This story is part of CNBC Make It’s Millennium Money series, which details how people around the world earn, spend and save money.
Nicholas Alston, 27, had been working as a flight attendant for barely a year when the pandemic shook the travel industry. By November 2020, due to budget cuts and reduced service, he took a voluntary leave where he worked only one month out of two.
But during this downtime, he saw an opportunity. Alston worked in the food industry before becoming a flight attendant in 2019, which he saw as a way to overburden his savings to fund other career and financial goals. So when the pandemic slowed down his flight schedule, he took it as a sign to revisit his goal of opening a restaurant – a passion project for him since college.
In December 2020, he gently launched his own catering business, Clutch hand breakfast, a one-person surgery he was running from a ghost kitchen in Columbus, Ohio.
In May 2021, Alston returned to flying full-time and kept a “busy” schedule: he would report for work at the Detroit Metro Airport on Friday, fly across the country until Tuesday, return to Detroit and would immediately jump on a plane to Columbus to begin serving his restaurant, which he operated Thursday and Friday mornings. On Friday afternoon he would fly back to Detroit and start his week all over again.
In August, Alston temporarily shut down Clutch so it could increase its flying hours, save money, and move on to the next phase of its business plan: buying a food trailer to run its business.
Here’s how Alston manages his time and money by earning $ 51,000 as a flight attendant to fuel his dining dreams.
A career detour – and a big pay rise
In 2019, Alston was making $ 15 an hour as a crew chief for a German food truck when his friend introduced him to the idea of becoming a flight attendant. He was drawn to the job for its relatively high salary (his friend was making $ 45 an hour), perks like a 6% match on a 401 (k) company, the freedom to set his own schedule, and, well sure, the ability to travel the world.
After doing some research, he applied to six airlines, received offers from two, and landed on one. He took eight weeks of training and started flying in May 2019.
Alston gets a raise every year on his anniversary and currently earns $ 35 an hour. Over time, he expects to hit a cap of $ 69 an hour, he told CNBC Make It.
An average flight schedule is around 75 to 85 hours per month, Alston says, although he takes as many shifts as he allows in the Federal Aviation Administration. rules and regularly logs 100 to 120 hours per month.
Alston likes to monitor how much he works and earns, as well as the seamless progression of wages with seniority: “It can go up quite significantly,” he says.
Alston says using his theft earnings to fund his dreams of opening a restaurant next door “has always been the plan.”
In college, he came up with the idea of opening a food truck specializing in portable breakfast foods – think omelets and French toast, but in sandwich form. By mid-2020, he had around $ 28,000 to open the business. It was not enough to invest in a truck, but he could start his restaurant from a so-called a ghost kitchen or a cooking facility that produces food only for delivery and take out without a food court.
Alston rented space for a kitchen and storage facility on an hourly basis. He spent around $ 5,000 on start-up costs, including setting up an LLC, obtaining his food handler license, collecting supplies, and testing his menu.
For the next eight months, Alston operated Clutch from Columbus on Thursday and Friday mornings when he was not flying. The expenses varied month to month, from $ 1,800 to $ 2,300, depending on the cost of supplies and advertising. Income also depended on his schedule: in June, it was open for six days and brought in $ 760.
He sees the first part of 2021 as the first phase of his business: getting to grips with running a food business and collecting customer feedback.
At the end of August, Alston temporarily closed his ghost kitchen to once again focus on theft and save money. The second phase of his plan is to purchase a food trailer to house Clutch before the end of the year. He’s about $ 9,000 away from his goal of $ 33,000.
“I know it’s going to take a little while,” Alston said of his business plan. Eventually, he hopes to develop Clutch enough to hire employees and expand to new locations.
The best learning experience so far has been hearing positive customer feedback which keeps him motivated. “I’m lucky to have enough money to make it happen,” he says. “It’s my passion, and one of these days it will be a profitable business.”
Here’s a look at how Alston typically spends his money, in July 2021, before closing his kitchen:
- Savings: $ 1,180 divided between his business account, personal savings, emergency fund and health savings account
- Professional expenses: $ 1,125 for cooking and storage time, supplies and marketing
- Investments: $ 854, including contributions to a Roth 401 (k), Roth IRA and several brokerage accounts
- Discretionary: $ 658 for a bachelor party weekend, entertainment and other miscellaneous expenses
- To rent: $ 400 for a room in a condo in Canton, Michigan
- Transport: $ 305 for gas, insurance, Lyft rides and a $ 150 car repair
- Food: $ 259 on groceries and restaurant meals
- Student loans: $ 150 paid directly to her mother for her parent PLUS loan
- Assurance: $ 67 for health, dental, vision and life
- Telephone: $ 55
In Columbus, Alston stays with his parents for free and borrows his father’s car to get around. Back in Detroit, he rents a room for $ 400 in Canton, Michigan, in a condo he shares with two other people, and he drives his own car. As of September 2021, he mostly stays in Michigan when not working.
Alston aims to put around half of his salary in savings and over the years he has become a fan of opening accounts to get login bonuses and other introductory offers. He currently has savings in six different banks.
Alston pays 15% of his salary into his company’s Roth 401 (k) plan and an additional $ 50 per month into a Roth IRA. Outside of retirement, he has several brokerage accounts for investing in the stock market, cryptocurrency, and real estate stocks.
Alston graduated from college with $ 26,000 in student loans, which he paid off in a year by cutting living expenses and putting 90% of his income into his balance. Today, he pays $ 150 per month directly to his mother, who took out a Parent PLUS loan for her college education.
As his parents approach their retirement, “I plan to seed a good amount of money in their lives so that I can pay off this student loan and just thank them for all the support they gave me growing up,” says Alston.
Much of Alston’s entertainment is done during layovers between flights. Because he is responsible for his flight path, he tries to bid for cities where he knows someone and can catch up with friends or family.
“What I love about my job is the lifestyle it brings,” he says. Some of her favorite destinations include Vancouver; San-Francisco; Washington DC; Kansas City, Missouri; and Cincinnati, Ohio, where he grew up.
Over the next five years, Alston hopes to move to Washington, DC, where he has always wanted to live. To do so, he will have to decide to move his food business from Columbus to DC. But he enjoys his daily job with his current employer in Detroit and also hopes to develop his racing career. “I do my best every day to provide the best hospitality to everyone on board,” he says.
“The goal is to do both: to have this job in this company, [have] good benefits, a good lifestyle, and also starting my own business and running the business at the same time, ”adds Alston.