Monday, February 29, 2016

February Shopping Reflections

One thing about having a rather hours-intensive and unpredictable job: It seems to help me stick with my more restrictive month to month budget this year. I don't end up getting as many of the sudden whims or impulses that would normally be the driving force behind maybe half of the shopping I did last year. Because I have considerably less free time than I did as a student, I just don't have quite as much time to think about shopping. Work stress also doesn't seem to inspire the shopping impulse as much as school-related stress used to.

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This month, my only fashion purchase was a pair of Everlane Modern Point loafers. The weather is still a little too cold to wear these outdoors, but once spring weather really takes hold in NYC, I'll write a fuller review. One note: I find that Everlane's sizing advice is spot-on, I typically wear a 7.5 and sized up to an 8 for a comfortable and just-right fit in the toe box. I also ordered the Everlane Silk Camisole to try, but that was just a nonstarter. That partial lining at the top doesn't work for me, I think it's because it's a design element that wouldn't work too well on more busty figures. I was a little bit surprised, though, because I'd once tried on what I thought was a similar silk camisole from Joe Fresh (flimsier silk, no partial lining) that actually worked for me. 

I also put in an order for that striped Uniqlo Ines de la Fressange sweater. Sadly, the white and blue color I ordered is already sold out. Because it was released only two days ago, the final decision on whether to keep it will occur in March. 

Fashion - (TOTAL: $160.00*)
  • Everlane Modern Point Loafers: The quality of these is great, especially when compared to the shoes from the Sam Edelman and Cole Haan-type price point that I typically buy. The leather feels much nicer, sturdy while not being stiff. The construction was good except for one teeny-tiny, easily-remedied flaw: a speck of extra glue (I think) was sticking out near the toe of one of the shoes, but that was easily peeled off. Another blog has a review of both the Modern Point and the Modern Loafer, which I found to be very helpful when deciding which design to buy.

Beauty - (TOTAL: $16.75*)
  • Cerave Foaming Facial Cleanser: I used a Cerave "buy one get one half off" coupon from Target to get both of these skincare products together at a discount. I'm currently on the last bit of my second bottle, and bought this one as a replacement. There are no bells and whistles with this facial cleanser, it's just a good unscented and gentle product. Admittedly, I do not have particularly sensitive skin, though my face is prone to dryness, and I've never found this cleanser to cause any problems. If I wore makeup on a particular day, I use oil cleanser or micellar water as a makeup-removing first step before washing with this.
  • Cerave Moisturizing Lotion: This is my usual daytime moisturizer, and I've been loyal to it for years. Again, there are no bells and whistles, it's just a light to medium weight moisturizer. I find that the Cerave lotion takes a little while (30 seconds of rubbing in) to fully absorb into my face when I apply it on top of my other daytime skincare products, but it does absorb cleanly.
*Indicates that price includes estimated tax and/or shipping cost. 

Linking up with Franish and the Budgeting Bloggers this month, as usual. Definitely go and check out what everyone else bought this month!

Thursday, February 11, 2016

The Usual Formula

Sweater: White and Warren, size M, old (similar without buttons)
Dress: Loft, size 6, old (similar laser-cut dress from J. Crew Factory)
Shoes: Sam Edelman Sara flats, leopard print, size 7.5

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This is a rather simple work outfit, but it's comfy. Although I wear a range of different things to work, especially now that I'm a recent convert to wearing dress pants, I tend to reach for various dress and cardigan combinations the most, especially in winter. Those fleece-lined tights are warmer than my dress pants from Loft or Uniqlo, so it actually makes more sense to wear skirts or dresses this time of year.

That White and Warren sweater I bought at deep discount on Gilt last December runs rather big, which you can probably see above. Even with mall brands known for a fair bit of vanity sizing, like J. Crew or Ann Taylor, a size medium sweater is rarely noticeably big on me. Here, the White and Warren size medium is maybe too big, such that it's a little too baggy even if one has a trendy, slouchy look in mind. Nonetheless, I enjoy wearing this sweater: It was designed to be thin and has an open knit, but it's still fairly warm because it's cashmere. 

Although it might not be clear from the photo (someday I'm going to need to learn how to take better-quality photos), this Loft dress from quite a few seasons back is a black eyelet lined with beige fabric, all 100% cotton. It isn't the most suitable fabric for winter, but because I'm always bundled up in a heavy coat while I'm outside, I still wear some of my summer dresses to work in the colder seasons. 

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Favorite Modestly Priced (for NYC) Restaurants

A late-night special at BCD Tofu House (around $19 before tax and tip)

As a NYC resident with an intense and unpredictable office job, I spend a lot on restaurants, both for eating out and for delivery. I'm still trying to hash out what my monthly food budget should reasonably look like, but one way that I try to keep costs under control is to stick with a rotation of tried and true modestly priced (for NYC) restaurants as much as possible. 

The criteria for this list is as follows: (1) these are sit-down restaurants that are (2) reasonably easy to get a table at for a group of two to four, with a wait of up to 30 minutes or so on a busier day at the no-reservations places (which sometimes requires going at slightly off-peak times). Each of these restaurants is (3) delicious, in my opinion, and (4) has at least a few items on their menu that could be an entree or be combined into a decent-sized entree that maxes out at around $16 before tax and tip, which should leave the cost of your meal right around $20, give or take a dollar. I do, by the way, consider it extremely important to tip well, especially when I'm ordering something on the cheaper side. Tips of at least 20%, often slightly more, of the pre-tax price are standard in NYC. Although there can be times when service does not match a 20% tip, I find that most restaurants here consistently meet a high standard for both food and service. Any problems I've had with restaurant service are often issues with management rather than the fault of individual servers, so I've never had occasion to even think about tipping less for quality-of-service reasons. 

A few notes. This list is a bit heavy on non-Western cuisine, largely because it can be difficult to find western restaurants that fit my price criteria, are delicious in a standout way, offer especially good value for money, and on top of that, are also reasonably easy to get a table at without a crazy wait. With Asian places though, the entree that meets my price criteria is often a plate of noodles or requires splitting some noodles or rice and an entree family-style with a dining companion. 

Now onto the list:

Monday, February 1, 2016

Money Thoughts

via r/personalfinance wiki. A very general set of steps for how US-based individuals could handle their money. By no means comprehensive or universal, but it's reasonably sound advice in my admittedly limited experience.

I'm excited to share that I recently participated in Save, Spend, Splurge's "Style Bloggers Love Budgeting" series. You can see my entry here! As someone who really likes to read about how others approach both shopping and personal finance, I find it fascinating to learn about how different bloggers handle their shopping budgets. Here's Mattie from Northwest Native's entry, and here's Sherry of Save Spend Splurge's entry.

Here are some other assorted thoughts I've recently had about things to do with money in no particular order:

I still don't understand the Roth IRA vs. traditional IRA vs. 401K decision.  This is embarrassing because I've tried to do my research many times, and I've even taken a tax class that touched on this question. I likely made a mistake in 2015 by saving for retirement with a 401K (with no employer match) rather than a Roth IRA, but I can't even figure out the math.

I'm not yet where I originally wanted to be with my monthly student loan payments. I always talked about wanting to pay my loans down aggressively, within seven years (a roughly $3000/month payment), but I'm not quite there yet. I'm only barely at my 10 year repayment plan level ($2100/month, and I have flexibility because of income-based repayment). It isn't that much of a surprise: I set that vague goal without actually knowing my exact take-home pay. If I cut down seriously on saving for my emergency fund and, to a lesser extent, cut down on my 401K contributions, I could be on track for the seven-year plan right now, but those other things remain important to me, even if prioritizing them goes against conventional financial wisdom.

I wonder if six months of living expenses is too much of an emergency fund for me. I should get there by late April, mostly thanks to a generous tax refund. (My job started in late September, but each paycheck got taxed as if I worked the whole year. My employer strongly discourages changing our withholding allowances to get around this.) Although saving that much is a relatively uncontroversial choice (see illustration above), I'm not sure if it makes sense for me given that the alternative is throwing extra money into the highest interest slice of my student loans (7.9%!). It's a function of the young NYC-dweller's lifestyle: I don't have a car that could break down, the landlord is responsible for apartment repairs, and so on so forth.

I'm intrigued by The Financial Diet blog, but when it's bad, it makes me cringe pretty hard.  They've done quite a few good posts recently, posts I can relate to. (This one rings true to me and this person's approach to tracking finances is cool though probably not for me, for example.) Still, some of the things they publish are really very silly, like this piece about someone who "won't date a guy who makes less than six figures." I'm so, so lucky to have a job that puts me in the income range in question, but, well, let me just say, that alone doesn't always go very far in NYC, especially if student loans are a factor.