Tuesday, February 25, 2020

February 2020 Shopping Reflections

I've been too busy at the office to buy anything, but I still occasionally think about shiny, pretty things that have briefly caught my eye...

It's official, I've now been working at 3,000 billed hours/year pace for nearly two months straight. (Well, at 2,800 billed hours/year pace, after factoring in the standard four weeks of vacation.) Two months down, one to go. After that, K and I are going on vacation for a bit, and I'm really going to appreciate the break. 

One thing about being this relentlessly busy at work, I really don't have any time or mental energy left to think about shopping, or at least, not enough to actually make the decision to buy anything. So this month was a no-shopping month, only my third since I first started documenting all of my monthly shopping in January 2015. And at this rate, I'm fairly confident I won't be buying anything between now and my upcoming lengthy business trip to Paris next month. Though if I actually go through with that particular maybe-while-in-Paris purchase, I'll basically have done a whole year's worth of shopping - and then some - just in the first three months of 2020!

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That's not to say there haven't been any other new and shiny objects out there that have caught my eye. I've been thinking about getting a backpack, something slimmer, sleeker, and a bit more formal-looking for travel and work than my trusty ol' North Face Recon backpack (current edition), which I've been using since law school. Back in January, I thought I was sure about which style I wanted - probably the Knomo Beauchamp - but I've since found myself unable to commit. 

And I've also been intrigued by the  look of the newly released Cuyana Oversized Hobo, even though I don't think I'd ever actually buy it, it's too redundant of handbags I already own. But Cuyana's new "deep ocean" green-blue shade of leather that the Oversized Hobo (and certain other bags) comes in is exactly my kind of color. So the temptation could get stronger.

One other thing about being this intensely busy, I've somehow still managed to find a fair bit of time to read for fun, mostly late at night, right before bed. I've read a lot of enjoyable books so far this year, though nothing that stands out as a new favorite. Most recently, I finished Ann Patchett's The Dutch House (which I liked, but I found the ending a bit abrupt) and Karin Slaughter's The Last Widow (a very reliable author for mystery thrillers). 

I hope that everyone has been having a good start to 2020! Although I haven't been shopping, the beginning of the year has still been on the expensive side, as I needed to pay my taxes. I owed $3,000 to the IRS this year.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Life Lately: When I'm Actually on Pace to Bill 3,000 Hours/Year*

(via Unsplash) When I'm working this much, I get myself lattes maybe four times a week. I'm pretty good about remembering to bring my Joco reusable cup (affiliate link). 

*For the sake of transparency, I should note that I'm only on pace to bill 3,000 hours in 2020 if we assume I take no vacation. After factoring in the four weeks worth of vacation days my colleagues and I typically take each year, I'm "only" on pace to bill 2,800 this year. That's still a mighty sum!

You know how - about a year ago - I wrote about what it was like to be on pace to bill 3,000 hours/year, but I meant it in a tongue-in-cheek way because I'd only actually worked that intensely for a little less than three weeks total? Well, I now officially know what it's like to work that much for a month straight, and with no real end in sight for the rest of the quarter!

And soon, I'll be working many of those hours during a string of business trips, both international and domestic. It's even looking like I'll be away from NYC for almost half of March. One of my many upcoming business trips may involve a lengthy stay in Paris. Unfortunately, we'll probably be stuck in various conference rooms throughout the daylight hours - including over a weekend - so it won't be a fun trip by any stretch of the imagination. However, because the large international law firms in Paris are mostly located near the Arc de Triomphe - and accordingly, we'll be staying in that area - we won't be far from the designer boutiques on the Champs-Elysees, which raises a certain... intriguing possibility... Albeit it's a possibility that may not be fully compatible with certain of my more recently made plans.

A Handbag Person

Longtime readers may recall that, quite a few years ago, I used to daydream about the time when I'd finally, finally feel ready to purchase my first premium designer handbag. Ever since I first became interested in fashion and shopping - mostly after watching the Devil Wears Prada movie back when it was in theaters - I've generally been a handbag person, becoming enamored with the idea of various designer "it" bags that mostly would not have aged well or become classic designs, including the Miu Miu coffer. Back then, I wasn't quite as into clothes, or shoes, or other accessories.

Much more recently, however, I've gradually realized that there aren't many designer handbags out there that would suit my lifestyle and my tastes. I favor simple bags that are easy to slip things in and out of, without fussy flaps, closures, or clasps. Anything that's too heavy, or has excessive hardware, is just going to sit unused. Even by 2016, I was hard-pressed to think of a specific designer bag I'd actually be willing to spend that amount of money on. Currently, the Celine Seau Sangle is the only one I like the look of enough to maybe, someday, consider buying. (It's been on my main Pinterest shopping wish list for a while.)

In recent months, I've joked a few times that, if my travels ever took me to Paris, I'd have a hard time resisting the opportunity to shop with a VAT refund and the cheaper prices there for Celine compared to the US. I made that joke knowing that K and I had absolutely no plans to travel to Europe anytime in the foreseeable future, and without any reason to suspect that my caseload could ever result in an eventual business trip to Paris.

Now that it looks like I might soon end up in Paris after all, I'm not sure how likely it is that I'd follow through on this idea for a Celine purchase that I first spoke of in jest. But given how much I've been working - and how particularly stressful the specific project that brings us to Paris will be - I suspect I'd have a hard time resisting.

Incompatible Impulses

Separately, longtime readers may also recall that I came out of law school with a bit of a complex about feeling out-of-place in the biglaw and biglaw-adjacent segments of the profession I hoped to enter, for reasons of socioeconomic class on top of gender and race.

It was never really about what I wore versus what other people wore - these past two years, my annual clothing and accessories spend has likely been significantly and visibly above average for a typical biglaw-ish attorney of my seniority - but the designer items and status symbols are what that insecure, "imposter syndrome"-prone portion of my subconscious zeroed in on. In law school, what I was really envious about wasn't that so many of my classmates seemed to be able to comfortably buy significantly more expensive clothes and accessories than I could. Instead, what I was truly insecure about was that so, so many of my peers seemed to come from families that - unlike mine - could subsidize a significant portion of the cost of law school attendance.

Nearly a half decade after law school, I'm in a very different place. My student loan balance is still substantial, currently a little more than a year's salary as a JSP-12 judicial clerk, but I've also saved a much larger nest egg, and the loans have also been refinanced to a much less scary 2.6% interest rate. My first years in the profession were not what I expected, but I was lucky to find a good, not-exactly-biglaw niche for myself after clerking. And now, I'm starting to seriously contemplate whether I'll be ready to leave the private sector quite a bit sooner than I originally planned.

This raises the obvious issue that my new career plans aren't exactly fully compatible with my Parisian shopping plans. Should that lengthy business trip to Paris happen, and should I have any time to myself there while the shops are open, I think it's somewhat likely that it's the shopping plans that will win out. In the end, my ideas about how my longer-term career plans might be changing are still in too nascent and preliminary a stage to feel anything but extremely abstract. Meanwhile, the opportunity to shop Celine at Paris prices, with a VAT refund, will feel quite immediate and concrete, and like a rare and fleeting chance.

Anyway, there's quite a few weeks yet before that scheduled business trip to Paris, and there's always a chance it doesn't end up happening. If it does come to pass - and if the specific color of the Celine Seau Sangle I want is in stock somewhere within walking distance from where we're staying - then I'll likely, in one fell swoop, prove myself a liar about how I was supposed to shop much less in 2020 than in 2019. 

Monday, January 27, 2020

January 2020 Shopping Reflections

Clearly, I have a favorite color, or a favorite family of colors.

Between this month's post and the last, I'm tempted to go back and revise my previous three shopping reflection posts, to retcon the timeline, so to speak. The November 2019 post arguably wasn't the shopping reflection post for that month, since there were Black Friday purchases I'd already ordered by the time that post went live. The December 2019 post was actually the November 2019 post, given when the orders were made. Similarly, all these "January 2020" purchases were technically made during the first days of the post-Christmas sales, before the year turned. I haven't bought anything else since 2020 began, only made decisions on the things I ordered in late December. So, really, this month's shopping reflection post should actually be considered the December 2019 post instead!

Lately, I've had a lot on my mind. I think I've always been fairly candid about how I never expected to stay in biglaw-ish law firm practice in the very long term. But up until this month, I'd never actually thought about a specific timeline for the transition to what comes after. These days, I'm thinking far more concretely than before about how much longer it might be before I start applying in earnest for something different, likely something in government. 

Clearly, I have many big questions to think about. Among other things, those financial projections in my money management spreadsheet may no longer be valid - particularly through the end of 2021 or 2022 - since all my calculations were based on remaining in the same job all that time. And I think it's safe to say that I won't be able to spend or shop quite as freely anymore.

But you'd never know that from my extravagant list of "this month's" purchases, which I'd actually ordered in late December, before I started changing my mind about how much longer I expected to stay in private practice. I really enjoy everything I bought, but it's hard to sound enthusiastic about them when - shortly after deciding to "cut the tags" - I suddenly realized there were big changes to what I wanted my professional life to look like in the fairly near term. It feels almost like I was a different person back then, back when I was eagerly scoping out the post-Christmas sales and making these orders (without much of a second thought about my total spend for the month). 

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Anyway, I'll have to write more at some other time about what I've been thinking about my career trajectory, wait until I haven't just indulged to an extent that would only feel appropriate to me if I planned to remain in biglaw-ish practice for the indefinite future. I expect the rest of 2020 to look very different on the shopping front. And I feel like anything more I have to say about my expected career trajectory - and about my ability to plan seriously for, and implement, practical steps to prepare for a significant pay-cut in the nearer, rather than longer, term - will just ring hollow when juxtaposed against the list of "this month's" purchases, and against the rather extreme total spend. 

Fashion - (TOTAL: $1037.37) 
  • Brora Cashmere Gauzy Polo Neck, teal - $302.99* - Last year, my Brora purchases from their UK site came with a surprise discount - something like $20 to $30/item - in the form of a more favorable exchange rate than expected. This year, the exchange rate I got was exactly the market rate according to Google, no more surprise discount! Either way, it still makes sense to purchase direct from the UK site, as the US prices are generally at least $100 more per sweater. The downside is that one would need to ship unwanted items back to the UK fairly quickly, on one's own dime, to get a refund. I'd been waiting eagerly for this teal sweater to go on sale since October or November, as I don't think a lot of other brands had slouchy turtlenecks in a similar color. This sweater is quite boxy on me, and the size S/M runs quite large for what I expect from UK sizing. I find the "gauzy" weight Brora cashmere plenty warm for just about any temperature I regularly encounter in NYC - when worn with appropriate layers outdoors, of course - though the fabric does feel quite thin. 
  • Smythson Mara Small Zip-Around Purse, bluette - $154.69* - (sold out, other colors) - What can I say? I have a rather extreme fondness for small leather goods, particularly for "mini" wallets. I've already amassed quite a large collection of small wallets I'm fond of - my favorite is probably the Italic Albee card case I bought last year, though I find their brand's premise rather tedious - but it's still difficult for me to resist buying more when I see a good one on sale. Particularly in light of my recent decisions about my career trajectory, I'll try to keep this habit under control. This particular zip-around design has a bit more space and capacity than most of my other "mini" wallets. I love this rich, sort of dark teal-looking "bluette" shade, it's a particularly nice example of that family of colors. And hey, this wallet was another way to indulge in that recent trend of colorful, croc-embossed leather I was so taken by
  • Johnston of Elgin Reversible Cashmere Silk Square - $375.00 - I've had this exact scarf pinned to the "fantasy or lucky secondhand only" section of my Pinterest shopping list for ages, so when I saw it discounted significantly in the first wave of the post-Christmas sales, one could say it was a "no-brainer." This scarf is a beautiful color, in that general family of dark, rich blues or blue-greens I've been so fond of, and the shade works as a neutral. The scarf is a generous size, it definitely resembles those giant blanket scarves that were popular a few years back. In person, the color isn't quite as bright, and doesn't have as much of a sheen to it, as in the model photos on the store's website. The store photos of the scarf by itself are more accurate with regards to the real-life color. 
  • J.Crew Resume Dress, jade melange - $204.69* - This wasn't techncially a post-Christmas sale purchase, as I ended up ordering it at full price when my size became available in late December. I'm a bit shocked at myself, actually, as I thought I'd never buy anything full-price from J.Crew, given their extremely frequent - albeit sometimes unpredictable, and generally heavily excluded-from - discounts and promotions. I don't keep close track of J.Crew's new products anymore, so it was only when this jade melange color of the Resume dress - a staple workwear dress they've stocked for years - was nearly sold out that I first learned about it, after seeing it on someone's Instagram. And then I had to have it. I kept checking the product page every day for around a week before my size popped back in stock briefly, and then I ordered it immediately. This jade melange shade isn't quite that bright, rich teal I've been so captivated by - it's a more faded and neutral-ish variant - but I'm still fond of it.  
*Indicates that price includes sales tax and/or shipping. Brora and Smythson charge fairly substantial international shipping fees. 

All this shopping combined was, at the very least, not my biggest expenditure in January 2020. That honor goes instead to my backdoor Roth IRA contribution. (Since I returned to the private sector after clerking, my habit has been to fully fund my backdoor Roth IRA right at the start of the year, out of last year's year-end bonus. Though I likely won't be able to continue that practice after I fully follow through on some of my new plans.) Oh, and I also made an extra student loan payment of significant size out of said year-end bonus.

In the coming months, I plan to shop significantly less than in 2019, though I haven't sat down and laid out a concrete plan yet for exactly how much less I think I should shop. There aren't any pieces of clothing or jewelry that I'm currently interested in, taking into account my new expectations for my career, and the attendant spending restrictions. K and I may be planning a vacation with a lot of walking around in big cities in April, which reminds me that I may prefer to use a small backpack, rather than one of the tote bags I already have, during such a trip. A top candidate for that purchase is the Knomo Beauchamp backpack.

How were the post-Christmas sales for you? Were you able to find any discounts on items you'd been keeping an eye on for a long time? How's your 2020 going so far? 

Monday, January 13, 2020

Change of Plans (Maybe)

Natori Flora (affiliate link)

This time last year, I was all ready to go ahead and start consulting with plastic surgeons regarding certain plans I'd made. I'd been setting aside cash for months by then - in anticipation of how unlikely it was that my health insurance would ever deign to cover the procedure - and I believed I had enough to cover the full cost, separate from and on top of my robust six-month emergency fund and without disrupting my other savings and investment plans. 

My overall financial situation back then, in January 2019, was admittedly not as healthy as it could be. It was only more recently, right before December, that my student loan balance dropped to five figures for the first time, just barely. And my net worth was still negative back in January last year, I didn't hit "net worth zero" until April. At the time, I didn't think this was reason enough to change my plans. In any case, if I were to move forward now, or in the foreseeable future, I'm currently in a much stronger financial position than I was a year ago.

What actually made me change my mind about surgery last January wasn't my still-substantial student loan balance, nor the obvious fact that the expense would deplete a significant percentage of my savings and assets. Instead, I got spooked by the downturn in the markets, and then by the US government shutdown. Almost my entire practice is in the federal courts, which could have eventually run out of money to stay fully open, though that ultimately did not come to pass.

Immediately afterwards, there were some unexpected events in some of my cases, and things never really quieted down again at the office for the rest of the year. (Though I also never got back on pace to bill anywhere close to 3,000 hours for the year after that extremely hectic period last January, for which I'm very thankful!) And in the end, I think a subconscious part of me is also more scared of undergoing general anesthesia and surgery - and the associated risks of complications, however small - than I originally thought. I never ended up feeling much eagerness to actually take concrete steps to start looking for a surgeon.

And now, a year on, the larger context for my decision-making is significantly changed. As time passes, I get closer to the point when I'd ideally like to have children. I think this particular decision looks very different if one doesn't plan to get pregnant in the next four or more years, versus if it's looking like a possibility in the more immediate future.

These days, I may also be thinking more critically about how much longer I expect to, or will choose to, work in the private sector. I've never planned to be in biglaw or biglaw-ish for my entire career, but I'd previously been a lot more open-minded and flexible about staying in the industry for a fairly long time. I never had a specific end date in mind, in the past, but these days, I may be more inclined to thinking about one. One's financial picture changes significantly, in that case.

Anyway, even if I was eager to move forward with the procedure right now, I wouldn't be able to any time in the next few months. My work schedule in the near future definitely doesn't have enough room for me to take even a few days off to recover afterwards.

I suppose it's clear that I've had a lot on my mind, recently. One surprising - but somewhat positive - side effect of being so busy at the office is that I've somehow still managed to find a lot of time to read for fun, probably in part because it's a more effective escape from thinking about work-related stress than blogging or watching TV. I've read quite a few enjoyable books recently, including Circe, by Madeline Miller, and The Trespasser, by Tana French (affiliate links). I hope that everyone is having a good start to 2020!