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.
In late 2018, Brian Jung, then 21, decided to drop out of college to pursue entrepreneurship full-time. His South Korean immigrant parents were taken aback: Jung had some part-time e-commerce side hustles that earned about $200 a day, but they didn’t offer the long-term financial security of a college degree.
Jung also had a YouTube channel, which was more of a hobby than a full-fledged business. But he was confident in his decision: “I had to tell my parents, ‘I know you’ve worked really hard and I know how scary this is going to be, but I’m not going to finish school,'” Jung tells CNBC Make It.
He was determined to make things work, despite the uncertainty. And he did.
Now 25, Jung has pivoted to YouTube full-time. He earned around $3.7 million in the last year, largely from his personal finance-focused channel, which has more than 1 million subscribers.
Looking back, he says the decision to drop out of college to become an entrepreneur was a “pivotal moment” in his life: It allowed him to put more time into the channel and grow it into a business.
How Jung spends his money
Here’s how Jung budgeted his money in March 2022.
- Investments: $50,000
- Rent: $3,745
- Discretionary: $3,350 for shopping, gifts, donations and laundry
- Food: $2,534, with $1,645 spent on meals at restaurants
- Support for his parents: $2,478
- Subscriptions: $223 spent on gym memberships, Disney+
- Renters insurance: $176
- Gas: $92
While the bulk of his earnings go toward operating costs and taxes for the business, Jung puts roughly $50,000 into various investments each month, including cryptocurrencies, NFTs, collectible items and angel investor ventures.
Jung says his crypto assets are long-term investments, and that he doesn’t plan to change his investing strategy despite the recent downturn in crypto markets. He does say he wants to continue diversifying his portfolio by investing in more cash-producing businesses.
Aside from investments, Jung pays himself $400,000 a year, or about $33,000 per month, to cover living expenses, taxes and gifts.
Jung’s biggest living expense is a three-bedroom apartment in Rockville, Maryland, which doubles as his office space. His business covers the utility expenses. He also put a $145,000 down payment on a home worth $1.8 million, which he plans to move into in 2023. It’s a new development that’s currently being built.
Jung drives an Audi RS7, which he bought with his YouTube revenue. He also owns a 2019 Toyota Tacoma, which he recently gave to his parents. He still covers the $600 monthly payments for the truck, as well as his parents’ $1,878 monthly mortgage payments.
Recently, Jung purchased a 2021 Lamborghini Huracan for $290,000. He put $100,000 down on the car and will finance the rest.
In addition to splurging on meals out, Jung gets glass bottles of premium spring water delivered for $249 per month. It’s worth it, he says: “It makes me feel better, lets me feel more clear in my head.”
Jung has memberships at a gym and a rock-climbing facility. Beyond that, most of his subscriptions — including access to Netflix, Spotify and Amazon Prime — are covered by perks from his 14 credit cards.
Growing up when money was tight
Raised in Silver Spring, Maryland, Jung grew up in a low-income household. His mother cut hair in a salon and his father worked long hours as a contractor installing hardwood floors. Sometimes they struggled to make ends meet.
Mottos about saving money were the norm: “Don’t spend a lot. Don’t eat out that much. Don’t drive too fast or you’ll use up more gas. Maximize every coupon possible, every discount possible — that’s what I grew up with,” says Jung.
Jung says he didn’t feel deprived. He had friends, enjoyed fishing with his father on weekends and was into gaming and cars. But as one of the few Korean-Americans at his middle school, he also felt like he didn’t fit in. He became a self-described “troublemaker,” regularly disrupting class and getting into fights.
In 10th grade, Jung got kicked out of school. He joined an educational program that counseled that counseled misbehaving students — a turning point in his life. “I used to have this victim mentality,” he says. “I used to complain all the time.” But when he saw that version of himself in other students in the program, he decided the path he was on was a dead-end.
“I told myself, ‘I’m not going to live my life this way,'” Jung says.
He started to focus on self-improvement: working harder, working out and doing better in school. After six months, he had a 4.0 GPA and was allowed to return to his high school, where he excelled at rugby.
Finding success on YouTube
Jung started posted videos to YouTube in 2013. As a teenager, he made content about video games and fishing. He started his channel about personal finance and entrepreneurship during college in 2018.
That same year, he earned a general studies associate’s degree at Montgomery College, a prerequisite for a career in law enforcement. From there, the plan was to transfer to the University of Maryland for a bachelor’s degree in criminology.
Instead, Jung decided to pursue his businesses full-time.
“In the beginning, YouTube did not pay me anything. But I realized the downfalls of [the e-commerce] businesses and saw the advantages of YouTube,” he says. “I didn’t have to rely on clients. I didn’t have to work with other people. I didn’t have to scale and buy an office and get hundreds of employees.”
By December 2019, Jung was fully focused on YouTube. His most successful videos were credit card reviews. At that point, the channel had about 6,000 subscribers and was making $200 to $300 a day, he says.
In 2021, amid the retail investor craze and cryptocurrency’s bull run, the channel really took off. “It took me years to get my first 100,000 subscribers, but in less than one year I gained 900,000 subscribers,” Jung says.
Between affiliate marketing, Patreon subscribers, ads and sponsorships, Jung’s business brings in just over $300,000 per month. He now has four full-time employees helping him produce videos.
Combined with a recently purchased stake in a Japanese barbecue restaurant that brings in another $5,500 per month, Jung made almost $3.7 million last year.
Jung says he hopes to keep growing the number of subscribers to his YouTube channel, pursue investment opportunities and build up more wealth to ensure his financial independence.