Episode Number: 241

Episode 241- Paying off $600K Of Debt With Dr. Nii Darko

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Jamila Souffrant 0:00

You're listening to the Journey To Launch Podcast: Paying Off $600,000 Of Debt With Dr. Nii Darko.

Intro 0:08

T-minus 10 seconds. Welcome to the Journey To Launch Podcast with your host, Jamila Souffrant. As a money expert who walks her talk, she helps brave Journeyers like you get out of debt, save, invest and build real wealth. Join her on the Journey To Launch to financial freedom in five, four, three, two, one.

Jamila Souffrant 0:38

Hey, Hey, Hey, Journeyers. Welcome to the Journey To Launch Podcast. I'm really excited about the next crop of interviews that I have scheduled for you to hear. And I'm really excited for you to hear this one. I am talking to Dr. Nii Darko, and you didn't hear that wrong, he paid off-- him and his wife, I should say. Him and his beautiful wife, have paid off over $600,000 of student loan debt. And the reason why I love this conversation, is because, as you hear, he had, he and his wife had tremendous debt from being doctors and going through years of training. And yet he was able to, based on his dedication, he and his wife's dedication to getting out of debt, which took some serious focus, was able to eliminate them in a few years. I'm really inspired by Dr. Nii Darko, his story, his ambitions, why he is so committed to showing professionals and doctors why they should do something else. Whether it's on their on their spare time, or just explore that creativity that they have inside of them. I think you're gonna be really inspired by this episode, whether you're a doctor or not. Let me just give you the official bio of Dr. Dii Darko.

Dr. Nii Darko is a board certified general surgeon who is pushing past limits of status quo. He hosts the Docs Outside The Box Podcast, where he highlights stories of doctors doing extraordinary things outside of medicine. To inspire other doctors to think outside the box. I'm really excited for you to hear this conversation. So let's go.

Journey To Launch is supported by First Republic Bank. With a best-in-class banking app that allows you to bank anywhere, anytime, and a dedicated personal banker when you need one-on-one service, First Republic is uniquely positioned to offer the best of both worlds. With this combination of personal attention and convenience, It's no wonder that First Republic Bank has a client satisfaction rating two times the industry average. As a busy mom and entrepreneur, having convenient, flexible and personalized service for my banking needs are important, which is why I have an account with First Republic. So whether you're starting on your financial journey or planning for your future, you can count on First Republic to be there for you every step of the way. Visit firstrepublic.com today to learn more. That's firstrepublic.com. Member FDIC, Equal Housing Lender.

If you want the episode show notes for this episode, go to journeytolaunch.com, or click the description of wherever you're listening to this episode. In the show notes, you'll get the transcribed version of the conversation, the links that we mentioned, and so much more. Also, whether you are An OG Journeyer or are brand new to the podcast, I've created a FREE Jumpstart Guide to help you on your financial freedom journey. It includes the top episodes to listen to, stages to go through to reach financial freedom, resources, and so much more. You can go to journeytolaunch.com/jumpstart to get your guide right now. Okay, let's hop into the episode.

Unknown Speaker 3:59

Hey, Journeyers. So on today's episode, I have someone that I've actually known for a while now, Dr. Nii Darko. And Dr. Nii, I feel like we first met in person at, like, Podcast Movement, maybe. I feel like we had a conversation there. Doctor Nii, in addition to being a trauma surgeon, has his own podcast and does a bunch of other things. But we met at Podcast Movement and then you went to FinCon one time too, because I remember talking to you there. So, we've known about each other for a while and I thought it was time to have you on the podcast, because your debt payoff story, which is, like, amazing. You said you paid off $662,000 of student loan debt. And as a doctor, you're also a creative and still you do things on the side to earn money. So, I want to get into all the things. Welcome to the podcast.

Dr. Nii Darko 4:45

Hey! Thank you very much, Jamila, for having me on. Congratulations to everything that is happening with you. And your memory is ridiculous. Some of the stuff I'm like, "Yeah, yeah, yeah, you're actually right about that." But yeah, your, your memory is great.

Jamila Souffrant 4:57

Yeah, well, I don't even know where to start with your story. The debt pay off? Okay, so you're a doctor. So explain to us what kind of doctor you are. And then we can talk about your student loans.

Dr. Nii Darko 5:09

Yes. So, hi, everyone. My name is Dr. Nii. I am a trauma surgeon. So I do surgery on people who have been in a car accident, people get shot, people get stabbed. If your grandmother falls and has a head injury, I'm the doctor who's gonna take care of them. I also do emergency surgery. So if your appendix needs to be taken out, or any type of surgery that you can think of, in an emergency standpoint, that's what I do. And I've been practicing on my own since 2012. You know, shortly afterwards, when I started practicing on my own, I realized that me and my wife were broke. And it's really hard to imagine that as two physicians, my wife is OB, we went to the same med school. But we were two broke physicians. And long story short, we're here now with you. But that's kind of how we started.

Jamila Souffrant 5:51

Okay, first of all, it's funny how you say I have such a good memory, because my memory, like, it remembers, like, basic things. You are a surgeon. Like, the things you have to do, and the way your brain works, like in my head, I'm just like, "Oh, my goodness," like, obviously, you're using your memory for the important things. But I love that you and your wife are doctors and you said you find yourselves broke. At that moment, when you discovered or had that realization, how much of broke were you? That doesn't make sense...how much in debt were you?

Dr. Nii Darko 6:21

No, I get what you're saying. Like can you be broken and broke? Like, that's kind of how we felt, right? And I think, the key thing is when people listen to this podcast, you're like, "Well, how's two doctors broke? Like, you know, there's absolutely no way." Yes, there is, right? Like, if you think about being-- having negative net worth, that's exactly what we had, right? Like we worked hard, just like anybody who's listening to the show. And just imagine, you're studying, and you study into your 20s. And unlike other people, or most people who go into a regular job, and they start working and they're slowly but surely paying off debt and building wealth. We're still in the classroom, we're still studying. And then from there, we go into training. And we're still studying, right? We're not bringing in any income whatsoever. But also at the same time, our debt is accumulating, right? Interest on a daily basis is accruing. So by the time I graduated from medical school, I had $240,000 in student loan debt. My wife also wanted to same med school as me, we both got our MBAs. So you have to throw in additional private loan debt with the, with the MBA. And then once you become a resident, literally from six in the morning, even five in the morning, until basically eight o'clock at night or what have, you are in the hospital taking care of patients, you are learning how to do things, there's a lot of overnight call. So a lot of times once my grace period ended with Sallie Mae, or whoever owned my student loans, they would start calling and this is 2006. When I first started residency. I bought a townhome, which I probably should not have done so. But I bought a townhome, because I felt like I deserved it. And I put the caveat of this is 2006. I had no money. I didn't have to put any money down. So it was super easy for me to get a debt, get a mortgage. And then shortly afterwards, 2008 occurs. But Sallie Mae would call and I remember, they will call me and I will be like, "Listen, like I don't have time in between patients to talk about this. I have no clue how to handle my debt. What do I need to do to get you to stop calling me?" and they said, "You know, you can forbear," and I was like, "Okay, I'll do that." click, bye. And that was the last I ever heard of them for you know, several months, and then they will call back. And I would do the same thing. And in between that time on a daily basis, the loans are just accruing, and accruing interest, accruing interest. So fast forward five, six, more years. I finished in Miami doing trauma. And my loans have ballooned from $240K to $330,000 in student loan debt, right? And it's the same thing with my wife. Same thing. She was ducking calls too. "Look, I'm busy, I ain't got time." click. So by the time we got married, and you know, that was another conversation of, you know, putting all of our money together. But we put all of our money together, and we decided to be as one. When we started making a phone calls of, Okay, first of all, where is your loan debt? Who's holding your loan debt?" and we started putting everything together, we're like, "Yo, we owe $600K, almost $700,000, student loan debt. Anywhere between eight to like, 12%." And that's when we're like, "Okay, there's a problem." If we don't acknowledge that we have a problem, this is something that we're gonna continue to, like, treat like a pet in our house, because we have the income to pay for it. But if we're not aggressively going after it, we're going to treat this like a pet into our 60's and 70's. And we're going to be like, "How is it that we don't have any money saved up, but we paid all of this stuff?" So we put all of the loan debt into a calculator. We followed Sallie Mae's payment schedule for us. So after 20 years that $662,000 of student loan debt would have accrued up to $1.2 million.

Jamila Souffrant 9:50

If you paid what they had for...

Dr. Nii Darko 9:52

Yes, if we paid according to their schedule.

Unknown Speaker 9:54

Okay.

Dr. Nii Darko 9:54

And I don't know about you, but I'm sure a lot of listeners are like, "Look my, my, my, degree is not worth that much, Right? Like I'm not paying $1.2 million for two-- it's just not worth that. And that really sent us down this whole rabbit hole of, "Okay, we got to figure this out." Something, who do we go to? How do we figure this out? And we were able to get it done.

Jamila Souffrant 10:14

Yeah. Okay, so we're gonna get into how you got it done? Because I'm sure everyone is curious. So at that point, what were your options? Were you-- did you ever consider refinancing or consolidating? And when you did the research, what did you come to find?

Dr. Nii Darko 10:27

Right. So the biggest issue for us is that we both had private loans that totaled about $150,000. Those are for getting our MBAs. That debt was anywhere between eight to 9%. So at the time, we couldn't refinance those, right? Because they were private loans. We got lucky, where the majority of our federal loans were 2%, right? We were going to school in the early 2000s. So we were able to consolidate our 2%. But that $140,000, though, that was what was killing us. So refinancing really wasn't an option for us, because we're like, "Well, we're just have to do the work." So the biggest thing that we did was we had to look internally. And I remember, we bought whole life insurance, which wasn't the smartest thing for us. And we realized when we were looking at all of our expenses, we started tracking our expenses. We realized on Excel spreadsheet, we literally just said, "Okay, this is what's coming in. And this is what we're spending." And we didn't make any changes for three months. We just said, let's watch it. We went back and looked at it. And we said, "Wait, we're spending the majority of our money going to whole life insurance, right?" Because we fell for that whole thing of, yeah, this is like a bank. And this is what rich people use, and all those different things. And it didn't make sense to us. And we finally said, "We got to cut the fat, we got to get rid of that." So once we were able to realize what was coming in, and what was coming out, and what we were spending really didn't make much sense. You know, it really helped us to just say, "Okay, do we really need to spend this much money on things like groceries," right? Because we would be at the hospital all the time. And we'd spend like 400 bucks on fast food or 400 bucks in the cafeteria. And then we also spent another 400 bucks on groceries, that we're going to just wither away, because we're at the hospital all the time. So we were able to sit back and say, "Okay, look, do we need to spend this much money? Let's get down to $200. And then see how it goes." $200 just for groceries to be made at home. And remember, we're just single-- oh I'm sorry, we're married, but it's just no kids at this moment. And then we gave each other $50 each, to when we go to the hospital, this is what we can buy food with. And that's gonna last us for the entire month. So there was a lot of box sandwiches. There's a lot of box, you know, just home lunches and everything. But we made this pact that we weren't going to create debt anymore. That was another thing. Like we just said, "No more debt." We're not anything that we need to pay for. We need to be able to pay for cash. We did the envelope system. We got on a budget using you know, just the Zero Base Budget system. And it was tough at first. There was a lot of arguments. There was a lot of arguments, Jamila.

Jamila Souffrant 12:54

Well, okay, so let me just let me just interject, because you're in this environment where you have-- you're working with other doctors, you. And can I just ask maybe you just general what your income was, if you don't mind sharing that as a couple?

Dr. Nii Darko 13:06

Yeah, yeah. So my income was three $350,000 a year. So that was entry level for a trauma surgeon at the time. My wife was one, she was like, $150k. So she was part time OB. She did that she made that decision, because we were newly married. And what I didn't tell you is that she did her training in New Jersey, and I did my training in Atlanta, Georgia. So we spent a significant portion of our lives not really close together. So she said, "Well, listen, if I work part time, that's going to decrease the amount of time that we are not away from each other." And I was like,"That's great. Okay, that works". And then what we decided to do also, was live off of her salary. And then we used my salary. And then I also did extra work on top of that, to put towards the student loans. And like I said, we looked at it all as, there's no such thing as her debt, my debt, it was our debt.

Jamila Souffrant 13:59

Right? I mean, these changes are really significant. And I'm wondering, in the environment that you're in, that both of you are doctors, you're around other doctors who have high incomes, like people who are not in this field, you know, earning that much money. It's like, "Wow, that's a lot." But that makes sense for, first of all, the lives you're saving, and you know, the type of-- how much time you spent in education, in higher education. But those people now, you're working with, and they're like, "Listen, we want to live the life, we sacrifice all of this." And so how did you get around, like, your environment being totally different from what you were trying to change internally and do like, save money and not overspend?

Dr. Nii Darko 14:36

So that's a really good question, because that's actually-- that was one of the biggest obstacles, was basically keeping up with the Joneses, right? So you pull into a parking lot. You pull it into a doctor's parking lot, and there's like Porsches and Audi's and all these different things. And I'm pulling in with 2014, you know, you know, Nissan Sentra. My wife is pulling in with a Hyundai. And you know, the big thing for us was we

really, I think very early in our career, we realized that what we really wanted was control. And I think in some form or fashion, we were able to really look at money more as a tool that was going to give us the control that we needed. And we looked at those cars, we looked at the houses that everybody said, "Why don't you buy a house?" And we were able to say, "Look, we already got a house. It's, you know, mortgage by Sallie Mae, right? We got to, we got to take care of this first before we can do any type of, you know, thing that's gonna be related to our lifestyle." And here's something that I think gives people perspective. So me and my wife were dating for 10 years at this point, we went on our honeymoon, we went on our honeymoon to Australia, as well as New Zealand. Around day three of the honeymoon, like, you know, we are just like, in awe of like, everything that we're seeing. The sights and sounds. And you gotta remember, we just graduated, and we just got married. Never took a vacation. And it was just like, wow, like, this is what it's like to take a vacation and kind of just relax a little bit after like, 12 years of just studying straight, no vacation. And then we sat to each other, and we said to each other, "Listen, like, when's the next time we can do this? Will it be in five years, maybe 10 years?" and we both looked at each other. And we're like, "Yeah, this may never happen." Because we have so much debt, which means we got to work, then we'll have kids. I don't know if this is ever gonna happen. And that was really a very sobering moment. And we just said, "Huh." It was like, really awkwardly quiet after that. And that's when we came home from the trip. And we're like, "We got to put our money together and figure out what to do." And that's what led to these events. So that's why when we started parking in a parking lot, we're like, "Yeah, like, this is not the life that we want." Like, we really want to be able to say, hey, if we want to take a trip, you know, and want to take a trip, we can do that we have the freedom to do that. Or, you know, if we want to go to Ghana, or we want to go to Haiti and do some medical mission work, which we wanted to do, we can do that without having to ask anybody. And that's what really was pushing us. That's the under, you know, the emotional thing that was pushing us to pay off our debt so quickly is because that's the life that we wanted, not just the normal pay for this, pay for that, you have this nice thing and you know, you don't really have much to say about it in 10-20 years.

Yeah, yeah. So you said you guys got into a lot of fights. So-- and that this is important to know, or just talk about, because just because you make a decision, and your intention is to do this thing that's going to be different for your life. And maybe you have a partner that agrees, doesn't mean there's not going to be some hiccups and disagreements on the way. So what-- even though you both agreed on the vision of your life what were the things that you argued about and how did you get through it?

So, the big thing for me was I was even so I was raised in immigrant household. My parents are from Ghana, but they're-- my parents handled their money separately, right? And then my wife, her parents, handled their money together. So I was very, like, opposed to that at first. I was like, "Well, why do we need to put our money together? Like, we could just have a joint account where we can use this for house expenses." But basically, I had the mindset of, you know, your debt is yours. My debt is mine. And, you know, after a while you start thinking about it. She said something that was really interesting. She's like, "Okay, well, if you're saving up for retirement on your own, and I'm struggling to save for retirement-- let's say you hit your number for retirement, that means that you're just going to go and retire and like for the next 10 years, "Hey, Renee, you catch up?" Like, how is that gonna work? This doesn't make any sense. Like, how are we going to build things together? If we're not putting our money together?" And I was like, "Oh, yeah, you're right. Like, I can't go to Australia by myself, I need you to come with me." Right? But it was something as simple as that, that, you know, made me think about, like, I'm really getting in my way, because of something that I was raised with. But for us, me and my wife, it didn't make much sense. And once she was able to show me like the power of us putting our money together and what we can do together, that really put us on another level. So that was the first argument. Then the second argument that we had were, like, well, whose debt do we pay off? Because I didn't also didn't mention to you, my wife also had some IRS tax issues that she didn't take care of, you know, when she was transitioning from a resident into working on her own. She was doing independent contracting for a year, mainly because her OB program finished before mine, so she was working on her own for a while and had some tax issues. So we're like, "Well, whose tax do we pay off first?" So we argued about that. But I want people to understand that this was a work in progress, like we didn't argue, and then all of a sudden, we walked away, right? Like we argued the first month of the budget, we went over the budget, right? And then the second month, we were over budget, but it was less than then we were the first time. Then by five months in we were like at zero based, right? Zero set budget. And then we just continue that, you know, and it works, you know, and for us, you know, the arguments that we have now are so small and so funny, but we laugh at the big arguments that we had before.

Jamila Souffrant 19:33

Yeah, okay, so how long did it take when you got serious to pay off this $662,000 worth of student loan debt? How long did that take?

Dr. Nii Darko 19:41

So the initial plan was 15 years, we're gonna pay it off. And then I came home and my wife said, "I think we can pay it off between three and five years," and I'm like, "Okay. Like, good evening, like, how you doing? What's for dinner first?" And she-- what she ended up doing is, she called the loan company, and she asked the the representative, "Can you make like a payment schedule for us for paying off our loans in 10 years, in five years, in three years?" And there was no point in looking at for one, because we couldn't do it, right? So then she started, at this point, we're budgeting, she started looking at everything. And she's like, "Well, what's the point of paying it off in 15 years and paying off this extra interest when we can do in 10 years? Well, if I show you the 10 year number, well, why can't we do five years." And then, if, if you look at the five year number, and you're looking at our expense, I'm telling you, like, we, we were not extravagant at all. Like we lived in an apartment that was 900 bucks a month, we lived in very rural portion of Pennsylvania. We just didn't spend a lot of money. So she said, "Look, I think we can pay it off anywhere between three and five years, if we are smart about it." So I said, "Okay..." she showed me the numbers. And we just said, "Okay!" So, October of 2014, we decided to pay it off. We thought we'd be done by 2019, but my wife had issues with getting pregnant. So we had some fertility issues. So that threw a rock into things. That was like a little bit of a, you know, a big issue. But we stuck to our goal of, we're no longer creating any more debt. So I had to work extra to do and find some cash to pay for IVF. So there were times where, for several months, we would live two weeks away from each other for, you know, literally seven months, eight months, but the goal was: We're not creating any more debt. So there were times where her fertility treatments would fail. Her doctor would be like, "Well, you know, fertility treatments are not, you know, are failing, you're ovulating. Where's Nii?" And she's like, "He's in Idaho working." you know? So there was a lot of emotional issues that were going on. But we stuck to it. And actually those emotional issues that we had, the financial issues that we had, actually made us stronger. So that was the plan, basically, and we stuck to the plan. We would meet on a monthly basis, you know, to make sure "Hey, like, are we really sticking to the budget? "and we were. And like I said, the biggest thing, obviously, what I mentioned with the fertility, for the fertility issues, and not creating any more debt, that was tough, you know, living away from each other for two weeks was tough. But when we look back on it, I think what we ended up finding out is is that the most humbling thing about this whole issue is is that we became really strong together, our marriage became really strong, because we realized that money was just a tool. Money in terms of us being able to accumulate stuff means nothing to us. It really is about what can we do with that money? Can we go and practice in Ghana with people who really need it? Can we go practice in Haiti, in Jamaica? Can we practice in, you know, inner city areas and practice without having the pressure of trying to turn the lights on and so forth?

Jamila Souffrant 22:42

Yeah. Wow. So you guys, how much-- do you remember how much on a monthly basis you were throwing at your loans had to be a lot? Like...

Dr. Nii Darko 22:51

Yeah. It was-- there was some months, we were putting in about $18,000, to about $20,000. And, you know, like I said, we were down to $200 a month on just groceries. So we were just, literally just, throwing everything away. My parents didn't know what was going on. They're like, "What is wrong with you?" Like, "What is? Why are you guys going like this? Why are you going this hard?" They didn't understand. A lot of people, our colleagues didn't understand. The, "Why you bringing in bag lunches?" But yeah, there were months where we will put in, you know, close to that amount on a monthly basis. And putting it away. We were still able to save, you know, just a little bit to our, you know, towards our 401K's. I also want to say that we, before we started this, we built an emergency fund, you know, we made it three to six months of just expenses. And that's it. And expenses included just minimum of our student loans. And people thought we were crazy.

Jamila Souffrant 23:41

Yeah, well, I'm also just like, amazed at just your story. Because again, there are people who would see the amount of income that you had coming in and say themselves, "I'm gonna live my life, like I've sacrificed so much." And the fact that you guys both were able to get on the same page and have this laser focus is really tremendous. And I know not everyone can relate to having such a high income, but I believe that most people can relate to trying to achieve something that almost seems impossible and/or just having debt and how you go about it, whether you are going to be like as super intense as Dr. Nii, regardless of your income, like, okay, you know, I'm going to do more than what I think is possible, versus I'm going to chill and just pay the minimum, is up to you. But I think it's inspiring to hear that even though you were doctors, even though you were making how much of income that you said to yourself, "I'm going to put a majority of that to my debt. And I'm going to bring in bag lunch." Like that, to me, is amazing. So one of the things that you talked about is, like, you were making extra money. So I would love to hear the ways that you were making extra money. Like --what the-- your work structure was like. Like were you working for a hospital? I'm not too familiar with the terms, but just for people who are interested in how they can make extra money as doctors doing the work that you were doing?

Dr. Nii Darko 24:51

Yes. So the way --where we would work, we were working in a very rural area of Pennsylvania. Very hard to recruit. So they made a schedule where they could recruit people to come in and work and then leave. So let me get more granular. So I would work 24 hours in a hospital where I would stay there for 24 hours. And I would handle all the surgical emergencies for 24 hours. And then any type of surgery, anything that occurs, I'm in the hospital taking care of that. After that, you know, the next 24 hours, that's the time where I could go home, and we're on what's called backup, right? But usually, you know, I'm getting home around like, let's say, one o'clock in the afternoon, the next day, because the next morning, you're doing some cases, maybe an appendectomy, you don't want to give that to your partner to handle since they're starting they're 24 hours fresh. So I would do that for two weeks straight. So I'd work straight, work 24 hours, and then I'd be 24 hours off or backup. And then the next the next day after that, so let's say we start on Monday. I'm 24 hours on Monday, then on Tuesday, I'm backup, and then Wednesday, I'm 24 hours in-house. And I would do that for two weeks straight. And then for two weeks, I was off. So what I decided to do is, as I was really young in my career, I said, I'll work the additional two weeks at another facility as an independent contractor, as a 1099. So I found a temp agency, just like you guys can think of any type of temp agency for any type of the job, their temp agencies for physicians, and I would work and go to different places in the United States, whether it's you know, Idaho, or Minnesota or Wisconsin, and I'd go and work there. And that's where, you know, I when I mentioned before, with the fertility issues, you know, I was gone for two weeks. And I would do that for months and on and all of that money, you know, obviously, we would make sure there was money left over for taxes and for the IRS. But that money, we would just dump right into the student loans. And the thing that you mentioned before, that was really important, where you mentioned, you know, how do you guys just decide to just bring a bag lunch, and you're bringing-- you have all of this high income and all that stuff? I just want to say one quick thing is is, you know, the way how we looked at it at was was this, like, what's the point of bringing all of this income if we can't do what we really wanted to do? Which is work in communities that we really wanted to work in, or have a life that we really wanted to have? Or say no to certain things at the job that we want to say no to? And we felt like with all of this debt in front of us, we couldn't do that. Because we'd be scared to either speak up, we'd be scared to say no, we'd be scared that we'd get fired. So for us, it was just, like, almost like golden handcuffs, so to speak. And we're like, "Wait, we put in all these years of sacrifice. All of the weddings that I missed. All of the funerals that I couldn't go to. All of the family events that I really wanted to go to, I missed. And then at the end, "Hey, hurray, here's your here's your salary." But you can't do this. You can't do that. You can't do this. You can't go do medical humanitarian work." We're like, "Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, it's a problem." Right? And that',s kind of, where we're at. So I just want people to understand that, you know, it's relative to really what you really want to do, right? Like, what do you really want to do with your life? And if you're realizing, "Yeah, this income for us is great, but I can't do what I really want to do," then what's the point? And that's, that's kind of our, our rationale.

Jamila Souffrant 28:07

Right? Okay. So you guys paid off the debt. But what were, like, some of your other motivations? Like after you pay off the debt, now what? Because now I'm thinking, "Okay, you paid off the debt. Then now you're having hundreds of 1,000s of income" What's next for you at that stage? And what I like about your story is you also still do things outside of just, like, being a doctor. You have a podcast, you have other side hustles, I'm sure. And I want to talk about that. Because some people were like, "Well, I finished this. Like, this is what I was working towards. The debt is paid off, and I'm done. Now I can go live my life". But it almost sounds like you trained yourself to live on less. And I would love to know how that now is impacting the way-- your lifestyle. And I believe you guys have kids now, right?

Dr. Nii Darko 28:48

Yeah, yeah, we have two kids.

Jamila Souffrant 28:49

Yes. So congratulations, that, that actually, you know, all that hard work, like, came and worked in your favor. But, like, now what is it like? To not have the debt but have that income and still be so motivated?

Dr. Nii Darko 29:01

Right. So there's a big importance of surrounding yourself with positive people. People who are going through a similar situation as you are. Where we lived, and even from our family standpoint, nobody really understood why we were going through this process. But we were listening to podcasts. Listened to your podcast, that helped us, kind of, stay positive. So thank you very much, Jamila, for helping us through this process, right? We listened to a whole bunch of other podcasts where they were talking about debt payoff. We were reading blogs, we were on YouTube, and so forth. So that almost, kind of, became like our little, like, virtual mentors, so to speak. You are like a virtual mentor to us. So what we started to realize also is well, paying the debt is important, but also at the same time, let's think about this. I had to really work my butt off to payb or me and my wife had to work our butts off to pay this debt off, right? For three years. If we just turned what we put into savings or into debt into savings, that's still, like, another, like, 15 years of, like, working really hard to be able to retire. And that's when we're like, "Okay, it's great to accumulate cash, or to save money, but we really got to be smart with our money. We really got to start investing it." And that was another thing that I wanted to let people know, we had our MBAs, but we didn't know anything about personal finance. We didn't know how to invest. I was scared of the stock market, my parents lost their job in 1998, or 1988, excuse me with Black Friday. And then my dad lost his job again in 2000. So I was very, I was very averse to the stock market. So that was, the next step, was learning how to invest on our own. So during that process of listening to your podcast and other podcasts, we really started to think about, "Okay, well, how can we get our money to work in various ways, other than just saving them and putting them under our bed," so to speak, right? So we started thinking about real estate, we really started thinking about, you know, starting our own business. I started my own podcast to, kind of, help other doctors realize that there are more important things than just graduating and then just working, right? Like, they're important things, like maybe you want to go to another country, or, you know, maybe you want to just start, you know, inspiring other people to, kind of, have a thought process similar to yours. So it was very interesting. Once we got out of debt, the next thing was was, "Well, I enjoy what I do as a trauma surgeon, but I don't want to do this all the time." And I did an episode on my show where I talked about not living your life, like, you know, for, I think a lot of professionals, whether you're a physician, you're a teacher, you're an engineer, what have you, you kind of feel like your life begins once you graduated, right? And that was a really hard thing for me to kind of let go of, but my life had already started before then. And there was a lot of things that I thought were risky, that I wanted to just take those risks, and I didn't do that. And one of the things that I really wanted to really focus on was really growing this podcast, and really taking some risks with other business ventures, and really pulling back with medicine. That has been a very difficult situation for me, because it's like, "Well, you went to school for all these years and you sacrifice for all these years. What do you mean, you want to pull back?" Right? You're letting down all of these different people who were behind you. But once again, it came back down to like, it's really important to really focus on living your own life, and living your own truth. So that's where we're at right now is really focusing on what's important to us. The podcast is very important to us. Medical humanitarian work is very important to us. As well as teaching other people that, yeah, you know, it's great to have this income, but, you know, if you are basically a slave to that lifestyle, what is really important here?

Jamila Souffrant 32:32

Yeah, and you know, I, you, I've had doctors or lawyers on the show before, and just other professionals, even my own story, it's like you do spend a lot of time in a field, potentially on education and money, especially doctors and lawyers, especially doctors. And you come to this point where you do all this work, you accumulate all this debt, and you may realize, "Wait, this is not what I want to do." Like the, you know, the sunken cost fallacy, where it's like, you feel like you might as well stay in this and the emotional toll in the identity factor that especially as immigrants, like, I know what that's like. Well, I didn't have as much pressur,e because my mom was pretty supportive of every move I've made. But I know that for other people, like, you know, that is, their kid is a doctor or an engineer or lawyer, like, that is all they know. Like, what do you mean, you're gonna go podcast? What is that?

Unknown Speaker 33:16

You sound like my mother actually.

Jamila Souffrant 33:20

Well, I feel like it's important to talk about that, because we have, I know, there's some journeyers listening, and they're like, "Yeah, I, like, I want to do other things." So here's the thing, I want to talk about this. There are some people who, like, love their work. So they still want to be a lawyer and doctor, but they have other things they want to do. And the possibility of still pursuing those two tracks, right in life at the same time, right? Maybe, you know, one is your full time thing, and one just remains your side thing. And that's okay. And then there are people where it's just like, they're in a profession, and they really don't want to be there. And they want to do something totally different. For you, it sounds like you enjoy being a doctor, but you're getting pulled towards the other creative things that you want to do. Like, so how, how are you looking at that? How are you having this discussion with your family? And what's the emotional rollercoaster that you're on with this?

Dr. Nii Darko 34:04

That's exactly what we go through. Which is, hey, like you said, the sunken cost thought, right? And, so for me right now, it's okay, well, you know, we've been able to save some money. Well, let's take some chances now, right? Like, you know about the safe tax. You-- everything that you just said basically, about being a teacher, a lawyer, an engineer, or business, like all of those things are all safe things that our parents wanted us to do. And for me, the big thing for me is I want my kids to see that, "Oh, wow, dad--" you know, he had to pay to safe tax, so to speak, but also at the same time, like I want to be able to take chances and start something with some seed money that I just saved up and just see where it goes. So that when I'm 80 or 90, and I'm in a nursing home, I could say I did everything that I could do, you know, before you know I take my last breath. And I think that's what's driving me the most right now is, like, look like let's do everything that we can right now. Let's take the chances that we need to take, because we're still young, right? And the key thing that I think, you know, I struggled with before was was let me try to save as much money, so that I can retire early. But the key thing, I think, had to turn and look at things as well, let me buy some time so that-- or let me use that money to put or invest in myself, so that I can do the things that I may not want to do, right? So for example, like you said, I love being a trauma surgeon, I just don't want to do 24 hours on, 24 hours off, 24 hours on, 24 hours, I don't want to do that when I'm in my 50s, or in my 60s, right? Like some surgeons or some trauma doctors are doing right now, right? Because I don't want to have to be spending my money on things that I really don't need to be spending my money on, right? I want to be able to kind of have a lifestyle that I really would like to do and what I feel to be really impactful. So that's what I go through. If you ask my mother, even to this day, she's like, "What is this? Like, I want my son to be a surgeon." That's it. And I'm like, "But Mom, you don't understand, like, I can do that. And I am doing that. But what's the point? If I'm not really happy doing it all the time?"

Jamila Souffrant 36:02

Yeah, because I feel like, you know, our parents too, like they come from just a different world of the sacrifices they made. And, you know, they did all this so we can do this. And then, you know, and give us these opportunities, and they don't realize, because I think oftentimes their dreams, you know, have been thrown out and/or pushed down. And so where they couldn't really live their lives. So they're like, "Hey, well, you know, I couldn't do this. Like what, like, that's not the real world." Okay, so I do want to talk a little bit about the like, pandemic, and how that impacted you. And I'm wondering, as you're talking as a trauma surgeon of all things like I think, you know, you see like, firsthand the things that we see on TV and it's like more glamorized, like you -- you're living with this on a day-to-day basis when you're working. did that make you also look at life differently? Or just going after your goals? I'd love to hear that perspective, Because a lot of us don't experience that firsthand. And then we could talk about how the pandemic impacted you.

Yeah. Absolutely, because, like I said, I'm used to living my life four years at a time. Hey, you know, college can't wait to go and I hope I get into med school. All right, now I'm in med school man, I wonder what it's like to be in residency. Then residency, I wonder what's going to be like, when I am working on my own. Like, you're always, at least for me, I was always looking for years ahead. And not really kind of smelling the roses and enjoying life. And when the pandemic hit, it was as just like, wow, there are people my age who are actually on a ventilator dying right now. Some of my colleagues, you know, they ended up on a ventilator, right? So life can just come at you that quickly. I think definitely last year taught me the importance of understanding that you got to live every day to the fullest, like, I have to be very, very, very present for this interview with you, because I don't know what the next time we're going to do this. So I don't know if you remember, but I interviewed you last, or I think last year on my show. Actually, I had COVID during that time. It took me forever-- I don't know if you remember, like, I kept coughing. And I kept like, I couldn't get my voice. I don't know if you remember, but I had a hard time, like, really recovering from COVID. So it taught me a really important lesson about just living life, doing everything that you want to do, connecting with people, and just enjoying today for exactly what it is. For today. Cuz you ain't gonna have it again. From a medical standpoint, and taking care of people it is, it's been really difficult to take care of people, you know, you be the last person that they see, you know, because you know, that family is not allowed to be around the patient, or to see someone say goodbye to someone with an iPad. That, for me, breaks my heart, right? But, you know, it is what it is. But it's extremely sobering, you know, in what I do already. And I tell people, people look at me, they're like, I'm the type of person that you never want to see, right? Like, you know, if it's a pediatrician, everybody's happy to see their pediatrician, or their OB, or their family medicine doctor, for the most part. Nobody ever wants to see a trauma surgeon. So for me, what I do on a daily basis, I see people who are literally on the verge of dying in seconds. So for me to be touched by what I see, even with COVID, is extremely powerful. I know that we're going through what we're going through right now, it's it's really tough. You know, so I just really want people to understand, you know, the importance of just really living life to the fullest. Really having strong pushback conversations with your doctor to really understand what's going on. And really to understand that there's science out there. Trust your doctor, and what they're saying. And I'll leave it at that. I know that it could be controversial, but I always say, just make sure you talk to your doctor and have a really good conversation with them.

Yeah. And with that, so what you also encouraged, so you're -- say the name of your podcast. I want to talk a little bit about what you encourage doctors to do.

Unknown Speaker 39:40

Yea! So the podcast is called, "Doc's Outside The Box."

Jamila Souffrant 39:44

Mhm. And you encourage doctors to think outside of what their profession is and start podcasts or just brands. And I want you to talk about that, because there's someone listening who is on their way to becoming a doctor. I think that's all it is. And maybe that's all they do. And that's wonderful. Or there are people listening who or like, you know, I have something else I want to share. So why do you encourage this and doctors and other professionals? And how do you define or help them find their voice? If it's outside of just doctor work, you know, like something else they enjoy doing?

Dr. Nii Darko 40:15

Yeah, yeah. So there's, I mean, there's a ton of doctors out there right now who, you know, they feel like they can express themselves and say, maybe I want to go on TV. And maybe I want to coach other doctors, or maybe I want to go and do medical humanitarian work, or maybe I want to do whatever it may want to be. But you know, the rigid structure of medicine oftentimes doesn't allow you to express that. So Doc's Outside The Box is really a safe space, where we talk about the three M's. The three M's are really money, mindset and mission. So money is we focus on personal finance, we focus on paying off debt, we focus on investing, right, because we feel like money is, is, is, a surrogate for control. And then we also talk about mindset. We really focus on the growth mindset. So what do you mean? You spent the last 12 to 14 years becoming a physician. What do you mean you can't embrace how to start a podcast or get into real estate or, you know, whatever it may be that you're interested in, but you just think that, "Well, I'm just a physician, I can only do this." No, like, we got to get out of fixed mindset and really focus on the growth mindset. And then the last M is mission, right? Like, although as a physician, we, you know, are advocating for our patients, you know, we-- I really like to highlight stories of things that we don't normally see how we can advocate. That's social advocacy rise, obviously, with what happened last year, but also going to another country, and practicing and understanding how medicine is practiced in third world countries. So these are the things that we talk about in a podcast, we feel like anybody can listen to this, whether you are a professional, whether you are trying to be in healthcare, whether you're not in health care, doesn't matter. But I think that these three things that we talk about are really going to help a lot of people. It's very interesting. Me and my wife have really interesting conversations about some of the pop culture things and how to relate it to, you know, the three M's, so we have a lot of fun doing it.

Jamila Souffrant 42:03

And I love that you-- I'm seeing more of your content, you know, Instagram, kind of, hides, like, the algorithm-- the algorithm changes and you don't see people stuff, and then you start seeing it. So I love that you and her are doing, like, more things together. Like, videos, so for that, though, how are you balancing like having kids? You both being doctors-- having, I don't know if you call what you do a side hustle? Or, you know, businesses, like how are you doing all of this? bBecause for someone, myself, who is also a mom, I'm just like, I'm tired, I'm done, you know, like, like, I don't know how much more I want to do, of all the things and I luckily left my corporate job. So it's literally, it is Journey To Launch and then kids and just personal life, which is a lot. So how are you balancing that together and still making it work and happy having the motivation to do all the things?

Dr. Nii Darko 42:47

So for the record, Jamila, if you walk away from it right now, then that's gonna deflate me. So, I'm following your lead. So the fact that you walked away from your corporate job, and you're doing what you're doing and living in Brooklyn, you know, saying like, that's you just are my, seriously our relationship and monetary financial goals. So that's super dope what you're doing. So, but it really comes down to that virtual mentorship, right? I listened to you, I see what you're doing. I'm like, "Well, if she can do it, then maybe we should try to do that." Now back to your question about balance. I don't know if there's such thing is balanced, right? Like, we just try to make it work. We try to make it work, and because our life has transformed so much from 2014 to now, like our life is much-- very much around how can we save as much money as we can? How can we have an impactful life with each other? You know, as a couple. And how can we have you know, children who are kind of raised in this environment? And for us, we're just like, "You know what, that's our podcast. That's our content." Right? So we use that, like, those were those conversations that you see on Instagram. These are conversations that me my wife have all the time, right? Or the episodes that we have other guests, like, these are the things that we're talking about. So we're just like, look, we might as well just share this on the show, and talk about it in a fashion that's really, you know, it's not codified, you don't have to do any code switching or anything like that. We're just talking the way how we want to talk, right? And I think that's where it resonates with a lot of people, because they're just like, "Well, my doctor sounds just like me." It's like, yeah, like, we are just you. It's just that. It's just so happens, we just had a whole bunch of bunch of student loan debt, but we just like you, it's just that we want to be able to live our lives on our own terms. And that's what continues to push us, right? And there are times when we, like, I mean, it was like an hour before it is I'm like, "Man, like, am I doing the right thing?" Right? Like, you you know what I'm talking about, Jamila? Like, you're like, "Am I doing the right thing?" But, you know, it really comes down to-- and I want people to really understand this-- It really comes down to what kind of impact do you want to have, right? And even if, like, the show never takes off, I can live with myself at the age of 80, in a nursing home, and say that, "You know what? I gave everything that I could out there. It didn't take off, but I spoke my truth and I lived my life." And me and my wife are expressing to everyone that, look, like, it really, like ,we didn't fall into the two income household trap or anything like that. We literally are living our lives. And, you know, just enjoying it and having fun. And, you know, for us, we just like, "You know what, let's just share it." And for us, that's how it's become so easy to keep doing this.

Jamila Souffrant 45:20

Yeah. And I think that's important to note, because I know there's so many people who are listening. And they're like, "Well, I mean, I have a story," but they don't think it's notable or something that people want to hear. And I'm just like, and I talked about this, I did a FinCon Idea Speech. And I-- you know, I just talked about this, that it's not about getting to the million download number or million people reached. Like, goals, but honestly, bigger than that, it's talking to that one person. That's how I started. It-- is was like, okay, even as I'm talking to you, I'm like, I want to talk to that one person who's listening right now, that one Journeyer, who wa,s like, doubting what they can give to the world, or who is in a professional environment and has something else to do, or is earning a lot of money and can do more in terms of paying it off? Whatever-- I'm talking to whoever's listening, and I'm very specific in the way I'm thinking and asking these questions. I'm just like, Listen, someone wants to hear what you have to say. And if one person wants to hear it, then another person wants to hear it and may take longer than you want it to to, you know, get the ball rolling, but once that impact starts happening, one person by one person, that is the change that is the, the payback, that makes it all worth it.

Dr. Nii Darko 46:26

Yo, let me-- so you hit it on a point. So, I did an episode recently. So I used to take the bus from Irvington, New Jersey, when I started high school from Irvington, New Jersey, to Newark, New Jersey. Every morning to go to the high school that I went to. On the way to the high school, we would pass by this medical school called UMDNJ. It's called now Rutgers University, what have you. And I remember, like, I would do homework on the bus. People, there's music blaring in the back-- you know how it is right, though? You know how the bus is, right? And whether it's Brooklyn, or Newark is the same thing, right? And I would do homework, and I remember, once we got past that stop, I would always look at that med school. And I'd be like, I want to go there, I want to go there, I want to go there. And I remember I would run track at night. And sometimes we go to New York and take the train into New York and come back before our parents even knew I'd come back. But the one thing I always know, on the bus ride back, I would look to see the lights on at that medical school. And nobody knew this, you know, at the time. And as I started, you know, when I went to college, and I would come home, same thing, I take that bus back and forth, and I'd see that med school. I never ended up going to med school. I didn't get accepted into med school, it didn't matter. But I decided to share that on an episode. That was one of the most highly downloaded episodes ever, because all of these pre med students were like, "Yo, like, I live in Brooklyn. I live right next to, you know? Right behind SUNY Downstate." Or, you know, "I live in this part of the town in Detroit, or in Chicago. And like, nobody... I felt like, like that episode spoke to me, like, nobody sees me and understands what it's like to live in these neighborhoods, or to take a bus here, or to take a cab there. And you-- look at this institution of where you want to be a part of and you feel like you can't be a part of it. Can you give us more of that?" I was like, "Oh, snap, I didn't know that." That, that little story would resonate with people. So I really want people to understand that, like, our biggest superpower, and I'm not saying it in a cliche term, you know, people say that a lot. But our biggest superpower is the ability to share our story, right? Because there's so many people who are listening to you. You are looking to hear from someone who comes from your background. They don't hear from other people, they can't get on TV, they can't get on radio, but maybe from your podcast, you can change their life and let them know that, hey, it's okay, if you are staying late. And you're keeping books underneath the library table. So nobody knows where you're, you know, where you put it back like nobody, like nobody understands your experience quite like you. But there are a lot of people who have a similar background to you. And if you can express your story. It really can resonate with a lot of people. So

Jamila Souffrant 48:46

Yeah, yeah. Okay. So, Doctor Nii, tell everyone what's next for you. I'm curious to know, like, where you're going next with what you want to do professionally, and with your content and then we'll get into where they can follow you and listen to your podcast.

Dr. Nii Darko 48:58

Yeah, so where I'm going now. Next is, is I want to build out a network for the podcast. So I want to build up particularly with physicians of color. Men, women, obviously, and really build out a podcast network where we're talking about the things that we want to talk about, right? Around those three M's, and then continue to expand from there. So that's what I want to do for the podcast standpoint. And, and obviously, we want to have a summit eventually also. From a professional standpoint. Yo, I'm at a point where me and my wife are like, maybe what we really want from a medical standpoint can't be done here in the United States. So we're strongly considering moving to Ghana, and practicing there. And I'm telling you, it's it's an amazing feeling when someone will travel miles or wait hours to take care of you or for you to take care of them. And they're very gracious and very, you know, just welcoming of that. And it's really as close to a professional reboot, as we call it. So we're really thinking about moving overseas, and practicing and doing all this so, you know, you've been very obviously raising our Kids overseas also, so.

Jamila Souffrant 50:01

Wow, that sounds wonderful, so now we have to definitely follow you. So tell everyone where they can follow you online and listen to your podcast.

Dr. Nii Darko 50:08

Yeah, so if you want to, you know, follow me my-- you can follow me anywhere on social media. But the best place to see what I'm really up to is on Instagram. My handle @DrNiiDarko. Or you can listen to the podcast, which is called "Doc's Outside The Box."Anywhere you listen to Jamila's podcast, Journey To Launch, it's the same place where you can find "Doc's Outside The Box." And then, my homepage is DrNiiDarko.com, and you can learn more about me.

Jamila Souffrant 50:37

Okay, and I'm gonna link all that in the episode show notes. And I can't wait for everyone to hear this. Thank you!

Dr. Nii Darko 50:43

Thank you for having me on!

Jamila Souffrant 50:48

I hope you enjoyed that conversation with Dr. Nii Darko, and you are inspired. You know, I know not everyone has a doctor salary, but I hope even if you are not at that level yet, you see, regardless of his salary, that he had to stay focused to get rid of that debt. He had to be laser focused on what really mattered. And so I think that's something we can all connect with. Also, I love this idea that just because we spent a lot of time learning or doing something, it doesn't mean we have to be stuck in that place. If we have moved on, if we have other interests and doesn't mean you can't explore other things too, right? I love that part of his story that he's also inspiring other people to just think outside the box, right? Like what else is it that you want to do? Not what your family wants you to do, not what you think you're supposed to do, what the status quo is-- that you can actually find a life you could have only dreamed up if you just step outside the box, right? And so I hope that this conversation inspires you and if it does, let me know you know, I love hearing your feedback. On social media. I'm @journeytolaunch in all the places. So take that screenshot, let me know what you thought and share it with someone in your life who needs to hear it.

Don't forget, you can get the episode show notes for this episode by going to journeytolaunch.com, or click the description of wherever you're listening to this and you can still grab your Jumpstart Guide for free to help you on your journey to financial freedom by going to journeytolaunch.com/jumpstart. If you want to support me and the podcast and love the free content and information that you get here, here are four ways that you can support me in the show: One, make sure you're subscribed to the podcast wherever you listen, whether that's Apple Podcasts, that purple app on your phone, your Android device, YouTube, Spotify, wherever it is that you happen to listen, just subscribe so you are not missing an episode. And if you're happening to listen to this and Apple Podcasts, rate, review and subscribe there. I appreciate and read every single review. Number two, follow me on my social media accounts. I'm @journeytolaunch on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. And I love, love, love, interacting with Journeyers there. Three, support and check out the sponsors of this show. If you hear something that interests you. Sponsors are the main ways we keep the podcast lights on here. So, show them some love for supporting your girl. Four, and last but not least, share this episode this podcast with a friend or family member or co worker, so that we can spread the message of Journey to Launch. Alright, that's it until next week. Keep on journeying Journeyers.

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Dr. Nii Darko, aka THE Doc Outside the Box, joins the podcast to talk about how he and his wife paid off $600,000 of debt. In addition to being a debt slayer, Dr. Nii is a Board-certified Trauma Surgeon who is pushing the limits beyond medicine. Dr. Nii is the host of Docs Outside the Box podcast where he features ordinary doctors living extraordinary lives with a focus on money, mindset, and mission. 

Dr. Darko and I discuss the challenges of  paying off large student loans, working as a 1099 contractor, how finances made his marriage stronger and how he has created a safe platform for doctors to discuss side hustles and retiring early.

If you’re ready to be inspired on your debt payoff journey, or you have large debt, this episode is for you. 

In this episode we discuss:

  • The ins and outs of how Dr. Darko and his wife paid off $600,000
  • Why many doctors making 6-figures often find themselves broke 
  • How he inspires doctors to do something outside of practicing medicine 
  • Falling for Whole Life Insurance + more

Watch the video interview for this episode on youtube here.

I'm Listening to Episode 241 of the Journey to Launch Podcast, Paying off $600K Of Debt With Dr. Nii Darko Click To Tweet

Other related blog posts/links mentioned in this episode:

  • To Listen to the Learn to Trade As A Side Hustle To Reach Your Financial & Life Goals FREE Audio Training with Teri Ijeoma by clicking here.
  • Join The Weekly Newsletter List
  • Leave me a voicemail– Leave me a question on the Journey To Launch voicemail and have it answered on the podcast!
  • Watch me on News12  Watch my latest segments on News12
  • YNAB –  Start managing your money and budgeting so that you can reach your financial dreams. Sign up for a free 34 days trial of YNAB, my go-to budgeting app by using my referral link.

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