Monday, November 30, 2015

November Shopping Reflections

Oh boy, this was an extremely shopping-heavy month, particularly as a matter of total dollars spent. I did get two coats out of it, both of which meet actual wardrobe "needs," which makes the spending not entirely crazy. The only problem is that I'm didn't really find the "perfect" trench or down coat. The items in question have some definite issues, but most of my uncertainty likely comes from my having become an excessively nitpicky shopper with unrealistic expectations, especially given my budget constraints. 

Somewhat accurate, as I knew what I was getting into, but not the exact numbers.

I'm also increasingly conscious of how my spending interacts with my other financial obligations, which makes me suspicious of just about anything I buy. It's difficult to guarantee that something is "worth it" when so many other things are clamoring for my dollars: saving for my emergency fund, retirement, travel and bridesmaid-related expenses, and finally, paying down student loans. I finally had enough information this month to do more concrete repayment calculations, and the numbers are sobering. I have six-figures in graduate student loan debt, all in US federal loans with interest rates ranging from 5% to 7.9%. Refinancing is not an option in the near future due to some reliance on federal protections like income-based repayment. My balance currently accrues interest of roughly $33/day. It's not fun, though it isn't quite as horrific as it sounds because my income is at a level that can pay it down completely by the seven-year mark, but it is also no small thing. I went to graduate school knowing full well that this was the financial life I was signing up for, but well, it is a long, slow road.

Sorry to be such a downer in a monthly shopping post! I'm satisfied with my career choice, it's just that I'm probably at one of the more difficult stages of that path. At some point, if I want to continue writing about this, I probably should just disclose the field I'm in to give an accurate picture, but at this point I'm still feeling a little shy about that. 

Fashion - (TOTAL: $504.29)
  • Equipment Lynn Blouse, Peacoat Multi - $103.20 - This print is maybe a bit "much" by most standards, but I enjoy it. I'm wearing it under a trench coat in this post. I find Equipment's sizing to be on the slightly generous side of true-to-size, such that the S doesn't gap despite my being a bit chest. I got it at Equipment's site, but the main link goes to Nordstrom Rack, which has it for a little less than I paid. 
  • Everlane Trench, Tan - $189.00* - Detailed review here. From how often I've worn it, it is looking like I'll get excellent cost-per-wear from this, despite my quibbles with it. I haven't had a chance to bring it to a tailor yet, but now that the season for it is ending, I'll probably get a chance to go soon. 
  • Elie Tahari Paula Down Coat, Black - $212.09* - Detailed review here. It isn't truly cold enough yet to wear it, but the price I got on it was pretty good. If this coat ends up not being warm enough, I'll update on that later on...

Beauty - (TOTAL: $173.52) 
  • Sephora (with 20% off VIB sale): $116.71* - This might well be my last year shopping the VIB sale because I'm still a little less than $100 off from renewing my VIB status.
    • Tarte Amazonian Clay Waterproof 12-Hour Concealer, Medium - I accidentally ordered the wrong color from Dermstore a while back, but they were very nice about allowing the return. I ended up getting my replacement during the Sephora VIB sale. My makeup technique is not great, but out of all the concealers I've tried, this one is the best. It's the easiest to work with and has decent coverage. 
    • Josie Maran Argan Oil Light - My favorite face oil. I'm not actually sure how this differs from other argan oils including the "regular" Josie Maran argan oil, but I seem to get the best results from this one. 
    • Cover FX Liquid Foundation Brush - I used a similar flat-top brush from the Sonia Kashuk line at Target for years, but would occasionally get a streaky finish from it. This Cover FX brush is better. I can't guarantee that it's the best brush for liquid foundations, like the Nars Tinted Moisturizer I currently use, because of my aforementioned lack of makeup skill, but I like the results I get with this. 
    • Bobbi Brown Long-Wear Gel Eyeliner, Espresso Ink - It has been... a fairly long time since I replaced my eyeliner. This is a good gel eyeliner and it stays put very well. 
  • Dermstore (with return credit): $56.81*
    • DDF Sulfur Therapeutic Mask - DDF discontinued this item for a long while around 2011, but it's back! I use sulfur masks as an overnight treatment for some of my most annoying breakouts to try to encourage those larger, icky bumps to come to a head. I don't recommend this strategy for sensitive skin though. I'd actually prefer a smaller package of this and packaged in a tube instead of a pot because it dries out easily. (Olay had a sulfur mask in a tube way back when. It wasn't a better value, but it was cheaper because it contained less product. Sadly, that one was discontinued too.) 
    • Dermalogica AGE Smart Multivitamin Power Recovery Masque - Trying this out on a friend's recommendation, but I probably have a few too many face masks of various types in my "to try" queue right now... 
* indicates that price includes extra costs such as shipping, New York sales tax, etc. 

Linking to Franish and the other Budgeting Bloggers again this month. Be sure to check out what everyone else bought!

With this month's spending, I've now spent $2534.47 of the $3000 I set as my absolute upper limit for the year, which leaves me able to spend $465.34 for December without truly going over. (The goal, however, is to spend much less than that because I don't really need anything for the fall/winter season.) 

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Bundling Up: the Elie Tahari Paula Coat

Coat: Elie Tahari Paula down coat*, M 
*(Bluefly discount in limited size/color combos)
Boots: L.L. Bean boots w/ Goretex and Thinsulate

Well I suppose I should stop being in denial about my outfit photography being, er, noticeably lower-quality than that of the blogs I was reading in 2008 or so. (I'm mainly thinking of the super-cool Fops and Dandies, who took the best mirror selfies in a time before selfie was a word. I miss her blog to this day.) Also, happy Thanksgiving to those in the US! I'm fairly certain that my only Black Friday sales shopping plans are entirely online and only for gifts for others this year, because well, I've spent plenty on myself this fall/winter already. 

This has been an incredibly spend-y month for me. I blew past my monthly budget number when I bought the Everlane Trench and then I just kept on going by buying the Elie Tahari Paula down coat (on super-sale from Bluefly with an additional percent off coupon on top, but the current Bloomingdales price on top of their Thanksgiving sale will get you close to the price I paid). I stayed under budget for quite a few months this year, so I can actually overspend in December without going over my limit for the year, but I hope to do minimal shopping between now and New Years.  

Because this coat was originally too pricey to be practical and isn't a particularly sought after style, there probably isn't any actual demand for a review. Still, I enjoy talking about my purchasing decisions, so here goes:

This isn't the down coat I thought I would buy. I was envisioning something more utilitarian, and likely in an olive green, which would match my brown L.L. Bean winter boots well. Honestly, the main factor in my decision to order this for trying on was the dramatic discount, which isn't a particularly wise starting point for any shopping decision. I ended up paying around $220 at Bluefly with tax and shipping included, which is a little less than I likely would have spent on the North Face or Columbia coat I originally planned on and certainly much less than this coat's $550 full price. (The best price outside of Bluefly is currently $330 at Bloomingdales, $275-ish with the Thanksgiving sale code.) I took it out for a road test this past Tuesday, one of the first truly cold days in this unseasonably warm fall we're having in NYC.

For context, I'm not actually particularly picky about my winter coats. I picked out the Larry Levine one I've been wearing for the last three years (in different color) on sale from Amazon with the moderate price being my main criteria. That coat was plenty warm for me, even in the brutal winter NYC had last year and remains in generally fine condition. I'd even just stick with it, were it not for the sticky zipper and the minor annoyance of a hood that doesn't stay up on its own. Sizing-wise, I tend to stick with a M in pretty much all down coats I've tried, for fear that the chest would get a little snug when I have a thick sweater on. Keep reading behind the cut for my thoughts on my new coat.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Review: CosRx Acne Pimple Master Patch

Warning: because this post is about acne-oriented hydrocolloid bandages, the subject matter is a bit gross. I don't have any of my own photos of the before and after of using these, but I link a few photos and it is a little icky to look at.

As I've mentioned before, I don't have great skin. My main problem is acne, mostly the large under-the-skin type that can hang out for weeks at a time. The problem is mostly under control, largely thanks to the Paula's Choice 2% BHA Liquid, which I previously reviewed, but something about the transition to full-time office work was making my skin act up. (By the way, I now recommend purchasing Paula's Choice products at Dermstore because there are often discount codes floating around the web, sometimes for up to 15% off or a little more.)

I first heard about using hydrocolloid bandages (aka blister bandages) as an acne-healing tool while reading r/SkincareAddiction (some icky photos linked in comments there). I had actually seen Nexcare ones designed for acne on the shelves at Taiwanese and Hong Kong drugstores, but I assumed they were just little stickers designed to spot-treat acne with, say, tea tree oil or other topical ingredients that I could just apply directly instead. I've tried a few products from the latter category, including both the A'pieu product I linked and one from The Face Shop. Neither was any good. Hydrocolloid bandages are great though, provided you use them correctly, and the CosRx Acne Pimple Master Patch is a particularly effective one. Read on, but be forewarned that even the basic description of how to use it might be a bit gross.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Blog Thoughts, Year One

via Tumblr

Now that I'm at my new apartment with considerably more space and natural light, I'm hoping to start taking more outfit photos and do more fashion reviews. (Bloggers' reviews of items I'm thinking of buying are always exceedingly helpful to me as a shopper.) Any photos I take will likely still be those headless mirror selfies I tend to do, though.

I'm almost a month shy of my one-year "blogiversary," and I'm having fun with tending this small creative outlet of mine. I'm so thrilled to have people reading along and engaging with me in the comments. Thank you so much to everyone who reads here!

I greatly enjoy having this space to talk freely about shopping, spending, and my forays into being a more conscious shopper and budget-conscious adult. The "aspiring minimalist" focus I started with has faded somewhat because I've internalized the things that are important to me about that lifestyle as best I can or am ready to (avoiding fast fashion when possible, doing my best to buy things with the intention of keeping them for a long time, etc.). 

You might have noticed that I've started using Shopstyle affiliate links despite being one of the many people who raise their eyebrows at some aspects of affiliate link usage. While I strongly dislike the Rewardstyle business model of giving a blogger a percentage of reader purchases at particular retailers (and for a several-weeks long period, at that), I don't mind Shopstyle's up to a few cents per click model. Also, full disclosure: there's no way my blog will ever be big enough or publish the right type of content frequently enough to even be accepted to Rewardstyle. I played around with where I put my "Disclosure" box in my sidebar: I actually think it is easiest to find and read at the bottom where it is now, rather than directly under my "About Me" box closer to the top, where it gets buried in the rest of the sidebar. 

I don't actually anticipate making income from this in the forseeable future, by the way: I've barely made 50 cents total since I started last week, and I don't think I post often enough or have appealing-enough photos for this to be a real thing. At the rate I'm going, it'll be a decade before I even have the $100 minimum required to cash out for the first time. I'll do my best to be detailed and specific about the items I wear or feature in a budget post, so that you can still find the items easily on your own without clicking, if you prefer. I strongly dislike when blogs try to "force" a reader to click through by being absurdly vague about where they bought what they're wearing and linking, and I will strive to not do that. With some items that I'm linking just to illustrate a point, however, I might not be quite as specific because I'm not specifically encouraging a purchase. If you're curious about how affiliate programs and other forms of income from blogging work, this GOMI thread was extremely informative. I've since stopped reading GOMI, but that thread remains an eye-opening favorite.

EDIT: There's now another GOMI thread that further breaks down some of the differences between the Rewardstyle and Shopstyle model. 

Monday, November 16, 2015

Review: Everlane Trench Coat

Coat: Everlane Trench, XS
Top: Equipment Lynn blouse, peacoat multi print, S
Pants: Loft Marisa Fit slim ankle pant, 4P
Shoes: Louise et Cie flats (old, similar in black)

Forgive the mirror selfies in low lighting and the wrinkled fabric, but I haven't seen any online reviews of Everlane's new take on the classic trench coat, and I thought that it might be a helpful review. The weather in NYC has been strangely warm this fall, and I desperately wanted a mid-length or longer coat that would be suitable for the only slightly cool temperatures. I have a short tweed-like moto-inspired jacket from Ann Taylor (similar to this one) that is just right for this weather, but the short length can look awkward when I wear it over my many long cardigans and sweaters.

I'm not the most knowledgeable consumer when it comes to trench coats. The only other ones I've tried are the Uniqlo Ines de la Fressange one from last year (now deeply discounted at $39.90, but it runs quite big and is only available from sizes S to L) which I thought was too heavy and unflattering on me and a single-breasted Calvin Klein design that I nixed because the shiny plastic buttons looked cheap and I objected to the 100% polyester fabric. 

There are a few not-so-good things that you should know about Everlane's classic trench if you're considering a purchase:
  • First, it runs very big compared to Everlane's other items. The measurements on their site are accurate (as they usually are), but before I received the item, I thought there was no way that an XS at Everlane could ever measure 20'' across the chest. Lo and behold, it does. I'm roughly 36.5'' around the chest, more than most women around my general height and build, but this coat is a bit big for me despite being Everlane's smallest size. 
  • Second, it is (unsurprisingly) designed for a taller woman, though I find it workable at my 5'3'' height. It hits right at my knee when its buttoned-up and belted, covering just the upper half of my kneecap. The sleeves are not particularly long, but other details are problematic. The belt loops and pockets are both intended for someone differently proportioned. 
  • Third, it is only partially lined, in the sleeves only. I'm not sure how typical this is at the price point ($175) because, as far as I can tell, very few competitors offer a classic trench in 100% cotton for similar or lower prices. The lack of a full lining bothers me quite a bit.

I ended up keeping this coat despite the issues I mentioned above, which might not be the wisest shopping decision I've ever made. I do plan to get a few alterations done, starting with maybe slimming the sides and having the belt loops moved up. I'd also like to get a lining added, but I suspect all of these alterations will easily add up to more than the price of the coat, given the high prices at NYC tailors. The 100% cotton fabric tends to wrinkle, and the belt in the same cotton material has a little trouble staying fully tied if I run to cross the street before the light changes. More photos and thoughts can be found behind the cut.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Life Lately

I'm finally starting to feel settled in now, both at my office and in my new apartment. K and I moved during the last week of October, and it took another week and a half to finish buying new furniture and assembling it. I must say, it is very nice to go from a studio to an actual one-bedroom. Our new place is great. One of the big selling points is that the building has a good-sized and not particularly busy 24-hour fitness room with a good selection of dumbbells, weights, and your basic cardio machines. We're both really happy that it is now very easy to get in a workout.

I had a brief business trip to Chicago last month, and I thought it was a lovely city. It was too bad that I didn't really have time to go out and explore, but I did get the chance to snap a few photos of the skyline. I was staying near the Magnificent Mile, but didn't get to browse any of the shops there.

In other news, I'm continuing to struggle quite a bit with potential lifestyle inflation.

I think I'm starting to get the food spending under control, but it's also still a work in progress, especially when it comes to (not) cooking dinner. I think I have a good routine down for breakfasts and lunches. I bring my breakfast half the time by making a large batch of hard-boiled eggs at the start of the week, and I buy oatmeal at the subsidized office cafeteria for around $0.75 the rest of the time. For lunch, I'm perfectly happy to eat the same salad every day for around $4.00 (sold by weight) from the cafeteria. From past experience, I know that I generally can't buy and use up enough variety of vegetables to prepare my own salads with the variety of ingredients I get from the cafeteria. I bring lentils to make the salad a bit more filling, to prevent myself from getting too hungry and buying snacks in the afternoon. The afternoon snacks are probably not a habit I can break completely, but I do my best to buy from the grocery store rather than from the overpriced delis near work.

When it comes to shopping and my wardrobe, though, I've had a harder time. Spoiler alert for this month's budget post: I'm going to be over budget again, though I don't think it's enough to bust my budget for the year.  I've been in the market for a trench coat because I feel like a need a mid-length or long coat for spring and fall due to this long stretch of unseasonably warm weather we're having, and I have a review of the new Everlane trench coat coming up very soon. Also, although this won't go into my shopping budget, I'm planning to buy a fabric steamer because I have a lot of things, like silk shirts, that get wrinkly. I'm averse to using an iron due to lack of experience.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

A Quick "Guide" to Income-Based Repayment

The process to enter income-based repayment on US federal student loans is so simple that it is hardly worthy of a post. I previously assumed that the procedures and rules associated with the various programs would be a rather daunting thing to learn about, much less apply for, and I was shocked by how easy it was. Admittedly, I don't even have perfect knowledge of what I've signed up for, particularly the crucial details of whether and when part of my loan balance could be forgiven. Because I plan to remain in a fairly high-earning white-collar professional field for most of the next decade, it makes more financial sense and actually saves me money to repay my loans in full within 10 years rather than pay the minimum for, say, 25 years, and have the rest forgiven, a treatment that is likely only available for part of my loans (and potentially results in a large tax burden later). 

Income-based repayment is not an absolute necessity for me, to the point where I feel sheepish about entering it. My minimum monthly payment was always going to be around $2000/month. I could afford it, and even planned to pay a fair bit extra on top of it. Even so, when my loan repayment terms demanded about $200/month more in minimum payments than I expected, I just got nervous. (I'd used the US government's repayment calculators, but I think I'd neglected how interest would continue growing in the last few months. Also, I think they made a mistake about giving me a shorter repayment term on one or two loans.) 

Long story short, the US government crunches the numbers for you and puts you on the lowest monthly payments you qualify for if that's the option you elect, and my new monthly minimum is $108/month. I still plan to pay as much per month as I originally counted on, but having that much more flexibility is reassuring nonetheless. 

Without further ado, here's the process I followed: I had already created a Federal Student Aid (FSA) login ID (which is separate from any prior FAFSA login or pin number that you might previously have had or your account with your loan servicer). Following this link takes you to a portal that gives you the option to "Complete Income-Driven Repayment Plan Request" in the sidebar after you log in with your FSA id. I filled out the form, provided basic information, and checked the box for letting the loan holder determine what plans I was eligible for such that they would put me on the plans that give me the lowest possible monthly payment. The hardest part was looking up enough information from last year's tax return (which is how they determine your income and the resulting payments) so that they could pull that information from the IRS. My federal loan servicer notified me a week or two later with my new terms. It was almost absurdly easy. 

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Birthday Presents

This is a very quick post about the birthday presents I received from my mom and my sister, both from H&M's "Premium Quality" selection. I didn't previously know about this H&M line until I saw a post on Susie So So featuring the green version of the above scarf. In my family, by the way, we don't generally do gifts in the conventional way. Each recipient picks out what they want for themselves, and often even orders it on their own, and the giver reimburses them. It isn't traditional at all, but I find that it works better than trying to surprise the other person in many instances. There have been more than a few occasions where I picked out something that I thought was perfect, but the recipient never ended up using it. 

I only did a cursory amount of comparison shopping before picking out these gifts for myself. I had the vaguest thought that I might want a gray wool scarf as a Christmas present, and I might or might not have been looking at the Acne scarf as inspiration for that impulse. That notion somehow morphed into wanting both a gray wool scarf and a gray cashmere sweater. Both of those items from H&M were in the right price range, and my decision was made.

The scarf is nice and fairly soft. I don't have too much to comment on except that the wool seems to be good quality, and I have not had any issues with it or any reasons to doubt that. Based on the minimal comparison shopping I did, the $49.99 price seems excellent for a 100% wool scarf of fairly substantial width and length. 

The sweater is definitely one of those slouchy, slightly tent-like styles that are trendy now. It also has a pronounced shirttail hem and fairly high side slits. It isn't a classic style at all, and possibly not the most flattering style for my bustier build. However, I enjoy this shape in sweaters at the moment, and I feel like I'll continue wearing these styles in my casual outfits for the foreseeable future. This design, like many other H&M sweaters, runs fairly true to American mall brand sizing. I ordered a M based off H&M's size chart, which might have been a slight mistake, as the M is more than a little big. I decided to keep it though, because I do like that slouchy, casual look. At $79.99 for a 100% cashmere sweater, the price is exactly the same as for Uniqlo's cashmere sweaters at full price, and I find that the the cashmere is a bit softer and thicker than that of the Uniqlo sweaters.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Decluttering, Ten Months Later

Recycling this photo from when I moved out of my first NYC apartment after graduating.

It's been quite a while now since I first read Marie Kondo's The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, and I thought I would write an update on how my post-"KonMari method" life was going. As I mentioned back then, the book changed my relationship with how I accumulated objects, at least in terms of mundane things like papers, notes from school, and other household clutter. I was relatively certain that Kondo was correct about one thorough decluttering session being enough to permanently change one's habits. I still believe that, but with a few closet-related addendums based on new life events like moving into a new apartment with K.

First, wardrobe decluttering was never going to be a one-and-done process for me. I was decluttering in small sessions long before I read Kondo's book, and I'll likely continue with that habit almost indefinitely. I have a hard time being decisive when it comes to my clothing.

Second, I need even less than I think, and certainly less than I have. When I graduated, I vacated my old place, downsized my things, and stored my remaining possessions in K's studio apartment. Due to space constraints, two-thirds of my closet was packed away until our move. Not having full access to my entire wardrobe was strange for me, but I almost never felt the absence of so many of my clothes, shoes, and accessories. The only time I particularly regretted having so much stored away was when the weather turned cold and rainy sooner than expected, but even that feeling lasted only a day or two. Now that I've moved, I've done another bout of closet decluttering based on that insight.

Third, the book didn't have much to say about shopping, and I haven't had a 100% success rate with buying things that bring joy and are practical. One or two of the items I purchased this year are possible candidates for donation or resale. Kondo's book doesn't have much to say about new acquisitions, as far as I can recall. There were a few tips, some of which she reiterated in this brief New Yorker piece, but otherwise, there's not much guidance there.

I still think my experiment with the KonMari method was a massive success when it comes to non-fashion personal possessions, but her method doesn't provide all the answers for me when it comes to my general goal of cutting down to the best possible "minimalist" wardrobe for myself, nor is it intended to. Are any of you KonMari method adherents? If you were an early adopter, have you found that one decluttering session is enough to change your relationship to your possessions?