Tuesday, January 30, 2018

January 2018 Shopping Reflections

I hope that everyone's 2018 is off to a good start! This month was shopping-heavy, both as to my closet and as to beauty products. It wasn't even the post-Christmas sales, as most of my items weren't discounted. My shopping-related "goal" this year, to stick to things that bring me more of the "joy" I get from clothing, was something that could easily lead to  indulging. I don't like spring/summer clothes half as much as fall/winter ones, so hopefully I'm less likely to have shopping-heavy months later in the 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!

The biggest purchase this month was from, er, Taobao, which takes some explaining, as it's weird and would be a waste, if it doesn't go well. I can't, in good conscience, recommend others shop there, as it really is the "Wild West", filled with goods from both legitimate, independent small businesses in China on the one end as well as from... brazen violators of copyright laws on the other. (AliExpress and Taobao are both pretty aggressive about removing counterfeit product listings, by the way, but sellers relist frequently, so there's still a large volume of illegitimate business.) My sweater is from somewhere in between those extremes, it's unbranded, though it may be a knockoff, albeit not a very good one, if the celebrity street style photos they've included are anything to go by. Mine is only slightly slouchy and oversized, and lacks that "dramatically oversized for maximum cool factor" look the photos have. With anything on Taobao, shop at your own risk, generally only if there are many positive customer reviews with photos of the actual product, which was true of this sweater. It's also difficult for an international customer to buy direct, so I use an agent called Superbuy, which buys the item on my behalf, has it shipped to their warehouse, and then sends it to me, which gets expensive.

With regards to the beauty purchases, they were brought about by a "perfect storm" of events. A few months ago, I made the mistake of getting a straight perm that completely fried some of my hair. So far, the best solution is the extremely pricey Alterna Caviar Moisture shampoo and conditioner. It leaves my hair relatively knot-free and smooths away the frizz for about two days after each wash, much better results than a few other fancy shampoos and conditioners I tried. I needed a foundation refill. Then came the cold snap earlier this month, which left my skin suddenly dry and irritated, enough to cause additional breakouts, which required adding several products to my dermatologist-mandated minimal routine of the last several months. Predictably, the cold snap lifted and my skin got less fussy almost as soon as the refills arrived. 

Fashion - (TOTAL: $287.40)
  • Taobao Cashmere Turtleneck Sweater - $65.00 + $35.00 shipping - I adore this sweater. It's luxuriously thick compared to most US retail sweaters in this price range, and I was pleasantly surprised that I could wear a turtleneck and find it flattering. I usually avoid turtlenecks for fear they'd awkwardly emphasize my chest. One can't generally trust a seller's representations about materials on Taobao, though price can be an indicator. If it's "too good to be true" cheap, then it probably isn't genuine leather, wool, or what have you. I'm not able to conclusively prove this is cashmere, but it feels right and behaves the same way as my other cashmere items. (Among other things, it's moderately quick to pill.) 
  • Mejuri Zodiac Necklace, Libra - $89.00* - This is an indulgence, but I had browsed the site a few months ago and been quite taken by the Zodiac necklaces. They've come in and out of stock a few times since, and I decided to go for it. It's exactly what I expected from the product description and photos, and I'm satisfied with it. 
  • Uniqlo High-Rise Cigarette Jeans - $39.90 - I've previously implied that one pair of jeans is enough for me, including when my old Rag & Bone skinny jeans (similardeveloped a hole in the rear. Since then, I've eaten my words. I'd gotten rid of that ancient pair of sag-prone Uniqlo skinny jeans barely a few months before, because I hadn't worn them out since getting the Rag & Bones, except maybe on a laundry day or two. But I sure missed having my "backup" jeans after the other pair was gone. We have casual Fridays now, and I desperately missed having jeans these past few Fridays. Because I didn't like Uniqlo's current mid-rise skinny jeans, and the petite Gap skinny jeans I wanted were backordered most of this month, I got these high-rise, more straight leg jeans to tide me over. They're different enough that they'll still have a use when I finally have my new skinny jeans, and it's probably good for me to experiment with different jean silhouettes? They run big (I could wear a 26, though I'm a 27 or 28 for the higher cotton content skinny jeans I've been trying), and stretch out a fair bit between washes, though I don't mind because they weren't meant to have a super-skinny fit in the first place. Oddly enough, these don't require hemming on my short for 5'3'' legs, which could make them strangely cropped on others. 
  • Nordstrom Tissue Weight Wool and Cashmere Scarf - $59.40 - Between this and the last  Nordstrom scarf I bought, in silk-cashmere blend, I have a soft spot for Nordstrom's store-brand scarves when they're on sale. This one is very lightweight, but that's adequate for me. I often don't like thicker scarves because they add bulk around my chest. I actually find both the floaty, extremely lightweight silk-cashmere and this wool-cashmere blend similarly warm enough for most temperatures. (Neither is enough for the coldest days, but I deal with those by zipping up my down coat's knit collar, so I don't need a scarf at all.) 

Beauty - (TOTAL: $144.40) 
  • Lancome Teint Idole Ultra Cushion Foundation - $51.00* - I'd been frustrated with my Nars Tinted Moisturizer because I preferred something with a more matte finish, and ended up trying this months ago when my mom bought one during a buy one get one free promotion. This definitely has a matte finish, and is also heavier coverage than the Nars Tinted Moisturizer. The cushion style makes it extremely easy to apply, but it also runs out quickly, maybe after around four months of roughly twice a week use, give or take. It also oxidizes a bit during the day. By all rights, I should have shopped for another foundation instead, because it's quite expensive, but maybe next time. 
  • Alterna Caviar Moisture Duo Set - $62.06* - This is pricey, and the bottles fairly small. My hair is in a strange state, and most of the shampoos and conditioners I've tried are incapable of helping, so one could say I was desperate. I think this could weigh down and cause excessive oiliness in hair that's in good health, but for me, right now, this has been the best thing. Note that it isn't a miracle product, I still have frizzy days, but generally only a full day or two after washing. 
  • CosRx Advanced Snail 96 Mucin Power Essence - $14.04 - Best price generally from Amazon. This is great for light moisture and soothing skin that's a little prone to irritation due to topical retinoids or acids. It has an odd, sticky texture, which I attribute to the "snail mucin" content. 
  • CosRx Advanced Snail 92 All in One Cream - $17.30 - Best price generally from Amazon. This doesn't add much moisture on its own, and it's more a gel moisturizer than a cream, but it is also good for layering on moisture and soothing skin that's currently prone to irritation due to topical retinoids or acids, on bad days where the weather and climate have exacerbated dryness and irritation. Like the snail essence, this also has an odd sticky texture.
* Includes shipping and/or sales tax. For both Mejuri and Taobao purchases, shipping ends up particularly expensive. 

Did you find much in the post-Christmas sales? Do you also change up your skincare routine in the winter? Have you, er, ever shopped from Taobao, and/or it's more accessible cousin, AliExpress? I think those platforms are mostly fine so long as one isn't buying from copyright/trademark violators, but I don't know if everyone would agree. In any case, many random, unbranded items on Amazon, say, most of those acrylic makeup storage drawers, are from similar China-based sellers (or from US-based sellers who got their product from said China-based sellers). 

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Sunday Reading: On Shopping Bans, Fasts, and Freezes

via Racked

By now, almost everyone has likely read Ann Patchett's New York Times piece on her "Year of No Shopping". My reaction to the piece was initially more skeptical than I expected, given that it aligns perfectly with my interest in "minimalism-ish", as well as my fondness for lighter, more accessible (and not necessarily comprehensive) introductions to bigger, difficult topics. For instance, I love Marie Kondo's first book, even if, by most standards, it's a "baby steps only" introduction to only a portion of the ideas that fall under the minimalism umbrella. In the personal finance area, I'm fine with beginners' books, and I'm not sure most people, myself included, need much more than that. 

First things first, there's nothing wrong with the piece itself. It's well-written, not at all annoying or preachy, and by introducing a broad audience to the idea that less is more, and that we likely all need  far less than we currently consume, it's doing positive work. At the same time, I was taken aback by just how... easy she made it seem. It wasn't even just a fashion shopping ban! By late January, she had made it broader. As she says, "while I couldn’t buy clothing or speakers, I could buy anything in the grocery store, including flowers. I could buy shampoo and printer cartridges and batteries but only after I’d run out of what I had. I could buy plane tickets and eat out in restaurants. I could buy books." Sensible enough, not the most restrictive, but far more than just a fashion shopping ban. 

I suppose my main reason for skepticism is that I'm not sure a shopping ban or shopping fast, any set of what's likely to be somewhat arbitrary rules for an arbitrary period of time, is going to be the best way to get the benefits that she describes.

First, there were some lessons on "wants" versus "needs", how "If you want something, wait awhile. Chances are the feeling will pass" and "Once I got the hang of giving shopping up, it wasn’t much of a trick. The trickier part was living with the startling abundance that had become glaringly obvious when I stopped trying to get more. Once I could see what I already had, and what actually mattered, I was left with a feeling that was somewhere between sickened and humbled. When did I amass so many things, and did someone else need them?" This is where the enthusiastic KonMari fan in me comes in, I suppose, because by early 2015, having gone through a round of KonMari decluttering (which worked for everything but my closet, which I had decluttered many times before, and from which I still haven't let go of everything I don't actually wear, much of which I haven't in fact worn since 2015), I felt like I'd already learned that lesson, as to everything but the things in my closet.

Post-KonMari, I gave away the majority of my furniture and various other non-closet things when moving out after graduating law school. Since then, I've been careful and deliberate about new acquisitions of furniture, kitchen tools, all those sorts of things. Heck, I sometimes go too far. After our wooden cutting boards got permanently warped due to improper maintenance, I agonized over whether to buy replacements, and which replacements to buy, for more than a year and a half before I felt like I knew what the right choice was, and how I'd care for the next set.

Second, she derived a related personal finance lesson from the experience, how, "[t]he things we buy and buy and buy are like a thick coat of Vaseline smeared on glass: We can see some shapes out there, light and dark, but in our constant craving for what we may still want, we miss life’s details. . . . I came to a better understanding of money as something we earn and spend and save for the things we want and need." That sounds like what I experienced when I started budgeting, and tracking every single transaction, around the time I started blogging, using You Need a Budget (software that is now subscription-only, but the approach is simple and could be replicated in Excel). I wasn't always using YNAB properly, but that "better understanding" of money was there.

By tracking every transaction I quickly learned that some of my money was disappearing into a void, being spent on things I didn't want or need, a combination of (a) Sephora purchases as stress relief, often rounded out with an extra add-on item to get to the free shipping threshold, (b) Amazon purchases every time I thought of a new vague thing to try, and (c) Amazon and/or Drugstore.com (they had reliably great prices compared to brick and mortar drugstores in NYC) purchases to stock up unnecessary and excessive quantities of cleaning products and other household items, some of which I gave away when I moved out and some of which, in the case of more compact items like dish soap, I only finished using nearly two years later. So I stopped those things almost immediately, and it was easy because the purchases weren't adding real value to my life.

I suppose the other main reason for my skepticism was, in the end, that it sounded too easy. Given how long I've been reading minimalism blogs, it's probably not surprising that I've read tons of posts about shopping bans, fasts, and freezes over the years. Many of them were "no shopping" for months at a time long before KonMari was cool. And actually, over time, it often proves extremely difficult to simply stop shopping for any extended period of time. I've tried no less than twice, just as to my closet, with no success, though I have an occasional month of no shopping, once in a long while, usually because I was busy with something else (at that time, final exams). The most common "success" scenario I've seen is when someone looks back and realizes, several months on, that without even trying, they hadn't shopped for a certain length of time because they hadn't seen anything they liked, or because they were otherwise occupied.

Maybe there are lessons there, though, in how "easy" Patchett's essay made it seem. The way she writes it, she was much more gentle on herself than many of us tend to be, when there are slip-ups or exceptions made, which she describes as happening a few times. She didn't dwell on it, just moved on and continued working on the larger goal for the rest of the year. That's a useful mindset. Also, for the USA-dwellers among us, American society may be more consumerist, at least when compared to the other societies I'm familiar with. We have more in the way of "big box stores" or places like Costco, where we buy in bulk to save and, in the suburbs at least, more in the way of space to store the excess. If one's starting point is an average American consumption habit, then of course it'll be easier to scale down the shopping, and work on the backlog of soap, paper towels, and dental floss that's already in one's pantry or bathroom cabinet.

What did you think about Patchett's piece? When I started this entry quite a few weeks ago, I thought I'd have more to say, but as I kept reworking this draft, I realized I wasn't able to add much that was new to the discussion. Oh well! 

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Current "Wish List"

In the years since I started being more conscious about my shopping, I've found that the best way to be confident in my purchases is to plan them out well in advance, usually by at least a few weeks, if not months. The process that's preceded my best purchases, based on cost-per-wear and actual utility for price (different criteria from how I select my "best buys" each year, which is for items that were a successful experiment, something a little out of my comfort zone that ended up working well), generally involves mulling over an item for at least a few weeks until a good sale, or until I can no longer resist. I often have a running "wish list" written down somewhere, either in a Google Drive spreadsheet or, these days, in my notebook.

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!

Not everything on my "wish list" make it into my closet. Out of, say, the last sample of five such items I wrote about, in the guise of trying out a "Five Piece French Wardrobe" approach, I only followed through with probably three and a half: a down coat (though not either of the frontrunners), skinny jeans, the breton striped shirt (from J.Crew Factory), and black leather Vans instead of a leopard-printed slip-on sneaker, which I couldn't find. Sometimes, items that I consider for a long time end up completely forgotten and fall off my list, including that olive green parka for spring and fall. More recently, around Thanksgiving, I developed a sudden and irrational desire for the Lo & Sons Waverly bag, even though it was likely too small to be practical for me, and I have several other similarly-sized bags. That particular craving took weeks to subside.

My current "wish list" is as follows: 
  • Dark Wash Skinny Jeans: My Rag & Bone skinny jeans (similar) lasted approximately two years before developing holes, and I've been in the market for a new pair of jeans since. Many people chimed in with helpful suggestions, and I ended up deciding to stick to Uniqlo or Gap. I'm not a huge fan of Uniqlo's current selection, so I'll be ordering and trying on Gap's selection of petite-length, dark wash, mid-rise skinny jeans (probably these or these), though one color I like was backordered, so the process has taken a while.
  • Dainty Opal Ring: This has been on my shopping list for years, but I've never felt ready to purchase, even though I've bought other, similarly priced or more expensive items since. I originally wanted a simple opal solitaire like this one from Polamai on Etsy, which could have been around $200, but more recently, I've become interested in more elaborate (and expensive) designs like the Wwake organic triangle ring or the Wwake four-step ring, or maybe the Jennie Kwon Reese ring
  • More Colorful Formal Dress: This particular item is not likely to pan out, but after wearing that blue Ann Taylor lace shift dress for no less than four different weddings last year, I started getting bored, and maybe feeling a little frumpy. (It's a pretty dress, but has no "wow" factor and fits a little loose. It's ultimately better suited for work than a party.) Except that, even after window-shopping for months, including by scouring through pages and pages of dresses on TheRealReal, I haven't seen anything I actually want to buy. Heck, I even had trouble finding one I liked solely as an illustration for this post, with no need to consider cost or practicality! I had other formal dress options in my closet, but none I was eager to wear. There was a bright purple Diane von Furstenberg Zarita dress I ended up sending to Thredup because I didn't like the way it fit (its very stretchy and body-skimming, and doesn't have much structure) and the Anthropologie Baikal dress, which maybe feels like too much "look", and isn't very "me" anymore. 
  • Mansur Gavriel Large Tote: One of the changes at my new workplace is that I no longer bring a laptop to and from the office every day. The result is that my Everlane Petra Market tote, which was the perfect size for my old firm and has softened up a bit over time, now feels overly large and floppy to be my go-to work bag. A new work bag is an extravagance when I have other bags that still fulfill the purpose, but I think the Mansur Gavriel large tote, particularly in the fairly structured vegetable-tanned leather, would be the perfect size, as it looks a bit smaller and more compact than either the Petra Market or a Longchamp Le Pliage large (see other blog's comparison photos here). I think I'd get the black with ballerina pink interior, as that's more neutral than the more common red interior. 

What's on your closet "wish list" at the moment? How do you plan out your clothing purchases? Although this shopping process isn't new to me, I was inspired, several months ago now, to revisit this topic by Michelle's post about her then-current list. I then got distracted by other topics, and finally got around to finishing this draft. 

Monday, January 22, 2018

2018: No Longer Coasting

via Pinterest

Working hard to accomplish challenging goals isn't something that comes naturally to me. As a child, I was a "smart slacker" - which is definitely not "smart". Many things came easily, particularly standardized test scores. Plenty of things I valued did not, however, come so easily, including my overall academic performance, which often lagged behind my abilities. I was, at least, capable of learning, to see the writing on the wall when I was letting complacency get the best of me, and to sit down and work hard to reverse that. Except that I didn't learn that much, because I repeated this pattern in both college and high school. (I didn't repeat it in law school because first-year grades are of pivotal importance, for biglaw especially. One hopes to be recruited for a post-graduation job the summer before 2L year. Failure could be catastrophic.) All of which is a long way of saying, I have a history of "coasting", trying to take it easy or goof off, when I think I can get away with it. 

Until recently, I didn't think about this much in context of my personal goals, outside of school. I was great with my 2016 New Years' resolutions, for instance, though I picked them specifically because they were manageable. My concrete plans for my money were things I knew, from K's recent experience, to be realistic. My workout scheduling plans were less ambitious than I'd accomplished at other stages in my life, albeit less busy ones than when I was in biglaw. I saw them as "baby steps" to help me adapt to working life. 

For 2017 though, the less said about my resolutions, the better. I'd gone around commenting on other people's 2018 New Years' goals entries, earnestly explaining that although I did a good job, I still felt dissatisfied, and so I needed to overhaul my approach. Only the latter part of that was true. I didn't actually remember any of my broader, more thematic ideas for 2017, and I absolutely didn't remember the suggested applications for those broader goals. If I didn't even remember the goals, I obviously wasn't accomplishing them!

Regardless, throughout 2017, I often felt that I was "coasting", taking it easier than I wanted, or was capable of, like I wasn't challenging myself, and wasn't growing. I was satisfied with what I accomplished at the office, always dealing with new projects, but outside of that, I felt a bit stagnant. The most concrete example was in the physical fitness area. I generally worked out three to four times a week, often with fairly long cardio workouts, but that is often not the most efficient approach. And so, as my body changed (perhaps due to my age, I'll be 30 this year), and as I struggled with my "supercommute" (which required moving my natural sleep schedule up by about two hours), things... weren't great. I sized myself out of some clothes, among other things. I often felt sluggish, like I wasn't taking the best care of myself. 

All of that was a really, really long way of saying that I'm changing my approach to long-term goals this year. I need a longer list of very concrete goals, with more frequent check-ins, and some amount of flexibility, if an initial idea isn't working as well as I thought. So they're not just "2018 goals" or resolutions anymore, as I'll be working through different goals by the week, or by the month. I don't, therefore, currently have a full list of the things that I want to accomplish this year, and the list is subject to change at any time, but here are some of the things I'm working towards in 2018:
  • Starting now, rededicate myself to more conscious budgeting, likely using the "You Need a Budget" or "YNAB" method. Despite tracking every transaction for years now, I still felt like I wasn't being very conscious about my budgeting. I'd lose track of transactions, and had discrepancies of up to $100 in some accounts, due to my own accounting errors. I also wasn't following the "rules" of YNAB, as I entered my income at the start of every month and budgeted right away, rather than waiting for my paychecks. This violates Rule One, "give every dollar (that you actually have) a job" and Rule Four, "live on last month's income," a built in one month emergency fund or "buffer". Despite my efforts, I didn't feel in control of my budget. I've started following the YNAB rules, and will reevaluate if that isn't enough. 
  • By the end of January, refinance my student loans. This is a very obvious way to save money, for anyone with a substantial student loan balance.  When pooled together, my law school loans had an interest rate of approximately 7%. Refinancing tends to result in a fixed interest rate of 2.5% to 4.0%, depending on the company and the repayment term, or slightly lower variable rates. I couldn't refinance when I first graduated, as I needed federal income-based repayment while I was clerking. I've submitted my paperwork, so I'm all set. 
  • By February or March, start a workout routine that pushes me constantly. I've started by doing shorter cardio workouts, followed by a pilates session, currently one of Blogilates's/Cassey Ho's earlier beginner videos. (At this stage, because it's been so long since I've done pilates, getting through that is a challenge!) I'll likely mix in other things soon, follow some of the tips you've been kind enough to give me over the years, including by trying Fitness Blender videos. I might eventually hire a personal trainer for a few sessions. (I've proven time and time again that I'm terrible about attending classes, even expensive ones I prepaid for, so that method of adding to my workout routine is likely not on my agenda.) 
  • Identify and take steps towards being low-waste. This is something I move very slowly on, but I started late last year by stopping my use of disposable paper and plastic cups at the office. Planned next steps include using (a) wax food wraps instead of saran wrap and (b) washable, reusable cotton rounds for face cleansing. I'll be on the lookout for other things I can do. 
  • Keep on keeping on at work. I've always worked very hard to ensure that the bad habit of trying to coast doesn't sneak into my professional life. I put a lot into being a good junior attorney, and I'll continue to do so. 

What are your goals for 2018? Anyone else relate to the "smart slacker" thing? It was a common lament among my high school and college peers. We went to good, somewhat competitive public high schools, but weren't really challenged by the coursework, so we got used to relatively low effort for good results. College then proved to be a different animal, where putting in diligent hard work was a necessary component of the success we wanted. Learning how to focus wasn't always easy! There was much trial and error. 

Friday, January 19, 2018

Friday Link List: On Inclusiveness and Personal Finance Blogs

Though I prefer cold weather to hot, I'm starting to miss summer. This is a photo from somewhere in SoHo back when the weather was warmer. 

2018's off to a busy start so far, both at the office and otherwise! Lately, however, I've managed to blog more consistently than I typically do at other times in my life when work gets this busy. It's likely because I'm having a phase where I've been treating my writing here as more of a "job", albeit a fun one that I enjoy. At least two times a week, I try to have a serious writing session after I get home from the office, even if it's late. I feel like this pace of writing isn't as good at getting me to work on my more reflective, substantive entries, though. I might be better off scaling back a bit. 

1. // I've been exploring personal finance blogs more, and trying to be more open-minded in reading that genre. (I find most money blogs, outside of the ones I link, boring.) I've found a few more good ones to read, which I'm excited about. I wanted to highlight two entries that challenge some of the more unfortunate, discriminatory, and otherwise problematic tendencies behind some personal finance and financial independence discourse. Stacking Pennies talks about the "FIRE" (financial independence, retire early) community specifically, while Bitches Get Riches talks about the personal finance community more broadly, though because the "FIRE" people are generally the most extreme, it ends up being a lot about "FIRE" anyway. 

I don't have too much to say for now, except that I think these are important and necessary conversations. My thoughts on the subject are, as with my opinions on many things, complicated. As to possible financial independence for myself, there's no way I could work on "FIRE" because I have no inclination to do the math and projections required to identify the total amount I'd need to save to  live indefinitely on investment returns. (Both K and I also have very likely future financial obligations to our extended families and parents, beyond what obligations we'd have to our future children, which is another wrinkle that makes a "FIRE" number impossible to identify.) Without a "FIRE" number, I'm not, by definition, working on "FIRE", though I still find some of the ideas, the goal of a high savings rate, in particular, and an appreciation of how money is useful primarily because it can buy more freedom and free time, to be useful. 

I must also take a moment to commend the person from the Bitches Get Riches duo who replied so gracefully to a particularly incoherent and rambly troll. I'd struggle to react so calmly. 

2. // Pret a Porter P's post on her "Five Piece French Wardrobe" shopping year was a good read. I've always thought this approach was a particularly good way to balance a fondness for nice things with an interest in minimalism and in consuming less. I've never really been able to adhere to it myself because I get distracted too easily, though when I use the guidelines as a way of planning out some of my shopping, the resulting purchases tend to work well. (Daarboven is a longtime adherent to that approach, and also a highly recommended blog.) 

3. // The Fashion Law did an interesting piece on some of the reasons why the subscription box model works. As you might remember, I'm highly skeptical of subscription-type shopping services, but there's no denying that it's very successful for many companies. Though some of those companies may well derive some revenue from making it extremely difficult for customers to cancel.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Money Life Lately: Dental Work and an Actively Managed 401(k)

Tory Burch Georgia Card Case (affiliate link) - One of many knockoffs of that Saint Laurent Fragments Card Case (affiliate link) I've sort of been coveting, and I think the best-looking one by far. For the most part though, the knockoffs just make the original look much better.

Today's post is about a few small money-related details in my life from recent weeks. It's a bit of a boring post, though I think, after the initial learning and planning period, a lot of things about day to day personal finance management are rather dull. It's all just a matter of staying the course!

On Dental Bills

After my accident last year, the cause of a set of dental bills that were, collectively, my most expensive purchase of 2017, I'd set aside another $2000 for follow-up dental work. When my new  insurance coverage was activated a few weeks into my new job, I found a dentist to consult on what the next steps would be. As it turns out, I don't actually need a crown, post-root canal, due to the location of the injured tooth, and the previous work. The only bad news is that I need yet another root canal for another tooth that was affected by the accident. I'll be able to get this done in-network though, so I'm fairly certain it won't cost as much. 

I'll confess, because I'm a giant baby about going to the dentist, and because my root canal last year was done by a wonderful out-of-network endodontist with a very gentle hand, I have some fear of the unknown associated with going to a new dentist for my next one, I had even thought about putting about $1500 of what I'd previously budgeted for the crown into paying that out-of-network endodontist to do my next root canal. I decided against it, though, because that seemed a little irrational. 

On 401(k) Plans

This may be #smallcompanyproblems, or it may just be something that's unique to my workplace, but there's only one option for my current 401(k) plan, an actively managed fund holding primarily stocks for a range of large US companies, spread across most of the industries that are represented in, say, your typical S&P 500 index fund. This is not the way I'd choose to invest, but the tax savings are still worth my maxing out my 401(k), so that's what I'll be doing.

While I don't think I fully understand the fund's strategy, it doesn't look like something that will diverge from the market too, too dramatically, as best I can tell. Or at least, that's what I tell myself so that I can feel a little better about the situation!

Hopefully no one has any root canal horror stories to tell me, because that could make me change my mind about not going back to the known quantity of my wonderful (but expensive) previous endodontist, who doesn't take most dental insurance. 

Friday, January 12, 2018

Friday Link List

A photo from my New Years' weekend. K's mom was kind enough to prepare hot pot, using broth intended for curry laksa noodles. It's similar to the curry broth at Hometown Hotpot in Chinatown.

I hope that everyone is having a good start to 2018! I'm in the process of writing a post about my goals for the year, outside of the shopping budget context, though it's slow going. I found, in 2017, that my approach to New Year's resolutions - having several broad thematic goals, with a few suggested ways to carry them out - just didn't work. 

I had commented on several other blogs, in their posts about New Year's goals, saying that while I had fulfilled my 2017 New Year's resolutions, by sticking to, say, a roughly three times a week gym habit, I still felt dissatisfied. In that context, for instance, I felt I wasn't challenging myself with my workouts or  improving my physical fitness level, that I was "coasting", just checking the boxes without accomplishing much. As it turns out, the first part of that was a lie. In actuality, I was remembering 2016's more conservative and generally more concrete resolutions, not the broader, more thematic resolutions I actually set for 2017, which I had forgotten entirely. Oops! I also didn't remember most of the concrete applications that I proposed for each of my broad 2017 resolutions. The only thing I truly accomplished from the 2017 list was hitting the ground running at my new job, as I've been working hard. 

1. // This is an interesting profile of one of the federal judges based in the California Bay Area, who, due to his location and the operation of the local court rules, see Rule 3-2, naturally gets a high number of important technology cases. The article's probably made more interesting because it's rare for sitting judges to agree to be profiled and to speak at length with a journalist. 

2. // I shared a long-ago take on the #metoo themes a while back, something that was essentially about #metoo before it was known by that name, and today I thought I'd point out this more recent take by Rebecca Traister, on the complexity of the Post-Weinstein Reckoning, given just how pervasive the problems are. I really relate to it. 

3. // This kind of shopping-related discussion never gets very far because all we have to work with is, in the end, just our personal anecdotes as individual customers, but there was a discussion on r/femalefashionadvice about quality differences between the men's and women's lines at, say, J.Crew. I don't think this discussion gets much further than any other past iteration, and I think a lot of people who read here already know it might be fruitful to look to the men's section for sweaters or looser-fit button-down shirts for more casual wear. Still, I always hope the discussion will get further. 

4. // A few interesting blog links I recommend: Archana's 100 Notes on Style & Blogging is packed with an incredible amount of food for thought; Capsule Closet is a blog I've been following for a while, but keep neglecting to add to my blogroll; and there's a bit more discussion on anonymity and blogging over on Michelle's blog.

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!

5. // A quick update on my search for new jeans: It's very likely that I'll stick to Uniqlo or Gap this time around, thank you again for all of the comments and suggestions on my post! My body shape has changed a bit in the last year, in part because it's starting to handle unhealthy eating habits (brought about by stress and long hours at work) differently than it used to (maybe because I'm less than a year shy of 30), so I'm not ready to put down a lot of money on a pair of jeans right now. I'm hoping things will stabilize a bit later on, as I'm in the process of implementing some fitness and eating habits-related goals.

Unfortunately, after an in-person trip to Uniqlo, I don't like their current jeans selection much. I may be one of few women who actually prefers lower-rise jeans, so even their current higher-rise skinny jean, which are called mid-rise jeans in store, don't feel right to me. Their high-rise cigarette jeans, a straight-leg style, also didn't work for me, though I was surprised to find that they don't need to be hemmed on me, which may mean that they'd be unworkable on anyone with longer legs than mine, which should be most women in the world who are 5'3'' or taller! 

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Bad Hair Day, or the Big Mistake

They generally style Constance Wu with the kind of hair I wish I had on Fresh Off the Boat

I'm bad at hair, like really bad. My ponytails are almost always a little sloppy. No Youtube hair tutorial has ever been equal to the task of actually teaching me anything. My younger sister once bought me an expensive flat iron as a two-birthdays-plus-a-Christmas gift while we were both still students, and I never figured out how to use it (the shame! the waste! sorry, W, for not putting it to use after specifically requesting it). Sometimes, a friend would even show me how, and it would seem easy, but I just couldn't manage. Besides, I'm also lazy, so even the effort of blow-drying my hair just doesn't regularly happen.

I've always longed for the sleek, pin-straight hair that's not uncommon with people of Chinese descent. My sister even has that exact kind. My own hair is mostly straight, particularly the topmost layers, but also partially wavy, and extremely prone to frizz. It requires styling to be worn down to the office. Because styling my own hair is just not happening, I've instead gotten Japanese straight perms. They're generally expensive, ~$120 at the low end, and I've historically gotten worse results at that range (generally through unnatural-looking, limp hair) than when I get one for $240 at a small salon back in California. Because my natural hair is mostly straight, I never touch up the roots. My hair stays straight and manageable, just wash, air-dry and go, until a good while after all the permed sections are finally cut off in a future haircut, generally eighteen months later with my one haircut per six months or longer habit. Or at least, that used to be the case.

I'd had straight perms done five times in my adult life. It was only with more recent sessions that I started to notice side effects, small chunks of hair growing in noticeably damaged, "completely fried"  to be colloquial, afterwards. The permed hair would stay lovely and smooth,  the exact results I wanted, but at some point after, some of the new growth (not all of it, and not immediately) would be weird and fried in a way I'd never experienced before. Mysteriously, this only happened after all the permed areas were finally cut away. Nonetheless, I kept going back to straight perms because the eighteen months or more of perfectly manageable, no-fuss hair were worth it. After it was all cut away I'd delay a long time, generally almost another year, before my next perm, thinking that maybe this time I'd learn how to style my hair, before getting annoyed and returning to the salon.

Last October, I had another Japanese straight perm, at the $240 price no less, and for the first time ever, it didn't have the results I expected. It came out perfectly, but within a few weeks, it was clear that something went wrong. After a few washes, I discovered that a full inch and a half wide chunk right in the middle of the back of my head, up near the roots, had gotten damaged. Just that chunk frizzes up into a rat's nest that can barely be tamed into a puffy, sloppy ponytail, but only sometimes. Some days, it'll dry up nicely on its own, sleek and smooth, but after I go to bed and wake up the next morning, the frizz may come back. It's all very confusing, and makes the perm an expensive mistake. I'll probably never get another.

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

Obviously, from everything I've written, it's clear that anything I say about hair products must be taken with a massive grain of salt. Also, my hair is behaving in such an idiosyncratic way that anything that's working for it now couldn't be reliably predicted to work for anyone else, or even for me in another week or month. I've seen improved results and reduced number of frizzy days by switching from my normal OGX Keratin Oil shampoo and conditioner (it smells good! and works well enough with my unpermed hair). I purchased travel sizes or kits from Sephora, full sizes linked in the widget, and while each was only enough for four to five uses each, only enough to get a feel for whether I'd consider a full size purchase (and my hair's being so weird anyway that it reacts differently to the same product on different days). I've had the best results with the Alterna Replenishing Moisture set (which they've labeled as the "Anti-Aging Transformation" set) though it smells weird, the Living Proof Restore set is awful and seems to increase the frizz, and the Bumble & Bumble Hairdresser's Invisible Oil travel sizes are somewhere in between, but probably not significantly better than the OGX.

Has anything really strange ever happened to your hair following a salon treatment? Are you good about styling your hair? How did you learn how to style your hair?

Monday, January 8, 2018

Best and Worst Buys of 2017

Alas, 2017 was not a minimalism-ish-friendly year on the shopping front for me. I started out with good ambitions, to have maybe a month or so's "shopping freeze" at the start before drifting back towards the habits I'd had around the first quarter of 2016, usually one to two items a month. That "freeze" didn't happen, though I had a few light months where I shopped mostly on the secondhand market. Towards the end of the year I shopped a lot, and even if the big ticket items were arguable work wardrobe necessities, it didn't feel quite right. It felt like one of my early 2015 shopping months, when I knew from years of experience since then that that quantity, particularly as a regular and sustained thing for several months in a row, just wasn't right for me.

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 were a few reasons I was "off my game." Throughout my clerkship, continuing through early fall 2017, I had what the New York Times calls an "extreme commute," though only barely, and with less transfers than most. It was the best job ever, and I'd do it all over again, but it wasn't sustainable for the long term, and I was cutting a lot of corners on things like cleaning the apartment or eating square meals for dinner, because I just didn't have the energy. Combine that with the constrained budget and a significant pay cut, and knowing that the clerkship itself was an extremely expensive decision as a matter of opportunity cost, and I felt "off my game" in a broad sense, which for me, makes it more difficult to make good shopping decisions.

After the clerkship ended, I felt some additional "growing pains" from the transition to the different wardrobe needs of my new job, the sudden realization that former go-to retailers (Ann Taylor and Loft) were no longer a viable choice, and the return to a private sector paycheck. I think I've gotten it all out of my system now, so I'm hoping that 2018 will be a year without any "worst buys." 

Best Buys of 2017:
  • Ted Baker Long Wrap Coat, oxblood - This was a "surprise" buy at the tail end of the post-Christmas sale season, when the price was really good, and it was left in my size. I was so sure I was going to send this back, as I often don't like belted coats (which can look too bulky if I don't belt it just right) and oxblood isn't a color that often works for me, but I felt so pretty with it on. Alas, this was probably when I began to lose the plot with 2017's budget. Ted Baker brings this coat back in various colors every year, and they're offering a similar "maroon" shade this year. 
  • Marc by Marc Jacobs Too Hot to Handle Hobo (similar) - RIP Marc by Marc Jacobs ("MBMJ"), which made some of the first handbags I coveted as a college student. They've started selling this exact design as part of the current "Marc Jacobs" brand, but only at Gilt and Nordstrom Rack. I almost wonder if they took some of the old MBMJ stock and just... relabeled it? But that seems odd. It had been a long time since I bought a handbag, and I didn't have anything in a larger size purely for casual wear. I was also so sure I was going to send this back, but like with the Ted Baker coat, I was quite taken with it once I saw it in person. 
  • Grana Silk Ankle Pants, black - As my first elastic-waist pants that weren't purely for stay-at-home lounging, these were an experiment for me. I felt more confident choosing them because several other bloggers (Jane and Elaine) like them. These are great, I wear them for both work and play, and I find them very un-fusssy and easy to handwash, unlike Grana silk items in other colors. Alas, I think Grana may be discontinuing these, given the limited colors and sizes left in stock. The medium in short length are a perfect size and ankle length on me. 
  • Tory Burch Tee Dress - Tory Burch does a few prints of this pima cotton tee dress every spring/summer. I'd seen this more than a year ago, on Franish and an offline friend, but tee dresses were too out of my comfort zone then. I generally prefer more structured dresses, finding them more flattering on my slightly top-heavy hourglass figure. When I saw this on TheRealReal in what I was pretty sure was my size (it's a little loose in M on me), I snapped it up. Quality is good, but not great. I wore it almost once a week in warmer weather, and wash it in the machine in cold water every time. While there are no real signs of wear, there are some mostly-hidden small patches, mostly near the armpit, where the blue dye from the print seems to have bled a little.

My "best buys" aren't necessarily items with the best cost per wear ratio, or items that got the most use. Instead, I generally point to items that were a "surprise" in some way, either a new style for me, or something I didn't expect to like as much as I did, but that I ended up loving. Fashion experimenting isn't always a success, as you'll see with my "worst buys" this year. With me, there's an extremely fine line between style experiments that work out and ones that will completely fail. Sometimes, though, after trying on an item, I get a strong feeling that I really like this new-for-me thing, and I will be reaching for it, and with the items above, it worked out well.

Worst Buys of 2017:
  • Uniqlo High-Waist Belted Flare Midi Skirt - Getting two a-line midi skirts was definitely not wise, when the silhouette was already so out of my comfort zone. I turned out to not to be as ready to experiment with it as I thought. This one flares out less dramatically  at the waist, and is a little shorter, so between the two it was probably the one that was more likely to work out. 
  • Uniqlo Volume Skirt - I wore this two or three times to run errands in summer, but haven't worn it otherwise. Alas, maybe this spring/summer I'll be ready to try it again? I couldn't see myself wearing either of these to work now. We have casual Fridays, but these skirts are quite a bit more "look" than most people bring in their casual Friday outfits. 
  • Uniqlo Drape Jogger - Because the Grana Silk Ankle Pants were so great, and filled a similar niche, I never ended up wearing these. As with the skirts, I'm now on notice: Buying two somewhat redundant items definitely isn't a good idea. Just pick one! Plus, these move much too far towards the "casual" end of business casual for my new office. (They'd have been pushing it at the old place, with the sweatpant-like elasticized hem.) When buying both pants, I was somewhat inspired by the Artizia Cohen pants, which many on r/femalefashionadvice look fabulous in, but well, those are quite different from what I actually ordered. 

Clearly, there are a few lessons to take from the "worst buys." I do not, alas, generally do well with experimenting with new silhouettes, particularly with bottoms. It's also not the best influence on me when something is relatively affordable, such that my brain can get to thinking "why not both?" That everything came from Uniqlo is only coincidence, as I could have made the same mistakes with experimental items from any more modestly-priced source.

Did you have any particularly awesome or particularly unwise purchases this year? Any big lessons or takeaways from those, that will guide next year's shopping? 

Friday, January 5, 2018

Friday Link List

via The Oatmeal

Pardon the slightly coarse language above, but in an unusual turn of events recently, I was given occasion to attempt to explain cryptocurrency and blockchain to someone quite senior to me. I can't say for sure that I was successful. This joke is very relevant to law in general, actually, because of the extraordinary number of open questions that remain in even well-developed areas of the law. 

1. // As it's been a while since I last recommended it, I wanted to sing the praises of The Fashion Law again. It's such a fabulous and prolific blog, with broad coverage of legal and business issues related to fashion. I gather from this recent interview with Julie Zerbo, the creator and primary author, that she runs a very small operation, in which case, wow, the level of dedication and hard work that she's devoting to it, possibly entirely by herself on the writing front, is amazing. I particularly enjoy Zerbo's coverage of FTC guidelines and truth in advertising issues, i.e. here

2. // One reason I'm so protective of my anonymity (when I first started this blog, I didn't even disclose the type of graduate school I attended) is that a part of me worries whether my blogging could ever become a professional obstacle. I've seen someone lose a clerkship interview over their conspicuous and weakly written online article that popped up in their first page of google results. There manages, in a fit of strange coincidence, to be more than one current biglaw lawyer by day, former fashion blogger by night, that I don't think I can ever view positively, in the highly unlikely circumstance that our professional paths ever cross, specifically because of poorly written entries or other serious markers of poor judgment (think cyberbullying a vulnerable person) apparent from their blogs. In all instances, the offending content has long since been scrubbed from the web, but my memory is forever.

Alas, under our current administration, significantly worse blogging activity and other internet-based indiscretions are no longer sufficient to disqualify a person from becoming a judicial nominee. There are no less than three separate examples. Thankfully, the one who both failed to disclose a conspicuous potential conflict of interest and who simultaneously managed to be a ghost hunter, a horror novelist, and a KKK-defender has been withdrawn.

3. // Here are a few memorable 2017 posts from the many cool people in my blogroll: Style DTour's beautiful wedding dress; Jane's post about being done, for now, with online dating (in my usual way, I left a rambly comment); Cassie's year-end recap, including of her moves towards zero waste; Ariana's post about why she first went zero waste, and by the way, her writing this year has been incredible and harrowing, and is all highly recommended; and LL's thoughtful post about the Woman's March in Boston, which is particularly interesting to read now, as so incredibly much has happened since, both arguable victories and setbacks alike. I could never successfully compile a comprehensive list of every post worth checking out from my blogroll, as the list would be miles long, but rest assured, you can't go wrong with clicking on any of those blogs!

4. // If you're based in the US and have Netflix, or otherwise have access to the show, I highly recommend Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW musical dramedy. I haven't had this much fun watching something in a long time. It isn't for everyone - it's very much about mental illness (and is a compassionate treatment of those issues) - among other fairly dark and serious things, and the opportunities for secondhand embarrassment from what's onscreen are about as extreme as I've ever seen, but it is so smartly written, and completely hilarious. I'm normally someone who'd be completely turned off of a show by the secondhand embarrassment effect, but it's so good that I powered through anyway.

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

5. // As you may recall, I have a possibly questionable fondness for H&M Premium Quality cashmere, in part because their super-slouchy cashmere sweater (worn here), a birthday gift from a few years ago, is my favorite sweater. They've brought back their cashmere blanket scarf in more versatile colors than earlier this year, black, pale gray, and a somewhat toned-down bubblegum pink. The dimensions are a little smaller than the Grana one I bought, but it seems large enough to wear the same way, as both a slightly chunky scarf or a medium-sized shawl/wrap.

6. // I may put in an order for a pair of Sam Edelman Loraine loafers, as I've been in the market (I waited for months for the M. Gemi Felize to come back in solid-color leather, but they've only had it in suede), but might ultimately be put off because my size, 7.5, is no longer available anywhere in black leather. If I order, I'll be trying out the 8. The almost-identical Sam Edelman Lior loafers are available my size, but the horsebit hardware looks different. (And yes, I might be influenced by wanting something that looks like the Gucci loafers.)

How do you feel about Bitcoin? Have you ever seen Crazy Ex-Girlfriend? I wasn't able to get into it the first time I watched because the format takes some getting used to, but this time I got completely swept up. 

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

On Notebooks, Organization Tools, etc.

Back when I was barely a few months in to life as a practicing biglaw attorney, I wrote about picking up a set of Rifle Paper Co. notebooks, in part because I thought a separate, dedicated notebook for keeping track of my to-do list would work better than my previous haphazard system (in which case, the notebook might as well be pretty) and maybe also a teensy bit in part because I used to have an addiction to buying pretty journals and notebooks that would totally actually get used this time, unlike the last ones, and then would only ever be used once or twice at most. I put my new notebooks to their intended use for the rest of my time at my first firm. Since then, however, they've fallen to the wayside, as my workflow and typical number of simultaneous projects has changed dramatically with each of my two job transitions since.

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!

Today's post is about two of the different organization strategies I've used since that last post. The reasons why I switched between each method are fairly idiosyncratic, very specific to the nature of the jobs I've held, and I've gotten to try both digital and hard copy methods. 

Digital Solutions: Workflowy and Wunderlist

While I was clerking, and was responsible for a third of the judge's caseload (technically more than a hundred active cases at a time in my portion, rather than six or seven on the high end while at the firm, with only two to three active matters most typical weeks), I quickly realized that keeping my to-do list on paper wasn't going to work. My schedule, and the due dates associated with each to-do list item, were constantly in flux, as court matters get rescheduled quite often to accommodate the needs of parties, the attorneys, and the court. Also, my to-do list, in terms of case names, case numbers, and hearing dates, were now all a matter of public record, which isn't the case at all in the private sector, so using external apps, rather than limiting myself to the software installed on my work computer, became a real option. 

With that quantity of cases, each with its own schedule and slate of ever-changing due dates, I found a combination of two free apps was best: Workflowy and Wunderlist, both of which I primarily used in their website versions, through my web browser. Also, after starting to track my to-do lists in the cloud, it felt natural to also keep track of my personal, non-work to-do lists the same way, all in one place (primarily Wunderlist for the non-work items), rather than keeping my personal to-do list on Google Calendar. 

Analog Solutions: Bullet Journal

Now that I'm back in the private sector, it's no longer wise to rely on external apps due to confidentiality concerns, and I'm not fond of using the tools in Outlook to keep track of anything but final due dates (which isn't detailed enough a system  to keep track of my day to day workflow). So I'm back to using pen and paper, and thought that it was natural to adopt at least some bullet journaling techniques.

I could have gone back to the Rifle Paper Co. notebooks, but those are thin and fairly flimsy, with paper covers. Now that I was used to keeping my personal and work to-do lists together, I wanted to be able to take my notebook back and forth from home to the office, rather than just keeping it at my desk at work. (Also I don't think the small total page count and lined pages on the Rifle Paper ones are particularly suitable for bullet journal-style use.) So, of course, I indulged in a new notebook, this time a Leuchtturm1917 medium (A5) hardcover with dotted pages. I wanted a change from Moleskines, and the Leuchtturm feels a little sturdier and heftier than a similar-sized Moleskine notebook I used to own. Note that with the Leuchtturm, there is some "ghosting" or writing showing on the other side of the page with most pens, which I also found to be true with Moleskine.

For my weekly layouts, I currently use something most like type three here. I have a few sections of front and back pages for different things, including what is essentially a diary section (that I write in maybe three to four times a month) on a couple dozen pages in the back and a few single-page lists for myself (books I've read, a clothing shopping list, a makeup and skincare shopping list) in the front. I'm still adjusting and tweaking my bullet journal methods, but I've stuck to it for approximately two months of near-daily use, which is better than most of my previous records with using my journals and notebooks!

How do you track your personal and/or work to-do lists? Are you a bullet journal user? Any favorite notebooks? Alternately, are there any apps you like to use for to-do list keeping? 

Monday, January 1, 2018

2017 Shopping Budget Roundup

Presently feeling very uninspired about how I'd like to dress. I suppose what death by elocution posts, like these recent images, are usually the closest thing. My actual wardrobe on workdays is mostly dresses like in this post with whatever shoes, coat, and legwear are appropriate for the temperature.

Happy new year to all! I hope that everyone had a wonderful holiday season, and that better things will come in 2018. Today's post is a reflection on last year's fashion spending and my plans for this year's budget. (See my equivalent posts for 2016 here and 2015 here.) A separate "best buys" and "worst buys" post is also coming in the next week or two.

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!

Fashion Budget 2017 (and Earlier) 

Towards the end of the year, it became very clear that I wasn't going to come in under my planned maximum shopping budget of $1800 for 2017. Indeed, I sailed way past that number, coming in at $2883.12 for the year. I'd accumulated a backlog of things I felt I needed for work, and also indulged in some things that I thought were pretty. Note that, as with other years, I didn't track things like underthings and socks, though those are a negligible expense most years. Now that I've been blogging for three years, and closely tracking my shopping for most of that time, I have quite a bit of data on my own shopping to analyze. For the last few years I've spent:

  • 2015: $2729
    • In hindsight, this was a silly number for someone who was a student most of that year. When I started this blog, I was an often-foolishly extravagant student. Even if I had read minimalism blogs for a while, and used the combination of You Need a Budget and KonMari-style decluttering to great effect in cutting down other categories of unconscious, impulsive spending, getting my fashion spending and shopping under control has been a longer, ongoing process, one that can be charted through my history of monthly budget posts. Even by the middle of 2015, I thought there was progress, though it's not been completely linear. Also, to this day, I'm still far from immune to sudden unwise shopping impulses, that sometimes leave me rather befuddled later on, if I end up ordering and keeping the item.
  • 2016: $1545.99 + $400 = $1945.99
    • I did my budget a little differently in 2016, with a tighter limit than 2015, but no limit for an "off budget" pair of work shoes and a new suit. I wanted to leave myself open to buying, say, a Brooks Brothers suit or something more expensive. I ended up with J.Crew Factory suits and the Cole Haan Catalina Wedges instead, which were within the average range of what I could reasonably spend. By the end of the year, I generally felt like I had a good handle on my shopping, with no particularly noteworthy mistakes. Now, with the benefit of additional time, I see that a few more purchases proved to be less wise, my Everlane Modern Point shoes, for instance. They just won't break in, and are a little odd to walk in. As it turns out, the Ann Taylor and Loft sweaters from that year also held up very poorly. Mysterious holes abound, after very few washes. 
  • 2017: $2883.12 
    • I feel like I backslid a bit this year in terms of my progress with more conscious shopping. It may be understandable, as my lifestyle and work wardrobe needs went through major changes. My first biglaw firm was a permissive business casual environment, where I rarely saw anyone I worked with (we conferred by phone or email), and it was going to be a while before I actually needed business formal. As I got my new job quite late, I generally shopped as if I was going back. The new place is ostensibly similar in dress code, but because it's much smaller, I don't feel like pushing the envelope as much towards the casual end of the spectrum. I have business-formal occasions significantly more often. It was a big change, and I addressed it with a lot of shopping. 

Shopping-Related "Growing Pains" 

This past year, I also felt afflicted by some "growing pains" in terms of knowing which retailers or brands I could rely on. Out of the many fashion-interested, minimalism-leaning bloggers out there, I generally feel like one of the less discerning in terms of where I shop. I've gone on record saying that I thought many criticisms of "fast fashion" being so low quality as to actually be unwearable after a season or two were overblown. Only a year ago, I said I actually preferred fast fashion-y sweaters from Loft for work, because machine-washable unfussy-ness was really important to me. I should have issued a retraction sooner because, well, all the Loft and Ann Taylor sweaters I bought that year held up terribly, even as pieces from longer ago are still mostly fine, and continue to be in weekly rotation.

It left me feeling adrift, because those brands had been a mainstay of my work wardrobe since I started needing one. They were fine-ish as recently as 2014, but suddenly are not fine at all in terms of quality, value for money, and design. (It doesn't help that they have both leaned hard into cold shoulders, oddly placed ruffles, and strange sleeve details.) I don't know where to look to next for my work clothing needs.

I enjoy online window shopping for recreation. It's fun to browse pretty things, even items that don't fit into my lifestyle. For better or worse, because it sometimes leads to impulsive ordering (and tons of returns), it brings me joy, and I used to get a good amount of that joy from Loft, Ann Taylor, J.Crew, and the like. Other people generally got fed up with those brands and their quality issues much sooner than I, but by now, even I see it, how between the design choices and the quality problems, there's barely a single item per season that I could even bring myself to order and try on. Combine that with the sheer volume of sale emails, where that 40% off absolutely everything sale is no longer a rare thing, that I might need to wait a month or longer for in order to snag something particular, and I end up even more confused as a customer. It also makes their product feel even cheaper, knowing that they definitely plan to sell it all at 40% off or more.

Once my current set of work staples, all those Ann Taylor and Loft dresses, wears out (which should take far more than a year), I'm not sure what I'll do to refill it. I haven't gotten around to writing about my MM.LaFleur shopping experience, but spoiler alert, it's not that (mostly petite-unfriendly, generally overpriced). Talbots doesn't seem like the right direction, and I find Brooks Brothers stodgy, and difficult to shop from online to boot. Most people in my demographic who used to buy Theory haven't been impressed with their value for money proposition for a while, nor is their sizing likely to work for me anyway. In short, I'm at a loss.

Fashion Budget 2018

For 2018, I have two shopping-related goals, first to shop much less in terms of total number of items acquired, and second to, when finally choosing to buy something, have some of the "joy" back, to think that this item is beautiful, and that I am really enthusiastic about it. My closet is in a good place, with all of my actual needs, save for a pair of jeans, currently fulfilled by items that are in pretty good shape. Any new shopping I do will really just be for "fun", unless something unexpectedly gets worn out and needs replacing. I haven't felt that instant excitement and "wow" factor I'm hoping for with too many items in the last year, maybe just that Marc by Marc Jacobs hobo (similar) and the Ted Baker wrap coat.

It's still helpful to me to keep an absolute upper limit on my shopping in mind for the year, so it's tentatively $3000/year (approximately $250/month, though I never worry month to month as long as I stay under for the year). It's a luxurious, indulgent budget, even as a private sector attorney, but I'm secretly actually hoping to come in significantly under, while still finding a small number of things I really enjoy. I'm not due for, or particularly inclined to desiring, any big ticket items for now, no super-fancy handbags or coats, so significantly under the maximum should be possible.

Any ideas on where to look next for workwear staples? Anyone else feel like the number of sales and promotions have gotten entirely out of control, even compared to this time last year, when sales were already rampant? The reliance on discounting and the extent to which customers have been trained to wait for sales are hardly new phenomenon, though it still feels like a growing trend with some specific mall brands that didn't used to do it quite as often.