Author Archives: Ms. Miel

About Ms. Miel

Miel spends her time split between Washington, DC and Africa. She works on international relief and development projects in DRCongo, Burundi, Zimbabwe, Liberia, & Sierra Leone. Check out Miel’s photos!

Disentangled after Divorce

entagledIt takes some effort to disentangle your finances from another person. If you’ve done this before, then you are probably nodding your head.

The process of delving into couple’s finances typically takes it’s course of time, depending on how your relationship develops. I tend to take the dive right in approach in love, though I suppose it actually took seven years of marriage to actually have a functioning joint household account (though we opened savings accounts for goals before we were ever married). It can take a much greater effort to disentangle your assets after a marriage has ended.

My divorce finalized in August, but that is really just the beginning of the disentanglement that comes after divorce. This is exacerbated if you shared businesses and the like with your ex.

The task is one of those that has loomed over me and felt like a weight this entire fall. Luckily when I finally set myself to it, it was less of an effort that I feared it might be. It was more of a mental block. I did have to change numerous automated transactions for various mortgages, condo fees, and utilities. Now I’m down to closing a final account to call it done.

My lesson here is that the barriers we face in finances are most often in our head and are not financial at all. We make things more difficult than they have to be.

What is on your list of financial tasks that you are making harder than they are?

Cheers,

Miel

Year End Giving

Year End GivingAnybody who has ever worked for a non-profit organization knows that the last quarter of the year makes all the difference in an annual budget. As someone who started giving philanthropically early on, I also take time to reflect at this time of year and consider what causes are most important to me that I may not have had a chance to give to thus far this year.

Everyone’s giving looks different, but I find it personally interesting to see how and why people choose where they give (or don’t give). Here is an overview at what my giving looks like this year, and why.

Rotary International Foundation – As anyone who is an avid reader knows, I’m a big Rotarian and highly support the great work that Rotary does around the world. I started doing a $25 monthly contribution last year, ironically when I was first on maternity leave and without a consistent income in the future. I did it in part to manifest wealth and giving in my life. At the end of the year I also contributed extra to make use of a matching that was offered by our club. My total giving for the year will be $400, plus additional credit will be matched.

InStove.org – I am also now on the Board of Directors for InStove.org, which makes the cleanest, safest, most fuel efficient stove in the world. As a new board member I have chosen to stretch myself and give an initial donation of $1000, along with my time and volunteer hours to leverage that funding even further. I realize that my grant making capacity makes a monetary contribution minimal in comparison, but I feel that it helps to show faith in the mission and support this incredible work.

Lewis & Clark College – I have also contributed to Lewis & Clark College for a number of years. Since I initially had a difficult time paying my way through LC, I feel particularly indebted to the institution that changed my life in so many ways for the better. I typically give $100 per year to LC. Perhaps one day I will increase this.

Kiva.org – I haven’t gone to the same level of commitment as my sister has, with her experiment giving $1000 through loans with Kiva. I figured I should at least top off my current account and be inspired to give a bit more. I just gave to a women’s group in Burkina Faso. It is only hard to choose between so many worthy folks wanting a little help.

EduCongo – Another great cause that I support and just gave a to. My dear friend Lou Radja is a fellow Rotarian and does tremendous work with a school that he and his father built in DRCongo. For now I’m giving enough to pay for a year of school fees for a student ($60), but I will be attending a fundraiser for EduCongo in the spring and plan to give more then. I also hope to make it out to visit the school at some point as well.

While I may not feel as flush without a steady paycheck coming in, as I have most often enjoyed, I still feel that it is important to give. It creates a virtuous cycle and keeps the giving going.

Cheers,

Miel

Ladies Night

ladies nightLadies nights are such a treat. On Monday I was lucky enough to have a dear friend organize a fun ladies night with dinner at Nel Centro and see a performance of The Moth Radio at The Schnitz.

It was a lovely evening and also a real reminder of how much my life has changed in the past couple of years. The decade I spent living in Washington was punctuated with sometimes frequent get togetherness with ladies, whether it be brunch, lunch, or an occasional night out.

We joked about being “ladies that lunch”, but I realize now that we blissfully were. I say this in all the best ways. I enjoyed it immensely. I like the ritual of getting together with someone for a good meal or a coffee. It feels good. We need to find ways to connect and share.

Though I often demonstrated some kind of restraint, I was used to spending what, even I, would consider to be a fair amount of money eating out. I remember realizing that I would often spend as much as my entire family would eating out in the 80s. Times have changed, and the dollar doesn’t go as far as it did back in rural Oregon, but it still feels helpful to keep such comparisons in mind.

Nel Centro is the best of Portland cuisine. It reminds me of meals I’ve had in DC or NYC, but feels very Pacific NW as well. I had already been there for breakfast and lunch meetings in the last year, but ladies night dinner was definitely a treat with a few extras. The whole package of a cocktail, pasta, and dessert will set you back around $40. Breakfast is more on the affordable luxury scale.

Since I was most often eating out solo, this also made it easier to splurge than with a family. Now the family makes a splurge without trying.

I’m reminded of how much I enjoy meals out with friends and that it is well worth it to prioritize what makes you feel great. Everyone has their own splurges. What are yours?

Cheers,

Miel

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Finding a New Tax Accountant

 

keep-calm-im-the-best-accountant-sustainable-family-financesI lost my tax accountant in our recent divorce. I’m taking it as a reminder of the value of starting fresh and getting my finances in order. Besides, there are some advantages to having a tax accountant more locally (ours was still out in DC). While I never actually met our accountant face to face, Nancy Tao with Tax Masters, was extremely good about scheduling at flexible times and giving us guidance around various tax situations. If you are looking for an accountant in the DC area, I would highly recommend her. Our lowest tax year was paying just under 5% in federal taxes (while both in grad school and having business income as writeoffs).

I’ve been working with a tax accountant for the last thirteen years and think that tax accountants are money well spent. In fact, my first time filing taxes as an 18-year-old resulted in getting an expected tax refund (that I hadn’t calculated properly), because I didn’t think that I could possibly get that much back (turns out that I was just working my arse off at Crater Lake Lodge for the summer between high school and college). I lived off that refund as I saved money for the next semester at Lewis & Clark College.

Now I am in search of a new tax accountant, for both my personal taxes and those of our Olivia Beach Camp Cabins.

If you are a regular reader of Sustainable Family Finances, you know that we are all about manifesting what we want in life. Here is what I’m looking for in an accountant. If you have anyone that you would recommend, please drop us a comment.

  1. Great to work with (after all, you are dealing with less than fun subjects)
  2. Savvy with tax benefits of small business ownership and juggling multiple LLCs
  3. Knowledgeable in real estate (i.e. 1031 exchanges, vacation and rental properties, etc.)
  4. Experience with blogging or online publishing
  5. Willing to give helpful advice throughout the year for planning taxes
  6. High level of integrity and attention to details
  7. Aggressive approach to writing off legitimate expenses
  8. Preferably located in Portland, Oregon

We’d love to hear if you have a tax accountant that you love, and what tips you’ve learned over the years.

Cheers,

Miel

 

 

Creating a Living Trust

pen estate planning living trust Sustainable family finances

As I get my financial and legal affairs in order, I’ve also taken the plunge and created my own living trust. This came about over the course of the last year or so, considering how I would want assets to be passed down to Clark and others. With my divorce, I’ve also had other legal changes that need to be recognized and dealt with (deeds changing over, moving bank accounts, finalizing taxes, etc), so the timing seemed right to deal with such matters.

What is a living trust?

A living trust is essentially your estate. This makes it clear what your requested asset allocation would be in the event of your death. It is also a way to avoid probate and make things easier for your family and ensure that your wishes are honored and that your family is planned for.

It has been helpful for me to consider how I would want my finances to be dealt with, and what I would want to go to various folks. Of course, we all want to live to a ripe old age, but planning for the possibility of death is essential to not only yourself, but also your family.

Life changes, plan for it to

I also have an interesting situation of wrapping this process up with a new partner. I started this process last December. In fact, between the time of making the appointment to talk about creating a living trust, and having the conversation with my lawyer, things had shifted in my life to the extent that I asked about how to plan for the possibility of a divorce. Now, as I end the process, I find myself in a new relationship that I see myself being in for the long term. I would have been planning for the possibility of such a relationship, but actually having the different scenarios in front of you is a bit different.

Avoid Taxes

The other reason to have a living trust is to help plan for avoidance of taxes. Luckily with the estate taxes as they are, and the number of people that I would leave various assets to, it would be unlikely for any of my benefactors to face taxes unless I have considerably more than I have today (which is hopefully the case).

Grow Up and Plan for Death

It definitely feels like I have my big girl pants on when planning for my trust. I created my first will when I left to Afghanistan in 2007, but articulating my wishes and looking at my finances in more details has been a helpful process. Similar to my views on a prenuptial agreement, I find it very helpful to have a plan for what you’d like things to look like in various situation or scenarios. What might change over the next ten to twenty years? It’s good to be prepared.

A big thanks to Lori Beight at Cascade Legal Planning for her help in setting up my trust.

Do you have a will or a living trust? Please leave us a comment to share about your process.

Be well,

Miel

 

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