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.

With over 50 items on his daily to-do list, Jake Spotswood has his days planned out to a T — a necessity for a 25-year-old juggling a day job in strategy consulting with training for the 2024 Olympic trials.

As a professional pole vaulter, Spotswood goes straight from his 9-to-5 to nightly training sessions at the George Mason University indoor track in Fairfax, Virginia, where he volunteers as an assistant coach in exchange for access to the facilities.

A recent graduate of Virginia Tech with a double master’s in leadership studies and business administration under his belt, Spotswood expects to make around $94,000 this year as a consultant in the D.C. area.

Add to that the sponsorships funding his pole vaulting season and a growing online personal training business, and Spotswood anticipates earning around $11,000 a month.

Jake Spotswood, 25, lives off $11,000 a month in Fairfax, Virginia.

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Spotswood picked up the habit of meticulously planning out his day in high school and has refined it to a point where he knows everything he’ll do the next day, from exactly which audiobook he’ll listen to as he commutes to work to the tasks he’ll be doing at his day job. A habit tracking app keeps his finances, athletics and meal plan in check, too.

“Everything is lined up to where I can check myself throughout the day and say, have I done X, Y Z?” he tells CNBC Make It. “Because at the end of the day, those little things that you do on a daily basis are going to add up to something big in the end.”

Discovering pole vaulting

Growing up in Fairhope, Alabama, Spotswood says he was always a daredevil, spending much of his time cliff jumping and wakeboarding. So when he spotted “kids launching themselves with a pole” at his local high school in seventh grade, his interest was immediately piqued.

“I just went home to my parents and was like, ‘Where can I do pole vaulting?'” he recalls. “It turns out, the high school I was going to had this robust pole vault program, and not many high schools have that. It was this weird thing that just worked out perfectly.”

Spotswood first fell in love with pole vaulting in seventh grade and has since embarked on a 12-year career in the sport.

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Spotswood soon fell in love with sprinting, lifting and throwing himself through the air. He was recruited by the University of Alabama as a decathlete, where he competed in 10 events ranging from the long jump to the 400-meter dash. By his senior year, he had become first-team NCAA All-American, broke multiple school records and helped his team win an SEC Championship.

After graduating from Alabama with a bachelor’s degree in business administration in 2021, Spotswood used two extra years of NCAA eligibility that he got through the Covid-19 pandemic and by redshirting his sophomore year to attend grad school at Virginia Tech. There, he continued to smash school records, win a silver medal at the ACC Championships and earn second-team NCAA All-American.

But a year before hanging up his college spikes, disaster struck on his last rep of long jump training.

“Right when I jump, my heel slips at the takeoff and my spikes catch the track, my foot rolls inward and right when I came off the ground, I knew I had messed up pretty, pretty bad,” he says. “I cracked my fibula in two places in half, broke a couple bones in my foot, ruptured some ligaments, dislocated some tendons.”

By the time Spotswood finished his collegiate decathlete career, he was a two-time NCAA All-American and a three time conference champion alongside his teams at the University of Alabama and Virginia Tech.

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What followed was surgery and a long rehabilitation process that Spotswood knew would demand his full focus if he wanted to return to the track. He was able to compete in his final season, placing fourth at the ACC Championships and helping his team win a conference championship.

“Every rehab session, every time I went to have a meal or I went to sleep, it was reminding myself of my potential and what I want to accomplish,” he says. “It really taught me how to have aggressive patience, which means don’t just sit back and wait for something to happen. Put the work in. Be active, but know that it’s going to take a while to get to where you want to go.”

While Spotswood was able to recover from his injury and end his collegiate career on a high note, it led him to sit down and think hard about his future in athletics. This deliberation brought Spotswood back to what had always been a special event to him, even as a kid — pole vaulting.

Olympic hopeful

After graduating from Virginia Tech, Spotswood decided to focus exclusively on professional pole vaulting and hopes to qualify for the Olympic trials in June.

To qualify for the trials, he must jump 5.55 meters — just over 18 feet. Spotswood says he’s currently in the top 40 in the U.S. for pole vaulting, with the top 24 athletes advancing to the trials. From there, three are chosen to compete in Paris.

“This season, already I set a personal best in the pole vault, continuing to improve,” he says. “And I’m just having fun with it.”

After his 9-to-5, Spotswood heads straight to the George Mason University track, where he volunteers in exchange for access to the facilities.

Enrique Huaiquil

As Spotswood puts all his focus into jumping higher, getting faster and advancing his technique, he knows that his social life doesn’t look anything like that of the average 20-something.

“You just kind of have to accept that you’re going to conduct yourself differently than most people do,” he says. “I go to work, I go straight to the track, don’t miss a day of training and then at night I’m just trying to build my brand… You just have to accept that it’s going to be nonstop.”

Funding it all

Being a professional athlete may seem glamorous, but for many pole vaulters, the sport doesn’t pay the bills.

To support his season, Spotswood drew on a skill he had already been cultivating since the NCAA began allowing college athletes to profit off their name, image and likeness: building his personal brand. 

He now has nearly 100,000 followers across his social media platforms, where he creates content about balancing his career with training and staying fit in your 20s.

“When it’s a non-revenue generating sport, you just have to get creative,” he says. 

When it’s a non-revenue generating sport, you just have to get creative.

Spotswood currently has four sponsorships funding his season, which bring in a combined $3,000 a month. He spends his nights after training editing his social content before heading to bed around 11 p.m.

His social media following has also helped him launch an online personal training business, where he builds custom fitness and nutrition programs for clients who pay $320 a month for one-on-one coaching. The venture has helped him go beyond brand deals and offer his own services to followers.

Spotswood uses the weekends to build out his clients’ weekly plans and takes client calls in the evenings after leaving the track. He hopes to expand the business slowly, working up to 20 clients and eventually hiring help to manage it.

In January, he earned about $1,400 from personal training. He expects his income from the business to fluctuate month-to-month, depending on how many clients he works with.

How he spends his money

Here’s how Spotswood spent his money in January 2024. 

Elham Ataeiazar | CNBC Make It

  • Investments: $3,000 toward two investment accounts
  • Housing and utilities: $700 for rent, including Wi-Fi, heat, water and electricity
  • Insurance: $485 for car and life insurance
  • Transportation: $471 for subway tickets, gas, parking and EZPass, plus a $99 carry-on bag charge
  • Food: $251 for groceries and dining out
  • Discretionary: $184 for gifts, donations, shopping and a haircut
  • Subscriptions and memberships: $108 for Oura Ring, Audible, CapCut and Apple storage subscriptions

As soon as Spotswood receives his consulting paycheck, he transfers half of it to his savings account. From there, he invests $3,000 a month, sending $1,800 to an Acorns account and $1,200 to a Fundrise account. His 401(k) holds around $1,200.

Spotswood lives with three other roommates in a townhouse in Fairfax. His $700 monthly rent includes utilities and Wi-Fi. He’s on his parents’ health insurance until September and remains on his family phone plan. He also pays $475 for car insurance two times a year on a car that his parents gave him when he graduated from high school.

Spotswood is able to keep his monthly food bill low by purchasing cheap groceries like canned tuna and Greek yogurt for lunch, while weeknight dinners are covered by Roots Natural Kitchen, one of his sponsors, which he creates content for in exchange for 30 meals a month.

George Mason University provides a $250 per diem to cover his food expenses while on the road with the track and field team. Training at George Mason’s facilities also means no pricey gym subscription.

Spotswood has managed to remain debt-free by paying off his credit card every couple of days and using athletics to fund his education.

He started out at the University of Alabama with a small scholarship and was soon able to negotiate more support to pay for all of his schooling. When it came time to look for grad schools, getting a full scholarship was front-of-mind, and Virginia Tech offered both a full ride and an excellent track and field program.

“I told myself I’m not going to go to grad school unless I can get it paid for and support myself while I’m there,” he says. “I’ve always thought that was a big deal, to graduate with no debt and basically just have a head start.”

Looking ahead

After 12 years of pole vaulting, 2024 is likely Spotswood’s last dance. But before hanging up his spikes, he wants to see how much he can accomplish and whether he can qualify for the Olympic trials. 

He plans to continue building his health and fitness brand, using his social media to show that it’s possible to pursue your career goals and stay healthy.

Spotswood says his injury and lengthy recovery forced him to reconsider his future in athletics.

Enrique Huaiquil

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