Category Archives: Money Stories

Why does divorce cost so much? Because it is worth it. (It might be a sign when your well paid marriage counselor shares this with you…)

prenupIf you are part of the one third of Americans who have experienced divorce, then you clearly have your own war stories to share.

It’s going to happen [sometimes], so let this story of mine be advice that is kind of like an insurance policy. I hope you’ll never have to use it, but you’ll be glad you had it if you do.

Laws differ in every state, and are complicated by kids, real property, debts, and businesses. Mine involved all four. But an hour with an attorney was all the legal counsel I needed, while my ex chose to keep a lawyer on retainer.

It surprisingly took us about an hour to hash out the details of how we would divide our assets. Just like that, it was settled. It still took about 5 months to go through the motions and have a finalized divorce (feet dragging was at play). All the important details were sorted in what felt like record time.

It helped that we had a prenup. Though we didn’t actually divide things even close to what we had originally agreed upon, the general tenants were stood by. Rewind to a decade prior, and thankfully we had the foresight to realize that our financial lives might look very different. I read a short but helpful book on prenups, “What to do, before ‘I do'”, that was more helpful than the lawyer I paid.

The main aspects of our agreement were:

  1. Premarital assets would remain individual. (James had one rental property and I had no assets to speak of).
  2. Retirement funds would be kept as individual. (James had about $70k in retirement, but by the time we divorced, I would have triple of his retirement).
  3. Any inheritance would be kept separate. (I would have hoped not to receive any inheritance by now, but had heard a horror story of someone whose wife got the house that the husband had bought with the inheritance he had gotten when his mother died. This was just a year after her death and a few years into marriage.)
  4. No alimony. (James had seen his dad pay alimony and didn’t like the taste of it. Though in reality if we had divorced a couple of years ago, I might have been the one paying him.)
  5. Our primary residence would be split 70/30, in my favor. (This was due to expecting that I would pay for more of our household expenses as James was headed into a Ph.D. program just after we married. I would end up supporting the majority of our household expenses over a 5 year period).

When it came down to the dissolution of our marriage, our net worth would be more than a million dollars and include a variety of assets. It ended up working out that James would propose what he felt was fair, and I agreed with only a few tweaks. It looked like this:

James got our blogging business that spun off of the original DINKs Finance and $20k in cash that he would use to further build this business and build a revenue stream from.

In turn, I got all four properties (two rentals in DC, one beach cabin bought with inheritance money, and my sweet pad in NE Portland), plus all remaining joint funds that had come from the sale of our last place in DC.

We both got wanted we wanted, though in turn have the responsibility of managing complex asset portfolios. (Whoever thinks income generation is a passive sport has never had assets to manage). Despite the fact that managing them will be a source of some stress, I think I got the better deal. (As my college friend Eli put it, “In Monopoly, no one ever wins with the utilities.”)

Best advice about prenups: get one to protect yourself (even if you aren’t going to get a divorce and don’t have any assets). It may not feel romantic, but if you can’t talk frankly about finances, you probably aren’t ready for marriage. Here is my original post on prenups, at the time of writing one.

Best advice about divorce: Establish common ground and don’t sell yourself sort.

Best advice about lawyers: Use them sparingly. If we had both taken our lawyer’s advice, then things would have been much more complex, drawn out, and neither of us would have gotten what we wanted.

Best,

Miel

What’s Your Story?

The interesting aspect about sharing our money stories is that everyone has their own. In a family this means that we each have our own story about the same set of events. Our kids, parents, and spouses all have their versions to go off of. And the story continues to morph and change over the years, perhaps to end up as something very different from where it started.

Even as identical twins we each experience events differently and remember them with different stories.  This is in part why we opted to share our money stories in the way that we have, allowing us to release these stories into the universe and set them free. Along with a dash of forgiveness and some self reflection, we hope for them to shift us into the next dimension of our ever flowing stories of life.

What’s your story?

Cheers,
Miel & Darcy

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Money Stories: Releasing Our Cultural Stories

Miel and I enjoy observing our cultural environment, having both lived abroad as exchange students at an early age, and continuing on to major in International Affairs/Studies. Miel has lived abroad for far longer than me, but paying attention to your cultural surroundings can be practiced anywhere.

Our money stories are so deeply intertwined with our culture that it’s impossible to separate them from our personal beliefs.

Here are some personal beliefs that I/we have held in the past that we are more than ready to release:

  • The economy is scarce, and there isn’t enough to go around.
  • There aren’t enough great jobs for everyone.
  • In order to earn a living, you have to work for someone else.
  • As women, we can always expect to earn less.
  • You have to work hard to get ahead.
  • Success is tied to stress.
  • More money means more responsibility/stress.
  • Managing money is boring and stressful.
  • Selecting and buying stocks is difficult, risky, and should be avoided.
  • It’s better to save for tomorrow than to live for today.
  • Going to college was/is the only way to succeed professionally/financially.
  • Paying off student loans will take half a lifetime.
  • You have to “do your time” in unfulfilling work to get to where you want to be.
  • Kids are damn expensive (this may still be true, but I am ready to remove the damn part 😉
  • Saving for college is prohibitively expensive.
  • Money will spoil our kids.
  • Wanting more money is selfish.
  • Getting what you want is somehow bad.
  • Having money, or making more, is something to worry that your friends will resent.
  • We shouldn’t talk about money.
  • Retirement either means living on a fixed income or spending your kids’ inheritance.
  • You have to wait until the government allows you to retire.
  • You’re lucky to retire “on time” and by the time we get there Social Security will be bankrupt.
  • We’re beholden to an economic model that doesn’t value the social good or environment, and politics are too corrupted for us to change it. A sensible carbon tax will remain a dream. A socialized safety net will never happen in the U.S.

This feels like it just scratches the surface of all the negative money stories we’ve bought into through our American culture.

What negative money beliefs/stories are you ready to stop believing in?

Darcy & Miel

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Money Stories: The Importance of Forgiveness

Nelson Mandela quote on forgiveness

Perhaps the most important aspect of sharing our stories is to accept and forgive them. Sometimes that means a particular person, a more naive version of yourself, or a belief that you simply soaked in through your culture. Our stories have more to do with our understanding of the world than the actual reality.

In writing my stories, I felt that honesty was the most important thing in helping release any doubts about my self worth or my ability to manifest my dreams. I knew that no one else could possibly remember things the same way, and that each of my close family/friends has their own version. I wanted to be sensitive to those diverse perspectives, but I needed to be completely honest in order for this whole forgiveness thing to work.

So, it didn’t entirely surprise me that a close family member read my post about Before Becoming a Cronin and took offense for saying “Essentially Kevin forgave me for growing up poor. He fell in love with me in spite of my meager upbringing, knowing that I was determined to be successful in life.” We had a long heart-to-heart, and I explained that it wasn’t that I felt poor growing up (with the exception of a few minor hardships), but that this realization of “growing up poor” first came to mind once I was out in the world. And, yes, wealth is all relative. As we both shared, we were very well off compared to most of our friends growing up and our parents were/are very generous. My parents were/are successful in life, just not in a monetary way.

the importance of forgivenessMy point in detailing Kevin’s comparatively elite upcoming was to share the fact that we come from very different socioeconomic backgrounds. Early on a running joke of ours was that he fell in love with me even though I lived in trailer when we met (to save money for returning to Denmark), and I would loving remind him that he was an even poorer grad student. For the longest time he would tease me about the rednecks I grew up with, knowing full well that I came from a very distinct and privileged hippy breed. I honestly don’t think that Kevin would have been attracted me if I weren’t already a confident and hard-working person. And just as he forgave me for growing up poor, I in turn forgave him for growing up rich (As Miel did with James). He wasn’t saddled with college debt and could always afford his picky tastes. I was probably secretly happy that his parents didn’t continue to support him into adulthood, because I don’t know if we could have related if he had never known what it feels like to come up with rent.

So, I hope my sincere apology will be accepted. I know in my heart that any adversity I’ve faced in life has only made me a stronger person. Publishing these personal stories isn’t about tooting my horn or raking mud with my family, but it’s my/our first step in releasing the subconscious money baggage that’s been holding us back…and no, I don’t feel held back by anyone but myself. I’m responsible for my own abundance, even as I give gratitude to everyone in my life who has and will help along my path.

Again, with each money story, big and small, repeat this forgiveness mantra:

I accept you. I forgive you. I love you.

Love,

Darcy

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Miel’s Money Stories – Before Marriage

My early money stories are certainly important, but I also feel that those money stories that we live every day and cycle through repeatedly are just as important to break free from as are those that influenced us earlier in life.  These are the ones that show up on a regular basis and prevent us from getting what we want out of life.

When I first started out this post I thought I could somehow cover everything in one go.  Clearly I wasn’t really considering how much money related history and stories we have together.  Here are my primary stories during our first 2.5 years living together before we were married.

  • To put things into context, James and my relationship hasn’t exactly had a conventional track. The quick chronology is that we first dated 22 years ago, we moved in together 10 years ago, were married 8 years ago, and had our first child one week ago.
  • This meant that when we first moved in together we had a long history in many ways, but were certainly learning each other as we went along.  We dove into the deep end with our finances right off the bat.  
  • After reconnecting, not having seen each other in three years, the spark was still there and I took the plunge and moved across the country from Portland, OR to Washington, DC. It definitely took a financial leap of faith to go, but I felt it would work out.  I had lost my job in Portland, so in that way it was easier to go.  I sold nearly everything I owned, on the then new Craigslist, and shipped only a few boxes via greyhound.  It was a shedding of my material possessions, but given my nomadic ways this came easier for me than it might have others.  It also gave me some much needed cash.
  • Particularly having lost my job, I was mounting up credit card debt and knew that I needed to get out fast.  I had faith that I would be able to do so, but I can’t say it was easy. I managed to start my first job in Washington 5 weeks after moving here, working several weeks of temp work just to make sure I was able to stay afloat.
  • At the same time as landing my job, I also put a plan in place to pay off my $13k in credit card debt.  I researched and found the best card with 0% interest and no transfer fees to consolidate everything and pay it off as quickly as possible.  I managed to do so in about seven months, even though I was only making $40k a year.
  • James was very supportive about me paying off my credit card debt.  Knowing him as I do now, I realize this was a huge show of love and faith in me. I think this was in part his having had credit card debt as well and having already turned this around and started to move towards better financial management. I do recall feeling a bit like a potential liability and not wanting that to be the case.  I very much wanted to maintain my financial independence that I had had since college.
  • James and I developed a household budget, though still kept things separate.  We each paid a percentage of the rent 60/40, with James earning more at that time. James paid for going out together, since he enjoys paying the bill, and I paid for groceries to make it easier to shop and buy what I wanted (James was used to a bachelor’s diet).
  • I realize that there are lots of early money dialogues that we had in those early days that still perpetuate.  One of those comes around household purchases.  James essentially feels that no household items are essential.  I realized the strength of this conviction when I bought dishes for our place.  I believe he had something like a plate and a bowl, which clearly wasn’t enough for us.   Rather than buy a huge set of dishware, I picked a nice classic red German plate and bought four dinner plates, four cereal bowls, and four salad plates.  James felt this purchase was excessive and unnecessary.  We still have the same set today, now with six plates.  I’m of the mind of buying something that you love once and then sticking with it.  I still today have to manage whether or not (or to what degree) James will find a basic household purchase in some way unnecessary.  This definitely helps in our minimalistic and small home, but also adds stress where it doesn’t necessarily need to be.  I am better about delaying or thinking very carefully about how much I want/need something before I purchase, so I suppose I have James to thank for that in part.
  • Around gift giving, James is also always very generous with giving gifts, particularly jewelry.  I think during this first period that I write of he purchased me no less than 7 or 8 pieces of fine jewelry.  My grandmother taught me never to say no to jewelry (or you’ll never get it again) and I’m ever grateful for James’ generosity.  I do recall buying him a watch for our second Valentine’s Day, after I’d paid of my credit card debt, and he absolutely refused this gift.  It was something like $150, when the ring he bought me was more than that, but he was adamant that it was unnecessary.  So while will only by me jewelry, he pretty much only accepts clothes or money related gifts from my side to him.  I suppose we all have our preferences.  
  • Meanwhile, we were working selling James first studio apartment within the first months of living together. It was a coop, and thus couldn’t easily be rented, so we put the studio up for sale.  The market was climbing at that point, in 2004, and James sold the place for $130k after having bought it in 2001 for $40k.
  • James had also bought his first studio rental a few months before I moved to DC, so he was itching for more real estate.  I didn’t have the funds to contribute, but was eager to work on something together.  James was interested in something in the ghetto.  We did many tours of places in areas of DC that I might never have had the chance to go otherwise.  In the end we settled on a place that was in a transitional neighborhood, but still close enough for us to walk to.  This made a huge difference in terms of improving the place and selling it.
  • Six months after I moved to Washington we bought a three unit townhouse at 4th & O, NW, in the Shaw neighborhood.  I recall thinking about it the night before we closed that we were biting off a lot, but could also make a big difference in getting ahead.  We spent nearly every night and weekend there working on it with sweat equity and some work with contractors.  We sold the place six months later for about $70k more than we bought it for, but with expenses we probably got more out of the experience than anything else.
  • By that fall I had paid off my credit cards and just kept shoveling any extra funds towards saving for our first placed together. We had a big thermometer tracker on our bedroom door and tracked every penny that went into saving.  We both did research studies and random things to make more cash to sock away.  It felt like we were really on track and was great to work together towards a goal.  Luckily this is still the case today and we just put up our first savings thermometer since then today.
  • We got engaged that fall in Hawaii, but decided right off the bat that we wanted a longer engagement (18 months) so we could buy our first place in six months and then save to pay for our wedding and honeymoon.
  • During our engagement we had many discussions about finances.  Like my sister, I also felt that James essentially forgave the fact that I came from a lower income family and had faith in me that I had already set myself on another track.
  • A prenuptial agreement was also something that we did and many others avoid.  I read a quick book, What To Do Before “I do”, that was very helpful in considering what was important to protect yourself.  We are happily married nearly eight years later, but I am glad that we have the agreement in place.
  • Just before we were married we started a finance blog, DINKs Finance, or Dual Income No Kids. I had never been on a blog before, but it felt like we had a story to tell around money.  I was very much at the learning phases of investments, but felt that how you dealt with finances as a couple makes all the difference in both your relationship and your finances. 
Cheers,

Miel
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