Millennial Money

How a 29-year-old built a career and 2 side hustles that earn her $158,000 a year

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How a 29-year-old making $158,000/year in Grand Rapids, MI spends her money

This story is part of CNBC Make It's Millennial Money series, which details how people around the world earn, spend and save their money.

Destiny Adams doesn't believe in "off" days. 

The 29-year-old entrepreneur's schedule is always jam-packed, from producing YouTube videos in the mornings to taking inventory for her salon in Grand Rapids, Michigan, in the afternoons. At 6 p.m., she begins her shift as a child welfare specialist for the state of Michigan, working until 2:30 a.m five days a week. 

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It's a lot to manage, but Adams revels in the hustle. As of December 2020, Adams had three main income streams: the full-time job with the state, which pays around $60,000, plus benefits; the Destite Hair Collection, her small business selling wigs and hair extensions and running a salon, which netted her $86,000 in 2020; and a YouTube business consulting channel, which brought in an additional $12,000.

Destiny Adams, 29, hopes to grow her YouTube consulting business.
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"You should have multiple streams of income because it helps you live the life that you want to live," Adams says. "If something happens with my state of Michigan employment, I also have the salon. If something happens with the salon, then I have my YouTube income. And if something happens with my YouTube income, then I have my personal brand."

Her side hustles provide the financial peace of mind she didn't have growing up. Adams' father was killed when she was less than a year old, and her mother, Wilhelmina Phillips, worked a graveyard shift at a factory while raising three kids on her own. 

The family lived in income-based housing in Grand Rapids, and while her mother did her best to provide for her children, Adams says she didn't have a financial role model growing up. Instead, she saw her grandmother struggle in retirement without enough savings to live on and her mother didn't have an investment account at all. Though money wasn't discussed in her household, Adams didn't want to struggle the same way.

Destiny Adams joined the National Guard in 2012.
Courtesy of Destiny Adams

It wasn't until she joined the Michigan National Guard in 2012 that Adams learned about budgeting, saving and investing for retirement. She stresses that by being open to new opportunities and putting in a lot of hard work, it's possible to build a different life.

"Growing up in low-income housing, being in a single-parent household — you can overcome all of that," she says. "I was still able to go to college, start my businesses [and] become successful."

Finding fulfillment 

Adams decided to launch her hair brand because she saw the opportunity to meet a need in Grand Rapids. While attending Grand Valley State University from 2009 to 2013, she routinely traveled 150 miles each way to Detroit to get her hair done and buy wigs and hair extensions that weren't available locally. Soon, she realized that there was money to be made in bringing the Detroit salon experience and products closer to home. 

She began sourcing hair and selling wigs and extensions online in 2016. In the beginning, Adams hand-delivered the products to her clients. But by 2018, she made enough in sales to open a salon that doubles as a physical storefront for the wigs and extensions. Adams leases the space for $685 per month, and two hair stylists pay her a flat fee to rent out a chair to cut and style hair.

Destiny Adams and her mother, Wilhelmina Phillips, at her college graduation.
Courtesy of Destiny Adams

However, as of January 2021, Adams announced that she is transferring the salon lease to someone else and rebranding her hair line. She will still sell wigs and extensions online.

"I remember in 2017, for New Year's Eve, I was in my car pretty much all day just delivering hair," she says. "I told myself if I met a certain income ... OK, I'm going to open up a storefront."

Starting Destite Hair Collection inspired even more money-making ideas for Adams. Soon after, she launched an eponymous YouTube channel which currently has around 10,000 subscribers and offers business and branding consultations to other fledgling entrepreneurs. Her popular videos include how to write a business plan, how to build credit and how to brand a business. She also sells branded t-shirts.

Destiny Adams operates an eponymous YouTube channel that gives business advice to other entrepreneurs.
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"Working a 9-to-5 , it really restricts your income," she says. But as an entrepreneur, there is always the possibility of earning more money if you increase your output. "I like having that control."

Her job with the state provides her stability, but Adams wants to grow her side hustles. She is particularly passionate about teaching others how to build their own businesses and already offers free lessons to other Black women in her community.

"I had a business mentor who would always say, 'Once you find the thing that you will do for free, then that's the thing that you're going to end up doing for a lifetime,'" she says. "I feel so fulfilled" helping others with their businesses.

How she budgets her money

Here's a look at how Adams spends her money as of December 2020.

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  • Discretionary: $1,715 (includes entertainment, beauty, shopping and other miscellaneous expenses)
  • Savings and investments: $1,500 (includes liquid savings and 401(k) contributions)
  • Rent: $1,340 (for a two-bedroom apartment)
  • Food: $900 (includes $150 for groceries and $750 for eating out)
  • Insurance: $295 (includes health, dental and car insurance)
  • Gas: $235
  • Utilities: $140 (includes heat, electricity and Wi-Fi)
  • Subscriptions: $83 (includes $20 for a car wash service, $30 for the gym, $19 for Hulu and $14 for grocery delivery)
  • Phone: $75

Adams rents a two-bedroom apartment in Grand Rapids but plans to buy a house nearby soon with a VA loan. While she still has around $44,000 in student loans from undergrad — and made monthly payments before her loans were put on pause because of the coronavirus — one of the benefits of joining the army is that it also pays a percentage of her debt through its Student Loan Repayment Program.

In a few years, she hopes to qualify for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program through her state job to pay off the remainder of her debt.

Though Adams isn't much of a shopper, there is one item she allows herself to splurge on: Designer handbags. Specifically, Louis Vuitton (though she also owns bags from Gucci, Salvatore Ferragamo, Tory Burch and Aldo). She budgets for one to two new additions to her collection each year, spending $4,300 total in 2020. But even this one splurge is strategic. "You can keep it for years," she says. "And they also have a good resale value."

Destiny Adams with her mother and siblings.
Courtesy of Destiny Adams

Adams bought a used 2011 Mercedes-Benz E-Class in 2015 for $21,000 and paid it off in 2019. Though she has dreams of owning a Tesla, she admits it's nice not to have to worry about a car payment each month.

Before the coronavirus pandemic started, Adams traveled often, taking at least one international trip a year, including to China, Dubai and Mexico, among other locales. While she still took some domestic business trips in 2020, most of the money she would have normally spent on travel — around $1,000 per month — went toward discretionary expenses, like gifts and donations, and into her savings account. She currently has around $25,000 saved.

"I didn't get the opportunity to travel while growing up, so I feel like I'm playing catch-up on seeing different places," she says. "I really like to see how other cultures operate."

That said, Grand Rapids will always be home. In the next few years, Adams hopes to settle down in the area and focus on building up her savings and retirement accounts. One day, she hopes to make enough from her side hustles to be able to quit her state job and be an entrepreneur full-time.

"I can see myself doing the things I'm doing now for the rest of my life," she says. "It doesn't feel like work to me."

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