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Brother Donte' Verrill-Huffman (Spring 2015) Sits Down With Wall Street Journal To Detail His Ch

Donte’ Verrill-Huffman, who works at a computer-training institute, might have made more money elsewhere but wanted to be part of his home town’s development. Verrill-Huffman poses for a portrait in his bedroom in front of the Panamanian flag hanging in his room. NICK HAGEN FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

By, Francesca Fontana

Wall Street Journal

Nov. 28, 2019 8:00 am ET

How far does a $50K salary go when you’re starting out? It depends a lot on where you live.

Recent graduates in entry-level jobs will make an average of $51,347 annually in 2019, according to recruiting firm Korn Ferry. In this series, millennial workers tell The Wall Street Journal about what it’s like to live on roughly $50,000 a year in their city. From Oklahoma City to Detroit, they share their living expenses, whether they’re able to save, and what they do for fun.

Here is the story of Donte’ Verrill-Huffman, edited and condensed from a recent interview.

Donte’ Verrill-Huffman

Age: Turns 24 on Sunday

Salary: $45,000

Occupation: Admissions manager at computer-training institute Grand Circus

Rent: $450 including utilities for a bedroom in a 3-bedroom house

What brought you to Detroit?

I’m originally from Detroit. I grew up here before I went away for college at Morehouse College in Atlanta. After graduation, I worked for the school for a year and then decided I wanted to come home and be a part of Detroit’s growth and development.

Mr. Verrill-Huffman went to college in Atlanta but has returned to Detroit, where the cost of living is lower. PHOTO:NICK HAGEN FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

What neighborhood do you live in?

I live about 12 minutes from downtown, where I work.

My neighborhood is on the eastern side of the city, only about 10 minutes from where I grew up. There are some parks nearby but it’s very residential. I live with my best friend from college in the house his grandmother used to live in, so we know a fair amount of people on the block and in the community.

Where do you work?

I work at Grand Circus, a coding boot camp and co-working space. Most of our students are adults who already had careers or experience in some other industry, and who want to use coding to transition into a more technical role at their current company or switch industries altogether. We help everybody from former automotive workers to graphic designers.

Mr. Verrill-Huffman in his bedroom with his dog Bailey. He estimates he spends around $50 to $75 a month on food and grooming for Bailey. PHOTO: NICK HAGEN FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Was it hard to find a job in Detroit?

It was relatively difficult to find a job after graduation. I became a part of an entrepreneurial fellowship called Venture for America that helps recent graduates find job placement.

I know from living in Atlanta and living in New York for a few months in 2018 that Detroit has a much lower cost of living, so even though I might have made more working at a startup in those two cities, my general lifestyle is more balanced now because the cost of living in Detroit is much lower.

I could see how going with a larger corporation like the Quicken Loans Family of Companies instead of a startup could have been different, but I chose to go this route.

How do you get to work?

I drive, and it takes me about 15 to 20 minutes to get to work. The car payment, insurance and maintenance all together cost around $300 to $325 a month. Growing up here, I’ve known it’s hard to get around without a car. If you choose to take public transportation it can provide more obstacles.

Car payments for his 2016 Ford Fusion plus insurance and maintenance costs Mr. Verrill-Huffman around $300 to $325 a month. PHOTO: NICK HAGEN FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

What are your typical Friday night or weekend plans?

I’ve been trying to reconnect with the local entrepreneur scene by going to events on the weekend. I’ve started going to Startup Detroit happy-hour events, where I’ve made some amazing connections. Through connecting with some people, I got in touch with Ken Porter, a member of the Campaign for Black Male Achievement, who invited me to a CBMA event.

Mr. Verrill-Huffman hangs out with his friend Devon Malloy, another Venture for America fellow, at an Invest Detroit event. PHOTO: NICK HAGEN FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

I also decided to join a local basketball league, so I do that on Sundays. It was $50 for 10 weeks. We play 10 games, so it’s a reasonable price.

I try to go to Eastern Market as much as possible to get fresh produce, especially in the summertime. I like to go to neighborhoods in downtown like Greektown. There are good bars like the Monarch Club. I try to not overspend if I can, so I usually limit going out to eat or hang out to two or four times a week. I look for a happy hour or try to find a matinee or free events.

Are you able to save?

My salary does allow me to save. I was out of work for a few months before starting my current job, so most of what I’ve been saving has gone toward paying down any debts, rebuilding my savings, and planning for events like the holiday season coming up. But I have a dedicated plan for 2020, factoring in how much I want to save. For me, it’s about being more strategic and developing more discipline.

I have a savings account that I’ve had for most of my life. But if I’m saving for something specific and will want to access that money in the immediate future, I use other digital accounts like my CashApp card or PayPal account to put money somewhere secure that will allow me to access it without fees. I want to start my own community-oriented business in the next few years, so that’s something I’ll be saving for too.

My job offers a 401(k), but because we’re a startup, the company doesn’t match any percentage of it yet, so I’ve opted out of that plan for now.

Do you have student loans?

I have under $20,000 in student loans. When I was out of work I deferred my loans until the end of this year, so I’m factoring that into my 2020 expenses. I’ve been paying on the interest, but not on the loan amount.

Mr. Verrill-Huffman gives his dog Bailey a treat. PHOTO: NICK HAGEN FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Since you graduated, what is the most money you’ve spent on something?

I purchased a pre-owned 2016 Ford Fusion earlier this year, but I’m financing it. I pay just under $250 a month. Other than that, I bought myself a new iPad because I wanted to draw and design logos in my free time and I didn’t have the money to buy an actual MacBook. I spent around $1100 on the iPad, keyboard, case, the Apple Pencil. That was an investment for myself.

Do you plan on staying in Detroit?

For the foreseeable future. I would love to purchase property in Detroit so that even if I don’t reside there the majority of the year, I’m still part of the community.

If you could live anywhere else in the U.S., where would you live?

I really liked Atlanta when I was there. The weather was nice, there’s still that southern hospitality. There is so much culture and so many different types of people.

Write to Francesca Fontana at

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