Tuesday, May 30, 2017

May Shopping Reflections

This month's shopping was exclusively done secondhand, via eBay and TheRealReal. I haven't been discussing minimalism terribly often recently because it has taken a backseat while work and life have been so hectic, but I continue to believe that using the secondhand market for clothing whenever possible is the least complicated way of being an ethical fashion consumer. There are so many challenges when trying to identify truly ethical brands to buy new, given the lack of transparency in the industry. (Working in law, I have an unusually hard time trusting any company's representations to their customers.)

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My view on secondhand clothing is that, once an item hits the secondhand market, it's already been produced and sold once at retail, to at least one customer who didn't end up particularly wanting it. At that point, if someone is able to buy it and put it to good use, that's better than it going to the landfill. The only morally weird things that I can think of is if retail customers use "well I can always resell" to encourage overconsumption, but I'm skeptical that this is a big problem for most mall brands that I'm in the market for, as those items don't hold their value well.

That's not to say that everyone can feasibly embrace secondhand shopping for all their clothing needs. This thoughtful post by SA touches on the many challenges with that, and I can certainly vouch for how relying overly much on TheRealReal would cause various problems. Particularly when one doesn't have time for or access to good thrifting, shopping entirely secondhand may be a real challenge. "Mistake" purchases generally can't be easily returned, increasing the amount of money one needs for the whole effort. Shipping and return shipping on TheRealReal cost about $18 combined, and their size measurements are super-wonky, so one has to do considerable research or know a brand well to attempt educated purchases, and even then, mistakes will still happen.

With two out of my three secondhand purchases this year, the outcome has been imperfect in terms of sizing and how well the style works for my body. Don't get me wrong, they're both wearable and I've been wearing each problem dress a fair bit, but they're things I would have had to think seriously about returning, had I bought them retail. Still, while I haven't been the most successful with my secondhand purchases, I never truly regret them. All were items that I noticed and was interested in back when they were originally in stock, months or years ago. After they sold out, I'd occasionally search eBay for them. I'd always done my best to research sizing too, and made the most educated guess I could about what sizes I would buy, if the price was right. So they were well thought-out choices on which I knew I was assuming a risk.

This also wasn't the most frugal month, so I'm still quite "over budget" for the year so far, by $219.71 to be precise (($150 x 5) - $555.98 - $154.21 - $94.79 - $35.93 - $128.80 = -$219.71). I'll have to shop carefully for quite a few more months, it seems. As for next month, I'm very likely to try a few things from J.Crew Factory, as I recently mentioned. Also, while wandering around D.C. with my sister this Memorial Day weekend, we stopped by Anthropologie and I was very taken with this opal and rose quartz Rosaline stacking ring set and may be tempted to snag it. (I've wanted a dainty opal ring on and off for years now, but had been thinking it should be fine jewelry instead, though generally never had room in my budget. I'm not sure costume jewelry is the best way to satisfy the urge, particularly when Anthropologie's offerings might not be the highest quality.) Whatever I settle on, hopefully it'll be a bit under my monthly target, so I'll continue making up the current shortfall. 

Fashion - (TOTAL: $128.80)
  • Tory Burch T-Shirt Dress - $87.95 - (old, similar styles but dramatically different prints) - I saw this years ago and thought it was pretty, but the price was higher than I could spend. Every so often, I'd search eBay with no luck. I finally saw it on TheRealReal in medium and I decided to go for it. Well, I guessed wrong about my size, as it runs big. It's a 100% pima cotton unlined t-shirt dress, which Tory Burch seems to do in new prints most years, and it's stretchy and meant to fitted and even a bit clingy (it's a thick enough fabric that it should skim the body nicely rather than emphasize things awkwardly). I thought I'd need to size up to accommodate my chest, but a small would have fit and the medium is a little baggy everywhere. I still like wearing this because it's so comfortable, it's machine washable, and it's pretty too. The style is fantastic for business-casual days at work in summer. Franish has one, but I can't find the post!
  • Madewell Moontide Dress (old, eBay) - $40.85 - I kept eyeing this in the Madewell sale section back in the day and had ample opportunities to get it then, but never pulled the trigger. This design is relatively common on eBay, but generally not at a price I'm comfortable with, so when it came up in medium at this price, it seemed meant to be. This dress is a cotton-silk blend with a cotton lining, which is a bit of a rarity with Madewell. (They do a lot of silk dresses with a poly lining, ick.) The cotton-silk has no stretch, and this design also runs a tiny bit tighter in the chest than many of their other relaxed fit-looking dresses. It fits right, so I consider this a successful purchase. My one quibble is that the fabric is a touch thicker and heavier than I hoped for a summer dress, but that's probably a good thing to prevent possible wardrobe malfunctions.

Somewhat relatedly, I used to really love Madewell, particularly the dresses and sweaters, but it's now been several seasons since I've seen anything I like there. My last purchases, until now but this month likely doesn't count because it was on eBay, were in October and December of 2015. This silk bell-sleeve dress is the only thing they currently have that I'd even take a second look at. (I don't love bell sleeves, but that one isn't too exaggerated and is balanced out by the simplicity of the rest of the design.) I don't know what happened, or if it's just me being weird and picky! Am I the only former Madewell fan who feels this way?

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

Friday, May 26, 2017

Odds and Ends

I started this month with the best of intentions, blogging-wise. Then one of my cases went to trial and all those good intentions were scuttled. Whether as a clerk or attorney, trial is probably the most intense of undertakings that a litigation-inclined lawyer ever encounters. It's also increasingly rare  in American federal courts (as to both criminal and civil). I've had two trials in my ten months as a clerk, one co-clerk had four, and another co-clerk had zero, but with one coming up.

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There's been almost no shopping, though I did snag two items on the secondhand market that I had been thinking about for a long time. Because I detest polyester summer clothing, cold shoulders, most sleeve ruffles or flares, and off the shoulder tops and dresses, most of my usual retail stores currently have nothing of interest. J.Crew Factory's been the only place I've seen anything that I'm remotely interested in trying: there's a striped cotton midi skirt very similar to the one I loved last year, though with an elastic waist instead of a zipper, and the linen-cotton sidewalk skirt in fun colors that I might want to try out next month. I also find the bright and beachy embroidered linen dress pictured above to be oddly compelling though the shape is outside of my comfort zone. 

Here are a few other non-shopping things I've been thinking about in the last few hectic months.

Fitness Trackers

I sort of resent what I spent on my Fitbit Flex (old version I own here). I'd suspected that fitness trackers are one of those things that's rarely a good idea from a frugality perspective. The simpler ones (still retailing at ~$80) are really just expensive pedometers, as they can't track heart rate and therefore have no hope of tracking calories burned accurately. From reading reviews back when researching the purchase, the entire genre seems prone to breaking down in significantly less than a year of normal use. I'd almost think that one should just get the Apple Watch because it would at least be reliable, have a real warranty, and actually have some real functions in addition to fitness tracking.

As for my specific complaints about the Fitbit Flex? It stopped holding a charge well about two months in. The silicone wristband was so badly designed that each one began splitting and soon became unusable within three months. Good replacement bands are hard to find. I have this, but the metal clasps cause heinous contact dermatitis, so I can only use it as a silent alarm clock and keep it on my wrist as little as possible. The irony is that I'm likely getting my money's worth: I needed a reliable silent alarm because I had a year of waking up two and a half hours earlier than K. It seemed clear that the cheaper pillow-shaking or wrist-shaking silent alarms weren't reliable. Cheaper fitness trackers also didn't seem to have a reliable alarm. As a silent alarm clock, in which case the problems aren't as important because I only wear it to sleep, the Fitbit Flex has actually been just fine.

American Medical Care

I finally went to a branch of the New York Public Library and got myself a library card for access to their e-book collection, which has been fantastic. One of the best-written books I've read since is Paul Kalanithi's When Breath Becomes Air, which is excellent and also incredibly sad. 

Only somewhat relatedly, as someone prone to thinking about worst case scenarios, I have considerable anxiety about American medical care and well, paying for it. I have no reason to be anxious right now, as a generally healthy young adult with decent (if expensive, but that's never news) employee-sponsored health insurance, but well, I can't help but think that no matter how financially secure I become in the future, after decades of work, a solid bout of serious illness in the family could easily decimate that work within weeks or months.  

Early on in Kalanithi's book, he spends months with frequent bouts of serious, what sounds like an eight on a scale of ten pain. He, a working doctor, specifically thought of cancer as a possible cause. When he finally saw another doctor, he or she concurred. They didn't end up running a test, and so he wasn't diagnosed then, and the cancer grew. I don't think cost or access was the issue, more his punishing schedule as a neurosurgical resident. Still, cost or access is the issue so often here. I myself have nothing to fear budget-wise or insurance-wise, yet even I still get antsy and drag my feet, worry about receiving a shocking bill in the mail, every time I need to schedule an appointment. 

I can't help but contrast the American experience with that of extended family in Taiwan (home of one of the cheapest and best health care systems in the world). Last year, there were two cancer scares, each starting with some kind of whole-body preventative, just-because scan (must have included something like a MRI, though I might be wrong) that cost something like $500 USD each. The scan caught, for one person, possible colon cancer that thankfully proved benign after a surgical biopsy and a multi-day hospital stay, and in the other, the earliest stages of breast cancer. Diagnosis and treatment in both cases was easy, swift, and not at all the cause of any financial anxiety. For additional, far less serious, context about the Taiwanese system, I'm not on the national healthcare system, but during a 2011 trip, I had a walk-in visit with a popular dermatologist and got a two-month's supply of name-brand acne prescription medication, all for $15 USD out of pocket. All this is unimaginable here.