Millennial Money

How a 33-year-old pilot earning $110,000 in Florida is paying off $32,000 in student loans while saving to buy a house

How a 33-year-old airline pilot making $110,000 in Florida spends his money
How a 33-year-old airline pilot making $110,000 in Florida spends his money

This story is part of CNBC Make It's Millennial Money series, which profiles people across the U.S. and details how they earn, spend and save their money.

Hemant Saria didn't grow up with dreams of flying planes. The 33-year-old pilot, who grew up in Nepal, only learned to fly so he could save enough to buy a motorcycle. "The fastest way to make that much money was to become a pilot," he tells CNBC Make It.

Yet once he started learning, he fell in love with flying.

Twelve years later, Saria earns around $110,000 a year as a first officer flying Boeing 747 cargo freighter airplanes. He lives with his fiancee in Tampa, Fla., but his job takes him all over the world.

Hemant Saria in Tampa, Florida.
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While he earns a comfortable salary, and expects to make even more in the future, money isn't Saria's only priority. "As a pilot, I would say I would prefer to have more time than money," he explains. "As an individual, as a couple, there's only so much money you need to have a comfortable life."

For Saria, it's all about "finding the good balance."

What he earns

Saria flies 15 to 16 consecutive days per month, then has two weeks off. He's paid $110 per hour, plus more for overtime, so his monthly income fluctuates depending on how many hours he's in the air. He's guaranteed 64 hours per month but can clock over 100 during busy periods.

His guaranteed base salary is $85,000 a year, plus an additional $13,000 in overtime. He also receives between $10,000 and $12,000 to cover daily expenses while he's flying.

Saria's company offers plenty of opportunity for growth: He expects his base salary to increase 10% to 15% annually over the next five years, and once he becomes a captain his earnings will almost double. "You can expect to make at least $200,000 to $250,000 a year," he says.

He's been with his current company since June 2018 but started his career in Nepal, where he earned $500 per month flying in the mountains. "It's one of the highest-paid jobs in Nepal," he says.

There's only so much money you need to have a comfortable life.
Hemant Saria

In 2013, he moved to the U.S., where he flew for a regional airline for about 18 months before taking a higher-paying job in Taiwan. Although he earned an annual salary of $25,000 in the U.S., which was the industry standard at the time for working 75 hours per month, it worked out to much less than he made in Nepal since the cost of living in the U.S. is so much higher. At times, Saria struggled to make ends meet.

He stayed in Taiwan for three years before coming back to the U.S., where he started working for his current company. Although he's earning roughly the same amount now as he did in Taiwan, his schedule is much more flexible. There, he flew 22 consecutive days each month, with only eight days off, while he now gets a full two weeks off in between 15 to 16 days of flying.

Now he has time for hobbies, such as gardening and baking bread, and gets to see more of his fiancee. "We have more time to enjoy each other's company, and we can have a normal life with this schedule," he says.

What he spends

Although Saria's income is irregular, he and his fiancee base their monthly budget on a set amount. Each month, they expect to have $5,000 to work with after salary deductions for taxes, health insurance and retirement savings, even if he actually brings in more.

Here's a look at exactly where he allocates that money each month.

Food: $800

Saria eats out frequently while traveling for work, but he and his fiancee love to cook at home as much as possible when he's in town — he even bakes his own bread. In total, he spends between $300 to $400 on dining out and another $500 on groceries. That amount covers meals for both Saria himself and his fiancee when he's home.

Rent: $750

Saria and his fiancee share a two-bedroom townhouse in an apartment complex, which costs a total of $1,082. Saria covers roughly 70% of the rent, while his fiancee pays the rest. She's currently a full-time student working toward her master's in business administration.

In general, however, the couple isn't strict about how they split the bills. They consider all their money shared. "Her money is my money, my money is her money," he says.

The rent includes water, garbage removal, landscaping and other maintenance. The complex also offers access to a gym, swimming pool and laundry room.

Transportation: $650

Saria's car is paid off, but he pays $450 toward his motorcycle, which should be paid off in a couple of months. He spends another $150 on gas and maintenance for the two vehicles.

He doesn't take cabs often but spends about $50 on them per month.

Saria and his fiancee ride on his motorcycle.
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Voluntary parental support: $500

Each month, Saria sends $500 to his parents in Nepal. "They're self-sufficient, but it's the gesture," he says.

It's a cultural expectation. "Growing up in Asia, it's very common for kids to take care of their parents when they get old," he explains. "It's not necessarily that you take care of them by sending money — the parents expect you to be there and physically help them out through their old age. But the least I could do right now is send them money."

Insurance: $430

Saria's health, dental, vision and life insurance are all deducted from his paychecks. Health, dental and vision costs $200 per month and life is another $10.

His car insurance runs $170 a month, and motorcycle insurance costs $40 per month. He pays his $120 renters insurance annually, which averages out to $10 per month.

Student loans: $350

Saria pays $350 for his student loans. He has about $32,000 total left to go.

The loan is for his bachelor's degree from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, which he earned online while working full-time in Taiwan. "A bachelor's degree is a requirement for a lot of airlines in the United States, so I thought that would help me down the road," he says.

Saria earned his bachelor's degree from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.
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Everything else:

  • Entertainment: $250 (includes salsa lessons with his fiancee, movie tickets and other social activities)
  • Utilities: $130 (includes electricity and internet)
  • Laundry: $40
  • Phone: $20 (prepaid Mint Mobile; $240 for the year for two people)
  • Amazon Prime student: $5 per month (paid annually)

What he saves

Saria puts about $2,727 into savings each month between short-term savings and long-term retirement accounts. He aims to save at least $1,000 in a traditional savings account. Some months, it drops closer to $500, but others he's able to sock away $1,500. So far, he's saved $10,000.

He plans to put the money toward a down payment on a home, but also aims to put enough into the account to have a portion left over for emergencies.

Saria's retirement savings are automated: 12% of his monthly income goes into his 401(k), and 5% goes into a Roth IRA. The exact amount fluctuates, depending on how many hours he flies per month, but based on an average of 87 hours, that's $1,148 into his 401(k) and $479 into his Roth IRA. In total, he has about $11,000 saved. His company also offers a 401(k) match up to 5%.

Saving for the future is a top priority: "I try to max out my 401(k) each year," he says.

Saria also buys stocks through an E-Trade account. The amount he invests fluctuates depending on how much time he's able to dedicate to following the market and making informed decisions, but it's typically about $100 a month. He particularly enjoys futures trading because it "allows you to make a good amount of money in a very short period of time," he says.

He and his fiancee are aiming to hit several financial goals in the next few years, including saving up to purchase a home in Florida and get married closer to family in Europe. By 40, Saria also hopes to have at least $200,000 in savings, in addition to being completely debt-free — mortgage included.

Investing in watches

In addition to his stock-market investments, Saria also has a watch collection, which includes two Rolexes, worth $25,000 to $30,000.

He first got into watches after learning about them from his colleagues in Taiwan. Now, he buys them out of a personal interest, not necessarily because they'll appreciate in value. "I bought them because I like them. I'm not trying to show off," he says. "A lot of people don't even recognize those watches when you're wearing them."

Saria's watch collection.
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Saria has no plans to sell his collection. "Eventually, I'll probably give it away to my niece, nephew or if we have kids down the road," he says.

He wants to add just one more watch to his collection. "That's the deal I made with my fiancee: no more than eight watches," he says.

Flying the world for free

Saria's job takes him to places all over the world, including Mt. Everest, Japan, Hong Kong, Alaska and the Middle East.

When he's at work, there's no set schedule. One of his "usual" routes has him starting in Europe, flying over to India for a few hours and ending the night in Hong Kong. Once he leaves the U.S., he might not return for 15 days.

Saria also gets to travel for free on his own time as well. "One of the perks of being a pilot is that we're able to jump-seat on any American registered airline," he says. Domestically, it's completely free, although there might be a tax for international flights. Last year, he visited his parents in Nepal without paying a dime for the flight.

What the experts say

CNBC Make It asked Fred Egler, a certified financial planner at Betterment, to comment on where Saria is doing well and how he could improve. Here are his thoughts.

Fred Egler is a certified financial planner at Betterment.
Source: Betterment

He's doing a great job saving

Not only does Saria make saving for the future a priority, but he's doing a good job diversifying those savings. He's smart to have a mix of both pre-tax and post-tax retirement savings because he may be in a lower tax bracket in the future, Egler says.

While it's great that he's saving for the future and working toward buying a home, he should also make sure he's setting aside money in an emergency fund, which Egler calls "the stepping stone to all of your other financial goals."

In Saria's case, he recommends continuing to contribute $1,000 to his savings each month until he has a comfortable cushion, then diverting that cash to other goals, such as saving for a down payment or a wedding.

He should consider the 10% rule

In addition to his watch collection, Saria also owns about $8,000 worth of gold bars. While these aren't necessarily bad investments, Egler points out that they won't earn guaranteed returns either. "From 1802 to 2013, gold has an annual real return, factoring in inflation, of just 0.6% per year," he says.

Hemant Saria at work.
Source: Hemant Saria

Saria should make sure he doesn't let these assets become more than 10% of his net worth. That includes the money he spends on futures trading as well, which can be risky. For the watches in particular, "You don't want to get too out of control there because that's an asset that might be kind of fun to have, but if you ever need that money, it's going to be tough to sell," Egler says. "It's not as liquid."

He's smart to have clearly-defined goals

Saria's financial goals are straightforward: He wants to pay off debt, buy a home and get married. And by clearly defining those goals, he's already on the right track to determine how to achieve them, Egler says.

"Some people just want to have a boatload of money after 20 or 30 years, but that makes it a little more difficult to figure out what you should be saving for, how much risk you should be taking," Egler says.

He should figure out how to allocate his savings

Because Saria already knows what he wants to achieve with his money, the next step is determining how much to dedicate to each. "You want to be able to save for them all, but we want to make sure that the amounts are appropriate," Egler says.

Hemant Saria and his fiancee.
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To start, "it would be useful to figure out which of those goals is most important," as well as decide on a target amount for each one, Egler says. From there, Saria can begin dividing up his monthly savings accordingly. His

It would also be helpful for him to create separate accounts for each goal, Egler suggests: "You don't want to get disorganized and put it all in one account."

Because Saria has such lofty goals, including buying and paying off a home by 40, he might want to check in with a professional financial advisor to discuss if they're actually attainable, and if so, how to get there, Egler says. Creating a plan now will show him exactly what he needs to do.

Editor's Note: For clarity, all numbers are rounded to the nearest dollar.

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