A Full-Bodied Plan

How one Atlanta doctor is making sure her retirement dreams become reality

When it comes to wine, Kamela Coleman likes fruity and sweet, something along the lines of a Viognier–a white varietal that’s best paired with fruits and desserts. As she’s stocking her 700-bottle cellar, Coleman is keeping her eye out for this particular vintage.

Wine isn’t the only sweet thing in Coleman’s life. The Atlanta anesthesiologist is honing in on a million-dollar nest egg, the fruits of a disciplined program of saving and investing.

At 39, Coleman’s sizable savings leave her with plenty of options, perhaps enabling her to have a second career as a medical consultant in her late 40s or an early retirement in her mid-50s, both of which she’s considering. That’s a long way from where the South Carolina native started.

When she finished her residency at the prestigious Columbia Presbyterian Hospital in New York City nine years ago, Coleman had almost $100,000 in undergraduate and medical school loans to repay and only $4,000 in retirement savings.

Taking a job at a private medical practice in Atlanta that same year, Coleman took retirement planning seriously. She consolidated her student debt into a federal loan with a 3% interest rate. While she whittled away at the loan, she immediately started to put $80,000 a year toward building a nest egg, all while leaving enough money to enjoy several yearly ski trips with her club, the Southern Snow Seekers. (Thanks to a change in the corporate structure of the practice where she’s now a partner, Coleman is on track to save almost $110,000 a year going forward.) “I’ve always been a saver,” she says. “If I had $10, I’d save $7.”

But Coleman wasn’t an investor. She started gingerly, putting money in the Vanguard index funds and Janus accounts that were available through her retirement plan. But her investments had the sour notes of the risk-averse. Coleman wasn’t getting the returns that her older, more experienced colleagues were. And when the bottom fell out from stocks in 2000 and she suffered a modest $7,000 loss, it further spooked her about investing. So Coleman built up a mountain of cash as a safeguard against future declines.

“I had a colleague who lost $2 million and she was in her 60s,” she recalls. “That made me leery of getting back in.”

Eventually Coleman found Jesse Abercrombie, an adviser with Edward Jones, when she read about him in these very pages in 2006. Abercrombie nudged her away from cash (it’s about half a percent of her total assets) and into higher risk growth stock funds because of their ability to generate better returns over time. Though roughly half of her domestic stock portfolio is still in growth-and-income instruments, Coleman also has a 43% allocation to growth and aggressive growth. Abercrombie added international funds to further diversify.

A few months ago, Coleman asked her adviser when she could stop working and have the equivalent of $100,000 in income. He came back with some good news: Coleman could work until 65, retire with $100,000 in annual income plus still have a $4

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