Monthly Archives: January 2015

How to Improve the Value of Your Property

340ae2d66543453d908038e55dc2fcd7 If you’re selling your home, you’re going to want to sell it for as much as possible (of course). While square footage, location and neighborhood can’t be changed, there are many things you can change that will add to the value of your property. And even if you’re not looking to sell right away, it can be worth it to spruce up your home for your own enjoyment, too. Here are 8 easy, affordable ways to increase the value of your home.

Take care of the front yard. The first thing a potential home buyer sees is the outside of your home. While you can’t judge a book by its cover, first impressions do count when it comes to selling your home. Plant flowers, water the grass, trim the bushes and clean the driveway. All of these little things will greatly improve the outside appearance of your home.

…And the back yard. Most home buyers would prefer a nicely manicured back yard in addition to a landscaped front yard. Putting some money into your back yard, including adding in a deck with Futurewood composite decking, may set your house apart from your competitor’s. Plus, you can enjoy the new back yard deck until the house sells.

Clean or replace the carpets. While home buyers know they can replace the carpets before they move in, they also know how much money this can cost them out of pocket. Don’t let old, dirty carpet stand in the way of a sale. Deep clean it once a week when it’s on the market or replace your carpet if needed.

Keep your house as clean as possible. Similar to the carpets, potential home buyers do know they can clean the house before they move in. But if you want people to fall head over heels in love with your home, you need to keep it as clean as possible. Scrub the bath tubs, wash the interior and exterior of the windows, make the kitchen appliances shine and more.

Upgrade the kitchen. It’s common knowledge that you will get the greatest return for your money by upgrading your kitchen. If you can’t spend tens of thousands of dollars on a full-on remodel, do smaller things such as changing the paint color, adding a backsplash and purchasing stainless steel appliances.

Make your home bright. Bright homes are more appealing to buyers than dim ones with few windows. Open up the curtains and blinds, make sure all the light bulbs are working and turned on and add in extra light where needed, perhaps with an eye-catching chandelier in the entry way.

Staging matters. You want your rooms to look open and spacious, not cramped and boxy. You may need to rearrange your furniture or invest in a few quality pieces you can take with you to your new house. Improving your home décor can actually make a difference in how quickly and how much you sell your house for.

Freshen up the paint. Nothing can be more inviting than a fresh coat of paint on all of your walls. Go with neutral colors throughout, perhaps adding in one or two accent walls, to appeal to a variety of buyers. You can repaint your home yourself or hire a professional, depending on your budget.

As you can see, there are many, many ways to increase the value of your home that don’t have to cost a fortune. Pick one project at a time until your home is in excellent condition and ready to be sold.

7 Tips for First Time Homebuyers

3e2f5f558c9d443b8748b3b0a47d9f2e Purchasing your first home is one of the most exciting, yet terrifying, times of your life. Most likely, this is the most amount of money you’ve ever spent, by far. Buying a home is not an easy process, as many first-time buyers will come to find out. In order to make the process as smooth as possible, take into account these 7 tips when buying your first home.

Be patient. Homes may come and go very quickly, especially if you’re buying in a seller’s market, where bidding wars may even take place. While it’s easy to get emotionally attached to a home, especially as a first-time buyer, do your best to be patient and have confidence that the right house will come along.

Know beforehand what you can afford. What you can afford and what you may qualify for can be two very different numbers. Prior to shopping for a home, decide in advance how much you are able to spend per month and what type loan you’d prefer to have. It’s very easy to get swayed in the moment, so think long and hard about how much you want to spend before looking at houses.

Comparison shop for the loan. Your home loan is probably the largest amount of money you’ve ever borrowed. Make sure you get the best interest rate and the best terms by shopping around at different banks, credit unions and lenders. Don’t forget to online shop, too. A home loan through Newcastle Permanent, for example, offers awarding-winning packages to suit a variety of buyers.

Decide what you want in a home. It’s a good idea to make a checklist of all the “must-haves” for your first home, and then be flexible. You may be able to get a good deal on a home that doesn’t meet all of your criteria but can be changed to your liking down the line. Have a general idea of what you want but be willing to stray from your desires if it positively impacts your finances.

Think long-term regarding your home. You may only be planning on staying in the home for a few years, but what if the market goes down and you find yourself upside down in your mortgage? Since predicting the market can be an impossible task, think of your home as somewhere you will be for the long-haul. Decide how this affects what you want to spend, the location and what you’re not willing to budge on.

Look at the entire cost of the home, not just the loan. There are factors to consider other than your monthly principal and interest payment, including home owner’s insurance, HOA fees, cost of heating and cooling, distance to work, any repairs that need to be done and more. Mortgage payments tend to be lower than rent payments, which can make owning a home enticing to many if they haven’t considered all of the outside factors, including maintenance.

Put at least 20 percent down. While there are a variety of loans that do not require a 20 percent down payment, it’s in your best interest to put down as much money as possible. This greatly increases your chances of qualifying for the loan, it eliminates the need for private mortgage insurance (PMI) and it gives you instant equity in your house.

While buying a home for the first time seems fun and exciting, there are many details that need to be figured out beforehand. By keeping a level head and not letting your emotions get the best of you, you will find a home you love that suits your needs for the long-term.

How You Can Use Your Credit Card to Boost Your Credit Score

9e344e349634408da3b4707eefdd5480 If you have poor credit, a shallow credit history or no credit history at all, you may be able to boost your score through the (responsible) use of a credit card. When used properly, a credit card is a great tool for improving your credit, but when used without caution it can lead you down a sure path to debt.

Whether you have just filed for bankruptcy, are a student with no credit history or simply want to improve your credit profile before applying for a loan, a credit card can help your credit score in a variety of ways.

Prove That You Can Use Credit Responsibly

The good news about credit is that you are judged only on your ability to make your payments. Therefore, you can actually start building good credit just by buying $25 worth of gas each month and paying it off by the due date. This gives anyone the opportunity to establish their credit while paying for their daily expenses.

Knowing How to Read Your Credit Score

Your credit worthiness is calculated through your FICO score, which is a three-digit number that helps creditors determine which types of loans they should offer. When it comes to calculating your FICO score, ability to pay on time makes up 35 percent. Keeping your balances low can also help because the amount you owe on a given account is 30 percent of your credit score. That means paying on time and maintaining a low balance account for over half your score.

Establish a Longer Credit History

One thing that lenders look for when approving an individual for a loan is the average age of their credit history. Generally, you have a better chance of getting a loan if you have a credit history of at least five years. However, you don’t have to use your credit card for five years to get credit for having it. As long as the account has been open for five years or more and you have always made your payments on time, you can show lenders that you are worthy of a loan. A longer credit history is better for your credit score as it is 15 percent of your FICO score.

Credit Cards Can Improve Your Credit Mix

In addition to a long credit history, lenders also like to see that you have a good mix of both secured and unsecured loans. Having a variety of different types of loans that are in good standing helps creditors see that you’re both responsible and timely with your payments. However, staying in good standing with credit is sometimes easier said than done. If you’ve found yourself falling behind on your monthly credit card payments, nonprofit agencies like CreditGuard can help. They actually negotiate with your creditors on your behalf to lower your rates and consolidate your payments.

Opening a credit card can help you increase your credit score in many ways. It can improve your credit score, establish your credit history and show lenders that you are able to pay your debts on time. Just remember to use it with caution.

Where has Miel gone?

I’ve been missing in action from writing for the last several months. My blog, Vicarious Nomad, first started out as Where in the World is Miel, and these days it seems you should changed to Where in the World has Miel gone? Not specifically due to dropping off the edge of the earth to some remote locale (though there has been a fair amount of travel), but rather just a whole lot of life going on.

miel clark olivia jan 2015

To sum things up, try this one for size for a summary of seven months in a blurb. Gave birth at home to my dear sweet Clark. Ran several family businesses (while nursing) and increased the profits on both businesses several times over (Olivia Beach Camp Cabins and District Media). Tandemly sold our place in DC and bought a sweet bungalow in a fabulous location in Portland, Oregon (just 1.2 miles from my sis Darcy). If that wasn’t enough, then land my dream job as the new Executive Director of Green Empowerment. Add in travel (with my new born) to Oregon, the Bay Area, New Orleans, Tahoe, and Kenya to top it off.

So you can see that there has been just a bit going on in my life. Looking at my travel and schedule this spring I don’t see that decreasing any, but I do see the need and desire to partner with Darcy in authentically sharing about our finances and what that looks like as we seek our own versions of sustainable family finances.

After nearly nine years of finance blogging, on and off, there is perhaps more than ever to share with readers about what it takes to keep a family in balance, how we prioritize our finances is really how we prioritize our lives, and so much more.

Thanks in advance for reading, commenting, sharing with others. It helps inspire us to continue to share our stories. Thought I’d share a few fun pics of us this holiday season as well.

cronin bash 2014 zoo lights 2014



Reflections on Our 5th Year Blogiversary

Miel and Darcy Go Ducks Jan 12, 2015

Go Ducks!

Wow. I can hardly believe that we launched this blog five years ago. It frankly feels like an eternity ago. So much has happened…so many dreams have come true, as well as disappointments and recurring financial frustrations.

I blogged like a madwoman for the first several years. Miel was already a successful blogger (earning $2k per month at the time) and had convinced me when I started that I needed to write a post every day in order to be taken seriously and have any earning potential. So, I diligently cranked out twenty posts a month writing almost every evening. I was determined to prove that I could be a professional blogger, and I do think that some of my best posts were published before I ever had many readers (We have 418 posts and another 80 in draft form!)…I still need to find a way to share our archive better…here are my favorite dozen posts from the first year.

Looking back I have no idea how I managed it to create/maintain such creative stamina (blogging really does take a lot of creative juice). Especially during a time when I was out the door at seven in the morning to bus/bike to office and up on my laptop late several nights a week blogging. Kevin thought I was crazy, and his doubtfulness has been a source contention/frustration (he’s only ever read a handful of posts).

Yet, for as much as I’ve written, I feel like it’s taken me five years to truly find my voice. In my first year I blogged under the alias “Green Mama” and was honestly terrified of criticism. I started off declaring my desire to save up $7500 for a family trip to Denmark fearing that people would label me an elitist for having such a frivolous financial goal. Then we unexpectedly inherited what felt like a shitload of money and I seriously questioned whether I could continue to write for a blog where I no longer felt like my readers might not relate me once I wasn’t a so-called struggling working mama (all the struggle does continue, just in a slightly different income bracket with a few family businesses to manage on top of it all!). Next we somehow manifested our dream beach cabins, and then I planned my exodus from full time public service to become a Certified Mama Bliss Life Coach. Yet, lately we’ve gone to feeling nearly broke and sharing about our family finances has continues to require some serious “courage in action” (one of my favorite mantras that I use as I publish a post or send an important email).

In revamping our blog, Miel began writing together with me (yay!) and we went out on a limb and shared literally every Money Story we could recall in an effort to clear our subconscious from the money baggage we all carry. And yet, I’ll speak for Miel as well, we’ve both struggled to fully share our current money stories. It’s partly because our lives have been moving at such a fast pace in recent months (Miel moved across the country and landed her dream job, and I’ve been busy launching my coaching practice, and we’ve taken on fully managing our beach cabins…) Our lives seem to be happening so fast that it’s hard to keep up, let alone post blogs in a timely manner.

And, yet, Miel and I are ready to really dig deep in order to finally bring ourselves (and this blog) into our full blossoming potential. Here’s our plan:

  • Divulge Our Net Worth – Miel was one of the first financial bloggers to start sharing her net worth publicly (nine years ago). Money is still taboo in our socio-economic circles, and she was in fact very bold to publish her private finances. I remember having conversations with close friends/family who were aghast that Miel would both share her net worth and her desire to become a millionaire. In starting this blog, I had several conversations with Miel about how essentially “there was no way in hell” and Kevin and I would share our net worth publicly. Yet, I’ve come to realize that I/we need to be fully conscious of our finances in order to create our future financial dreams. So, we will both start posting our net worth every quarter.
  • Be Truly Authentic About Our Finances – Just knowing/sharing our net worth is not going to help us reach our financial dreams though. We’ve come to realize after being truly honest in sharing our money stories that it somehow feels harder to be authentic about our current financial stories. It’s partly because we each face frustrations at different levels (This past fall we dealt with fraud, Miel getting her stuff stolen, bouncing the cabin bank account, plus the expense of Miel’s maternity leave/move, trying to afford a nanny, oh and Miel’s new dream job meant a 50% pay cut). So, our lives are simply filled with blog fodder, but we’ve both felt challenged by how to share our stories when they feel so raw and personal. So far we’ve tried to be a resource to our readers, but in truth generic and impersonal advice is just that, generic and impersonal. We hope that by being truly authentic we’ll finally be able to connect at a deep level with you, our readers (Please, people can you finally show us some love and start to comment?!).
  • Hold Each Other Accountable – But we’ve come to agree that sharing our net worth and the complicated feelings is the only way to hold each other accountable. It’s really helpful to have a look-alike to mirror your desires and fears, and we indeed to push each other into full bloom.
  • Manifesting Our Dreams – We’re also going to go out on a limb and start sharing about our next financial dreams and the steps we’re each taking to manifest them. While we are starting with different lifestyles/finances, we still have very similar dreams (like retiring part time in Hawaii). Even though we may face some critics, we are excited to fully embrace our ability to create the reality we envision for ourselves.
  • Giving Back – Miel and I are both very passionate about giving back, both locally and internationally. I’ve been a Rotarian for three years now, and Miel followed suit not long after (We’re very excited now that we can attend the same weekly meetings in the Pearl). She’s now a two-time Paul Harris Fellow (which I’m admittedly a little jealous about, and plan to catch up as soon as I can…). When I was working at the City, I was donating to five organizations I think do great work: Rotary International, Friends of Trees, Oregon Environmental Council, Mackenzie River Trust, and International Medical Corps (where Miel used to work). I also started my own Kiva Experiment when we received our inheritance. Recently I gave a spare $20 to Green Empowerment, since I couldn’t help but support Miel’s new amazing work. Plus, we’ve been tithing to our church, Grace Memorial Episcopal, for several years (although in December we did suspend our donation until we can afford it again). In the end Miel and I truly believe that our work and our money will make the world a better place.
  • Divesting From Carbon & Becoming Carbon Neutral – As long time readers know, I’m actually more passionate about environmental sustainability than finances (Part of my challenge initially was that I focused more on sustainable family lifestyle post than on actual finances…but I digress again). So, for as much as I’m excited to finally embrace our finances (as a means to creating our dreams), I’m also still deeply passionate about doing everything we can to slow global warming. In first launching this blog, we did a lot of home/family sustainability projects, but I’ve kind of plateaued. Just last week the founder of came to talk to our Portland Pearl Rotary Club. While I had organized a community event (planting natives at a park that I helped create), I’ve mostly been an on/off online activist lately. So, when he talked about the need to divest from carbon, it really resonated with me as the obvious next step for me to take action on. I’ve also had the desire to become carbon neutral for a long time (I blogged early on about calculating our carbon footprint). Every time I made a pot of Portland Coffee Roasters and see the carbon neutral label, it gives me a big smile. Also, Miel’s nonprofit, Green Empowerment, made the same commitment to lead the carbon shift. I saved this goal for last, because I know it’s the most long term goal. But we are in this for the long haul. Five years has felt like a blip, and we’re excited to walk our talk by making these commitments.

So, whether this is the first post you’re reading of ours or you’ve been following us for years, we’re happy you’re here with us. We look forward to engaging our readers with truly authentic posts that will bring us all closer and closer to our financial dreams. 🙂 🙂

Happy Blogging!

Darcy (and Miel)

PS A side note: I do still feel shame around the fact that date this blog has earned very little, and was told long ago that blog that doesn’t earn money is either a hobby or a charity. Meanwhile I didn’t want to “sell my soul” by writing posts to please an advertiser. So, we are finally ready to start partnering with sponsors who resonate with our message and simply want to support us in reaching our readers.