Is Investing Possible on a Nurse Salary?

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We don’t tend to talk about finance at work. It would be considered taboo. But throughout my career I have noticed nurses who seem to have their finances totally under control.

I’ve never dared to ask how they do it, with a registered nurse salary. But these colleagues breeze in for work, with stories of extensive travel and adventure. They hang around for a few weeks or months before they disappear again for another extended trip.

The average Australian registered nurse salary is $73,000, far less than a doctors average salary. I am unsure whether I have any nurse readers but have only been able to find one Australian nurse finance blog.

I worry reading about the financial moves of a senior doc could be a little demoralising to one of my nursing colleagues. So I have been itching to interview one of my clever nursing colleagues to find out how they do it!

Many of us on higher wages could do with a reminder that much of our spending is not essential. It’s common to start considering luxury expenses as basic living costs once we’re used to them!

So I hope you enjoy reading about Lisa, an RN generous enough to share her financial ass kicking story of the past 4 years.

Nurses, one of the few blessings of being ill

Sara Moss-Wolfe

Our Registered Nurse Case study: Lisa

I am a 54 year old Registered Nurse who works for NSW Health as a Community Nurse and some Palliative Care, permanent part-time 5 days a fortnight, often doing extra shifts that suit my needs.

What are your financial goals and time frame?  

I became single 4 ½ years ago after a 29-year relationship/marriage with two adult children who are off on their own journey’s.

My goal now is to be financially independent, not work full time ever again, build my investments that provide an income and retire earlier than I thought I might be able to.

Progress over the Past 4 1/2 Years on a Nurse Salary

When my marriage ended 4 ½ years ago I had 27K in super, as is the way with a lot of women who give up their career and become the primary carer of children, and 10K in a running away from a home account. 

Total 37K

After financial separation, I ended up owning my home that was valued at 550K, and 100K of his super was split to me, and another 25K in cash.  I didn’t have a permanent job so that was my primary concern and it’s taken me a few years to leave a private healthcare setting and get back into public health because it pays the highest hourly rate which helps me to not have to work full-time.

Total 712K

Currently my home beside the seaside is worth 920K thanks to a crazy housing market.

Car and household goods 100K

Super now 218K

Passive ETF investments 275K (Aussie Doc: In 4 1/2 years on an RN salary!)

Savings 35K

Total 1.548M

What Strategies Did you Deploy to Reach this Point on a Nurse Salary?

I knew I wanted to be financially independent and never rely on a man for financial security again. 

Immediately after my separation, I reduced all my living expenses to the lowest level I could by decreasing insurances, getting better plans for services. I got rid of my credit card because I had the cash I knew I’d never need one again. 

I began living as my parents had always taught me, if you can’t afford to pay cash for something then you can’t have it. 

Then one day I found The Barefoot Investor book by Scott Pape in Kmart, I’d never heard of it but for $19 I thought it may be worth a read.  It changed my life, his simple bucket concept made sense to me, it made me feel like I could be in control of my money, rather than money controlling me.

How long did it take before you started seeing progress? 

Everything started falling into place so quickly, every bit of money I earned was split 60/20/10/10.

I built up my emergency fund, all bills were paid on arrival.

Allocated Splurge money to allow me guilt-free treats. 

My mojo savings built up so quickly. I had to work out how to earn more on my mojo savings given recent low interest rates offered on savings.

Everything financial was so quickly becoming easy for me, it was astounding!

I increased added more pre-tax to my super, chucking in lump sums when I could.

Currently I receive 10% from my employer, 20% I salary sacrifice pre-tax and a few big lump sums post-tax when I can.

Were there other strategies before?  If so, what made you pivot?

I knew I didn’t want to invest in real estate.  So I began listening to financial podcasts and reading everything I could about passive investing, it really appealed to my sense of adventure. 

I took my time with my research into this brand new area, I didn’t have any family members or friends to guide me, so I wanted to make sure it really was the right choice for me.

In 2019 I tried investing with Spaceship Universe to see if my personality could cope with the ups and downs of the stock market, as it turns out I loved the adventure and seeing how world events cause the volatility.  I only began with $20 a week, then $50 a week, my tax return, and now $100 a week, not a big investment but the returns are over 30% currently, not bad!

What next???  I found Jack Bogle and read much of his writings, so began my investing in Vanguard ETF’s VAS 90% and VGS 10% because they both have low management fees and pay reasonable dividends quarterly.

Wow! It Must have Been All Work and no Play. Did you Have the Time and Money to do Anything Fun?

I went backpacking in Europe for 3 months in 2018, only booked the first 2 nights, followed great weather, advice from locals and relaxed into an exploring adventure through Wales, France, Spain and Portugal.

I was hooked!

This was something I wanted to do more of, so knew I needed to work out how to fund this sort of trip for the next few decades.

What makes your strategy suit your personal situation? 

Having spare money every fortnight so it seemed to be a good fit for me. 

I live simply, I want for nothing, live very comfortably in my modest home, drive a 5-year-old car that I paid cash for, and can buy whatever I need without a worry.  I have no debts at all, and I never worry about money at all.

What are your Nursing Colleagues like with Money?  Do you Discuss Finances at Work?

Most are appallingly bad. None have any idea about super. None are actively investing for income. A couple are married to tradies so they invest in real estate.  I have mentioned finances with colleagues but most seem embarrassed they know nothing about how to manage money.

What is your impression of the doctors you work with and their money attitudes, knowledge and behaviour?

I have worked with many specialists when I was managing a private day surgery. Most of them were pretty savvy about their finances and future.

But most of the GP’s I’ve worked with in private practice aren’t very on top of their finances.

Most are contractors, they have big mortgages, leased cars, not much in super, struggle to put away money for tax, kids in private schools, extravagant holidays…. kind of living beyond their means. 

A couple of female GP’s are very close friends of mine and I know that I’m in a much better financial position than both of them despite them earning way more than I do.

Do you have any side Hustles?

Not currently, other than dividends which have been quite good and always reinvested.

I was a textile designer when my kids were young, had been published internationally and I’m looking at getting back into that now that I’m not having to work full time in nursing.  I think an extra income stream leading into retirement could be very beneficial in a few ways when winding down from a nursing career.

What is the Most Powerful Wealth Building Tool Available to You?

Compound interest of course, once you hit 100K, it really begins to grow exponentially. In the next month I will hit the 500K in shares, something I never thought would be possible just 4 years ago.

I’ve begun actively tracking my Net Worth this year and it is going up by $12K a month, way more than I earn in wages.

Where do you Stand on the Great Property vs Shares Debate? Why?

Shares win every time, it’s been proven by people way smarter than me who’ve tracked it over decades.  My parents had rental properties and they were always a headache to manage even with real estate agents managing them, and the returns weren’t great after all the expenses.

Where do you Stand on Investing for Capital Growth vs Income?  Why?

I’m currently reading Motivated Money by Peter Thornhill and I can really see dividend income is the way to go for an easy retirement.  I’m considering adding a LIC to my portfolio soon.

What is your biggest financial mistake?  What did you learn?

Marrying my ex!  Lol  He really set my financial independence back by decades.  I don’t think I’ll ever share finances with anyone again, I want to be in control of my life. 

How do you navigate through a divorce and thrive financially?

It was a very sad time for me, it was my decision to leave him, although he really didn’t leave me much choice.  It wasn’t what I saw for my future. 

The best advice I can give anyone going through separation or divorce, act early and decisively. 

You really need to think only of yourself and your future, work out what you want from the division of assets so that you can get on with your life as soon as possible.  Do it with grace and humility. 

My financial separation was completed with my lawyer and consent orders, all within 7 weeks of ending my marriage.  Make sure you rewrite your Will and nominate binding beneficiaries for your super. 

I was shaken to my core but I decided that I wouldn’t be bitter or angry, and I didn’t want it to affect my health.  I decided immediately I would forge a great big beautiful life for myself, and I have. 

What Finance Tips Would you Provide an Eager Nursing or Medical Colleague?

Always salary sacrifice pre-tax into your super, so your total (including employer) contributions add up to 15% from the day you begin working.  If you can contribute more like I do, it makes a huge difference. 

Spend less than you earn, always.  Don’t have a credit card. Pay for everything with cash. 

Save 20% of your income always, invest in something that provides an income, such as dividend-paying ETFs or LIC’s.  Don’t buy gold, art, wine, classic cars, etc, they depend on someone else wanting to buy them for more than you paid for them. 

Drive the most modest car you can, it’s a depreciating asset that gets you from A to B.  I love that no one can actually guess my financial situation by the car I drive, it’s like flying under the radar, but of course, I can rent fabulous cars when I’m on holiday or when I’m retired because I have the income to indulge myself.  

Choose your path wisely, the earlier you get started on the right track the easier and more enjoyable your life will be. 

Thanks Lisa, for your inspiring finance journey. It truly is astounding what can be achieved in less than 5 years! Becoming wealthy is truly more about your actions with your money than your income. Have you managed to make incredible financial progress despite not being a super high earner? Would you like to hear more about nurse finance? If you’re keen to get started building an investment portfolio but don’t know where to start, check out the quick start guide.

Comment below!

Your wealth accumulation journey starts as soon as you make the first step.

Aussie Doc Freedom is not a financial adviser and does not offer any advice.  Information on this website is purely a description of my experiences and learning.  Please check with your independent financial adviser or accountant before making any changes.

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