Monday, December 11, 2017

Blog Thoughts, Year Three


Invincible Summer
is almost three years old! I'll be briefer than I was in year two (and here's year one), but gosh, as always, I'm just so thankful to everyone who reads here. I'm still completely surprised and thrilled that there are people - real people(!) - who want to read along and chime in as I write about whatever strikes my fancy. I never stop being excited about that, and I'm super grateful. I really enjoy having this little, informal space to share my writing, and I'm still having lots of fun with it. 

Offline, this year was tough. That pay-cut I took for the clerkship was hard, as that average of ~6.8% interest on my federal student loans (I couldn't refinance because I needed income-based repayment protections while I was clerking, and could have wanted to clerk again before I completed repayment) undid almost all of the repayment progress I made while I was in biglaw for less than a year. I dipped into my emergency fund twice, including for some urgent dental work after an accident. Because I went back into the private sector around that time, I was at least able to replenish my emergency fund quickly.

Politics and current events have been... so incredibly dispiriting and awful that it's difficult to put into words exactly how many levels on which I'm enraged, and also terrified. I do my best to counteract it a bit with my pro bono work, at least a hundred hours in just the last few months, and with some of my charitable contributions, which I directed to Puerto Rico hurricane relief. I've been donating to Chef Jose Andres's World Central Kitchen, which does some incredible work and mobilized incredibly quickly, as well as to the PRxPR fund

Thank you again to everyone for your support and for reading along this year! Please follow the link below if you're interested in reading this year's updated income report.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Friday Link List

As you can see, I'm enjoying my recent tea-related purchases. The larger, cup-shaped infuser (exact) definitely works better than any other style I've tried before, and is also easier to clean. I'm very satisfied, but in hindsight, something with a sturdier lid-slash-drip tray, like the David's Tea Perfect Infuser that Cassie recommended, might be better, especially as prices are similar. Today's weekly link list is very money-centric. Here goes!

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!

1. // First up is a Racked article about Affirm, the company that offers financing on TheRealReal, among other places. I'm totally not the target audience for this product (seems equivalent to funding a purchase with a credit card and paying it off over several months, also something I'd never do - people at r/femalefashionadvice and r/personalfinance say their interest rates are similar), but it's fascinating to learn about. The article does a good job putting Affirm in the larger context of the credit card industry. It's a complicated thing, I don't know what to make of it!

2. // Most people outside of biglaw may not find this particularly charming, but I relate to Biglaw Investor's post about not sweating certain types of "minor" lifestyle inflation. If you're doing a good job "paying yourself first" by, say, maxing out your 401k and backdoor Roth IRA, as well as going above and beyond on student loan payments and/or additional savings, those grab and go lunches and Starbucks lattes may not be a problem. Or at least, that's what I tell myself. 

NYC-based office workers' tendency to rely on lunches out can seem extravagant, but I've done a lot of thinking and experimenting with making my own lunches. For now, eating out is the only way I can realistically do lunches. Biglaw Investor comes to the same conclusion for himself.

For context, I once analyzed how much a week of homemade kale caesar lunches costs (~$20.53/four servings, $5.13/serving). What isn't captured is how high-effort that was, to shred the greens (sounds silly, but took forever with the Trader Joe's curly kale) and chopping the tomatoes fresh each night. Luxe also did her own analysis of how much a month of lunches costs, using various combinations of cooking and eating out. Whatever the cost, one much also factor in the challenge of stretching produce from the weekend as far as Thursday, much less Friday. Baby spinach, my salad green of choice for most of my lunchtime salad orders, doesn't last that long.

3. // For a more broadly applicable discussion about bits of "lifestyle inflation" that some people find totally worth it, there's this thread on r/financialindependence. There's even someone who will defend a daily coffee shop latte habit, though theirs is significantly cheaper than it would be in NYC!

4. // Finally, and this was one downside of "old school" blogging, which tended to be much more personal (so people might sometimes complain about someone from offline on their blogs, thinking, foolishly, that it'd stay online), but this discussion on r/blogsnark about people's experiences with the intersection of online and offline drama really brought back memories! 

Back in high school, people often took offline drama onto their Xangas, and vice versa. Someone once went around behind my back accusing me of leaving an anonymous mean comment on theirs.  I've never done that anywhere, on any blog! Many of my previous blogs were anonymous-ish, though I'd share the URLs with some offline friends. I had one instance where, based on highly abnormal viewer stats for that post, something I wrote about a long-ago crush (didn't name names and was incredibly vague, I was a weird kid, but not a creepy stalker!) was discovered  and widely shared by someone. I took that post down right away because it weirded me out, and nothing more happened. Being a teenager is such a... terribly fun time, alas. I had a more foolish internet life than most. 

5. // One random thing - that J.Crew cocoon coat (or the shorter J.Crew Factory copy, or even the Ellen Tracy lookalike I have) is incredibly popular! I see at least five or six people wearing one each week. The most popular color by far is camel, all others are rare. I almost never see any in bright colors, like the red-orange one I have. If anyone is wondering, my Ellen Tracy coat is holding up well, with minimal pilling or other signs of wear. The material was always noticeably less nice than the J.Crew wool blend, but I've been happy with it as an affordable way to experiment with what still seems to me like a trendy shape that could become dated quickly. (In actual practice, the cocoon style is going strong with no signs of stopping.)

6. // Oh and some sale finds: Bloomingdales is having a sale on Longchamp that included the large totes in certain, mostly odd colors. Most of the sale colors aren't practical (including the pink I'm familiar with from my "Miaou" tote), but the peacock green large Le Pliage is nice. Some Wolford is on sale with a promo code, "FRIENDS", including some 50 denier tights, but not the variety I just bought. Also, this is a super weird specific thing, and it's not even a recommendation, because I don't think I can, in good conscience, actually recommend this, but this exact Joe Fresh (which I think is a Canadian fast fashion brand somewhere between an H&M, Gap or Old Navy, and Uniqlo) marled  shawl collar cardigan at Hautelook has been my "office sweater" of choice for years now. It's hardly the only moderately priced relaxed fit cardigan out there, nor is acrylic a material to write home about, but... I've gotten oddly attached to it over time. It runs large, which I personally think makes it feel cozy. 

Was I the only one who had some internet drama from back in the day intersect with their offline life? Are there any bits of "lifestyle inflation" that you embrace? Outside of buying my lunches at work and enjoying the occasional latte, my other big one is cabs to and from the airport when I travel, except in cities with an extremely convenient airport express train right to the city center with no transfers. (London, Rome, and Hong Kong, for instance - no such equivalent in NYC!)

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Money Life Lately

Hobo "Bolt" Leather Card Wallet (affiliate link) - very similar to the Kate Spade Saturday card case that's my current wallet, though it only has one, not two, card slots on the back.

In a few weeks, I'll finally be eligible to contribute to a 401k plan again. It's difficult to understate just how excited I am! While clerking, one doesn't have access to any employer sponsored retirement plan, so it's been awhile since I've been able to save in earnest. It'll be too late to do much with it for 2017, but in 2018, I'm planning to max out my 401k and backdoor Roth IRA. 

Here are a few other personal finance-related thoughts I've had recently, both of which relate to compensation for biglaw associates. Biglaw firms pay associate attorneys extremely well, though that ultra-transparent, ultra-standardized salary scale doesn't, in my view, tell the full story. Some of the compensation-related norms in the industry are unusual, and generally to the detriment of attorneys compared to other white-collar employees. (Also keep in mind that our massive student loans. My slightly shocking number was after a substantial scholarship, nearly half tuition, the best available as a strong, though not top, candidate for the schools I was targeting.) 

401k (Non)Matching and Fund Selection

I don't know how common this is, but biglaw firms, as a general rule, don't match 401k contributions by associate attorneys in any way. There are a tiny handful of exceptions I know of, at least one of which doesn't have much of a NYC presence. 

I'm only familiar with my previous firm's 401k plan's available mutual funds, and I'm not a terribly knowledgeable investor (for now, I'm comfortable that "stick it all in the appropriate Vanguard target date fund" is the right solution for me). It always seemed like my firm offered a random and less than ideal set of funds for our 401k, which was offered through a large, reputable company, something like Fidelity or Schwab. There was a S&P 500 index fund with okay, but more expensive than Vanguard, fees. They had Vanguard international stock market index funds too, which is good. That's most of the pieces I'd need to have my account resemble the Vanguard target date fund my Roth IRA was in. After that, everything else had really high fees.

Happy news, my old firm, at which I still have a small 401k nest egg, will soon offer Vanguard target date funds! Depending on my options at my new workplace, I may roll the account over, so I won't necessarily benefit. Because, however, my new workplace is a much smaller operation, I don't know if I can expect good mutual fund choices. I probably won't roll it over if I'm not as happy with the mutual funds on offer at the new place. 

On Health Insurance 

Some biglaw firms have started seriously nickle and diming their associates on health insurance. My old firm originally offered a PPO plan at around $160/paycheck (once every two weeks) and a significantly cheaper HDHP in the general range of $60/paycheck. I had the PPO, which seemed good, but had a problematic quirk where none of my women colleagues' birth control, nor mine, was fully covered, giving basically every woman an extra $10/month expense. I'd never had a co-pay for  birth control on any other plan since "Obamacare" passed.

I'd assumed some amount of choice in health plans was the norm, though back then there was already news about certain firms electing to offer only a HDHP. Now, there's at least one law firm charging $170/paycheck for a HDHP, their only option. That seems insane, given what I had before, but well, I'm not in biglaw now, so I don't know if this is normal for the rest of the industry. 

Are those health insurance costs out of the ordinary? Are you satisfied with your 401k plan's available mutual funds? Of course, for young, healthy adults, there may still be reasons to pick a HDHP, in part because a HSA can be used as yet another tax-advantaged retirement account, but any attorney who used to have better health insurance and paid less for it will, naturally, be upset. 

Monday, December 4, 2017

November Shopping Reflections

I know it totally doesn't look it, but I'm getting over that shopping frenzy phase of the last few months... I think. Only time will really tell, but November's shopping was all things that were already on my radar in October. One promising sign is that I made very few fashion-related Black Friday sale orders this year. Last year I was ordering like a fiend , but didn't end up keeping much. This year, I ordered mostly some clearance section home goods K and I needed, and also several loose leaf teas for the office

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!

Most of my Black Friday fashion orders were leggings, part of my search for a replacement to my beloved American Apparel Winter Leggings, which I wore a hole through last year, after about five years of heavy wear. (They got considerably less use after I graduated, naturally.) I may be too picky about wanting any replacement to be identical to the Winter Leggings, which were very thick and mostly cotton (~90%, I think). That doesn't seem to be common . I haven't seen anything that completely fits the bill in the last year and a half. (Nor do leggings need to be mostly cotton to be comfortable in winter, I'm sure.) I'm trying the J.Crew Signature Leggings and Old Navy Heavy-Knit Jersey Leggings, which may come close to meeting the criteria. Perhaps because cotton isn't actually the most suitable fabric for leggings, I haven't found many mostly-cotton ones at higher price points. 

Fashion - (TOTAL: $345.86) 
  • Longchamp Neo Large Tote, black - $206.86* - As I mentioned last month, my old one was showing too much wear for me to bring it on business trips, and well, I'm a creature of habit. I should be more open-minded to other options that have more internal organization and a built in laptop sleeve, at least for business travel. (I carry my laptop in an old Caselogic sleeve when taking it around in my Longchamp. That particular sleeve is a little bigger than necessary for my 13-inch Macbook Pro, so there must be better laptop sleeves out there.) 
  • Wolford Pure 50 Signature Tights, black, 2 pairs - $76.00 - I got these at ASOS on sale, but they're likely sold out. I'd have been perfectly happy to stick with Uniqlo for my semi-opaque tights for before real winter sets in. I used to buy both Heattech and non-Heattech, and found that both held up well to frequent wear. Alas, Uniqlo seems to have discontinued their non-Heattech tights. Also, last year's Heattech tights were strangely tight and more difficult to put on than previous pairs, though still comfortable in my usual size after I got them on. I'd tried out some Hanes last year, but they didn't hold up, so I leapt upwards in price to Wolford. I can definitely feel the difference from Uniqlo and Hanes, as the waistbands stay perfectly in place throughout the day, and they're more comfortable as a result. These 50 denier tights are only a bit translucent/still close to opaque, which is what I prefer. 
  • Grana - $63.00 -  ($243.00 - $180.00 referral credit = $63.00) - Now that Grana's become a more popular brand, I don't think anyone needs my referral code anymore! I wanted to use up the last of my credit in one go, so I may not have been as picky as I might normally be. Thank you to everyone who has signed up through my link in the past!
    • Cashmere Blanket Scarf, gray - I've wanted a cashmere blanket scarf for a while and probably would have been inclined to the H&M Premium Quality one, if this year's colors weren't so blah. I'd been taken with the idea of the White & Warren Travel Wrap for years, though the price was always unrealistic for me. The White & Warren one is wider by 10 inches, and also a bit longer. I've been pleased with Grana's cashmere sweaters before, and am similarly satisfied with this scarf, though keep in mind that I don't have much to compare it to, besides Uniqlo cashmere, as my White & Warren sweaters are intentionally thin knits with pointelle details (i.e. intentional small holes).
    • Drop Shoulder Silk Contrast Tea, dark teal - I picked this out because it has a similar shape to the MM. LaFleur Didion, which I love. Do note that the neck hole on this top is oddly small, so it feels like a slight squeeze to get it over my head. It's not so much an issue that I can't wear it (because that would be really weird), but it's not a problem I've ever had with any other shirt. Temporary Housewifey has a review with photos, if you're curious. 
    • Silk V-Neck Slip Dress, black - It probably comes as no surprise that this shape is challenging for people on the much bustier side of average, such as myself. I probably would never consider this dress if I didn't have referral credit, as the shape is quite outside of my comfort zone. Worst case scenario, I thought I'd just wear it at home as lounging clothes/pajamas, though I think I could come around to wearing this out in the summer. 

Any cold weather leggings recommendations? Did you shop any Black Friday or Cyber Monday sales this year? Did you find anything good? I felt like there were more sales this year than usual, and that they generally started very early. By the time the actual day after Thanksgiving rolled around, I had serious sale fatigue, and could barely look at any more online shops or promotional emails. I was trying to do Christmas shopping for others by that point, but didn't have any good ideas.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Friday Link List

Waiting in a long line to carry out my civic duty: jury duty, to be exact! It was actually far more efficient than it looks.

Count this post as another attempt to get myself to share links and write something light, which my occasional "Sunday Reading" posts were supposed to be, but generally aren't. I don't mind that I'm a rather verbose and tangent-prone writer, and in fact, I've gotten substantially better at editing my own work over the years, but those traits don't play nicely with my ambitions to post more frequently. 

1. // I commented on Dr. It Girl's recent closet tour to commiserate about the difficulty of finding new blogs to read. Because I'm kind of a dinosaur who still yearns for 2008-style blogging, it's pretty hard to find new ones to follow, especially as old favorites retire (which is totally understandable, but also makes me sad because, darn it, they were writing and sharing such cool things, and I'll totally miss them!). We both concurred about enjoying shopping diaries-type blogs, while noting the difficulty of finding ones that hit the right balance between sale finds and excessive affiliate-linking, which brings me to...

2. // ... Feather Factor's recent post, a nice, concise summary of one important takeaway from a book that might be up my alley and relevant to my sometimes challenging year. Although she and I shop at completely different price points and lead dramatically different lifestyles, I've always thought her blog did a wonderful job of balancing sale finds that feel very true to her style, as portrayed on the blog, with interesting, diverse content. I've been following for a really long time.

3. // This next one is a two-parter with advice that is incredibly relevant to so many things, though perhaps not always to law (which is a little too conservative and old-fashioned to allow for people to easily "hustle" in unconventional ways and have it pay off). While taking the leap with networking can work out beautifully, and is how a lot of people got their clerkships, in fact, in a lot of contexts (particularly in biglaw, if your credentials are already comfortably getting you in the door), it isn't always the best way to accomplish a goal. Nevertheless, most industries are not at all like law, and  lawyers can also learn a lot from The Luxe Strategist's post on transitioning to a new industry without experience (she has a great story and worked super hard) and Sophie's post about knowing when to quit, either something that isn't serving your goals, or in one of her experiences, is a creeper situation waiting to happen. 

4. // Stepping back to how I'm a total social media dinosaur (and heck, even felt that way when I once stopped following blogs for a while around 2009, I generally find Youtube quite... foreign and perplexing. I have the same issue with not "getting" podcasts because, for the most part, I don't really enjoy listening to people talk, I'd rather read. The recent hullabaloo with problematic content aimed at children (and/or containing children) and all the utter creeps that had been allowed to flourish in comments sections just... baffles me. It seems to me that Google/Youtube had no intention of acting on these problems (that people were reporting fairly frequently) until it went viral, which I believe started with this post on Medium

I try not to be too judgmental about other people's parenting decisions, as seen from the limited perspective of what they share (people get so unreasonably mean and weird like in this recent, completely unrelated Corporette comment thread about biglaw, saving, and raising kids and how those three things are not fully compatible), but good lordy, what was that Toy Freaks channel even doing, and how does that get over 8 million subscribers? There's a Buzzfeed article that may explain better, but I also don't feel comfortable linking because they initially chose to screenshot the kids without blurring their faces. I'll admit, the internet had weird things back when I was young (remember Happy Tree Friends?) that could seem disturbing to an adult, but it all feels more innocent than some of what's around today. 

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

5. // I followed up my recent indulgent tea-related purchases with... even more indulgent tea-related purchases. I decided a 1 liter hot water kettle (again from Hamilton Beach, one of relatively few non-plastic kettlesthat size) was the right size, as any smaller would be a dinky travel kettle). I kind of missed my old one, which I remember heating a little faster and quieter, but 1.7 liters would have been comically large for my one-person setup. I also bought a slightly absurd quantity of loose-leaf tea around Black Friday, mostly just unflavored green teas because I am a creature of habit. They were stocking well-priced tins of The du Hammam by Palais des Thes at Macy's, which is a really lovely flavored green. Upon opening the tin (I'd had it at a restaurant, but never smelled the leaves), I wondered if I'd made a mistake because the vanilla scent was overpowering, but it brews with a nice, mild flavor. 

If you have any blogs to share, whether your own or anyone else's, I'd love to read! I tend to be a very chatty, frequent commenter on any post that interests me, though with blogs I haven't commented on before, I'm a bit shy. Also, do you read Corporette? I'm a recent convert, because I like a constant, steady hum of online chatter and poring through a lot of reader comments (and am very sad that this kind of discussion is rare on personal blogs now!). People in the comments get so weird sometimes, though.