds or I may get intoa lot of trouble). If gold goes for $500 per ounce, thenher weight in gold would be worth $1,120,000. If youadd up all the dollars saved through her efforts, she hassaved me $1,330,000. Therefore, I have conclusivelyproved that a good spouse is actually worth more thantheir weight in gold.

Now, let's attempt to generalize these findings. Isyour spouse worth more than their weight in gold?You can plug in your own numbers here. Feel free toadd or subtract categories. For my purposes, I neveradded in my wife's actual earnings from working,which were substantial. You may wish to do so. Youmay wish to consider your spouse's services as a decorator,travel agent, social secretary, housekeeper,chef, or personal companion. I am willing to bet,however you do the calculation, your spouse is alsoactually worth more than gold.

Make sure to share your calculations with yourspouse. I bet that you will receive a thank you worthat least a few hundred thousand dollars of enhancementin your sense of well-being. I know I did.

Louis L. Constan, MD, a family practice physicianin Saginaw, Mich, is the editor of theSaginaw County Medical Society Bulletin andMichigan Family Practice. He welcomes questionsor comments at 3350 Shattuck Road,Saginaw, MI 48603; 989-792-1899; or louisconstan@hotmail.com.