Category Archives: Uncategorized

Miel’s Money Stories – Life or Death

Click here to buy at Powell's
Buy @ Powell’s

I realized while reading this morning that I have a big money story that completely escaped me while going back in time.  I am reading Monique and The Mango Rains, Two Years Living With a Midwife in Mali. While the author, Kris Holloway, was a volunteer ten years before I was, village life across West Africa transcends time.  Following along her story brings me back repeatedly to my own experiences as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Ghana.

The money story is one that involves life and death.  In my case the story actually included my twin sis Darcy, who was visiting me for several weeks in Ghana at the end of my service.  She was there to see my enstolling as Queen Mother and got a glimpse at what my life was like as a PCV.

The story begins close to dusk, when we were returning to my house after being away for most of the day.  We ran in the caretaker of my compound – the larger family house that I inhabited two rooms that were once the library of a big man in my village who had passed away in the late 80s and left three wives and 14 children.  He took care of the house, though often slept in the village with his wife and family.

We greeted the caretaker, customarily asking after his family and such.  He said that his youngest son, who his wife was pregnant with when I arrived in the village, was not doing well.  He had come to get his bible to pray through the night because he didn’t think he would make it until the morning.  
I of course began to inquire about the specific symptoms to see what I could do.  From my trusty guide of Where There is No Doctor, my best guess was the possibility of tetanus.  Knowing the seriousness of this, and believing that he would not make it without intervention, we sprang into action.
Buy @ Powell’s
We went into the village to meet the child and assess the situation further.  We called the old guy from the clinic and got an injection, I think of penicillin, while we sorted out transportation.  My village was one stop away from a road that didn’t go through, so villagers tracked the movement of vehicles to determine whether one would pass again that night.  We were in no such luck.  The only vehicle that sometimes slept in the village was out of gas.  
This meant our only hope was if a car happened to pass unexpectedly.  The odds of this were low.  We waited for several hours, while watching out for cars.  Then we saw the headlights off in the distance as the noisy truck approached.  I stood on the road, the only white lady for miles (except now with my twin) and tried to flag down the truck.  They were barreling down the road and I realized they had no intention of stopping.  They were our last hope.  Gauging their speed, I went for my last ditch effort and stood right in the middle of the road, which was not wide enough for them to pass me. I knew I would retreat if indeed they failed to stop, but managed to get them to stop at the very last minute.  
They thought I was crazy, I may have been at that moment, but still didn’t want to help.  Eventually I negotiated to charter the truck and paid about $20 for them to take is to the hospital about 30km away.  The parents, child, my sister, and I set out for the hospital, by now around 10 at night.  
We admitted the child into the hospital and all prayed for the best.  We visited him the next morning but then had to leave to get my sister on a plane back home.  I ensured that we would take care of the medical bills and transportation costs.
In the end he had cerebral meningitis, which was just as life threatening or more than the possibility of tetanus.  He was in the hospital for a month before he returned to the village.  My sis helped to cover part of the bill, which was $80 for everything, but was more than a month’s salary for me and out of the question for his parents to afford.  It was the difference between life and death.

When I sit now, nursing my first child, I can’t imagine being in a position where I couldn’t afford to save the life of my own child.  It makes me feel ever so fortunate to have so many opportunities that are often easy to take for granted.

When the child returned to the village, he clearly knew I had connected with him.  While I had lots of kids who admired and hung around my house, suddenly he was there at all hours.  When I awoke in the morning he was there shortly after (maybe even before).  Previously kids had kept a certain distance, but he was now up in my lap as often as he could be.  
I was at the end of my service and finally started to tell the kids that I was leaving the village.  His response was to tell the other kids that he would be leaving with me.  As a single 22 year old I knew this wasn’t an option for me or for his family.  When I did leave my village I had to take him from clinging onto me to get in my car to leave.  It was heart breaking.
Not as heart braking as the case of Kris Holloway’s story.  The outcome was not as kind, and the child passed away of malnutrition.  Having seen some of the worst possible cases of malnutrition in Africa, I can truly imagine.  I know all too well the fragile hold they have on life.
I am forever grateful for the opportunities I have in life, including the opportunities I have to give back.

Miel’s Money Stories – Marriage

Every couple has their own quirks and dialogues about money. Generally these are pretty repetitive. Our marriage is no different. What I have noticed in this post is that what shows up is certainly more “story” than “the story”. The relative present is much more laden with story than what happened years ago.

  • The first thing that has been a bit different about our relationship with money is that James and I have been blogging publicly about money since just before we were married, on  There are very few couples who write about finance jointly and have shared publicly about their finances as we have. This may not change certain aspects, and not everything is aired out publicly, but a public persona related to finance does change your relationship with money in some ways.  You can check out a recent interview at
  • James and I are both more financially minded than your typical couple, particularly when it comes to goals. We started working towards joint goals pretty much as soon as we moved in together just over ten years ago. We have definitely recognized that when we don’t have a common goal established that we don’t achieve nearly as much. We’ve just recently agreed to a goal of saving $50k over the next year. When we started out ten years ago we could manage to save at least $20k a year when we were making considerably less, so I have faith that we can do it even with a new addition to our family.
  • Despite our working together towards joint goals, we’ve actually maintained much of our finances separately. Last year was the first time we’ve finally established a joint household account where we both put in a set amount and then the rest of our paychecks go into separate accounts that we still maintain ourselves.
  • On day to day finances we most often go with the easiest option of giving each other relative autonomy to do as we like with our own money. However any couple who takes this route knows that it doesn’t always work.
  • Generally speaking this comes about with one of us being annoyed with some financial decision of the other.  Namely James not agreeing with my household purchases and me being annoyed by James paying more than necessary on fees and related expenses that don’t provide value.  Here are two good examples of this repeated dialogue going on lately.  
    • On James’ side he doesn’t agree with my recent purchase of a BBQ. My story is that I’ve wanted a BBQ for 3 years, ever since we moved into our place with a gorgeous private rooftop deck. I finally broke down and got a small $100 tabletop style from Costco. For right now we are at a standoff in our disagreement on the BBQ. My story is that since I know that James will disagree about most household purchases, that when I do decide to get something I make sure that I want it enough to stand by my decision.
    • On my side, I am highly annoyed with James delaying changing over to my family plan for his cell phone. If he had cut his contact a year ago and paid the penalty, he would have started saving money in the second month. He refused to do so, even though it would have saved $130 a month. So we wait until the end of his contract in April and I’ve been hounding him to transfer his account since then. In the mean time he has lost over $1500 in dragging his feet, and it still remains outstanding. While on a much more expensive level, it is very reminiscent of early money dialogues when I would get annoyed about James constantly getting dinged for late fees on DVD rentals (back when we had to deal with those).  This issue came up again last night, as James started to deal with it and again didn’t finish through.  I realize how raw this story is, for both of us, and how pervasive it is.  Neither of us willing to give it up.  My friend recommended just that, give it up, but there is still a big part of me that can’t be complacent about flushing money down the drain.    
  • While the two examples above are typical financial interactions between James & I, I try to consider my father Wally’s advice, in that life is too short to argue about money. We also tend to live by this in the sense that we are more likely to throw money at the problem to fix it than we are to actually spend the time arguing about it.
  • We also disagree about savings, in that for me it is important that we have an emergency fund to tap into if needed, and James doesn’t feel this is as critical. We tend to meet somewhere in the middle to make us both feel secure.
  • We actually spent the early years of our marriage with me as the sugar mama. James started his Ph.D. studies the year before we got married and quit his full time job a few months before we were married. James had a research position and invested in dividend producing stocks to pay for his incidental expenses, but I picked up the groceries, utilities, going out, clothing, and travel expenses for around four years. When I worked in Afghanistan for a year, in our second year of marriage, I sent him back an allowance of $1k a month.
  • I find it interesting in that while I didn’t love having to cover so many of our expenses, I was also more comfortable being the one giving than I would have been receiving. Even as I am now on my second week of maternity leave, I have still managed to work it so I have enough saved to cover my household contributions for the next six months. While clearly it isn’t a matter of fairness or deserving, I still feel better having that financial autonomy.  
  • Another thing that intrigues me is that while James is very financially driven, he is fine with me making more money than him. In fact, even being two years older and having a second masters, I still make 25% more than he does. My sis noted that her husband wasn’t comfortable with this possibility.  
  • We also calculate our net worth regularly, and while we only post our joint net worth, we still calculate the separately and then combine. Both my retirement savings and inheritance have meant that my balance sheet has been the larger of the two for some time. While James would love to see both of ours grow, he doesn’t begrudge me my success either.
  • Speaking of inheritance, one of the things that we put into our prenup was that inheritance funds would be separate even if they are used for joint purposes. Without this in a prenup it means that if you take your family out to dinner on inherited funds that suddenly the entire amount is now half your spouse’s.  
  • This doesn’t mean that we agree on my use of inherited funds. Darcy and I have built our dream beach cabins, but to James he has a harder time seeing the value in the projects since we aren’t cash flow positive from day one. We have 15 year mortgages on the place and will have them paid off by the time we are 50, so I feel good about the long term investment. They have also appreciated well in the short term for their paper value.
  • One of the unique aspects of our marriage is that we are also business partners on several fronts. We’ve owned and managed rental properties throughout our relationship. We just recently sold one of them, so now have two remaining. It takes a lot of work and partnership to keep them running and not to get stressed when things come up, because they always do. We also own a blogging business, which has developed and expanded over the last 8 years. James’ story, which is often too accurate, is that I have been an unreliable partner in that I might very well fly to the edge of the earth at a moment’s notice and drop off the face of the planet in terms of my connectedness. I can’t really deny this, as I know it has happened many a times, even with my best intentions. So when I go to Oregon for three weeks in July, I have made it clear that I will be on vacation and won’t be planning to work on our businesses. He still doesn’t see this as a priority, but for me it is. I took only one week of maternity leave before working from home full time, so I figure it is fair enough.
  • Travel is clearly an area that costs money and is more important to me than to James. I have handled this by making it a priority for me and that is that. There are times when this creates conflict, and say James isn’t thrilled with me spending a weekend with friends in Zanzibar instead of saving the cash, but looking back there isn’t an example where I would rather have the cash. James has been so used to me covering plane tickets that I think for awhile he thought that frequent flyer miles grew on trees. I’ve paid for more of his flights on miles than most people will accrue in a lifetime and a half.
  • As our newborn is only two weeks old, we are still getting used to a child being part of the equation, so I am certain there will be a learning curve. At least we are both in agreement for minimizing excess kid stuff and using second hand when we can, which I appreciate. I do know that James is interested in private school, which is okay on one level and yet I have a problem with the cost of it as well. We’ll see how that ends up panning out, either way I know our child’s education will be a priority, so that is what matters. We are also both in agreement with kids developing a good work ethic and savings ethic, as well as service.


Tips for Teaching Kids About Money



When and how we learn life skills depends on several factors. We have many chances to practice social graces, such as ‘thank you’ and ‘excuse me’. Children learn to manage their time and prioritize through school or deciding what sports they want to play.
However, gaining practical finance skills is more difficult. An allowance or odd jobs teach us how to earn money; but little in the way of budgeting and planning.
Many kids simply spend pocket money for quick fun or buying gadgets. Credit cards are the first money temptation many college students will face. A young adult may feel money is earned to be spent based on their brief work history. Overspending without concept of the consequences is a common result. This poses challenges later in life, where a lack of money experience has long term effects.
So, how can we teach kids about money in a practical and effective way?
Here are some strategies to consider:
Learn Money Skills Early and Often:
Parents can teach their children about making a budget and setting aside cash from an early age. You could set small financial goals for buying toys or tech widgets based on the child’s age. Children should then have chances to earn money in stages to buy the product.
Tips for success:
Set specific targets. Your child should know what the product costs and how much they must save each week/month to get it.
Let your child make their own decisions. They will be tempted to spend money along the way while saving for a new bike or skateboard. If they don’t reach their goal, be supportive but don’t cave in. You may offer more chores or work so they can continue to save.
Attend Money Workshops and Camps for Kids:
Consider workshops and summer camps geared to kids. Community centers and financial institutions often hold ‘Kid’s Nights’, where money subjects are taught in fun ways. Your local library, community college or bank may hold these events.
In July of 2013, USC Alumnus Elliott Broidy provided scholarships for children to attend summer camps at his alma mater. Careers, money and college life were among the topics.
You may also look to personal finance books with content for the whole family to share.
Use Technology:
Our digital world makes it easier to learn real life money skills. There are online tools and apps for kids of all ages.
Young Children : Free apps such as Allowance or Virtual Piggy help children set and achieve money goals. With Allowance, parents can assign chores with dollar values and time deadlines. Kids then prioritize to earn money in the most efficient way. Parents and kids can track % to goal with real time updates. The app even divides earnings into savings, spending and investing buckets.
Pre and Early Teens: Beyond saving, children can learn to grow their money with apps such as Bee Farming ($2.99) and The Game of Life ($0.99).
At Bee Farming, kids runs a virtual bee farm with set time periods to grow the business. The app teaches entrepreneurial skills such as reinvesting, spotting opportunity and managing scarce resources.
Using The Game of Life, kids learn about college debt and buying a house or car. Your child will see how loan rates affect debt and interest payments. This shows kids the true cost of making major purchases.
Teenage Years: College planning becomes a reality in teenage years. Online calculators and social media help teenagers research the best college choices.
Facebook, Google+ and YouTube are more than social sites. Your child can quickly connect with admissions offices and college students for a better sense of each school.
Sit with your teenager and calculate the debt service for each college they’re interested in. Rank your schools in order of preference and decide what college offers the best value, all things considered. A school’s atmosphere, aid, grants and degree programs should all be considered. Effective college planning goes past the hype to understand total costs and benefits.
Money is a vital subject that can be learned outside the classroom. Planning, persistence and technology make this easier.

~*~*~*~*~*~ Sustainable Family Finances Growing abundance while living down-to-Earth.

New Baby & Partner!

Miel & Darcy (left & right!)

I’m excited to announce a new partnership. In truth , it’s really the furthest thing from a new partnership since we’ve truly been best friends forever, but it still feels like a new relationship and all sorts of new possibilities.

My Twin Sis, Miel, is finally having her first child. She’s due in early June with a baby boy (she actually got pregnant as soon as she returned from my daughter’s birth). Ever since she got peed on a stick, everything has changed. Instead of talking about her international trips or trapeze lessons, now we’re talking about cloth diapers and her registry list. 

We’ve also been colluding about blogging together. Miel has been a very successful blogger, building up  DINKS Finance with her husband James. They’ve also bought several other finance blogs, but she isn’t writing there nearly as much as she once did. And, very very soon, they will no longer be true DINKs (Double Income No Kids). So, we’ve been brainstorming how to make this blog a joint venture, and share both of our stories here.

Aside from being qualified as my Twin Sis, Miel is very savvy with her finances. After the   Peace Corps , Miel moved to Washington D.C.  to pursue a globe-trekking career working non-profits from Afghanistan to the Congo to the Philippines and back to Africa more times than I can count. S he briefly got into  credit card debt as she moved from Oregon to D.C., but she once she landed a job, she managed to  pay it off in record time  and developed some great money management habits in the process. Miel and her hubby, James, have invested wisely in real estate in the District and recently sold a tiny studio for a pretty penny . They also are in the “Millionaire Club” and diligently track their net worth  (I’m still a bit squeamish about this idea for a couple of reasons…a topic about our differences for another post) Yet, suffice it to say, Miel is my personal money adviser and I’m excited to be sharing our diverse perspectives about finances and family matters.

Together, we would love to write about several topics:

  • Motivating each other – Making more money and saving toward goals
  • Marriage and money – We both have Hubby’s who would love to save every penny, so Money Honey chats will still be a big topic.
  • Cost of Kids  – They are expensive people, but it’s also about raising them to have a healthy positive relationship with money. How to motivate and manage responsibility as they grow up (My son is now 8 and anxious to get earning!). 
  • Planning for retirement – Saving goals so we can retire at the same time!!
  • Owning vacation rentals – We still haven’t share the full story about our  beach cabins  and all that we are learning about this family investment.
  • Becoming a solo-preneur – Reflections about working for myself and launching my coaching business.
  • Organic Living – Continuing to share our efforts to live a greener life.
You can look forward to double the fun of Sustainable Family Finances, with unique perspectives from our dynamic duo. As you’ll discover, we may look the same, but everyone handles money differently. This couldn’t be more the case in couples and family related finances. We look forward to sharing the journey with you and growing our readership. Feel free to pass on to your friends and spread the word, and follow along the journey.

Darcy (and Miel) 

Sustainable Family Finances 
Growing abundance while living down-to-Earth

Getting Back on Financial Track

It’s been about ten days since I made my confessional about overspending. I’ve been diligently tracking my daily expenses in a little paper notebook, and I can honestly say that it’s made me much more aware of my spending. I went online to double check, but overall I kept a pretty good tab. It feels really good to be getting back on financial track.

I also managed to leave my credit card at home. I cringed a bit when I paid for gas with my debit card, knowing that I wasn’t earning miles. Yet, it felt great when I just went online to check our account, and realized that I didn’t need to log on to two other credit cards in order to get an accurate view of our current finances.

Aside from my overspending, we had also realized that one of our cash flow problems was that I had fallen behind on getting reimbursed for pre-K tuition. When I was earning a salary, our reimbursements went into our vacation fund. So it didn’t matter that we weren’t caught up on submitting claims (unless we had a trip coming up!) But now that the flexible spending is taken out of Hubby’s paycheck for the $535 monthly tuition, it matters that we get paid back. It turned out that I hadn’t submitted a reimbursement since the new year, so we had $1500 ready to be paid out. It’s almost like an extra pay check!

So here’s my list of expenses for the past eleven days. It’s obviously not a perfectly balanced ledger, and doesn’t include regular household bills. But it is a glimpse at my spending habits/priorities.

$9.35 – Post office – ship to Miel and Kelly

$10.00 – Rotary (breakfast, brag, cookie from exchange student)
$2.00 – Coffee for two hour work session
+ $32 – Exchanged Hubby’s broken watch for a cheaper one
$0.00 – New glasses bought entirely with my REI rebate (normally $49.95)

+$100.00 – Sold Hubby’s unused beer making kit
$47.00 – Shandong family dinner out
$47.00 – Ace – Lock box, key copies

$175 – Ace – Chair patio set and Welcome mat (Staging photos for AirBnB/Kid & Coe)
$6 – Washman car wash
$38.11 – Costco (Pizza, salad and snacks for beach trip)
$66.66 – Gas to drive to the beach cabins

$13.50 – Swirl frozen yogurt

+553.00 – AirBnB weekend reservation
$49.95 – IKEA high chair & blanket
$10.98 – IKEA meatballs

$5 – Rotary meeting
$10.35 – SCRAP (A crafty reuse non-profit for mosaic supplies)

$58.03 New Seasons (Pdx local grocery store)
$3.79 New Seasons – coffee & muffin

$29 – Oregon Children’s Theater, Fancy Nancy Tickets

While in my mind, I was very thoughtful about my spending, it’s obviously not a strict cut back (Hubby would prefer that I leave my wallet at home entirely…but that’s not going to happen!). I had several things I had already decided to buy, and felt were still priorities. Like tickets to see Fancy Nancy with Girly for earning 100 chore points or a cheap high chair for the patio. And I bought a chair set for the patio and extra blanket for hosting through AirBnB/Kid & Coe (more on this very soon!). Like I’ve said before, I’m VERY good at justifying my expenses.

So, the next step is to continue to make sure we have the income to pay for all of the wants in life.

How do you prioritize your spending?
How do you balance your “wants” with your income?


Sustainable Family Finances
The story of a family creating an abundant and sustainable life.