Monday, December 11, 2017

Blog Thoughts, Year Three

via

Invincible Summer
is almost three years old! I'll be briefer than I was in year two (and here's year one), but gosh, as always, I'm just so thankful to everyone who reads here. I'm still completely surprised and thrilled that there are people - real people(!) - who want to read along and chime in as I write about whatever strikes my fancy. I never stop being excited about that, and I'm super grateful. I really enjoy having this little, informal space to share my writing, and I'm still having lots of fun with it. 

Offline, this year was tough. That pay-cut I took for the clerkship was hard, as that average of ~6.8% interest on my federal student loans (I couldn't refinance because I needed income-based repayment protections while I was clerking, and could have wanted to clerk again before I completed repayment) undid almost all of the repayment progress I made while I was in biglaw for less than a year. I dipped into my emergency fund twice, including for some urgent dental work after an accident. Because I went back into the private sector around that time, I was at least able to replenish my emergency fund quickly.

Politics and current events have been... so incredibly dispiriting and awful that it's difficult to put into words exactly how many levels on which I'm enraged, and also terrified. I do my best to counteract it a bit with my pro bono work, at least a hundred hours in just the last few months, and with some of my charitable contributions, which I directed to Puerto Rico hurricane relief. I've been donating to Chef Jose Andres's World Central Kitchen, which does some incredible work and mobilized incredibly quickly, as well as to the PRxPR fund

Thank you again to everyone for your support and for reading along this year! Please follow the link below if you're interested in reading this year's updated income report.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Friday Link List


As you can see, I'm enjoying my recent tea-related purchases. The larger, cup-shaped infuser (exact) definitely works better than any other style I've tried before, and is also easier to clean. I'm very satisfied, but in hindsight, something with a sturdier lid-slash-drip tray, like the David's Tea Perfect Infuser that Cassie recommended, might be better, especially as prices are similar. Today's weekly link list is very money-centric. Here goes!

Please note that this post contains affiliate links that could result in a commission, typically a few cents, for me if you click. Thank you for your support!

1. // First up is a Racked article about Affirm, the company that offers financing on TheRealReal, among other places. I'm totally not the target audience for this product (seems equivalent to funding a purchase with a credit card and paying it off over several months, also something I'd never do - people at r/femalefashionadvice and r/personalfinance say their interest rates are similar), but it's fascinating to learn about. The article does a good job putting Affirm in the larger context of the credit card industry. It's a complicated thing, I don't know what to make of it!

2. // Most people outside of biglaw may not find this particularly charming, but I relate to Biglaw Investor's post about not sweating certain types of "minor" lifestyle inflation. If you're doing a good job "paying yourself first" by, say, maxing out your 401k and backdoor Roth IRA, as well as going above and beyond on student loan payments and/or additional savings, those grab and go lunches and Starbucks lattes may not be a problem. Or at least, that's what I tell myself. 

NYC-based office workers' tendency to rely on lunches out can seem extravagant, but I've done a lot of thinking and experimenting with making my own lunches. For now, eating out is the only way I can realistically do lunches. Biglaw Investor comes to the same conclusion for himself.

For context, I once analyzed how much a week of homemade kale caesar lunches costs (~$20.53/four servings, $5.13/serving). What isn't captured is how high-effort that was, to shred the greens (sounds silly, but took forever with the Trader Joe's curly kale) and chopping the tomatoes fresh each night. Luxe also did her own analysis of how much a month of lunches costs, using various combinations of cooking and eating out. Whatever the cost, one much also factor in the challenge of stretching produce from the weekend as far as Thursday, much less Friday. Baby spinach, my salad green of choice for most of my lunchtime salad orders, doesn't last that long.

3. // For a more broadly applicable discussion about bits of "lifestyle inflation" that some people find totally worth it, there's this thread on r/financialindependence. There's even someone who will defend a daily coffee shop latte habit, though theirs is significantly cheaper than it would be in NYC!

4. // Finally, and this was one downside of "old school" blogging, which tended to be much more personal (so people might sometimes complain about someone from offline on their blogs, thinking, foolishly, that it'd stay online), but this discussion on r/blogsnark about people's experiences with the intersection of online and offline drama really brought back memories! 

Back in high school, people often took offline drama onto their Xangas, and vice versa. Someone once went around behind my back accusing me of leaving an anonymous mean comment on theirs.  I've never done that anywhere, on any blog! Many of my previous blogs were anonymous-ish, though I'd share the URLs with some offline friends. I had one instance where, based on highly abnormal viewer stats for that post, something I wrote about a long-ago crush (didn't name names and was incredibly vague, I was a weird kid, but not a creepy stalker!) was discovered  and widely shared by someone. I took that post down right away because it weirded me out, and nothing more happened. Being a teenager is such a... terribly fun time, alas. I had a more foolish internet life than most. 

5. // One random thing - that J.Crew cocoon coat (or the shorter J.Crew Factory copy, or even the Ellen Tracy lookalike I have) is incredibly popular! I see at least five or six people wearing one each week. The most popular color by far is camel, all others are rare. I almost never see any in bright colors, like the red-orange one I have. If anyone is wondering, my Ellen Tracy coat is holding up well, with minimal pilling or other signs of wear. The material was always noticeably less nice than the J.Crew wool blend, but I've been happy with it as an affordable way to experiment with what still seems to me like a trendy shape that could become dated quickly. (In actual practice, the cocoon style is going strong with no signs of stopping.)

6. // Oh and some sale finds: Bloomingdales is having a sale on Longchamp that included the large totes in certain, mostly odd colors. Most of the sale colors aren't practical (including the pink I'm familiar with from my "Miaou" tote), but the peacock green large Le Pliage is nice. Some Wolford is on sale with a promo code, "FRIENDS", including some 50 denier tights, but not the variety I just bought. Also, this is a super weird specific thing, and it's not even a recommendation, because I don't think I can, in good conscience, actually recommend this, but this exact Joe Fresh (which I think is a Canadian fast fashion brand somewhere between an H&M, Gap or Old Navy, and Uniqlo) marled  shawl collar cardigan at Hautelook has been my "office sweater" of choice for years now. It's hardly the only moderately priced relaxed fit cardigan out there, nor is acrylic a material to write home about, but... I've gotten oddly attached to it over time. It runs large, which I personally think makes it feel cozy. 

Was I the only one who had some internet drama from back in the day intersect with their offline life? Are there any bits of "lifestyle inflation" that you embrace? Outside of buying my lunches at work and enjoying the occasional latte, my other big one is cabs to and from the airport when I travel, except in cities with an extremely convenient airport express train right to the city center with no transfers. (London, Rome, and Hong Kong, for instance - no such equivalent in NYC!)

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Money Life Lately

Hobo "Bolt" Leather Card Wallet (affiliate link) - very similar to the Kate Spade Saturday card case that's my current wallet, though it only has one, not two, card slots on the back.

In a few weeks, I'll finally be eligible to contribute to a 401k plan again. It's difficult to understate just how excited I am! While clerking, one doesn't have access to any employer sponsored retirement plan, so it's been awhile since I've been able to save in earnest. It'll be too late to do much with it for 2017, but in 2018, I'm planning to max out my 401k and backdoor Roth IRA. 

Here are a few other personal finance-related thoughts I've had recently, both of which relate to compensation for biglaw associates. Biglaw firms pay associate attorneys extremely well, though that ultra-transparent, ultra-standardized salary scale doesn't, in my view, tell the full story. Some of the compensation-related norms in the industry are unusual, and generally to the detriment of attorneys compared to other white-collar employees. (Also keep in mind that our massive student loans. My slightly shocking number was after a substantial scholarship, nearly half tuition, the best available as a strong, though not top, candidate for the schools I was targeting.) 

401k (Non)Matching and Fund Selection

I don't know how common this is, but biglaw firms, as a general rule, don't match 401k contributions by associate attorneys in any way. There are a tiny handful of exceptions I know of, at least one of which doesn't have much of a NYC presence. 

I'm only familiar with my previous firm's 401k plan's available mutual funds, and I'm not a terribly knowledgeable investor (for now, I'm comfortable that "stick it all in the appropriate Vanguard target date fund" is the right solution for me). It always seemed like my firm offered a random and less than ideal set of funds for our 401k, which was offered through a large, reputable company, something like Fidelity or Schwab. There was a S&P 500 index fund with okay, but more expensive than Vanguard, fees. They had Vanguard international stock market index funds too, which is good. That's most of the pieces I'd need to have my account resemble the Vanguard target date fund my Roth IRA was in. After that, everything else had really high fees.

Happy news, my old firm, at which I still have a small 401k nest egg, will soon offer Vanguard target date funds! Depending on my options at my new workplace, I may roll the account over, so I won't necessarily benefit. Because, however, my new workplace is a much smaller operation, I don't know if I can expect good mutual fund choices. I probably won't roll it over if I'm not as happy with the mutual funds on offer at the new place. 

On Health Insurance 

Some biglaw firms have started seriously nickle and diming their associates on health insurance. My old firm originally offered a PPO plan at around $160/paycheck (once every two weeks) and a significantly cheaper HDHP in the general range of $60/paycheck. I had the PPO, which seemed good, but had a problematic quirk where none of my women colleagues' birth control, nor mine, was fully covered, giving basically every woman an extra $10/month expense. I'd never had a co-pay for  birth control on any other plan since "Obamacare" passed.

I'd assumed some amount of choice in health plans was the norm, though back then there was already news about certain firms electing to offer only a HDHP. Now, there's at least one law firm charging $170/paycheck for a HDHP, their only option. That seems insane, given what I had before, but well, I'm not in biglaw now, so I don't know if this is normal for the rest of the industry. 

Are those health insurance costs out of the ordinary? Are you satisfied with your 401k plan's available mutual funds? Of course, for young, healthy adults, there may still be reasons to pick a HDHP, in part because a HSA can be used as yet another tax-advantaged retirement account, but any attorney who used to have better health insurance and paid less for it will, naturally, be upset. 

Monday, December 4, 2017

November Shopping Reflections



I know it totally doesn't look it, but I'm getting over that shopping frenzy phase of the last few months... I think. Only time will really tell, but November's shopping was all things that were already on my radar in October. One promising sign is that I made very few fashion-related Black Friday sale orders this year. Last year I was ordering like a fiend , but didn't end up keeping much. This year, I ordered mostly some clearance section home goods K and I needed, and also several loose leaf teas for the office

Please note that this post contains affiliate links that could result in a commission, typically a few cents, for me if you click. Thank you for your support!

Most of my Black Friday fashion orders were leggings, part of my search for a replacement to my beloved American Apparel Winter Leggings, which I wore a hole through last year, after about five years of heavy wear. (They got considerably less use after I graduated, naturally.) I may be too picky about wanting any replacement to be identical to the Winter Leggings, which were very thick and mostly cotton (~90%, I think). That doesn't seem to be common . I haven't seen anything that completely fits the bill in the last year and a half. (Nor do leggings need to be mostly cotton to be comfortable in winter, I'm sure.) I'm trying the J.Crew Signature Leggings and Old Navy Heavy-Knit Jersey Leggings, which may come close to meeting the criteria. Perhaps because cotton isn't actually the most suitable fabric for leggings, I haven't found many mostly-cotton ones at higher price points. 

Fashion - (TOTAL: $345.86) 
  • Longchamp Neo Large Tote, black - $206.86* - As I mentioned last month, my old one was showing too much wear for me to bring it on business trips, and well, I'm a creature of habit. I should be more open-minded to other options that have more internal organization and a built in laptop sleeve, at least for business travel. (I carry my laptop in an old Caselogic sleeve when taking it around in my Longchamp. That particular sleeve is a little bigger than necessary for my 13-inch Macbook Pro, so there must be better laptop sleeves out there.) 
  • Wolford Pure 50 Signature Tights, black, 2 pairs - $76.00 - I got these at ASOS on sale, but they're likely sold out. I'd have been perfectly happy to stick with Uniqlo for my semi-opaque tights for before real winter sets in. I used to buy both Heattech and non-Heattech, and found that both held up well to frequent wear. Alas, Uniqlo seems to have discontinued their non-Heattech tights. Also, last year's Heattech tights were strangely tight and more difficult to put on than previous pairs, though still comfortable in my usual size after I got them on. I'd tried out some Hanes last year, but they didn't hold up, so I leapt upwards in price to Wolford. I can definitely feel the difference from Uniqlo and Hanes, as the waistbands stay perfectly in place throughout the day, and they're more comfortable as a result. These 50 denier tights are only a bit translucent/still close to opaque, which is what I prefer. 
  • Grana - $63.00 -  ($243.00 - $180.00 referral credit = $63.00) - Now that Grana's become a more popular brand, I don't think anyone needs my referral code anymore! I wanted to use up the last of my credit in one go, so I may not have been as picky as I might normally be. Thank you to everyone who has signed up through my link in the past!
    • Cashmere Blanket Scarf, gray - I've wanted a cashmere blanket scarf for a while and probably would have been inclined to the H&M Premium Quality one, if this year's colors weren't so blah. I'd been taken with the idea of the White & Warren Travel Wrap for years, though the price was always unrealistic for me. The White & Warren one is wider by 10 inches, and also a bit longer. I've been pleased with Grana's cashmere sweaters before, and am similarly satisfied with this scarf, though keep in mind that I don't have much to compare it to, besides Uniqlo cashmere, as my White & Warren sweaters are intentionally thin knits with pointelle details (i.e. intentional small holes).
    • Drop Shoulder Silk Contrast Tea, dark teal - I picked this out because it has a similar shape to the MM. LaFleur Didion, which I love. Do note that the neck hole on this top is oddly small, so it feels like a slight squeeze to get it over my head. It's not so much an issue that I can't wear it (because that would be really weird), but it's not a problem I've ever had with any other shirt. Temporary Housewifey has a review with photos, if you're curious. 
    • Silk V-Neck Slip Dress, black - It probably comes as no surprise that this shape is challenging for people on the much bustier side of average, such as myself. I probably would never consider this dress if I didn't have referral credit, as the shape is quite outside of my comfort zone. Worst case scenario, I thought I'd just wear it at home as lounging clothes/pajamas, though I think I could come around to wearing this out in the summer. 

Any cold weather leggings recommendations? Did you shop any Black Friday or Cyber Monday sales this year? Did you find anything good? I felt like there were more sales this year than usual, and that they generally started very early. By the time the actual day after Thanksgiving rolled around, I had serious sale fatigue, and could barely look at any more online shops or promotional emails. I was trying to do Christmas shopping for others by that point, but didn't have any good ideas.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Friday Link List

Waiting in a long line to carry out my civic duty: jury duty, to be exact! It was actually far more efficient than it looks.

Count this post as another attempt to get myself to share links and write something light, which my occasional "Sunday Reading" posts were supposed to be, but generally aren't. I don't mind that I'm a rather verbose and tangent-prone writer, and in fact, I've gotten substantially better at editing my own work over the years, but those traits don't play nicely with my ambitions to post more frequently. 

1. // I commented on Dr. It Girl's recent closet tour to commiserate about the difficulty of finding new blogs to read. Because I'm kind of a dinosaur who still yearns for 2008-style blogging, it's pretty hard to find new ones to follow, especially as old favorites retire (which is totally understandable, but also makes me sad because, darn it, they were writing and sharing such cool things, and I'll totally miss them!). We both concurred about enjoying shopping diaries-type blogs, while noting the difficulty of finding ones that hit the right balance between sale finds and excessive affiliate-linking, which brings me to...

2. // ... Feather Factor's recent post, a nice, concise summary of one important takeaway from a book that might be up my alley and relevant to my sometimes challenging year. Although she and I shop at completely different price points and lead dramatically different lifestyles, I've always thought her blog did a wonderful job of balancing sale finds that feel very true to her style, as portrayed on the blog, with interesting, diverse content. I've been following for a really long time.

3. // This next one is a two-parter with advice that is incredibly relevant to so many things, though perhaps not always to law (which is a little too conservative and old-fashioned to allow for people to easily "hustle" in unconventional ways and have it pay off). While taking the leap with networking can work out beautifully, and is how a lot of people got their clerkships, in fact, in a lot of contexts (particularly in biglaw, if your credentials are already comfortably getting you in the door), it isn't always the best way to accomplish a goal. Nevertheless, most industries are not at all like law, and  lawyers can also learn a lot from The Luxe Strategist's post on transitioning to a new industry without experience (she has a great story and worked super hard) and Sophie's post about knowing when to quit, either something that isn't serving your goals, or in one of her experiences, is a creeper situation waiting to happen. 

4. // Stepping back to how I'm a total social media dinosaur (and heck, even felt that way when I once stopped following blogs for a while around 2009, I generally find Youtube quite... foreign and perplexing. I have the same issue with not "getting" podcasts because, for the most part, I don't really enjoy listening to people talk, I'd rather read. The recent hullabaloo with problematic content aimed at children (and/or containing children) and all the utter creeps that had been allowed to flourish in comments sections just... baffles me. It seems to me that Google/Youtube had no intention of acting on these problems (that people were reporting fairly frequently) until it went viral, which I believe started with this post on Medium

I try not to be too judgmental about other people's parenting decisions, as seen from the limited perspective of what they share (people get so unreasonably mean and weird like in this recent, completely unrelated Corporette comment thread about biglaw, saving, and raising kids and how those three things are not fully compatible), but good lordy, what was that Toy Freaks channel even doing, and how does that get over 8 million subscribers? There's a Buzzfeed article that may explain better, but I also don't feel comfortable linking because they initially chose to screenshot the kids without blurring their faces. I'll admit, the internet had weird things back when I was young (remember Happy Tree Friends?) that could seem disturbing to an adult, but it all feels more innocent than some of what's around today. 

Please note that this portion of the post contains affiliate links that could result in a commission, typically a few cents, for me if you click. Thank you for your support!

5. // I followed up my recent indulgent tea-related purchases with... even more indulgent tea-related purchases. I decided a 1 liter hot water kettle (again from Hamilton Beach, one of relatively few non-plastic kettlesthat size) was the right size, as any smaller would be a dinky travel kettle). I kind of missed my old one, which I remember heating a little faster and quieter, but 1.7 liters would have been comically large for my one-person setup. I also bought a slightly absurd quantity of loose-leaf tea around Black Friday, mostly just unflavored green teas because I am a creature of habit. They were stocking well-priced tins of The du Hammam by Palais des Thes at Macy's, which is a really lovely flavored green. Upon opening the tin (I'd had it at a restaurant, but never smelled the leaves), I wondered if I'd made a mistake because the vanilla scent was overpowering, but it brews with a nice, mild flavor. 

If you have any blogs to share, whether your own or anyone else's, I'd love to read! I tend to be a very chatty, frequent commenter on any post that interests me, though with blogs I haven't commented on before, I'm a bit shy. Also, do you read Corporette? I'm a recent convert, because I like a constant, steady hum of online chatter and poring through a lot of reader comments (and am very sad that this kind of discussion is rare on personal blogs now!). People in the comments get so weird sometimes, though. 

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Sunday Reading: Sponsorships and Swag


Racked recently did a feature about how much swag they, a smaller online publication, received in the last six months. This isn't particularly surprising, especially if you watched The Devil Wears Prada (though the movie painted an exaggerated picture of what it's like to work at Vogue, employees don't actually take home clothing and handbag samples for keeps). What was more surprising is that Racked doesn't ever feature the vast majority of what they receive. Either way, it doesn't particularly bother me that big publications get lots of freebies - I always assumed that. Regardless, I generally don't get product recommendations that way. The feature didn't generate too much discussion on r/femalefashionadvice, but there was still some good food for thought, most of which went in the direction of gifts and sponsorships sent to social media "influencers."

Last year, Adina posted her thoughts about the extent to which bloggers may contribute to excessive consumption, or unrealistic ideas about how much one should buy. I left a rambly comment there and always wanted to spin it off into my own post, but alas, it takes me forever to write anything serious. Back then, I thought it wouldn't be fair to attribute my previous more excessive, and sometimes careless, consumption habits to fashion bloggers, as I had those tendencies long before blogs were a thing. Plus most of my favorite blogs were by extremely creative, dedicated thrifters (Fops and Dandies, I miss you still!), so if anything, they encouraged "good", or at least, relatively eco-friendly and wallet-friendly, shopping.

Yet the top comment on r/femalefashionadvice makes a good point about how, because social media types present themselves as, and certainly started out as "real, normal people," it can create some sense that because "normal people" consume this much, maybe I should too. Looking back, this happened for me, particularly as to beauty products. I've never been a big makeup wearer, but I've purchased much more than I needed, or even particularly wanted. (I've since gotten rid of all the eyeshadow and most of the nail polish.) Because I had no other way to learn about makeup, I relied on Youtube, though this was a lot time ago, before sponsorships, back when Michelle Phan just made her first video, and I viewed it on her Xanga. One indirect lesson I got was that, of course someone must get each of their looks from multiple palettes, so maybe that contributed to my previous VIB every year Sephora habit, which I've since put aside.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Gifts I'd Love to Give (and Receive)


Maybe in part because my family does gifts eclectically (recipient picks, giver orders item or reimburses recipient who has already ordered it), I'm not very good at selecting gifts for others. I am capable of hitting it out of the park on occasion, though usually only because the recipient once mentioned offhand, "oh I'd love it if I had x," in which case I took note and bought the item for the next gift-requiring occasion. Otherwise, I get kind of lost. I've bought a lot of things such as, say, that year's version of a Peter Thomas Roth mask set for a skin care lover, something I even thought was cool enough to buy for myself later, only to see it go utterly unused by the recipient. Alas!

Please note that this post contains affiliate links that could result in a commission, typically a few cents, for me if you click. Thank you for your support!

So maybe I'm not the best at gift suggestions, but over time, there's been a few items that I've greatly enjoyed receiving, or that I'm certain would make an awesome gift, at least from my perspective. Maybe some of these ideas will also be good for someone in your life!


The linked ones are by Index Urban (similar pictured), which appears to be an independent, family-owned luggage shop in San Diego that sells customizable leather luggage tags both on-site and via Etsy. They have tons of colors and options. A friend got one for me as a graduation gift, and mine has held up great through being attached to my checked bag on several international trips, some with multiple stops.


Porcelain and Stone is a woman-owned small business based in Massachusetts, where I went to college. I purchased one of her small necklaces last year, and requested a pair of her "Navigation" dangle earrings for Christmas, so I'm already amassing a small collection. These earrings are actually on my personal wishlist for this holiday season. You can follow the artist on Instagram and she has some additional selections at her own shop. She makes both larger, statement pieces as well as a few smaller designs. 

Cuyana Classic Passport Case, $95

This is one of those things I haven't tried out yet, but that I think I'd be thrilled to receive. I don't particularly need a passport case for personal travel, but because I generally opt for a throw everything in and go tote without much internal organization, I sometimes need to dig around for small but important items like a passport or boarding pass, which I'd rather not need to do when traveling for work. I prefer a larger passport case with room for both the passport and boarding pass to one that just accommodates the passport. (I actually ordered the larger Cuyana Travel Wallet to try a while back, but found it much too big for my needs and returned it. I don't need my passport holder to also serve as a wallet, I just need it for my passport, boarding pass, and maybe some receipts.) 

H&M Premium Wool Scarf, $50 

This was one of my birthday gifts a while back, which I picked mainly because it looked vaguely like that Acne scarves, though I don't know if they're similar dimensions anymore. Confession: I don't actually wear this as a scarf because my down coat zips up fully to the neck and doesn't leave room for a heavier scarf, but I've really loved having this as a wrap at my office desk. It's warm and brightens my day, and it feels luxe to me to have one in wool. While my scarf may be a little wider, I think 21.5 inches is still wide enough for it to serve as a smaller lap blanket when folded up. 

Plaid Blanket Scarves, ~$13

Total blast from the past, my first ever post was about this type of unbranded acrylic plaid blanket scarf. They're now very commonly found on Amazon, in all kinds of plaid and check designs, and well, I think that's generally the most frugal place to obtain one year-round. At the time, I was looking for designs that were first found at Zara, but had long since sold out. (I believe they were first popularized by Atlantic Pacific.) These are admittedly kind of overdone. In the winters of 2014 and 2015,  it felt like I saw as many as two or three women wearing them practically every single time I stepped out the door in NYC. Nonetheless, I still wear mine when I need a warm scarf and am in one of my wool blend coats that doesn't fasten fully up to the neck.

Happy belated Thanksgiving! This has been a sometimes tough year, but I have so much to be thankful for: my loving and supportive family, who make the difficult things as easy as they can ever be; my life with K; my wonderful friends who commiserate with me when things are hard; and my wonderful colleagues and bosses/mentors, who have made my current and previous jobs totally awesome. 

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

A Cup of Tea


Thank you to everyone for your kind and thoughtful replies on my previous post. She was a wonderful mother and grandmother, always unfailingly kind. Things were difficult for a long time in the last few years, but everyone has so many good memories to hold on to. She was deeply loved. My family and I are doing well. 

Today's post is about a few items I bought recently for my desk at work, or that I plan to buy soon, all in service of my tea-drinking habit. I drink tea every day at work, usually going through three to four cups a day, enough that loose leaf is absolutely the only way, and the most cost-effective way, to go. It's an important part of my every workday, so it makes sense to treat myself to a few items to facilitate brewing and drinking tea at the office.

Please note that this post contains affiliate links that could result in a commission, typically a few cents, for me if you click. Thank you for your support!

This will show that I'm absolutely terrible sometimes when it comes to the sustainability and low or no waste-preferred components of minimalism, but at both of my private sector jobs so far, I've relied primarily on... disposable plastic or paper cups for water and tea or coffee. (I know, I know, it's awful of me, and I'm totally kicking myself!) In my partial defense, most of my time since graduation was spent as a government employee, where I used real mugs. The public sector doesn't provide constant, infinite refills of, well, either paper cups, or of coffee, unlike my private sector jobs. Anyway, I'll be better now, with the help of some of these recent purchases. None of this is too exciting, but it's all things that I know I'll be able to make good use of (that tea habit is definitely not going anywhere), and that will make my workday more enjoyable, even during my busiest periods:

  • Mr. Coffee Mug Warmer: This is a new item for me, but I've had it for a few days, and so far so good. The nature of the job means that I often get distracted by a call or a new task that just came up, so quite a few servings of coffee or tea that I prepare for myself get forgotten long enough that they get cold. I don't think I've ever found, or read about, a solution more elegant than an electric mug warmer, so there it goes. Reading the Amazon reviews, it seems that these tend to be a fairly clunky and failure-prone gadget, but I haven't had any issues so far, though, well, it's been a very short time. I'm going to need to be extremely careful about shutting this off whenever it's not in use and not using it for excessive periods of time, as there's some risk of it overheating. 
  • Silicone Drink Cover: These are not something that would normally be on my radar, as I spent more than a year at my last job without, but most of the reviews for the mug warmer suggest that a lid helps significantly with getting a hot drink to stay warm. I see a lot of similar silicon mug or cup covers at various stores, including when I'm traveling in Taiwan, so I figured they'd do the trick, and are generally useful. I picked one of these flower-looking Charles Viancin drink covers, specifically the sunflower ones. They're four inches across, which should be good for most mugs. These are also a new item for me, but are also good so far. 
  • A Pretty Mug or Two: Whatever else one thinks of Anthropologie (I feel like the clothes aren't as nice-looking as they used to be), they stock some of the prettiest and most fun mugs. Out of the current selection, I'm particularly partial to the Liberty floral printed mugs and the pretty Mimira mugs pictured above. I'll be getting something at Anthropologie in person the next chance I have to stop by, but for now I've purchased a Pusheen mug for my desk. I tend to keep both a cold and hot drink at my desk and drink, so having two reusable mugs is the right number for me. 
  • Metal Tea Infuser: I've used quite a few tea infusers or filters in my time, including the little mesh ball-shaped ones, paper tea filters (bad minimalist of me, again!), and even a silicone "manatea", which is absolutely adorable, but also not the most practical, as it's a little difficult to fully clean out and the really small holes seem to prevent some teas from brewing as well. From that set of experiences, I'm thinking that a larger cup-shaped metal filter, preferably one that comes with a little lid that also serves as a drip tray, is the way to go, something like this, though this one on Amazon is cheaper. 
  • Electric Kettle? This is a little more unusual, but I may also be thinking about getting an electric kettle for my office. Like at my first firm, there's a hot water dispenser at my new workplace, but the water doesn't seem hot enough to brew oolong tea, one of my go-to kinds, though it's hot enough for green tea, so I've been holding out for now. I bought and donated this basic metal Hamilton Beach kettle to my previous workplace and it was great and still going strong, though 1.7 liters is a little big if it's just me using it for single servings.

Anyone else a habitual tea drinker? Any favorite kinds? I usually just pick out one of the green teas from the fairly broad selection of loose leaf tea at a nearby supermarket, and I have a range of different oolongs from my trips to Taiwan that will take me quite some time to use up. 

Friday, November 10, 2017

The Unexpected

Photo from Gaomei Wetlands.

My maternal grandmother in Taiwan passed away suddenly late last month. She lived with us in the US for a long time, helping take care of my sister and I for most of our childhoods. She had been extremely frail and in poor overall health for a long time, with unrelenting chronic pain, likely from rheumatoid arthritis, complicated by dementia, which is why she went back to Taiwan, where she'd have readier access to medical care and assistance from our extended family. We'd been bracing ourselves for this for a long time, though it was still a great shock. I went to Taiwan for a week to attend her funeral. 

I think my offline reactions to my grandmother's passing would strike many as being rather emotionally detached. I haven't cried much. Because of when the funeral was scheduled, I had four full working days at the office between when I first heard and when I got on the plane, and well, I think most of my colleagues would have been surprised if they knew I had so recently received tragic news. I may not have come across as being sad, though I wasn't completely myself. I certainly didn't talk about it, except to the extent absolutely necessary to set up my time off from the office.

While I'm generally someone who loves to talk ad nauseum about the small problems in my life, even long after I've already decided exactly what I'm going to do about them (which might be somewhat apparent in my writing), when things actually are bad, I go into "crisis management mode." Then, I'm all action, with minimal patience for talking things through, except to put the solution in place. So I'd like to think that I'd long since shown my love for my grandmother, my commitment to family, through my actions. In college, I once spent a month of a summer caring for my grandmother while she was in a back brace after a car accident, and while my mom was at work, a job my mom previously hired someone to do when I was away for an internship earlier that summer. I played a similar role the summer I studied for the bar, after her health had taken its dramatic decline, though I never talked about it then. I don't talk about these things to the vast majority of people in my life.

Culturally, as a Taiwanese family of Chinese descent, we place extreme value on caring for family members, particularly elderly parents and grandparents. There's a profound fear of and strong social stigma attached to putting relatives in nursing homes, and I think most families from our cultural background that I know of, including my own, make sacrifices of both time and money that could come across as extreme, in order to ensure that elderly or sick relatives can be adequately cared for in a family member's home. My mom took on those responsibilities by herself for a long time, so she's the real hero. I assisted only briefly, sharing my mom's burdens only a little. Ours isn't a culture that allows for complaints about how difficult it is, but I saw how hard it was for her, and also how much pain my grandmother was in for more than two years. Acceptance as a stage of grief came remarkably quickly because, as a family, we'd been prepared for so long. It feels as if I'd already started going through the earlier stages of grief much sooner.

This was originally going to be a post that tied all this into the extent to which family, and the possibility of needing to care for family (both financially and otherwise) at later stages of my life motivates my personal finance journey. That includes going to law school (insane loans and all) because it felt like the best way to build up the necessary resources while also supporting my hypothetical future children, mainly in having the high-quality education that has been so important in determining the course of my life, hopefully without the same student debt burden. It also ties into my probably excessive emergency fund (that I may bolster even more, rather than turn that extra money towards my student debt). Part of that predilection for possibly slightly excessive cash reserves was that I don't want to be one of those "left biglaw with insufficient savings while barely denting the loans" horror stories (link one). Also, an emergency fund was critical to my handling a huge emergency dental bill recently, as well as immediately traveling to Taiwan, both in short order and without even blinking. No doubt it'd help immensely in weathering future crises as well. 

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

October Shopping Reflections


Another excessive shopping month, yikes! The good news is that my shopping frenzy of the last three months, instigated largely by my return to a private-sector paycheck, is starting to die down. It was a very dramatic change in a short time, and, in my defense, I had accumulated a backlog of work wardrobe needs. For instance, I didn't explain this fully before because I'm so self-conscious about it, but that extra inch around the chest, and probably some extra to my shoulders as well, sized me out of all my black blazers, hence the J.Crew Factory suit last month. I also needed that pair of presentable and walkable flats for court, for which the Cole Haan Tali Bow flats were perfect.

Please note that this post contains affiliate links that could result in a commission, typically a few cents, for me if you click. Thank you for your support!

The not-so-good news is that I have at least one more expensive month coming, though I'm much more confident of the big purchase that's coming up. Namely, I'm likely replacing my large Longchamp Planetes tote (now the Neo). In my usual way of not realizing something is totally worn out until several wears later, like when there was a hole in a pair of much-loved boots I was about to weatherproof, it was only during my recent business trip that I noticed how the leather handles had stretched out, making the bag hang awkwardly lower, and how the whole bag's turned really droopy and shapeless, even if I pack it carefully. Also, the shrinkage when Longchamp repairs the corners (by taking in the entire bag), ended up with it right on the edge of too small to comfortably accommodate my laptop in a sleeve.  I bought my Longchamp in December 2010, so it's seen almost seven years of heavy use, including as a constant companion on all my travels. These days, I'd almost always opt for either a leather bag or, if I'm carrying a serious volume of papers and my laptop, a backpack, for the office, so a new Longchamp might only be for travel, which might make the price tag frivolous. Yet it's been such a large part of all my many travels for years that I honestly can't imagine being without. (As for why I'm not using my Longchamp "Miaou" tote instead? I'm too scared of getting it dirty to shove it under the seat in front of me when flying. That one has not, therefore, been my most practical purchase, but it "sparks joy" enough that I don't regret it.) 

As for this month, the bulk of the spending was from a visit to the MM. LaFleur showroom. I'll write a more detailed post about the brand later, but to preview it now: I'm not the target customer, as the items are just too much more expensive than my usual; they do some things really well, including very consistent and true to their size chart sizing; I'm utterly baffled by their predilection for unlined dresses; and I really do love the things I bought, though because of the dramatic step up in price for me, I can't be sure that I made the wisest choices. For now, here are some other  blogs' comprehensive MM. LaFleur reviews that I found very helpful: here and here

Fashion - (TOTAL: $564.40) 
  • Nordstrom Cashmere and Silk Wrap - $59.40 - I generally don't talk much about the items that come to me as gifts, but my mom's generous Christmas gift the year I graduated (a surprise, unlike with our usual gifting practices) was a lovely, thin but actually warm, 69% cashmere, 31% silk Burberry scarf (identical design now in 80% modal, 10% cashmere, 10% silk, which strikes me as a serious step down even if I'm fond of modal for pajamas). I'm totally sheepish about how generous my mom is, though in my slight defense, as a tight-knit Taiwanese-American family, we do money differently.* I loved the material of that scarf so much that I'd been stalking this 55% cashmere, 45% silk Nordstrom brand scarf for a year, and leaped on the teal one when it went on sale. (Alas, the only color that remains on sale now is a bright pink that I find less versatile.) Do be warned that this fabric is fragile, even the weight of the sewn-in fabric tag was likely to pull a thread or two loose. With the higher silk content, this one is softer and has a more "slippery" texture than my other scarf. 
  • MM. LaFleur Didion Top, Ink Wash - $157.00** - I have an irrationally powerful fondness for this top, even though it's polyester (two layers that feel nicer and drape better than polyester tops I've had before, though given that all previous ones cost 25% of this, that's no surprise), and the design and the way it photographs on others, including on MM. LaFleur's own blog, suggests that it may have a "boob tent" effect or look deceptively broad and boxy on bustier women. Nonetheless, I love it, and the sort of dolman effect, wider cut of the top (the most similar shape I've seen is in the Everlane Square silk shirts, but those have a very different overall look with a collar and buttons) makes it drape particularly nicely when tucked in to a pencil skirt. The price is such a step up from my usual, it's even almost double the price of the Everlane shirts, that I don't know if I've made a completely silly decision, but I could see myself rebuying if a good color came up. 
  • MM. LaFleur Toi Dress, Deep Plum - $289.00** - This is lovely, and lined, and it fits me remarkably well, given that it's often photographed on significantly less busty women. I needed to size up to an 8, from my "typical" MM. LaFleur size of a 6. It's not one of their "bust-friendly" items, as it's quite fitted through the chest. There's a little extra room at my waist (and probably more flare to the a-line skirt at the hips than I need), though less than I expected. I'm incorporating this dress into my wedding guest outfit rotation. I've gotten tired of my Ann Taylor lace shift dress that I love, but that gets really boring when I wear it to the fifth straight wedding in a year. I've retired and will soon ThredUp consign the DvF Zarita dress (super sale at Nordstrom Rack, and cheaper in many sizes and colors at TheRealReal) I bought on sale before I started blogging because it's not flattering on me, as a stretchy dress with no structure. 
  • Pearl Source 7-8 MM Pearl Studs with 14K Gold Posts - $59.00 - Ugh, this was careless, but unlike with my February 2015 pair, which I wore for two years, I lost an earring while I was asleep barely eight months after purchasing my new pair, and couldn't find it. I like stud earrings that I never need to take off, even when showering, and I've been relying on pearl studs from Amazon (always competitively priced, and particularly affordable for sterling silver posts) for that purpose, as I need earrings with (actual, not plated) gold or sterling silver posts in order to wear them for even a few hours without irritation. I know from experience that two years of that kind of wear is too much, but keep at it nonetheless. It's definitely a bad at minimalism thing that I do, but I know myself, and the extra effort of taking off the earrings every night isn't something that generally fits well into my life. Also, if I fail to wear earrings for too long, the holes close up.
** Indicates that price includes sales tax.

If you're a Longchamp fan, did you also experience your tote getting extremely worn out with time, particularly with stretching out or excessive softening of the leather handles? If you have any experience with buying or trying on MM. LaFleur, what did you think?

*Law school peers from similar backgrounds often had considerable parental subsidies for tuition, sometimes in the form of interest-free loans with highly flexible repayment terms, rather than straight gifts, neither of which my family can provide. I'm extremely privileged to have their help in so many other ways, however, including my cell phone family plan and paying for my meals when I visit. Also, I send $60 home per paycheck as a symbolic gesture.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Sunday Reading: Asian Americans in the Legal Profession

via NPR

This story is a few months old now, another one of those serious topics that linger in my queue of drafts for weeks and weeks while I gather my thoughts. Things aren't excellent for Asian Americans in the legal profession (first link), which I always knew, but hadn't previously seen much comprehensive documentation for. We're extremely well-represented in law schools and the junior echelons of the field, but quite underrepresented at the higher levels. California Supreme Court Justice Goodwin Liu and a few students at Yale recently published a very comprehensive report explaining that. None of the statistics are at all surprising, even for someone barely two years in to their legal career, but it's good to see it all gathered in one place.

Of particular relevance to me, and this also goes to diversity problems affecting all other minority groups, not just Asian Americans, was the discussion of clerkships starting page 12. White students are 58.2% of the graduates from top 30 law schools, but obtain a whopping 82.4% of federal clerkships, an almost necessary prerequisite to many important and highly influential legal jobs (think academia, the judiciary, and federal prosecution, among others).

A federal clerkship is, from firsthand experience, also a job that comes with massive financial opportunity costs, at least for those who would otherwise be going into biglaw. Just by choosing to do one, I was basically guaranteed to lose two year-end bonuses entirely, passed up a year of biglaw salary to take a large paycut, and needed to postpone refinancing my massive (despite a half tuition scholarship) student loans for at least an extra year, which probably cost me nearly $10,000 on its own, just in that one year. All that is somewhat offset by the prospect of a clerkship bonus upon returning to biglaw, but that covers maybe half at most. Nonetheless, I'd happily do it all over again, though probably would still grouse about the financial implications. I absolutely wouldn't have my current, wonderful job if I hadn't clerked. I expect that my clerkship will also be an integral component to getting future "dream jobs." Yet there's no getting around how one can only make that choice from a place of financial privilege. It is a staggeringly expensive choice.

Then there was Justice Liu's recent follow-up (click first link), which also discussed another, more recent, relevant study. Of particular relevance was an anecdote that I (and too many of my friends) could relate to:
There is a little bit [of a] paternalistic attitude towards women,” reported one Asian-American woman litigator in the AJD study. “You can either be relegated to the role of being sort of a submissive little worker bee or, if you’re more assertive, and I'm definitely more on the assertive side, I feel that sometimes I scare the guys a bit.”
I may discuss this with more specificity someday in the future, but well, I know that feeling all too well. This isn't something that has yet, to my knowledge, obviously affected my career advancement , but I've often found that colleagues and law school classmates get confused on the rare occasions when I speak up in a noteworthy way (when doing a mock trial exercise during my firm's summer program, a male colleague was horrified and scandalized by my very standard performance, "you turned mean" he'd hissed at me under his breath, shaking his head - excuse me?), or when I disclose something that's against stereotype, including that I had bad grades for much of high school and undergrad (people have straight up told me "no, you didn't" - you have no way of knowing that, jerkface).

Even in as cosmopolitan and diverse a city as NYC, among a set of professionals quite well-versed in anti-discrimination law, discrimination, and implicit bias, is often apparent. Interviewers compliment natively born Asian-American job candidates on their English. Colleagues mix up different Asian-American attorneys who don't look at all alike, are of different seniorities, and work on entirely different projects. During a recruiting lunch, where everyone should be on their best behavior, a white partner awkwardly and repeatedly, out of nowhere, directs and redirects the conversation to topics such as their impressions of how annoying it is to go to Beijing and how "ABCs" (American-born Chinese) differ from those born elsewhere, at a table with several Asian-American juniors and summers. Two of those three things have happened to me personally in biglaw, and I wasn't there long. Oh, and much like when I was a summer, minorities and women always got noticeably less substantive work and fewer opportunities than certain other demographics.

Anyway, I recommend the report, it's very interesting, and there are a few odd new trends brewing. Among other things, Asian American enrollment in law school has dropped precipitously since the 2008 recession, more than for any other group. Diversity issues, for all minority groups, in law generally, and clerkships in particular, are near and dear to my heart, so I probably can't help returning to these topics again at some future date. 

Friday, November 3, 2017

Money Diaries Chatter

Smythson Panama Wallet (affiliate link)

I'm realizing that, whenever I have interesting links to share, I'm generally tempted to ramble way too much and overthink what I write, which makes me hold on to the draft entries for weeks, if not months, long past the time when everyone else on the Internet (if it was something that had gone viral) had already gotten tired of the topic. Even when I'm specifically trying not to write so much, in the interests of sharing the links sooner, I still write a ton!

By now, it's old news that I'm quite fond of Refinery29's "Money Diaries", even if I sometimes find, reading between the lines, that the individual diaries can seem a bit incomplete, and are less helpful or educational for that reason. The comments are often aggravating too, as people can be quite mean. It makes a reader feel like women just can't win when it comes to how they manage their money. Lots of people in society at large will always want to accuse them of freeloading off their parents or a significant other, or of being wasteful or frivolous. 

I was, for instance, quite grouchy about the poor reception to this biglaw midlevel's Money Diary. Reading it again now, though, I can see why people may have been confused. The commenters might have reacted better if the author was chattier and explained the context for some of what was likely going on with all the reimbursed food and cars home. The lunches she bought for herself were likely so cheap because they came from the firm's subsidized cafeteria, and would indeed have cost almost twice as much otherwise. Those rather expensive reimbursed lunches or drinks out with "friends" or colleagues were likely part of the summer associate program or business development, things the firm chooses to reimburse as a matter of clearly-defined policy, and not chargeable to a client. The reimbursed delivery food for dinner and car home policies are also perfectly in line with industry standards. (Yes, a $35 Seamless order chargeable to the client is pricey, but so is the attorney's time, which likely costs the client $550 dollars, or more, an hour, billed out in six-minute increments.) Anyway, the author must have worked really hard all her life to get those full-tuition scholarships, and was so good about both savings and charitable giving. 

All this is a rather roundabout way of introducing the links that I actually wanted to share today: the Money Diary of a woman who is part of an extremely high-earning power couple, each making more than $500,000 including bonus, and her follow-up interview, where she shared much more about her life and background. She sounds pretty cool: self-aware, thoughtful, and extremely hardworking. In the interview, she was very real about how, as a woman of color, she had experienced the effects of implicit bias and discrimination in her career.

Do you have any thoughts about  the Money Diaries comments sections? I feel like I've rarely seen even a single one where most of the comments were positive, people are always complaining about something! How about that specific interview? As an aside, I'm thinking of trying to do periodical Money Diaries of my own soon, once my spending stabilizes a bit with my new paycheck, and after I start being eligible for 401K contributions at my new job. 

Thursday, October 26, 2017

The Subscription Box Model

A MM. Lafleur bento via Crain's.

EDIT 11/22: Though not one of the subscription services discussed here, Adore Me, a lingerie startup with a subscription component, recently settled with the FTC for $1.3 million due to questionable practices surrounding their subscription service. As r/femalefashionadvice commenters noted, they are hardly the only ones with dubious cancellation practices, so buyer beware!

One quick initial note: I suspect that this topic is only of direct relevance to those based in the US. I'm not familiar with any international subscription box-based shopping or rental services (something like Rent the Runway ("RTR") Unlimited, Rocksbox, MM. Lafleur's Bentos, LeTote, or Stitch Fix). As far as I can tell, Americans' reliance on e-commerce and the liberal availability of free shipping is something that's rather unique to here, so subscription shopping services would be less likely to take off elsewhere.

Conceptually, it always seemed to me that subscription-based shopping or rental services, whether for clothes or beauty, must be rather... un-frugal and maybe inherently likely to lead to waste. The customer is essentially paying to accumulate unwanted and unnecessary items (particularly in the beauty box context such as with Birchbox or Ipsy, where samples can't be returned). Of course, it's possible to price it in a way that's "worth it" for some customers. Birchbox used to have a generous points system that allowed easy redemptions for full-size products. Back when I first started this blog, when I still wore costume jewelry frequently, I might have thought Rocksbox was worth it (currently ~$21/month to rent three pieces from the Gorjana or Kendra Scott price point, with $21 credit/month to apply to a purchase). Regardless of whether it's "worth it", however, it's still a monthly delivery of items one didn't specifically shop for or pick out, so by definition, nothing in the delivery is going to be a well planned and carefully thought out purchase, even if with most of the clothing services, one can return unwanted things or things that don't fit.  

Barely two days after I mentioned how much my fellow college alums and I were complaining about Ann Taylor, they released a new subscription/rental service called Infinite Style. It's more in the RTR Unlimited model than the Stitchfix model, though, well, if you weren't happy with Ann Taylor's offerings before, this service certainly doesn't address that. Infinite Style costs $95/month for three items at a time, with as many returns as you like, and they'll dry clean items you ship back, as well as provide a discount if you want to keep something. (RTR Unlimited is $159/month for four items at a time, switched for new things whenever, which isn't really that much more for a higher end "closet" to choose from, though I don't think you can "buy" from there.)

Honestly, and I've also thought this on the rare occasions where I've considered standard RTR to rent a gown for a formal occasion (which would have cost at least $140 per rental for anything I liked), clothing rentals are really expensive, especially when compared to how much I actually spend  on shopping for keeps. $95/month is $1140/year to keep one's closet awash in Ann Taylor which just seems... wacky. I'm really not sure what the target audience is, especially with the recent design and quality woes. Especially since it'd likely cost less than half the yearly price to build a sufficient Ann Taylor and Loft work wardrobe you can keep (without adding in suiting, at least).

As for shopping subscription services like the MM. Lafleur Bentos or Stitch Fix, I've always been weirded out by their marketing, the idea that one might pay a company to pick out items for you, and that's somehow helpful or meaningfully time-saving. MM. LaFleur's tagline of being for women with "Better Things to Do" than shop, for instance, doesn't resonate with me, even though I definitely work too much and have very little extra time or mental energy left for other things, including cleaning my apartment or regularly cooking my meals. I probably derive significantly more enjoyment from the act of shopping than the average person (it's part of why all previous shopping fast attempts failed spectacularly in incredibly short order). I probably also spend a lot more time thinking about my personal style and what items work for me than most consumers. So shopping isn't hard or stressful in the least for me, and, in fact, I probably rely on it overmuch as a form of stress relief.

I do get exasperated when my "safe bet" brands start deteriorating in quality and utility, and it does make shopping significantly more annoying, but, well, I don't think most of the subscription shopping services deliver excellent value for one's money either. (Stitchfix always struck me as sending along overpriced lower-end Nordstrom-reject type stuff and MM. LaFleur is just really expensive.)

Anyway, I recently went to a MM. LaFleur showroom and will have some separate thoughts about that in an upcoming post (spoiler alert, I made two purchases, but it was maybe a little "too much, too soon" in terms of moving to a higher price point than I'm used to for workwear, so I'm not confident I made the best shopping decisions). For now, I will say that, for my body shape and given what MM. LaFleur generally offers, a lot of unlined dresses and no petite sizing, particularly after taking into account the extremely substantial-for-me price point, I'd probably have an extremely low Bento box success rate.

How do you feel about subscription boxes or shopping services, or clothing rental services? Any past experiences with them*, either good or bad?

*My only actual subscription box experience was with Julep, back when I had a nail polish phase in law school. It was a total waste of money, and also a massive pain and a half to cancel. Back then, they required calling in to cancel, and often still charged for boxes after a Julep representative confirmed the cancellation by phone. In the end, I had to get a chargeback from the bank, though Julep also refunded the charge a week or two later. The whole thing was incredibly sloppy at best, actually shady at worst. It probably left me predisposed to being very anti-subscription service. 

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

(More Than) One Year Later: Updated Everlane Reviews


It's been more than a year since my last Everlane purchase. I'm a repeat customer though, having made quite a few big-ticket purchases, many predating this blog. Especially because my Everlane reviews are, historically, some of my most popular posts, I thought it might be good to post an update on how some of my items are holding up. 

My fondness for Everlane as a brand has diminished a bit in the last year or so. It's been a very long time since I've loved one of their new designs. Also, as you'll see below, their products have a mixed record with me. The things I love, I truly love, but the things that are iffy are... not great in perplexing ways. Also, I've been a bit disillusioned with a lot of brands that market themselves as ethical. It's not all because of Everlane specifically, it's just that, in my line of work, one trusts very little of what any company says. I do find Everlane very vague about the details, leaving something to be desired in terms of transparency about their production and other practices. 

They've also had a few customer service missteps in recent memory. If you follow r/femalefashionadvice, you might have heard that Everlane sent around an email about selectively charging $10 rather than $6/return to "customers who return the majority of what they order." (Someone from Everlane confirmed this was real.) Many found the email condescending. There were other problems: misleading original price and percent discounted information during a Choose What You Pay promotion and, more problematic in my opinion, evidence that they sometimes listed prices differently for different browsers. The latter really grinds my gears. I inevitably wonder if I've ever paid more than I should. To me, these are pretty big problems that deserve criticism, as it results in misleading pricing from a brand that specifically emphasizes its "transparent" pricing compared to traditional retail. There was also the unpaid "Everlane Ambassador" thing, which bothered me a little less (as a student I would have considered doing it with my free time in exchange for free product), but may not be good best practices for a company that represents itself as ethical.

Please note that this post contains affiliate links that could result in a commission, typically a few cents, for me if you click. Thank you for your support!

Also, I had a bad experience with Everlane customer service. It was a rather convoluted series of events, and an odd situation in which I don't think I was entirely in the right, so I won't go too, too much into the details, but I was also perfectly polite and respectful throughout the email exchange. (As an attorney, I agonize over how every email and letter is worded, I'm very careful about tone.) Their customer service representative was rude and condescending in at least two emails to me, blaming me for a shipping date confusion that I'm still sure was caused by their website not stating an item was backordered. (The appropriate response would just have been a brief apology that there was nothing they could do, as the item was, in fact, backordered.)  It left a bad taste in my mouth, and I haven't bought an Everlane product since. I don't think it was bad enough for me to permanently stop shopping there, really there wasn't anything they could do except not send the offending emails, but it dramatically raises the bar for how badly I must want something before I'd consider buying from them again.

Please click through to read the mini review updates!

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Sunday Reading: Grab Bag

Casper's ads are really cute. As it turns out, their business and litigation strategy may be less cute. Funnily enough, when I searched for this image using a search term starting with"Casper" the first Google sponsored link was to a competitor with a caption about not overpaying, which probably says something about how fierce the competition is in the mattress space.

Today's Sunday reading centers on two completely unrelated articles. I wanted to be able to gather my thoughts more about both things, and share them in their own posts later, but as I started my draft entries, I realized that I may not be able to get my thoughts ready for sharing, even after several weeks, and I thought these articles were too interesting not to share sooner. (This happens with so many things that I want to bring into these Sunday reading posts, the half-written drafts languish for months and never make it to being published because I find the topics too serious, and I never quite refine my thoughts enough.) Maybe I'll revisit some of these ideas later, maybe not. 

Prenuptial Agreements

The first article is this New York Times "Modern Love" piece on the author's experience with a prenuptial agreement. Spoiler alert, I found this article perplexing, and sad, and just plain bizarre all around. First of all, how can two adults with a small child be so laissez-faire about an important economic arrangement affecting both their lives? As the "Modern Love" series usually involves thoughtful, often rather sweet and unusual takes on various topics, I found this piece rather... retrograde. It very much sounds like that stereotype of prenups, that they're used by the higher-earning, more financially sophisticated (usually male, in a heterosexual marriage) spouse to browbeat the other into an unfavorable deal, while the less financially powerful spouse throws up their hands and signs out of frustration, without a full understanding of the terms. Why would the author write this about themselves, and about the person they love? Neither comes off well here.

As background, even as a teen with absolutely no experience with either serious romantic relationships or the relevant law, I had a rather precocious (or maybe just cold) perception of prenuptial agreements as being generally a good idea. My college friends were completely aghast to learn this, even if some of them were also the children of difficult divorces. Since then, I've learned a bit more about the law, and well, most of the landmark prenup cases in, say, a family law textbook, do involve that stereotype of harsh deals in favor of the higher-earning spouse. Yet the general takeaway from that unit in my wonderful, but more philosophical than practical, family law class was that there's something valuable and good about negotiating a (hopefully fair and reasonable) deal between two people, represented by independent counsel, in a time when they love each other, are happy, and are seeing each other in the best light. That's probably the best time to negotiate a fair and reasonable plan for the "what if."

If nothing else, the contested divorce procedures in any state can be a Kafkaesque nightmare, to the point where, I know from personal experience in my pro bono work, it could take a bevy of biglaw attorneys almost a hundred hours each to figure out how to do just the last steps right, so sidestepping that process by relying on a pre-drafted contract certainly has some value of its own, if only in attorneys' fees avoided.

That's actually the conclusion of the "Modern Love" piece, that they were both better off for having gone through this process to settle their longstanding arguments about money, but that comes out only in a rather confused and not clearly written last two paragraphs. And only after the author sneaks in what I see as a pretty nasty potshot about how her now-husband:
“I’m so sorry,” Matt said, eyes down. “This was an awful thing I did to you, to us. And for all the fights we’ve had about money, this was a huge waste of it.”
“But there was no other way,” I said. “If I fought you on it, everything would have imploded.”
“I know,” he said.
So he felt awful about putting her through this experience that she found very painful (though being forced to go through a recounting of one's personal finance situation shouldn't be painful at 42, when one has a child to care for, but that's another story), but pushes for and gets his agreement anyway, and she gets to paint him as this bad guy in the New York Times? I just found this all so confusing and uncomfortable!

Online Mattress Review Wars

Then there was this article about the strange, kind of scary (if you write reviews on a blog) story about just what that trendy startup-y mattress company Casper did to a major mattress review website for more positively reviewing another company's mattresses. Spoiler alert, and this is all paraphrasing from the article, Casper brought out the big guns with a federal lawsuit, something that could cost at least $1 million/year to fully defend (and take at least two years, if not longer, to fully litigate), and eventually the former owners sold the site to an entity... that borrowed money from Casper, and the content about Casper was edited.

One major takeaway, though hardly the point: to the extent that you, like me, have a monetized blog, we all got into the wrong business, as it seems that mattress reviews, even for a smaller, less well-known site, are a million-dollar business. To my knowledge, nobody discloses anywhere near enough information for anyone to actually know what top bloggers in the American fashion and lifestyle space make, outside of College Prepster's disclosure on r/blogsnark  (in a very nice and thoughtful AMA) that she was at over $400,000 but under $1 million a year. I would assume that the more international/jetsetting fashion powerhouse bloggers, think a Gary Pepper Girl, Chiara Ferragni, or Song of Style, make significantly more than that, but who knows, it's all just guesswork. Though that's just me wondering about nosy things.

That's not to say, in the seeming David vs. Goliath, mattress review website versus Casper, battle that the David was entirely in the right. As we all might suspect from the monetized fashion blog context, particularly where sponsorships, or money in exchange for posts, are an issue, the financial conflicts of interest issues might... prevent a review from being entirely honest, or at least entirely what it would look like if money wasn't a concern. And those mattress review websites were making a lot of money, including through affiliate relationships. Casper eventually decided affiliate relationships weren't good enough:
In July 2015–a month after the $55 million investment–Krim revived his email chain with Mattress Nerd’s Mitcham, informing him that while Casper had “decided to sunset” its affiliate relationships, it nevertheless would be interested in exploring “economic relationships beyond the affiliate program structure.”
“Nothing would make us happier than to pay you a ton of money,” Krim elaborated in his next email, “but we need to do it in a context of being accretive to Casper. Currently you actively endorse a competing product on our review page. What can we do not to have you endorse another product as superior to ours? I am certain we can be a better partner to you than Leesa.”
I don't know if fashion marketing is ever as "serious business" as mattress marketing seems to be, but I suppose that's one obvious reason why the FTC may be getting serious about online influencer sponsorship disclosures, that the arrangements may be such that a fair review is impossible, it's actually just advertising, but in the blog review-type space that's not always clear to readers, and it should be clear.