Thursday, January 3, 2019

Little Thoughts from Q4 2018

A few things from the past few months that are probably too small or fleeting to ever possibly warrant their own post, even as part of a "link list": 

1. // I've started playing Pokemon Go again, after taking a nearly two-year hiatus since last time. As you can see, my best Pokemon now are much more interesting than my best Pokemon back then. I've even - gasp! - spent ~$30 of real world, actual money to buy fake, digital money (Poke Coins) to buy fake, digital products in-game (mainly item bag and Pokemon box expansions). 'Twas my very first in-app purchase ever. I was about to make one in Candy Crush a few years ago to get past a level I was stuck on for weeks, but forgot my iTunes password and never got back to it (or the game in general). I don't plan on spending money on Pokemon Go often, definitely far, far less often than once a month, but it could happen again, heh. 

2. // With regards to the health insurance and contraception co-pay situation I was fussing about earlier this year, things have settled down to my being charged $35/month in copays for the brand name. That's a monthly expense level at which I just swallow the cost with a grumble, even though the whole thing makes me extraordinarily grouchy. The generic is not covered at all (judging by GoodRx, the cash price could also be expected to be approximately $35/month, in at least some instances). It really makes me miss how I used to be able to get this exact same pill for ~$15/month over the counter back when I lived in Hong Kong! 

3. // Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse was an absolutely delightful movie, I highly recommend it!

4. // I've been taking a bit of a hiatus from reading for fun since I finished Kathy Wang's Family Trust (affiliate link), which I greatly enjoyed, but also needed some time to process. It's darkly humorous and entertaining, but because some underlying aspects of the story are so personal to me, and about things I view as ultimately somewhat tragic, it put me through an emotional wringer a lot more than it would most other readers. 

One thing about the general lack of diversity and representation in media and books is that it's so rare to see a story that's so truly about people like me (this may be the first time ever that I've ever seen such large parts of my lived experience so deeply embedded in any work of fiction) that, even had the book been a much more cheerful one, I might still have needed all this time to process the great shock of finally seeing people so much like myself depicted! I never thought it was possible, much like I didn't fully believe the Crazy Rich Asians movie could be such a box office success here in the US until it actually happened. Here's hoping that there will be more and more room for Asian-American representation in American media and books in the future. 

5. // Another book I read late this year that really put me through a different kind of emotional wringer was Bryan Stevenson's Just Mercy (affiliate link). It's a memoir about Stevenson's work of building the Equal Justice Initiative, the profound level of racial injustice in our criminal justice system, and some of the unjust cruelty that results when children are tried as adults and sentenced to extremely long terms of incarceration, sometimes for life. To me, it really drives home the point that the work of building a better world, particularly as an attorney with an eye towards public service, is never-ending and infinite. Even a person as extraordinary and tireless as Mr. Stevenson often finds himself realizing the devastating truth that he can't do everything, and won't always succeed in what he is able to do, but that doesn't stop him in his work.  

6. // The "White Walker" Johnny Walker product tie-in I glimpsed at a shop in JFK airport while on my way home from California is probably one of the stranger product tie-ins I've ever seen. The writing on the Game of Thrones show often displeases me (among many other things, I detest how they manufacture scenarios to show additional instances of violence against women, particularly sexual violence, that weren't originally in the book), but I'll probably still be watching the new season when it comes out. I just can't quit!

I hope that everyone is having a good start to 2019 so far. What were your favorite books or television shows in 2018? Things will be very hectic at the office for the next two or three weeks so things might be quiet around here, though I'm hoping I'll still get a chance to post once or twice in that time. 

Sunday, December 30, 2018

2018: My Year of Somewhat Excessive "Joy" in Shopping

2018 has been quite a shopping year for me, to say the least! Although I track my fashion-related purchases and spending monthly, I'm not always good at keeping an eye on the big picture as I go along. It's only now, since November, that I've started looking back and feeling a bit sheepish, like I've probably shopped too much.

In total, I spent $4016.51 this year on 45 items (3 secondhand, all others new) for my wardrobe, as broken down further below. As a reminder, my total shopping expenditures for the past several years, since I started tracking, are roughly $2729 (2015), $1945.99 (2016), and $2883.13 (2017). I generally exclude activewear, sleepwear, underthings, and socks from this count, partially because I find them terribly boring, and mostly because I don't have a particular problem with overbuying them. Those are all negligible expenses most years.

Clothes (20 pieces)
·      10 cardigans
·      5 dresses
·      2 pairs jeans
·      1 jacket
·      1 shirt/blouse
·      1 sweater
Shoes (5 pairs)

Jewelry (9 pieces)
·      4 necklaces
·      4 pairs earrings
·      1 bracelet

Accessories (11 pieces)
·      4 pairs tights
·      3 handbags
·      2 scarves
·      1 wallet
·      1 pair gloves

I probably should have anticipated that I could easily overindulge when I set myself up with so few rules and guidelines this year, especially when one of the three guidelines was the extremely open-ended suggestion that I rediscover "joy" in my shopping. The other two directives sounded strict on the surface, the first was a general budget of $250/month, or $3000/year (which I've sailed right past), and the other was the goal of buying fewer total items overall (which may have been a silly thing to set when that's not a metric I actually keep track of directly, though it's easy enough to go back through my records and calculate the number). Unfortunately, I've never been great about sticking to more quantifiable, concrete limits to my shopping if I feel that my finances are otherwise well-managed.*

Incidentally, and I'm fairly proud of this, I'm now up to making ~$3500/month in student loan payments (resulting in full repayment approximately 3.5 years from now if I maintain that rate). Sadly, I still owe ~$142,000 in student loans (refinanced for 2.6% interest), and have a net worth in the negative five figures, after approximately 15 months of repaying those loans in earnest while also adding to my savings and investments (after roughly two years where my efforts were a wash). Alas, law school is a heck of an expensive undertaking!

Seeking "Joy" in Shopping

It may sound absurd for someone with minimalist-ish aspirations to focus on getting "joy" from shopping as their main goal for an entire year, but that has always been the focus of my particular brand of wardrobe-related minimalism-ish. Ideally, I'd maintain a small and tightly-edited wardrobe of well-loved pieces that I'm thrilled to wear, and then I use them until they're so worn out that they're no longer presentable. Then I'd replace them with something I hopefully enjoy just as much, rinse and repeat. (Plus, when I buy things that aren't quite what I actually wanted or had in mind, I end up dissatisfied and wanting to shop again and again for something else that's closer to whatever ideal item I was thinking of in the first place, as I alluded to recently.)

Actually getting to that small and tightly edited wardrobe is much easier said than done, of course. All these years, I've felt that my work wardrobe needs are a major obstacle. I have a much harder time editing my work wardrobe, there are lots of things I hate wearing (almost all blazers, for instance), but I still need them sometimes, particularly for court. I'm also much more fickle about items I buy solely for work, buying many iterations of things (like all those sweater blazers) to try and find a happy medium of items I think are comfortable, that I enjoy wearing, and that fit in well and are proper for the more conservative business-casual dress codes that govern the NYC-area white collar workplaces I've experienced in my career thus far. I used to joke that law firm business casual dress codes here are "casual business casual", because a lot of women associates are fashionable and push the style envelope a bit at the office, but the general NYC law firm business casual dress code is still quite conservative, relative to business casual dress codes in many other cities or industries. At the end of the day, we still have a lot of rules, some of them quite restrictive.

The main reason I set that "rediscover joy in my shopping" goal for 2018 was that I felt terrible about several mistake purchases in 2017 that I was never going to wear before I resold them. I'd thought I was completely over making such mistakes, given that I hadn't made any in 2016. Knowing myself and my habits, it seemed like the easiest way to solve the problem (given that I expected to have a solid handle on my finances otherwise) was to give myself more freedom to buy things I truly loved, and that brought me joy because they're beautiful and make me feel awesome when I wear them.

And I do hope that people won't think unkindly of me for taking great joy in beautiful clothes or accessories, that people won't think me excessively materialistic in a way that casts doubt on my overall character, or something. Longtime readers can probably guess that I have a few insecurities about this general thing. I'm always self-conscious about how lots of people out there could, from either the minimalism or frugality perspectives, be critical of someone who gets as attached to or excited about material goods as I sometimes am, and who spends accordingly.

Please follow the link below for some thoughts on my best and worst purchases of 2018, and my tentative plans for next year's approach to shopping, which will hopefully be more restrained. Also, best wishes for the new year to all, and thank you again for reading along here at Invincible Summer!

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

December 2018 Shopping Reflections

I hope that everyone has had a wonderful holiday! I've been spending time with my family in California, which has been great and relaxing, though, er, all of us also needed to work, whether from home or in the office, on Christmas Eve and starting again on the 26th. Not a big deal (in truth, we're not big Christmas people, we only ever do low-key, small things to celebrate, and as long as we're able to be together and eat some tasty food, it's all good!), and I'm personally very grateful to have a fast-paced, intellectually stimulating job that I enjoy, in which I'm always learning new things. 

With this post, I've rounded out my fourth year of tracking my shopping with these "monthly budget" posts. It's been great fun, and I like being able to look back at the additions to my closet, to try and analyze whether there are any trends I can identify. I'm also looking forward to writing my year-end shopping reflections, and getting started with year five of these shopping posts next month. Spoiler alert, though it's probably already quite obvious: I've gone a bit overboard this year with the shopping and how I approached it, I might even be planning to describe it with something rather dour-sounding, like the "year of excessive 'joy' in shopping and indulgence", or something like that. Although I'm typically skeptical about the "shopping fast" or "shopping ban" idea, I may even sort of be considering one. More on those thoughts in the following weeks!

There's no denying that this month's purchases were on the impulsive side. It'd been a long time since I'd had such an intense period at work, and I guess I learned that, when the chips are really down at the office, I'm far more likely to, er, deal with that and the resulting stress by shopping. I've always known that I probably have this tendency, but I don't think I've ever before been driven to the point where it went beyond excessive online window-shopping and browsing, to the point where work-related stress started playing what was likely a sizable role in my decisions to actually start putting in orders and keeping them.

Please note that this post contains affiliate links that could result in a commission, typically a few cents, for me if you click. Thank you for your support!

For instance, in the first week of December, I'd run out of my Wolford or Falke tights because I'd skipped doing laundry the previous weekend due to Thanksgiving travel. Thus, I reached for a pair of my old Uniqlo Heattech tights instead, which are durable and used to be great until they changed something about the material that makes them much harder to stretch them and get them on (though the sizing feels the same as before once they're on). Just those extra few minutes of struggling with them in the morning actually, er, sort of made me feel sad, and had a slight diminishing effect on my mood. (When work stress gets bad, I can get a bit... weird about things.)

And it reminded me that I was, separately, also starting to really dislike my collection of cheap-y fleece-lined tights that I wear on the coldest days because the fabric can feel itchy; the waistbands roll down during the day; and some pairs prove far less durable than others, ripping or stretching out in a very short time, though they're all ostensibly the same product. (I've tried to shop for more expensive ones before, but couldn't find anything back then that was both well-reviewed and seemed to be a fully equivalent product.) It seemed to me, in the moment, that I worked too hard, for too many hours, to feel weighed down (even if only a little bit) by needing to wear tights that I hated, especially when they're an almost-daily work wardrobe staple for me for close to half the year.

The other purchases this month weren't driven as directly by moments of work-related stress, but I did feel like being so busy at the office made me more ready than usual to indulge my shopping-related impulses when they came up. I didn't have a lot of time or extra mental energy to really think through each of my other wants when they popped up suddenly, I was a lot more likely to just "go with my gut" and make a snap decision. That snap decision was usually to go ahead and make the order. And uh, it could have turned out "worse" in terms of buying excessively much. I had moved on from the disappointment of that forest green Halogen coat (now on sale) that was way too long for me by becoming intrigued with the idea of a cornflower blue coat instead (one could, perhaps, see this from my fall/winter fashion Pinterest board), and so I ordered one from Fleurette that was on sale at Nordstrom. Probably unsurprisingly, that regular sizing-only coat was also designed for a taller woman than myself. The sleeve and body length weren't quite as egregious as on the Halogen coat, but the lapels and single button both looked comically large on someone of my height and build. Plus the color did not suit my skin tone. That coat went straight back, leaving me with the below purchases for December:

Fashion - (TOTAL: $458.66)
  • Falke Matte 50 Tights - $28.50 - During that stressful week, I decided to get new Falke tights because they, unlike Wolford, were included in a Bloomingdales sale. I bought a pair last year, and I wash and wear them (and the Wolford Pure 50s from around that time) once a week throughout fall and winter. They're all trustworthy old favorites at this point. I consider both kinds to be, for all practical purposes, largely identical, including for comfort (the waistband doesn't roll down or shift during the day) and durability (because I'm clumsy, I almost snag them on boot zippers or the edges of furniture rather frequently, and outside of one freak accident with a pair of my Wolford Neon 40s, which I consider my fault, all my Falke and Wolford tights have held up well). Do be careful of the size chart, I'm a size S for all the Wolfords I've tried, and generally am a size S or S/M in almost all other tights, but I'm a size M for these Falkes. 
  • Falke Warm Deluxe Tights - $44.25 - While shopping for tights as a direct result of that stressful week, I decided it was also time to try and find a better quality and more expensive replacement for my fleece-lined tights. Out of all the Falke tights at Bloomingdales, these sounded like the closest thing. They're 80 denier, and are actually quite thick and warm, they're very close to fleece-lined tights. Alas, either because of how stretchy the material is or differences in the actual sizing, a size M in these (following their size chart again) is definitely too big. And because they're too big, I have issues with them shifting during the day. So these have turned out to not be a great purchase, but I'll still use them because, well, on balance, they're not worse than those fleece-lined tights that also have issues, and I don't generally think it reasonable to try and return used tights.
  • Lo & Sons Saffiano Leather Pearl, pacific blue - $173.60 - Like many of my peers and blog-friends,  I'm quite familiar with Lo & Sons, and immediately understood the appeal of their focus on practical travel and/or commute-friendly bags when I first learned about them. Previously, though, none of their items fit my particular preferences and needs. When traveling, I'm content with my Longchamp Neo tote as a handbag and carry-on item (in combination with my old North Face backpack from law school as my other carry-on). If I'm going to switch to another travel handbag, it'll probably be to a small backpack. For commuting, I simply don't carry enough (no gym clothes, change of shoes, lunchbox, reusable water battle, and not even a laptop) to want something like the OMG, though I've seen many women law students happily use them. I'd seen many rave reviews about the Pearl being a near-perfect medium-sized handbag, but had never liked the colors. Plus, I was perfectly happy with that already ancient and well-loved when I bought it Coach City I've had for nearly a decade. (That bag came with major signs of wear, including several noticeable discolored, worn-out spots, it's in no shape to be carried in anything but the most casual settings.) Recently, Michelle mentioned that the new colors for the Pearl were intriguing. That reminded me that I'd really liked the pacific blue color when I first saw it, it looked almost identical to the dark denim shade of that Coach Rogue (sold out, of the current colorsdark turquoise is the most similar) I love, despite it's weight and slight impracticality for work. The rest, as they say, is history. When I ordered this Pearl, I also tried the Coach Saddle 23 in dark denim, as it was the color I was so attracted to (both bags seemed to be a similar size), but I found that, with its adjustable straps and more easily accessible compartments, the Pearl is by far the more practical and functional bag for me. 
  • MM. LaFleur Saint Ambroeus, charcoal - $212.31 - (sold out, available in black and navy) This purchase is the one I'm most sheepish about, because I've definitely written before about why I specifically shouldn't buy it, and more broadly, about how I found MM. LaFleur generally overpriced and not great for my body shape or height. Even if this "jardigan" is a "pretend blazer", a genre I clearly love beyond reason, given the excessive number of sweater blazers I've purchased in recent memory, I had already explained why this wasn't a great one for me. Part of why I changed my mind was that, with the J.Crew Sophie and Juliette sweater blazers (both worn here), I bought them knowing I likely didn't dare machine-wash or even hand-wash them (I have a bad history with J.Crew sweaters shrinking seemingly on contact with cold water, even if they never saw the inside of a dryer). Thus, it was clear that not being machine-washable was no longer a big criteria for me, and that removed one of the big obstacles with the Saint Ambroeus. Also, there was a bit of artificial scarcity-ish going on. In the years I've been following MM. LaFleur, I'd noticed they rarely bring back colors outside of black or navy, so when this previously sold out gray (more versatile and useful for me than black because most of my work dresses are black) popped back in stock in my size, one thing led to another. Like I said last year, this item doesn't look quite as good on me as on their models because I'm so busty, the lines of it get thrown off a bit, but er, I might have factored in that this fit issue could, perhaps, be improved in a few months (which isn't wise because it's probably just as likely for the fit to be made worse than before). Ack, that irrational "artificial scarcity-ish" fear of never having another chance to get a sought-after color or item can be a heck of a thing!

How was your holiday? Do you have anything you're particularly excited to search for in the post-Christmas sales? I myself should probably stay far away from any more sales, given how much I've indulged myself this year, and this month in particular. Is anyone else a Lo & Sons fan? As Michelle alluded to, when it comes to bags like those from Lo & Sons or Dagne Dover, ones designed with "women on the go" in mind, they do tend to be expensive. But for many women (including many entry-level professionals or graduate students), the price (including from secondhand options) may well be worth it because the bags are practical and professional-looking, and there's not very much in the way of affordable alternatives that check both those boxes. Oh, and does anyone know what I mean about "artificial scarcity"-type feelings throwing off their, er, shopping judgment?

Happy holidays to all, and best wishes for the forthcoming new year! 

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Link List: On Personal Finance and "Premium Mediocrity"

This was obviously not the main takeaway from the news that day, and from the meeting that preceded this particular moment, but Congresswoman Pelosi's Max Mara coat (discontinued, but scheduled to be brought back next year) is truly fabulous, as many on the internet recognized.

Things got quite busy at the office recently and may stay on the busier side through the first few weeks of the new year. (I'll be able to travel to see family for Christmas, and can likely take that week off, but may need to get right back to the grind immediately after.) It's not too bad though, I enjoy the job most when I'm busy, it's far more intellectually stimulating that way!

In other news, even now, more than a year after my disastrous straight perm fried a big chunk of my hair and caused at least a few inches of new hair from after the perm to grow in similarly fried, my hair is still in quite a state. It's gotten better over time, I think there's a light at the end of the tunnel now, it's been at least a few months since I was losing what felt like big, tangled snarls of it almost every morning because I couldn't get a comb through, the hair would break off first, thanks to the intractable knots. If I had to hazard a guess, I might have my old hair back in another six to eight months or so, after it gets to a length that I can have the last few inches of affected hair cut off. Knock on wood though, it's been extremely unpredictable all this time. 

With past, more successful straight perms, my hair seemed to grow in with a different, straighter texture for months after the perm. And on one previous, slightly less successful  occasion, some post-perm hair did grow in unusually dry and frizzy, but I did not learn from that experience, which is why I find myself in my current predicament. I don't think I'm imagining it that straight perms can continue have an effect on one's hair texture even after all the permed parts have been cut away! At this point, I can pretty much guarantee that I'll never get a straight perm again. (I may try keratin treatments afterwards, at the recommendation of Michelle and others here, but I probably don't dare do anything until after my hair is fully back to normal.)

1. // I'm way behind the times when it comes to sharing that viral story of extreme debt from Wealthsimple. One practically has to put a content warning on it, it's so awful, and the people in it seemingly so heedless in their personal finance decision-making on a continuous basis, despite knowing the depths of the mess they're in. (Law school loans play a role, though a surprisingly small one, given that they seem to have decided to just ignore the student loans.) The worst thing is that they appear, at this point, to have given up on ever improving things, which is absolutely going to be hard on their children once they're old enough to understand. It's even more of a nightmare than that 2016 article in The Atlantic about how an upper middle-class man, thanks to a lifetime of poor financial decision-making, claimed to be unable to come up with $400 in an emergency. (I once wrote about that article here, and also linked to some other interesting personal finance discussions that popped up online around that time.)

2. // Now here's another set of links that you may also have seen already, about "How Premium Mediocre Conquered Fashion", and the r/femalefashionadvice and r/malefashionadvice discussions it prompted. I find this piece a bit... complicated, in part because I think the message and writing are muddled, and could have benefitted from better editing. Among other things, I'm not sure many of the cited examples, including craft beer and artisanal pizza on the one hand, and Uniqlo cashmere, Kate Spade, and Tory Burch on the other, can really help make the same point as examples of a "Prada nylon backpack" or a "Balenciaga baseball bat". Those don't seem, to me, to be trends that are likely to come from the same place or impulse, nor to be goods targeted to the same audience. Also, the barbs about "the culture of entitlement of the millenial generation (and everyone else)" and about how "[w]e live in a world where many people feel entitled to luxury"? Seriously?! Sure, the article isn't actually saying "how dare the rest of you plebes who can't afford 'true' 'luxury' want nice things", but if there's a sentence or two that could be interpreted that way, it's a sign of poor writing, or of a need for more attentive editing.

I suppose the original article is, essentially (in fewer words, and with far less clarity and research), trying to make the same point as Dana Thomas's excellent book, Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster (affiliate link, I wrote about it in one of my first ever posts), did a decade ago. It's been a while, but I recall that the main point was that historic luxury brands, which used to offer something special (distinguished by materials and craftsmanship) and inaccessible to most ordinary people due to price and exclusivity had, in recent times, diluted themselves by making new, more affordable and accessible offerings (including sunglasses, fragrances, diffusion lines, etc.). Because it had proven to be a profitable strategy, many companies were doing it even more, including by cutting costs by using cheaper material and labor. And yes, given the subject matter, it might be a slightly snobby book. At times, I've been tempted to summarize it (with an uncharitable and admittedly slightly facile interpretation) as follows: "only Hermes remains 'good enough' to be 'true' ' luxury'." 

Anyway, my feelings on these topics are always going to be complicated. Over the years, you may have noticed that I might have a little chip on my shoulder from times when I thought that law school and my profession made me and others like me feel "less than" because we didn't come from "real" money (the type where family can significantly subsidize the exorbitant cost of law school, generally after already having done so for a costly undergraduate education). So I'm always going to be grouchy about things I perceive as snobby or elitist, particularly where those things are tied to knowledge of or consumption of "true" luxury brands as, apparently, a criteria for superiority. The actual, more useful, takeaway from the article may be that we should all be critical consumers, to really think about the value of everything we're buying and paying for. 

3. // And now for some blog entries I've been reading lately: Congratulations to Lea on being done with graduate school! Thank you to JENKR for directing me to this useful discussion about the importance of listening to more diverse perspectives at Reading my Tea Leaves. In that vein, I also enjoyed this discussion about diversity in minimalist blogging specifically, which I came across through Britt. Diverse perspectives, in all areas, are so incredibly important. I can't possibly understate how important I think they are, though I haven't yet had a chance to share all my sometimes-nontraditional reasons for so strongly believing this. (Some of the academic discussions arising from the Supreme Court's 2007 decision in Scott v. Harris play a role, as do academic discussions about addressing implicit bias.)

What did you think about that "premium mediocre" article? What about that Wealthfront debt story? (There was also a good, lengthy discussion about it on r/blogsnark, among many other places.) I'm worried about their kids for so many reasons, one of the main ones being that the parents have shown literally zero indication of having the ability or willingness to help guide their children to "break the cycle", including by making financially sustainable decisions for college or graduate school. And that wouldn't be the children's fault, but because of our broken system with student loans here in the US, the children would likely still be the ones forced to shoulder the burden in the end.