Sunday, December 30, 2018

2018: My Year of Somewhat Excessive "Joy" in Shopping

2018 has been quite a shopping year for me, to say the least! Although I track my fashion-related purchases and spending monthly, I'm not always good at keeping an eye on the big picture as I go along. It's only now, since November, that I've started looking back and feeling a bit sheepish, like I've probably shopped too much.

In total, I spent $4016.51 this year on 45 items (3 secondhand, all others new) for my wardrobe, as broken down further below. As a reminder, my total shopping expenditures for the past several years, since I started tracking, are roughly $2729 (2015), $1945.99 (2016), and $2883.13 (2017). I generally exclude activewear, sleepwear, underthings, and socks from this count, partially because I find them terribly boring, and mostly because I don't have a particular problem with overbuying them. Those are all negligible expenses most years.

Clothes (20 pieces)
·      10 cardigans
·      5 dresses
·      2 pairs jeans
·      1 jacket
·      1 shirt/blouse
·      1 sweater
Shoes (5 pairs)

Jewelry (9 pieces)
·      4 necklaces
·      4 pairs earrings
·      1 bracelet

Accessories (11 pieces)
·      4 pairs tights
·      3 handbags
·      2 scarves
·      1 wallet
·      1 pair gloves

I probably should have anticipated that I could easily overindulge when I set myself up with so few rules and guidelines this year, especially when one of the three guidelines was the extremely open-ended suggestion that I rediscover "joy" in my shopping. The other two directives sounded strict on the surface, the first was a general budget of $250/month, or $3000/year (which I've sailed right past), and the other was the goal of buying fewer total items overall (which may have been a silly thing to set when that's not a metric I actually keep track of directly, though it's easy enough to go back through my records and calculate the number). Unfortunately, I've never been great about sticking to more quantifiable, concrete limits to my shopping if I feel that my finances are otherwise well-managed.*

Incidentally, and I'm fairly proud of this, I'm now up to making ~$3500/month in student loan payments (resulting in full repayment approximately 3.5 years from now if I maintain that rate). Sadly, I still owe ~$142,000 in student loans (refinanced for 2.6% interest), and have a net worth in the negative five figures, after approximately 15 months of repaying those loans in earnest while also adding to my savings and investments (after roughly two years where my efforts were a wash). Alas, law school is a heck of an expensive undertaking!

Seeking "Joy" in Shopping

It may sound absurd for someone with minimalist-ish aspirations to focus on getting "joy" from shopping as their main goal for an entire year, but that has always been the focus of my particular brand of wardrobe-related minimalism-ish. Ideally, I'd maintain a small and tightly-edited wardrobe of well-loved pieces that I'm thrilled to wear, and then I use them until they're so worn out that they're no longer presentable. Then I'd replace them with something I hopefully enjoy just as much, rinse and repeat. (Plus, when I buy things that aren't quite what I actually wanted or had in mind, I end up dissatisfied and wanting to shop again and again for something else that's closer to whatever ideal item I was thinking of in the first place, as I alluded to recently.)

Actually getting to that small and tightly edited wardrobe is much easier said than done, of course. All these years, I've felt that my work wardrobe needs are a major obstacle. I have a much harder time editing my work wardrobe, there are lots of things I hate wearing (almost all blazers, for instance), but I still need them sometimes, particularly for court. I'm also much more fickle about items I buy solely for work, buying many iterations of things (like all those sweater blazers) to try and find a happy medium of items I think are comfortable, that I enjoy wearing, and that fit in well and are proper for the more conservative business-casual dress codes that govern the NYC-area white collar workplaces I've experienced in my career thus far. I used to joke that law firm business casual dress codes here are "casual business casual", because a lot of women associates are fashionable and push the style envelope a bit at the office, but the general NYC law firm business casual dress code is still quite conservative, relative to business casual dress codes in many other cities or industries. At the end of the day, we still have a lot of rules, some of them quite restrictive.

The main reason I set that "rediscover joy in my shopping" goal for 2018 was that I felt terrible about several mistake purchases in 2017 that I was never going to wear before I resold them. I'd thought I was completely over making such mistakes, given that I hadn't made any in 2016. Knowing myself and my habits, it seemed like the easiest way to solve the problem (given that I expected to have a solid handle on my finances otherwise) was to give myself more freedom to buy things I truly loved, and that brought me joy because they're beautiful and make me feel awesome when I wear them.

And I do hope that people won't think unkindly of me for taking great joy in beautiful clothes or accessories, that people won't think me excessively materialistic in a way that casts doubt on my overall character, or something. Longtime readers can probably guess that I have a few insecurities about this general thing. I'm always self-conscious about how lots of people out there could, from either the minimalism or frugality perspectives, be critical of someone who gets as attached to or excited about material goods as I sometimes am, and who spends accordingly.

Please follow the link below for some thoughts on my best and worst purchases of 2018, and my tentative plans for next year's approach to shopping, which will hopefully be more restrained. Also, best wishes for the new year to all, and thank you again for reading along here at Invincible Summer!

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

December 2018 Shopping Reflections

I hope that everyone has had a wonderful holiday! I've been spending time with my family in California, which has been great and relaxing, though, er, all of us also needed to work, whether from home or in the office, on Christmas Eve and starting again on the 26th. Not a big deal (in truth, we're not big Christmas people, we only ever do low-key, small things to celebrate, and as long as we're able to be together and eat some tasty food, it's all good!), and I'm personally very grateful to have a fast-paced, intellectually stimulating job that I enjoy, in which I'm always learning new things. 

With this post, I've rounded out my fourth year of tracking my shopping with these "monthly budget" posts. It's been great fun, and I like being able to look back at the additions to my closet, to try and analyze whether there are any trends I can identify. I'm also looking forward to writing my year-end shopping reflections, and getting started with year five of these shopping posts next month. Spoiler alert, though it's probably already quite obvious: I've gone a bit overboard this year with the shopping and how I approached it, I might even be planning to describe it with something rather dour-sounding, like the "year of excessive 'joy' in shopping and indulgence", or something like that. Although I'm typically skeptical about the "shopping fast" or "shopping ban" idea, I may even sort of be considering one. More on those thoughts in the following weeks!

There's no denying that this month's purchases were on the impulsive side. It'd been a long time since I'd had such an intense period at work, and I guess I learned that, when the chips are really down at the office, I'm far more likely to, er, deal with that and the resulting stress by shopping. I've always known that I probably have this tendency, but I don't think I've ever before been driven to the point where it went beyond excessive online window-shopping and browsing, to the point where work-related stress started playing what was likely a sizable role in my decisions to actually start putting in orders and keeping them.

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For instance, in the first week of December, I'd run out of my Wolford or Falke tights because I'd skipped doing laundry the previous weekend due to Thanksgiving travel. Thus, I reached for a pair of my old Uniqlo Heattech tights instead, which are durable and used to be great until they changed something about the material that makes them much harder to stretch them and get them on (though the sizing feels the same as before once they're on). Just those extra few minutes of struggling with them in the morning actually, er, sort of made me feel sad, and had a slight diminishing effect on my mood. (When work stress gets bad, I can get a bit... weird about things.)

And it reminded me that I was, separately, also starting to really dislike my collection of cheap-y fleece-lined tights that I wear on the coldest days because the fabric can feel itchy; the waistbands roll down during the day; and some pairs prove far less durable than others, ripping or stretching out in a very short time, though they're all ostensibly the same product. (I've tried to shop for more expensive ones before, but couldn't find anything back then that was both well-reviewed and seemed to be a fully equivalent product.) It seemed to me, in the moment, that I worked too hard, for too many hours, to feel weighed down (even if only a little bit) by needing to wear tights that I hated, especially when they're an almost-daily work wardrobe staple for me for close to half the year.

The other purchases this month weren't driven as directly by moments of work-related stress, but I did feel like being so busy at the office made me more ready than usual to indulge my shopping-related impulses when they came up. I didn't have a lot of time or extra mental energy to really think through each of my other wants when they popped up suddenly, I was a lot more likely to just "go with my gut" and make a snap decision. That snap decision was usually to go ahead and make the order. And uh, it could have turned out "worse" in terms of buying excessively much. I had moved on from the disappointment of that forest green Halogen coat (now on sale) that was way too long for me by becoming intrigued with the idea of a cornflower blue coat instead (one could, perhaps, see this from my fall/winter fashion Pinterest board), and so I ordered one from Fleurette that was on sale at Nordstrom. Probably unsurprisingly, that regular sizing-only coat was also designed for a taller woman than myself. The sleeve and body length weren't quite as egregious as on the Halogen coat, but the lapels and single button both looked comically large on someone of my height and build. Plus the color did not suit my skin tone. That coat went straight back, leaving me with the below purchases for December:

Fashion - (TOTAL: $458.66)
  • Falke Matte 50 Tights - $28.50 - During that stressful week, I decided to get new Falke tights because they, unlike Wolford, were included in a Bloomingdales sale. I bought a pair last year, and I wash and wear them (and the Wolford Pure 50s from around that time) once a week throughout fall and winter. They're all trustworthy old favorites at this point. I consider both kinds to be, for all practical purposes, largely identical, including for comfort (the waistband doesn't roll down or shift during the day) and durability (because I'm clumsy, I almost snag them on boot zippers or the edges of furniture rather frequently, and outside of one freak accident with a pair of my Wolford Neon 40s, which I consider my fault, all my Falke and Wolford tights have held up well). Do be careful of the size chart, I'm a size S for all the Wolfords I've tried, and generally am a size S or S/M in almost all other tights, but I'm a size M for these Falkes. 
  • Falke Warm Deluxe Tights - $44.25 - While shopping for tights as a direct result of that stressful week, I decided it was also time to try and find a better quality and more expensive replacement for my fleece-lined tights. Out of all the Falke tights at Bloomingdales, these sounded like the closest thing. They're 80 denier, and are actually quite thick and warm, they're very close to fleece-lined tights. Alas, either because of how stretchy the material is or differences in the actual sizing, a size M in these (following their size chart again) is definitely too big. And because they're too big, I have issues with them shifting during the day. So these have turned out to not be a great purchase, but I'll still use them because, well, on balance, they're not worse than those fleece-lined tights that also have issues, and I don't generally think it reasonable to try and return used tights.
  • Lo & Sons Saffiano Leather Pearl, pacific blue - $173.60 - Like many of my peers and blog-friends,  I'm quite familiar with Lo & Sons, and immediately understood the appeal of their focus on practical travel and/or commute-friendly bags when I first learned about them. Previously, though, none of their items fit my particular preferences and needs. When traveling, I'm content with my Longchamp Neo tote as a handbag and carry-on item (in combination with my old North Face backpack from law school as my other carry-on). If I'm going to switch to another travel handbag, it'll probably be to a small backpack. For commuting, I simply don't carry enough (no gym clothes, change of shoes, lunchbox, reusable water battle, and not even a laptop) to want something like the OMG, though I've seen many women law students happily use them. I'd seen many rave reviews about the Pearl being a near-perfect medium-sized handbag, but had never liked the colors. Plus, I was perfectly happy with that already ancient and well-loved when I bought it Coach City I've had for nearly a decade. (That bag came with major signs of wear, including several noticeable discolored, worn-out spots, it's in no shape to be carried in anything but the most casual settings.) Recently, Michelle mentioned that the new colors for the Pearl were intriguing. That reminded me that I'd really liked the pacific blue color when I first saw it, it looked almost identical to the dark denim shade of that Coach Rogue (sold out, of the current colorsdark turquoise is the most similar) I love, despite it's weight and slight impracticality for work. The rest, as they say, is history. When I ordered this Pearl, I also tried the Coach Saddle 23 in dark denim, as it was the color I was so attracted to (both bags seemed to be a similar size), but I found that, with its adjustable straps and more easily accessible compartments, the Pearl is by far the more practical and functional bag for me. 
  • MM. LaFleur Saint Ambroeus, charcoal - $212.31 - (available in black and navy) This purchase is the one I'm most sheepish about, because I've definitely written before about why I specifically shouldn't buy it, and more broadly, about how I found MM. LaFleur generally overpriced and not great for my body shape or height. Even if this "jardigan" is a "pretend blazer", a genre I clearly love beyond reason, given the excessive number of sweater blazers I've purchased in recent memory, I had already explained why this wasn't a great one for me. Part of why I changed my mind was that, with the J.Crew Sophie and Juliette sweater blazers (both worn here), I bought them knowing I likely didn't dare machine-wash or even hand-wash them (I have a bad history with J.Crew sweaters shrinking seemingly on contact with cold water, even if they never saw the inside of a dryer). Thus, it was clear that not being machine-washable was no longer a big criteria for me, and that removed one of the big obstacles with the Saint Ambroeus. Also, there was a bit of artificial scarcity-ish going on. In the years I've been following MM. LaFleur, I'd noticed they rarely bring back colors outside of black or navy, so when this previously sold out gray (more versatile and useful for me than black because most of my work dresses are black) popped back in stock in my size, one thing led to another. Like I said last year, this item doesn't look quite as good on me as on their models because I'm so busty, the lines of it get thrown off a bit, but er, I might have factored in that this fit issue could, perhaps, be improved in a few months (which isn't wise because it's probably just as likely for the fit to be made worse than before). Ack, that irrational "artificial scarcity-ish" fear of never having another chance to get a sought-after color or item can be a heck of a thing!

How was your holiday? Do you have anything you're particularly excited to search for in the post-Christmas sales? I myself should probably stay far away from any more sales, given how much I've indulged myself this year, and this month in particular. Is anyone else a Lo & Sons fan? As Michelle alluded to, when it comes to bags like those from Lo & Sons or Dagne Dover, ones designed with "women on the go" in mind, they do tend to be expensive. But for many women (including many entry-level professionals or graduate students), the price (including from secondhand options) may well be worth it because the bags are practical and professional-looking, and there's not very much in the way of affordable alternatives that check both those boxes. Oh, and does anyone know what I mean about "artificial scarcity"-type feelings throwing off their, er, shopping judgment?

Happy holidays to all, and best wishes for the forthcoming new year! 

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Link List: On Personal Finance and "Premium Mediocrity"

This was obviously not the main takeaway from the news that day, and from the meeting that preceded this particular moment, but Congresswoman Pelosi's Max Mara coat (discontinued, but scheduled to be brought back next year) is truly fabulous, as many on the internet recognized.

Things got quite busy at the office recently and may stay on the busier side through the first few weeks of the new year. (I'll be able to travel to see family for Christmas, and can likely take that week off, but may need to get right back to the grind immediately after.) It's not too bad though, I enjoy the job most when I'm busy, it's far more intellectually stimulating that way!

In other news, even now, more than a year after my disastrous straight perm fried a big chunk of my hair and caused at least a few inches of new hair from after the perm to grow in similarly fried, my hair is still in quite a state. It's gotten better over time, I think there's a light at the end of the tunnel now, it's been at least a few months since I was losing what felt like big, tangled snarls of it almost every morning because I couldn't get a comb through, the hair would break off first, thanks to the intractable knots. If I had to hazard a guess, I might have my old hair back in another six to eight months or so, after it gets to a length that I can have the last few inches of affected hair cut off. Knock on wood though, it's been extremely unpredictable all this time. 

With past, more successful straight perms, my hair seemed to grow in with a different, straighter texture for months after the perm. And on one previous, slightly less successful  occasion, some post-perm hair did grow in unusually dry and frizzy, but I did not learn from that experience, which is why I find myself in my current predicament. I don't think I'm imagining it that straight perms can continue have an effect on one's hair texture even after all the permed parts have been cut away! At this point, I can pretty much guarantee that I'll never get a straight perm again. (I may try keratin treatments afterwards, at the recommendation of Michelle and others here, but I probably don't dare do anything until after my hair is fully back to normal.)

1. // I'm way behind the times when it comes to sharing that viral story of extreme debt from Wealthsimple. One practically has to put a content warning on it, it's so awful, and the people in it seemingly so heedless in their personal finance decision-making on a continuous basis, despite knowing the depths of the mess they're in. (Law school loans play a role, though a surprisingly small one, given that they seem to have decided to just ignore the student loans.) The worst thing is that they appear, at this point, to have given up on ever improving things, which is absolutely going to be hard on their children once they're old enough to understand. It's even more of a nightmare than that 2016 article in The Atlantic about how an upper middle-class man, thanks to a lifetime of poor financial decision-making, claimed to be unable to come up with $400 in an emergency. (I once wrote about that article here, and also linked to some other interesting personal finance discussions that popped up online around that time.)

2. // Now here's another set of links that you may also have seen already, about "How Premium Mediocre Conquered Fashion", and the r/femalefashionadvice and r/malefashionadvice discussions it prompted. I find this piece a bit... complicated, in part because I think the message and writing are muddled, and could have benefitted from better editing. Among other things, I'm not sure many of the cited examples, including craft beer and artisanal pizza on the one hand, and Uniqlo cashmere, Kate Spade, and Tory Burch on the other, can really help make the same point as examples of a "Prada nylon backpack" or a "Balenciaga baseball bat". Those don't seem, to me, to be trends that are likely to come from the same place or impulse, nor to be goods targeted to the same audience. Also, the barbs about "the culture of entitlement of the millenial generation (and everyone else)" and about how "[w]e live in a world where many people feel entitled to luxury"? Seriously?! Sure, the article isn't actually saying "how dare the rest of you plebes who can't afford 'true' 'luxury' want nice things", but if there's a sentence or two that could be interpreted that way, it's a sign of poor writing, or of a need for more attentive editing.

I suppose the original article is, essentially (in fewer words, and with far less clarity and research), trying to make the same point as Dana Thomas's excellent book, Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster (affiliate link, I wrote about it in one of my first ever posts), did a decade ago. It's been a while, but I recall that the main point was that historic luxury brands, which used to offer something special (distinguished by materials and craftsmanship) and inaccessible to most ordinary people due to price and exclusivity had, in recent times, diluted themselves by making new, more affordable and accessible offerings (including sunglasses, fragrances, diffusion lines, etc.). Because it had proven to be a profitable strategy, many companies were doing it even more, including by cutting costs by using cheaper material and labor. And yes, given the subject matter, it might be a slightly snobby book. At times, I've been tempted to summarize it (with an uncharitable and admittedly slightly facile interpretation) as follows: "only Hermes remains 'good enough' to be 'true' ' luxury'." 

Anyway, my feelings on these topics are always going to be complicated. Over the years, you may have noticed that I might have a little chip on my shoulder from times when I thought that law school and my profession made me and others like me feel "less than" because we didn't come from "real" money (the type where family can significantly subsidize the exorbitant cost of law school, generally after already having done so for a costly undergraduate education). So I'm always going to be grouchy about things I perceive as snobby or elitist, particularly where those things are tied to knowledge of or consumption of "true" luxury brands as, apparently, a criteria for superiority. The actual, more useful, takeaway from the article may be that we should all be critical consumers, to really think about the value of everything we're buying and paying for. 

3. // And now for some blog entries I've been reading lately: Congratulations to Lea on being done with graduate school! Thank you to JENKR for directing me to this useful discussion about the importance of listening to more diverse perspectives at Reading my Tea Leaves. In that vein, I also enjoyed this discussion about diversity in minimalist blogging specifically, which I came across through Britt. Diverse perspectives, in all areas, are so incredibly important. I can't possibly understate how important I think they are, though I haven't yet had a chance to share all my sometimes-nontraditional reasons for so strongly believing this. (Some of the academic discussions arising from the Supreme Court's 2007 decision in Scott v. Harris play a role, as do academic discussions about addressing implicit bias.)

What did you think about that "premium mediocre" article? What about that Wealthfront debt story? (There was also a good, lengthy discussion about it on r/blogsnark, among many other places.) I'm worried about their kids for so many reasons, one of the main ones being that the parents have shown literally zero indication of having the ability or willingness to help guide their children to "break the cycle", including by making financially sustainable decisions for college or graduate school. And that wouldn't be the children's fault, but because of our broken system with student loans here in the US, the children would likely still be the ones forced to shoulder the burden in the end.

Monday, December 17, 2018

Shopping Life Lately

Coat: Halogen Drop Shoulder Wool-Blend Coat, green storm, size S (not kept)
Tee: H&M Premium Quality V-Neck Linen Tee, old
Shoes: Sam Edelman Lior Loafer, gold glitter (sold out, similar)

Although I initially thought I might have enough feelings about Black Friday to dedicate an entire post to it (among other things, I was grouchy about the elitism I perceived in anything that sounded broadly judgmental and superior about anyone who has ever shopped any Black Friday sale ever), that has turned out not to be the case. All my feelings have long since dissipated, and any thoughts I had are certainly no longer timely or relevant. Instead, let me point you to Luxe's and Adina's thoughtful posts about various things to do with Black Friday and also a little bit about larger themes related to consumerism and personal finance. I very much appreciated having the chance to discuss my thoughts at their posts, and also on my own November shopping post.

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!

Well, maybe I'll point you to one more Black Friday-related thing, though it may seem a little silly, namely the aftermath of the sheer chaos with J.Crew's website throughout Black Friday weekend, seen in the comments threads here and here on their official Twitter accounts and here on their official Instagram. Because I don't often go looking for, er, customer service-related brouhahas on social media, I'm personally a bit taken aback by the volume and, shall we say, the intensity of some of the comments. I do empathize with their frustration, J.Crew's website really was close to nonfunctional that entire weekend, and the 50% off almost all items was somewhat special (typically the best discount is 40% off), especially given their new sales strategy of the past few months, which pretty much always excluded large and seemingly arbitrary categories of items, including the only item I actually wanted all that time, the Juliette collarless sweater blazer. I am a little taken aback, though, by how grouchy people got in a public way, particularly when they're mostly using accounts that appear to have some identifying information. (Not quite related to the J.Crew website outage situation, Elle has some good thoughts about recent business happenings at the company, the general takeaway being that they're continuing to go through some troubled times.)

As for this forest green Halogen coat I posted about, even though it was not discounted in any way for Black Friday, I still decided to order it around then because Nordstrom claimed to be running out of stock in what I thought might be my size. As you can see in the photos above, this will never be the coat for me. What is this, a coat for giants?!* All kidding aside, I was a bit shocked. Despite being on the shorter side at 5'3'', it's not actually that common for me to feel so dramatically swamped by regular-sizing coats. I suppose I should have anticipated this because it was clearly an intentionally oversized coat on the model, and the model must, of course, be significantly taller than yours truly. I sent this coat straight back.

*This is an attempted Zoolander reference. 

Please follow the link below for some thoughts about my recent window shopping for black leather ankle booties and fair isle sweaters, and the sources of inspiration for each, one of them rather incongruous.

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 direct competition for them.

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!