PRN: The Ant and the Grasshopper

Physician's Money Digest, December15 2004, Volume 11, Issue 23

We all remember Aesop's classictale that dramatized a centralfact of civilized life: the continual balancingact between living for today andsaving for tomorrow. It's generallyacknowledged that we need to occasionallytake time away from our usualactivities. It reduces stress; is pleasurable;and allows us to do, see, and learn newand sometimes exciting things. We canbond with family and friends, renew,refresh, etc. Recognizing that vacationsmake for more efficient, happy workers,many employers even require time offand will allow only so much time to bebanked or converted into extra pay.

Self-employed Challenge

However, self-employed people facea triple whammy when contemplating amuch-needed vacation. First, your highfixed costs march on, whether or not youare working to offset them. Second, ifyou don't work, you don't earn incometo stay even with your personal financialobligations. And third, a vacation tripcan be costly, especially for foreign orextended travel.

What are you going to do? You needa break, nay, deserve one. Your rationalizationmechanism kicks into high gear.You've always wanted to see (fill in theblank), but glumly realize the financialaspects are daunting and hold you back.Well, if the grasshopper side of you isgoing to carry the day and get you onthat well-earned vacation, can we atleast have our practical ant side help tomake the pain less?

Creative Solutions

We all need continuing medical education,don't we? It's required for relicensure,and our patients and consciencesdemand it. If it happens to begiven in Hawaii or on our favorite skislopes, who are we to argue? And followingIRS guidelines per our accountant,we can deduct the expenses fromour taxes. Yes, we can have our cakeand eat it, too.

Or how about taking a vacation-orientedlocum tenens position, in whichyou're paid, even if it is just room andboard? This is a thought that involveseven lower out-of-pocket costs. Twoexamples that come to mind are cruiseships and summer camps, which arealways in need of temporary physicianavailability. Check the Internet and consultwith friends for ideas.

To partially cover your overhead, considerhiring a tax-deductible, income-producinglocum tenens for yourself. Or,if it's practical in your particular situation,do what many have done and coordinateyour staff's vacations so that youcan shut down the office completely andswap with other offices with similarideas. This has the side effect of eliminatingdisruptive key staff vacations atinconvenient times of the year.

How about getting involved in ahouse-swap situation? There are severalwell-established services on the Internetthat can arrange it in just about anyplace you desire. The point is that there'sreally no end of good ideas to help yourant side better afford what yourgrasshopper side is whispering in yourear to tempt you with.

On Behalf of the Grasshopper

And if I may say a word for thegrasshopper side, many people havesaid that they never feel so alive aswhen they travel. Free of responsibility,the clock, and phones, you can justopen up to new places, people, andexperiences. Reinvigorate and reinvestyourself. Go with the kids, great. Seefamily and friends, super. But also consideroccasionally going alone or withyour spouse to touch base with yourinner selves.

Yes, you have to keep money in mindbecause it is an essential tool in ourlives. That's why we write about it atsuch length—the ant in us, you know.But tomorrow is promised to no oneand you can't postpone living, thegrasshopper says. Every one of us knowsa tragic story of someone who said, "I'lltravel/golf/fish later when I have time/money or retire," and never found theresources to do so. Money isn't everything;balance is. Bon voyage!

a partner

on the Stanford University

Graduate School of Business

Alumni Consulting Team, is a

practicing primary care physician.

He welcomes questions and

comments at jeffebrownmd@aol.com.

Jeff Brown, MD, CPE,