Introducing #TeamMedicMadness

Healthy trail run

There is a stereotype in EMS when it comes to personal health, and it isn’t good. How many times have you heard people talk about how we are overweight, out of shape and generally unhealthy? When you hear that, does it make you laugh, or does it disappoint you? For the majority of my career, I had just accepted it but failed to realize that I was part of it. I figured that since I wasn’t “overweight” that I must be “healthy enough”. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

For the longest time, I was eating junk every day and doing absolutely no exercise. Throughout my 20’s, you couldn’t tell. Actually, people used to comment on how I need to “put meat on my bones”. I could literally eat anything I wanted and never gain a pound. Well, these habits carried over past my 29th birthday, and I still had the same mindset. That is until I had my wake up call….

The Wake Up Call

I agreed to play the patient in a mock STEMI drill at the local ER. I checked in through the front desk and played up the usual over-dramatic patient in an attempt to bring out a few laughs from the nursing staff. When they moved me to the room, they placed me on the 12-lead ECG monitor and took my vitals. The doctor looked at both and asked if those were really my readings. A little shocked, I asked what he meant. He turned the monitor towards me and showed me a blood pressure reading of 187/118 with a resting heart rate of 102. He was very adamant that I actually needed to be seen in the ER or at my doctor’s office, to which I shrugged it off, attributing the readings to either the equipment or my excitement during the drill. However, later that evening, I went out to my ambulance and checked myself again to find the same thing. I checked in again in the morning and still had the same readings. My unhealthy lifestyle had finally caught up to me.

Now I had 2 choices: Either go down the path of blood pressure medications and frequent doctor’s office visits, or change my lifestyle. When I took a good honest look at my health, the answer was obvious. I couldn’t move around the ambulance or carry a heart monitor up a flight of stairs without getting winded and I was lying to myself about why that was. It was time to change.

Getting Help

The morning after that drill was the beginning of a new lifestyle. I immediately started doing my best to eat healthy and start exercising. I quit drinking sodas and started drinking water. I quit sitting around and started walking and jogging. I tried going to the gym that I had been paying for but felt lost. I was very determined to change, but I just needed some direction.

I made a post on Twitter about how hard it was to get into running when I hadn’t done it in nearly a decade. My friend Ed, a fitness / Beach Body coach, replied to my post and told me about the Couch-to-5K program and advised me to start drinking 100oz of water every day. I took his advice and downloaded the app. It started me off doing intervals of walking / running and eventually worked me up to the point where I was able to run 3 miles. I ran my first 5k race 1 month into my journey and felt like a million dollars when I finished.

Photo Nov 27, 7 10 56 AMAround the time I started training, Ed got me setup on a good meal plan and steered me towards a home workout routine that would work around my 24-hour shift schedule. I started it the day it came in the mail and I haven’t missed a single workout since. My blood pressure now hangs around 108/60 and my resting heart rate in the low 60’s. I have more energy than I know what to do with and I’m pushing towards new fitness goals every day. Now I’m exercising 6 days a week, running 3 days a week, eating like a king (healthy foods, of course) and training to run my first 10k in February. I don’t weigh myself and I don’t take my measurements. The only 2 measurements I need are how I look and how I feel. As you can imagine, I’m pretty happy with both.

Like many others, I used to make excuses like “I don’t have enough time to workout” or “gym memberships are too expensive” and even worse, “It’s too expensive to eat healthy”. It was all a bunch of crap and I’m living proof that it doesn’t have to be that way.

#TeamMedicMadness

Like my #MoneySmartMedics campaign, I want to do more than just get healthy. I want to help get our industry healthy. I created a Facebook group for first-responders that want help getting fit and healthy. I also took after Ed’s example and started trying my hand at Beach Body coaching. The #TeamMedicMadness Facebook group has been a huge success so far. We’ve seen people really do amazing things and make big commitments towards living a healthier life and changing the image of our industry.

Unlike #MoneySmartMedics, this isn’t about my story. I’m still fairly new to this lifestyle, so by joining me and making the commitment to change, we can make it OUR story.

I’ll be posting weekly articles on healthy living for first-responders. We’ll be talking meal plans, workout routines, weekly challenges and anything else we can think of to make this a healthier industry. If you’re ready to jump in, let me know and I’ll be happy to add you to our group. There’s daily posts in there to motivate, educate and help hold us all accountable.

No more excuses. Hit me up and let’s do this.

sean@medicmadness.com

Being a Medic Doesn’t Have to Mean Being Broke

After reading some recent articles and seeing group posts about EMS wages, I’ve decided that the best Christmas gift we can give ourselves this year is some personal responsibility. At some point, we have to stop blaming others for our problems. If you accepted a job offer making any amount of money, then you have absolutely, 100%, no right to complain about your wages. Do I want to see our industry improve in the compensation department? Absolutely! But I equally want to see the workforce improve to match the desired wages.

Nobody tied our hands and forced us into this line of work. And NOBODY lied to us and told us that we were going to make a bunch of money either. So how can we possibly be mad at anyone but ourselves? This isn’t a perfect industry and it comes with a huge set of complications when it comes to money. But here’s the thing, I love this job. I look forward to showing up to work to do what I do. I know there’s plenty of others out there that feel the same way. The problem is, many of those people – myself included – have felt like they had no choice but to leave for higher wages in order to “stay afloat” or support their family. Is there anything wrong with trying to make more money? Absolutely not! But I think we have forgotten about the value of loving the work that we do.

The beauty of good money management, is that it gives us more freedom to do what we want in life, instead of what we think we “have” to do. For example, think about people that dedicate their lives to traveling overseas to help needy families or victims of disasters. Do you think they make good money doing it? Look at teachers. Do you know anyone that got into teaching to make tons of money? If you look at the big picture, we are just a small piece in a huge stack of professions – or callings, if you will – that don’t make much money. And yes, I just compared our profession to humanitarian work. Our job is to do good for society. Yes, we can complain that the people we serve don’t appreciate us, or maybe don’t even “need” us, but doing good deeds isn’t about the response, it’s about the intention behind it.

This job isn’t for everyone. There are plenty of us who’s hearts aren’t really in the profession. For those of us, it may be a bad career decision, or stepping stone to another profession. But for those of us that truly feel passionate about this field, it’s important to know that yes, you CAN survive and live a healthy and rewarding life.

So how do we accomplish this?

Living Within Our Means

This means budgeting and not spending more than we earn. It’s not rocket science. If you’re making $40-50K a year and you’re making payments on a $40,000 pickup truck, then you need to take a serious look at your financial priorities and really ask yourself what’s important in life. If your truck, boat, motorcycle, or jet ski is really where your heart is, then yes, you need to find a higher paying job, because you can’t support that lifestyle on this salary.

Does living within your means equate to never having the things you want? Absolutely not. It just means that you have to save and be patient. By doing so, you avoid the chains of debt, and trust me, that feeling is far greater than anything any material item will ever give you.

Create Other Sources of Income

I’m sure a lot of people read this title and couldn’t get past thinking that you have to have a second job to get by in EMS. For those of you that are still with me, hang in there, it will start to make sense.

One of the beauties of EMS – at least for many of us – is the schedule flexibility and number of days off. I work 24 hour shifts, therefore I only work 9-10 days a month. That means I have at least 20 other days to do what I want. For the longest time, I just jumped on the overtime bandwagon and blindly picked up extra shifts in a feeble attempt to keep my head above water. Well, by being intentional with my money and my overtime, I can greatly limit that and actually have a purpose for overtime shifts other than just paying bills. Now, I would be lying to you if I told you that I don’t still find myself needing extra shifts from time-to-time to cover expenses, but by budgeting and paying down debt, I have significantly reduced the need for it.

One of the things I have been working on in my spare time is starting a business, and yes, you’re looking right at it. As you can clearly see, I’m not exactly shoveling in the money. However, I have a huge passion for writing and being creative, so now I have the time to work on turning my passion into an investment in my future. You can do the same! Find your “dream work” and start working towards creating an income with it. What other line of work will provide you will full-time pay, full-time benefits and leave you with 20 days a month to work on building a business?

Of course, there is always the option of finding part-time work to help you achieve your goals. For me, I want to pay cash for a house and piece of property. By taking care of your monthly financial obligations with your full-time job, you can dedicate your part-time income to propelling yourself towards achieving your goals. This way, work doesn’t feel so much like work anymore.

Look at the Big Picture

Quit turning your life into a math equation. Yes, you can probably find a profession that makes more money and would provide you with the means to achieve your goals without having to create other sources of income, but would you truly be happy doing it? For me, I love EMS. If I never did anything else, I would retire a happy man. However, I’m also passionate about things like writing, playing music, and singing. So by working every day to make my financial situation better, I can work towards achieving my goals of paying cash for property, traveling and making a difference in this industry.

Imagine a life of no debt, enough money on hand to live for at least 3-6 months, and plenty of money left over every month to do what you’re passionate about? If you were in this situation, do you think that you would place more emphasis on hourly pay or quality of life?

Think about that for a while.

Changing the Industry Starts With You

There has always been plenty of talk about what needs to be done to improve the EMS industry. Rallying congress, petitioning governing boards, starting campaigns and pushing for legislation are all good things, but they only address a smart part of what needs to change. The biggest answer to our problems isn’t the pencil pushers and paycheck signers, it’s the person looking back at you in the mirror. It’s the face the patients and public see when your ambulance rolls up on scene. It’s the front-line representatives of our industry. It’s you, me and everyone else working on the ambulances, riding in the fire engines or even flying around in fancy helicopters. We ARE the industry. We ARE the people on the ground delivering the care. Therefore WE are the ones that need to take action TODAY.

Sound dramatic? Take a look around, and not just at your service, but everywhere. Are you happy with where we are as an industry? If not, then it’s time to start being the change that we need!

Ambulance

Take Care of Yourself

If your life is in shambles, there’s just no possible way that you can be the provider that your patients really deserve. I know because I’ve been there. Hell, I’m and in and out of there. I’m constantly trying to improve my life. Where I changed was about a year or so ago when I quit making excuses for the problems in my life.

Feel like you’re broke? Learn how to budget, start paying off debt and save. Feel tired, sluggish, exhausted and out of shape? Then start eating healthy, exercising and taking control of your health. Your situation is not your employers fault because you don’t think they pay you enough or they don’t provide free gym memberships. Think you’re stuck? E-mail me. I’ll show you how to budget and how to stay healthy without spending a dime. (I’m dead serious) sean@medicmadness.com

I’ve started 2 free groups to help first-responders take care of themselves. #MoneySmartMedics for money management and #TeamMedicMadness for health and fitness. Both are on Facebook and Google Plus. If you honestly think that your finances or health could use some work, let me know. I’m doing my best to make sure everyone has the resources they need to take control. Nothing fancy, just my attempt and systematically removing every excuse I can.

Never Stop Learning

Kelly Grayson nails it when he says that there are not a lot of people with 20 years of experience in EMS. What we have are a bunch of people with 1 year experience, repeated 20 times. I’m no exception here. I don’t think I hit my true 2nd year of experience until after my 4th year as a paramedic. Like many others in this field, I got my paramedic license and figured I was good to go. Medicine is a constantly evolving science and when we choose not to keep up, we accomplish nothing but short-changing our patients and giving ourselves a bad name.

There’s plenty of excuses out there and none of them are worth a damn. So what if you’re employer doesn’t provide continuing education courses? Half of those stupid card classes are based on outdated science and do nothing but place your brain tightly inside of a steel box that’s seemingly impossible to think outside of. Get out and learn something today!

Pick a home medication that you know nothing about, fire up your smartphone and learn everything you can about it. Repeat steps 1 and 2 until you run out of home medications to learn.

Find a medication that you haven’t administered in a long time and mentally run yourself through scenarios where you would actually draw it up, calculate drips, etc. Once again, repeat steps 1 and 2 until you run out of medications to practice.

Open up your protocol book and find every procedure and scenario that you possibly can and honestly ask yourself: “Am I an EXPERT on [fill in the blank]”. If the answer is no, then get to learning, asking, reading, watching and practicing.

Read. Read. Read. Read. Read. Go to one of the bazillion EMS educational sites and start reading up on new studies, case reviews, panel discussions, etc. I don’t have to tell you where to find them. You already know. You just haven’t been doing it.

Be a Representative of the Industry

Every time you step into the public’s eye wearing anything resembling EMS, you are representing the industry. Take 10 extra minutes every day to make sure you are groomed, pressed, polished and looking your absolute best. I don’t care if you employer mandates it or not, you should have higher standards for yourself than your employer does. When you’re out in public on the clock, act like a professional. We are all guilty of slipping up in this category and I’m not excluding myself. We all need to step up our game.

Going to a bar on Friday night? Leave your EMS shirts at home. I don’t care if they have your employers logo or not. It looks bad on the entire industry. There’s nothing wrong with going out and tying one on, but leave your career out of it.

Be the Example

With many services experiencing high turnover rates, it’s no secret that our industry is being flooded with newcomers. This isn’t a bad thing! This is our opportunity to make a positive influence and actually create a society within the industry of good attitudes, caring providers, and actual critical thinkers.

Take the time to make sure that the newcomers are being influenced by the right people. You know, like YOU? If you see bad behaviors developing, take action! Lead by example. Remember, the youth of our industry are also the future of our industry. It’s up to you to decide what they do with it. If you don’t care enough to ensure that our industry has a bright future, then it’s time for you to go. We don’t have room for you anymore.

I know this post seems harsh, but the truth hurts. I’m not writing this from a position of looking down on anyone. I include myself in everything that I write. It’s time for ALL OF US to step up our game.

It’s go time.

5 Money Smart Tasks to Prepare You for the New Year

I really hate the idea of New Years Resolutions. If you’re going to eat healthy, start budgeting, or whatever, start doing it now!

This post is nothing like that….kinda.

I’m going to talk about things that need to be done before January in preparation of the new year. I like to spend the last month of the year looking back over the last 11 months to ask myself what I can do better. I look at things like spending, family time, work, and even my health. I guess where my line of thinking differs from the typical new years resolutions is that I start acting on it right away. Personally, I feel that delaying the start of change only increases your chances of not following through.

Having said that, the holiday season is the perfect time to start setting up things like sinking funds, tax withholding and health / dental insurance plans. So without further delay, let’s dig in to my 5 money smart tasks to prepare for the new year!

Start a Budget

If you haven’t started using a written budget, start now. There is just no reason to wait on this. It doesn’t matter if you have $2 or $2,000, YOU CAN SETUP A BUDGET. I will guarantee you that if you start living on a written budget starting now, that you will see a dramatic decrease in the amount of money you spend in 2015.

Remember, living on a budget doesn’t mean your broke or being “restricted”. The only thing restricting you is the money in your bank account. What you’re doing is taking control of your spending. You’re telling your money where to go rather than wondering where it went. If you need help, look back at the earlier posts in the #MoneySmartMedics series or send me an e-mail. I’ll be glad to help in any way I can!

Adjust Your Tax Withholding

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Tax returns are not a good thing. If you’re getting thousands of dollars back on your taxes, then you need to seriously adjust what’s taken out of your check every month. That is money that could be used to pay off debt, build a retirement fund or even pay for college. Don’t let the government hold on to your money interest-free!

I hear a lot of people say that they enjoy tax returns because it’s “forced savings”. Well, it’s not savings if you spend it once you get it. If you don’t think you can handle the extra money every month responsibly, then go talk to your payroll department and have it deposited into a savings or a ROTH IRA.

Setup Your Sinking Funds

If you’re not familiar with sinking funds, go check this out and head on back. A sinking fund is really just a fancy version of your Christmas cookie jar. It’s a fund that you contribute to every pay period to achieve a short or long-term savings goal. For example: CHRISTMAS! Do you know when I start saving for Christmas? The moment I buy my last Christmas present!

OK, I know most everyone reading this didn’t go back and read the article on sinking funds, and don’t worry, I’m not judging, I’m the same way. So with that in mind, here’s the short version:

To setup your sinking funds, you need to identify the major expenses that you know you will run into throughout the year. Now, take those expenses, divide them by the amount of pay periods for the year and BOOM! Now you know how much to set aside every pay check.

Get on a Plan to Pay off Debt

Most of us keep loans around long enough that we think they’re a member of our family. It’s time to change that. Make a commitment to stop borrowing money, whether it be on credit cards, cars or student loans. Line up your debts smallest to largest, and start paying them off in that order. Debt is one of the biggest things holding us back from doing what we really want to do with our lives, so let’s kick it to the curb!

Plan for Health and Dental Expenses

OK, so I failed miserably at this one last year. I didn’t plan for anything and wound up blowing my emergency fund over dental work. Don’t be like me. Here’s a couple things that you can do to prepare for upcoming expenses:

  • Setup Flex Spending
    If you’re not familiar with flex spending, then talk to your payroll or human resources department. It’s an account that you setup that’s pre-loaded with up to $2,500 that can be used for anything health or dental related. This includes co-pays, prescriptions, etc. You decide the amount that you want to have and payroll will deduct the amount over the course of the year pre-tax from your paycheck. By having it taken out pre-tax, you are essentially saving 30% on those expenses! The only downfall here, is that any unused funds are non-refundable at the end of the year, so make sure you only budget what you will need!
  • See If You Quality for a Healthcare Savings Account (HSA)
    This is very similar to a flex-spending account in that the money is contributed pre-tax. Where it differs is that the money isn’t “pre-loaded” which means that you will actually have to build up a decent balance before it becomes useful. Having said that, it could be a great option to handle expenses coming up at the end of the year while you use money from your FSA at the beginning. Also, the money belongs to you, so you don’t lose it at the end of the year!

Start Now!

January isn’t the time to figure this stuff out. Get on the ball today. Maybe you don’t have money to put away at this very second, but you can find 10 minutes and a piece of paper to write on. Come up with a plan and execute!

On a side note, I want to take a moment to thank everyone that has been following these posts. I have received some amazing feedback and I’m truly blessed to have such an awesome readership. I have some really exciting things coming up in 2015 and I seriously can’t wait to share everything with you guys. Thanks again and keep kicking ass!

3 Money Mistakes I Continue to Make

I write a lot about mistakes I’ve made in the past when it comes to money and what we can all do to improve our financial lives. Over the last couple years, I’ve had to completely erase everything I thought I knew about money management and start from scratch. I’ve made some pretty amazing progress during that time, but I’m far from perfect.

After spending some time at the Texas EMS Conference this last week, I had the opportunity to network with some really amazing people. I noticed that a lot of people who had read my #MoneySmartMedics series would make comments in good humor about “money mistakes” that they were making. I would hear things like “don’t judge me, I’m swiping my debit card” or “I really didn’t budget for this”. It was as if everyone had this idea that I’m going to be hovering over them like a drill-sergeant to make sure they were paying with cash.  Granted, it was all meant as a joke, but it did make me realize that I don’t talk about mistakes that I currently make.

Money management is a lot like going on a nutrition plan. You’re going to have “cheat days” or slip up from time to time. The important thing is that you don’t give up. When these things happen, just pick up where you left off and keep pushing forward. It’s not an exact science and your world isn’t going to come crashing down when you make stupid mistakes from time to time. When you adequately prepare yourself by creating things like emergency funds or sinking funds, you’re essentially protecting against yourself.

I thought I would take this week to share some frequent mistakes that I continue to make to this day (and probably will for a while):

Note: This is clearly not a picture of me or my kitchen as my kitchen is MUCH messier than that...

Note: This is clearly not a picture of me or my kitchen as my kitchen is MUCH messier than that…

Checking the Mail

I’m not going to lie, I’m absolutely terrible about this. Unless I’m waiting for a check or an item that I ordered, I’ll forget to open the mailbox. This habit probably started in my days of bill collectors constantly mailing me bad news. A recent example of this biting me in the ass was my cell-phone bill. AT&T had sent me notice that my auto-draft date was changing and that a certain feature on my account was going up in price. At the same time, my dentist sent me a letter than my insurance didn’t cover the anticipated amount on a recent visit and that I owed her practice another $300 for non-reimbursed expenses. Well guess what? The 2 items completely threw off my budget.

I showed up to the dentist expecting to pay $30 and was kindly reminded of my past-due amount of $300. I had the money to pay the amount, but I was going to have to completely re-write my budget for the pay period. On that same day, AT&T drafted their owed amount 2 weeks earlier than I had anticipated and for a larger amount. I wanted to put my head through my desk. Of course, all this could have been EASILY planned for had I opened the freaking mail a month earlier.

Updating Payment Information

This is a mistake that I hopefully will not make again. As we all know, debit cards expire. Well, when you have automatic payments coming out on those debit cards, it’s kind of important to update that information when it happens so that you don’t have an interruption in service. Once again, checking the mail usually lets you know that you screwed up before things get shut off…..just saying….

So there I was, walking into the gym, ready to beat myself up in the name of good cardio health when the kind lady behind the counter informed me that I couldn’t use the gym until I paid my past-due balance. Talk about embarrassing! Of course, I don’t carry my debit card with me, so I had to drive home, get the new card and return to the gym. That night I got home, logged into every account I had and updated my information. I also created an event with a 30-day reminder in Google Calendars to remind myself to do that the next go-around.

Staying Organized

I screw this up a lot. I religiously write my budgets every time I get paid. I make sure to account for everything that is supposed to be drafted and anything that I anticipate spending over the next 2 weeks. That I got down, no problem. Where I screw up is when I add or remove a monthly expense. For example, I recently changed car insurance companies, so my payment amount changed along with my due date. I completely forgot about that and budgeted the incorrect amount at the incorrect time. This wasn’t the end of the world, but it was really annoying when it came out a week earlier than I had anticipated.

Another example would be some online services that I recently subscribed to. Blogging, coaching and promoting doesn’t come without expenses…well not unless you want to do everything the absolute hard way. I have a budgeted amount for things like web hosting, social media management, software expenses, etc. Well, I recently decided to add on a few services to make promoting my writing easier. What I didn’t do is remember to write down the payment draft date on my financial calendar. This was especially annoying being that I pay all my business-related expenses through my PayPal account. Come the following month, I didn’t transfer all the money needed to cover my expenses and I wound up paying late fees and having one service shut off temporarily. Annoying!

Now It’s Your Turn!

What are some money mistakes that you continue to make? Don’t be shy, I’m sure I’ve done FAR worse!

Your Coworkers Are Broke

Do you ever look at your coworkers and ask yourself: “Where do you get all that money?” You struggle just to make ends meet and yet, sitting in the ambulance next to you is someone who drives brand new vehicles, lives in a “nice” house, has lots of cool toys and makes the same amount of money you do. Ever wonder how that happens? Do you ever ask yourself what you’re doing wrong?

I’m going to let you in on a little secret. This is something that modern society has tried to keep from you for your entire life. Are you ready to hear it?

Your Coworker Is Broke

Debt is a funny thing. It can mask a lot of bad financial decisions by delaying the consequences. If I go and spend my entire paycheck on a new computer, I’m going to feel the consequences immediately. If I charge it to a credit card, I can drag it out over a year’s worth of payments. Now let’s be honest, we know that borrowing doesn’t stop at the laptop. Dinners, nights out, vacations, and iPads all keep racking up the debt, but as long as we are able to make the minimum payments, we can continue to be irresponsible. The problem is, the higher the blance, the higher the payments and it will eventually reach a point where we can’t even afford the minimum payments. Sometimes this process takes a couple years, sometimes over a decade. Either way, it WILL catch up.

Chains of habbit are too light to be (1)

A wise man once told me that “comparing someone’s outside to your inside is a losing proposition, every time”. Well, this absolutely applies when we compare our financial situation to our coworkers. The truth is, if you’re asking yourself how they could pay for things like a fancy vacation on their salary, chances are, they haven’t. The trip was likely put on a credit card and it will probably be years before they have actually “paid” for it.

Don’t mistaken this lifestyle as being “financially sound” because it is 100% dependent on their ability to continue to bring in their current income. Want to know how financially secure someone is? Take away their income for 3 months and see what happens.

Many of us in EMS think that is the way it has to be. We have convinced ourselves that the only solution is to make more money. Well, I have another secret for you. Are you ready for this?

You Don’t Have to Be Wealthy to Become Wealthy

Allow me to introduce you to the wealthiest paramedic I know…

Every time I drove up to the station I always saw the same thing: Brand new sports cars, pickup trucks, SUV’s and payments to accompany all of them. Execpt for that one truck: the one that was 8 years old. It was nothing fancy, just a truck. It probably had well over 150,000 miles on it, but it got the job done. It belonged to one of the most humble, content and friendly paramedics I ever met. For the sake of this article, I’ll just call him Frank.

Frank showed up to work every day with a smile on his face. He loved his job and was very good at it. He was the kind of guy that packed a lunch every day, drove used cars and rarely allowed his debit card to see the light day. But Frank wasn’t broke. Frank actually had a net worth of well over $1 Million dollars. He had a paid-for house, paid-for truck and absolutely no consumer debt. He and his wife loved to travel and went on some really awesome vacations a couple times a year.

You want to know how Frank did it? He figured out early on in his career that debt wasn’t his friend. He made a decision that interest was something he was going to be earning, not paying. He drove nice used cars, lived on a written budget, didn’t over-spend on junk and he INVESTED. His money wasn’t being sucked away in the form of car payments or credit card bills. And guess what? He did it all on an EMS salary. Try asking him if he thinks us poor EMS folks are living below poverty level.

Peer Pressure Didn’t End in High School

Don’t allow other people’s bad financial decisions to make you think that you are doing something wrong. In EMS, we have a big problem with trying to out-spend each other, and for what? Here’s my basic rule-of-thumb: If your coworkers are laughing at you, you’re doing it right.

Think about this the next time someone tries to tell you to “just go buy a new car”: If you put the money that you would be spending on car payments in good investments, it won’t take long before you’re earning enough in interest to replace your car every couple years. You heard me right, the banks will be paying YOU to replace your car. There isn’t any magic formula here, just basic financial principles and quality, conservative investing.

Don’t let your broke coworkers influence your financial decisions. Be the change that you, your family, and this industry needs. You got this!

How Being Money Smart Will Make You a Better Paramedic

I’ve talked about this topic a few times before, but I think I really need to explain the importance of having your finances in a good place. Our personal problems are going to stay with us when we show up to work, there’s just no way around that. Yes, we are told to “check our bags at the door”, but can we really do that with the overwhelming stress of our personal lives lingering around in our head?

The problem with financial trouble, is that it puts a mental and sometimes physical barrier up that prevents you from thinking about anyone but yourself. Why do you think wealthy people build hospitals and schools? Because they have the means to do it and they aren’t worried about their personal financial situation. It’s really hard to be generous when you’re needing help.

So where does this come into play in the world of EMS? Allow me to tell my story:

The Worst Financial Day of My Life

Image credit: dailymail.co.uk

Image credit: dailymail.co.uk

To get the whole picture, I would recommend checking out the first #MoneySmartMedics article where I talk about my back story. Here’s an excerpt from that article describing my breaking point:

Having no money or food wasn’t always the end of the world for me. After all, the local hospital fed us lunch and breakfast for free and many of the hospitals in the neighboring city provided all kinds of snacks and meals. You can say I was quite the connoisseur of the free EMS handouts. However, forces much stronger than my resourceful skills made sure that I never came anywhere near any of the hospitals. By 2 pm I was starving. My partner sensed that something was wrong and offered to buy me lunch. I lied and told him that I wasn’t hungry.

At one point in the late afternoon, I arrived at the station just in time to see a tow truck pulling into the employee parking lot. My heart sank. I knew for sure he was there to take my car. After all, I had been ignoring the bank’s calls for weeks. My spirits were lifted a little bit when I realized he was just using the driveway to turn around. Still, I knew it was coming and seeing that truck gave me a level of self-disgust that I had never felt before.

2 hours later, my phone shut off. Fortunately I was able to sweet talk Verizon into giving me 3 more days of service with an empty promise to pay off the entire balance by the weekend. Of course, I did this while hiding in the back of one of the ambulances in fear of one of my coworkers hearing me.

The final straw was getting a call from the local courthouse to inform me that if I didn’t pay my traffic ticket off within 48 hours, a warrant would be issued for my arrest.

I lost it.

I cried, I prayed, I begged, I did everything I could hoping that God would snap his fingers and make this horrible situation go away. What I didn’t realize, is that he was doing just that.

How It Carries over to Our Line of Work

After reading the above story, where do you think my head was? Do you think I was genuinely concerned about the problems of my patients? Or do you think I was on auto-pilot? I wasn’t just on auto-pilot, I was was doing a terrible job. Auto-pilot would have been an improvement.

As I experienced so many times throughout my career, I simply can’t be the best medic that I’m capable of being when I can’t see past my own problems. It’s just not possible.

3 Things You Can Do Right Now

Paying off bills, becoming debt free and planning for the future are all essential to achieving financial peace, but they take time. Getting your finances in better shape doesn’t require paying off all of your debt. You can get organized and eliminate your financial stress RIGHT NOW. Try these 3 things TODAY and I promise you that you will see a significant improve in not only your work performance, but your overall attitude in life.

  1. Get on a written budget:
    There is no prerequisite to budgeting. All you need is a piece of paper and something to write with. Figure out how much money you have on hand and start dividing it into categories. Get out a calendar and write down all your due dates for bills. Knowing exactly what’s going out and when it’s going out will eliminate more stress than you could possibly imagine. Trust me on this, it was a major turning point for me.
  2. Take out cash for essentials:
    Don’t let credit card payments and other bills prevent you from eating. Every time you get paid, pull out enough cash to cover food and transportation costs. One of the biggest causes of stress is not knowing how you’re going to pay for your next meal. By doing this, you no longer have to worry about that unexpected automatic payment eating up money you needed to survive. This HAS to be your number-one priority. If you do nothing else to better your financial situation, do this.
  3. Set money aside for good deeds:
    Every heard of karma? OK, maybe you don’t believe in it, but I can assure you that being generous and giving every now and then will change the way you look at life and money. It will also directly affect your performance as a paramedic. This doesn’t have to be much. Try setting aside $25. If that’s too much, try $5. Try buying your partner a cup of coffee, paying for a random stranger’s meal or just give it to someone in need. I am a firm believer that things come full circle. When you start doing acts of kindness for others, it will come back to you.

An Exciting Announcement

OK, so this isn’t in context with the article, but I need to get the word out. I have started 2 free financial wellness groups. One on Facebook and one on Google Plus. It’s really simple and it’s free. If you’re looking for a support system as you work towards achieving your financial goals, then get in touch with me so that I can add you!

I’ll be posting motivational messages, money management tips and answering your questions EVERY DAY. It’s a great way to get like-minded people with similar goals together in one place. We’ll be holding each other accountable, lifting each other up, sharing knowledge and answering questions.

If you’re interested in joining one of these groups, please e-mail me at sean@medicmadness.com or comment below. Let’s take action today!

How to Stay Money Smart with a Peer Pressure Partner

I don’t think there is a person on this planet that doesn’t understand that it’s important to control spending. Well, except congressmen, but they don’t really count as people. It’s kind of like personal health. Everyone knows that they should stay in shape, but many just lack the will power or motivation to make it happen. How many times have you told yourself that you’re going to start eating better? If you’re like me, that mindset didn’t make it past your first outing with your friends. Seeing people around you devour plates of artery-clogging goodness usually leads to you just caving in “just this once” and ultimately falling off the wagon. Well, spending habits aren’t any different.

Allow me to share my weakness:

Tacos and pizza. These fall under both the health and financial side of the discussion. I freaking love them. No matter how much I tell myself that I don’t want to spend the money or ingest the calories, I just can’t resist the amazing sight and smell. Now, I can usually avoid this by just avoiding the places that sell these slices of heaven. However, being in a station full of guys that eat this stuff on a daily basis, I’m forced to face my temptation head on.

Now, imagine spending your entire shift with a partner that enjoys delicious fast food. This situation can make it very hard to stay in control of your spending. I know this because I live it every day. I know that the only way I can overcome my temptation is to beat myself at my own game. I know my weaknesses and therefore I know how to avoid them.

So without further delay, here are my 3 ways to stay money smart with a peer pressure partner:

Image credit: http://www.patrickschneiderphoto.com/

Image credit: http://www.patrickschneiderphoto.com/

Leave the Debit Card at Home

This one may seem obvious, but like our smart phones, we can’t get more than 20 feet away before the separation anxiety starts to kick in. Ever turned off social media for a week? Remember how freeing that felt? Well, imagine life without the temptation to spend your hard-earned money on junk food. If you bring your food to work, there’s no need to bring your debit card. Trust me, you’ll survive. If it’s that much of an issue, then leave it hidden in your car. If you’re working at a station where you’re cooking food, then bring an “emergency sack” with some snacks or something to hold you over in the event that you’re stuck out running calls. If you don’t have the means to spend the money, you won’t. It’s that simple.

Bring Your Lunch

OK, I know I covered this in the previous section, but you have to actually do this or you’ll never get to the point where you stop swiping your freaking debit card every time you get hungry. If you work 10 shifts a month, come up with 10 different lunches that you can bring. That way, you aren’t getting discouraged by eating the same ham sandwich every day. Actually, take it a step further and learn to make something that you actually look forward to eating. That way you won’t be green with envy as your partner takes the first bite of their delicious slice of pizza.

Reverse the Roles

Who said that your partner has to be the “peer pressure partner”? Why can’t YOU be the influence? While your partner is rubbing it in your face about how amazing his fast food tastes, you can turn the tables and talk about how amazing it feels to not have a car payment or debt. Or better yet, get really good at cooking at start making food that other people want to eat. I started doing this a while back and now I save all kinds of money because my partner and I often split the costs of cooking at the station. This is a great strategy, but it only works if you’re good at cooking. Otherwise your coworkers might pay you NOT to cook…but I guess there’s a decent financial strategy in that too…

Conclusion

The big strategy here is just knowing your weaknesses and figuring out how to avoid them. Figure out a system that works for you and stick with it!

What are some things you do to avoid spending temptation at work? Please leave a comment and let’s get this discussion started!

3 Reasons EMS Isn’t Ready to Refuse Care

I’m not sure that there’s a single person working in EMS that doesn’t wish we had the ability to tell people that they “don’t need to go to the hospital”. The 2am calls for stubbed toes and restless leg syndrome have frustrated us all. Even worse, sitting in the back of the ambulance with a patient complaining of constipation as you here an ambulance from the next town over being dispatched to a cardiac arrest right by your location. It’s irritating, it’s frustrating, it’s annoying, and it’s a misuse of healthcare. I’ll be the first to admit that something needs to be done to fix it. However….

We aren’t ready to start refusing care.

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Go ahead, sharpen the pitchforks, light up the torches and wake up the mob, but please hear me out before you come storming my village. I’m going to give you 3 reasons why we aren’t ready to refuse care to our patients, and then I’ll follow it up next week with another article giving 3 solutions to the problem.

Image Source: bigmedicine.ca

Image Source: bigmedicine.ca

We Aren’t Trained for It

Having the natural ability to say “this dude doesn’t need to go to the hospital” doesn’t count as a skill. Let’s face it, we have never been formally trained to decide who needs treatment and who doesn’t. Our educational requirements are severely lacking and to think that we are ready to be the end of the road in our patient’s course of treatment is unrealistic at this point. Do I think we need to get to a point where we can do this? Absolutely! We just aren’t ready right now. 

Here’s the thing, as it currently stands, aside from the select few bold EMS systems out there, only ER doctors are telling patients that their complaint isn’t an emergency. Nurses aren’t doing it, PA’s aren’t doing it and we really shouldn’t be doing it either without some serious increases in educational requirements. Emergency departments (in most states) have the ability to refuse care to non-emergent patients, they just don’t. Even in those instances where they do, they still require a medical screening exam by a physician to determine if the patient is having a medical emergency. What’s the point in all this? No matter what, they’re going to see a doctor and that doctor will ultimately make the decision.

No Legal Protection

Following a protocol isn’t going to be enough to protect us and our medical director. We need some serious documented training to back us up. I also firmly believe that we need some serious tort reform to ease some of the legal burden from us. 

Medical malpractice is a funny thing. If you honestly try to do the right thing, you’re generally OK…at least as far as EMS providers go. When we are refusing to treat and transport a patient, that starts a whole new ball game for us. We can point to our protocol all we want, but we ultimately have to make that judgement call and we have to be ready to back that decision up should we find ourselves in the hot seat. No matter how you try to spin it, that’s going to be tough to do if the patient suffered because they didn’t receive treatment.

We Aren’t Designed to be the End-Point in Treatment

This goes hand-in-hand with my training argument. All of our treatment protocols have one thing in common: They all end with us handing our patient off to a physician at an emergency department. This is a big reason why we are allowed to do all the things we do, because a physician is ultimately going to take responsibility for the care of our patient. By refusing treatment, we are essentially discharging our patient and establishing ourselves as the end-point in their treatment plan. That’s a big deal. 

Like I said, I firmly believe that we need to get to this point. However, it needs to be done by raising the bar in our industry and holding ourselves to a much higher standard. Actually I’ll go as far as saying that EMS will have to start doing this at some point unless we want our systems to be completely overrun with cases that should be handled by a personal physician.

If we want to establish ourselves as a true community healthcare provider, we have to start stepping our game up now. Let’s push for higher educational standards and a culture of real professionalism.

Don’t agree with me? Comment below and let’s get this conversation going!

4 EMS Pension Plan Myths Debunked

I catch a lot of grief when I bring this up, but that’s OK! I’ve always believed that if you aren’t making somebody mad, then you aren’t doing it right.

Anyway….moving on….

In this week’s installment of #MoneySmartMedics, I want to talk about pension plans and how they aren’t everything you might think they are. Now, let me go on the record saying that I’m not against pension plans. I personally have one and I think they are an awesome benefit. Having said that, I still have to warn you about using them as your only means to plan for retirement. There’s a lot of misinformation floating around in regards to retirement plans in EMS and public safety and it’s going to be in your best interest to explore your investment options and start planning ahead.

Most of us understand what a pension plan is, but there’s a lot to them that you might not know. Hopefully I’ll be able to clarify some common misconceptions that we often have when it comes to retiring with a pension, especially in EMS.

 Here’s my list of common EMS pension plan myths:

Image Source: dmnewsi.com

It’s the Only Way to Retire

This couldn’t be further from the truth. Actually, I typically advise people not to depend on their pension plans at all when planning for retirement. When you rely on pension plans, you are putting your retirement in the hands of your employer. For many people, this works out OK, but for many others, it ends up in disaster.

I have seen people leave EMS jobs that they love for the single fact that they aren’t provided a pension plan. I’m sorry guys, but this is crazy. Putting 15% of your income into a ROTH IRA and investing that wisely will provide a very healthy retirement. It also gives you the freedom to change jobs if you want. Have you ever seen a disgruntled employee stick around 5 years longer than they should just to make sure they collect their pension? Don’t be that person!

I look at my personal pension plan as the gravy on top. When I’m planning for retirement, I act like my pension doesn’t even exist. If all goes well and I collect a full pension from my current employer, I’ll either turn that money into a very nice travel fund or pull out the money and invest it on my own. If I decide to leave at some point, it won’t affect my retirement outcome at all. Trust me, taking control of your finances will give you more freedom than you could ever imagine!

It’s More Secure than Investing

People have this fear of the stock market crashing and their retirement funds shrinking, and that’s a legitimate concern. However, we aren’t talking about investing in single stocks. We’re talking about things like mutual funds that are actually huge bundles of stocks tied into a “fund”. You have to understand that these funds come with a much lower risk than single stocks. You can find funds with 20+ year track records of consistent growth. Is the stock market going to drop? You bet. But it always bounces back up. This is one of those things that you just have to sit back and let do it’s thing. It’s actually good to have periodic drops in the market because your 15% contribution is able to buy up a lot more shares, and those shares will be worth a lot more as the market returns.

Pension plans aren’t immune from dips in the market either. Most plans have a guaranteed rate of growth. Mine is 7%. Employers aren’t just shelling out 7% to grow your account, they’re investing the money conservatively to let the market grow it for them. The problem is, if the money isn’t invested right and they don’t make the 7% return, they have to pay the difference. If they don’t have the money to offset the market losses, that can lead to under-funded pensions, which can lead to huge problems as groups of people reach retirement age.

Another thing you have to consider is the risk of losing employment or the ability to work. You have a lot more to worry about than just market growth when you rely on pension plans. If you lose your job or become unable to work due to injury or illness, you lose your employer pension contributions. Also, depending on how long you’ve been working at your job, you might not be eligible to collect large portions of the fund if you aren’t fully vested. Can you see how this could throw a huge wrench in your retirement strategy? You maintain 100% control when you setup your own investment accounts. Given the rate of back injuries in EMS, this is especially important to factor in when planning for retirement.

It’s Better than a 401k

This is not always true. When you invest in a 401k, you actually have some control over how your money is invested. With pensions, you have none. Many 401k plans have some awesome mutual fund options. Not to mention the fact that they usually come with an employer match.

People often assume pensions are “better” because of the guaranteed payout. Here’s the problem with that mindset: While a guaranteed payment sounds nice, it often results in a missed opportunity to grow your investment. If your money is invested in a pension plan, you will receive a flat payment regardless of how the market performs. While many of us would think this is a good thing because we won’t lose money, we have to remember that we also won’t gain money. Here’s a little secret: Your pension fund isn’t losing money. The companies that manage these funds aren’t stupid. They offer a guaranteed payment because they know the fund is going to grow and they’re going to make a profit on it. When you have control of your funds, YOU earn all the profit.

The key thing to remember is that control is everything when it comes to personal finance. Do you want your employer to be in control of your retirement or do you want control?

It’s Guaranteed

No investment is guaranteed and this is especially true when it comes to pension plans. What many people don’t realize is that pension funds are actually assets of the employer, NOT the employee. If the company remains stable and continues to grow, this won’t be a problem. However, if the company runs into problems with taxes or files chapter 7 or 11 bankruptcy, your pension account may be depleted to pay off creditors as they liquidate assets. Don’t believe me? Ask the folks who worked for and retired from Enron.

Government employee pension plans can be even worse being that they are managed by politicians. I mean, we all know how well politicians handle money. This is especially important for us in EMS to remember because many of us leave to go work for fire departments so we can “get that pension”. With personal investments you essentially have one thing to worry about: Market performance. With pensions you have to worry about market performance, and the health of the company or service that you work for. With a government pension plan, you now have to worry about all of that plus the possibility of your governing boards changing or even canceling the plan. When you rely on public pension plans, you are literally one politician’s pen stroke away from drastically changing the course of your future. Do you really want the fate of your retirement in the hands of a city council?

Conclusion

Like I said, pensions aren’t a bad thing if they’re taken for what they’re worth. Have a plan that doesn’t involve your employer managing it for you. You can’t experience financial freedom if you don’t have control.

Don’t let a pension plan determine where you work for the rest of your life. Find a job that you love and be smart about your retirement.