NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - Michael Huck learned how to manage his money really quickly.
The 27-year-old loan officer has been on his own since age 17, after deciding to finish school in Seattle while his mother looked for work in California.
In addition to attending classes during the day, Michael held a full-time job at a fast-food chain and a weekend job at a local zoo. But you won't hear him complain.
"My friends would tell me I was crazy," he remembers. "But I had to pay rent."
Right now, he's most concerned with planning for retirement -- which he hopes will give him a chance to be a kid again -- and saving for his children's education. Michael and his fiancee Caslyn, 27, have two daughters, ages 4 and 11 months.
The two have already accumulated a net worth totaling almost $350,000 and look forward to boosting that during their future together.
Enrolling in the school of hard knocks
Going to college wasn't an option, Michael says, as money was tight. So his mom helped him land a job as an office clerk in a San Fernando Valley mortgage firm shortly after high school. His intent was to make enough to fix his car and move back to Seattle. He soon realized that there was serious money in real estate.
"I just started hearing rumors that people were making these tremendous amounts of money," Michael says. "One guy was making $200,000 a year. That was more money than I ever heard of."
Michael stayed on with that firm, eventually earning a promotion to the underwriting department, and then became a loan officer. His go-get-it attitude also made an impression on Caslyn who worked in the firm's wire transfer department.
"I thought he was very cocky," she says. "Every time he would talk to me, I would ignore him." Though it took a little convincing and a lot of chocolate, Michael eventually won her over.
Like Michael, Caslyn earned a real-world economics education by striking out on her own at an early age. At 17, she worked as a receptionist at a mortgage company while taking classes at California State University at Northridge.
"I had to pay rent, my car, my car insurance, and school," she says. "Everyone wanted their money up front so I had to save and make sure I budgeted everything in case of an emergency."
Caslyn now manages the funding department at a different mortgage broker and is studying for her real estate license.
The couple has already raked in some $230,000 year-to-date, but Michael says they will have made $300,000 before the year is out (he receives a salary plus commission). They are also hoping to cash in some of their home equity to diversify their investments.
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The Hucks want to sell their two-bedroom condo -- which Michael bought for $71,500 when he was 19 -- as they recently moved into a five-bedroom house that they bought for $575,000. The value of their homes has appreciated considerably, particularly the condo, which carries a $319,000 asking price, bringing their total home equity to $262,409.
The pair opted for an interest-only mortgage with a 5.125 percent rate for their primary residence to minimize their monthly obligations, but they add an extra $1,500 a month to reduce the principal. The interest rate for their condo, 7.5 percent, is much higher; a tax advantaged refinancing a couple years ago to cover home improvement costs.
Still just everyday people
Michael and Caslyn regularly set aside $1,500 for savings and investments each month. They enrolled in a 529 college savings plan and recently set up a separate savings account for their girls.
As for their own futures, the two dream of retiring in their early 40s. Michael maxes out his 401(k) each year and Caslyn hopes to do the same in the near future. His 401(k) concentrates on mutual funds and is divided between the PIMCO, American Funds, and AllianceBernstein fund families. Michael also opened a traditional IRA, contributing the maximum $3,000 for the year.
Both try to be smart consumers and that includes finding ways to save on everyday expenses, such as dining in. When they do eat out, Caslyn says they normally choose the restaurant using the Entertainment book, a discount shopping guide they buy each year for about $25.
The couple often uses reward cards for their credit purchases to qualify for a freebie or two, but pay off their balances each month.
Michael, for example, used his credit card to buy Caslyn's engagement ring, a move that earned him enough frequent flyer points for a first-class upgrade during their honeymoon. Two weeks later, he paid the bill in full.
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