Jeff Oster, DPM, is CEO and medical director of Myfootshop.com. He is a graduate of Western State College of Colorado and The Ohio School of Podiatric Medicine. Jeff has practiced podiatric medicine and surgery for 30 years. Myfootshop.com is the leader in an effort to democratize healthcare by using the Internet as a tool to improve healthcare literacy.
We talked with Jeff Oster about his trials and errors of saving for retirement and how small-business owners can avoid the same mistakes he made to maximize their chances at retirement savings success. The transcript below has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
How did you start your business, Myfootshop.com?
I’ve practiced podiatry for 30 years, but I was never really enamored by the traditional business model. Start an office, meet a person, interaction results in resolution or problem, payment, and repeat the process. It doesn’t entice me. In the late ’90s, I started writing about the things I knew and practiced. We developed an educationally driven e-commerce website focused on ankle and foot care. Stories, photos, and conditions were collected during the day, and at night, I would integrate them into the site.
There’s satisfaction and greater benefits when this information is shared. My blog posts reach a wider audience versus a single interaction with a patient in the office. So I became a doctor by day, Web guy by night. It’s a good fit for me – a healthcare entrepreneur. It’s been fun. To integrate the Internet, my goal was to create a lifestyle business. It’s a blast to be connected with people from around the world.
What motivated you to start saving for retirement?
As many small-business entrepreneurs probably experience, you’re always finding things to be done. We weren’t good at saving. We were always discovering new opportunities or concerns that would need funding. My wife is my business partner. She manages my practice and she’s the operation manager for the website. We don’t have anything like a corporate 401(k) option in place. We haven’t run a traditional plan with health benefits or retirement plans because we only have part-time employees. Nobody is going to lend us money for retirement.
You have to change your outlook about saving money. The attitude of, “Hey, we’ve got some money set aside, it’s there, we’ll muddle along somehow,” is antiquated and unstructured. I have a couple relatives who are retired, and I saw retired patients who don’t have the savings. What kind of life is that? It’s kind of scary.
Why should you start saving early for retirement?
I’m 58, late in my career, and I needed to do something fast to start saving for retirement. We needed motivation and regretted not starting earlier. You think, “Hoo boy, what can we do to make this happen?” The later you start, the less time you have. Individual retirement ages vary by industry, but when you work by yourself, you don’t have that big-business structure that guides you. It’s the course of an entrepreneur. If you start early enough, the money you set aside has longer to grow.
How did you start saving for retirement?
We tried a couple methods, a bit of trial and error. We tried automatic deposits, savings mechanisms and tricks, but we never set up a formal retirement account in the early days. We have an IRA now. Everything was sort of a flop. Any sort of follow-through to make savings happen fell apart. Entrepreneurs set goals and to make them happen, stuff gets in the way – stuff that needs money. Revenue would come in and something would need attention. We’d keep saying, “Next week we’ll save. We’ll save next week.” The art of running a business is to mediate and make sure all that doesn’t get in your way.
Finally, we found the discipline to take a percentage right off the top of our revenue that comes in before the supplier gets it. Not just the net revenue, but all of it. Any dollar that’s paid to us, we take a percentage (we take five percent of all monies) for retirement. That’s what works for us. It was the only way we could structure our savings plan. We didn’t wait to pay someone else. It became a priority – you never miss it because it’s scooped right off the top.
Pay yourself first. Whatever percentage you think you can tolerate, take it and put it aside. The fun is watching it grow because money increases over time when you invest and handle it properly.
What if a small-business owner struggles to stick to a retirement savings plan?
For those who are undisciplined – and we know if we are (we think we aren’t, but we are) – it’s a very reliable mechanism for saving. Start now. The earlier you start, the smaller a percentage you have to pull from your income to save. Find the formula for the age and number that you want to reach for retirement. Consider your income for the next five years, ten years, and beyond.
Focus on yourself. So many entrepreneurs focus on other things than themselves, but you need to focus on the home front. It seems obvious at first, but you’re typically just concerned about putting food on the table. “Saving for retirement – I’ll do that later.” No. Do it now.
Small-Business Retirement Tips from Jeff Oster
- Determine when you want to retire. How old will you be? What sort of plans do you have during retirement? Where will you live? Figure out your long-term plan.
- Pick a savings plan that works for you. Pay yourself first. Budget a percentage of your earnings for retirement savings. Think about opening an IRA account or stock investments to diversify your savings.
- Stick to it! Be consistent and make regular contributions to your retirement savings. Any deferred deposits only hurt you in the long run.
- Start early. Don’t wait! Begin planning and saving for retirement now. Consult a financial planner if you need help getting started.