Monday, April 20, 2020

Social Distancing Life Lately: Six Weeks On

A photograph from a different time: I took this while my mom, my sister, and I were visiting The Vessel at Hudson Yards last December. 

How are you all doing? K and I are now in our sixth week of fairly strict social distancing - we only leave our apartment building approximately once every two weeks for groceries - after officially starting to hunker down and stay in on March 13, the day after my surprise return from my business trip. We're still doing well, with nothing new to report as of yet, on either the health or personal finance management front (which makes both of us incredibly lucky, I know).

Legal Industry News

Law firms, including a few biglaw firms, have started reacting to new market conditions far more quickly than I initially expected. By late March, a number of biglaw firms had already started cutting attorney salaries, for both partners and associates. Many other firms have since followed suit. Associate salary cuts of up to 20 to 25% are not uncommon at the firms that have announced attorney salary cuts. As of yet, it appears that relatively few biglaw firms have engaged in widespread associate layoffs to an extent that quickly gets leaked to Above the Law and becomes public knowledge. Though there have been reports of furloughs, sometimes only for non-attorney staff and sometimes including attorneys. To my knowledge, this industry shift towards using salary cuts as an alternative to attorney layoffs is unprecedented: I'm not aware of any similar salary cuts for actively working associates around the 2008 crash.

Overall, things are looking okay-ish in the short term for all of my friends in the industry. It must, however, be absolutely terrifying to be a law student right now, as there's considerably more uncertainty surrounding summer associate programs - the primary path to a full-time, entry-level biglaw associate job, and the best route to paying ~$200,000 in student loans at a reasonably quick pace  - than around current associate job security.

Personal Finance Management and Related Plans

As for me, I continue to be extremely fortunate. My current workplace is so small and specialized that larger industry trends, including in biglaw, aren't predictive of how the new market downturn will affect us. I now have reason to be somewhat confident that my job and current salary will be secure through the end of May, maybe through the first week or two of June. Afterwards, it becomes much harder to predict, as there's quite a bit of work on our existing matters that we won't be able to do while international travel restrictions and various US state shutdown orders remain in place.

These days, I feel acutely that with great financial privilege comes great responsibility to do what I can to help others in these trying times. Admittedly, my efforts are modest: $400 in total donations so far to the Food Bank for New York City and World Central Kitchen, and $50 here and there to various local small businesses I'm fond of, including my hair salon and the barista relief funds at two independent coffee shops I used to frequent. I plan to maintain a similar rate of donations while COVID-19 shutdowns continue, so long as I'm still working without significant disruptions to my income.

K and I are extraordinarily lucky in that we are both able to fully work from home, and have yet to see any major disruptions to our income or job security. Though there are still a few major expenditures for our household for which the landscape has changed considerably due to COVID-19.

We were originally supposed to search for and and move to a cheaper apartment when our current lease expired in June, but that's not in the cards anymore. We're not interested in moving while all this is going on, even if rents for our building - and generally for other comparable buildings in our neighborhood - have gotten to be laughably expensive, and generally are a poor value.

Unsurprisingly, wedding planning has been postponed indefinitely until conditions change. Because we were both billing an extreme amount of hours in the months immediately following our engagement, we had... not started planning yet. K had been expecting a lull in his work schedule after our now-cancelled vacation in early April, so we were originally going to start wedding planning now, but it no longer feels like a fortuitous time. I'm not sure we'd be ready to commit to any event date in 2021 at this point, given all the uncertainty about whether normal domestic and international travel can fully resume by then!

Life at Home 

Because traditional grocery delivery services in NYC have not been able to keep up with demand, we have started looking into home delivery options from wholesalers and restaurant suppliers. We've been satisfied with the in-person shopping experience at Trader Joe's - our best neighborhood grocery store option - but there are certain items we can't easily get there. Recently, we tried out a delivery from Valley View Produce* via DineMarket and were pleased. We're also a bit desperate for some Chinese and Malaysian cooking ingredients, and will likely try out an order from Southeast Asia Food Group in the next few weeks.

I haven't expanded my cooking and baking repertoire much, though I did recently try Smitten Kitchen's super-simple and tasty Dutch baby pancake recipe. It turned out perfectly! We added a tablespoon of sugar to the batter, as she suggested for a sweet pancake, and served it with butter and maple syrup.

I also haven't been reading for fun anywhere near as much as I expected or aspired to. Somewhere deep in my subconscious, I must be feeling too tense and antsy most of the time to settle into a book, unless the book happens to be the exact right mix of engaging and fast-paced, but also not too dense or intellectually heavy. (Margaret Atwood's The Testaments fit that bill perfectly, but nothing else I've picked up recently manages to do the same.)

* DineMarket offers a fairly easy-to-use online order system that now connects home customers, not just restaurants, with a few different wholesale vendors. Out of their vendors, Valley View Produce was the easiest for us to use - $50 order minimum, instead of $100 or more, and they also offer a limited selection of bread, dairy products, and meat in addition to produce - and is the only one we've tried so far. The vegetables were excellent, definitely better on whole than what one would typically expect from most grocery stores here. (Though I confess, that's not an especially high standard to someone who was born and raised in California.) Most fruit would probably be fine, though the berries we ordered were a little overripe. I wouldn't recommend buying milk there, however, as the use-by date on the one quart jug we got was too imminent. [ETA 4/22/20: I originally thought the milk we ordered had gone off before the use-by date, but I was mistaken.] We didn't buy meat there - in part because they only offered 10 lbs of chicken thighs or 5 lbs or ground beef at the time we ordered, though they've expanded their offerings a bit since - but the cream cheese, eggs, and burger buns we bought were all great.

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