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.
When Aspeyn Langhals went off to college to study physical therapy, she knew she wanted to help sick or injured patients get back on their feet.
Soon she came across a YouTube video on canine rehabilitation. "I pretty quickly realized I wanted to switch gears and focus on animals, because I love animals so much," she tells CNBC Make It.
Langhals, now 22, switched to veterinary technical school, and is currently enrolled at the Canine Rehab Institute, where she is training to become certified as a canine rehabilitation nurse. She plans to finish her coursework in January 2023.
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Over the past two years or so, she's worked full-time as a canine rehabilitation assistant, helping geriatric and post-op surgical patients, as well as those suffering from chronic pain get back on their, well, paws.
For an animal lover like Langhals, the job is a viral pet video come to life, complete with an underwater treadmill the practice uses to help the dogs build strength while minimizing stress to their joints. Other treatments include laser and shockwave therapy, as well as therapeutic massages.
Thus far, it's been a rewarding, but not particularly lucrative, career path. Langhals earns a pre-tax salary of $32,000, which boils down to roughly $2,200 per month in take-home pay.
When she was younger, that number may have scared Langhals, who spent her childhood moving around with her father — a communications officer in the Air Force — after her parents split when she was 9. Both of her single parents, she said, struggled intermittently with debt, a fate she didn't want to repeat.
"I had this paralyzing fear of being in debt from a ridiculously young age," she says. "I think at the age of 12, I was so focused on like, 'Oh, I have to go to college, I have to get into a really good school and I have to make all this money, so that I'm not going to be miserable or I'm not going to drown myself in debt or not be able to afford to do things.'"
Because her father's GI bill covered the cost of technical school, she was able to enter adulthood without the burden of student loan debt. So far, despite living on an early-career salary, Langhals has been able to stay mostly debt-free — the only exception being her monthly car payment.
"I definitely have learned that you can make it work no matter where you are in life. You always have to look on the bright side and take what you have and utilize it to the best of your ability," she says. "And I definitely recognize that I am very privileged and fortunate to be able to live the lifestyle that I do."
How she spends her money
Here's how Langhals budgeted her money in August 2022.
- Colorado trip: $1,213 on a trip she had to take for a certification program, which included school expenses, air travel and food
- Housing and utilities: $769 for rent ($710) and utilities ($59)
- Food: $492 on groceries, meals out and coffee runs
- Transportation: $285 on her car payment and gasoline
- Discretionary: $271 on shopping and cat food
- Insurance: $220 on health, dental, vision, car and short-term disability coverage
- Subscriptions and memberships: $175 for memberships to a gym and a pottery studio, as well as subscriptions to Spotify, Audible and Adobe Photoshop
Langhals pays $769 a month, including her Wi-Fi and electricity bills, to rent a 275-square-foot Cincinnati apartment she shares with her cat, Daniel. "My favorite thing about living in a studio is that it's inevitably cozy," she says. "It can't not be cozy. ... You're just surrounded by the things that you love."
Langhals works three 12-hour shifts per week, giving her four days to enjoy her hobbies and spend time with friends and family. On a typical day off, Langhals explores her artistic side, drawing digital art or making pottery. In 2019, she began selling her art and pottery as a side hustle and has netted $500 so far.
"I really just started those side hustles because they're fun. It was more of a hobby than anything else," she says. "Pretty quickly I realized, 'OK, I can make like a million bowls, but what am I really going to do with a million bowls?'"
She makes room in her budget to go out to dinner and get caffeinated. In August, she spent $86 on coffee — in line with what she usually budgets for. That "might be a lot for some people, but for me it's reasonable," she says.
Langhals has a pretty good idea of what's reasonable for her. Each time she receives a bi-monthly paycheck, she deposits $250 into her checking account, which acts as an "allowance" for day-to-day expenses such as groceries, gas, dining out and coffee. She puts these expenses on a single credit card, which she pays off in full every month.
The remainder goes into an account she uses to pay regular bills, such as rent, utilities and insurance.
Because the health insurance offered through her workplace is expensive, Langhals has stayed on her father's plan and reimburses him each month. He does, however still cover her phone bill, and would be willing to help out if Langhals fell into a "sticky" financial situation, she says.
"I feel very fortunate to have that backup if I need it," she says.
Investing in her career, but not in a portfolio … yet
Langhals shifts whatever she doesn't spend at the end of the month into a savings account, which recently took a bit of a hit.
In August, she had to travel to Colorado to complete coursework at the Canine Rehab Institute. The flight and hotel stay cost her more than $900.
She hoped to get rides from her brother who lives nearby, but when she arrived, she discovered his car had recently been stolen. She ended up spending $116 on Uber rides. She also had to run to Target to buy some clothes when she realized some of the stuff she'd packed wouldn't work.
Before the trip, Langhals had just over $2,000 in cash socked away. After her foreseen and unforeseen travel expenses, she returned with about $1,050.
All told, schooling at the Canine Rehabilitation Institute costs about $8,000. Langhals' employer is paying for half on the condition that she remains under contract for the next two years. She's covering the rest out of pocket.
Langhals doesn't mind spending on a certification that would increase her pay, put her in line for promotions and qualify her for more job opportunities in the future. After she finishes her certification, she says, she expects to earn an annual salary of $40,000 to $44,000.
"Education as a whole is always going to be an investment. So it definitely dipped into my savings a little bit, but I think it was worth it for what I'm going to gain out of it," she says.
For now though, other than tuition and stashing some cash away for a "rainy day," Langhals doesn't invest for the future in the form of a brokerage or retirement account. Her reasoning: She can't afford it.
"I don't feel like I make enough money currently to support my current lifestyle and enjoying my life as it is right now while also saving for the future," she says.
Langhals intends to start investing for her retirement when she's bringing in a little more money. "But for now, I'm just taking it day by day, enjoying what I've got while I've got it, while not overspending by any means."
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