Wednesday, June 29, 2016

June Shopping Reflections

This was another shopping-heavy month for me, though I'm still a bit under my $170/month budget for the year so far. Because of the pay cut I'll be taking when I start my clerkship, I'm actually hoping to stay solidly under budget in future months, but we'll see what happens. 

Note: this post contains affiliate links that may result in a few cents commission for me if you click. Thank you for your support!

I wasn't expecting to make another purchase at Grana (referral link: you get 10% off your first order and I get $20 in store credit if you make a purchase) quite this soon, but I ended up received some store credit when readers signed up (thank you so much!) and I thought the navy silk tops would be a nice addition to my work wardrobe. As I mention in my review of the silk raglan tee, the product measurements on Grana's website are generally accurate. I prefer the look of my "true size" raglan tee over the sized up ones I bought last month.  My other purchases were mostly summer clothing. I also made that off-budget work shoe purchase I mentioned last month.

I don't have much shopping planned for July, outside of picking up a black slip (maybe this one from Free People or this one) to wear under that Diane von Furstenberg wrap dress (similar, but I purchased mine on consignment from TheRealReal) I bought last year. I might do a review of that classic item sometime in the next few weeks, but my general impression is this: I might be a bit too busty for the DvF silk jersey wrap dresses despite sizing way up, so I always need at least a black camisole under mine. I also recently found that there was more than a moderate danger of wardrobe malfunction with the dress's skirt as well, hence my current search for a full slip. I might also be contemplating a jewelry purchase that I'll share later this week. It isn't that ring from Envero Jewelry on Etsy, but another "made in the USA" piece from a woman-owned business. The next post in my "Transitioning to the Workplace" series will go live next Tuesday. 

Fashion - (TOTAL: $109.37)
  • Grana: $39.00 + $49.00 = $88.00 - $40.00 (referral credit) = $48.00 
    • Grana Silk Raglan Tee, navy, S - I love this cropped, more casual design, see my review. Note, however, that this top is a bit boxy and doesn't tuck in that well, so one of Grana's new silk tees might be better for many work wardrobes. 
    • Grana Silk Classic Shirt, navy, S - While the product measurements for this are accurate, I find that the design of this one runs a slightly higher risk of gapping at the chest than the silk collarless shirt, despite somewhat similar measurements for size S. 
  • J. Crew Factory Striped Flounce Skirt - $25.67 - I reviewed this here. This is a nice and light all-cotton skirt with a cotton lining and it was a good way for me to experiment with the a-line midi skirt look. Do note that it's actually navy and white, not black and white, which makes J. Crew Factory's description misleading!
  • Lou & Grey Summer Kimono Cardigan - $35.70 - I purchased this linen and cotton blend cardigan because I needed another summer-weight cardigan for work. I also tried a cotton-viscose-silk blended Loft open cardigan, and while that was light enough for summer, I preferred the flowy look of this. One annoying detail: the allegedly removable waist tie is actually sewn in and not adjustable, so it dangles awkwardly when this cardigan is worn open. I'd think about cutting it off, but I also like wearing this cardigan closed.
  • Cole Haan Catalina Wedge - off budget - These are on sale most places, I ordered them for around $119 on Amazon only to realize that Nordstrom Rack still had my size for a fair bit cheaper after I already started wearing them. They run a half-size large, i.e. I'm a size 7.5 for almost every shoe, but I'm a 7 here. I find these extremely comfortable and they took no time to break in, unlike some of the comfier-looking Cole Haan flats I owned in the past. I actually have a heinous time breaking in Cole Haan round toe shoes, and I can't figure out why because they aren't especially narrow.

Beauty - (TOTAL: $32.66)
  • Hada Labo Gokyujun Hyaluronic Acid Lotion - $12.62 - I've lost track of how many times I've refilled this product because its been a staple in my skincare routine for ages. It isn't a miracle product, but it's a very reliable moisturizing toner that is good for adding an extra moisture boost to almost any skincare routine. 
  • Timeless 20% C + E + Ferulic Acid Serum - $15.04 - I typically use the Paula's Choice C15 Vitamin C serum, which has been good for my skin and helps with fading dark spots left over after acne heals up, but it sure is expensive! That $48 bottle only lasts me about five months of daily use in the morning. I've tried the Korean O.S.T. C20, which is cheaper, but broke me out. This Timeless C + E + Ferulic Acid Serum is a dupe for the ultra-ultra-pricey Skinceuticals C + E Ferulic Serum. Because the Timeless serum is quite concentrated, both the friend who recommended this product to me and I found that our skin had a hard time adjusting. My friend started out using this daily and had a huge breakout that disappeared as soon as she stopped, though she's no longer getting any adverse effects when using it every other day. I've been having some bad skin days due to work stress and I can't tell if testing out this Timeless serum every morning is a contributing factor. 
  • CosRx Acne Pimple Master Patch - $5.00 - I reviewed this product and explained how I use hydrocolloid bandages as part of my acne-fighting routine here. It's a staple product for me, and I find that it sticks better and is thus more useful than the Nexcare version that is more commonly found. Note, however, that both kinds only stick well on clean, dry skin with no other products applied. It might also be more cost-effective to purchase standard hydrocolloid "blister bandages" and cut them to size, but I need these pretty rarely so I'm fine with buying the CosRx or Nexcare ones once every few months. 

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

Monday, June 27, 2016

Shopping at J.Crew Factory

Today's post is a quick review for two items that I recently tried on from J.Crew Factory. I ordered these for about $26 each during a recent additional percent off sale. This is my third time shopping at J.Crew Factory, with their graduate student and entry-level professional-friendly price point, and while their wool sheath dress didn't fit me well (my review here), I quite like their breton striped shirt (my review here) and now this striped midi skirt. For fit reference, I'm 5'3'' and roughly 36''-26''-37''. 

Note: this post contains affiliate links that may result in a few cents commission for me if you click. Thank you for your support!

To the left, I'm wearing the Factory Striped Knit Dress, size S, in black stripe. The 97% cotton and 3% elastane material is about as thick as that of the 100% cotton breton striped shirt, but a bit softer and stretchier. It runs big: I would likely need a XS here, as the S has noticeable extra fabric at my hips and is roomy everywhere else. I'm typically a S in all the J.Crew Factory tops I've tried and was in the M size range for their fitted wool dress. I returned this because, while its comfortable and the material and quality seem good for the price, it doesn't have a place in my wardrobe. The material's too thick for my preference in humid and sticky NYC summer weather, even if its mostly cotton, and I don't see myself wearing it with the black tights I generally wear throughout fall and spring. 

To the right, I'm wearing the Factory Striped Flounce Skirt, size 6. To get the intended slightly above the waist fit, I probably should have bought size 4, but I sized up for comfort and because I don't like when my skirts sit that high. The waistband of the 6 generally rests right at my waist or a little lower. The only colorway for this skirt is labeled "black white stripe," which, as the reviews point out, is inaccurate. Worn with my black Everlane Ryan Tank above, its clearly navy and white. The skirt and lining are both 100% cotton and feel light and summer-friendly. When zipping it, I often think that it feels flimsy, but I might just be unaccustomed to zipping up a skirt that's a light summer piece. (All my other skirts with zippers have synthetic outer fabric or lining except for one J.Crew cotton skirt somewhat similar to this, but heavier because of having even more pleating that's sewn in.) This skirt is also machine washable, which is great. 

This totally isn't the more formal solid-colored midi skirt I dreamed of, likely this one from White House Black Market, with my goal of finding something similar to the one worn so fabulously by Adina. This skirt was a nice low-cost way to experiment with the silhouette. While I enjoy wearing this, I'm not sure the experiment is a success. I generally find this and other full a-line skirts unflattering, though there's a chance I'm just being nitpicky and critical because I'm unaccustomed to the shape. I generally feel like full a-line skirts are just less flattering on my waist than pencil skirts and the side view of this one is a bit awkward. 

Although my intention with this year's shopping budget was to upgrade my work wardrobe by relying more heavily on secondhand shopping through Ebay or TheRealReal, I've had a hard time making the leap. With secondhand shopping, my general goal is finding higher-quality items which, even after the discounts from being bought secondhand, are generally pricier than items I typically buy. There's also the added risk of buying items at that higher price point from Ebay (no returns!) or even TheRealReal (decide within 14 days, ship within 21, you pay return shipping by whichever method you choose, not to mention the $11.99 shipping fee for each order). and I find TheRealReal's product measurements generally strange and likely inaccurate. This is despite previously having a good shopping experience, when I bought an Equipment blouse (similar) and a Diane von Furstenberg wrap dress (similar) last February after verifying size information on blogs and other retailers' sites. That difficulty is compounded by my impending clerkship pay-cut: While my $170/month budget allows for judicious designer purchases on TheRealReal, I'm not actually sure its wise to spend all of said budget while clerking. 

Has anyone else had trouble with following through on a  plan to spend more on fewer items as a way of upgrading one's wardrobe? 

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Sunday Reading 6/26/2016: Women and Money

Olivia Palermo carrying a Birkin

Alas, I'm proving unable to maintain these posts as a weekly feature. I'm finding that I have a propensity for serious topics, which require a fair bit of thought and editing time before I'm ready to post. Thus, these will be a "Sunday Reading" thing, on an irregular schedule, especially now that I'm back to posting more regularly throughout the week. I have a few posts lined up for the near future, and I hope that these will continue to be interesting and inspire discussion!

One aspect of sexism is that hobbies associated with women are seen as frivolous, and (if expensive) extravagant. We see this with in discourse about makeup and fashion. When people hear about, say, Hermรจs Birkins, the inevitable reaction is sneering at how insane it is for there to be handbags that cost that much and extravagantly wasteful and out of touch women who buy them. Never mind that a small category of the highest-end designer products are "investments" in the sense of having a positive rate of return. In the case of the Birkin, that rate of return even rivals that of the S&P 500. Many designer products hold their value pretty well in the resale market, possibly better (with less depreciation) than, say, cars or electronics. I, like many other young professionals, cannot currently dream of shopping for that type of product... ever, really, but there is some financial rationale there, or, at least, some valid financial post-hoc justification for it.

That's a roundabout way of getting to today's topic, a meandering discussion of a few things related to the theme of "women and money." I don't think I'm imagining it when I say there's a general stereotype in American culture that women are bigger spenders and consumers than men. Sexism plays a role: even as society places high expectations on women in terms of their dress and grooming, it decries women for their extravagance when they follow those expectations. (Male politicians being criticized for the price of what they wear is almost unthinkable in contemporary American society, I think.)

I'd like to share one blog entry that touches on that paradox, where women are simultaneously expected to and even obligated to spend more on certain things while also being seen as inherently less frugal or less good with money. That blog, Frugalwoods, is in the "financial independence" genre. Financial independence (distinct from financial self-sufficiency) is, on a basic level, the philosophy of saving (and investing) as rapidly as possible so that, upon retirement, one can live indefinitely off of investment returns without touching the principle invested. A yearly withdrawal rate of up to 4% is potentially safe, taking into account average market returns over time, so $1 million could theoretically support a lifestyle costing $40,000/year. Mr. Money Mustache is the most famous proponent. There's often a large frugality component, which facilitates a sky-high savings rate and needing less upon retirement. The goal is often to retire early so one can spend their time doing what's important to them. Financial independence in that sense is not my goal (too much future uncertainty makes the required math difficult), but I read about it for inspiration for increasing my savings rate now because the years I spend in biglaw will likely be the highest-earning in my life. The Frugalwoods lifestyle is, of course, extremely different from the one I choose, but it's fascinating food for thought.

Less potentially controversial is the point that all women, and all people in general, benefit from having an emergency fund or "fuck off fund." It's a basic enough point, but important. I have been fortunate that I've yet to need to dip in to my fairly robust emergency fund (6 months basic living expenses), but the point is that it's there, and it makes the significant pay cut during my clerkship relatively stress-free. My future co-clerks and I were asked to start a month or two earlier than expected, which throws off various financial calculations (fewer biglaw paychecks, more clerk paychecks at the lower "new graduate" salary before I'm "promoted" to the "one-year experience" salary). I decided take the leap with an one month earlier start date, and my emergency fund facilitated it.

Finally, because I found Equire's "Four Men with Four Very Different Incomes" piece very educational a few weeks ago, I thought I'd share their equivalent piece for women. Unfortunately, I don't think this one's as good: They awkwardly pulled out quotes from the highest-income women to support a point about the "pay gap," except that the interview subjects in question reported that they specifically did not see themselves as victims of a gender-based pay gap. The first saw herself as a businesswoman whose income naturally fluctuates based on her own efforts, while the second chose to go part time in her day job as a doctor to care for her children, which accounts for her reduced income there, relative to people who do it full-time (she's also a real-estate investor on the side). I'm obviously in favor of vocal criticism of all aspects of sexism at the workplace, this was just an awkward article to attempt it in.

Do you ever encounter negative gender stereotypes about women and personal finance in your own life? Do you worry about a gender-based pay gap in your field?

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Review: Grana Silk Raglan Tee

Top: Grana Silk Raglan Tee, Navy, S
Shoes: Vans Slip-On in Perforated Leather, black, 7
Watch: Skagen Anita (exact, similar, I reviewed mine here)

When I ordered these from Grana (referral link: you get 10% off your first order as a new customer, and I get $20 store credit, thank you for your support!), this was their only silk tee. They've since expanded their collection to include a longer silk tee with traditional sleeves and a cap-sleeve top. I wish I'd waited, because while I love the more casual, cropped look of the raglan tee, the new designs are more suitable for work, i.e. for tucking in to pencil skirts or slacks. Because the last restock was weeks ago, the silk raglan tee is not currently available in all size/color combinations, but you can sign up for email notifications for when they restock. I'm wearing size S in the navy blue above and M in the mulberry below. For fit reference, I'm 5'3'' and roughly 36''-26''-37''.

Some general brand pointers: Between this tee and the silk blouses, Grana's product measurements appear accurate. Many r/femalefashionadvice readers report that Grana run smaller than Everlane, but I'm a S for most silk tops from both. (I need to size up for silk camisoles or tanks from either, because of how they fit on the chest.) The perception of Grana's smaller sizing could come from Grana's core designs generally being shorter and boxier than Everlane's similar styles. Quality-wise, the general consensus is that Everlane silk is nicer, but Grana is the better value. However, based on my Everlane silk dress (reviewed here) and these tops, both brands seem to be of equal quality when it comes to dark-colored silk clothing. Grana's pricing ($39-$49 for silk tops) is then a significantly better value. Grana does not, however, take a particularly clear stance on whether their clothes are ethically produced.

Top: Grana Silk Raglan Tee, Mulberry, M
Shoes: Vans Slip-On in Perforated Leather, black, 7
Watch: Skagen Anita (exactsimilar, I reviewed mine here)

I originally ordered M because I worried that S would be too short for my intended purpose of incorporating these into my work wardrobe, where I generally prefer to tuck tops into my skirts. I was also worried that Grana's products might run smaller than the measurements suggested, though that proved unfounded. Because this tee is designed to be boxy, sizing up actually results in a little too much extra fabric when I tuck it in. While I don't mind this terribly much because I like looser-fitting tops, it suggests that the new slimmer, longer tee and cap-sleeve top are more suitable for tucking in to work-wear skirts and pants. When I wear M untucked like I do above (my preferred way to wear it with pants) you can see the extra fabric and length are not quite as flattering as the slimmer-fitting S.

Note: this post contains a few affiliate links that may result in a few cents commission for me if you click. Thank you for your support!

The off-white silk raglan tee, my photo here, has strangely prominent shoulder seams (where two layers of the not-sheer-but-almost fabric are sewn together and more opaque in contrast than the rest of the shirt's one layer of material), which I don't love. This isn't noticeable on the mulberry or navy, but I suspect it could be an issue with any light color raglan tee. The design of the cap-sleeve and new tee look as if they won't have this problem.

Now that I own both sizes, I prefer the S and love the cropped, slightly boxy fit, which I even find rather flattering. I was shocked that something this shape worked for me, as I've always assumed  that something short and boxy would make my chest look awkward by hanging straight down from the widest point of my chest and making the rest of me look larger. It probably helps that silk drapes better on the body, which isn't especially apparent in these photos. It isn't suitable for being tucked in, as its too short and a fairly close fit for my chest, but I like the outfit above and it even works with some skirts untucked. 

Overall, I recommend the raglan silk tee for those that like that cropped, slightly boxy look. The new tee designs are, however, likely a better choice for more conventional and versatile business casual wear. The value is great and the quality reasonably good, with silk that's roughly equal to Everlane, a and a little nicer than Madewell. If you're interested in trying out Grana, shopping with my referral link will get you 10% off your first order (and I'll get $20 store credit). Thank you for your support! 

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Transitioning to the Workplace: Bags and Shoes

My first ever law school summer internship was, simultaneously, a few other firsts: first full-time office job, first time in a formal office setting, and first job with a dress code. I was in my mid-twenties and had other work experience under my belt, but this was the first time I couldn't just wear jeans and a sweater if I felt like it. The internship was in a somewhat public-facing government-type setting, where something more formal than my current law firm's "casual business casual" dress code was preferable.

Note: this post contains affiliate links that may result in a few cents commission for me if you click. Thank you for your support!

In hindsight, I had no idea what I was doing. I wore many an awkward-looking and slightly too informal outfit that summer. I had a suit for the very formal interview, but once I actually got to working, I didn't have enough suitable items to rotate between trips to the dry cleaner.

To add a layer of complexity, that particular workplace ended up being a strange and disorienting initiation into the world of law: I was the only minority and almost every other person very matter-of-factly decamped to the Hamptons every weekend, often to their parents' presumably luxe vacation home. One fellow intern even appeared semi-frequently in the society pages at fancy galas. None of this is particularly common in the biglaw junior ranks, by the way, but I had no way of knowing that. Everyone else had a full closet of well-fitting business formal clothing and dressed accordingly, whereas I could barely scrape together daily business casual wear (which was technically acceptable, just not preferred). I felt so ratty in comparison that, to be honest, I didn't really try. That's not a recommended strategy for a full-time job or an internship that could yield a full-time offer (which this was not).

Ariana from the fantastic Paris to Go was kind enough to give my blog a shout-out when she wrote her very helpful post about the transition from college to the workplace. With that as my inspiration, I thought I'd do a series about the transition to working full-time, whether as an intern or an entry-level professional.

Note: My approach here is not minimalist and is rather inconsistent with helping someone build a pared down (and high-quality) personal wardrobe that they love. The primary goal here (1) is to accumulate an adequate work wardrobe quickly on a tight budget, that of a graduate student summer intern or recently graduated entry-level professional. Also, (2) my item suggestions lean towards the formal side of business casual, which for many white collar NYC workplaces means no jeans, but slim pants and somewhat causal skirts and dresses are okay. Both goals mean that the resulting work wardrobe may exist quite separately from what one enjoys wearing outside the office. The goal is to blend in and pick things that will not raise eyebrows while one is still getting used to the applicable wardrobe rules. Workplace norms in different industries and different regions of the US can differ dramatically. It's somewhat unlikely for many of these items to see much use outside of the work week. For today, I'm focusing on dresses, jackets and cardigans. For today, I'm focusing on bags and shoes.

Bags: Inconspicuous, Professional, and Functional

The goal here is to have something inconspicuous and professional-looking, that would escape notice even in a courtroom. I like totes that are large enough for whatever you may need to carry: files, a pair of shoes to change into at the office, maybe even a laptop. I prefer black over navy or brown, as I think black transitions better to whatever formal occasions one encounters at work. Many of the items here are, admittedly, pricier than a student or recent graduate might be comfortable with, but if there's room in your budget, a bag that might be carried every day and has some potential for utility in your non-work life is a good place to "invest" in a pricier item, if it is functional.
  • Street Level Reversible Tote - $48.00 - A close friend carried this daily to her biglaw summer associateship and it was still in great shape at summer's end. She still carries it today. The brand also offers a larger, but less formal-looking reversible tote in black/brown. If it comes down to pleather versus, say, a fabric tote like the Everlane one below, I think pleather looks more formal.
  • Everlane Twill Zip Tote - $48.00 - Fabric is not that common a material for work handbags and I'd worry about my laptop or papers if one is caught out on a very rainy day. However, the look of these is on point and the price is good. I've also had classmates who carried these to formal internships. If you need to carry a heavy laptop and a backpack is alright, Everlane's snap backbacks ($68.00) are functional, durable, and I think they look professional too. I'd prefer not to carry a backpack if formal meetings or court dates are on the agenda, though. 
  • Longchamp Le Pliage Large - $145.00 - At this price point, there's a chance that it might be better to pay a little more for a leather bag instead, depending on local workplace norms. However, even if the price point here is not particularly summer intern or entry-level professional-friendly, the nylon Longchamp Le Pliages are worth considering because they're just so useful for both work and play (I sing the bag's praises here, for instance). If you can consider a higher price point, the monochrome Longchamp Le Pliage Neo ($185.00) is, arguably, more professional looking: I own one in black (the discontinued but identical Planetes tote). In your average NYC private sector legal workplace setting, the Le Pliage is an extremely common choice, so it blends right in.
  • Madewell East-West Transport Tote - $178.00 - A leather bag might also be worth investing in, and the ubiquitous Madewell Transport line of totes will also put you in good company. I have, however, heard mixed reviews about the quality of the materials on the Madewell bags, mainly that the leather doesn't feel very nice, so Cuyana ($175.00) might be a good alternative. One colleague carries the Fossil Sydney tote ($168.00), which is a bit more formal and has a zipper.

Shoes: Reasonably Comfortable, Probably Boring

Finding shoes for the workplace can be difficult. The good news is that, as a result, there is a broad range for acceptable footwear, even in settings as formal as court. So long as the shoes lean towards the classic looking side of the fashion spectrum in a neutral color (generally black), it's all good. I have  bad luck with shoes; few pairs hold up to frequent wear for longer than three months if I wear them while commuting. It's likely best to have at least two pairs to cycle between. It's actually hard to make specific recommendations because I'm not loyal to particular styles. I generally follow the same "rules" or guidelines for my shoe shopping for both work and play: I gravitate towards leather flats that are in the $55-$75 price range when on sale (shoes that started at the ~$100 price point). I like Sam Edelman and currently enjoy the Louise et Cie pair I have (similar).

I have trouble finding suitable pumps or wedges at my target price point, so I tend to spend ~$110 on those. I often stick with Cole Han though there's a surprisingly long break-in period. Boots (such as my beloved Sam Edelman Petty booties, which are going strong as of the end of their second year of frequent wear, including on commutes) tend to be pricier still. My recommendations below, however, are mostly shoes that are closer to my price range for flats. 
  • Payless Karmen Pump - $29.99 - I loathe pumps and only wear them for interviews, so these might even be the best value for me, even if these are not real leather. I have a friend (and her firm colleagues) who swears by these for daily wear indoors in a more formal office. I think she sometimes wears them to commute as well, though she prefers comfier shoes for that.
  • Target Emma Flat - $39.99 - I've thought about getting these on and off on the recommendation of a few college classmates, but never got around to it. They're genuine leather, which is nice. I don't have high expectations of the lasting power and durability of flats because the way I walk causes them to wear out extremely quickly
  • Louise et Cie Fable Flat - $64.47 (sale) - These are similar to a pair I own. Mine are comfortable, with fairly soft leather that didn't take too long to break in. They're holding up alright for the past few weeks, but I avoid wearing these outdoors and commute in other shoes. There's another plainer-looking Louise et Cie flat also on sale. Nordstrom and other department stores likely always have a decent selection of sale flats in black leather with a reasonably professional look, though it's hard to know which brands or styles are best without trying them. I often end up with Nine West or Sam Edelman shoes. 
  • Naturalizer Oath Pump - $39.99 (sale) - Many of the pumps I've owned in the past are from brands that primarily market themselves as comfortable shoe brands skewing towards a older audience. I even did most of my clerkship interviews in a pair of patent pleather Naturalizer pumps. These do have a strange fabric-looking detail on the edges of the upper upper, so I'd prefer a similar design that omits that detail (not yet on sale) or a similar shoe in another brand. 
Did anyone else have an adjustment period or difficult transition at a first job, whether an internship or a full-time position? Do you have any favorite work-appropriate bags or shoes in a student or recent graduate-friendly price range?

Monday, June 13, 2016

A Day in the Life: Biglaw Junior Litigator

Not my law firm's office, but this is what the office of a much more senior associate (or even a partner) might look like.

Now that I'm about to transition to my clerkship, I thought it'd be fun to lay out what an average day in my working life looks like. Note that the actual "day in the life" of a biglaw junior differs dramatically based on so many factors: One's practice group, the preferences of the partners one works with, how busy one's main cases or transactions are, etc.. I've been lucky to have steadier, more predictable, and generally more humane hours than many of my peers in different practice areas and/or peer firms. I'm also maybe about ~12 billed hours/month under the ideal total to maximize bonus eligibility, so my experience is likely not especially typical.

Note: this post contains affiliate links that may result in a few cents commission for me if you click. Thank you for your support!

Most law firm attorneys "bill" their time. "Billable hours" are what count, not the actual number of hours at the office. One's billable hours are at least a little less than the number of hours actually spent at work (lunch breaks, coffee breaks, etc. cannot be billed, nor can administrative tasks unrelated to a specific case).

I work in litigation, which often comes with steadier hours and more long-term projects (deadlines are commonly 1-3 days away rather than a few hours away), such that it is possible to arrange my working day to "bill" most of my time at the office. This is not always the case in many practices. Also, litigation is generally a lot less vulnerable to market fluctuations than the corporate practice groups. It's possible for a corporate associate in a financially healthy firm to bill, er, far less than 50-70 hours in a very slow month for their group. Whereas a litigation associate with a deathly "slow" month, the kind that makes a paranoid first-year worry about the overall state of the market, may still easily bill close to 100 that month.

On average, NYC biglaw attorneys should bill at least 2000 hours/year to maximize bonus eligibility. Many firms allow a small percentage of that total (maybe ~10%) to be spent providing pro bono legal services or other services to the firm and still count. Many people bill far more. Even 2200/year would correspond to more crazy weeks or weekends compared to someone at 2000/year (with both also taking about three to four weeks of vacation, our typical allowance). I'm only on track for ~1850 hours if I spent the rest of the year working at my current rate, after taking almost three weeks of vacation. That number involves about three days a week that look like the one below, where I work steadily all day past 8 PM and can bill a delivery food dinner and car home to my client, a typical job "perk." The other two days, I head home by 6 PM, though I might take a call or work briefly from home. Roughly 60% of my weekends are completely free. The rest of the time, I put in about one to three hours/day on Saturday and/or Sunday. Once in a long while (only thrice so far), I needed to work full days though the weekend.

8:40 AM - I set my alarm for 8:20 or 8:40, depending on whether I have a morning meeting or something due in the early afternoon. I have an extensive skincare routine, which takes ~15 minutes to apply because I wait a few minutes after each of the Paula's Choice BHA and C15 Vitamin C Serum steps. I browse the web on my phone or computer while I wait. Sometimes there is a work email waiting for me, but if so, it's typically something that I can deal with when I get to the office.

9:15 AM - Time to head out! My commute takes around 30 minutes, whether I walk or take the bus to the subway. I usually walk, both for fitness and because I enjoy it, but I get too sweaty in NYC's humid summer weather, so I opt for the bus. For my commute, I wear my perforated leather Vans or Fitflops during the summer, switch to the Sam Edelman Petty booties or Madewell Archive boots in the fall, and wear rain boots as-needed. My L.L.Bean boots are my winter commuting shoes.

9:45 AM - I typically arrive between 9:30 and 9:50. By then, the secretaries have been in for a while, but a good half of the lawyers won't trickle in for another fifteen minutes. A 10:00 AM average arrival time is not unusual for most biglaw firms in NYC, but our colleagues in other regions start their day earlier, but also tend to leave the office to work from home earlier. I keep most of my work-appropriate shoe collection in my office, as do many of my women colleagues, and I change into my work shoes. My current favorite are a pair of flats from Louise et Cie, similar to these, but in tan with a black bow. They're very comfortable.

I don't eat breakfast often, which isn't too healthy, but I find that I get hungry for lunch very early whether I eat breakfast or not. Breakfast is usually hard-boiled eggs, oatmeal, or a handful of almonds. I don't need coffee, but the firm provides it. 

Click through to keep reading about my average day at work!

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Review: I Will Teach You to be Rich

I previously reviewed Manisha Thakor and Sharon Kedar's book, On My Own Two Feetand recommended it as a good introduction to general principles of personal finance management and investment. Even then, much earlier on in my personal finance journey, I thought it was a good book but rather basic: Excellent for beginners, but without terribly much payoff for someone with an adequate handle on, say, their credit card usage and student loans. I was recently inspired to read Ramit Sethi's I Will Teach You to be Rich, and I highly recommend it, both to beginners and to readers with some personal finance knowledge. If I had to choose just one, I'd recommend Sethi's book because it is slightly broader in scope. In actual practice, though, the more personal finance knowledge, the better.

Sethi has a humorous, self-deprecating, and very accessible writing style that's generally a bit more fun and light than Thakor and Kedar's writing. I Will Teach You to be Rich covers more ground than On My Own Two Feet in a few ways, and though he doesn't describe it as such, Sethi's points about "conscious spending" (aka budgeting) are actually quite consistent with minimalism. That and a few other highlights from the book are summarized below:

Conscious Spending/Budgeting - This is where Sethi's book really shines, in my view. His main thesis on this point is not especially revolutionary: Cut expenses aggressively in areas that aren't as important to you in favor of splurging (responsibly) in the areas that are. He advocates a "conscious spending plan" where, after "paying yourself first" by automatically directing pre-determined chunks of each paycheck to bills, loan repayment, savings, and investment, what remains is "guilt-free spending money" that you should feel free to put into the things you enjoy, whether that be fancy shoes, dining out, or nightlife. His hypothetical "conscious spending plan" looks something like this:
  • 50-60% of take-home income to necessities, i.e. groceries, rent, internet, and loan repayment.
  • 10% of take-home pay to investments, and if you're using a pre-tax option like a 401k, add the monthly contributions to your take-home pay to get your total take-home income for calculation purposes.
  • ~10% to other long-term savings goals, i.e. vacations, home-buying, emergency fund.
  • 20 to 35% as guilt-free spending money, including restaurants and coffee shop runs, subscriptions, and so on. 
Those are just very general guidelines, of course, and there are various steps that he recommends completing before you sit down and draw up a conscious spending plan: Get a handle on high-interest debt, start contributing to retirement accounts, especially if you have an employer match, and so on. Although none of the above sounds too novel, I think there's a lot of value to his larger point that one should say no to mindless lifestyle inflation. Many people don't derive particular joy or utility from things that larger American society or consumer culture might subtly tell us we "need" or are entitled to enjoy, things like the newest smartphone, fancy electronics, the most apartment (or house or car) that one can afford, expensive gyms, and so on. By arguing for conscious consumption, Sethi argues against the unthinking lifestyle creep and "keeping up with the Joneses" mentality that might eventually lead to the woes of the guy in the article I linked in April.

Instead, if one is conscious about where their money is going and is paying for the necessities and also saving and investing a substantial percentage (say at least 20% of take home pay plus pre-tax contributions, though I personally aspire to do more - I'm at about 23% saved or invested under his calculations, and I'd love to do better), then one should feel free to use the disposable income that remains in a way that maximizes their happiness. 

Investments - Although, on further reflection, Sethi doesn't actually go into significantly more detail about basic investment principles than Thakor and Kedar, I came away from reading his book feeling more empowered to explore options besides the S&P 500 index. Of course, being less than creative or adventurous with investing, the extra option I chose is just a Vanguard target-date retirement fund.

Negotiation - He offers some very good and concrete tips on conducting negotiations, whether for a salary raise or to get accidentally incurred bank fees refunded.

That's just a small portion of the things Sethi covers in his book. Overall, I highly recommend it, even if my own tried and true approach to managing my finances differs from what he advocates. I don't automate my savings and bills because I like doing it manually every month, and he isn't a huge fan of the line-by-line daily budgeting and expense-tracking that I do.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

The Big Distant Future Splurge, Revisited

About a year ago, I wrote about a hypothetical "big distant future splurge" for when I got a bit more well-established financially. It wasn't something I would have indulged in anytime in the next half-decade, but it was nice to daydream. That "shopping fund" I mentioned has not, by the way, grown much beyond the $250 it contained back then: My emergency fund savings and (slightly) accelerated student loan payments take first priority and I've also traveled quite a bit. My "shopping fund" is also the source for my "off-budget" workwear purchases, including the Cole Haan Catalina wedges I recently bought (Nordstrom Rack has the best price online, but in a very limited size range).

Note: this post contains a few affiliate links that may result in a few cents commission for me if you click. Thank you for your support!

Since last year, my understanding of my personal style "needs" versus "wants" has evolved, and I've found that I'm satisfied with the handbag collection I have. It covers all the bases when it comes to my needs, and even what I want to wear. I could even resell a few with no real effect, like that Annabel Ingall Jojo (discontinued, similar) and Rebecca Minkoff MAB satchel (discontinued, similar). The latter was my biggest regret purchase ever, as I mentioned on Save Spend Splurge. I realize now that my main criteria when it comes to whether I'll actually wear a handbag is that it must be, above all, easy to carry. My favorite bags, whether for work, travel, or just walking around, are my large Longchamp totes. They're roomy, light, waterproof, easy to dig around in, and sit comfortably on the shoulder: They're the definition of "easy" and entirely unfussy. 

Most of the bags I considered for my hypothetical future splurge would not, as far as I can tell, fit my "easy to carry" criteria. Even if bags like the Givenchy Antigona or the Saint Laurent Duffle I was dreaming of are not that fussy in look or design, I'd potentially find them a bit annoying to use just because they're less easy to carry than what I already own. Out of the designer bag designs I'm familiar with, the Mulberry Bayswater probably best resembles the type of large tote bag I prefer. This is all a very abstract discussion, of course, as I probably can't bring myself to spend anywhere near that much on a bag anytime soon, not when I already have a perfectly functional collection. 

That's not to say that I've completely stopped daydreaming of hypothetical big purchases. Although I was initially unsure of how useful a trench coat would be in NYC's climate, I've gotten tons of wear from the Everlane Classic Trench (my review here) I bought last year. It makes me contemplate whether one of Burberry's classic trench coats could be a better "big distant future splurge" to set my eyes on, in terms of versatility and cost-per-wear ratio. It's not something I'd act on anytime in the next calendar year, probably not for eighteen months or more, but it's something that I think I could justify a fair bit sooner than I could have done with a similarly priced handbag (which would have happened in four or five years or more), as a coat arguably has more utility. A higher-end trench coat would have certain advantages over the Everlane one: a full lining, for one, a buckle detail at the wrist, and I'd also plan on putting money into tailoring to get a closer to perfect fit.

Considering a replacement for my currently well-functioning Everlane trench as early as twenty or so months after purchase is, admittedly, not fully consistent with the tenets of minimalism that I'd like to embody. However, my general line of thinking here also (maybe?) shows that I've come a long way in terms of understanding what I'll actually wear and use and also being able to identify when I have all I need in a certain category, i.e. handbags. Also, there's a greater than 50% chance that I'd elect not to make the purchase at all, due to both budgetary and other concerns. It's just a daydream, for now.

Is there any particular item you're yearning for? Have you ever had the opportunity to finally purchase something you wanted for a long time that was a major splurge? If so, how did it feel?

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Weekly Reading 6/5/2016: On Asian-American Identity

Asian-American identity and representation are topics I'll likely return to again and again in these weekly reading posts. I'm a big believer in the general importance of diversity and representation for all minority groups in elite institutions of higher education and in different industries like my own, and I also care deeply about issues of racial equality in the United States. On a more micro level, I enjoy reading about different aspects of the Asian-American experience. My awareness of Asian-American issues was ignited very late in life, and I likely have to credit the controversy over the whitewashing of the Avatar: The Last Airbender live-action movie for it, strange as it might seem. It might seem like a petty or minor problem, but I don't think it's revolutionary to suggest that diversity and representation in media is a valuable thing. I always go back to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's wonderful TED talk on "The Danger of a Single Story" to explain that.

Full disclosure, I've never actually read Eddie Huang's first memoir, Fresh Off the Boat, though I would like to. A copy of it sits on the bookshelf at home, bought as a gift for K (who has read it). Huang also has an additional forthcoming book, Double Cup Love. I find the ABC sitcom adaptation of "Fresh Off the Boat" enjoyable and charming. I was, however, initially apprehensive: I grew up in a majority-Asian-American community in California. Among ourselves, we shared many jokes about our lives, our parents, and our culture, but those are born out of affection and an understanding of shared experiences rather than stereotypes. I was concerned that many Americans wouldn't see anything but jokes about "how weird Asian people are" (Huang's family is Taiwanese-American, but American society at large is not always good with distinctions between different Asian-American groups).

Huang himself once hated the show, though he's less vocal now than he was a few months ago. I'll have to read the book myself to truly know what he's talking about when he says that the show is an "artificial" and sanitized version of his real life. A recent New Yorker article describes the contrast between ABC's show and Huang's real life (as seen in a recent episode of his Vice show, "Huang's World") as such: "I began to think of Huang's two shows working in tandem: 'Fresh Off the Boat' answers the question of what life looks like when the cameras are on, and 'Huang's World' answers back with what life looks like with the cameras off."

I suspect that my own lived experiences better resemble the ABC show than Huang's real life, despite some similarities: Taiwanese-American, went to law school, and he even had a job just like mine for a time. I dream, someday, of writing (and selling, with hopefully at least some minor success) a book about my own life, but it'd sound a lot more like Amy Chua's Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother than anything else. (I've said before that I find her portrayal of herself sympathetic, whatever that says about me, but I find her other quasi-academic work highly problematic, likely to fuel racism even if the work itself skirts the right side of the line.)

I was lucky, in many ways, to grow up in a place were most of my classmates (at public schools, no less!) looked like me, understood what it was to be Asian-American. That doesn't protect you forever from the realities of America's many issues with race or of the challenges that come from being Asian in America. But that's a story for another time.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Review: Everlane Short Sleeve Silk Dress

Dress: Everlane Short Sleeve Silk Dress, black, size small
Shoes: Sam Edelman Sara, leopard, size 7.5

Buying the Everlane Short Sleeve Silk Dress ended up being more complicated than expected. I'm currently waiting for a replacement for the one I'm wearing above. Problems arose the first time I wore it: The fabric near the hem began pulling away from the seam that runs down the center of the dress in the front. I wasn't doing anything unusual, either. I wore it to dinner, and the damage occurred sometime between sitting down to eat and getting up after. You can see that the dress fits loose around the hips and thighs, so the fabric doesn't generally get strained in that area. I took an ultra close-up photo of the damage here. Everlane is generally known for good customer service regarding defective products, and my case proves no exception. They sent my replacement out before I even put the defective one in the mail, all free of charge. So all's well that ends well, though I confess to being a little nervous of whether the replacement will have similar quality issues.

Note: this post contains a few affiliate links that may result in a few cents commission for me if you click. Thank you for your support!

I'm also feeling some concern about how other silk products in my wardrobe might hold up over time. I've started seeing signs of wear and tear in some of my other silk items for the first time, now that I'm wearing them to work somewhat frequently. A gray Madewell silk tunic bought sometime in 2014 now has a few spots where the fabric is starting to wear thin, possibly because of the weight from the straps of my handbag (I carry either a Longchamp or the Everlane Petra Market, usually with a laptop inside). Both that tunic and the black Madewell dress from last June have some extremely faint but kind of large discolored spots that I assume came from being washed, the former by hand with some Laundress Stain Solution pre-soaking before using Laundress Delicates Wash, and the latter in the machine with my usual detergent. I've heard of people machine-washing silk with no issues, but with all this, I'll probably be sticking to hand-washing (without Stain Solution).

Now on to my actual thoughts about the Everlane dress! I like the casual design, and the unlined silk was enjoyable to wear in the hot and humid summertime climates I encountered while traveling. Being rather busty for my clothing size (I'm 36''-26''-37'' and 5'3''), anything this unstructured can make my chest (and the rest of me along with it) look larger than I like, but the flowy design and the way silk drapes means that this dress doesn't emphasize the chest too much or cause the rest of me to look bulkier. I would say that the fabric is nice and weighty enough (better than Madewell, equal to my recent Grana order) to make the design attractive, but it's not very thick. I still wouldn't have thought anything negative about the fabric quality were it not for the defects.

Although the unstructured and roomy tee dress shape is maybe a little too casual, in theory, for a white-collar NYC workplace, I could probably wear it there nonetheless, though only on days without formal meetings. My willingness to try it at work might or might not confirm that I'm indulging a growing preference for "dowdy" but comfortable clothing at work. The high-low hem is one possible sticking point for this dress's potential utility as office-wear. The highest part of the hem hits only a bit above the knee on me, but the high-low detailing emphasizes the "high" part, if you will, and makes it seem shorter than it is. The hem doesn't ride up in a problematic way when moving around, though, so it won't actually cause any risk of wardrobe malfunctions.

I really do like this dress. I intend to keep the replacement, assuming no repeat issues. Still, I can see the $98 price point being a little high for something that's mostly casual-wear, even if I can see myself wearing it to the office. I wouldn't have bought it so readily if I hadn't been under-budget for most of 2016 so far at the time of my initial order. Cuyana does a very similar design in what I assume is a much nicer silk (and made in the US), given the significantly higher price point.

Any suggestions or anecdotes you might have regarding how to launder silk without resorting to a dry cleaner would be greatly appreciated!