Sunday, February 18, 2018

Sunday Reading: The Messy Intersection of Money and Family Law

Given the stage of life I'm in, it's downright silly for me to expound at length about my views of family law and marriage. As someone yet unmarried and childless, if I said anything particularly opinionated, I'd essentially just be asking - nay, demanding - that real life intervene to make an absolute fool of me. That sure doesn't stop me, though. As usual, nothing in this post constitutes legal advice. 

When I read Jamie Seaton's essay on Buzzfeed about the dramatic transformation in her apparent financial status that resulted from her divorce, and how that paralleled her experiences as a child of divorced parents with their own dramatic financial disparity, I was, for no discernible reason, entirely transfixed. Although the topic is quite serious, and the bare facts inherently do not paint her ex-husband in a positive light, I personally thought she was evenhanded and honest, matter-of-fact rather than self-pitying, and far more generous to her ex-husband than he likely deserved. Overall, I liked the piece, and sympathized, though reasonable minds differ greatly on this, and it turns out to have been extremely polarizing

P.S. before formulating an opinion, it's best to read Seaton's other published essays about the end of her marriage, one tabloid-y piece about her immediate post-divorce finances and a more gentle essay about co-parenting with her ex. My opinion changed after reading both pieces. My initial feeling, that he'd nickel and dimed her to an unsavory degree in the settlement, to the detriment of his children, turned out to be wrong. There appears to be a provision that penalizes her on spousal support if her monthly earnings dropped below a certain amount, which seems to me unnecessarily draconian to an ex-spouse that worked throughout the marriage. Even if spousal support serves a different purpose than child support, I don't think it uncontroversial to assume that most economically less powerful ex-spouses with primary custody spend most of their income on things directly affecting their children's quality of life, especially at the cutoff they set.

As it turns out, her ex-husband likely didn't nickel and dime her much at all. Instead, it appears that he controlled their finances, and he was really very bad at it, insisting on a house they could not afford and keeping her in the dark about their credit card debt. He most likely didn't have much money after all, and unless he's dramatically changed the way he handles it, he likely still doesn't. (Her ex's money management reminds me of this dude.) Among other things, she came out of the divorce with $16,000 in marital credit card debt that should, I think, ultimately be considered "his fault" because he controlled the purse strings.

And yes, some might say not to believe everything someone writes, though I feel like Seaton admits to enough that isn't flattering about herself - her extreme youthful fixation on designer clothes to buy the appearance of status - that I'm not skeptical. I certainly trust her perception, writing, and understanding of money far more than that of the writer behind that uncomfortable New York Times "Modern Love" piece on prenuptial agreements, for instance. (That person sounded really bad at money, her then-fiancee was reasonable in his demand for a prenuptial agreement, but callous in his handling of it and may, to my non-expert eyes, have created unnecessary risks to the contract's enforceability.) 

When it comes to stories like this, whether just about money or about the messy intersection of family matters and money, I often find people's varying reactions more interesting than the pieces themselves. Because most of my friends are not into talking about these things every time I have a link to share, I end up relying on internet comments sections to get my discussion fix. I know, I know, internet comments sections are often pointless and toxic, but still! There was a lot to unpack here, plenty more fuel for strong, visceral reactions than in most money-related personal essays, and that's really saying something. (Among other things, from my experiences living in Hong Kong, I'm always ready to raise my eyebrows about expat lifestyles in Asia.) I was actually pleasantly surprised by the relatively evenhanded and calm comments on Buzzfeed, given that the money subreddits I follow, though well-moderated and generally reasonable, have left me with a sense that everyone's ready to accuse a woman, particularly one who generally earned less than her husband, of being a freeloading, gold-digging mooch, even when it's absolutely not true. 

That's not to say all the reactions were reasonable. One top-appearing comment excoriated her for failing to open her own secret savings account "just in case", which seems iffy. While I would never personally agree to a marital money arrangement that left me without a checking and savings accounts solely in my name, even if the amounts retained in it are relatively nominal, plenty of people out there maintain fully joint accounts and shared finances. Another follow-up comment to that "secret savings account" comment, rather a non-sequitur, was eager to declare how their own single mother did it so much better than Seaton by "working full time and sacrificing to provide for her family", which it's clear that Seaton actually is doing, so that was super weird. One other top comment was about how all of Seaton's wealthy friends (I suppose from earlier days in that wealthy Connecticut suburb or the high-flying expat community) should have given her financial help, which seemed to me an extremely strange thing to take away from the article. Normal people generally don't ask non-family members for money, right? 

Anyway, I'm a total weirdo with my strangely intense interest in these topics. I suppose I just really enjoy financial voyeurism. Seaton's essay was part of a Buzzfeed collaboration with the Death, Sex, and Money podcast, and they came up with some really interesting essays that are worth a read. 

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

What's In My Bag: Work Edition

Consider this post an early preview of my monthly shopping post, because that there is definitely a new bag, and not the Mansur Gavriel large tote (similar) I was planning on, nor one that fits the associated criteria. This "What's In My Bag" post was inspired by Michelle's recent post.

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This may be a rather boring "What's In My Bag" post, because I really don't need much during my average work day. I keep things like hand cream, lip balm, or an extra hairbrush at my desk because I never need them while out and about. I don't wear makeup except on court or client meeting days, so no need for a makeup bag. Even when I do, I generally don't touch up during the day, so the only item I need is blotting paper, currently the Too Cool for School brand with handy case and applicator. Because I generally never carry around a laptop for work any more, I could make do with a much smaller bag, though I typically still prefer large totes like the Longchamp Neo or Everlane Petra Market

My current bag is a slight break in tradition, as it's a hair too small for letter-sized folders and notebooks. It's the Coach Rogue, in last season's "dark denim" color, no longer available new online, though they had several in stock and on sale at the Soho store as of two weeks ago. I'll save the waxing poetic over it for a future date. Even though a lot of Coach's updated styles under Stuart Vevers are distinctly not my thing (though they can be quite snazzy), I love this bag. There's something about the shape, when worn as a tote with the top handles tucked away, that I find magical. The color works well with all of my coats, even the harder to match oxblood or bright orange. The Rogue is noticeably heavier than my usual work bags, though not enough to dissuade me from carrying it every weekday since I got it. I even admire it out of the corner of my eye every time I pass a reflective surface while carrying it. 

1. Wallet - This Kate Spade Saturday (R.I.P.) card case is great. With two card slots (each holding two to three cards) and one large button-flap compartment to hold cash and some coins (but not many), it's roomier than most card cases out there, and just the right size for me. I always carry three credit cards, each for different purposes and rewards, as well as my driver's license and primary debit card. I only rarely see similar card cases, and believe me, I'm constantly on the lookout. The Dagne Dover Card Case, Dagne Dover Accordion Card Case and Coach Card Pouch are some of the only visually similar ones I've seen, but none of them seem to have quite the same capacity as my trusty card case. 

2. Cough Drops - This isn't something I normally carry around, but we had a brutal cold snap in January that left my immune system more vulnerable than normal. I woke up most mornings with a scratchy throat that never quite developed into a full-blown cold. 

3. Notebook - This is a Leuchtturm1917 medium dotted journal, which is roughly A5 size. I use a variant of the bullet journal system to keep track of my daily to-do lists, for both work and personal matters. It's a fairly new system for me, and it's been a helpful one that I've stuck to consistently for a few months now. 

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Monday, February 12, 2018

The "It Bags" of Yesteryear

Three celebrities with their Miu Miu Coffers, a pre-2010 "it bag" that has not held its value. I adored this bag when I was in college. 

The first unattainably expensive designer bag I coveted, back in college and not long after The Devil Wears Prada movie ignited my interest in fashion, was the Miu Miu Coffer. I didn't have much reason for it, certainly didn't have a sense of my "personal style", nor did I yet have a good understanding of my handbag preferences (I now favor large, unfussy totes). I just knew that it was beautiful, and that the whole combination: ruched leather, braided handle, and oddly placed front pockets, just seemed perfect, even if it all looks rather fussy to me now. I looked eagerly at celebrity street style photos of it, was familiar with all of the few that popped up online. Every time I saw it in real life, I stared at it wistfully from a distance.

Had I saved my work-study and summer earnings for it, I'd have been disappointed in my investment. Certain designer bags maintain their resale value well, as we all know, but Miu Miu isn't one of those brands. If I still wanted it, there are several to be had on The Real Real* (affiliate link) for $300 or less, though generally not in good condition, as it's ancient and long-discontinued. It originally retailed for over $1400, so that's a loss in value of more than 60% in the last decade, more if one considers consignment fees. 

I suppose there's not much point to looking back on it, except to emphasize that my teenage self was sometimes silly, didn't have great or particularly consistent taste, and would definitely have wasted tons of money if she had it. I admire people who, at a similarly young age, had a far more thought-out and defined sense of their own style, or aesthetics they were interested in, say Twelve: of Ourwho I sang the praises of when I last reflected on my own early experiences with fashion, desire, and aspirational consuming. 

It's also interesting to see how some "it bags" stand the test of time, and some don't. To me, there doesn't seem to be much rhyme or reason to it. Way back when I started this blog, I looked forward to the day, years after I graduated law school, when I could finally indulge in a big designer splurge after having truly earned it. Except even then, I actually wasn't sure of what the bag would be, because I wanted something timeless. It had been a long time since I had been as attracted to any bag as much as that Miu Miu Coffer. So I was ambivalent even then, and that ambivalence only increased after I graduated, as the few "maybe" bags I picked generally weren't cool anymore, even just one year on. 

These days, that hypothetical "distant future splurge" keeps getting pushed back because my career has involved a few voluntary pay cuts, and I've only recently started paying my student loans in earnest. I'm actually pretty sure it won't happen, which isn't sad because, as you've seen, I indulge frequently in shopping and want for nothing. It's simply that my preferences have changed. Furthermore, looking forward, my plans to aggressively finish off my student loans (I could hit "net worth zero" a year from now, and it'll take at least another year and a half after) might not mesh well with goals like buying property, wedding planning, or getting ready to start a family, much less the, er, (still hypothetical) possibility of all of those things coinciding in a fairly short time. All of which is a long way of saying that, now that I've finally settled in to a job with no short-term expiration date, I'm a bit overwhelmed by how long it takes to make financial progress, and how slow the numbers tick in the right direction, especially now that the long-awaited market correction is upon us. 

Have you ever fallen completely in love with a designer item that was unattainably expensive? What was it? Would you still want to buy or wear those items now, if you had been able to buy it? Have those items retained their resale value? 

*Note that many people have raised concerns about The Real Real lacking quality control when it comes to verifying the authenticity of their products. I probably wouldn't worry as much about a really old and relatively low-value handbag that I'd only be interested in as a collector's item (which I'm not actually interested in, but hypothetically speaking). Handbag counterfeiters were extremely sophisticated, even back then, though, so buyer beware.

Friday, February 9, 2018

Friday Link List: Writer's Block

I love cats, but K and I are both terribly allergic, so we can never have one. Despite the allergies, I'm still thrilled to visit and play with my friends' cats, even if I pay for it later with allergy symptoms.

It seems I've gone straight from one of my most productive writing months ever here to having some writer's block! I have quite a few post ideas and pending drafts, but they tend to be on the more serious and complicated side, so I've been slow in getting them out.

Work is not terribly busy at the moment, though my schedule's been less predictable than I'm used to. In the last few weeks, I never know if I'm going to have a busy week until Monday afternoon, or later, which always throws me off. Plus the weather's been all over the place, which isn't fun. 

1. // Now this is slightly terrifying to anyone who writes reviews online, but Monat Global, apparently a pyramid scheme that sells allegedly problematic (and expensive) hair products is suing someone in federal court for managing and posting on a Facebook group for disgruntled customers. This strategy seems designed to scare all critics into silence, and because even litigation that ends at the motion to dismiss stage is expensive (I'm not familiar enough with the causes of action at issue to know if they're particularly amenable to being dismissed at an early stage), the tactic could well work. 

2. // P.S. for anyone who related to my description of my own longtime tendency towards coasting, complacency in my 2018 goals post, Yet Another Personal Finance Blog linked a helpful "Ask Polly" column that I think is an important corollary to that. While some instances of self-acknowledged "laziness" or slacking are genuinely just that, sometimes it comes from something deeper, a place of fear, or maybe from being overly harsh and unkind to oneself. Something that's related, though maybe not about the exact same thing is Wait But Why's "Why Procrastinators Procrastinate" comic, about how procrastination isn't as simple as a "choice" to be "lazy". 

3. // A few recent blog posts to check out: Lin at Out of the Bag recently posted about a few things, including the interesting discussion resulting from that New York Times piece about "Modest Dressing as a Virtue". The original piece was a bit tedious, so I took notice of it and the resulting discussions, but never read it closely enough to formulate my response. Archana at To Universe with Love posted a while back with many helpful suggestions for moving towards a zero waste kitchen. I'm such a beginner in that area that I don't have too much to add, except that I liked that she promoted the two to three kitchen knife lifestyle, which I'm a longtime adherent of (one large kitchen knife, one small paring knife, and the third knife can differ from cook to cook - I don't keep a third knife myself, as it's not needed for my cooking style). 

4. // I used to love that TLC show What Not to Wear, and wish it (and Say Yes to the Dress) were still on Netflix. I was really sad to hear that Stacy London had a tough year financially, emotionally, and with regards to her health, and she wrote a very honest piece about it on Refinery29 that I enjoyed reading. 

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5. // I can't help but keep window-shopping for smaller, card case-sized wallets, even though I'm perfectly happy with the Kate Spade Saturday (R.I.P.) one I already have. These pink Fossil mini tab wallets are cuter and more practical, in terms of total capacity, than most I've seen (and quite discounted to boot!). Coach makes a very similar accordion card case, but it's significantly pricier, even when on sale.

This shopping month is definitely going to be a heavy one in terms of total cost, though hopefully not in terms of total items. That's not entirely for lack of trying, as I keep getting tempted to order other things to try on. Because my Uniqlo tech gloves prevent me from waking up my current phone with the home button, I've been in the market for those convertible, pop-top mittens, and have tried on and returned a pair from Kate Spade (similar). I may try either these cashmere Bloomingdales brand ones or these wool Kate Spade ones

Did anyone else really love What Not to Wear? I always thought that Stacy and Clinton were great, always kind and empathetic, and ultimately very helpful to everyone who appeared. (One of my favorite episodes can be seen here and they tend to all follow the same formula.) And well, that's exactly the kind of low-stress, light television I like to marathon on Netflix. 

Friday, February 2, 2018

Friday Link List: The Kids and Their Internet

I recently went to the Mansur Gavriel store in Soho to check out the vegetable-tanned leather tote in person. It's a lovely, Instagram-friendly store, spacious and decorated in soft pink. In order to maintain the "look", they keep very little stock on the shelves. They have practically every item, in almost every color, in the back, so an employee was able to show me the totes with both the "classic" red lining (affiliate link) and the ballerina pink lining. I'd never actually gotten up close and personal with the vegetable-tanned leather before, and I was surprised by how different it was. It's incredibly light (which is a plus) and extremely stiff. It's more rigid than, say, most saffiano leather. 

I know that the the cammello and brandy vegetable-tanned leather age and patina beautifully, but I've never seen what happens to the black leather over time. I imagine that it can't change color to the same extent. All in all, I wasn't sure that the Mansur Gavriel large tote is for me. 

1. // I continue to follow #metoo-related news coverage closely, and process complicated feelings. Very few bad things have ever happened to me. There's only been some standard workplace bias (subtle enough that not all minorities or women I talk to agree there was a problem, which is a real trip) and the sort of run of the mill street harassment that barely registers because it's so ubiquitous. This essay, ostensibly about Mario Batali's apology letter and cinnamon roll recipe, is a few weeks old now, and was widely shared. It's fantastic, and it certainly gives voice to something I've felt. 

2. // Being that I'm such a social media dinosaur, it's no surprise that many social media stars these days are very young people I've never heard of, often on social media platforms I've never used. The Atlantic recently did an article about "What It's Like Raising a Social Media Star", and wow. Then I checked out this old article about "The Secret Lives of Tumblr Teens" and let's just say, while I've been a fairly active Tumblr user for years (mostly to look at pretty pictures and read about A Song of Ice and Fire), I had no idea people could make it big there, though that moment has long since passed. Then there was Buzzfeed's recent piece on the mom of one particular set of toddler Instagram stars. 

As someone who wants to have kids someday, I find it all terrifying: If I could barely keep up with the new social media platforms that emerged while I was in college, how could I possibly understand what my hypothetical future children will be using? While they're young, I'm pretty sure I'd want to keep their faces and names entirely off of my own public social media. That part is easy When they got older, I'd probably love to heavily restrict their access, and monitor every little thing, but as a child of the early internet age, I remember that my parents couldn't effectively regulate what I was doing. 

3. // Some recent links from my blogroll: First, Luxe did a good entry about how to get started with investing. When I read Thakor and Kedar's On My Own Two Feet at the start of my personal finance journey, they had a similar chart to Luxe's to illustrate the importance of starting investments early and compounding investment returns over time. That's what helped give me the kick in the pants I needed to get started with investing as soon as I started my first job after law school. Second, everyone probably already noticed, but Adina at Blue Collar Red Lipstick is back, and I'm so glad! Third, Sophie linked a good pilates leg workout on Youtube that I really like. It's legs only, so it's not a comprehensive workout, but it's a fun add-on to other videos.

Do you also marvel at how quickly the internet changes over time? Sometimes it feels like some of these questions are cyclical. There were, of course, Youtube stars way back in the day, though very few of the ones who were well-known while I was in college are still on Youtube. I think the phenomenon of teens and younger kids being social media stars, maybe with, er, some instigating by their parents, depending on the age of the kid, is fairly new. I just hope that the parents are being responsible and making sure to set aside the money for the kids!