How Much Money Could You Personally Be Saving?

Why a vet tech gave me a heart attack or 4 steps to climbing out of a financial hole.

As a traveling surgeon, I have the opportunity to have some pretty intimate conversations with technicians in the privacy of the OR.

One day, I was talking with one of my vet surgery technicians about how she is falling behind on bills. She couldn't ever seem to catch up. Bills piled up. School loans were due. She needed new tires. In fact, she needed a new car. Yet savings were non-existent.

She confessed that she was living paycheck to paycheck. Surely you realize how incredibly common this is in our profession…

Yet I had noticed that she always came in to work with a large cup of coffee from a well-known national chain, that she picked up on her way in. And at lunchtime, she routinely added her take-out order to the daily list a receptionist would start.

One day, feeling bad for the dire situation this technician was in, I bit the bullet and did the unthinkable: I offered to openly discuss her financial situation. She accepted.

So we did some basic math (in case you are wondering, this was done outside the OR, without a patient under anesthesia!).

And she quickly realized that the savings could be amazing if she could change her habits.

The True Cost of a Morning Joe

First, we calculated her morning cup of joe expenses, at a daily average of $5. Please note that we excluded 2 weeks of vacation from all calculations below.

$5/day x 5 days/week x 50 weeks = $1,250/year.

By comparison, she thought it would cost her $50/year to brew her own coffee at home.

Bonus No 1: She has a programmable coffee maker, so it could be set to be ready when she walks into the kitchen every morning.

Bonus No 2: She acknowledged that she enjoyed the taste of her own brew much more than the local barista’s.

Yearly savings: $1,200.

The True Cost of Daily Lunches

Second, we calculated her daily lunch expenses, at a daily average of $10 for (junk) food and a drink.

$10/day x 5 days/week x 50 weeks = $2,500/year.

Of course, she still would need to buy groceries to make and pack her own lunch.

In case you’ve ever wanted to figure out the cost of a sandwich, your wish has been granted:

So we estimated a generous daily average of $5 for (healthy) food, a (healthy) drink and a (healthy) snack.

$5/day x 5 days/week x 50 weeks = $1,250/year.

Yearly savings: $1,250.

The True Cost of Take-Out Dinners

Third, she explained that after a hard day’s work, she orders take-out “dinner” (translation: junk food) at least twice per week. Each meal would cost at least $10. Let’s do the math.

$10/dinner x 2 dinners/week x 50 weeks = $1,000/year.

If instead she cooked her own (much healthier) dinner at home, and assuming $6/dinner, she would however spend:

$6/dinner x 2/week x 50 weeks = $600/year.

Yearly savings: $400.

The True of Other Habits

Fourth, she confessed that she was a smoker. A whole pack per day, at a cost of $6.

Not even taking the obvious health-related reasons to quit smoking (tongue cancer ain’t my idea of fun – and neither is chemo), ditching the addition would save:

$6/day x 7 days x 50 weeks = $2,100/year.

The Grand Total

  • Coffee: $1,200 saved/year.
  • Lunch: $1,250 saved/year.
  • Dinner: $400 saved/year.
  • Cigarettes: $2,100 saved/year (notice that it’s the largest expense by far).
  • Total saved for a smoker: $4,950/year (almost $5,000!).
  • Total saved for a non-smoker: $2,850/year.

Calculated as a percentage of a technician's yearly salary, this is a huge amount of money. What could she do with this kind of new-found money?

  • Pay down debt
  • Climb out of the “hole” by avoiding the slavery of credit compound interest.
  • Enjoy a nice dinner out every once in a while. Saving is not about becoming a penny-pinching scrooge. It’s also about enjoying the finer things in life.
  • Eat much healthier and more tasteful food.
  • Consume a significantly lower number of calories.
  • Pay for a very nice yearly vacation rather than a staycation or a long weekend at the New Jersey shore (not that there is anything wrong with New Jersey).
  • Start funding a savings/emergency/rainy day fund.
  • Fund a retirement account.
  • Save for child education.
  • And the list goes on…

Our technician friend was rather shocked (as I was) after totaling things out. She promised me to use her new-found awareness to be much wiser with her money. Rather than instant gratification, she saw the benefits of having a longer-term vision.

I hope this simple concept can help many others (technician or not). Please help me spread the word…

Dr. Phil Zeltzman is a board-certified veterinary surgeon and author. His traveling practice takes him all over Eastern Pennsylvania and Western New Jersey. You can visit his website at, and follow him at

Nikki Schneck, a veterinary technician near Pottsville, Penn., contributed to this article.

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