Let’s face it– technicians aren’t the best paid staff members in a eye care practice. Ophthalmologists, managers and even opticians make more money than the optometric and ophthalmic assistants that are responsible for a sizable chunk of a patient’s office time, but the job is rewarding in other ways. Unfortunately, those ways won’t help with the bills.
We might not be millionaires, but we can at least live lives where we don’t have to worry about making it until the next payday. I won’t pretend that it’s fun and easy but by putting in the effort now, you can reap the benefits of financial responsibility later.
1. If Your Office Offers a Retirement Account, Sign Up and Contribute
I list this one first because it is so important. If you have dreams of retiring one day, you’re gonna need a retirement account now. If your employer matches your contribution up to a certain percent, you should be paying at least that much of your paycheck into it. Since this is deducted from your pay before you ever see it, you won’t miss it. I promise. I’ve slowly increased my percentage toward the account every year and now put in somewhere close to 15%. If you live paycheck to paycheck, you won’t be able to retire unless you have a fat retirement account. If your practice doesn’t offer a 401k (or 403b for those who work in a hospital or non-profit group), you should be taking money out of your check and immediately through it into a Roth IRA. You can contribute up to $5,000 annually on these and can decide how much you put into a regular savings type account versus a higher risk investment account.
2. Live Below Your Means
So now you have the rest of your paycheck, post retirement account. Figure out what you owe monthly for just your basic utilities first– electric, phone, food– and see if there are any ways that you can bring those numbers down. Unplugging and shutting electronics off can save you a little here and there and by talking to your phone company, you may be able to update your plan detail to save you $5, $10 or even $20 off of your monthly bill.
To save money with your grocery bill, shop with a list. I cannot stress this enough. If you make and stick to a list, you can save hundreds of dollars a years by skipping impulse buys and rebuying things you forgot you already had at home. You may have heard this before, but eating before shopping also keeps you from salivating over everything and buying more than you need.
Finally, as lame as it sounds, avoid shopping both in stores and online. Planning on making a purchase and hunting down the best deal works for things that you need, but do you really need that new pair of shoes? Is it worth it to fork over all that money for a new bag just because of the label on it rather than keeping the one you have? I am all about treating yo’self every now and again, but having straight cash is as good a treat as I can think of.
3. Speaking of Spending Less, Don’t Spend As Much Eating Out
This is one I often find myself guilty with. Buying dinner out for the family is a bigger hit to the wallet than buying lunch for yourself at work, but spending $4 on coffee a day and $7 on lunch can cost you $55 a week. I don’t know about you, but I could definitely use an extra $55 a week.
Since you’re making a grocery list for your food at home, add on items that you can either quickly make before work or a meal that you can divide into smaller batches and have throughout the week. Not only will you be saving money by not ordering up food daily, but since you can often buy ingredients for significantly cheaper at the store, you might only spend a dollar (or less!) for your meal.
Helpful Hint: Pack instant coffee or tea bags from home to avoid spending extra on Starbucks runs
4. Get a Hold of Your Debt
When you aren’t earning what you want, it’s easy to make your purchases in credit and rack up serious debt. A little shopping here, a little dinner there and before you know it, you’ve racked up thousands in debt.
To get hold of your debt, take out all of your credit cards, bills and miscellaneous debts and figure out exactly how much you owe to where. Aside from basic utilities, you may have student- or personal- loans to pay off, or even worse, you may come up against unexpected medical bills. Sometimes, if you can’t pay these things all at once, you can ask to pay on a payment plan or even haggle what you owe down to a smaller amount. The key here is to pay these debts off without accumulating more, so don’t even think about paying these things off with a credit card. Credit cards tend to have a significantly higher interest rate so you’ll end up paying more in the long run.
At this point, you should be living below your means and not using any credit unless you can pay off your balance every month. If your credit card debt is spiraling out of control, you do have options. It doesn’t hurt to call the creditor and ask them for a lower interest rate to start with. If your debt is too far out of your control, ask if you can settle the amount you owe for a lesser amount. Even if they say no to all of your pleading, you can eventually pay down your debt by
5. Pay More Than the Minimum
Once your debt is at a manageable level, you can use your credit cards wisely. What does this mean, exactly? It means you can buy small and pay your entire balance off every month. If you make a larger ticket purchase in the card or you accidentally go overboard with holiday shopping, make sure you pay more than what your credit card statement is asking for.
6. Figure Out Who You are Really Buying it For
I know you think buying that thousand dollar bag or those shoes you have been coveting more months is going to make you happy, but that surface level happiness is a bandage to cover something else. We’ve been conditioned as a society to look for name brands– Gucci, Supreme, Nike, LV– but how does someone else’s name on your bag actually make you feel better about yourself? That name-brand logo is just a beacon for others to see to make them feel a certain way about you.
We all have to present ourselves in a way that respects who we are, but do it for you, not for other people. What others think about you is their problem, not yours. I’m not saying skip showering or be super mean to your coworkers just because screw what they think, but you don’t have to try hard to get people to feel a certain way about you when they are going to pass their judgments regardless. Live for you, not for them.
7. Get Paid More
If you feel like you have the time and energy to work a second job, good on you. I did this for years while raising my kids and I guarantee you’ll be exhausted and miss your social life/ family. There is, however, ways that you can earn more at the same job- it just takes work.
Get certified. Most offices will offer you at least some sort of pay raise for each certification you obtain. Through the CPC, optometric techs can earn their CPO, CPOA and CPOT, ophthalmic techs can get their OSC, COA, COT, COMT, ROUB and other IJCAHPO certs and both can get certified through the ABO as an optician if your office has a dispensary that you help out with. In general, the higher the ranking, the more you’ll get an hour for it. The exams for these all cost money, but talk to you manager prior to signing up, as the office might pay for it as long as you pass it.
That’s it. Those are the rules that we can all follow to become better with the money we earn, no matter how little. If it sounds impossible, I can tell you first hand that, with some action, you can stop living paycheck to paycheck and actually start saving. When I started my eye care career, I was making just above minimum wage as a single mom of two; it took time but I crawled out of poverty and for the first time in my life began saving money. It’s not sexy and it may not be “fun” but you can be successful less stressed, which can lead to a happier life in and outside of the office.