Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Visualizing (Nearly) Four Years of Shopping

I joke often about how, despite my longtime blogging habit and my fascination with the sociological and cultural implications of social media, I'm a total dinosaur when it comes to actually using social media myself, both as a blogger and in my personal capacity. For instance, I still don't "get" Twitter and find it slightly terrifying, despite recently opening a new account (in what's rapidly proving to be a failed experiment because I don't dare do much more than retweet things I think are funny or interesting without adding commentary). Similarly, I've only recently started understanding Pinterest and using it in earnest, including to keep track of my personal style inspiration albums, both Fall/Winter and Spring/Summer, and to make a quick visual representation of my fashion-related shopping since I started tracking it with my monthly budget posts in January 2015. 

As I put together that board, I became curious about whether I could do some further analysis of my shopping "success rate" over the years, unscientific as such an analysis would inevitably be. After all, I view personal style as more art than science, and my own preferences for my closet are driven far more by subjective emotional responses to certain pieces than rational, quantifiable practicality. Note, for instance, my strange preoccupation with sweater blazers, expressed by buying no less than five in the past few months, definitely more than any one person needs (particularly one who already owns as many other cardigans as I do).

In particular, I was curious about whether it's possible to see how good (or not) I've been at this four years and counting process of trying to move towards more conscious and careful shopping and towards practicing certain tenets of "minimalism-ish" with my closet. That is, after all, one of the main topics I've been writing about all this time!

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!

Before we begin, one quick note: Because I wasn't 100% systematic about how comprehensively I illustrated my purchases over the years (i.e., sometimes I'll just show the blazer when I bought the full suit); whether I included multiple purchases of the same item in one month (i.e. showing one pair of tights instead of copy-pasting the same image a second time when I actually bought two pairs); and whether I included gifts (sometimes I do, sometimes I don't), these images aren't a fully accurate visualization of all new additions to my closet between January 2015 and October 2018. It also doesn't give a sense of the actual state of my closet, because there are still many items in my wardrobe that predated the start of my monthly budget posts. Most of my work wardrobe, for instance, was purchased when I was a summer associate in 2014, generally at Loft or Ann Taylor, and those pieces, particularly the dresses, are mostly still going strong.  

I'm feeling a bit sheepish about my MSPaint-level image editing skills, but this was the best way I could think of to easily visualize which purchases have been successful, and which ones didn't turn out to be such a good idea, despite my best efforts at planning things out and thinking about every purchase for at least a few days, preferably longer, before making it. Here's how I approached the analysis depicted above, and what it all means:

  • Red dots correspond to items I've removed from my closet, or items for which I've made the decision to do so.
    • Burgundy dots are items I've resold, given away, or, in certain limited instances, discarded, usually when the item is ineligible for ThredUp resale and is also something that couldn't be resold on eBay or Poshmark. For example, nobody wants my previously worn H&M winter tights towards the bottom left (they were scratchy and not even that warm). For the H&M rayon jersey summer dresses I bought near the end of my clerkship year, a.k.a. the year of the massive paycut, they were the only items I've ever had that were of such unsatisfactory quality that they lasted less than a year. I'd never previously had any other rayon jersey shrink up so dramatically just from machine-washing in cold water and line-drying!
    • Bright red dots indicate items I now know aren't useful to me, often after using them for some time, though generally not enough to cause significant signs of wear. These have proven to be mistake purchases, and I'm in the process of figuring out what to do with them, whether reselling or giving them away. I only use one such item frequently, the Bloomingdales cashmere pop-top mittens (current version). I should have known the wind would cut right through them, it's an obvious and natural consequence of the design. I should have gotten a good pair of tech gloves instead.
  • Green dots are items that have left my closet due to reasonable wear and tear, or, in some cases, where I was the one at fault if the item wore out quicker than expected. For instance, Wolford tights can normally withstand more than a year of frequent washing and wearing, but I shredded a pair of Wolford Neon 40s by accident. My pearl studs from Amazon hold up well to daily wear, including when I'm in the shower or asleep, but, very rarely, I'll lose one. 
  • Yellow dots indicate items I'm on the fence about. It's generally somewhat likely that I won't be getting much more use from them before I figure out what to do though they're generally all in good enough shape to give away or resell. The reasons for my ambivalence vary considerably, some are more understandable than others:
    • The Everlane Modern Points simply will not be broken in enough to be comfortable enough to walk around outside in, despite my best efforts.
    • Sometimes, I made an error in judgment I should have foreseen, like with the cotton Uniqlo crew-neck cardigans I bought before I realized I loved the long linen-blend cardigans so much more that I would always reach for those first. 
    • Other times, I purchased something for what I reasonably predicted would be a real need, but the need ended up not arising as often as I thought. This happened with the Old Navy ponte blazer because I simply haven't had many days of multiple formal meetings and/or court dates in a row where I feel the need to reach for a "pretend blazer" like that. Nonetheless, I'll likely keep this because there's always a chance the need will end up arising after all. 
    • For a few things, like the Gorjana small bar necklace, my tastes have changed, and for others, the items don't fit me well anymore. 
    • Some of the items are lower-quality than expected, are showing wear and tear much faster than I hoped, and feel like disappointing mistakes for that reason. The Rothy's have, unfortunately, not held up any better than leather ballet flats typically would to my way of walking, which destroys them in three months or less of frequent wear. (I'm actually kind of devastated the Rothy's aren't a near-perfect, reasonably durable work shoe for me, the way they are for some of my colleagues.) 

Please follow the link below for further analysis and some truly copious reflections, including some crunching of the numbers, which are a bit more accurate than just going by the illustrations above. While making the calculations, I went back through my old monthly shopping posts to correct some details, and also updated the numbers to account for November 2018's shopping, which is excluded from the images above.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Blog Thoughts, Year Four

Invincible Summer is almost four years old! As always, I remain deeply grateful to everyone for being here, for everyone who reads along, and for everyone who chimes in to discussions with me. I'm still absolutely thrilled by, pleasantly surprised by, and always thankful for everyone who's here. Looking back at my previous "blogiversary" posts (please follow these links to my first yearsecond year, and third year posts), one thing that's been constant all these years is my effusive appreciation for everyone who reads along. Writing here is a delight, and everyone I've interacted with through this blog has always been wonderful. Even when someone might not agree with me about everything (and that's perfectly okay! I have grouchier than average views about tons of things), everyone has always engaged with my ideas respectfully, and in good faith, which is all I can ask for. It's one of the main things I hoped for when I started this blog in December of 2014, in a fit of nostalgia for what I remembered about 2008-era blogging.

Deep down, part of me is still that college student who, sometime around 2008, first realized that there were entire communities of blogs out there talking about fashion* in a far more accessible-to-me way than magazines or traditional media, and who found that absolutely magical and inspiring. Looking back, I was one of those young women for whom The Devil Wears Prada first ignited a powerful interest in fashion, except that it was also clear to me, even back then, that the film and the fashion industry it depicted also weren't for people like me. They clearly all occupied a fanciful, expensive, and glamorous world completely removed from my own, one that I would likely never be able to access. Accordingly, fashion magazines couldn't teach me anything about how to translate "fashion" to my more mundane, college student life.

Separately, like so many people in that awkward, gawky stage between being a teenager and a young adult, I also felt so often like I was an ugly duckling with no idea how to ever become that fully-fledged professional adult I hoped to be someday. The idea that the right outfit and some effort with hair and makeup could help facilitate that transformation, to help "fake it 'til you make it", was a big deal to me. It meant that I might not always need to feel so out of place, it might actually be within my power to someday, after having earned the right to do so, fit in as a working adult who could sometimes buy and wear some nice and beautiful things, and that I wouldn't be this gawky, hyper-awkward teen forever.

But I was hopelessly lost when it came to how I could possibly begin that process and figure it all out. Blogs were the first thing to really start bridging that gap. There I was, this young woman who could only ever shop at H&M (which felt expensive for me back then, by the way, I could only shop there sparingly!), Forever 21, Ross, and Target, and who had no idea how to put together outfits that looked anything like what I aspired to. But look(!), I could learn from all these other young women around my age and who also had modest budgets (generally, they were all students or very new entry-level professionals) who were out there putting together these really cool outfits, often with a lot of thrifting and secondhand shopping. Reading fashion blogs back then, particularly in the daily outfit genre, was such an important formative experience for me, and I'll always look back on my memory of fashion blogs from back then with considerable affection.

Even though that era of blogging is, I think, almost universally seen as being long gone, I'm still so excited and happy to feel like I can still recapture some of that old spark of what I loved about 2008-ish blogging here, and by reading the blogs I link to in my sidebar. I feel so lucky to be able to engage and connect with the ideas of so many other smart, interesting people through their blogs and my own. No matter how bad or weird or scary the internet or social media can get sometimes, I will always appreciate and value the good things that it's brought to me. 

Changing Views

While preparing this post, it was interesting for me to look all the way back at my first year "blogiversary" post to see how my thoughts on blogging have changed over the years, if at all. I'm still just as fond of blogger outfit photos showcasing items I'm in the market for as I used to be, though my commitment to taking such photos of myself has waxed and waned wildly over time. (I remain quite embarrassed by my weak photography skills, but also sort of continue to be without the will to improve.) I still feel like the "aspiring minimalist"-ish focus I first started with has slightly taken a backseat, this time to personal finance and career-related topics, which I write about far more freely now than I did back then. 

One sizable change is that I'm now far less grouchy than I used to be about the fact that fashion blogs and other types of social media out there can be monetized, sometimes to extremely lucrative effect. Although I haven't gained much new practical knowledge about photography, Instagram engagement stats, the business of social media, or anything like that for myself, I'm now much more appreciative about how much work those things are than I was before. It makes me feel very silly, actually, that I didn't realize this sooner. 

My true turning point on this issue, random as it is, may have been seeing a brief discussion on Corporette about Gal Meets Glam's collection at Nordstrom. Someone was being snide about why Nordstrom would carry it, and another commenter very reasonably pointed out that, hey, Julia Engel has more than a million Instagram followers. Regardless of whether one likes social media, and regardless of whether one likes her style, that represents real economic power. Plus, if a mattress review website can make as much as $2 million/year, which I think is more than double what some of the bigger players in fashion blogging make (albeit based on anecdotes that are a few years old), or if people from more genres than I am even capable of imagining (including in my wildest nightmares, recall the DaddyofFive and Logan Paul controversies) are raking in several times that on Youtube, then, well, it just doesn't make much sense for me to get grouchy about monetization and fashion/lifestyle blogs. As long as people are transparent and clear in their disclosures of what posts are sponsored and how affiliate links work, and as long as people generally try to make it so that people can "opt out" of the links and find the items separately on their own (all things I try to do here), it's all good in my book.

Please follow the link below for my annual blog income report and a "footnote" to this post. Thank you again for your support of Invincible Summer throughout the year!

Monday, December 3, 2018

November 2018 Shopping Reflections

Before I begin with this month's shopping budget post, let me just say, I have had some thoughts about Black Friday this year. We'll see if I ever get to writing about it, or if it ends up being one of my many ideas for blog posts here that I sit on and mull over until, all of a sudden, it's been a year and it would just be strange and untimely to go back and actually write it and post it. It's a far less weighty and important topic than so many of the other ideas I've had that are still waiting in the queue, so I guess the chances of my ever actually writing that Black Friday 2018 post are quite low. I definitely don't have any particularly special or revolutionary ideas about it, that's for sure.

For now, I'll just say that, as a purely practical matter, I'm largely on the same page as Luxe about Black Friday: It brings sales (and I like sales and track them closely), but it isn't typically something I get too excited about. There are, after all, so very many sales all year round, and many of those other sales at other times of the year give me better value for the items I'm in the market for when compared to what pops up around Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

One other thing that's part of my complicated feelings about Black Friday this year: I'll confess I felt some anger start bubbling up whenever I chanced upon something online that made it clear the author saw themselves as being above Black Friday and being above all those consumerist fools who shop during it (like this Buzzfeed thing, what relevance do photos from a decade ago have to the here and now?). More than almost anything else, I dislike snobbery and elitism (it's part of what motivates my strange, recurring complex about whether I'm being judged by others in my line of work for wearing modestly priced suits and work clothes), and I see elements of both in many a lofty statement or "hot take" about Black Friday.

Fashion - (TOTAL: $448.08)
  • Alighieri Surreal Earrings - $195.20 - This month is a bit of a capstone to what's proven to be a year of getting obsessed with and buying jewelry, generally more expensive costume jewelry. These Surreal earrings have been one of my favorite designs since I first learned about Alighieri, so when I saw that they were part of the limited selection that was discounted for the brand's 30% off Black Friday sale, I jumped right on them. These are definitely sizable enough to make a bit of a statement, and are a little outside of my comfort zone with earrings, as someone who typically only wore pearl studs for years. They're actually not too heavy, though. Like all of my other Alighieri pieces (including the Jaja necklace, which is now on sale at Ssense for a much better price than I got), these earrings are beautiful. In terms of my minimalism-ish, I don't feel too bad about the jewelry I buy from small, artist-owned brands, as I'm supporting the artist and her work directly. (In addition to the Alighieri pieces I bought for myself this year, I also got the Porcelain and Stone Small Uni Necklace as a birthday present from my mom.) 
  • Mejuri Dome Bracelet -$80.75 - As for my Mejuri purchases, which I got for 15% off during their Black Friday sale, they were also items I'd been thinking about for a while. I love the look of this bracelet. The clasp is a little fussy, sometimes one side of it loosens up during the day, but it's not fussy or impractical enough to make it distracting or annoying to wear, I don't worry that the bracelet will fall off or anything. One thing that I do notice every time I try a new Mejuri item, they're always smaller and lighter than I expect, which isn't the fault of the brand, I'm probably just inexperienced with buying dainty jewelry. 
  • Mejuri Dome Hoops - $50.15 - A while back, I had ordered the Mejuri Bold Hoops to try, but returned them right away because they weren't quite as bold or weighty on me as I'd hoped. Among other things, I generally don't like "huggie" style hoops, where the entire hoop opens and closes when taking the earrings on and off, I just find it odd. They also weren't the right size for me and looked awkward, my piercings are a little too high on my earlobe for them to look quite right. So when the Black Friday sale rolled around, I knew that if any Mejuri hoop earring was going to work for me, it was going to be these Dome Hoops instead, and I really liked them once I received them. 
  • J.Crew Juliette Sweater Blazer, burgundy - $74.00 - Well, I did say I'd probably get this as soon as I saw a 40% off discount or better, which eventually happened in the days leading up to Black Friday. And then on Black Friday, they switched it up to a 50% discount. I've pretty much already said everything I could possibly say about this item, including when I photographed it in an outfit a while back.
  • Sam Edelman Lior Loafer, gold glitter - $47.98 - (other sale colors here and here) - This exact shoe from Nordstrom is old out, but the similar "Loraine" design is still available in gold glitter for a similar sale price at Lord and Taylor, and also at Zappos for a higher price. (As Elle mentioned, Nordstrom  is the only retailer to order this Sam Edelman shoe in the modified "Lior" design.) I bought a pair of Sam Edelman loafers in black leather in May, and they've become one of my favorite shoes. On that pair, the leather is extremely soft and a bit more "squishy" than on any other pair of leather shoes I've tried on in recent memory, which did make me worry about durability, but I haven't had any problems yet despite not babying them. These were, no doubt, an impulsive purchase. As I mentioned in March this year, I've long had an on-again, off-again interest in gold glitter flats, but had never seen any that fit the look I had in mind (I was envisioning a pair of ballet flats, or maybe a pair of smoking slipper-inspired flats). When I saw these glittery ones from Sam Edelman in a design I knew would work for me, and for a great sales price, I decided on a whim that I should get them, even though it's also not exactly the look I'd been thinking of. 

Did you shop any Black Friday sales this year? Am I the only one who gets oddly upset sometimes by some of the more judgmental Black Friday narratives out there? I don't know what it is that's making me  unusually sensitive about it this year!

Monday, November 26, 2018

Signal Overload

A serene and unrelated photo from my recent trip to Kyoto.

Way back in the day, several blogs ago and when I was in college, a close offline friend that I shared my blog with commented that she found it "surprising". Specifically, she was startled that I had so much to say when I came across so quiet in person. 

I didn't quite know what to make of that. I'm a proud introvert, and am on the shy (even antisocial) side of that spectrum by nature, but I also don't think of myself as quiet. Among other things, I'm a rather loud, even somewhat "fierce" public speaker, including in mock trial-like settings. Some have even said I come across condescending or "mean" (though I believe that last comment to have been influenced by sexist implicit bias because my performance was, at worst, equal in tone and fervor to a male colleague's during that same session). I also feel like it should be obvious that I have tons to say, and a nearly inexhaustible energy to say it, to analyze and dissect just about any topic, even rather small ones, from every conceivable angle. Just look at everything I've written here! Heck, I recently wrote more than 2000 words about items I'm already sure I shouldn't buy. And then there's my prolific Disqus commenting history. (Which doesn't even factor in the many discussions I participate in on the many wonderful blogs I follow that don't use Disqus.)

Not only do I enjoy all this "talking" (by which I mean, internet-based writing) related to my blog, I also have a voracious hunger for internet-based conversations elsewhere about the topics I'm interested in. Over the years here, I often link to discussions on Reddit or on much larger blogs like Corporette or internet publications like Refinery29. I'm generally following along with various discussions in all those places on an almost daily basis, concurrently with the writing and commenting I do as a blogger. Privately, I like to think of all this as a talent of a sort, that I can be thinking about and writing about so many topics in my limited free time. In actuality of course, I know that's silly of me. Having this kind of internet habit definitely does not make me special! Among other things, although I'm not an avid participant on, say, Twitter or Instagram, I understand enough to know that many people happily use them for a dizzying amount of substantive discourse every single day (for example, with the recent #ethicalfashionrepresentationmatters discussions on Instagram), even if I largely lack the know-how or will to jump into the fray on those platforms myself.

So I've been trucking along with all these habits of mine for years now, throughout all the time I've blogged here, without too much of a break, except for a hectic few months here and there, including when I studied for the bar. And I've never been tired of any of it. I was even a little proud of my inexhaustible energy for internet-based discussions. I talk about some of the topics I write about here with offline friends sometimes, of course, but not that often. I can be a bit "too much" about it all and can quickly exceed other people's interest in the topics I want to chatter on about at length. Most recently, offline friends were slightly perplexed by my determination to discuss Tara Westover's Educated (affiliate link) with them before any of them had even read it. I did at least convince my sister to read it, and she devoured it even more quickly than I did, so I consider that a win!

Except, all of a sudden, I've started getting kind of... tired. Spoiler alert (being presumptuous for a moment and assuming that people would miss me): I'm totally not going anywhere! I'll still be blogging, and I'm still eager to follow along with everyone else's blog and chime in to discussions everywhere. I just think the frequency of my writing here and my blog commenting elsewhere might drop for a while, until I'm back in the mood. And I think I need to spend less time reading certain anonymous internet discussions out there if I know they're not a great influence on me, or a good use of my time, namely things like Refinery29 Money Diaries comments sections and certain types of discussions on Twitter or Reddit. Yes, I did just sign up for Twitter again, but I'll be careful about who I follow.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Things I Liked Lately: Holiday Season 2018

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone who's celebrating! This post is inspired by Sophie's monthly updates. Lately, my writing style has shifted towards longer and more introspective posts because that's what I enjoy writing right now, but I've also collected some smaller, quicker thoughts that I also wanted to share. So here are five things I liked (and one I disliked) recently.

Oh, and I just joined Twitter again despite being somewhat intimidated by it. (It can be scary sometimes!) We'll see if I'm able to learn how to use it effectively this time around, unlike the last time I joined way back in 2008 or 2009. At the very least, I can use it to follow certain journalists who do a lot of good commentary on legal issues. I'd already been going to their pages daily, sometimes multiple times a day when the news cycle is particularly lively, so really, I should have made an account sooner!

1. // Way back in the day, someone here recommended Muji passport cases as being particularly well-designed and functional. I ended up buying one not long after, though it was not until my recent trip to Taiwan and Japan that I finally got a chance to use it.

I must say, that recommendation was right on the money! I love my new Muji passport case and found it super-functional. It's the exact right size, and has a good number of internal pockets and credit card slots, enough to store my passport, hotel room key, boarding pass, train tickets, and foreign currency in an organized and easy to find way. It may not be as pretty as the Cuyana Classic Passport Case I was thinking about last year, but the Muji one is definitely more affordable. It's also likely to be more practical because it zips up and has more pockets.

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!

2. // For the first time in around two and a half months, J.Crew is finally running a sale (possibly expiring tonight, according to their website, though they've indicated in emails that it'll last through Black Friday) that allows for a significant discount on that Juliette Collarless Sweater Blazer I'm so fond of (40% to be precise, the same discount as when I ordered it the first time in early September). I'd ordered both burgundy and gray, and decided to keep just the gray, only to find that I couldn't get over wanting the burgundy one too. I'm a little embarrassed that I've been tracking J.Crew's sales so closely, enough that I'm certain this is the first time since I got back from my trip that a better than 15% discount was available on this specific item. Often, the Juliette sweater blazer was excluded entirely from whatever promotion they were running.

3.  // I'd been looking on and off for a new jewelry storage solution for a few months (it's what I was actually looking for at Muji when I ended up at the Deciem store near Bryant Park). I'd gotten really tired of having my jewelry stored all over, some in their original boxes on my dresser, some tucked away into separate pouches in one corner of one of my dresser drawers. I wanted to store everything I owned in one box, or as close to it as possible. I was open to trying either a set of stackable acrylic drawers with velour inserts (something like this, now that Muji stores here no longer seems to stock velour drawer inserts), or a more traditional fabric-covered or wood jewelry box (Pottery Barn makes fancy ones, but that was outside of my price range). I was very particular about wanting it to have a close to ideal configuration of compartments for my collection. I have very few earrings or rings, and nothing else that's particularly small. Most options I looked at devoted too much space to compartments for rings and earrings. I also needed several larger-than-average compartments for the things I kept from my statement necklace days.

I finally picked out this stackable tray-style jewelry box on Amazon because, although I didn't think it would be perfect, it was the most suitable one I'd seen, with most of the trays devoted to larger compartments. As I suspected, the box isn't quite big enough for all my jewelry. Those statement necklaces I'm still keeping tend to be bulky, including that secondhand J.Crew crystal snowflake necklace that was one of the first purchases I tracked here, such that even some of the largest jewelry boxes I looked at wouldn't generally have enough large compartments for all of them. Each of the trays is only about 1.25 inches deep inside when the lid or one of the other trays is stacked on top, which isn't enough space for at least one important piece, a statement-making Kate Spade starfish cocktail ring that was a long-ago gift from a close friend. Still, I'm satisfied that it's as close as I was going to get to an ideal jewelry box for my needs, particularly if, er, I make good on my tentative plans to buy a second one, take two of the trays with larger compartments, and find someone to give away the other two trays and lid to.

4. // If left entirely to my own devices, I'd barely do any Christmas shopping at all. When it comes to gift-giving, my family observes the unconventional and unsentimental practice of letting the recipient choose and even order their own gifts, with the giver to reimburse them, and we're perfectly happy that way. K's family, on the other hand, prefers doing Christmas gifts the more traditional way, and I also join in on the fun. Alas, my success at picking out gifts is quite mixed. In general, I only seem to have two settings when it comes to picking gifts for people, either its perfect and thoughtful and I notice them putting it to good use throughout the subsequent months (maybe 40% of the time, at best), or it goes over like a lead balloon (the other 60% of the time) and I realize belatedly that, darn, whatever I picked was an odd choice.

One of the best gifts I've ever picked out for K is this Bloomingdales brand men's cashmere half-zip sweater with a suede accent at the zipper. He wears it to work, he wears it on the weekend, it's pretty much the only sweater he needs from late fall through early spring. (This does have the unfortunate side effect of pushing a previous Christmas gift, a similar J.Crew sweater, almost completely out of his wardrobe rotation.) He likes that it's a thin, non-bulky sweater. Apparently that works better for layering over his dress shirts than a thicker, heavier sweater would (like me, he also works at a business casual firm, so he doesn't typically wear jackets to the office).

5. // I often get inspired to hunt down extremely specific items (like the Coach Rogue, similar, earlier this year, instead of the Mansur Gavriel tote I had been thinking about) after catching a glimpse, sometimes just from the corner of my eye, of that item being worn by a stylish stranger. (I also did the same thing with the discontinued Cuyana Tall Tote this year.) This time, my sudden obsession is with a genre of item, not something I can identify as being from a particular brand.

I saw someone wearing a perfect, intentionally oversized coat with slightly dropped shoulders in a lovely hunter green shade. I'm really going to try not to shop for one, because now is so not the right time for me to buy coats, but it was beautiful. It's also a fairly difficult type of item to find: I scoured the online selections at Nordstrom and Bloomingdales and only found two current options that were remotely close to the coat I saw: one from Halogen at Nordstrom and one from, er, Kendall and Kylie Jenner's brand at Bloomingdales.

6.  // I'm devastated that Starbucks discontinued the Holiday Spice Flat White this year. It was a tasty, not overly sweet drink (I think all the holiday spice flavor came from spices mixed in to the ground coffee beans for the espresso), and I was extremely fond of it. Ah well, there's one small upside. I'm far less likely to make too many weekday trips to coffee shops this holiday season! 

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Child of the Recession: On Financial Fear

via - I moved away from the Bay Area long before Apple started building their new office complex, but my elementary school was quite near their old headquarters.

For an inordinate amount of time after I start each new job, I'm regularly plunged into a simmering state of abject terror, filled by the mostly irrational fear that I could, at any moment, be summarily fired* without having spent enough time in the job to adequately or reasonably explain, in future job interviews, why it lasted such a short time, leaving room for only one possible inference, that my performance (and thus my suitability to be an attorney) had been horribly defective in some way. I didn't initially feel this way when I started my first ever job, the only time I was actually in biglaw, but well, I learned from that experience, and I learned real fast.** 

By describing it this way, I may be overstating how much time and total headspace this line of thinking actually took up, but this was also the best way I could think of to accurately describe the intensity of the feeling when it did hit, and to indicate that the feeling reared its head often, even if it was only for extremely brief, fleeting moments most of the time.

It wasn't until recently that those feelings dissipated as to my current job, a few weeks after I crossed the one-year mark. Finally, I had some time and mental space to reflect on where the fear comes from. Fittingly, financial fear and anxiety are themes that some of my favorite money bloggers have discussed recently. For some of them, it sounds as if the source of their fear or anxiety, or how it manifests, may be similar to mine.

My own deep-set financial fear or anxiety is, I think, the product of being a true "child of the recession". And it wasn't just the 2008 crash, either. I also grew up the child of a Silicon Valley tech industry employee, surrounded mostly by other children of the tech industry. Throughout our childhoods, through the dot-com bubble and its bursting and other boom times or slow times, what little information trickled down to me, mostly through overhearing gossip shared between parents and family friends, was only enough for me to half understand what was happening. It was enough, though, to make life seem like a constant cycle of feast or famine, with some peoples' parents getting sudden stock options-related windfalls and other peoples' parents caught (sometimes more than once in just a few short years) by layoffs that always seemed to come as a surprise***.

Then, when I was in college, came the 2008 crash, which hit a year or two before I graduated. I wasn't old enough to have built any real financial foundation for myself yet. (I could certainly have been more responsible with my money as a student, but, trust me, I did not have realistic opportunities to make enough income as a college student to make a significant and lasting difference to my future after graduation.) The result was that I (and most others my age, I'm sure) felt like this terrifying thing had happened, except that I had never had a real opportunity to prepare for it, or to protect myself from it. It also came at the exact right time that my job hunt, and the first few years of just about any career I chose, would almost certainly be greatly affected by it.

I remember senior year of college being this awful time suffused with extreme anxiety and stress, not just for me, but for all of my classmates, enough that I believed deeply that there was such a thing as a "quarter life crisis" and that we might all have been in the throes of it right then. There was so much fear and, because of the crash, we all seemed to be acutely aware that desirable job opportunities were in short supply, and that we were all in competition.

I feel like a certain shared madness set in for myself, and all my  close friends, one that didn't lift until at least a year after graduation. For that first year or two in our jobs, or in graduate school, we all had those typical growing pains that come from entering adult life and taking on the full range of adult responsibilities for the first time, but they were amplified tenfold by the anxiety brought about by the recession. Every little sign that things weren't going swimmingly (and we each encountered a good number of such signs, we're all only human, and learning the new norms of the workplace, or of any given graduate school, was hard work) inspired an outsized amount of angst and worry.

Please follow the link below for the rest of my thoughts on financial fear and the steps I take to try and mitigate it, some of them more useful than others. You'll also find the rather lengthy "footnotes" of this post, which may be helpful background information to the rest of this post. (In writing said "footnotes", I also got the chance to ramble about topics I've long wanted to write dedicated posts about, but haven't  quite gotten around to yet.)

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Japan and Taiwan Trip 2018: Instances of Slightly Unexpected Spending

Photo via K, whose phone takes better photos than mine! I think this was at Tofukuji Temple.

At some points during our recent trip to Taiwan and Japan, I was starting to feel like we hadn't done a very good job of planning. It was a slightly more eventful, less smooth trip than we're used to, and that was a shock to me, as I pride myself on being somewhat well-traveled and pretty good at packing and preparing for my trips. Some of the complications were, of course, due to weather, and that was entirely outside our control. The biggest unexpected expense of our trip was, unsurprisingly, needing to book extra time at our hotel in Kyoto at the last minute when our trip was delayed by Typhoon Trami. There was no real helping that one, and the price was also a little higher than when we booked our original stay around two or three weeks ahead. (It was ~$250/night, as opposed to the ~$206/night we were originally charged.)

By separating out all my thoughts about the more troublesome details of our trip into their own post like this, I may run the risk of sounding like a huge complainer. That's definitely not my intention! I absolutely loved my trip, and already have a rather long list of ideas for a next trip to Japan someday,  which will hopefully not be too many years from now, though it'll likely be a while. I think I'm just not accustomed to needing to plan a big trip in such a hurry. We confirmed our travel dates and booked plane tickets and hotels within a month of our departure date, and I found that stressful. I'm definitely the type of traveler who strongly prefers to have tons of time to research all the options, and I wasn't used to such last-minute travel.

Also via K's phone, from our trip Fushimi Inari, where my shoulders definitely got tired of carrying my tote bag.

Plus, to my consternation, I found that I may now be someone who needs to, or at least strongly prefers to, carry a backpack if I plan to tote around much more than just my wallet, phone, Kindle, and passport for a full day of touring on foot. All I really added to those bare-minimum daily essentials was a water bottle, light jacket, small portable power bank, pocket wifi, a small folding umbrella on rainy days, and some of the small souvenirs we purchased throughout the day, but ack, things started feeling rather heavy, and my shoulders a bit achey, towards the end of each long day of walking! (If I ever get a professional backpack that's a bit smaller and sleeker than my gigantic North Face from law school, I'll probably be bringing it along on future vacations.) I wasn't fully prepared for how much walking we did pretty much every single day of our time in Japan, and carrying all my things in a tote bag probably added to how tired I got each evening.

Before I get started with my fussing, here is one more generally applicable and potentially money-saving tip (most of the other small issues that arose for us were idiosyncratic). Although many sources make it sound like a Japan Rail ("JR") Pass is something almost every international tourist buys for just about any trip to Japan, that might not actually be the case. For itineraries like ours, involving rather long stays in a small number of cities, with only a few not-too-far day trips to surrounding areas, a JR Pass might well be significantly more expensive than just buying separate train tickets for each leg of the trip. (I dabbled with an online JR Pass calculator and was able to quickly verify that we definitely did not need JR Passes.)

Oh and I must sing the praises of luggage forwarding services, though it's not, by definition, a money-saving choice. It cost us ~$15/large suitcase to send our luggage from our hotel in Tokyo to the one in Kyoto, which I found to be totally worth the price. It does require a bit of advance planning to factor in the time it takes for delivery (~36 hours for us), or if you're staying in an AirBnb, as you may need to do some research into drop-off and/or pick-up locations. I'll admit, I'm probably unusually wimpy about dragging suitcases around a crowded subway or train station or trying to find space for them on trains. Regardless, I found luggage forwarding to be indispensable for our shinkansen trip from Tokyo to Kyoto, and I think most other people would agree it's helpful and worth it unless they packed very light. (Keep in mind that Tokyo Station is unusually large and extremely busy, enough that it was overwhelming and a bit stressful to someone accustomed to traveling through the likes of Time Square, Penn Station, and Grand Central in NYC during rush hours. Also, they schedule the trains so tightly and efficiently in Japan that, even in Kyoto or Osaka, train platforms were sometimes so crowded as to also have the potential to be a bit overwhelming if I had a heavy and unwieldy suitcase with me.)

Please follow the link below to read about the things I wasn't always good about planning ahead for!

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

October 2018 Shopping Reflections

I was going to say this month was a fairly low-shopping one because I was traveling, but then I realized that it's already been nearly a whole month since I got back from Japan. Time sure passes by quick! Things have been a a bit busy at the office in the weeks since I got back. K and I have also had a few houseguests, which, given our slight tendency towards housecleaning delinquency, resulted in needing to spend a good chunk of weekend time cleaning. In the months since that post, our cleaning skills have improved slightly, though that's added extra time to our cleaning routine, which now requires a bit more energy. I may be close to the point where I would vote to hire a service to come in once or twice a month, even if our space is quite small and a thorough cleaning still doesn't take K and I that long to do together (maybe two-and-a-half to three hours total, with each of us tackling different areas of our place, depending on how recently we last did a big clean).

This month, all I shopped for was jewelry, and I bought a single piece. As I mentioned in my previous monthly budget/shopping post, I've only recently become much more conscious that now is totally not the right time to shop for most clothing. So I won't, or shouldn't be, in the market for much until I know if I'll get the go-ahead for certain plans or not. 

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!

There are still a few things I could be in the market for in the next few months. 

First is a very small thing. I may need another pair of tights after I recently ripped a pair of Wolford Neon 40s (due entirely to my own clumsiness, not any problem with the product). There's a jagged edge on one of my desk drawers at the office, at the exact height where my knee often bumps into it while I'm working away at the computer. All my tights that I currently wear, from Wolford, Falke, and Uniqlo Heattech, have survived many encounters with this edge of the desk drawer without any real issues up until now, only a tiny snagged thread or two that doesn't show any signs of developing into a real tear. This time, though, I bumped into it much harder, at the exact angle and with the exact motion to rip right at the fabric. The damage that time was immediate and dramatic, as seen below.

Second is a niche in my wardrobe that is currently unfilled. I've been mulling over wanting a pair of comfortable-enough-for-weekend-wear, non-denim pants; probably in black; probably with a skinny or straight leg, so that they can easily be tucked into boots in fall/winter; and probably in a fall/winter-friendly fabric, definitely not silk or linen. Recall that company policy changed to disallow jeans on casual Fridays at my office this past March. Now that the weather has started cooling down, and I can no longer wear jeans like I did last winter, I'm starting to miss having comfortable pants I could wear to the office on Fridays. However, I'm extremely averse to shopping for pants, it's hard to find ones that fit well through the hips and thighs, and it's also a total pain when one is short enough of leg that even some petite pants are slightly too long, at least when one is also quite lazy about going to a tailor. Chances are, I'm not going to start seriously looking for these pants for months. The only idea I have for where to look, gleaned randomly from a r/femalefashionadvice comment about comfortable outfits for air travel, is the Athleta Wander pants, but that's a half-formed idea at best.

Third, I'm also kind of kicking myself for not keeping that J.Crew Juliette Collarless Sweater Blazer in burgundy when I had the chance to get it on saleAlthough J.Crew's new marketing strategy appears to involve near-constant waves of 30% to 40% off sales on broad categories of items, that specific sweater blazer has been excluded from every promotion this past month without fail. It's such an impractical desire, given how many sweater blazers I own, and how I'd need to layer it under my coats as soon as the temperature drops to the low 50s Fahrenheit or below, as I recently discovered. (I often don't like layering thicker sweaters under my coats, as I start feeling too bulky very quickly, and I don't like feeling overheated if I'm walking around a lot.) 

Fashion - (TOTAL: $88.80)
  • Baroque Pearl Drop Earrings with 14k solid gold wires - $88.80* - This is the second pair of earrings I've bought on the recommendation of Kathy at Feather Factor, who has excellent taste! (I previously got a pair of Nordstrom-branded cubic zirconia studs that she also recommends, which usually only get discounted during the Nordstrom Anniversary Sale.) Before deciding on this pair, I spent some time researching other baroque pearl drop earrings on Etsy, and I thought this was the best size for my tastes. I also liked that I had the option of getting them with solid gold wires. (My earlobes can get irritated by earring posts that aren't sterling silver or solid gold, but I prefer gold-tone jewelry.) These are lovely, not too heavy, and a good size to be noticeable without being too showy. I'd be happy to wear these to the office a few times a week (though probably not to court or a job interview, where I'd definitely wear small stud earrings). I'd never paid much attention to baroque pearls before, but after seeing how Alighieri uses them (i.e. in these "Beacon" earrings or the "Infernal Storm" earrings), I started to appreciate their irregular, more organic-feeling shape a bit more. I really like these, and they're a bit more in my comfort zone than a pair of larger earrings would be, as I get unusually and maybe irrationally anxious about whether heavier, more dangly earrings could possibly get caught on something and cause injury. 

*Indicates that price included shipping charges and sales tax. 

How often do you find yourself needing new tights? With tights that are equivalent to 40 or 50 denier or thicker, I don't need new ones often. I generally got at least three years worth of fairly heavy fall/winter season wear from my Uniqlo pairs before they got stretched out and started sagging, or until elastic threads started coming out of the fabric. I haven't had my Wolfords or the Falke pair long enough to fully assess long-term durability, but they've been doing great outside of my recent mishap with the Neon 40s. (I often snag my tights a tiny bit on the zippers of my boots or booties, or on that desk drawer edge, and it's only caused a tiny loose thread or two, but no damage more serious than that, no rips or runs, except for that one time last week.) Have you noticed the changes to J.Crew's sales strategy? 

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Outfit Post: Autumn/Winter

Coat: Ellen Tracy Wool Blend Stadium Coat, 6P (similar from J.Crew)
Sweater: unbranded, from Taobao (no longer available)

I'm always taken aback by how quickly the seasons change here. Every year, it feels like I go through the process of relearning what clothing works best for each range of temperatures all over again. One day last week, I put together a desk-to-dinner outfit with my new J.Crew collarless sweater blazer (photographed here), one of my many work dresses, a light and floaty Nordstrom cashmere and silk-blend scarf (which still manages to be warm enough for me, even once winter really sets in), and some 50 denier tights (the Falke Matte 50 to be precise), only to be surprised to find that I was freezing in that outfit the entire evening. The wind cuts right through that collarless sweater blazer, even though I thought it was the right thickness for temperatures in the low 50s Fahrenheit. I still like my new sweater blazer, it clearly just isn't meant to be worn as a coat this time of 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!

Now that it's cooled down even more, it's definitely time for outfits that are capable of standing up to near-winter temperatures. I've had this Ellen Tracy Stadium coat for nearly three years now, after buying the 2015 version during the post-holiday sales in January 2016, and I still love it. In the years since I graduated law school, I tend to get a new wool coat about once a year. (Some of my far more frugal peers also do the same, and they comment that it's partially because it's the only particularly noticeable way to add interest to their outfits for most of the period from October through as late as April, as it's the only part of one's outfit that really gets seen while one is outdoors.) A few times, I've thought about getting the similar J.Crew Cocoon Coat in another bright color, and when I do, I usually take another look at that year's selection of Ellen Tracy Stadium coats too. I'm not sure if Nordstrom will stock it again, but they did in 2016 and 2017.

My "cashmere" turtleneck sweater is from a now-defunct Taobao listing. That's not an avenue I'd recommend anyone else ever look to for any kind of shopping, by the way. One just never knows what one will get, it's the wild wild West, and there are, er, also many listings for counterfeit products on there. Any listing or seller can say absolutely anything (not that I can understand most of it, with my extremely weak Chinese reading skills, ha!), and there's no way to verify any of it without having the item in hand. Plus, most US-based customers, myself included, shop through an agent like Superbuy, which adds additional fees. And international shipping is always a significant expense, of course. This particular unbranded sweater came from an listing that had a lot of positive reviews, as well as customer photographs of the real item, which can be helpful, but well, the idea of caveat emptor, or buyer beware, definitely still applies.

Sam Edelman may have officially discontinued my beloved "Petty" booties in leather (size 6M only still available at Zappos), though they still offer it in suede. The closest new style they make now is a slightly edgier pointy-toe design called the "Walden", which I don't think would work for the office as well as the round-toe design on the Petty, at least as far as my fussy tastes and preferences for office wear are concerned! I'm totally sad about this change in their product line because I love my old booties. I actually manage to have two pairs of the "Petty", my old, worn-in ones from around December 2014 and a newer pair, made in a stiffer leather, from around December 2016. I think it's well-established that it's generally a mistake to buy backups, even of the most well-loved items, at least until the old one is well and truly worn out and unusable. It wasn't until last year that I started wearing the newer pair, I held onto them in their box for an entire year without touching them. As of now, though, both pairs are getting tons of use. I wear my newer pair to court, meetings, and other more formal occasions in fall/winter and my older, well broken-in pair the rest of the time.

Have you ever bought an identical backup of a well-loved item, only to realize that it wasn't the right choice to do so? Did the backup item get any use in the end? 

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Against my Better (Shopping) Judgment

One very small part of our recent trip to Japan was dropping by Loft (the fun Japanese stationery and home goods store, not the women's clothing retailer) no less than three times while exploring Tokyo and Kyoto. That first trip, my eyes zeroed in eagerly on their wide selection of Hobonichi Techo planners. There wasn't much real practical reason for my interest. I have absolutely no desire to use a structured, pre-printed, and dated planner, given that I've been happily using a blank notebook with dotted grid pages (from Leuchtturm) as a planner and bullet journal for nearly a year now. Yet, I was intrigued by the Hobonichis because of marketing. Some had hailed it as the best planner ever, and because I remembered reading that coverage, I was intrigued. 

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!

That first time at Loft, I took a quick look, ran my hands over the pages of the samples, and found that the Tomoe River paper they use in the Hobonichis really is quite delightful, and fairly unique when compared to anything I've laid hands on before (which admittedly isn't much because I'm not typically a stationery fanatic). The paper is smooth, practically silky to the touch and quite thin, but seemingly in a good way. The planners are well known for being less bulky than many of their competitors because they use this very thin paper, but I'm told that it is still high quality, that most pens and ink generally will not bleed through. Because that paper was so lovely to skim my fingers over, I started to want to buy one of the planners, though I didn't have enough time to think it through on that first trip. 

I didn't necessarily plan on going to Loft again, but we did, a second and then a third time, while doing other shopping. Each time, I dwelled an unusually long time over the Hobonichi Techo display, comparing the various ones on offer (each Loft stocked practically the entire product range, including some covers) and feeling an urge to buy one (the prices were great, much better than any available if I ordered from the US, if I was ever going to buy one, it would have been best to get it in Japan). This was despite how there wasn't a single design that was likely to be a suitable product. There's only one style available in English, and its A6 size is definitely too small for me. 

The A5 "Cousin" size (available as either one or two volumes) is better, but it's only available in Japanese (which, to be fair, doesn't dissuade most international fans) and I still wasn't likely to get use out of a pre-dated planner. Also, the A6 and A5 ones are primarily a-page-a-day planners, which isn't useful to me, I simply don't need that much space per day, every single day. I prefer more flexibility. Also, much of the appeal of the Hobonichi-related content I'd seen on social media, which helped fuel my interest, came from the colorful pictures or pretty writing some people put in theirs. It's all lovely, but I'm hardly going to be producing that on a regular basis, or maybe ever! I don't even know how to draw! Oh, and I don't use a fountain pen (many Tomoe River paper enthusiasts are fountain pen users). I use fairly boring pens (Muji 0.38mm pens, to be exact, decent prices also on Amazon). The Leuchtturm paper is perfectly adequate for that, and I'm not sure I'd get anything special out of the experience of writing on fancy paper. 

So I was at Loft that second and third time, and each time I spent quite a while standing there, researching the Hobonichi product line on my phone, thinking about whether to buy something. Each time, it was a bit difficult to tear myself away. I was so very tempted to buy this thing even though I knew it wouldn't be of much use to me. I didn't end up getting one, which was the right choice, but I came very close. I'd ultimately decided that, if I were to get one, it'd be a Hobonichi Cousin and I'd need a cover. But Loft didn't stock covers for that size, so I might as well order it online directly from the company, even if there'd be a markup. I was even researching their product pages online in the days right after we returned from our trip. In the end, I decided to get a dot grid A5 notebook with Tomoe River paper instead. 

That's an extremely long and rambling introduction to what is ultimately a post about a fairly simple little thing I do somewhat often, even though I should know better by now. I sometimes develop a strange preoccupation with certain items that I know, with 95%-plus certainty, will not suit my needs or preferences and so probably won't get much, if any, real use. Except that I don't stop thinking about the item, I'll keep getting pulled back to admiring it and thinking about how nice or pretty it is, several times over weeks or months. It's not a thing that takes up that much of my mental energy in the end, it's just something in the back of my mind that rears its head every so often.

It rarely actually results in an unwise and impractical purchase. If and when I end up giving in to temptation and ordering the item online, actually trying on the item is usually enough to remind me why it won't, in fact, work for me. So I usually send it back. Still, I'll sometimes keep going back to window-shopping for the item, even, sometimes, when I've returned it before. 

Please follow the link below to read about some of the fashion-related items that have had such a hold over me, and the thought process behind each. 

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Money Tour: The Clerkship Year

via. I did not clerk in this courthouse.

A recommendation for people who enjoy the Refinery29 Money Diaries concept: Glamour Magazine's Youtube channel puts out some very interesting money-related content. Their first video, from April, about "How One Woman Spends her $95,000 Salary", made a bit of a splash and may have gone a little viral, but they seem to have flown more under the radar since then. As for how the "Money Tours" (and the similar "Honest Accounts") differ from Money Diaries? It's an (anonymized) video interview. The format is somewhat similar, starting with monthly numbers, including paychecks and recurring bills, but generally also adding more information about current savings. Their format is a bit more flexible. Instead of focusing on one week only, many people go through a set of (redacted) credit card statements for a month and explain the bigger or recurring charges. They sometimes also discuss a random-ish sample of some of the person's larger purchases from the past, things like furniture or sports equipment. I've been enjoying these videos a lot!

Separately, I've long wanted to go back and revisit how I approached spending during my clerkship year. As I've often mentioned, clerking requires a significant pay cut, at least if one was otherwise going to be working in biglaw. Measuring the opportunity cost of taking a clerkship would likely result in a shockingly large number, between lost income for that year, extra interest accrued on student loans due to being unable to refinance, and possibly a lost year-end bonus as well, due to the timing of leaving and returning to one's firm. I haven't yet calculated that number for myself, but may do so in a future post.

Yet, I'd go back and clerk all over again again. Heck, I'm even sometimes tempted to do a second one, but financial realities, and how much less practical and useful it likely is as a career move for an attorney further along in their career, mean that it will probably never happen. Clerking a first time was an incredible privilege that I'm grateful for, and it likely was necessary to place me in my current, absolutely wonderful job. Clerking a second time would likely be... irresponsible, all things considered, especially given that it likely wouldn't add much to my career prospects.

Recent events, including with Kozinski and some of the smaller news items surrounding the confirmation, have really forced me to think about the institution of clerkship hiring (diversity is, let's just say, not a strong point) and the role of clerkships. In order to fully analyze some of the other questions on my mind, it's important to get an accurate sense of the "cost of clerking", and whether it's a financial choice that is equally accessible to all who are qualified (it isn't). To the extent that it is a bit of an elitist institution, that has implications for diversity in the profession, as clerkships may be a necessary (though not sufficient) prerequisite for certain jobs.

Overall Numbers: The Clerkship Year
  • Savings at the Time: (My student loan balance was still over $180k throughout the year.)
    • Cash Savings: $15,000, an emergency fund accumulated during my first year in biglaw, I never touched this until my accident
    • 401(k): ~$11,500, accumulated during the approximately nine months that I was eligible to contribute while in biglaw (with no employer match, as is standard for us). Term clerks also can't contribute to the federal government equivalent of a 401(k). 
    • Roth IRA: ~$2,200, and I put in another $2,000 during my clerkship year, but that was the only longer-term savings I could add to during that year. 
  • Total Salary: ~$83,500/year, as a JSP-12. Link is to a current-year PDF for the NYC metro area. They get a tiny cost of living increase most years, so the current number is a little higher.
  • Paycheck (BiWeekly): $2039.50. For the two "three paycheck" months a year, I usually put the third paycheck entirely into savings or student loans. 
  • My Share of Rent and Public Transit Cards: ~$2250/month total (numbers combined to protect my anonymity).
    • Commute: As I've sometimes alluded to, I had an extremely long and somewhat complicated commute, and monthly transit expenses (using both NYC transit and a commuter train) were a shockingly large percentage of my take-home pay.*
    • Rent: K and I stayed in the same apartment from when I was in biglaw. Given the location of our jobs and the start and end dates of our lease and for my clerkship and prior and subsequent jobs, moving out of NYC solely for the clerkship was never a realistic option. As I sheepishly mention somewhat often, we feel like we really splurge on rent, and that's worth it to us. So while I was clerking, that was also a shockingly large percentage of my take-home pay. 
  • Student Loans: ~$445/month minimum payments. I occasionally put in more, but not in amounts large enough to make much of a dent. 
    • The bulk of my loans, borrowed directly from the Federal Government, were on income-based repayment ("IBR") for a monthly minimum payment of ~$220 dollars/month.  
    • ~$225/month represented the actual 10-year repayment minimum payments associated with my other tiny (and lower-interest, 5% as opposed to ~7%) loans borrowed from my undergraduate school and a Perkins Loan from law school. These loans couldn't be put on IBR as easily. 
  • Utilities: ~$70/month on average for my half. Water and heat are included in our rent, but we pay for electricity, including to run A/C in the summer. Numbers vary greatly throughout the year. 
  • Internet: ~$32/month for my half.
  • Subscriptions: ~$25/month on average. I pay for Netflix for my mom, sister, and I. I also split Amazon Prime and Spotify Family expenses with my sister. 
* One thing I learned while clerking: People and their significant others end up needing to make eclectic, seemingly impossible, and unsustainable sacrifices in terms of commuting and where to live, in order to accommodate clerkship locations (which are highly inflexible). I spent more than 4 hours a day commuting in total and didn't even have the toughest commute out there. (People who drive, even if it's for significantly less time, definitely have it harder.) When one wants to clerk, you go where you're able to get one. Only the rare true superstars among us generally have the luxury of only applying in one city or one location and knowing they'll definitely find one on the schedule they want. 

That left me with ~$1252 to spend each month, and I'd reliably spend it all (including, sometimes, on a very small extra student loan payment). Technically I was living "paycheck to paycheck" during this time, and with no significant contributions of any kind to longer-term savings, it may have been less sustainable than many other "paycheck to paycheck" situations. It was such a short time in my career however, that... I wasn't really worried about the sustainability of my finances at the time. To be able to approach it that way is an incredible luxury and privilege, which I'm so grateful for. Oh, and because the student loan payments obviously weren't enough to keep up with the interest that was accruing (at a rate of ~$990/month), my total balance increased while I was clerking, undoing pretty much all of the repayment work I did while in biglaw the previous year.

Please follow the link below for a tour of some of my typical spending choices during a typical month of my clerkship year! I took all my credit card statements from a random month, April 2017, and got the numbers from there.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Highly Recommended: Educated by Tara Westover

Tara Westover's Educated (affiliate link) is an extraordinary book. Immediately upon finishing it late one night last week, I was absolutely desperate to talk about it and the larger conversation surrounding it, including certain public responses from some of her family members. I was determined to convince as many of my friends as possible to read it so that they could discuss and dissect it with me and share in the emotionally harrowing experience of reading it.

Looking at the timeline, Westover must have started writing shortly (certainly within a year or so at most) after the last of some difficult and traumatizing events, only the latest in a long string of highly dysfunctional things that happened in her family. She has a talent for vivid, visceral writing, taking us back to what she felt as a child and then a young adult who'd spent her entire life believing certain things, only to discover, much later on and through great effort, that many of them were not true. She witnesses so many dangerous situations and injuries, both her own and suffered by several people in her family. There were so many times when I was scared that someone was going to die because of her parents' negligence and recurring refusal to involve medical professionals, though that never turned out to be the case. Quite frankly, that may be a near miracle, as her father had a habit of encouraging his children to do construction work or operate heavy machinery without training or observing safety requirements.

In part because of how little time appears to have elapsed since many of the events in the book, Westover's story sometimes feels like one that is very much "still in progress", one in which many of the people involved (Westover herself included) may still be in the process of trying to understand and deal with things. (This long-form essay is a fairly good take on this issue, I thought.) Reading Educated was a frustrating experience sometimes, both Westover and certain people in her family make decisions that seem so likely to turn out badly.

It's the first time I've ever been so desperate to talk about a book right away. It's also the first time that, though the text itself was not too dense for me to read as an ebook, I still wanted to eventually buy a hard copy, so that I could go back to it and potentially get more out of it that way. 

To me, this book contains multitudes. On the one hand, it is what it first appears to be marketed as, a story about growing up with a father who identified as a "Mormon survivalist". (Some skeptics on Goodreads and Amazon say, essentially, that her family wasn't fundamentalist Mormon enough or off-the-grid survivalist enough for them to believe her story, or to think it "special". I think that's generally a wrongheaded view.) Yet, as Tara herself takes pains to note, both in the book itself and in any interview where the topic comes up, any critiques in the book are not about the church. Neither the church, nor even her father's anti-government (she didn't have a birth certificate until she was nine), anti-medical establishment, and survivalist tendencies (and there was a lot of all of those things going on in ways that could and did cause harm to his children) fully account for all that happens. President Obama's brief but glowing recommendation of Educated captures something important and remarkable about all this, Westover writes with an almost impossible empathy and love for a complicated (to say the least) father and family, and their complicated world.

The primary theme, and how Westover characterizes the book in interviews, is that it is about how an education, broadly defined (and including aspects of an informal education that she credits her parents with), made her who she is and helped her ultimately break free of what was abusive and dysfunctional in her upbringing. It also allowed her to accomplish some truly extraordinary things: She had no formal schooling (nor any kind of regular homeschooling with any kind of  consistent schedule) until, at around age 17, she was able to score a 28 on the ACT and matriculate at Brigham Young University. (As she recalls, she initially didn't know how to go to school, what reading assignments in a syllabus meant, how to take exams, what the Holocaust was, and what the Civil Rights Movement was.) It was a long and hard-fought process, to eventually win a Gates Scholarship to Cambridge and earn a history PhD. 

Inevitably, Educated does, like any memoir about something both controversial and quite recent (and involving people who are very much alive, who use computers and the internet, and have their own fresh memories of the events depicted), implicate questions about memory and the sometimes different perceptions of past trauma by other people who were there to witness it, or who participated in it.* To that extent, I find it to be an extremely timely book.

Please follow the link below if you're interested in reading the rest of my many, many thoughts on this book.