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Do Your Finances Pass the Celery Test?

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I recently read a book called “Start With Why” by Simon Sinek, which discusses why certain businesses succeed where others fail. While reading, I noted that the strategies and ideas are applicable as well to medicine, your practice, and life in general. One thing in particular that stuck out to me was the “celery test,” which I describe below.

The personal example:

Imagine that you want to start eating healthier. And you are at the grocery store, checking out. You place all of the grocery items that you are buying on the conveyor belt. And someone else walks by and looks at your purchases. Think to yourself — would that person know that I am trying to eat healthier?

Well, if your belt is filled with candy, processed foods, and ice cream, then no, that stranger would not guess you are focusing on eating healthier. If the belt is filled with fruits and vegetables — like celery — then they would guess you are a healthy eater.

So the celery test is all about aligning your actions (what you buy at the grocery store) with your goals and intentions (wanting to eat healthier). That's a powerful thought and mindset tool! 

The professional example:

Imagine you are starting a health food store. To get it off the ground, you go to three successful businesspeople for advice. The first one tells you that the most important thing to sell in your store is peanut butter. The second tells you to sell chocolate. And the third tells you to sell celery. 

Which piece of advice should you follow? These are all successful businesspeople whose advice is sought by the masses. 

Well, in this example, the answer is obvious. You listen to businessperson #3. Why? Because celery is a healthy food and matches with the goal, with the why, of your planned business — a health food store.

However, in real life, the decisions are usually more nuanced and the answer often much less clear. So, it becomes really important to intentionally think about if what you are doing as a business matches with your why

Or think about your medical practice. Are you aiming toward a certain demographic — pediatrics, adults, etc? Does your office and advertising match up with this demographic? Are you offering a boutique service? If so, your office should reflect a higher end patient population.

The celery test can help us to think about the votes we are casting and if they align with who we are and want to be — financially and otherwise. 

Every doctor that I talk to wants financial freedom. And most agree that if all doctors were financially free, health care would improve. However, most doctors’ actions don’t align with this goal. In other words, they don't pass the celery test.

For example, doctors will tell me that they can’t get on top of their finances or save money. And then they’ll go ahead and buy a new expensive car on a loan or purchase a second home using a mortgage. That just doesn’t make sense.

As I write this, I recognize it can sound a little judgmental. And that is not my intent. Again, I know that I want to eat healthier but had a cookie for lunch yesterday. Just because my finances pass the celery test doesn’t mean I have everything figured out.  

But I can still offer financial advice. After all, I’ve had a lot of experiences: mistakes, failures, and yes, successes. 

Below, I offer three steps to follow to get your finances to pass the celery test. 

1) Create a set of financial goals.

Without a set of financial goals, you have nothing to base your celery test on. There is no why or answer key for comparison.

Too many people just don’t have their financial goals set out. Sure, you might say things like, “I want to be financially free.” But that’s not a goal because it is not defined or actionable. That’s a wish.

Here are some examples of concrete goals:

  • Become debt free in 10 years
  • Have a net worth of $1 million by age 40
  • Buy a new car outright in three years

I encourage you to write these personal goals down and refer back to them every once in a while. I include mine in my written financial plan.

These goals, backed by a strong overall “Big Why” for desiring financial freedom, form the standard that you can then compare your actions to. If your actions work toward these goals, they pass the celery test. If not, then maybe some adjustments are needed.

2) Budget.

I’ve never met anyone who right out of the gate was excited about a budget. But they can be exciting. Because they can help lead you to financial freedom.

The trick is to stop thinking about budgets as a restrictive thing. Instead, change your mindset and think of them as permissive. They tell you how much you can spend while still reaching your financial goals.

Plus, a budget is the ultimate tool to gauge if your finances pass the celery test. Because, in my opinion, the most important variable in the FIRE equation is your spending. That’s your financial output. 

Comparing your financial output to see if it matches up with your financial goals is a very concise and clear way to see if you pass the celery test.

3) Check your net worth.

Your net worth is your wealth scorecard. It will tell you where you are in your journey to financial freedom.

Net worth is equal to your assets minus your liabilities. Simply put, assets are anything you own that puts money in your pocket. This includes things like stock or bond investments and cash-flowing real estate. Conversely, liabilities are anything that takes money out of your pocket. The most common liabilities are debt and non-cash-flowing real estate like our primary homes.

Remember, none of us are perfect. And none of us will always pass the celery test. But each action we take is a vote about what type of person we are or want to be.

Do your finances pass the celery test? Share why or why not in the comments!

Jordan Frey, MD is a plastic surgeon in Buffalo, NY at Erie County Medical Center and the University of Buffalo. His clinical focus is on breast reconstruction and complex microsurgery. He is also the founder of The Prudent Plastic Surgeon, one of the fastest growing finance blogs. There, he shares his journey to financial well-being with a goal of helping all physicians reach financial freedom, practicing on their own terms.

Image by UnitoneVector / Getty

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