This story is part of CNBC Make It Millennial silver series, which details how people around the world earn, spend and save money.
In early 2020, JD Wilson was making around $ 75,000 a year running his “dream” business, an events company called Lead U which organizes empowerment workshops in schools across the country.
The idea for the company came to mind in 2016, when Wilson was a teacher in New Jersey watching the Dribbler, a former Harlem Globetrotter, perform at an assembly for his fourth graders. Why stick to teaching math when it could create experiences that would teach students life lessons they would remember for years to come? Wilson thought.
He resigned his teaching post at the end of the school year, and from 2016 to 2020 Wilson built Lead U, reveling in the energy and enthusiasm of the students he visited and their empowering to âfind the leader withinâ. Life was good: the company had been pre-booked throughout 2020 and Wilson was traveling to Canada and England to host assemblies and workshops. He felt content to help the children gain confidence.
âThe money started coming in and I loved what I was doing,â Wilson says. “I felt like I was really, really having an impact on the kids.”
Then the coronavirus pandemic struck and Lead U lost all business since the company relied on workshops and in-person presentations. Like millions of others in the United States and around the world, Wilson’s life changed overnight.
Having lost his mother a few months earlier, and now his business, by mid-March, Wilson was at his “lowest point” in years, he says. He knew he needed a change of scenery.
With a teaching degree and experience to draw on, he began applying to schools in Hawaii, where teachers are often in high demand. In such demand, in fact, that Wilson was offered a third-grade teaching job when he called a cold school – if he could start in three days.
Wilson packed a single bag, said his farewell to Luau with his family, and moved to Kailua, Oahu, Hawaii, in July 2020. Hawaii is significantly more expensive than New Jersey, he says, and he earns $ 47,000. per year, a little more. half as much as before.
But despite the drop in income, he loves the island and its energy. When he first moved, he was shocked that people in the community who didn’t know him took the time to drop off food during his two-week quarantine. It has helped him understand how he really wants to live his life and treat others.
âI am learning about the culture from here. I learn from people. I learn from my colleagues, âhe says.
Wilson says he has a lot to learn, both in life and when it comes to his money.
He took a roundabout path towards entrepreneurship. After graduating from high school in 2001, he attended the University of East Stroudsburg, where in 2006 he obtained a bachelor’s degree in history and approximately $ 70,000 in student loans.
“It’s not the best thing to get after five years of schooling,” Wilson admits of her degree, noting that it was difficult to find a job. From there he joined the US Air Force and was deployed to Iraq. He remained in the military until 2010.
The military “humiliated me and made me understand that you have to do what you want to do for a living,” he says. That’s when he decided to get his post-bachelor’s degree in teaching at Caldwell University, which the military paid for.
Looking back, Wilson says he made mistakes. Perhaps the most important thing was getting so many student loans, he says. Although the military paid around $ 25,000, he has around $ 40,000 left and pays $ 586 per month (he continued to pay them each month, despite the Covid-related hiatus on federal student loan payments).
For Wilson, student loans are a symptom of a bigger problem: he was never good at managing his finances, he says, personal or professional. At 38, he is still learning some basic concepts.
One of his main goals in Hawaii is to create and stick to a budget. He is making headway, noting that he no longer buys single-use plastic items like water bottles, which he previously did without a second thought. In fact, he’s done away with virtually all discretionary spending and says his lower salary actually motivates him to save more.
âI’m not good with money, and that’s probably one of my biggest flaws and what I need to work on the most,â he says. “But I’m learning, I’m still learning, every day.”
Wilson grew up with his parents and two older sisters, Laurie and Wendy, in Toms River, New Jersey, near the Jersey Shore. Their family was happy with the suburbs, Wilson says. Her parents sent the three children to private school and encouraged their children to pursue their dreams; Wilson says he was at the beach every day.
But there were challenges behind the scenes, Wilson says. Although her parents hid any money problems from her, finances tightened when her mother, Diane, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in the late 1990s; by the time he was in high school she was confined to a wheelchair and had to quit her teaching job.
To pay her medical bills, the family had to make sacrifices, including selling their house when it was diagnosed and renting different apartments over the next few years to save money. For a few months, the summer before Wilson entered high school, the kids and their parents all lived with different friends because they couldn’t afford to rent accommodation.
Even with the sacrifice, the family struggled financially. âWe didn’t have the money to get all the amenities that would have made his life so much easier,â Wilson says. “But you would never have noticed because of her attitudeâ¦ she continued to be an amazing mom.”
Wilson’s mother passed away in October 2019. He credits her and her father with a work ethic instilled in all of their children and gave her permission to put “passion over profit.” If he pursued what he loved, his parents told him, the money would work out.
âThey always, always saidâ¦ that as long as you do what you love, that’s all that really matters at the end of the day,â Wilson says. “And I believe in it 100%.”
Here’s a look at how Wilson is spending his money in March 2021.
- Rental: $ 1,675 (one bedroom apartment, including Wi-Fi and utilities)
- Food: $ 650 ($ 350 for groceries, $ 300 for restaurant meals)
- Student loans: $ 586
- Car: $ 194 (including gasoline and insurance)
- Call: $ 130
- Gym: $ 85 (including separate yoga classes)
Since moving, Wilson has kept all discretionary spending low. Life in Hawaii is expensive, and after paying rent, groceries, and student loans every month, she’s running out of money. Since filming, he says he has significantly reduced his food budget.
He maintains a “minimalist” lifestyle, as he describes it, sleeping on an air mattress in his sparsely furnished apartment and owning a single cup (affectionately and aptly named Cup).
âThere is something about having very simple things around the house that helps me emotionally and mentally throughout the day,â he says.
Currently, Wilson has no retirement savings, and due to his relatively low salary coupled with higher living costs, he has used up most of his pre-Covid savings. He moved to Hawaii with around $ 10,000, and now his savings account has dropped to around $ 1,100. âI walked it,â he says.
He doesn’t intend to live this way forever. But for now, he says the situation is working for him. He teaches, surfs, sleeps and eats. He doesn’t need much else at the moment.
It’s a radical change from his life in New Jersey, when he was always on the move, seeing people and hosting events. He appreciates the slower pace.
âWhen you get home, the first question people usually ask you is, ‘What do you do for a living? He said. “Here is” What are you doing today? “”
In recent months, as the deployment of the Covid-19 vaccine accelerated in the United States and Americans began to consider returning to “normal” life, Wilson worked on restarting Lead U. He’s even already booked some events.
In the future, he also hopes to create a healthier budget and save money for himself and his business.
âThe truth is, the biggest investment I’m making right now is in myself, and in betting that hopefully Lead U will come back,â he says. “You have to do what you want to do with a living, and you have to do it yourself.”
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