Testing Out the Zero-Based Budget: How Married Dentists Spend Their Money

Even though we recently joined the personal finance community, we have seriously procrastinated at looking at the breakdown of our own finances. We know we have saved some money by cutting spending (the usual eating out less and binge-watching Netflix for entertainment), but we have never looked at the exact numbers. As month two of DWD comes to a close, it is time to finally look at how we are spending our money and where we can improve on our budget.

My husband and I are fortunate enough to both work full-time jobs in dentistry. With the dual income, we have more flexibility with making large payments toward student loan debt. At the start of this year, we moved forward with refinancing my federal loans and made our first payment in March (see how we decided here). We are currently spending 20% of our income on paying student loans.



I wanted to know what else we are spending our money on. I recently read about Dave Ramsey’s zero-based budget and decided to give it a try. Zero-based budgeting basically means your income minus your expenses equals zero. This allows you to follow exactly where every single dollar is spent. The first steps: write down your total income for the month and list all of your expenses! I was excited for this part because I LOVE spreadsheets on Excel, but it was surprisingly difficult to find a free budget spreadsheet that I wanted to use. I finally came across this article by Huffington Post: 5 Household Budget Templates That Will Help If You Actually Stick With It.

I downloaded a very detailed spreadsheet from Enemy of Debt (EOD Deluxe Budget 2.0). It was very helpful to have a list of preset budget categories. I changed some of the categories and made a custom list to reflect our expenses. For example, we are DINKS so I replaced childcare, school tuition, school supplies etc. I used the month of March to test out the zero-based budget. We did have some unusual expenses in March, such as paying our accountant for taxes and renewing dental licenses. When I was finished, I learned that we spent about 71% of our income and the rest of unaccounted for.



Apparently, this is how we spent our money in March:

Surprisingly, we only spent about 15% of our income on housing. This was reassuring that we can afford to live in the San Francisco Bay Area, however also a reminder of how much more we could be saving if we moved to a city with a lower cost of living.

Our most unnecessary purchases (which neither of us knew about):  

Mr. Debt Wise Dentist – $236.75 spent on Amazon for various electronics like a WiFi extender

Mrs. Debt Wise Dentist – $215.23 spent at Nordstrom Rack for clothes, including a dress to wear to a wedding and alterations for said dress

It seems one of our first budgeting moves will be agreeing on how much “me” money we get to spend per month. Even Dave Ramsey says you should have fun money, as long as it is in the budget! Also, since we have been priding ourselves on eating out less, I was shocked to see that half of the money we spent on food went to restaurants/fast food. To be fair, my husband took a trip to Los Angeles during March, but it definitely showed me that we could save a bit more on eating out.

From the chart, you can also see we spend 0% on savings and investments. Technically our “unspent income” of 29% is sitting in a checking/savings account, but that isn’t our intention for this money. I knew that our income/expenses would not equal zero, but I didn’t know we had 29% left to manage.



I wanted to see how quickly we could pay off our debt by using the remaining 29% to pay off our student loans. If we continue paying 20% toward student loans (the other 2% debt above is for our car), then we will pay our loans off in about 15 years. However, if we dump all of our extra money toward the loans, then we will be debt free in less than 5 years!

After discussing with Mr. Debt Wise Dentist, our current plan is to spend all of our extra money on paying off debt. Fortunately, we already have an emergency fund set aside and given that we don’t have any children yet, we feel comfortable paying off the debt as fast as possible. However, I’m sure our “budget” will evolve over time, especially once kids are in the picture. Our next step will be learning how to invest a portion of our income, as well. As dentists, we do not have 401Ks or any benefits for that matter, so we have a lot to learn! Our next huge step will be deciding how to invest our money and sharing with you along the way.


How have you budgeted your expenses? Is it better to pay off loans or invest or both? When should you start investing? Please comment below!

6 thoughts on “Testing Out the Zero-Based Budget: How Married Dentists Spend Their Money

  • April 27, 2018 at 10:43 pm

    We started tracking our expenses meticulously a few years ago now using YNAB. Prior to that, we had used the likes of Mint, Personal Capital, and Excel, but YNAB took things to a new level for us. We signed up for a free trial with low expectations, but I must say it has been fantastic. I’d highly recommend you check it out for at least the trial period. If nothing else, perhaps it will give you a few ideas on how to set up and maintain your budget.

    One of the major – and obvious in hindsight – changes in how we thought about budgeting was planning for known upcoming expenses. For example, perhaps you know you have an annual license expense that’s upcoming. Rather than planning on a four digit expense once a year, break it down into twelve triple digit monthly pre-payments so when the expense actually comes, you’ve already funded it. We do this for insurance, vehicle purchase/repair, vacations, etc.

    • May 1, 2018 at 9:06 pm

      Thanks for your advice! We really like the idea of pre-paying for large expenses over the course of the year. We haven’t pulled the trigger on YNAB yet, but this also looks like an amazing tool for budgeting. Must be worth it if you’ve stuck with it for a few years!

  • May 3, 2018 at 3:48 pm

    That’s great that you can speed up your debt payoff from 15 years to 5 years. I’m all for paying off debt myself before investing. But a side note for the folks that get employer matches in their 401k, of course get all the money on the table first. With your emergency fund funded, you’re on a great track. I remember seeing one of your pins go by on Pinterest about having $500k+ debt – I had to do a double take. It makes sense now with two dentists in the family! My sister went the doctor route and actually married a doctor so together I wouldn’t be surprised if their student loan debt was $500k or more.

    • May 3, 2018 at 10:06 pm

      Hi FTD, thanks for commenting! We absolutely agree with your point about the 401K. We wish more dentist positions provided 401K benefits, but we have found it to be very rare in our profession. Corporate dentistry chains tend to offer more retirement benefits than private practices. Unfortunately, even though we have a two dentist family, the $500K debt is actually the cost of my wife’s education alone. Private dental schools seem to be costing more and more each year with averages well over $300K. I imagine your sister is in a similar student loan debt scenario as our household. Hope they’re on their way to paying it off soon!

  • July 13, 2018 at 12:59 pm

    Just graduated DMD and saw your blog through a WCI newsletter. One of your goals should be to reduce your tax bill first. And here’s why:
    Imagine you have a series of buckets. The first bucket the government takes 0% taxes out of. The last bucket they take 40% of. Your income goes into the 0 bucket. Once it fills that it goes into the 10% bucket and so on. You can give yourself money pre-bucket via a 401k or HSA. But if you’re paying student loans would you rather payback from the 40% bucket or like a 30% bucket?

    • July 17, 2018 at 12:05 am

      Thanks RG DMD,

      Good point. I appreciate the analogy. If you have the ability to contribute to a 401K that’s great. Unfortunately, I do not know if many dentists have that opportunity. Really depends on the structure of their employment. But contributing to an IRA or HSA is sound advice. Thanks for the input!


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