Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Money Goals: The First Almost-Year of Work

An exciting bit of news: I'm starting my fellowship-ish in mid-July, about a month and a half sooner than expected! I've always been a bit coy about what exactly I'll be doing, because it'd potentially be bad for my anonymity: There aren't many Asian-American women leaving their New York firms for a federal court clerkship this year (though there's also no easy way to search for people based on those exact criteria, so my privacy is still relatively safe). It's an incredible opportunity, a near-requirement for certain types of highly sought after government jobs, and I'm so excited for this chapter of my career.

Because clerkships are government positions, I'm taking a large pay cut, one that makes it impossible to stay on the ten-year loan repayment track (monthly payment: $2200) while living in NYC and that will make those 12 months a bit of a "lost year" when it comes to building my savings. The clerkship salary numbers mentioned here don't include the added cost-of-living adjustment for judicial clerks in a few states like New York, but you get a very general idea of where I'll be. Financially speaking, I'll fix things a bit and hopefully get back on track by returning to the private sector and receiving a post-clerkship bonus to make up for those "lost months" of loan payments. 

To prepare for the impending change in my financial circumstances, I started 2016 with some fairly ambitious financial goals. Today, I'm reporting on how I did, now that I'm reaching the end of my first period of working in the private sector.

Goal 1: Save six months of expenses as an emergency fund. Success! My calculations for this goal are, I should mention, imperfect: I find it really hard to assess what my "emergency mode" monthly expenses would actually look in case of job loss or other disaster. I set the number at $15,000 and I met that goal around around late March, during tax refund season. I've since continued adding more cash to my savings every month.

Goal 2: Get on an ultra-aggressive (monthly payments totaling around 150% of my 10-year repayment plan monthly minimum) student loan repayment schedule. Postponed! Around the time I met Goal 1, I changed my mind about being able to meet this goal before my clerkship. The prospect of putting a relative stop to adding cash to my "emergency fund" savings account every month made me extremely anxious, so I delayed this goal. You can always put saved cash into your loans later, but you can't claw back what you already paid, was my thinking. Because the total amount of time I might eventually spend in biglaw is highly uncertain, I like the flexibility of having a bit more cash, so the aggressive repayment goal must wait. 

I am, however, generally paying a little extra to my student loans whenever I'm comfortable, so my actual monthly repayment probably averages out closer to ~$2500/month. I recently updated my current debt and repayment numbers in my handy-dandy debt reduction spreadsheet (obtained at another website), and I was surprised to find that I'm actually still ahead of schedule, on a roughly eight-year repayment track rather than a ten-year track, which is fantastic. 

(Implicit) Goal 3: Have some retirement savings. Check! This isn't too hard because I am contributing a percentage to my 401k every month, even if there's no employer match (fairly standard for biglaw attorney-types). I also had a random impulse and ended up putting just around ~$2000 into a Roth IRA for last tax year when I received my tax refund. The next twelve months will not be as easy for any of my still-undefined retirement savings goals, as I'm fairly certain that judicial clerks do not get access to a 401k or similar plan. 

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Weekly Reading 5/29/2016: On Office Dress Codes

Screenshot of Rachel from Suits. Note that while this outfit is quite put together and actually more formal than is typically worn by associates at my office, most of the women's biglaw workplace fashion on the show skews a lot flashier than the real thing.

Did you hear about that recent controversy where a woman temp employee at PricewaterhouseCoopers was told to wear heels (between 2'' to 4'') or go home without pay? Thankfully, nothing like that has ever happened to me, even if there are other workplace dress code rules I must adhere to as an employee of a NYC biglaw firm. The rules get stricter in some settings, such as interviews, certain meetings, and court, but I also get a lot of room to maneuver on a typical day. For instance, I wear my black leather Vans all day sometimes, and I'm not even the only woman attorney-type here who has ever worn slip-on sneakers in the office. Wearing jeans is still a no-go zone, but that wouldn't necessarily be the case at a biglaw office elsewhere in the country.

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!

All of this is a way of segueing into a discussion of this recent New York Times article about "The End of the Office Dress Code," which discusses the rapidly changing norms surrounding workplace dress and how acceptable it is for workplaces to strictly dictate what employees wear. The author puts her point better than I can when she says, "We live in a moment in which the notion of a uniform is increasingly out of fashion, at least when it comes to the implicit codes of professional and public life." 

Make no mistake, there are rules, both implicit and explicit, about what I wear to work and about the standard for women's grooming and dress at work. At the same time, this article is still relevant to how I'm adapting to my workplace.

I've always had some predisposition for pushing business casual further into the "casual" direction than many of my peers would. Along with my newfound fondness for wearing pants to work, I'm generally finding that I favor rather loose-fitting, slouchy tops that I prefer to wear untucked. I almost categorically refuse to wear pumps, though I do wear wedges because at 5'3'', I'm noticeably shorter than my many male colleagues, sometimes enough that making eye contact is a little awkward.  Most recently, I've stopped wearing contact lenses and makeup to work. Part of the reason is medical: my eyes get irritated when I wear my soft contact lenses on my longest days (and nights) at the office and I might have an allergy to my eyeliner. Also, I put a lot of time, effort, and money into my skincare, which has paid off enough that there's at least a 50-50 chance that my skin looks better without makeup than with. Admittedly, this has more to do with my rudimentary makeup skills and my NARS Tinted Moisturizer not playing nicely with my skin when it is having a flaky day than with how my skin actually looks. Oh and I never put any time or effort into my hair either.

All of the habits I describe above might result in a relatively unpolished daily look, and I honestly have no idea if that could harm my professional life going forward. (I honestly don't think it would, that much, as salaries are on a rigid and transparent fixed scale and the likelihood of promotion eight or nine years on was always nonexistent anyway.) I would dress up for important meetings or court days, but that's about it. I'm comfortable and happy with what I'm wearing, but, I must admit, it could come across as a bit... dowdy.

How formal is your industry or your office dress code? Do you wear heels in the office? How often do you wear makeup to work? There are so many things to think about when it comes to office wear!

Friday, May 27, 2016

May Shopping Reflections

This has been a whirlwind month! I spent the first half of May on vacation, which was delightful. K and I spent most of the first week in Taiwan, and then we went to Manila, Boracay, and Singapore before returning to Taiwan for a quick stop before home. As soon as I returned to the office, though, I had to hit the ground sprinting on several projects. That was significantly less pleasant, especially when combined with jetlag and a cold. I've recovered now, and things at work will hopefully ease up soon. I have a career (and budget) related life update too, but I'll save that for another time. On to the shopping!

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

All of my clothing purchases this month were already ordered when I wrote my last monthly budget post. The silk tees at Grana (referral link: you get 10% off your first order and I get $20 in store credit if you make a purchase) were backordered a few weeks ago, but seem to generally be in stock now. Someone was kind enough to sign up with my referral link after my last monthly budget post - thank you so much!

Next month will likely also involve a few clothing purchases. I own an old linen cardigan from Loft that's one of my only summer-weight cover-ups for the dresses or sleeveless shell and pencil skirt outfits I wear to work in summer, and I'm looking for a few more to mix things up (I'm considering this Lou and Grey one as well as a cotton blend pointelle one). The quality on my old linen cardigan is admittedly not great, though I love it anyway because it is light. I had trouble finding similar items elsewhere for my desired price point. I'd also love to acquire a navy midi skirt (like Adina's), but haven't really found anything that fits the bill except maybe this one from White House Black Market, but they don't do petite sizing, which I'd likely need to get the right length.

I might also make an "off-budget" purchase next month: a pair of basic black shoes for work, likely the Cole Haan Catalina Wedge. (Note: it runs a half-size large, I tried on my usual size and it was too big!) I'm also considering the Via Spiga Parmina, but a 3'' heel is a little high for me, even in a wedge. I was really supposed to save that "off-budget" shoe purchase for something that would also work for interviews (where I'd prefer a basic black non-patent leather pump rather than something in patent leather, out of an interest in being ultra-conservative), but, well, I absolutely loathe wearing pumps. If I did buy a pair of pumps, they'd only ever be worn between the building lobby and the office(s) of whomever I'm interviewing with.

Fashion - (TOTAL: $127.00)

  • Grana Silk Raglan Tee, Mulberry - $39.00 - I had heard on r/femalefashionadvice that Grana silk tops run smaller than Everlane (where I am typically a S, except for the cami and tanks), so I ordered a M here despite the size chart. I can report that the size chart actually appears to be accurate for both the Raglan Tee and the Collarless Shirt, so my tees are a little big. The one potential sizing-related sticking point that could affect interpretation of the size chart is that Grana silk tops in general all seem to be a little shorter than the ones from Everlane or most mall retailers. M is potentially the best size for me on that basis, as my chest is substantial enough to make tops look even shorter than they are. I'm quite happy with the quality and value for money so far, keep an eye out for a more detailed review later! The sleeves are a little roomy, so there is an almost dolman sleeve-like effect to this design that might not be for everyone, especially since I sized up. 
  • Grana Silk Raglan Tee, Off White - $39.00 - Because this color is lighter than the Mulberry, I find that, while it is not sheer, it is right on the edge of it. The seams at the shoulders are also more noticeable because they're more opaque/darker-looking than the surrounding fabric. I still like this, but those details are a little odd and took a little getting used to. 
  • Grana Silk Collarless Shirt, Mulberry - $49.00 - I'm very fond of the Mulberry color, clearly. I also found this top to be a little shorter than, say, similar Everlane tops, but not as noticeably as the raglan tee. When making a comparison between the quality of Grana's silk and that of the Everlane Short Sleeve Silk Dress I bought last month (my only Everlane silk item), I think Grana is either equal or nearly equal. Most r/femalefashionadvice readers do rate Grana's silk as slightly less nice than Everlane though, and consider Grana's main selling point to be the better value for money brought about by their lower prices. Note, however, that Grana does not, to my knowledge, try to be an ethical clothing brand. 

No skincare or beauty purchases this month. I did purchase some sheet masks (including from My Beauty Diary and My Scheming) as well as several bottles of my holy grail Biore Perfect Milk Sunscreen while I was traveling, but those came out of my travel budget rather than my shopping budget. As usual, I'm linking to Franish and the Budgeting Bloggers. Please do go and check out what everyone else bought this month!