Tuesday, July 28, 2015

July Shopping Reflections

This was a fairly shopping-light month for me because of preparing for and taking my exam. Granted, I still spent a lot more time than I should on online window-shopping because it still is one of my procrastination tactics of choice when I'm under stress, but I'm not in the market for much at the moment. I might not start planning shopping more intensively for fall and winter until September, when I move back to NYC for the start of my job.

One insight from this month is that shipping charges and California state sales tax really start adding up over just a few purchases. This is, perhaps, a very obvious notion, but I've been able to avoid most shipping charges in past months due to making large orders and following them up with in-store returns. At the same time, I've still found that it generally makes sense for me to rely on online shopping rather than in-store browsing in most instances, despite the inevitable issue of needing to return many things. More often than not, I find that brick and mortar stores don't have the specific sizes and styles that I want in stock, though this might be a product of how much I rely on items going on sale and additional percent off sale promotions.

Fashion - (TOTAL: $92.95)
  • J. Crew 3'' Chino Shorts in Navy Blue - $27.00* - I desperately needed dark-colored shorts that wouldn't get dirty as easily for my upcoming trip. These do seem to attract more dust and lint than the khaki pair I bought a few years ago, but I'm not sure if there's a quality difference (very possible) or if it is just because of the color. 
  • Gorjana Taner Small Bar Necklace - $42.00* - I technically haven't committed to keeping this necklace yet. It was slightly backordered from the Nordstrom Anniversary Sale and it wasn't shipped until Friday. I might not get a chance to decide whether to keep this until after I get back from my trip, though I'm fairly certain I'll keep it as I'm having a delicate-jewelry phase.
  • Clare Vivier for & Other Stories Leather Pouch - $23.95* - This is probably a slightly-unnecessary indulgence as I do have other, perfectly-serviceable, travel pouches for makeup. I like the idea of fancy leather pouches and travel cases, practicality and frugality be damned. 

Beauty - (TOTAL: $11.99)
  • Biore UV Perfect Face Milk - $11.99 - I like all of the Biore face milk sunscreens, which are  widely available in drugstores in Japan, China, and Taiwan (but not Hong Kong, randomly). I prefer the "Moist" or "Bright" varieties in the purple and pink bottles, respectively, but it's harder to find Prime-eligible sellers that sell those. 
*indicates that estimated sales tax and shipping are included in the listed price 

When this post goes live, I'll likely be right in the middle of taking my licensing exams, which is a scary thought! I'll be very happy to be done with the process though, hopefully for good. Linking up with Franish and the other budgeting bloggers this month! Be sure to click through and see what everyone else bought. 

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Chinese Visas, Nordstrom Anniversary Sale, and Brunch

My sister and I went on a mini-adventure to San Francisco yesterday for the relatively un-fun reason of my needing a Chinese visa for my upcoming trip. I last needed one four years ago, back in a time when same-day rush service was routinely available. In hindsight, I should have done some more research before heading over, oops! As it is, I'll be back at the consulate on Monday. The one upside is that we weren't stuck there waiting until the afternoon, which gave us a bit more free time to wander around. 

While browsing the Nordstrom Anniversary Sale during the early access preview, I randomly got it in my head that a leather jacket could be a good alternative to a trench coat for my fall/spring wardrobe and that I really wanted to try on the Trouve leather jacket (pictured on Extra Petite here). It wasn't a particularly well thought-out notion, though I do think of leather jackets as one of those distant-future splurge-y things that I might want someday. I can't see myself wearing it to work, though, so it might be one of those fun things that I can't justify while I'm working a corporate job. Either way, I was saved from having to think too much because this particular open, drape-y style isn't super flattering for me. There is a small clasp to hold the front together, but I'd rather have something that zips up fully. Also, half of each sleeve is stretchy fabric rather than leather, which I didn't notice on the website, and would make me feel a bit cheated if I wanted to buy it. 

I probably will order this Gorjana necklace. I might be giving myself a bit too much freedom to indulge (despite my already extensive costume jewelry collection) because I anticipate being well under budget in July and August due to being abroad. I'll still try to do a budget post in August, but I tend to buy very few clothes when I travel in China or Taiwan. A sales associate was telling another customer that Gorjana has a lifetime guarantee and will re-dip their gold-plated jewelry when it tarnishes, which was news to me, but would be fantastic if it was true. I own a few Gorjana pieces and most still look new, but one I bought from Gilt tarnished very fast. I'll need to follow up with the company about that. 

We walked back up to where we were parked near the consulate and had brunch at Sweet Maple before heading home. My sister's dish, a deep-fried french toast with extra banana and candied walnut topping, was a bit more photogenic (and relatively unique) than my omelette, though mine was tasty too! 

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Assorted Thoughts

personal photo

With my licensing exam imminent and my trip to Taipei, Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Kuala Lumpur commencing shortly after, I will probably only be able to blog intermittently in the coming weeks. I do expect to write a few travel posts, and I hopefully will take some nice photographs to post during the trip.

Because I'll have to ramp up the studying, starting now, I don't anticipate doing too much shopping this month, outside of a pair of navy blue chino shorts (exact color no longer available) that I already ordered from J. Crew. I was getting tired of trying on shorts elsewhere, and I needed something dark-colored that wouldn't get dirty as soon as I sat down anywhere outside. I have the same style in khaki from three years ago, and I must say, the online reviewers weren't kidding when they said that different colors seem to have different sizing. I had a size 2 in khaki, and this year's size 4 in navy were the same size, which is generally the opposite of the sizing trends one normally expects with J. Crew.

I finally received the Uniqlo trench coat in the mail, and it is high quality for the price, but didn't end up being suitable for me. The fabric is a bit thicker and heavier than I expected, which is probably a good thing with a coat, but it didn't feel like what I had in mind. I also thought the tan shade was a darker brown than I wanted. Finally, the buttons are also spaced a little too wide to be flattering for me. Like the reviewers said, this design runs very large, to the point where an XS would be the right size for me even though I'm typically an S or an M in many Uniqlo styles. The trench coat was also a bit boxy because it's cut straight up and down. I likely need a coat design that is tapered at the waist.

Although I should be studying more intensely, I've also spent a fair bit of my time procrastinating by reading sci-fi/fantasy, one of my favorite genres for light reading. I'm well into the second book of Daniel Abraham's Dagger and Coin series, and while I prefer his Long Price Quartet because it has a more novel premise, this series has been good reading so far. The Dagger and Coin books might be of particular interest to those who have are a bit impatient about the extended wait before more Game of Thrones television or book material is released. (I confess to being in that group despite my doubts about the books' ability to wrap up a bloated storyline and my extremely serious qualms about the showrunners' distasteful approach to depicting sexual violence. Happily, Dagger and Coin does not have either problem so far.)

There's political intrigue, war, morally ambiguous or sometimes outright not-nice characters, and potentially apocalyptic supernatural events likely about to occur, all of which might appeal to fans of Game of Thrones, though the cast and scale of the story is a fair bit smaller. One thing that Abraham does in his books, which I haven't seen much with other authors, is discuss the effects of trade and economics in his fictional worlds. Be forewarned, there's one character out there who possibly proves more hateful than almost anyone in Game of Thrones except maybe Gregor Clegane or Ramsay Bolton. 

Monday, July 6, 2015

Planning for Fall: Trench Coats

Although summer's far from over, I have already started to plan my fall/winter wardrobe additions. It'd be premature to add much before I've analyzed my office-wear needs, but I'm fairly certain of at least one unfilled niche in my closet: a work appropriate mid-weight coat for fall and spring, most likely a tan trench coat like the pictured one from Uniqlo. (You can see the same style, I think, pictured on another blogger.) Up to now, I've been relying on some of my heavier cardigans and a tweed moto-style jacket from Ann Taylor, though none of those items are quite as versatile or polished as a trench coat might be.

I do have some reservations about whether a trench coat would be a good addition to my wardrobe. While they're frequently touted as a wardrobe staple, they're probably not equally suitable for all climates. In the last few years, I've personally found that NYC weather is prone to extremes that are not especially trench coat-friendly. If I remember correctly, we only get a small handful of comfortably balmy days in spring or fall before the weather progresses full speed ahead to summer or winter. The window for wearing a light coat is short.

Separately, I'm not absolutely certain that double-breasted coats and jackets are always flattering on broader-chested figures. I only recently purchased my first single-breasted coat, and I was surprised that it suited me so well. Because the prototypical "classic" trench is typically a double-breasted style, I'd feel a little strange about buying a single-breasted one. It just doesn't feel as polished, I suppose. 

Friday, July 3, 2015

On Sale: Skagen Watches


This kind of shopping post is not normally in my wheelhouse, but because my Skagen watch from a few months ago is now such a major part of my accessories wardrobe, I thought I would point out a few good sale prices for similar ones from around the web. My gold-tone Skagen Freja was deeply on sale when I purchased it, and a similar sale price for the rose gold is now available on Amazon for $84.99. Skagen is also having another sale on their website, and there are a few designs that I would seriously consider if I was still in the market for a watch: the Gitte with the black leather strap on the left is only 94.99 and the gold-tone Ditte on the right is currently $114.99. There are also quite a few other women's watches on sale, in a wide range of styles

I'm not very creative when it comes to picking out watches, and I'm perfectly happy to own just one as long as the design is versatile and looks professional. Any of Skagen's metal band watches would certainly fit the bill and go with just about any outfit. I am very pleased with the one that I bought. I've been wearing it frequently since it arrived in February, and it remains in perfect condition.

As an aside, because I'm an avid GOMI-reader who has many thoughts about how commercialized blogging can be, I feel self-conscious every time I write a post that's mostly about a product I like. Even if I genuinely recommend something from personal experience (after spending my own money) and I currently am not monetized and have no plans to do so, I still feel a bit awkward whenever I write something that starts sounding like ad copy. I don't, by the way, object to the use of Shopstyle links or sponsored posts from bloggers who carefully pick sponsorships that are a good fit. It's just many blogs I used to adore have moved in a direction where I have trouble trusting their current recommendations because of questionable sponsorships. I fully respect the "hustle" that it takes to turn a blog into a business, but it does take away much of my enjoyment as a reader in some instances.

What do you think about the generally commercialized state of blogging? Does it affect how you approach writing your blog?

P.S. Speaking of GOMI and monetized blogs, there is now a fascinating discussion of income and fashion blogs taking place on their forum here

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Six-Month Progress Report: Shopping and Budgeting

personal photo, with VSCOcam filter

I began the year with some trepidation about my ability to stick to a budget, and I thought it'd be easier to go on a "shopping fast" where I could buy things I needed, replacements, and some well thought out "wants." That ended up being the wrong approach for me. I slip easily into making impulse purchases with as little as a few days of planning, and it'd be inaccurate to try to claim those as the well thought out "wants" that make sense during a shopping fast or for anyone committed to minimalist consumption. I also belatedly realized that it is problematic to fail to set some kind of upper limit for my shopping. Accordingly, my budget for clothes, shoes and accessories is now $250/month or $3000/year. I don't worry too much about the number each month as long as I'm relatively on track for the year.


From January to June, I came in under the roughly $1500/half year limit. I've spent $1318.85 on fashion items for the year so far. The numbers, which you can see in my monthly budget posts are as follows:
  • $227.87 + $376.72 + $233.40 + $107.00 + $373.86 = $1318.85. 

A quick note on my budget setting might be in order, given that I spent the calendar year thus far as a graduate student with my living expenses largely financed by student loans. The $3000/year number likely seems a bit high without more context. In my case, one important detail is that it's a bit less than 5% of my after-tax pay when I start work this fall. In anticipation of the pay cut I will be taking because of my fellowship-ish in fall of 2016, I will likely adjust my budget downwards for at least the later months of 2016. 

Shopping Fast: Needs, Wants, etc.

Although I largely ditched my shopping fast rules when it came to clothes, I still think that it was a useful exercise. By starting to think in terms of shopping fasts and what constituted  actual "needs" or "wants" that I could reasonably indulge, I was making a commitment to be thoughtful about my spending and consumption. I think I've still made great strides towards the spirit of that goal.

My success is most obvious when it comes to my beauty and skincare shopping fast. I was about $150 away from being a Sephora VIB Rouge last year ($1000/year in spending) because of careless indulgences and the added temptation to put in an extra item to get free shipping. This year, I'm likely not on track to renew even my VIB status ($350/year). The vast majority of the beauty items I've bought this year are simply replacements for products I already used frequently. After taking the time to depot my powder cosmetics for organization, I'm finding that I don't particularly enjoy or need eyeshadow, blush, or bronzer, which cuts down on many potential future purchases. It also allows for some additional downsizing, but I'll probably wait on that step.