Thursday, June 27, 2019

June 2019 Shopping Reflections

As the months go by this year, I continue to feel as if I'm settling in to a slightly new way of thinking about shopping. The jury's still out when it comes to whether the results will actually look different, of course, but as of this month, I still feel as if my mindset has changed. This isn't a process that's completely without growing pains, however, and I still wouldn't claim to have a particularly noteworthy level of self-discipline about shopping. Regardless, things feel different from 2018. 

Among other things, I'm gradually becoming more accustomed to some purchases being "slow", including in the purely literal sense of the word of needing to wait a few weeks for an item to be made-to-order. I think I've also better internalized the idea that, if an item has the right details and meets my criteria, then it's worth a longer wait. But because I'm super-indecisive sometimes, a longer production time could also mean that I end up not being able to make a decision about something until such a late date that I definitely won't get it until after its season is already over. 

I was maybe still a bit disheartened this month by some of those "growing pains" I mentioned feeling. They felt like the thoughts of a person who might be a little addicted to some aspects of shopping, namely to that sometimes-fleeting excitement of receiving something new-to-me that I think is awesome and beautiful. (There have, of course, been times when I start off with that feeling and still end up realizing, fairly quickly afterwards, that the item actually wasn't as suitable for me as I first thought. So that early excitement can be a deceptive thing!) 

This past month, there were times when I found myself browsing retailers' websites for an extended period, and I felt some real disappointment when I realized that I wasn't going to find anything new to add onto my Pinterest "shopping list". My usual next step was to go back to Pinterest, browse through the section of my "wishlist" dedicated to items I've been thinking about more seriously, only to feel further disappointment that nothing there struck my fancy as something I could order to try on right now. These feelings are so silly, the only real explanation for them is that I'm definitely addicted to something about shopping, likely to the novelty and excitement of getting my hands on something new-to-me. And it's not even like I've been deprived of that feeling recently, given that I've still shopped each month of 2019 so far!

I don't think it's inherently a bad thing to enjoy new-to-me and shiny, pretty things. If I saw something really awesome, for which the price was right, which fit my preferences and criteria, and which I expected would be functional to me for the foreseeable future, I'd totally still buy it.  

But it might not be a great sign that I get wistful about not currently having more new-to-me things that I'd like to think about buying imminently. If the open market isn't currently presenting me with ideas for new items that would actually be functional and useful for me, at the right price for my budget, and that meet all my requirements for whatever category of potential purchase I'm thinking about, I shouldn't feel disappointed! Instead, I could spend that specific time or energy appreciating what I already have, or doing something else that's more productive than, er, wishing I had something new to buy right now, or soon. 

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That faint but sometimes recurrent desire to shop for the sake of novelty or entertainment is something I'll need to keep an eye on. I've at least observed that the feeling of adding a few pins to my Pinterest boards (most recently, on a board dedicated to more fantastical and larger-than-life "Abstract/Runway Inspirations" that I don't think would ever translate to my day-to-day life) can sort of scratch the itch just a little, by giving me the chance to think about something pretty and new, even if it's just pictures. Plus, I always have various wardrobe-maintenance and clothing-care tasks in my queue, including actually making use of that handheld clothes steamer I got from my friend when I traded away my full-size one during my recent bout of free-cycling

Fashion - (TOTAL: $356.46)
  • Elizabeth Suzann Georgia Dress in Midweight Linen, black, OS - $205.00 - As I mentioned last week, I received my Elizabeth Suzann order earlier this month, almost a week ahead of schedule. I've worn my items a few times, and I'm really enjoying them so far, though I still haven't spent quite enough time with them to feel like I can give a detailed assessment. Note that the midweight linen material is a bit too thick and heavy for this to be a "perfect" summer dress for me. When temperatures climb into the upper-70s Fahrenheit under typical NYC summer humidity, I sometimes start feeling a bit overheated in this dress if I'm outdoors wandering for a long period of time. 
  • Elizabeth Suzann Asawa Tie Belt in Midweight Linen, black, OS - $60.00 - I don't think I'd have become interested in the Georgia dress in linen if it weren't for this belt and seeing an Instagram photo of someone in this outfit. While I very much like the idea of voluminous, relaxed-fit items such as the Georgia (everything in this vein looks so comfortable!), I personally think that amount of extra volume is often not suitable for the NYC business casual office environments I'm familiar with. Plus, with linen's natural tendency to wrinkle, the unbelted Georgia would start feeling even more casual. With the belt, I'm comfortable wearing this dress to work on days without formal meetings, though I prefer to keep it mostly to casual Fridays. I find the shape and design of the Asawa fairly unique and special, it transforms the shape of the dress. I like how infinitely adjustable this belt is, and with the texture of the mid-weight linen, it stays in place reasonably well (no real wardrobe malfunction risk). Though I do still find myself slightly repositioning the belt maybe two or three times throughout the day, as the widest part of it sometimes folds down a bit and shifts a little, particularly if I spend most of my day sitting at my desk.
  • Ficcare Ficcarissimo Hair Clip, gold, medium - $40.49* - I had seen Ficcare hair accessories recommended in Corporette comment threads. This was the month I finally decided to try one, now that my hair is more recovered from a recent... situation... with a failed "magic straight" perm, and I can start growing it out and going longer between haircuts again. Because my hair is quite thick, and also because I have essentially zero hair-styling skills, I've always had trouble getting most hair clips or barrettes to stay on. Whomever recommended Ficcare must have said the hair clips were unusually awesome, and that no other brand had worked for them before. With my lack of hair-styling experience, I can't fully vouch for whether that recommendation is entirely true, but I've found this clip to be easy to use. All I know how to do is to twist my hair up; position the resulting twist of hair in a loop towards the middle or lower part of the back of my head; and use the clip to keep the loop mostly in place (which results in what looks like a neat-ish updo from the front, but one that necessarily has some ends of hair sticking out a bit in back). That style stays in place the entire day with both this clip and the Maximas. 
  • Ficcare Maximas Hair Clip, caramel, medium - $50.97* - The price here takes into account a promotional $10.00 "Nordstrom Note" I received out of the blue. After getting my Ficcarisimo early this month, I couldn't stop thinking about the more colorful enamel Maximas clips. I kept going back to both Nordstrom's and Ficcare's website to try and decide which one would best suit my wardrobe only to end up with this fairly neutral "caramel" shade in the end. (And I must say, Nordstrom's photography is much better than Ficcare's, and makes the colors look far more appealing.) Note that finding the right size with both these hair clips is important. With my roughly shoulder-length (sometimes a little longer) and fairly thick, somewhat wavy hair, the "large" Maximas clip is too big for me to style my hair the way I described. The hair falls out of the clip more easily when the clip's too big. The "medium" size of both is about the right size for my hair texture and length.  

*Includes sales tax. 

With the Elizabeth Suzann purchases this month, I should be done with my warm-weather clothing purchases for 2019. There are other technically warm-weather friendly things I'm still thinking about, including the ES Bel Skirt in silk, but I don't think of that skirt as being a summer-only item. Then again, it may be that a longer silk skirt wouldn't have the right look with tights, which I find to be a necessity when wearing skirts and dresses throughout the colder months of the year. 

My one potential weak spot for an item that I see as being definitively "summer-only" comes about as a result of LinenFox's recently debuted bright teal-looking "emerald green" shade, which I think is gorgeous. I don't need any more summer dresses, but I really want one in that color. Except that, after factoring in the naturally wrinkly tendencies of linen; my preference for designs without too much extra volume; and how I prefer a design that would mostly hide my bra straps, I'm not sure any of LinenFox's dresses are guaranteed to be suitable for my tastes. There are a few designs on my "shortlist", but nothing in that group really stands out from the rest of the pack.

Admittedly, I have recently been a bit preoccupied with other shopping that's not for my wardrobe. Specifically, Bloomingdales has two styles of Smythson notebooks on sale: a pale blue Panama notebook with "Notes" embossed on the cover for 30% off and the larger Soho notebook for either 30% or 70% off, depending on the color. (And there's also an extra "buy more, save more" discount for the rest of June, which will be applied upon checkout.) These days, after starting to keep my daily to-do list (in a vaguely bullet journal-like style) and other notes in a hard copy notebook, I'm a lot better about using my fancy stationery than I used to be, so if I ended up getting one of these ultra-fancy notebooks, it'd be a major indulgence, but most likely not a wasted one.

Anyone else sometimes feel that sort of addiction to the novelty or excitement that comes from buying new-to-you things? How does one go about learning how to style one's own hair anyway, without having a patient sibling, friend, or parent willing (and also able, which is not a given) to do the teaching? Youtube tutorials are probably helpful for most people, but alas, I'm truly hopeless when it comes to hair-styling!

Monday, June 24, 2019

Link List: A Sense of Duty

A photo I took of someone else's super-fluffy, super-cute, and super-friendly dog on the commuter train to the suburbs. It seems that my M.O. with finding photographs for these link lists posts is basically just to use photos of other people's pets!

1. // Along the lines of some links I shared a few months back, on the theme of people around my age who prioritize and factor in the need (whether present or future) to financially assist their parents, and/or some of their extended family members into their money management plans, here's a recent article from The Cut that I enjoyed. It's based on an interview with Lily, who also blogs. Although our life circumstances might be substantially different (among other things, I also chose my undergraduate school due to its offering me, by far, the best need-based financial aid package available to me, but I was also a second-generation child of immigrant parents who had become fairly well-established and prosperous while I was small), and the same is true about the nature and extent of our expected future obligations to our parents, a lot of the ideas she shared still resonate with me.

When I think about what steps to take with my career in the long term, I feel on occasion that some of my desires conflict somewhat with my sense of duty. In the abstract, and completely separately from this topic, I feel some obligation to try and stay in certain more intense segments of my profession, the kind where Asian-Americans are extraordinarily underrepresented, to try and pave the way for future generations of attorneys like me. More concretely, and far more relevant here, whenever I consider the prospect of making future career decisions that would likely result in significantly lower compensation than some of my other viable options, I wonder slightly if I'd be doing a disservice to my hypothetical future children, my parents when they need me someday, and also potentially to some of my extended family members of more modest means, for whom a relatively small amount of money by US standards could make a big difference in Taiwan. This sense of duty isn't necessarily enough to substantially change my plans, and there are tons of other factors also at play, but it's on my mind.

2. // Speaking of things to do with my profession, there was a discussion on Corporette recently about law school student loan payoff timelines, particularly for people working in biglaw and biglaw-ish. 

The discussion also turned to the always mysterious and never particularly transparent norms and practices surrounding when biglaw associates eventually get the "up or out' discussion, generally with very little warning and often when the firm has pretty much already decided to give you your walking papers. Both of these topics are ones where it's hard to get reliable, "real talk"-style information, so anytime there's an opportunity to get more insight, I pay attention, even if I always take anonymous internet comments with a grain of salt. 

3. // This article at Vox's The Goods about the author's affection for, and memories bound up in, the soon-to-be-shuttered Dressbarn, and about the store's role in her transition, is lovely. 

4. // I'd been holding on to this r/femalefashionadvice link, to a discussion from an experienced leatherworker about his trying out a handbag-making class, for a while now. He noted that, with all the time and labor required to make a medium-large-ish bag by hand, it'd only be viable for him to sell them if he priced them at ~$2500 to $3000, and that the raw materials by themselves cost ~$600. 

When I saw Jess's recent post about getting started with leatherworking and her first few projects, I thought hey, it's a great time now to share these links! I'm always in awe of when people are able to make and create things. (At present, I definitely don't have the physical space to get into sewing, the creative hobby I'm most interested in. There's no room for a sewing machine in my apartment! Even if I only ended up learning some basic skills, like how to hem my own pants, I'd be thrilled.) 

5. // And now for a few interesting things over at other blogs I follow: Elaine's recent post about starting to use a safety razor is helpful, this is one of those small moves to lower-waste that I've thought about, but have put off because it's sort of intimidating; Revanche hosted a good discussion regarding how our views on money can be deeply affected by how we were raised; Michelle's discussion of some possible reasons for feeling career burn out really resonated with me (I couldn't relate as much to some of the more recent viral discussions about burn out elsewhere online); and I enjoyed M's May wardrobe roundup.

One thing M mentioned was how a social media platform or online community (in her case, r/femalefashionadvice, and in my case, some of the discussions of slow or "ethical" fashion that seem to mostly take place on Instagram, and also various money-centric discussions across multiple platforms) can have its own distinctive culture or set of commonly-held assumptions that can make a participant or observer preemptively defensive, or a little insecure, when thinking or writing about certain topics. This is an idea I've long been interested in, given all the online communities and social media discussions I follow as a mostly-passive observer (it's just on blogs that I'm a super-active commenter!). 

My own writing style has always had a natural tendency towards maybe-excessive disclaimers, lots of extra and possibly-unnecessary context, and things like that. It's just the way my brain works, and I'm also long-winded by nature. Law school may have amplified some of my writing habits that can sound defensive on the page, though law school also made me a more concise and direct writer. In any case, because of work, I can't help but think about and take into account potential rebuttals or counterpoints whenever I write, because I've been trained to always write with opposing parties and the court in mind. 

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Medical Bills, New and Somewhat Unexpected, For Things Entirely Routine

Bottega Veneta wallet (affiliate link), on sale at Net-a-Porter. While this is super-fancy, I spent far more than either the full price or sale price on fairly routine medical expenses in Q1 2019!

Much as it was for Luxe and many of her readers, the first quarter of 2019 was also an expensive time for me. Some of the spending was for fun reasons. I booked and paid for a few things related to my recent Maui vacation, and I also did a fair bit of shopping, particularly in February. A lot of the spending was for significantly less fun reasons, including taxes (I owed over $2000 to the IRS) and various medical bills, including at the optometrist for new glasses and contact lenses. But that was far from my only doctor or pharmacy bill that quarter. And none of the bills were for anything but the most routine or mundane of things, I never got sick or anything like that!

If you've been reading here a while, you might have noticed that I really, really like to complain about healthcare costs in the US, to an extent that might be entirely out of proportion with what I've actually needed to pay for. I've been lucky to have been in fairly good and uncomplicated health, except for one accident and the accompanying emergency dental work. Even that was far from as bad as it could have been.

Nonetheless, I basically write here about almost every single medical bill I encounter that's more substantial than a doctor's visit co-pay (~$25 for a general practitioner and ~$40 for a specialist on most of my insurance plans as a working adult). Maybe all this complaining is tiresome or tedious, but I just think it's important for us to remember that this isn't normal, things are different in many other countries. And this whole mess is among the many reasons why it's so important to vote, if you legally can. I'm also well aware that there are many far more important injustices than the minor indignities I've endured (the rising cost of insulin, for one). Plus, I think it's absurd that I - an attorney who regularly navigates multi-million dollar commercial disputes as part of my job (generally involving sets of multiple interrelated contracts spanning 100s of pages in total) - can only rarely make heads or tails of why I'm being charged a certain amount, even though I make considerable efforts to identify and review the documents setting out my coverage. 

Another "Latte Factor" Digression

To me, this topic also relates to larger questions of economic justice, and frustration with certain viewpoints in personal finance discourse. I'm talking about those rather un-charming individuals (and banks, including my own) that blame people's smaller personal choices, on things like coffees and avocado toasts, for their financial woes. Never mind that the math doesn't check out, typical life-ruining financial difficulties in the US are generally in amounts several orders of magnitude in excess of what anyone has ever spent on coffee or avocado toasts, certainly in a year, possibly even in a lifetime. And yes, I've been quite grouchy about this recently.

I say all this, by the way, as someone who deeply appreciates the importance of tracking one's spending down to the penny, enough that I can't resist any opportunity to proselytize about its virtues anytime one of my friends (both online and off) expresses even a slight interest in the topic. I even credit my use of (old, non-subscription) YNAB, to track and categorize my spending by individual transaction, with having a transformative effect on my spending and consumption habits. It almost immediately cut my careless Sephora, Amazon, and (R.I.P., they had consistently good prices) shopping, which had accounted for a shameful total in my early years as a law student, down to reasonable levels actually commensurate with my needs. For example, I used to comfortably exceed the Sephora V.I.B. spending threshold of $350/year without fail, and my online account even said I got close to V.I.B. Rouge's $1000/year hurdle once (though I think their calculation was wrong). Post-YNAB, I very quickly stopped getting anywhere close to V.I.B. status. So I'm well aware of the potential benefits of how "personal responsibility" (i.e. tedious and sometimes hard work, in the form of recording expenses and then cutting back certain spending categories) can result in a significant and beneficial overhaul of one's budget.

By tracking every single transaction without fail, one gets a true picture of one's total spending, and some of the details may be surprising. It often seems to be the case that people who try it out for the first time quickly learn the same lesson I did. Specifically, they might realize that they had quite a few categories where some careless, unthinking spending was occurring, which wasn't bringing them as much value or utility as the money they were putting in. Sometimes, all this low-utility spending represents a significant total. (That's generally the story at the heart of many posts in r/ynab raving about how the app is life-changing.) Before I started, I would have described myself as a reasonably careful spender, but it wasn't until I started tracking my spending that I learned this wasn't originally the case, and that I had some significant cuts I could make almost immediately without causing any discernible change in my lifestyle. But at the same time, none of this work was ever going to be enough to make any real dent in the actual cost of my legal education.

The financial albatross around my neck, my biggest monthly expense by far, and the thing that could have been life-ruining, but for luck (defined as a combination of preparation/hard work and opportunity/mostly random chance), is, unsurprisingly, my student loans. The numbers at issue there are the kind that no amount of cutting back on lattes and avocado toasts can completely fix. While in the private sector, for nearly three years total now, I've shoved in monthly payments of, on average, $3400. My current payments are now $3700/month and counting, a rate that requires ~35 more months of payments this exact size. With my student loan balance, I need to put in an extra ~$100 each month, every single month going forward, to cut just a single month off my projected repayment timeline. (All projections done using Lattes and avocado toasts ain't got nothing on that, if you ask me. That brings us to the medical bills. 

Medical Bills, Some New and Somewhat Unexpected

There I go again on one of my really long tangents before getting to the actual point of this entry, that I accumulated quite a range of medical bills in the first quarter of 2019, and all for fairly routine care, having experienced no accidents or bouts of illness. Despite not having been sick or injured, many of my medical bills were still for somewhat new and unexpected amounts. Many of these surprising line items were even for things of a type I'd used before, but they never cost so much until very recently. And almost everything on this list was covered by insurance.

I think this list of my surprising or unusually expensive medical bills from Q1 2019 provides a good case study for how it's becoming extremely clear, even more than before, that for contemporary Americans, the "latte factor" discussions from the likes of Chase Bank, David Bach, or Suze Orman simply miss the point. You can have all the "personal responsibility" in the world* and still be vulnerable to having your financial plans undermined by factors outside of your control. The expenses here are, ultimately, very small, because I'm a fairly healthy (knock on wood) working adult with no dependents, but the rate of the increase in costs in just a short time, for the same routine care I've been getting for years, is still, in my opinion, relatively dramatic.

And I think my list of somewhat unexpected and new medical expenses for mundane and routine things, infinitesimal as the amounts are in comparison to things such as the costs of housing, childcare, or higher education, is still enough to show how silly the people who take the "latte factor" seriously are being. Just like that, with a few sudden changes occurring almost all at once (mostly to my health insurance and its coverage of prescription medications, something outside of my control), I'm now paying close to the equivalent of an "extra-latte-every-weekday" amount in extra healthcare costs each month for some relatively simple, routine things. With regards to most of these expenses, I did just about everything "right"** (except for one thing I'll explain, but I made that particular mistake while doing my best to proactively respond to something I believed was set in stone by the text of my health insurance plan's policies).

Monday, June 17, 2019

Reading and Shopping Life Lately

To my slight sorrow, it turns out that I also spoke a little too soon about my streak of good luck with picking out books to read. Although I loved Celeste Ng's first novel, Everything I Never Told You, I ended up finding her second novel, Little Fires Everywhere, extremely tedious. It's a "did not finish" or "DNF" for me, after I got through ~40% of the book. 

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Close to half of Little Fires Everywhere, at least in the portions I read, is told from the perspective of high school-aged characters, which is just not my cup of tea. It seems that, as a reader, I quite enjoy reading about the foibles and inner thoughts of college-aged characters (for example, in Jeffrey Eugenides's The Marriage Plot, and more recently, in R.O. Kwon's The Incendiaries, both of which I may have enjoyed a lot more than most other readers typically do), who generally also seem very young, and sometimes also immature or foolish, to my eyes (I also cringe to look back at some of things I said or did at that age). For whatever reason, I simply can't muster up the same enthusiasm for reading about actual teenagers. 

Plus, I just really personally dislike one of the main characters (the one Reese Witherspoon will play in the forthcoming television adaptation), who seems to be the type of person who considers themselves very progressive, charitable, and well-meaning, but is actually very... let's just say... non-intersectional in their thinking, with tons of implicit biases about people from different backgrounds, both as a matter of race and class. Actually, that Celeste Ng is able to get into this character's head and write her in a way that inspires such a visceral reaction in me probably is a testament to the strength of her writing skills. Unfortunately, it also means that I just can't enjoy this book. 

I've now moved on to Preet Bharara's Doing Justice, which I just received from the library after waiting a few weeks for my turn, and it's a great book so far. Though if I had to pick just one recent, well-known memoir written by an attorney that I think everyone should read, I'd still recommend Bryan Stevenson's Just Mercy first, as I think the lessons imparted by Just Mercy are of truly unique importance in explaining some of the problems facing the US today.  

As for my recent shopping life, It's been around a week and a half since I received my Elizabeth Suzann Georgia dress in mid-weight linen and matching Asawa belt in the mail, and I really love them so far! I should note that the mid-weight linen is not a perfect summer fabric for NYC, as it starts to feel a little heavy for my tastes when the temperature climbs past mid-70s Fahrenheit, given typical summer humidity levels. But with the heavier linen, the dress has a lovely shape when its belted, the fabric has just the right amount of stiffness and structure. I find the design of the Asawa belt fairly unique and clever. More on these items in a few weeks, once I've had a bit longer to test them out.

I've had very little luck with all my other recent shopping, alas, even with all the sales that have been going on. I decided to order that APC Clare Dress (also on sale here) that caught my eye a few months back, now that it's been discounted from $325 to ~$227 most places. (I ordered mine directly from APC.) The cotton-linen blend fabric has a nice texture, it felt light and breezy for summer while still being substantial enough that it wouldn't be a problem that the dress is unlined. I ordered the 38 and it seemed to be the right size for me. Unfortunately, I was also correct that the design and shape of the dress, with the extra volume around the chest and shoulders, wouldn't fit me well. (Plus, I expect my proportions in that area to change significantly in a few months.) I should also note that the vaguely faux-wrap looking v-neck actually worked a lot better on me than expected. I worried it would be so open on me that I'd need a camisole underneath, or that the neckline would look distorted because I'm so much bustier than all the models, but I didn't actually have either problem. The dress would, unsurprisingly, probably better suit someone who is a little taller, it's a midi-length dress on me. Though if the design had fit me better through the chest and shoulders, I would have been totally fine with the off-the-rack length. 

I also ordered the APC Odette bag in burgundy (sold out, only black remains) and the Alexis trench (also on sale here) to try, but neither item suited my tastes. With the Odette bag, I should have known better, that I love the look of, but generally wouldn't like actually using, very structured bags made of stiffer leather, the exact same issue I had with the famous APC half-moon bag I've also ordered and returned previously. With the Alexis, I actually really liked the way it fit on me, also in a size 38. It had a sleeker look than I get with my Everlane Classic Trench (discontinued, current version), in part because it's a thicker, sturdier fabric, with a full lining. Alas, I didn't like the color on me, it's a darker, more tan beige than my Everlane coat. I'm also not sure the thicker cotton fabric would suit NYC weather patterns either, it might be too heavy. Who knew it was so difficult to find the right beige color? Before I bought the Everlane trench, I recall trying on at least two or three other coats, rejecting them in part because they were in shades of beige that just didn't flatter my skin tone. 

How has your shopping or reading life been going recently? Anyone else have the same difficulty with finding the right shade of beige or camel when shopping for coats or other clothes? 

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Latte Factor Revisited, Small Lower-Waste Moves, etc.

Photo from a recent weekend visit with K to Felix Roasting Co., on one of the rare occasions when I add a pastry to my coffee order. I couldn't resist the Instagram-friendly matcha croissant from Supermoon Bakehouse!

Turns out I spoke too soon about not buying as many lattes and flat whites this year. It seems that certain types of busy periods at the office, depending on the kind of tasks I'm doing, can increase my cravings for those small indulgences. All these fluctuations in my fancy espresso (or matcha) drink consumption habits these past few years, combined with how I carefully track every expense by individual transaction in YNAB (so I know, down to the penny, how much I actually spend at coffee shops each month, and exactly how often I go), give me what I think is an unusually specific level of insight into all those "latte factor" discussions that just won't go away.

With the ~12-15% tip I typically give at coffee shops, each of my flat whites, lattes, or matcha lattes cost ~$5/each, sometimes a little more, sometimes a little less, depending on my exact order and which shop I'm visiting. In an "ideal" month, where I'm happy with how often I'm indulging and feel like I'm using the drinks as a slightly special treat rather than, er, an unthinking habit I'm getting a bit dependent on, I'm visiting a coffee shop around ~2x/week and spending ~$42/month. (Keeping in mind that between Starbucks rewards, redeeming all my Drop cash-back for Starbucks gift cards, and "get one free for every 10 or 11 purchases" loyalty cards at my smaller, local coffee shops, I'm generally getting ~1-3 free drinks a month.) So ~$42/month is my "happy medium" baseline number. 

In a more typical "not so good" month in the past, I'd generally be visiting coffee shops around ~3-4x/week, and spending more like ~$62/month. That's when I start feeling like "okay, I'm maybe starting to buy these espresso or matcha drinks more out of habit than actual enjoyment," which is not my favorite thing. Whenever I've fussed about indulging in too many lattes in the past, that's generally what was happening. 

This month has been a more unusually indulgent one, where my average is looking more like 4-5x/week, resembling that "visits Starbucks every workday" stereotype that most people who think the "latte factor" is a real thing like to talk about and deride. I think it's because I'm a bit more caffeine-addicted than usual, want my dose earlier in the morning, and the office coffee isn't hitting the spot quite as much. This is a slightly new phenomenon for me, and maybe I'll cut down on it sharply in short order by regularly making homemade cold brew again, so I'm not quite sure yet what this month's actual spend will be, but if things kept up, it'd likely be ~$85/month~$43/month more than my "happy place" baseline.

That's getting to a fairly significant amount of added spending for the month if it's going to be a recurring issue, but the conditions of contemporary American life are also such that this extra $43/month might not mean much. Given recent changes with how my insurance company covers my choice of contraception (which is also an important, even essential, part of my acne-fighting regime), the price for me now holds steady at a monthly co-pay of $39 and change (or, more specifically, that's per 28-day supply). And because the pharmaceutical companies, health insurance companies, and  pharmacy benefits managers ("PBMs") all act in ways that have resulted in upward hikes to the price of acne-oriented and other dermatology prescriptions, I also now have two other medications with $75 copays per 3-month supply. Oh joy! So the extra spend from when I feel like I'm way overindulging at coffee shops by going every workday covers my contraception each month with less than enough for another latte left over. That's significant, but I can't see how it apparently turns into a life-changing number each year for most localities in the US.

And I still don't quite know how my bank gets its number for $100/month savings by "turn[ing] your latte into something grande" and saving all your coffee shop spend in a high-interest savings account instead, as going every workday doesn't get me that close to $100 a month. Maybe adding in a pastry once a week would get me there, but it's the rare coffee shop that stocks pastries that are particularly tasty (I'm admittedly very picky, as I ultimately prefer savory foods to sweet). I suppose I might also be a bit above average in my ability to turn my frequent purchases into free drinks through loyalty cards, Drop cash-back, and Starbucks Rewards.

Friday, June 7, 2019

On Free-Cycling and My (Really Slow) Minimalist(ish) Journey

When we first moved in to our current apartment...

Despite all my years of closet decluttering, both via KonMari method and otherwise, I've never tried reselling any of my unwanted clothes or shoes by listing items individually on eBay, Poshmark, or what have you. I'm sheepish about this too, because I know full well that there are many reasons to try reselling, from both the frugality perspective (potentially recouping part of the cost is a good thing, even if, in many instances, one's used things don't have much value) and the minimalist-ish perspective (among many other things, from a waste reduction standpoint, it seems logically sound that the best chance for an unwanted item to have a meaningful second life is by reselling it directly to a buyer who specifically wants it, rather than donating it for a highly uncertain outcome).

Regardless of all the reasons why I really should make more of an effort to resell my many items that are still in reasonably good condition, but won't get any further use in my hands, it's simply not possible for me to routinely find the time or energy for high-effort resale attempts. If, in my current line of work, I can't even reliably make time to cook a Hello Fresh meal (~20 minutes of active work and ~20 minutes of passive waiting time in most instances), I won't be finding the time to continuously keep re-listing my (not particularly exciting or desirable) items on eBay.

Plus, as someone who is semi-regularly in the secondhand market to buy the kind of clothing I'd have available for resale (mostly Ann Taylor or J.Crew-type items I barely ended up wearing), I'm well aware of how little my used things are worth, even when in excellent condition (which isn't a given; I generally tried to wear them for a while, and not all of them laundered well). If I wouldn't buy these pieces used for much more than, say, ~$35/dress, I could hardly list them for more. It just wouldn't sit right with me, I always roll my eyes so hard when I see eBay listings for unrealistic or unreasonable prices. To be blunt, the amount of money we're talking about (especially after factoring in how poor the chances are for actually reselling many of my rather unexciting things) simply isn't likely to be worth my time or energy to actively list individual items for resale.

And the things I'd want to sell generally are far less desirable or interesting than the very specific items I've previously been in the market to buy. The market for the type of run-of-the-mill, dime-a-dozen secondhand clothes and accessories I'd have to offer is oversaturated and competitive, both from other individual sellers and from ThredUp. Furthermore, given the near-constant 30% to 40%-off reductions on new merchandise and the more aggressive discounts on sale merchandise available at the stores in question (Loft, Ann Taylor, J.Crew, etc.), I'd even be competing with the retailers themselves! Incidentally, that's what makes me roll my eyes at some of those eBay listings, when people try to sell their used things for more than similar new items are going for in the stores right now. The stores even have the added advantage of mostly free shipping.

Those low prices and constant sales are, of course, symptoms of undesirable trends. These are all brands that are undeniably fast fashion in their manufacturing practices (seen partially in their frequent drops of large volumes of new products), and ones that have likely been undertaking ever-increasing cost-cutting measures (based on comparisons of the traits of current merchandise to those of typical offerings in years past), likely due to their generally well-publicized financial woes. The low prices are not, in any way, something to aspire towards. But, well, that's the market my listings would be competing in, if I made them.

The result is that things have only been leaving my closet in other ways these past few years. Even though I try to be as responsible or as ethical as I can when sending off my unwanted things, I'm very realistic and aware about how imperfect my efforts are: 
  1. My best items that I think would suit my sister are saved for her. Because I know her tastes well, the things I send her way are generally put to good use for a long time after. Some of them even become staples in her wardrobe, which is a particularly gratifying outcome. (This is one of the many reasons why having a close-in-age sister is a wonderful thing.) If I had any friends who had remotely similar tastes in clothing and accessories, that'd be another place for my nicest, but underutilized, things to go. 
  2. Over the years, I've sent many items to ThredUp. Back when it was easy to track how my things were selling, they even tended to do well! That being said, payouts for my items, mostly a mix from Ann Taylor, Loft, and H&M-type retailers, were never great for what they accepted (which was ~50% of what I sent over the years), maybe ~$4/item max, mostly less. Though frankly, I was so thrilled at how easy it was that I did not care. ThredUp's intake and payout policies have changed in the many years since I started reselling, so I'd expect significantly lower payouts now. I also have doubts about whether their business model will work long-term (if they've cut payouts significantly since they started, and are also pricing many items too high to sell, those can't be good signs) or whether they're actually better for the environment by significantly reducing waste (they started making and selling new items, which is bizarre), so I'm not sure I would continue with them as a reseller now. And anything they don't accept likely ends up in the same type of donation or textile recycling situation as item 4 on my list. 
  3. This hasn't fully played out yet, but for some of my potentially more valuable used things that my sister wouldn't like, I recently dropped them off at a TheRealReal physical store for consignment. Previously, these items had languished for years on my list for possible future higher-effort resale. Most of them I already knew I wanted to resell before I even started this blog, and I certainly haven't worn or used them since, which means they've been sitting around collecting dust for a half-decade or longer!
  4. Everything else has been going to the donation and textile recycling collection points closest to wherever I've lived in NYC. And yes, I'm painfully aware that donation is generally not a route to used clothes being put to good use by someone else, due to the extreme volume of donations constantly being made in the US. But I may be at a loss for a better solution for what remains after I've exhausted the other options. 
  5. For the relatively few things that are in such poor condition that I know they truly have no chance of being a usable donation (like, say, the Wolford tights I shredded by accident), I do put them in the trash. Obviously, there's nothing redeeming about this, but I'm not sure I see another solution. 
Would you believe that I haven't even gotten to the main point of this entry yet? What I actually wanted to discuss today is another method I've added to the mix in recent months, though, as I'll explain, it's had little real success: free-cycling.

I last engaged in a significant bout of free-cycling when I moved out of student housing after law school, in order to send off furniture, kitchen items, and other home goods that would be made redundant when I moved in with K. I loved free-cycling back then, and a university campus is certainly an ideal place to do it. Other students took practically everything I listed, and I was pretty sure they'd happily and enthusiastically put all my things to good use, given how restrictive students' budgets often are. It felt like a great thing to do, to give away as much as I could!

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Maui Trip 2019: Maui Chef's Table and Mama's Fish House

A scallop dish, the second to last savory course from our dinner at Maui Chef's Table. I think this might have been the best single dish I've ever had! (And I've been to some really nice places in NYC, mostly for work...) Sadly, I'm not a great talent when it comes to food photography (or iPhone photography in general), so my photos don't do justice to the food.

As promised, here is my second and last post about our recent family trip to Maui, focusing on some of the delicious food that my mom, my sister, and I got to try. 

In actuality, I'm normally not an extremely food-focused traveler: I greatly appreciate and value good food, of course, and particularly enjoy having tasty street food or hawker center food on my trips, but my travel plans generally don't prioritize food. We often don't have many specific restaurants we want to try, for instance. K and I will generally do one fancy meal on our longer trips (for example, I booked him a birthday lunch at Tin Lung Heen at the Ritz-Carlton Hong Kong a few years back), but that's about it. On this vacation though, some of our plans focused very much on food. Specifically, I booked reservations for us at two of the most popular fine dining attractions in Maui: We did the Maui Chef's Table, a once-a-week (usually Saturdays) tasting menu and fine dining experience and we also went to Mama's Fish House, a well-known local restaurant. 

First up, a few details about food expenses generally when traveling to Maui. As I mentioned in my last post, restaurants tend to be quite expensive, maybe a little more than I'm used to, even in NYC (~$15/meal at fast casual places and closer to ~$25/entree at nicer sit-down places seemed typical for Maui), at least in the tourist-focused areas we frequented (Lahaina, the Kaanapali Beach area, etc.). It's probably the first destination where I felt strongly that it would be a good idea to get a hotel room, suite, or other lodging with a kitchenette, and to rely in significant part on cooking food from grocery stores for at least a few meals, particularly breakfasts. There was a large Safeway in Lahaina that we stopped at a few times, and there's also a Costco near the airport that many tourists go to before driving out to where they're staying. 

That's not to say the restaurant food is a bad value! I enjoyed pretty much everything we had, whether from a fast casual place or a slightly fancier sit-down place. (More fast casual-leaning places we liked included Joey's Kitchen in the Whaler's Village shopping center food court and Ono Kau Kau.) It's just that the prices on the menus give such sticker shock, even to people used to very HCOL areas like NYC or the Bay Area, that one can't help but start thinking about ways to save on food costs during any future trips. Grocery stores and Costco in Hawaii also have really good poke, by the way, good enough that it'll ruin you for ever eating that dish again anywhere else in the world. (One of my favorite comic artists on Instagram, @dami_lee, recently made this exact observation in one of her comics.) 

Please follow the link below to read about our experiences at Maui Chef's Table and Mama's Fish House, both of which we greatly enjoyed.

Monday, June 3, 2019

Link List: On Shopping Diaries and Costume Design

My sister's dog is such a goof! I haven't been able to visit my sister for a while, as we spent our vacation time traveling to Maui together with our mom instead, so I borrowed/stole this photo from her.

It's been a while since my last link list post! K and I don't really have any further travels planned this summer, even though things tend to quiet down at the office (many of our colleagues try to get out early on Fridays to start driving out of the city for the weekend). Although work never fully stops with our biglaw and biglaw-ish projects, summer still tends to be a period where the pace of everything slows down because so many people, whether opposing counsel, our colleagues, or even the judge assigned to the case, will take vacation at various times.

I haven't really found any great long-form pieces to recommend in recent weeks, so this link list is a bit of a grab bag. Some of the most interesting things I've seen recently and that I want to discuss are actually based on comments from other people on Reddit or Corporette

1. // I thought this comment on Reddit about the social and economic pressures in the US that might lead so many people to multi-level-marketing ("MLM") or pyramid schemes was thoughtful and observant. I've done some work recently that involves reviewing MLM advertising material, and well, let's just say the language of it can start sounding a lot like the language used in some FIRE discourse online or on some money blogs (the more heavily commercialized one that I don't link to or recommend). While the recommendations made by each type of content are different, they share the trait of relying heavily on the siren's song of "financial freedom" and being able to spend more of your time on the things you care about rather than a 9-to-5 job, let's just say.

For more information on the MLM side of things, I highly recommend The Dream podcast, which gets particularly good and interesting in the later episodes, though it's a bit of a slow burn at the start. You would not believe the people in high places who have been known to do promotional work for or otherwise profit from big MLMs like Amway. 

2. // I was surprised to see that so many people on r/blogsnark enjoy a popular Instagram account (things.i.bought.and.liked) that's basically just a shopping diary, albeit from someone with a witty sense of humor than the average, it sounds like! Then again, I really enjoy shopping diary-like content (in some lights, that's even what my blog is half the time), as long as I feel that I can "trust" the reviews of the person behind it to be "true" to who they are and their tastes. Sure, our tastes and shopping budgets will all be different, but ideally, after reading a person's writing and commentary over a few weeks or months, I get a sense of what they like, whether we're similar clothes or shoe sizes or have similar tastes for some things, and how much their recommendations will work for me. 

3. // This isn't exactly something I would only have learned about from Corporette, but one of the topics that came up recently was that silly non-story about some of the legal fees Senator Warren previously charged. The rate was $675/hour, which I can assure you was probably modest for someone of that  level of expertise, and was also "at or below market rate" for the nature of the work being done, as people attested to in legal filings contemporaneous with when those fees were charged. Representative Ocasio-Cortez had a good take on it (venture into the comments on that tweet at your own peril, however).  

Anyway, I can personally vouch for standard biglaw billing rates these days generally starting at ~$450/hour for freshly graduated first-year associates (though it may be that there are other arrangements between firms and their corporate clients that mean the clients aren't paying for every single hour worked by first-years) and ranging up to over $1000/hour for various partners, not all of whom even have the specialized experience or credentials she did. Incidentally, the last time I recall biglaw-ish legal bills being in the news was in connection to the seizure of Michael Cohen's files last year, where the special master (a former federal judge who'd retired to the private sector) charged ~$700/hour, which is, quite frankly, likely also below market for an attorney of her stature. What was unusual there is that partners typically don't spend that many hours working on any single matter in such a short time, as they delegate a lot of the time-consuming work to their associates (they supervise those associates closely, though). 

4. // Now this is a super-old story that I never got around to sharing, but I enjoyed this Vox piece about how a few different authors approached "designing" a particular outfit for their book characters. One of the authors featured is Kevin Kwan, discussing Astrid from Crazy Rich Asians.

Recently, I've been thinking a lot about how I would describe my personal style, and how to make sure new purchases fit into it, so that I will love and put to good use anything I buy going forward. I personally find it helpful to think about this from a more "costume design" perspective: What kind of character would I be if my life were a movie or TV show, and how do my clothes, shoes, and accessories reflect that? Thus, I found this particular article, from an actual costume designer about how she approaches her job, to be super-interesting. (Sadly, it didn't attract much discussion when shared at r/femalefashionadvice.) 

5. // A few fun links from other blogs I follow: Maja has raised a remarkable collection of houseplants; I definitely learned some new things when reading about Jess's home-buying process, sadly, it'll be quite some time before we can think about buying a home; and Bitches Get Riches wrote some good food for thought on what types of spending from their parents felt or didn't feel impactful on their childhoods. Though one challenge with trying to make plans around such ideas is that I'm not sure one can easily predict what will be helpful to a particular child. I hated sports and all athletic activity, and also didn't particularly enjoy the idea of being a "team player" over the pursuit of, er,  personal glory. But I feel like I'd have ended up learning some valuable new skills if my parents had pushed a team sport on me for at least a few years. I'd have shrieked and complained about it to high heaven, though, and would have hated it. I certainly wouldn't have had a chance of acknowledging or appreciating the benefits until sometime in my mid or late 20s, at the earliest!

I also enjoyed the discussion of people's favorite colors for their wardrobe over at Talia's. I don't have restrictive rules about colors. If it looks good on my skin tone and can be worn with the other things I own (that one's not too difficult, because most of my clothes are neutrals), I'll be happy to wear it. Of course, just having those somewhat open-ended two "rules" or guidelines can end up being quite restrictive in practice. A lot of the colors that get popular or trendy some years (anything pastel, almost all coral shades, and most colors in the orange or yellow families, even if one of my favorite coats is bright red-orange) tend not to work well on my skin tone. My wardrobe definitely ends up heavily favoring certain colors (neutrals, darker jewel-tones) over others. 

Does anyone else think about their personal style from a more costume design-type perspective? Do you shop for your closet with any "rules" or guidelines about colors in mind?