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, makes 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. 

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Suiting Up

Blazer: J.Crew Factory Lightweight Wool Blend, heather graphite, 8P
Skirt: J.Crew Factory Lightweight Wool Blend, heather graphite, 4R
Shoes: Cole Han Tali Bow Flat, black

Only a few weeks into my new job, and I've already had one business trip and two formal "in court"-type occasions, with at least two more to come in the next few weeks. It's quite different from the experience that I'd be getting if I'd gone back to my previous job, and I couldn't be happier.

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!

Naturally, I now dress in business formal significantly more often than before. I figured it was a good time to share an outfit photo with my new favorite affordable interview suit from J.Crew Factory. These suits, as well as most of J.Crew Factory's more fitted, number-sized items, are generally a better fit for less curvy figures than mine, but the suit with a petite jacket and regular skirt still fits me pretty well. (I'm 5'3'', with petite-length legs, a more "regular" sizing torso, and "petite" length arms.) Outside of the chest (which is just right), the jacket is a little loose and maybe a touch long, though not enough for me to rush to a tailor. I think this photo exaggerates the length of the jacket and skirt a bit. The skirt doesn't cover my knee fully when I'm standing. Also, I've gained an inch in the chest since I last took outfit photos, though the rest of me is still pretty much the same size, which I'm utterly baffled by. This makes me a bit self conscious.

My Uniqlo Rayon blouse is obscured by my phone, but the key-neck opening is small and the top quite conservative.  It's a good suiting top, though it fits rather boxy, and it has been washing and line-drying well. It can get wrinkly if folded up wrong, so I keep it hung up. Do note that this top has a second layer of fabric sewn in right around the collar/neckline, which might show through oddly on the lighter colors. I don't have a problem with this in the light pink, but it's something that borderline could have been an issue, and is probably good to know about before purchasing.

I took this photo in my business trip hotel room. It was my first ever real business trip, and I think I did a pretty good job packing, getting everything, including a few binders of documents, into my trusty Longchamp Planetes tote (current version) and my unbranded rolling carry-on, which I bought years ago in a Beijing tourist market. And well, the trip was only two nights, so it wasn't that hard to pack. I'd always thought that I could never get all my skincare products and makeup into a TSA-approved plastic bag, but with my current pared-down skincare routine, everything just barely fit into a reusable TSA-friendly "Beauty on the Fly" bag (out of stock) that I picked up from Sephora. 

Monday, October 16, 2017

Money Life Lately

Saint Laurent Cardholder (affiliate link) - I find this wallet design oddly compelling, though I'm not sure it's that practical, especially given my newfound preference for smaller wallets. 

For today, here are two really minor, but nonetheless kind of annoying, things that recently happened on the personal finance management side of my life. These are both silly, kind of obvious things that most other adults may have experienced already, though both were a first for me. 

Dental Insurance

So remember that urgent dental care thing? It all healed well, so things are good. It was my first time going through an out of network dentist and needing to handle my ow n insurance claims. The insurance company finally finished processing my claims and... Well, I wasn't exactly pleasantly surprised. I'm getting back a little less than $200 on all the work I mentioned ($2650). 

Despite having legal experience, that doesn't actually empower me to understand dental insurance policies much better than anyone else. Because I had otherwise healthy teeth, I didn't hit my annual maximum benefit for the year, so that didn't cut into my reimbursement. I needed to work through my deductible first. Also, that 20% to 40% per line item reimbursement was applied only after the insurer first capped each line item by the maximum they allow for each category of work. (Those numbers were not at all realistic for New York City, something like $400 per root canal and $200 for the reconstruction of the broken tooth.) 

I still haven't made appointments for my crowns due to having a gap in insurance coverage while transitioning to my new job. When I get around to that, it's going to add quite a number, probably at least $1000 before insurance, to the cost of the accident. I'll have a new plan, so reimbursement might work a bit differently, but I'm not too optimistic.

Credit Card Closings

In other personal finance news, after more than a year of not using my Bank of America ("BoA") Cash Rewards card (1.1% cash back if you redeem to a BoA account, inferior to my other cards, which I've previously discussed), they started hassling me about closing the account if I didn't use it soon. This isn't a surprise, it's actually more shocking that they took so long. So I did what they asked, with a $5 purchase, which is what you're supposed to do occasionally to keep old, underused accounts open. No harm, no foul. 

And then they hassled me again with a snail mail letter that sounded kind of ominous, sort of a polite, but also somewhat curt, "please call us now or else." I assume the threat is to close the card, despite that I'd just complied with their instructions to use the card to keep it open about two months ago. 

They may not have intended it as a vaguely ominous warning, but that letter rubbed me the wrong way, so much so that I stuffed it in the shredder in a fit of pique. (I'd been working all weekend, which I didn't mind, but that apparently leaves me more temperamental than normal.) I thought about calling BoA to express my aggravation, that I'm a good customer, and while they can do whatever they want with my card, they should also think carefully about how it doesn't necessarily take much to make a customer reevaluate their banking relationships. I totally don't have the energy to call though, and hate getting on the phone, though, so instead I'm writing about it here.

I won't like it if they close the card. It'll harm my credit score, as it's one of my older accounts and most of my others are quite young. Still, it's honestly too annoying to spend a minute more worrying about it than I already have, by digging the card out of my desk drawer to make that dinky purchase to keep it open. (I won't be, say, applying for a mortgage anytime soon so the small hit to my score won't be a big deal, just annoying.)

Has a bank ever closed one of your credit cards on you? How have your experiences with dental billing and insurance been? Does one need to shop around carefully for a dentist to do crowns, given that it's somewhat cosmetic work? 

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Life Lately


I've been at my new job for a few weeks now, and I love it! The work is interesting and intellectually challenging, and I couldn't be more pleased. I have a steadier workload than I used to (biglaw litigators generally have more consistent hours than our transactional colleagues, but workflow is still a bit feast or famine, with some slow weeks and some intense ones when multiple deadlines hit), which does leave less mental energy for blogging. Today's post discusses a few of the smaller things that have crossed my mind in recent weeks.


Little Alley is a fairly new Shanghainese restaurant here. Shanghainese is not a Chinese cuisine I'm especially familiar with (their most famous dish is soup dumplings or xiao long bao), but I've enjoyed quite a few dishes there. Given recent developments at the restaurant I would otherwise have said makes the best soup dumplings in Manhattan, Little Alley now takes that title. There is, admittedly, not terribly much competition. Joe's Shanghai in Midtown isn't great, and I'm not willing to brave the line in Chinatown, leaving only Shanghai Cafe, which is solid but has a less interesting menu, in contention. Flushing has more choices for good soup dumplings. At Little Alley, my recommendations are soup dumplings, pan fried pork dumplings or sheng jian bao, pictured, the dong po pork, and the fish blossom, also pictured.  For the fish blossom, keep in mind that the sauce is sweeter and has different flavor notes from sweet and sour fish dishes that might be more familiar.

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!

I finally read Michael Cunningham's The Hours, which had been on my list for years. I have a somewhat strange attraction to the extremely somber Philip Glass soundtrack for the film, commonly using it as background noise at work. It's been a long time since I read a novel that I really enjoyed, and that I found emotionally affecting, but this one fit the bill. I suppose I really like books that are mostly about characters' complex inner lives. That's present in abundance here.

With regards to my recent sudden desire for a camel coat, I've decided that a coat of that color with a waist tie likely wouldn't suit. Coats with belts are a difficult proposition for me, though I own two, the Everlane classic trench (current version) and that Ted Baker wrap coat. The style should be reasonably flattering on me, as a more or less hourglass figure (roughly 36''-27''-37''), I have a hard time getting the belts to stay in place and cinch close enough to the most narrow point of my waist. If the belt's not just right, I end up looking boxy, with my chest emphasized more than usual. So I'm in the market for more of a menswear-inspired chesterfield coat. I may have decided on the Polo Ralph Lauren cashemere blend coat that I previously linked. The shell is entirely wool and cashmere blend, no synthetic fiber, which I thought was rather unusual for coats at my general price range. (The fabric composition may cause me to worry slightly about durability and longevity.) I realized, however, that Uniqlo is also currently doing a chesterfield coat and stand collar coat with waist tie that also have all wool and cashmere shells, so it isn't that unusual.

I ordered that Polo Ralph Lauren coat at a significant discount during a recent Macy's sale and, spoiler alert, with my family's rather eclectic gift giving practices (where the recipient orders their own gift, and the giver reimburses them), it may end up being heavily subsidized by birthday gift money from my mom, rather than something that comes out of my shopping budget. I'm still very sheepish about my mom's generous birthday presents, as I'm definitely a financially self-sufficient adult otherwise. 

Any novel or book recommendations? It's been difficult finding good books. I'm currently reading Thomas Stanley and William Danko's The Millionaire Next Door, which I would not recommend as much as other personal finance books I've reviewed, though it is a "foundational text" for financial independence, a philosophy that I think makes a lot of sense. I'm also reading Elizabeth Gilbert's Committed, which I find tiresome and self-aggrandizing, so I'll probably drop it without finishing. 

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

September Shopping Reflections


Predictably, this was an extremely shopping-heavy month. Some of my most-used shoes finally got too worn out for me to keep wearing. I bought more clothes for my new job. Now that I wear makeup more regularly than before, I also made my first Sephora purchase in nearly a year.

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!

As an aside, I'm on a fashion-centric Facebook group with alums from my college, and we've been complaining a lot about Loft and Ann Taylor. For brands traditionally focused on work-appropriate clothing, they've been serving up excessively ruffled things, weird colors and prints, cold shoulders, and things that just won't work at most of the (conservative) offices I'm familiar with. It makes me rather sad because it used to be easy to build an entire new graduate work wardrobe at those stores quickly, in as little as one season. I did that barely three years ago, as a biglaw summer associate with almost no business casual wardrobe to speak of. I had my three sets of black skirt suit separates, maybe three or four tops (the J.Crew stretch button downs I dutifully wore for on-campus recruiting have never been worn since - I loathe button downs!), a few winter cardigans, and no work dresses or pants (I was a late convert to pants). I bought so much that summer, generally at additional 40% off sale, including three dresses that are still in heavy use all year round. I also bought lots more besides, not all of which I ended up liking. 

I totally don’t recommend that buy it all at once approach to building a work wardrobe, by the way. I made so many shopping mistakes, and probably ended up reselling a good half of what I got. It was wasteful, and inconsistent with the minimalist-ish ideals I otherwise try to apply to my shopping. I vaguely think that the ideal way to build a professional wardrobe, at least for business casual workplaces with business formal interviewing, would be to start slowly while at school, maybe a year before it’s really needed. I’d start with finding the best fitting interview suit (my current favorite is J.Crew Factory) and shoes and bag possible in one’s price range, and an interview-appropriate blouse or two. My next step, given my personal preference for skirts and dresses, would be a nice sheath dress, one a bit more fitted than the a-line shifts I ended up with. After that, the next steps would be a slower, more careful accumulation of other outfit components than I did. 

Fashion - (TOTAL: $384.69)
  • Fitflop "The Skinny", silver - $39.38 - My trusty old Fitflops saw three summers of heavy use, during which I rarely wore anything else. In hindsight, they wore down enough to demand replacing much sooner than now, as the internal cushioning had long since deflated and the sole was starting to peel in one corner. (I patched it up with superglue and kept wearing it for another few weeks.) I don't love silver, and almost always prefer gold, but the discount was substantial, and they aren't offering gold at the moment (the closest is a  muted bronze-ish). The silver's been working fine with my casual summer clothes. 
  • Ann Taylor Seasonless Stretch Boatneck Dress - $77.40 - As much as I've been complaining about Ann Taylor, credit where credit is due, this dress is great for me, exactly the type of thing I wished they'd stock more of (machine-washable, fits me perfectly, conservative and good for work). Many Ann Taylor sheath dresses fit me almost perfectly, and this is one of them. Sheath dresses with little rectangular cap sleeves are somewhat common, J.Crew Factory has one,  J.Crew has one in stretch wool, and M.M. LaFleur has one too. As usual, I prefer regular sizing for Ann Taylor dresses. The hem is a bit lower than usual (most hit at my knee), but I kind of like it as, when combined with the design, it makes me look a bit taller, or so I think. 
  • J.Crew Factory Wool-Blend Suit, black (blazer, skirt) - $148.00 - I now own this suit in all three colors. I've done a fairly detailed post about these before. Sizing and other details remain the same.  The fabric quality isn't the greatest, and of the three colors, I find that the gray fabric looks the nicest. It's probably one of the most affordable suits that's consistently available in a wide size range and all the main conservative colors, navy, black, and gray, though I'd prefer a darker charcoal gray. It's the only reliably available wool blend women's suit in this general price range that I'm familiar with. Like many of J.Crew Factory's more tailored-looking items, I find that this suit fits less curvy figures better, and I wear a 8P jacket and a 4R skirt as a result, as I'm much curvier in the chest than the hips. For some reason, the black fabric's been more stubborn about holding onto wrinkles than the other colors.
  • Cole Haan Tali Bow Flat, black  - $119.90 - Those Louise et Cie flats I've had since I was a student finally gave up the ghost. (This doesn't mean that those shoes were outstandingly durable, just that  I generally only wore them in the immediate vicinity of the office until this recent recruiting season, when they were my primary walking shoe.) With my previous Cole Haan flats, which all had patent toe caps, there was a breaking-in period, but these didn't need one, and they were comfortable on the first day. To be honest, Cole Haan flats are a little pricier than I like, as I don't get better durability from them than more modestly priced flats, but they're also so consistent with sizing and comfort that I go back to them anyway. 


Beauty - (TOTAL: $28.00)
  • Tatcha Aburatorigami Japanese Blotting Paper - $12.00 - These are fantastic blotting papers and generally don't disturb makeup when used (unless I accidentally applied too much or didn't fully set it with powder). I don't think Tatcha has a monopoly on these Japanese-style blotting papers internationally, as a friend bought me some from a Japanese brand, Yojiya, that were essentially the same product and just as good. Tatcha is the only real source that's readily available in the US, as far as I know.  These are a bit pricey at $12 for 30 sheets, but because I didn't wear makeup often in the past, it wasn't a big deal. I generally only need one sheet a day.
  • Too Cool for School Dinoplatz Blotting Paper, mulberry - $8.00 - The one downside of Tatcha is that, because it comes in a cardboard sleeve and in rather large squares, it's not that portable. I purchased this because I was hoping the product would be very similar, and it comes in a small, well-designed compact that seemed easier to keep in my purse. The product isn't as good as the Tatcha, as  it's more likely to disturb my makeup and I need to blot at least twice a day, if not more often, but it works for day to day use at the office. 
  • Cocofloss, pure strawberries - $8.00 - This was just for fun, as I'd heard good things about this brand . I've only tried it once and it's nice enough, with a bit of strawberry flavor, though it's not been transcendentally awesome, just similar in ease of use to the smoother tape-style drug store floss that I typically use. (If I had to pick one, so far I prefer my old floss.)
Have you been a regular Ann Taylor or Loft customer in the past? Have you noticed that their styles have gotten stranger? (There's been a bit of a quality decline as well, though it wasn't as if the stuff was fantastic before.) Where do you buy most of your work clothes?