break-ins, blackberries, and new beginnings

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When I got married, I moved into my wife’s townhouse. Which was a downgrade from my house that I ended up selling. In fact, it was 1/2 the size.

The townhouse had a tiny backyard that was loaded with pricker bushes and poison ivy. And whenever it rained there was an inch of water because of the lousy drainage. When the A/C unit gave out the service guy said there was three inches of mud and dirt in the bottom of it from all the flooding.

I liked our townhouse, and I thought it was a nice neighborhood. But I’m blown away at all the bad stuff that went on around us.

  • I was followed home one day with a TV in the back of my truck by some guys that wanted to rob me
  • I called the cops on one of the neighbors when she was throwing bricks at the front door of her place because her boyfriend wouldn’t let her in
  • Another time I saw a police officer walking around out front, and when I went to ask her what was going on she said thirteen other townhouses had been broken into recently
  • When we finally moved a mile away, we were told by the UPS delivery guy they referred to the neighborhood behind ours as ‘crack town.’ I never knew.

There were these expensive custom homes just a 1/2 mile away. On the weekends Katie and I used to walk through all the new homes being built as one of our fun, free activities.

I dreamed about living in one of those homes, but I didn’t know how or if it would ever happen.

I especially remember the one that had his+her toilets in the master bathroom (still haven’t achieved that dream yet).

We were at Katie’s brother’s wedding in Ohio when she got the call from her boss. He wasn’t letting her apply for a job in Ft. Worth Texas so she could be closer to her family. Ever try to comfort someone when their spirit was crushed on a day that’s supposed to be happy?

I know you might be in a job or work situation right now too where you feel stuck, either because of bills you’ve got to pay, a family situation, or maybe even medical reasons. We’ve all been there before. It’s what you choose to do at those times.

In what wasn’t the most well thought out move, I told Katie when we got back to Atlanta she should quit her job and go to school full-time. We would move to Texas when she graduated. We decided to just go for it. We had saved up a six-month emergency fund and felt it was a pretty good decision. We immediately put her townhouse up for sale so we could rent someplace until we had to move after she graduated. Fortune smiled on me one day when I was out running. I saw a For Rent sign in front of a house less than one mile away.

Between the real estate commissions, replacing the A/C, fixing the drainage, and only living in the townhouse for two years we walked away with nothing from the sale, which was a bummer. But at least we didn’t owe money to the realtors.

The rental home was built in the 1950’s. It was 1,000 square feet, had a massive backyard with blackberry bushes, and lots of uninvited guests. Squirrels were living in the attic. And a few bugs in the pantry (I hate bugs!). Most of our furniture was in storage. We kept one love seat for the living room. We sat in it to watch our tiny 14” TV that was propped up on a wooden chair from the breakfast table. We had no debts and were living very frugal!

I look back at that time, and we were pretty happy. I think if we had to start all over from scratch it would be a struggle but we would still be happy.

You know we’re programmed to believe more stuff, more house, more car, will make us happier in life and a lot of us don’t consider what we really want that would make us happy. A warm bed, our bills paid, security, good relationships, and a Five Guys burger once in a while (ok, that’s just me).

Be okay with the fact it’s hard to get to that place of financial freedom.

Katie scored an internship with a real estate developer. She began the daily grind of driving an hour to work, driving an hour to class in the evenings, and then another 30 minutes to get back home. This routine continued until graduation. It was hard for her, but she did it.

It was 2008, just at the start of the recession when we moved to Texas. We were going to stay with my in-laws ’temporarily.’

Work experience. Referrals. MBA. It didn’t matter. Everyone was struggling, and Katie couldn’t get a job. In one of the most deflating moments, she went to one interview where the first question the company owner asked her was ‘Why are you here?’.

They don’t prepare you for that interview question (that guy was a jerk).

  • Two weeks turned into a month. No job.
  • Which turned into two months. No job.
  • And six months. No job.

A funny thing happened though. Back in Atlanta Katie came home from school one evening and said ‘I want a new car, what can we do to pay for it in cash?’. She didn’t feel safe driving my Honda Fit during her long commute.

We started a side hustle for her. We didn’t know this would become her career.

Back in East Texas after months of not finding work and a miserable economy, her side business was now making as much as she used to earn at her old corporate job. I said ‘I guess this is your job.

Some people think we just had it easy. That success just fell out of the sky like manna from heaven.

No, I worked 70-80 hours a week for years. We downsized several times and lived with Katie’s parents for a YEAR.

To anyone still at home with their parents – don’t feel bad and take advantage of it!

That’s patience. That despite that you could run out and charge or borrow, future you is going to thank present you for waiting and making better choices.

Where most people would have run out and bought a house or moved into an apartment to escape the in-laws (or maybe you have outlaws), we waited.

My own company was feeling the pinch of the economy. Revenue was down, and salaries were going to be cut. Not to mention we had a $150,000 in business debt my partners and I spent to start two other projects that failed. It was challenging.

We had dreamed of moving to this neighborhood in North Dallas. It had sidewalks, was close to lots of shopping and restaurants, and was very clean. No bugs!

Instead of buying an existing home, we contracted to have a house built in the subdivision. It would take six months, and we figured worst case scenario we could back out at any time and just lose our security deposit. If her business failed, if my business failed, we would just stay with my in-laws and figure it out.

Instead, we moved out of my in-law’s house into our brand new home almost one year to the day we left Atlanta, with a 50% downpayment. It didn’t have his/her toilets in the master bedroom, but you can’t have everything, right?

When we go back to Atlanta to visit I always drive by the townhome we lived in. I look at the tiny front yard where we tried to plant an herb garden. I remember my wife and mother-in-law sitting in lawn chairs drinking lemonade while I was digging a ditch to stop the backyard from flooding. I remember just over the fence is where I buried my cat. Then I drive by the rental house and think about all those hours I spent out back picking blackberries while Katie was commuting 2 1/2 hours a day and going to school.

Then I think back to East Texas and living in a bedroom with my in-laws, with no idea of what our future was. Just taking it day-to-day.

Downsize -> downsize -> downsize -> downsize -> Dream Home

Sometimes, even in bad financial times or without a job and a home of your own, if we just have patience and believe there is something better coming, then you know what:

  1. We have the things other people don’t because we’re willing to do the things other people won’t
  2. We start to be content with less, and when we have more it’s just icing on the cake
  3. We get to a place we never imagined because we just kept at it

So don’t think you’ll always be where you are, because you never know.

You have no idea if the situation you’re struggling with right now is going to lead to something that’s better than you ever considered possible.

If your situation is not what you expected or where you want it to be, just keep swimming (- Dory, Finding Nemo!).

It’s a long way to the top if you want to rock-n-roll (- AC/DC).

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