The median pay in the US for registered nurses sits around $72,0001, with specialty income averaging $109,000 and $107,000 for physician assistants and nurse practitioners respectfully2. The average RN salary in North Carolina is $62,5003, whereas the average income in Raleigh-Durham is even less at $56,600 according to glassdoor4.
Personal finance, however, isn’t about what you make, it’s about what you keep. There are several unique obstacles and common challenges nurses face that can significantly impact their earnings. In this financial check-up, we’ll discuss the common challenges nurses face today as well as a few ways in which they can work to overcome these obstacles.
Challenge #1: Nursing Programs…Where’s My Financial Education?
While this may not be an especially unique challenge to nurses, it’s certainly one that puts them in a tough financial spot. Most nursing programs don’t offer any type of financial literacy, economics or personal finance classes.
In my review of the Associate in Nursing program from Wake Tech5, NCCU’s Nursing RN to BSN6, and Duke University School of Nursing ABSN7, there were no finance-related courses within the curriculum.
That means that while nurses graduate ready to head into the workforce, they’re left to learn everything they need to know about personal finance and financial decision making on their own. Adding to this is the fact that many nurses have taken out student loans to cover the cost of their education, relying on personal credit cards to subsidize their needs as a full-time student. This means that understanding how to manage your debt and create a financial plan becomes even more essential to future success.
Still in Nursing School
If you’re still in nursing school or preparing to graduate soon, take a look at available your remaining electives and see whether there are courses at your local college or online that can provide more information on personal finance planning. For example, Wake Tech provides a Personal Finance course that covers 12 important components, helping you to create a solid foundation of education8 around subjects such as taxes, budgeting, and planning for retirement.
If you have the opportunity to speak with nurses who are already employed, ask them about what they wish they knew beforehand and what particular financial challenges they’ve faced. Understanding what you’re getting into can be a useful tool in preparing for your future financial concerns.
Graduating with Student Loans
Graduating with student loans can present a slew of challenges, both in terms of affecting your cash flow as well as the stress it places on other aspects of your financial wellbeing. Review your student loans with a financial planner to determine if there is a better way to structure the debt. This may include exploring consolidation and/or refinancing, seeking forbearance, or restructuring your payoff strategy. A good place to start is by reading “Student Loans: 5 Benefits and Drawbacks of Refinancing.”
Challenge #2: Long Shifts & Odd Hours Can Be Hazardous to Your Financial Health
Nurses don’t tend to work the typical 9 to 5. In a recent study done by the Health Affairs Journal, nurses were found to be working longer than their expected shifts and more than 40 hours a week, with about 31.5 percent of their scheduled shifts exceeding 12 hours.9
So, when nurses do get a little time to themselves it could likely be at odd hours - early morning, late night, etc. And when they are done with a long, stressful shift, the last thing they want to do is think about something else stressful - like their personal finances.
These hours can also contribute to burnout. Burnout isn’t the same as stress. The World Health Organization defines burnout symptoms as “feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion; increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and reduced professional efficacy.”10
It can also affect your financial decisions outside of work in the following 2 ways:
- You pay more for convenience - People are often willing to pay more for convenience because they’re exhausted. This is due to a drain in our will-power, and can result in a tremendous impact to one’s financial wellness over the course of many years.
- You splurge as a reward - You might think: I already have student loans and credit card debt and my rent is half my income so I might as well go out and eat, because what difference will it really make?
One option is to find a financial planner who understands your need for meeting at odd hours or for short periods of time. My firm, Lucid Wealth Planning, was established with Raleigh-Durham in mind. For example, we ensure financial guidance is available between 8am – 9pm during weekdays, and between 8am – 4pm on the weekends. Our service was also built with the busy professional in mind, allowing for all planning and conversations to be held virtually via your laptop or mobile phone. Less time spent on I-440 and I-540 means more time for your family, hobbies, and rest.
If you’re already working with a financial planner, inquire about how you can make their availability more reflective of your schedule.
Alternatively, dig a bit deeper into what resources your hospital or place of employment offers. Some may have financial advisors or other professionals available to you who may already be familiar with your schedule and unique concerns - saving you money and the time spent searching on your own.
I’ve included two assessments below that can help you better understand your current situation, and where you fall relative to others:
This quick assessment measures personal financial management behaviors including tracking expenses, setting goals, and monitoring household financial health. Higher scores typically relate to a better ability to build and maintain wealth over time, regardless of your age or income. This test is designed to be used for informational purposes.
This short assessment identifies patterns in shopping and consumer behaviors and provides feedback on how those behaviors might impact your overall financial goals. This test is designed to be used for informational purposes.
Challenge #3: Unexpected Work Expenses
In many places, nurses are expected to pay for a variety of things that other professionals aren’t responsible for. This includes uniforms (which need to be replaced often), shoes, equipment (such as stethoscopes) and even parking at the hospital or care facility. Over the years these expenses can add up, taking a big chunk out of nurse's earnings and/or savings.
Unfortunately, there isn’t much that can be done in regard to eliminating these expenses. However, being aware of how much you’ll be expected to spend means you can accommodate for these expenses in your personal budget. Additionally, it’s important to keep these considerations in mind when negotiating your salary and benefits with employers. For example, negotiating more pay per hour could help offset the cost of your equipment. This impact is illustrated below:
Assuming you work 40 hours per week, 50 weeks out of the year, a raise of…
- $0.25 per hour = $500 per year
- $0.60 per hour = $1,200 per year
- $1.50 per hour = $3,000 per year
Pursuing your passion and caring for others makes nursing a rewarding and fulfilling career for many. My appreciation for what you do, and most importantly why you do it, is the driving force behind my passion for helping nurses to create a solid financial ground.
While there are challenges that nurses face, both in the lack of necessary financial education as well as industry-specific work expenses, there are solutions out there that can help.
- Increase access to financial education
- Be mindful of stress and burnout, and its impact on other life decisions
- Expect unexpected work expenses
But as you spend your days looking after patients, it’s important to remember that there’s a need to address your own financial health as well. Work with your employer to discover solutions and resources you may not have known were available to help address your biggest challenges when it comes to your personal finances.
This article was written by Jeffrey Stewart, CFP®, CRPC® on behalf of Lucid Wealth Planning LLC. Please contact Jeffrey if you have additional questions or would like to review your situation in more detail.
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