Alex Barker, PharmD
Alex Barker, PharmD
Alex Barker is the founder of The Happy PharmD, which helps pharmacists create an inspiring career, break free from the mundane “pill-flipping” life. He is a Full-time Pharmacist, Media Company founder, franchise owner, Business Coach, Speaker, and Author. He's also the Founder of Pharmacy School HQ, which helps students get into pharmacy school and become residents.

A Pharmacist's Simple Plan to Retire with Seven Figures

APRIL 27, 2017

 

Timothy Ulbrich is a good friend of mine. He’s also the guy behind yourfinancialpharmacist.com and author of a new book, Seven Figure Pharmacist. I have known Tim for 2 years and we have had lots of discussions about financial freedom and pharmacy. He’s taken a few minutes out of his busy schedule to chat with me about his journey to financial freedom and how his new book can help other pharmacists achieve their financial goals.
 

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Alex: Could you tell us a bit about who you are and what you do?

Timothy: I always say that I am pharmacist by day and a financial nerd by night. My background and training is in pharmacy. I graduated from Ohio Northern University, did residency training at Ohio State and worked in academia for about 7 years.

Like many pharmacists coming out of school, I had a bunch of debt—and my wife decided to marry me despite it all. All through high school, I had no debt. Then I went through 6 years of pharmacy school and residency training, got married and when I looked up, I had $200,000 of non-mortgage debt.

Unfortunately, this is normal. My wife and I thought we had everything under control. We didn’t think it was “stupid” debt because we weren’t buying anything extravagant. But in 2012, the humbling moment came when we realized that we were making a 6-figure income, but we were broke.

After that realization, my wife and I thought, “There’s got to be a better way of doing this.” What was so frustrating was that despite our hopes and dreams for what we could do with a 6-figure income, we were not in a position to achieve any of them. We were unable to move to a larger home, go on vacation or give to people in need. We really had very little flexibility and almost no freedom.

We got serious about paying the debt, setting goals and working on it together. In the fall of 2015, about 3 years later, we hit the “submit” button on the last payment of our $200,000 of nonmortgage debt.

As a reminder of that moment, I saved the screenshot of that zero-dollar balance after I hit the “submit” button. After making that last payment, the feeling of living paycheck to paycheck was gone and we found financial freedom that we didn’t have before. Yes, it was hard, but it was so worth it—and I am fired up about sharing our journey and helping other pharmacists achieve their financial goals.

Alex: I know that you are a teacher and that you enjoy talking about personal finance.

What was the impetus for starting your website, www.yourfinancialpharmacist.com?

Timothy: Right around the time that I hit the “submit” button on that last debt payment, I started talking to a lot of other pharmacists and students. Personal finance has always been an area of interest and a passion of mine, and as I talked to more people, I consistently heard the message, “I feel like I am living paycheck to paycheck despite making a 6-figure income.” That’s exactly what I felt, and I found out that many people who were making great income were struggling financially day-to-day.

These pharmacists had common financial questions and were struggling because they had great income, but lacked financial freedom. I also heard pharmacists say, “I’m really not pleased with my job and I want to do something else, but I can’t because I have $200,000 of debt,” or “I’d love the flexibility to go part time, stay home with my kids or save for retirement, but I can’t because I have all this debt on my back.”

I reached out to about 100 of my close friends and peers and told them that I was thinking about writing once a week or so about personal finance and sharing stories of successes and failures, and the reaction was unbelievable. People said, “We need this. We want more of this.” I started writing and sharing some of the good financial things that I’ve done and some of the stupid financial things that I’ve done and got feedback from people saying, “We never learned that during pharmacy school, and I wish we would have,” and “Having a peer perspective from a pharmacist really resonated.” I started the website in October 2015, and it’s been an incredible journey since then.

Alex: You said you’ve done a lot of "stupid financial things" … your words, not mine. What is one of the least intelligent financial decisions you’ve made as a pharmacist?

Timothy: I’m so glad you asked that question! I first wrote an article about this in 2016 called “My Top 10 Financial Mistakes.” After writing the article, I remember having a little voice of pride inside of me before I hit “submit” that said, “Do you really want to share all the stupid things you’ve done with money?”

As it turns out, that article resonated with readers far more than anything else I’ve done. That’s what we need to do more of—share more examples of our mistakes so we can learn from each other.

At the end of the day, we all know that personal finance is behavioral. We can have all the knowledge in the world, but we know that personal finance is emotional.

One mistake that sticks out—and that my wife and I are feeling right now—is buying a house without a 20% down payment. We bought a house with only a 3% down payment and had to pay Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI). Because of our small down payment, it took forever to build equity and we are still feeling the pain.

In hindsight, 1 more year of saving, 1 more year of waiting and 1 more year of being patient would have given us 20% down and would have allowed us to have a lot more flexibility 5 years down the road. Not being patient, reacting quickly and wanting to get into a home worked out, but it was harder than it had to be—and we took a risk that we didn’t have to take.

Luckily, we bought our home after 2008, so the housing market had already crashed. If we would have bought out home pre-2008 before the market crashed, I probably would have been underwater on my mortgage. That’s just not intelligent because it decreases your financial security and flexibility.

If I had to pick 1 more bad decision, it be waiting to buy life insurance. There was a point in time when I was married with 2 kids and had no life insurance in place. With a single income in the household (my wife stays at home with my 3 children), that was crazy. When I tell that story, people look at me like, “Really?” But there are a lot of pharmacists who don’t have life insurance or disability insurance, but they should. There are a lot of pharmacists who are being sold bad policies, and I can intervene because of that mistake I made. If I can help 30 or 50 or 100 people to get those important policies to protect their income, making my mistake was so worth it.

Alex: I’m glad you have that attitude. You have a new book that just came out called Seven Figure Pharmacist. I love the title and I have to admit that the 7-figure pharmacist sounds far-fetched because most pharmacists make 6 figures. Seven figures seems impossible. Tell me a bit more about why you wanted to write this book and why you chose that title.

Timothy: I want to acknowledge my co-author, Tim Church, who is a pharmacist at the West Palm Beach VA. We really tag-teamed this project, and I think one of the things that really comes through in this book is the pharmacist perspective and the stories that are relevant to pharmacists. Really, there isn’t anything else out there like that.

It’s funny that you bring up the “7 figure” in the title, because we spent about a month debating it. We started off with, “The Million-Dollar Pharmacist” and we found that pharmacists, for whatever reason, have a negative connotation about the idea of being a millionaire.

I talk a lot about the fact that it’s not about becoming rich; it’s about building wealth so you can take care of your family, give to others and be responsible. When I talk about being a 7-figure pharmacist, I’m not talking about being wealthy for the sake of being wealthy. My goal is to help you get out of debt, build a cushion to protect your income, maximize wealth and help the next generation.

If you look at the book’s subtitle, it’s “How to Maximize Your Income, Eliminate Debt, and Create Wealth.” That’s what this is all about.

We started the book with a net worth calculation. I did this with my students in the fall, and I thought they were going to fall off their chair when they found out their net worth. You need to know what your current position is before you can get where you are trying to go, and what that net worth calculation does is help you to figure out where you are today, how your debt factors in and where to you need to go in order to move forward.

The book has 3 chapters related to investing and building wealth. Without question, every pharmacist with adequate planning should be a multimillionaire. It’s not even debatable. If you look at the math of what a pharmacist makes, as long as you responsibly get out of debt, responsibly save each month, minimize your expenses and maximize your income, being a multimillionaire should be a reality. If you want to retire at a reasonable age, not only should it be a reality, but it HAS to be a reality.

One of the things we do in the book is go through a nest-egg calculation for your personal situation that looks at how much money you need to save to retire or reach financial independence. What most people realize is that they need several million dollars to reach that place. That’s the premise of Seven Figure Pharmacist: Get out of debt, build, protect and maximize your income and create wealth.

Alex: You’ve been working on this book for a long time. Writing a book is not easy in the first place, and the type of book you’re writing is not always fun to write. I know that at times you felt frustrated and overwhelmed. What drove you to write the book, even when you felt like giving up?

Timothy: What really motivated and inspired me as I talked to more than 1,000 pharmacists in the last year-and-a-half is how much of a pain point this is for people. I know how much financial trouble hurts and how much their finances impact their career satisfaction, home life, and peace of mind. I wanted to create an A-to-Z resource for pharmacists to help them get an idea of where they should be heading. I wanted it to be light, fun, and relatable for a pharmacist. Knowing that there was nothing out there to meet that need gave me increased motivation.

For me, at the end of the day, this book is about helping people change their financial future—that’s what gets me fired up. When I speak with someone or they email me and say, “Because I read this, I did this and now my husband and I are working on a budget, we bought life insurance, and we have a plan to pay off my debt. If I can motivate a pharmacist to do any one of those things, it’s a win.

That’s what it’s all about: People improving their financial future. That’s what motivated me to get up at 4:30 and 5 a.m. and to keep writing. That’s what motivated me to keep going even though I have three young kids.

My co-author, Tim Church, was incredible. He helped to keep me accountable by saying, “Hey, we’re almost there” and providing a different perspective. We also had a team of 50 pharmacists who were helping us to write this, and we were getting feedback saying, “Because I read this chapter, I just did this.” When you are a third of the way through writing a book and you read that, it gets you fired up enough to keep going. You’re right … It was hard. It was difficult.

A few weeks ago when I finished writing, I said that I am not sure I would do it again. Now that I’ve forgotten some of the struggles, I’m ready to go again.

Alex: I know that you sent the book off to the publisher and you’re done with the writing process. Is there anything you would have done differently as you wrote the book?

Timothy: The 1 section that really gave us some heartburn was helping people navigate choosing a financial advisor. It’s at the very end of the book, and the reason we wanted to spend so much time on it is because it’s a question I get all the time. What should I be looking for in an advisor? Do I need one? How do they get paid? Without going into too much detail, the financial services industry is extremely complicated, the regulation is all over the place, there is little regulation around the term “financial advisor” and to be honest, there are a whole lot of pharmacists who just aren’t getting good advice. We felt it was so important that we went through 7 or 8 versions of that chapter.

If I were to do it all over again, I would have started writing that chapter earlier. Just to give you a quick idea of how the book is structured, we broke it up into 6 “prescriptions”:

  • The first prescription focuses on preventive financial medicine, such as the behavioral decisions associated with money, contraindicated decisions to avoid, and minimizing debt.

  • The second prescription talks about having a plan, including goals and a budget.

  • The third prescription talks about protecting and maximizing your income, saving for emergencies, paying taxes and growing your income.

  • The fourth prescription focuses on debt.

  • The fifth prescription focuses on investing and hiring an advisor.

  • The sixth prescription focuses on how to follow the behaviors of successful people.

The book is 350 pages and includes lots of great stories and examples. We also included references to scholarships for students, and I think people are going to get a lot of value out of it.

Alex: Some pharmacists have been in the career for some time and are close to retirement age, and I know that some of them feel like they haven’t used their income very well. What advice do you have for the pharmacist who feels like it’s too late for them?

Timothy: I get a lot of questions from people who have been pharmacists for 20 or 30 years who are still struggling with student loans or other debt and feeling the pressure of retirement. My advice is that you will never be successful if you try to attack all of your financial problems at once.

If you are looking at debt, lack of an emergency fund, paying off your house, paying for your kids’ college tuition, you will become overwhelmed. My wife and I realized when we first started this process that we were trying to do six or seven things at once and weren’t doing any of them well. We said, “We’ve got to do one of these things and go all in and do it well to get momentum.”

Get the small wins and build off of that. That’s the advice I have for people who are 25, 35, or 55. You’ve got to get a small win and map out a stepwise approach to attack your finances — and you’ve got to pick one thing to focus on. You can’t do it all at once.

Maybe your one thing is paying off a small loan, building an emergency fund, getting a life insurance policy, maxing out a Roth IRA or taking advantage of an employer 401(k) match. If you try to do all of these things at once, you are going to get frustrated, it won’t work and you will feel like you aren’t making progress. Finding one thing—and one person to keep you accountable such as a peer, a spouse, a financial coach or an advisor—can help you build momentum.


If you are ready to learn more about becoming a Seven Figure Pharmacist, visit http://www.sevenfigurepharmacist.com, where you can purchase the book and different “therapy packages” based on where you are on your financial journey and what you are ready to do.

If you use the coupon code BARKER, you will receive 15% off your purchase and access to a private Facebook group that connects you with a community of pharmacists who are working on their finances together. Whether you are seasoned saver or a personal finance neophyte, this book will provide you with the financial knowledge required to help you make the most of your pharmacist income.




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