A Functional Doctor On The Percentage Of Your Paycheck That Should Be Spent On Your Health

Photo by Art: Megan Lazaros | Photo: Miachel Breton

With an estimated 67 percent of Americans at least a little anxious about paying the bills, and 58 percent worried they won’t have enough money for retirement, it’s becoming increasingly clear that being financially well is an integral part of overall wellness. Of course, money management isn’t one-size-fits-all, so we’re talking to people from all walks of life to find out how they achieved a healthy relationship with their finances. We hope it empowers you to live a life Well Spent.

Today, Taz Bhatia, M.D., is a wildly successful physician: She opened her own practice, CentreSpring MD, in 2009; has been voted Atlanta’s Best Integrative Medicine Doctor; and has two best-selling books, Super Woman RX and The 21-Day Belly Fix, under her belt. But it took years of hard work, and a money misstep or two, to get there.

In this candid interview, Dr. Taz opens up about how she has overcome financial hurdles throughout her career—from medical school loans to credit card debt—to get to a place where she's financially healthy and able to give back to her family and community.

The mbg class instructor and Collective member also gives her take on the health trends that are worth splurging on, the percentage of your paycheck that should go toward self-care, and the money forecasting exercise we should all be doing ASAP. Grab a pen because you're going to want to take notes on this one.

What does financial well-being mean to you?

I think it's being in a position where you have control, and you don't feel like you're constantly thinking or worrying about money—where you can move from point A to point B without a lot of stress.

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What has your financial journey looked like?

It's been interesting. I come from immigrant parents who gave me an incredible work ethic, but I have very much been in situations, for different reasons, where I didn't have enough money. I had a ton of loans, student loans, and credit card debt. It was tough, quite honestly. A lot of my decision-making played into what would bring me the most financial stability the quickest. You never want to have to make decisions from there.

Just like you'd go about creating a strategy to conquer your academic goals or your career goals, what's your strategy for conquering your financial goals?

I've gone from being in survival mode and having a lot of debt, especially credit card debt and student loan debt, to earning money that helped me come above the debt and help my family, then coming above that and being able to build a business, and then coming above that, and then being able to think, "OK, here I am now. How can I give back?" It's been a really neat evolution.

Do you have any tips for people who might be in survival mode?

I think the No. 1 thing is to consolidate your debt instead of having these numbers hang out in 15 different places. Just like with a company, you want to keep things centralized.

And then you need to have a strategy. Just like you'd go about creating a strategy to conquer your academic goals or your career goals, what's your strategy for conquering your financial goals? Everything doesn't have to happen at once. Tell yourself, "This is what I want to do weekly," and, "This is what I want to do monthly."

I think understanding the tax code system and knowing what you'll actually take home from a salary is really important, too. You can say, "I'm going to be a doctor. I'm going to make $250K a year," but then, after you take out taxes and all of these other things, what you're really walking away with is small—and then you factor in all of the different debt you have, and that number continues to go down. In the physician community, I've seen a lot of depression and a lot of being disgruntled, like, "Hey, we thought we were going to be great, but then you factor all of these things into account and I'm only coming home with this much."

Thankfully, I ended up in a public medical school. My sister, for example, ended up in a private medical school. Our debt equations were completely different. I was able to get rid of mine in a couple of years, but hers is still hanging around. Nobody warns you to think beyond, "I want to be the top in XYZ field," and more along the lines of, "What's it going to look like when I'm 30, 40, 50, when I want to have kids and I might need to cut down?"

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It sounds like planning ahead was something that was really helpful for you.

Yes, planning all the way ahead. Not just five years. Think all the way through.

Did having kids change the way you view money?

Yes! Once you have children, your perspective changes and what you want for them changes. You almost work harder and sacrifice your own needs in some ways to achieve more for them. And a lot of people don't realize the cost of having children. There's a definite price tag to it: everything from child care to education.

Do you own your own house? When did you know you were ready to take that step?

I jumped into homeownership pretty quickly. I think I was 28 when I bought my first home because I had a great job and I was aggressive about my strategy in trying to get out of the situation I had been in all through my 20s. I think it's amazing to buy a home as long as you're getting a decent deal and the mortgage payments and taxes make sense against your income.

You get to that point when you realize that stuff doesn't really matter.

If you're not sure about where you're headed, then it honestly makes more sense to rent because otherwise you put all of this money into a home and you might not see the return on the other end. If you're staying in a place for at least five years, sure, buy a home. But if you're not, then I would probably say it's not worth it—it's better to rent.

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What wellness trends do you think are and aren't worth splurging on?

Anytime you splurge on food, it's completely worth it. I think whatever you have to do to get there—whether it's using a shopping service, a meal-prep service, or a delivery service—those are dollars well-spent because that's your day-to-day sustenance.

I think anything that relates to self-care is important within reason, whether that's massage, acupuncture, a facial, whatever else. Those things are worthwhile because they make us feel better about ourselves and they bring stress levels down, so there's a payoff in a number of intangible ways. Exercise is important, too.

Then after that, everything else you get into is probably a luxury. Whether it's saunas, cryotherapy, etc. It's not that any of them are bad; it's just that they should be in the fun budget. They don't need to go in the health budget.

What percentage of your paycheck should go toward your health budget?

I think around 10 percent is fair.

What's one money habit that you've developed that you're really proud of?

Creating yearly and quarterly goals and going for them. Through that filter, it's easier to make decisions.

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What's the No. 1 money tip you'd give to your younger self?

I spent so much money on clothes! I don't know how many trips I made to the mall before or after exams thinking I deserved it. Back then, if I had more mind-body grounding, if I had more tools, I wouldn't be looking for gratification through clothes or those types of external things. Now I can't stand to go shopping!

How did you get to that point of being able to find gratification from within?

I remember so distinctly, when I got my first paycheck from the emergency room, it was $23,000. For me at the time, it was huge. I called my mom and said, "Oh my gosh, you're not going to believe how big my paycheck is!" I worked at the ER for 10 to 12 years, and for the first couple of them I felt like, "I can buy things that I never wanted to buy before." I had a little convertible BMW that I was so proud of.

But after about two years, I was over it. The money didn't mean anything anymore. It was almost like a high—and then I got to the point when I realized that stuff doesn't really matter. I wanted more purpose, depth, and connection to what I was doing.

And then, on a more personal level, I realized that there was nothing I could buy that would "fix" me. Nothing I bought would fix my hair, no makeup I bought would hide my acne, and nothing I did would help me lose weight. It ultimately didn't come from anything I could put dollars down for.

What's the best money you've ever spent?

My education and my continued education, past the medical stuff, like going to learn acupuncture in San Francisco or signing up for the Integrated Medicine Fellowship. The second would be experiences. Anytime my family takes a vacation, it means so much more than when we buy something.

Want more from Dr. Taz? mbg's Functional Nutrition Program gives you unparalleled access to her and some more of the biggest names in functional medicine today.

This interview has been edited and condensed. 

And do you want to learn how to unlock the power of food to heal your body, prevent disease & achieve optimal health? Register now for our FREE Functional Nutrition Webinar with Kelly LeVeque.

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