For new veterinarians with the goal of opening up their own practice, every dollar saved can be put toward a down payment, says Donald E. Sanders, DVM, Dipl. ACT, PAS, Associate Professor at The Ohio State University.

“I’ve been at Ohio State University for seven years, and it’s pretty routine for students to drive nice cars, take vacations, travel and generally not work to be penny pinchers,” he says. “There are some exceptions to that, but students need to get creative on ways to deal with that debt.”

That creativity can extend prior to veterinary school as well as afterward, notes Dr. Sanders, who started a practice with his wife just after both graduated. He recommends taking business courses during undergraduate education and looking into programs through the USDA and armed services.

A cautious approach to debt during college will help new graduates devote their cash to collateral that can be used to start a practice, but Dr. Sanders notes that doesn’t mean the austerity measures should stop there.

“During the first years of our practice, we worked hard, provided lots of service and would care for anything that crawled or walked through the door,” he says. “We operated on a shoestring budget and made ourselves available for emergency service regularly. We made more money weekends and at night than we did weekdays, because clients knew they could reach an emergency service.”

Dr. Sanders also cautions against taking out loans for all the latest and greatest equipment during the early years of a new practice.

“New vets think ‘I’ve got to have a new pickup truck,’ but if you were to buy it off the showroom floor it’s close to $60,000,” he says. “I recommend buying the basics. Even if you just own an SUV already and buy a veterinary storage insert for about $3,000. If you’re especially innovative, you can build your own to fit in the back of a full-size car. Cash flow is king. You don’t want to compromise the quality of your practice but there are ways to do it cheaper.”

Dr. Sanders recommends referring clients to other practices until you can afford to own more expensive equipment that can expand a clinic’s offerings.

That approach works to a point, says Randall Hobrock, DVM, owner of Tallgrass Veterinary Clinic in Concordia, KS, who started his practice in October 2006.

“I grew up on a farm, and before we could start the job, we always had to fix something,” Dr. Hobrock recalls. “When I started, I set out to have good equipment. When you spend 99 percent of your time fixing stuff, you’re not getting much veterinary work done. You have to weigh the cost of the time it takes to fix the equipment against the service you could be providing. At first you don’t have all the nice equipment, but it didn’t seem like it took us that long to acquire what we needed.”