Dentist and Spouse Roles – Financially Speaking

Here is another guest blog from our client Dr. Lurie.
It seems to me… the
role of the wife (spouse) in a dental practice has not been discussed
enough.  We take it for granted that the
husband and wife are on the same page, but this is not necessarily so and has
cropped up in discussions at many study clubs. Since I have written several
articles on retirement preparation, I would like to interject that retirement
begins with the start-up of practice. The
role (or roles) of the doctor and spouse will obviously play a big part in the
success and continuation of the practice and for the eventual plan that the team
for retirement carry out.
There are several
different scenarios to look into.  The
doctor (male) with a non-working wife seems to be a common model.  When a good marriage is present, stable and
open, financial interests will be discussed and the future planned for, with
budgets for essentials and “fun”, including shopping, vacation,
hobbies etc…  Even with the so-called
good marriage, sometimes the mate does not think that the cash flow will ever
change or diminish and that status quo just continues.  Unfortunately, this does not always happen.  One of the problems is the lack of
communication between the two.  Or worse,
in unstable marriages, the lack of caring about the communication.  This can be a prelude for disaster.  Credit card debt is the killer and many
doctors and wives are falling into the credit card debt chaos that then makes
the practice a place where there is pressure to pay the personal debt along
with the overhead of the practice itself (which, in today’s times is getting
more and more burdensome even for the mega practices.). One can only hope that
the two can sit down and get a handle on this. Then, if needed, meet with the
financial adviser to face the crisis and the facts.  Sometimes, it is the doctor
who is the one who abuses the credit cards, or it may be the wife – or worse,
both of them.  This added strain then
makes the practice a pressure cooker and the joy of dentistry begins to
fade.  We find that the emphasis is on
paying the debt (at the sacrifice of quality) rather than reinvesting into the
practice and escalating its return.  If
the parties are not able to resolve this, then the situation might be doomed (as
many of you know.) 
I have been there
and was able, early on, to get the adviser to help us (and to reign me in since
I was the abuser.)  We actually went a
step further.  My wife started working in
the office one day per week.  This was a
great benefit in several ways.  The most
important one was that she saw how hard I worked and what the overhead margin
was all about.  It also enabled her to meet
with the staff and she was directly under the supervision of the office
manager.  This was made quite clear in
the beginning.  She then was better
qualified to work our personal household budget and to maintain our
entertainment budget on a level compatible with the office.  The second benefit that we obtained was social
security benefits that now (in retirement) really come in handy.  I was lucky (in that this conference with my
team ) was early in my years of practice and marriage. 
Obviously, every
practice (and doctor) has differences. 
Not all doctors can have their wife in the office with them.  It can cause problems with staff if not
addressed properly.  Conversely, it may
be a benefit with staff knowing that the spouse is there. The communication and
the personalities of the entire staff and doctor are the key. My Dental CPA has
told me countless number of cases where credit card spending has caused
practices to fail.  I urge you to look at
this carefully and adjust wisely.  Remember
that the beginning of practice is the beginning of retirement. There are many
facets to this discussion and this is but one of them.  I wanted to share with you my personal story.
It seems to me… that
we may have many variations on this.  I
would love to hear from you and share experiences.
More Mistakes Made
and Lessons Learned next time.
Dr. Donald B. Lurie
Phone:  717-235-0764

Cell:      410-218-2228