• Don’t spend money just because you have it.

I see residents buying $3.50 brownies, $2 surgary, or worst diet drinks from the cafeteria. I would never do that for a multitude of reasons. For one, drinks loaded with sugar is really bad for our health, diet drinks with a combination of caffeine and aspartame/artificial sweeteners create carbohydrate starvation in our bodies, very unhealthy practice than ingesting real sugar.

I rather spend the meal card on a delicious $2.60 deluxe burrito (one would argue just as bad for my health).

While most residents blow $10/day in the cafeteria, I tend to skip the cafeteria on most days, knowing that the food I bring from home is of tremendously higher quality (organic, fresh, not-processed) and that I could use the meal cards for other occasions rather than feeding myself subpar food daily.

  • Spending money may be bad for your health, literally and financially.

Given there are only 2 healthy choices in the cafeteria (sushi and salads), the rest are processed, mass-produced, freezer foods loaded with preservatives and chemicals, I hardly ever eat at the hospital cafeteria.

To apply this broadly to how we use our money, find out where your money going? Eating out too much? (That’s not good for your health). Too much alcohol? Clothes? Accessories? (I personally don’t think retail therapy is healthy and I believe in looking good and feeling good from inside out.)

If you are a shopaholic, it’s ok. Just ask yourself, how long do your happiness or positive feelings last after a shopping spree? How amazing would it be if you did an hour of yoga with free Youtube video instead of charging 3 more dresses worth a few hundred dollars on your visa card?

I have to say I was quite happy to look good in a formal dress I bought 14 years ago at the residency graduation dinner. By caring for my health, eating well, exercising (way cheaper than eating out and upsizing my wardrobe), I am both healthier literally and financially.

  • Use you money to buy assets.

Buy a piece of fruit, that make you healthier rather than a bag chips which will cost you health and medical bills sooner than you know.

This is a new idea. Since I’ll be getting more meal card money as PGY3 than last year. I am going to purchase items in bulk and sell them on eBAY. I will turn that meal card money into cash for me, and I will put it in Mini Wise Money’s 529 in index funds, bearing 8% annualized return. As soon as July 1st hit and I get my 1.8k of meal card, I will execute my plan. Check in here to see how it goes J

Some people may say, you are going to be SO busy as PGY3, with 12 weeks of overnight and weekend calls, better to save some meal card money so you can eat at the hospital cafeteria for convenience.

I beg to differ. The food is convenient for a reason. The pizzas are food like products… not real food. They are empty calories deplete of wholesome nutrition and loaded with chemicals. I think I’m much better off using the cash to hire a cook who makes me home made organic meals.

Applying this more broadly to $, buy assets, items or people that will put money in your pocket.

  • Don’t buy liabilities.

Liabilities take money out of your pocket. So a huge house is a huge liability, unless somehow you figure out a way to make money off of the house.


So with my meal card, I’m certainly Not buying unhealthy foods to subtract from my health, literally and financially. Instead of tempting myself daily with the intoxicating smell of fried, chemical-loaded, processed food products and hoping that I will get the more expensive, longer line salads and sushi, I’m liquidating my meal card into cash for purchasing assets, not liabilities.


  • It’s sweet to have so much in retirement that you give to charity.

Both PGY1 and PGY2 at University of Arizona, I spotted colleagues who have long depleted their meal cards a few months before the years end. While people are starting to buy 2 $.50 sides for a lunch, I was able to pay for others’ meals with my excess meal card dollars. That’s the position I’d like to be in in retirement.


I must have been doing something right with the way I managed my meal card dollars throughout the year. Not only am I healthier literally, but also I have plenty in the last days of the academic year.

  • Live reasonable, vacation rich.

While I don’t spend $10 daily in the cafeteria, depleting the card half way through the academic year, I occasionally spend $50 in the cafeteria. Since the cafeteria offers delicious (though bad for health) pizzas, I bought $50 worth of pizza for Mini’s 8 year old birthday. So many people told me the pizzas were so delicious and where I got them. I told them hospital cafeteria!

While I don’t make my dollars rain on daily basis, I also spare no expense on special occasions. Mini’s 9th year old birthday has a 1k budget, which she wisely used $500 and put $500 in her savings.

Very few people can afford to live lavishly on daily basis, but with good $ skills, one can certainly spare no expense on occasion.


Resident meal cards are great way to practice $ management. As Robert Kiyosake said, “More money accentuate money issues.” Someone who can’t manage his money well on 50k annual income, will only have bigger problems when he makes 200k a year.

So start now, build and refine your money practice. It’s money practice, not money perfect. Acknowledge where you are today, identify areas to improve and build upon.  If you learn to manage small income and prosper, you will be given more and prosper even more.

What Resident Meal Card Taught Me about Retirement

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