Wednesday, April 29, 2015

April Shopping Reflections

I expect to shop less for the next few months than I did earlier this year. Because there remains a bit of uncertainty regarding trip expenses and eventual move-in expenses, I'm going to do my best to be stricter about my shopping budget, and I plan to come in well under $250 a month until September or later. I do have that L.L. Bean boot preorder purchase still to come, likely in July, but I otherwise don't have any larger purchases planned.

I shopped at Forever 21 this month after searching what felt like every other major US mall brand's online shop for a maxi dress that would fit my rather nit-picky criteria and budget with very little luck. As it turns out, the Loft maxi dress ended up being a good fit too, but I liked the idea of having another maxi dress for my vacation, so I kept the Forever 21 dress too. 

The pajama shirt is a version of a style I own in several different colors (with different texts). I feel  iffy about looking to Forever 21 for a basic that is hardly difficult to find elsewhere, though I also don't have room in my budget for expensive pajamas, and the design has proven to be perfect for my needs. Forever 21 seems to have changed the fabric from a cotton-modal blend to a cotton-polyester one that is less comfy, which at least means that I probably won't rebuy.

Fashion - (TOTAL: $107.00)
  • Forever 21 Maxi Dress - $24.90 - This one is a bit more casual than the Loft dress. The rayon material seems like it'd be reasonably comfortable for summer wear. 
  • Forever 21 Pajama Shirt - $10.90 - I did not pay attention to the product description and didn't realized they'd changed it from cotton-modal to cotton-polyester. 
  • Loft Maxi Dress - $53.70 - Got this in a petite size M during the sale, and it fits great! I liked the black one better than the printed version. 
  • Etsy Replacement Handbag Strap - $17.50* - I have a navy Rebecca Minkoff Morning After Bag that didn't come with a shoulder strap, and I've been wanting one for years. This was the best fit that I could find between Etsy and Ebay. (I would have liked something an inch wide rather than 0.7'', but could not find a leather strap at that width.) Hopefully the quality is good, shipping will take another week or two.
*indicates that shipping cost was included

Beauty - (TOTAL: $70.50)
  • Sephora 15% off Sale Order - $57.00 - I've been quite good about avoiding Sephora purchases this year, and I probably will not make even VIB status this year. I think I will continue shopping during sales, however. 
    • Margiela Replica Beach Walk Rollerball - I received a sample of this months ago and like this better than any of the dozen perfume samples I've received in other orders. 
    • MUFE HD Pressed Powder - A new product to replace the loose version of the powder, which is my staple setting powder. I like this so far! I have the same results, but with considerably less mess and product wasted. 
    • Peter Thomas Roth Mini Mask Magic Kit - I've wanted to try this out since I saw it during the sales around Christmas last year. One warning though, these are only slightly bigger than one would expect a deluxe sample to be! 
  • My Beauty Diary Imperial Bird's Nest Masks - $13.50 - Not pictured. This is a repeat purchase. I had a brief scare where I thought this might be a counterfeit product because the masks are a slightly different shape than others I have ordered, but I did some research and it seems fine! 

Linking up with Franish and the other budgeting bloggers! 

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

John Oliver on Fast Fashion

My first exam is in a little less than a week, and I have been busier with school than I thought I would be! Admittedly, there is a fair bit of procrastination and Netflix time factored in, which might just come with the "graduate student senioritis" territory. I wanted to share this clip discussing fast fashion from Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (I hope the video is not U.S.-region only, but can't be sure). With only 17 minutes of discussion, he can't go into detail on every aspect of the problem and doesn't discuss any of the alternatives, but as usual, he does a good job explaining a problem in a concise and entertaining way that also gets right to the point and doesn't shy away from the less pleasant truths. There are plenty of other informative clips discussing various topics on the show's Youtube channel, which I highly recommend. 

Elizabeth Cline's book Overdressed goes into more detail about the problem, and I still recommend that as a more intensive and complete introduction to fast fashion and clothing production issues. Neither the book nor John Oliver's clip can really answer the question of what a would-be ethical consumer should do, which speaks to how difficult it is to figure out where and how our clothes are produced. (The video clip, in particular, focuses on brands that sell clothes for cheap, such as H&M or Gap, which might obscure the fact that many department store brands might well be using the same countries for production, if not the same factories. Price alone is not an indicator of quality or an ethical source, which Cline's book makes clear.)

I still think that shopping secondhand (whether at an online shop like Thredup or Twice, or somewhere like Buffalo Exchange) might be one of the better ways to sidestep some of the ethical issues (both by reducing waste and not feeding as directly into the demand for dramatically large quantities of new, cheap clothing straight from the retailer), but that worked a lot better with my lifestyle when I was a student who mainly needed casual clothes. I have bought a fair number of business casual pieces at Buffalo Exchange, and generally see a few options in my size at Thredup or Twice, but that requires a fair bit of browsing time and luck. 

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Wardrobe Planning: Jeans

I should have known that it wasn't the best or most efficient way to approach shopping for jeans, but I ordered a few pairs to try on earlier this month during the last big Bloomingdales sale. My Uniqlo blue jeans are getting extremely worn, and I will replace them later this year. The best ones I tried on were the Rag & Bone "The Skinny" jeans in the Coventry shade, which are quite flattering and fit correctly on my petite-length legs. I ended up sending them back with everything else, however, because the fabric felt thinner and stretchier than I was used to, which made even the sale price feel like too much. 

Because I only need one pair of dark blue skinny or straight-leg jeans at a time, the cost per wear should be good enough to justify buying an expensive pair. There is the issue of how I will only be able to wear jeans two days a week because of work, but that likely means that any new pair will have good longevity. (Slimmer cuts of jeans might be on the way out, but I don't really anticipate personally wanting to go back to boot cuts.) Of course, if jeans are going to be such a small part of my future wardrobe, going back to the Uniqlo price point might be the best choice, and I think that's the direction I'm leaning in. 

I ended up sending everything back. I just couldn't be sure that the Rag & Bone jeans were actually the most flattering style for me, given that I hadn't done my shopping in person. Especially because I have to be selective on what I splurge on for my wardrobe, I think I've more or less decided that premium jeans will not be one of those things. 

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Wardrobe Priorities

With around a month and a half left until graduation, things have started to get a bit hectic at school, which has reduced my posting frequency a bit, alas. Thinking about actually moving and storing all of my stuff has also made me a bit more reluctant to shop than normal.

My mom has been kind enough to offer me a graduation present, most likely a piece of jewelry. I am a bit sheepish about accepting a large gift, especially when the state of my student loan balance means that I wouldn't generally spend that amount on myself all at once. I do very much like the idea of a small, subtle piece of jewelry as a graduation gift, however. It feels more like it could be a permanent part of my wardrobe than a lot of possible alternatives (especially because I already have a watch that I'm happy with). 

It led me to think a bit about what I prioritize when it comes to my own spending on my wardrobe. I have felt some desire to buy jewelry, perhaps a ring, for myself when there's room in my budget. It'd be a bit expensive for me, and it might be odd to choose that over upgrading my shoes or buying higher-quality clothes than my Loft and The Limited mainstays for work. (My small collection of handbags for work is already a bit splurge-y for a young professional woman my age. I am totally a handbag person.) 

For those of us who like to splurge a bit on fashion (but cannot splurge on everything we possibly want), the decision of what to prioritize is probably a very personal and idiosyncratic one. I'm not a shoe person because I don't find shoes all that aesthetically pleasing.  All the design details that might make a pair of shoes particularly spectacular are lost on me. I have a few friends who spend more to get better quality clothes and deemphasize bags or shoes, and I can certainly appreciate the virtues of that. However, I don't personally feel like I would know how best to pick out clothes that are worth higher prices than I am used to paying. 

Are you a handbag person or a shoe person? Or are you none of the above? 

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Review: Paula's Choice 2% BHA Liquid

The Paula's Choice 2% BHA Liquid (referral link for $10 discount on first order) is quite possibly my single favorite over the counter product in my rather extensive skincare routine. I consider it a miracle product, but my main goal is treating acne, so the BHA Liquid probably isn't for everyone. My skin type is dry, very acne-prone, and moderately sensitive. This product was the first in years to substantially reduce my acne, even when compared to prescription products.  It likely has anti-aging benefits as well, but I can't report on that myself.  

When it comes to acne treatment, I generally recommend relying on the dermatologist and whatever they prescribe as a first line of defense. Especially when one is having severe problems, I've never found over the counter solutions that helpful.

During graduate school, my skin had calmed down to the point where doctors were not willing to prescribe anything stronger. My skin was stable, but I wasn't satisfied. For better or for worse, I almost never get small breakouts or blemishes. Instead, I used to develop one of those terrible, large, and under-the-skin bumps (cystic acne) once every four weeks or so like clockwork, just as the last one healed. I am also prone to post-inflammatory hyper-pigmentation, which meant that I constantly had hyper-pigmented spots to conceal with makeup. 

Kerry's review at Skin and Tonics is more complete and informative regarding the science behind the product. Her reported experience, including a before and after photo, is very consistent with mine. After I incorporated this product into my daily routine, the frequency of my breakouts was reduced dramatically by the first two months or so. So far this calendar year, I've only had two of those horrible, under-the-skin type bumps, and they heal quite a bit faster than they used to. Both facts count as big wins in my book.

With any new product, I recommend patch testing, perhaps on the inside of your wrist or on your neck. I also recommend easing the product into your routine slowly. There is always a small possibility of a product causing breakouts or severe irritation. 

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Shoe Misadventures

Cole Haan Air Monica flats: not the most exciting shoe, but that's just how I roll.

I'm not really a shoe person. I like having a pair of comfortable and pretty shoes as much as the next person, but I don't really go out of way to find them and prefer fairly pedestrian (ha!) styles. When I find a pair that is comfortable, wearable, and versatile, I tend to default to that pair over and over for as long as I possibly can. From spring to fall, my go-to shoes are normally ballet flats, and it generally takes me a little less than three months to wear them to death. At least one shoe has a worn-down hole by that point in time, always in the leather upper on the outer edge, down near the sole. While its often not immediately visible to others, the shoe in question generally doesn't have much of a life span after that. 

I don't blame quality issues either. I have wide feet and underpronate when I walk. I've tried a range of styles, brands, and price points, and there's no significant advantage to wearing, say, the pictured Cole Haan flats rather than a pair from Payless, Zara, or Gap. Between my feet, the way I walk, and the way I wear my preferred shoes almost every day until they are no longer up to the task, it is no surprise that I generally stick to a $50 or less, usually at Nordstrom Rack, budget for my flats. I made an exception for the Cole Haan flats as a work shoe last summer, and the experiment with paying more was not exactly a success.


I suppose the next experiment is likely to try out more structured, sturdier shoes, likely with a bit of a heel. The T Tahari Ranma flats were a possibility, though the pair I tried on from ran strangely large and the slightly protruding heel felt like too strange a detail, making me a little less inclined to try that particular style again. Other slightly heeled ballet flats might be a possibility. I've also read some good reviews of Dieppa Restrepo shoes on other blogs, which is another possible direction. All their styles, such as the Dandy loafer, are a bit more androgynous than the shoe styles I normally favor. I am intrigued by more menswear-inspired shoe styles these days, though I'm not one hundred-percent sure about whether I'm ready to invest. 

For now, the Keds slip-ons I bought are a good choice for everything except heading to work at my internship this semester. They're a bit more casual than ballet flats, and that takes some getting used to, but the Keds fit well with most of what I've been wearing recently. For work, I've been pairing my standard business casual wear with ankle booties more often than not, which I enjoy, but it might project a slightly too casual vibe. 

Do any of you have similar problems with the longevity of shoes? I am certainly happy to hear any recommendations for shoe styles or brands that I could try! 

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Big Moves

via Pinterest

I have about seven weeks until my graduation, shortly after which I will have to vacate the student housing apartment that I've occupied for the last three years. I won't make my permanent move to the city until September, and I've spent the last few days researching both storage options and movers. I must admit, I found the average prices for both things in NYC to be slightly shocking. It gets to the point where one person's collection of Ikea and Walmart price-point furniture is barely worth the cost of either, and certainly not worth the total cost of both combined. I wouldn't generally advocate purchasing anything, much less furniture, with the intention of discarding it during the next move, but I'm also not exaggerating the slightly jaw-dropping cost of storage in particular. (Some storage places come with one free move, but not a second, so that's another cost to account for.) 

It is actually the first time in my life I'm truly dealing with the potential need for movers. I went to college across the country from where I grew up, and there was no question that I couldn't take anything back with me except what would fit in my checked luggage. I used to enjoy accumulating bargain books, and of course, those couldn't all travel with me. I was in the same situation with my big moves to and from Hong Kong when I was working before graduate school, and then again with my eventual move to start school. This process certainly makes me want to swear off buying decorative knick knacks or any furniture nicer than those from the lower-end Ikea lines, at least until I'm fairly certain that I'm settling down in one place for good. 

The whole thing leads me to reflect on how much in the way of physical objects a person actually needs. It also emphasizes how, sometimes, accumulating excess stuff has real costs, both in terms of stress and the actual costs or trouble of moving and storing things. One easily gets to the point where it is easier or even necessary to let go rather than to keep things. I also think back to the moving-out period at the end of every school year in college. There would always be an immense pile of discarded items, some of them fairly nice or expensive, piled at the door of every residence hall. I believe the school donated the items, but can't be sure of how they handled or sorted it all.

I'm actually quite lucky in that it will be fairly painless for me to downsize (I will get a mover, but not rent storage space). I will be moving in with K in September, which renders a lot of my furniture redundant, so I'm opting to sell or discard most items. All I'll be left with is a dresser, a nightstand, and my clothes, which will fit in his apartment while I'm away from NYC. I greatly appreciate his willingness to provide a space for my things, of course, because it will be cramped, though not absurdly so. (I will take a decent quantity of my clothes home in checked luggage and bring it back in the fall.) 

How have you approached big moves in the past? I imagine that the rather laissez-faire attitude towards discarding furniture is a bit of a big-city affliction, but I have done enough research to know why students and young professionals might be forced into that position. 

Friday, April 3, 2015

My Current "Spring" Uniform

Uniqlo tops and jeans; Keds shoes; Calvin Klein coat

I use the air quotes because it barely feels like spring. My current coat, a Calvin Klein cashmere-blend dress coat is fairly heavy, but even with that and a scarf, I feel cold more often than not these days. (As an aside, though I doubt anyone is in the market for a wool coat at this point in the year, but the coat on me is less boxy and, in my opinion, better-looking than it is on the model. It is tapered at the natural waist on me.) It's too warm for the "Zara" style blanket scarves I was wearing most of the winter, and I have put my down coat away, but otherwise, my outfits have not changed extremely much since winter.

I've been getting a lot of wear out of some of my February and March purchases, namely the Uniqlo sweater, the Uniqlo striped tunic (February), and the Keds slip-ons (March). I have plenty of other clothes, but very few sweaters and other non-winter tops with the slouchier, more casual silhouette that I've been favoring in recent months, which means that I've been defaulting to these two tops fairly often. I love the slip-ons so far, they're quite comfortable. 

What are your favorite items so far this season? 

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

The Things I Wish I Knew (Graduate Student Personal Finance)

As you might have noticed, I've been thinking a lot about student debt, money, and financial responsibility in recent weeks. In particular, I've been thinking about those US News top graduate programs by student debt lists (medicine, business, etc.), and speculating that the numbers are likely misleading. I am moderately certain that the numbers do not include interest, which normally accrues on graduate student loans while the students are in school.* (With the exception of Perkins Loans, which are doled out in small amounts, US federal loans for graduate students are unsubsidized, which means that the borrower is responsible for the interest that accrues during their enrollment. For loans issued in recent years, the interest rates vary from about 6% to 8% depending on type of loan.) 

The question of what responsible financial choices look like for graduate students is a difficult one. I have many regrets, mostly minor, about how I have handled my finances since graduating college. I suspect, however, that true financial responsibility is largely impossible when someone must take on significant debt to complete a graduate program they are sure about. At the end of the day, no matter how much I saved from my job before graduate school, or how much I scrimped during school, my overall net worth was going to be six figures in the negative. In circumstances like mine, there is, of course, a major question of whether one should go to graduate school at all, and it merits serious thought.** 

Now that I've been getting more serious about my finances for a few months, here are some things that I personally could and should have been doing as a young adult while I was working and when I first started graduate school. These things that I wish I had done largely overlap with the "first steps" that any personal finance book for beginners would recommend to someone who is just getting started: