...there was just Mike and me. We met in college in the early 80's and immediately became good friends. We had noticed each other on campus several times, and we both lived in the dorms. One day when I was in the dining commons talking to a mutual friend, Mike jumped in the middle of our conversation and said to my friend, "Do you know this girl? I need to meet her!" My friend gave me a quizzical look and said, "Do you want to meet this guy?? Are you sure?" Of course I said yes, and we ended up talking for hours. I had this feeling that we were going to be friends forever. I had no idea we would actually get married, but I knew he was someone very special.
Four years later, after developing a strong friendship that had seen us both through other relationships, graduation, moving out of state, and all the other interesting kinds of changes people go through in their early 20's, we decided to tie the knot on Valentine's Day of 1987. I was 23 and he was 25. I was in the middle of graduate school for music as a piano major, and he had finished his degree in construction engineering management. I had a grand total of $1000 in the bank, and he had $25,000 in debt, half in a car loan and half in student loans.
Our first place was the cheapest ugliest place around, but it was near the university, and we had each other so we didn't care. It was the lower level of a one and a half story place. It was near the river, so the lower level was originally designed with flooding in mind. In other words, the lower level wasn't originally designed to be lived in. The ceiling was at about 6'6", which I could easily reach without even straightening my arm. It had the ugliest tan linoleum floor that I've ever seen, and the bathroom was so small that the toilet was set diagonally behind the door. Fortunately, we were both skinny because I don't think anyone of above average weight could have squeezed back there. There was a crazy old lady named Mary living above us; she talked to herself constantly and never spoke a word to us.
Mike was between jobs when we got married. When we returned from our honeymoon on the East Coast (where his family threw us a second wedding reception that was a big Italian party), he started a job as a carpenter for $12/hour. I was teaching piano lessons, which only earned about $500/month. Our rent was $325/month. Between paying off our debt and paying our living expenses, there wasn't nothing left over at the end of the month.
A little over a year into our marriage, we found out Mike Jr was on the way. This was terrifying, as it dawned on us that we were real adults with no money and a baby on the way. There's nothing like finding out you're going to have a baby to make you get real focused as you realign your priorities. As we looked around our little shack, we realized there was no way we would want to raise a child there. We had no money, so we got creative. With Mike's construction skills, we knew that if we could find the right loan, we could buy something really cheap that was trashed and fix it up. Mike told me to start looking for a fixer upper that was standing up straight and no more than $50k. There were a few houses in that price range, but the walls were leaning all over the place, and they were definitely going to be money pits. Then one day I was looking in the newspaper, and I saw an ad for a home for sale by owner that was $50k in a great neighborhood. I jumped in the car and went out to find it. Sure enough, it was a complete mess, but it was standing up straight, so I called Mike and said, "I found it! A house for $50k that's a complete mess but standing up straight!" This house was beyond a mess; the siding was all coming off (most of the nails were lying on the ground all around the house), the roof was leaking, the floor was rotted out, and all the neighbors told us things like, "You can't possibly fix that house! You need to drop a bomb on it and start over!!" Perfect.
We decided to meet the owners, which was interesting to say the least. They hadn't lived in the house for years, and they had moved out into the sticks into a place that resembled the movie "Deliverance". Everything in their house was coated with an inch of dust, and when they offered us some food, it was all I could do not to run out of the house screaming. The house we wanted to buy had been in their family for years, and because we knew it was going to take a minute to figure out a loan strategy, we played the pregnant wife card, which wasn't difficult, as I was about 8 months pregnant at the time. They took pity on us and agreed to sell us the house if we could get some financing together.
We found a loan available at the time for first time buyers that would lend us both the cost of buying the house and the cost of fixing it up with only a small down payment (which we borrowed from my parents), so we borrowed $110,000 from the bank; $50k to buy the house and $60k to fix it up.
The day before Mike Jr was born, we closed on our first house, and the second he was born, Mike was off to get started on the house.
Mike hired a few people to help him strip the whole house down to the studs, and he replaced everything in it - the plumbing, electrical, flooring, roofing, everything. Not only that, but he did it in 3 months while he was working full time at his regular job for a big commercial construction company! I didn't see him much the first 3 months after Mikey was born, as he went over to the house at 5 or 6am to start working, then went to his regular job, then worked on the house some more until 10pm every night. On weekends, he worked all day at the house and came home exhausted every night. But he was young and full of energy and drive, so we made it through, and 3 months later, we had essentially a brand new house for our brand new baby!
Our first house, before construction. Beautiful, right?
During construction - nothing left but the studs!
All done!! Yay! All brand new!
Baby Mikey and me :)
Not only that, but the house immediately appraised for $265k, so we took out a loan against it for $90k, and that's how we started our construction company. This had always been his dream, and it was clear from the start that nothing was going to stop him. I tell this story because it's illustrative of the attitude we've had toward everything in our marriage. Nothing is viewed as impossible; we calculate our risks, and while not everything works out as we hope it will, most things do. When they don't, we regroup and tackle them again from another angle. We are big believers that you can shape your own destiny through the decisions you make and the actions you take. This is one of our core beliefs that has helped us to work through every challenge as a team.
What are your challenges, and how can you reframe them and tackle them to become successes for you?
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