Sunday, December 27, 2020

December 2020 Shopping Reflections

via Unsplash

I hope that all of you are having a good end of the year! After 16 days of strict quarantine - in which K and I didn't even go into our apartment building's lobby - K's parents picked us up in their car last week so we could spend Christmas and New Year's with them at their home in the suburbs. Since then, we've just been staying home with them and helping with the cooking. It's been a good, very quiet, and relaxed holiday. I've taken many naps. 

Because our pre-holiday quarantine was so strict that we weren't even going into our apartment building's lobby to pick up packages from the doorman, I've been avoiding online shopping. Accordingly, December was another "no-shopping" month for my wardrobe, the third such month in 2020. (The other two were in February and July.) I don't consider this a noteworthy achievement or anything, it's just a reflection of how strange this year has been due to the colossally poor handling of the COVID-19 pandemic here in the US. 

When it comes to the shopping plans for the remainder of 2020 that I wrote about back in October, I ended up ordering two of the three items to try. I really liked that wool and cashmere-blend "Classic" wrap coat from The Curated, though I admittedly won't get a chance to actually wear it outdoors until we can move freely and safely about in public again. I really did not like that polo sweater from The Reset, unfortunately. After trying it on, I saw that most polo sweater designs are probably not likely to suit my more busty, somewhat top-heavy body shape. It's easy for the collar and v-neck combination to look awkward on me if the proportions aren't just right. The sleeves on The Reset's version also puff out too much from the oddly too-long cuffs - looking almost like a balloon sleeve on me, albeit a somewhat subdued one - something I didn't think was apparent from the store photographs. 

As for the gold-plated fringe earrings from Lingua Nigra, I ended up not ordering them this year even though they look beautiful and should suit my wardrobe and tastes very well. For some reason, out of all the types of clothes, shoes, and accessories out there, the idea of buying jewelry just makes me feel particularly sad right now, wistful about the life we're not living, the places we can't go, and the things we can't do. It's weird of me, and I obviously didn't have this mental hang-up about shopping for jewelry back in September, but I guess 2020 is a strange year. 

Happy new year to all, and best wishes for a better and brighter 2021! 

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Link List: Some Money-Related Things

I hope that everyone is doing well as we head into the year-end holiday season! K and I are now 13 days into our stricter-than-usual pre-holiday quarantine, in hope of spending Christmas and New Years with K's parents. I'll also be taking the last two weeks of the year off from work - using up the remainder of my 2020 vacation time - which will be nice. I'm feeling a bit of writer's block on blog-related writing, so I think my posting here may slow down a bit for the the next two or three weeks. 

Not a huge link list post today, but there were a few interesting money-related links I saw recently, so I figured I might as well share them now, instead of waiting to try and find other links to add. Sometimes I hold onto links for so long while trying to compile a longer post that it becomes too weird to share them because they were from so many months ago!

1. // Corporette occasionally does reader-submitted "Money Snapshot" posts, and the most recent one - from a doctor in a very high-paying Public Service Loan Forgiveness ("PSLF") eligible job - ignited quite a bit of discussion, both at Corporette and at r/MoneyDiariesActive. Be forewarned, the Corporette discussion is particularly negative, with a lot of people unreasonably criticizing the doctor for using PSLF when it's not her fault the program is structured in a way such that she is eligible for it! Also, while I'm no PSLF expert, I'm pretty sure both discussions are peppered with commenters misunderstanding how PSLF works. 

The student loan forgiveness programs available to some federal student loan borrowers here in the US - generally after relatively lengthy periods of income-based repayment before the remaining balance can be forgiven - are sometimes seen as controversial. (In 2018, I wrote a post that discussed a somewhat viral story about an orthodontist relying on PAYE or REPAYE to handle what had apparently grown into a million dollar student loan balance.)  

2. // Anne Helen Peterson just published the first article in a planned series for Vox about "America's Hollow Middle Class." I thought this was an interesting read, and I'm looking forward to more! The author notes on Twitter that it's by design that this first article is a bit broad and general. Future articles in the series will be more focused on some of the many relevant underlying factors to this discussion. 

3. // Amanda Mull wrote in The Atlantic about the Afterpay, Klarna, and Affirm-type interest-free, "buy now and pay in installments" options that are popping up at various online retailers. Even one of the big fountain pen shops has partnered with Affirm! I confess, I've never really been able to understand why there's a market for these payment arrangements. This article does somewhat begin to answer this question - it may be, in part, for people who don't use credit cards - though I still don't quite understand why customers are interested.  

4. // Abra at Capitol Hill Style recently wrote in considerable detail about her experiences with running a monetized blog. Whenever a more popular blogger writes about the business side of blogging, I'm always interested in getting that behind-the-scenes look. She's probably somewhat unique among more prominent, longstanding fashion bloggers in that she chooses not to do sponsored posts. 

Abra's commentary about her past experience with ShopStyle's Pay Per Click ("PPC") program was particularly interesting to me, as someone who also may ultimately prefer that affiliate link model for my blog. She notes that her PPC earnings - before she transitioned to the sales commission-based model - had ranged from $0.04/click to $0.09/click. My own PPC earnings never rose above ~$0.075/click. The only other data point about peak PPC earnings I'm aware of is that Ariana of the now-shut down Paris to Go (I miss the blog dearly! I still follow her on Instagram) has sometimes discussed her past blog earnings in Instagram stories. I vaguely recall that it sounded like she sometimes got significantly above my typical $0.06 to $0.07/click commission rate because she was very focused in how she approached affiliate links. 

Regardless, in-depth discussion about ShopStyle's previous PPC model is largely irrelevant now, as I don't think the company is particularly interested in supporting it anymore. But I'm still interested in looking back on it sometimes. 

I'll probably write at least one or two more new posts before the end of 2020. But in case I don't manage it, best wishes to you and your loved ones for this holiday season and for the new year! 

With the start of Pfizer COVID vaccine distribution to front-line healthcare workers here in the US and FDA approval of the Moderna vaccine likely to come soon, I'm feeling more optimistic about 2021. As a younger-ish adult with no risk factors and who works a non-essential, mostly remote for now job, it likely won't be my turn to get a vaccine for at least a few more months. Once it's available to people like me, however, I'll be rushing to get it. 

Friday, December 11, 2020

Money Life Lately: Year-End Holiday Tips and Office Gifts

Here are a few small things happening with my money and spending recently, in areas outside of shopping and fashion. I can't believe it's already December! It's difficult to get fully into the holiday spirit this year because it's logistically impossible for my mom, sister, and I to safely travel and see each other. But the show must go on with regards to certain holiday-related expenditures of mine, namely: (1) year-end holiday tips for the staff at my apartment building and (2) year-end holiday gifts for the receptionists and assistants!

I don't often discuss these year-end gifting expenses. I think the only time I've ever mentioned them was a few months ago when talking about how I calculated my total savings from staying home and socially distancing. Even if I don't discuss them, however, these particular costs have been a regular part of my life - and reasonably so, in recognition of the recipients' hard work all year long!- since I graduated law school. (Except that there weren't any year-end holiday gifts at work when I was clerking.) 

Health Insurance and Prescription Co-Pays

Longtime readers may know I like to complain - at excruciating length - about my experiences with the cost of healthcare here in the US. That's despite being fortunate to not actually have much to fuss about, relatively speaking. Generally, with the exception of when I had that accident requiring a bunch of urgent dental work, what I'm complaining about is just a few dozen extra dollars here and there. Even the very small unexpected medical expenses aren't fun, of course. But compared to all the possible problems with medical bills here in the US, my issues are small potatoes. 

My biggest perennial problem with my medical expenses is that I've often been charged co-pays on my birth control under most of my workplace health insurance plans, even though that really shouldn't happen under the Affordable Care Act. (The insurers' general rationale seems to be that they fully cover plenty of other types of birth control - including other pills and IUDs - just not yours.) It's an on-again, off-again problem that comes and goes depending on the workplace, but I've had this issue more often than not.

For my first few months at my current job, things were good, my co-pay for my birth control pill was $0/month. Sometimes I got the generic, sometimes the brand name, but I didn't really care about that. Then all of a sudden, things got weird. Suddenly, I was paying $35 to $45/month in co-pays for the same pill. To add insult to injury, my insurer covered the brand name at that level, but didn't cover the generic at all. The co-pay also seemed to change every time I got a refill. It wasn't my first rodeo with having a co-pay for birth control, but previously, I only ever had a $10/month co-pay. 

After a certain point, I started using GoodRx coupons to keep costs down, because the ~$25/month or so GoodRx cash price was always cheaper than getting my birth control through my insurance. And even then, the price I paid was rarely exactly what was listed on GoodRx, it was often a bit less, sometimes more like ~$15/month.

All of a sudden this month, however, my co-pay for my birth control pill on my insurance was back to $0/month. And for the brand name, no less! I swear, I don't understand the logic of how this works. But I suppose we can consider this a happy ending, for now. (The co-pays for this particular prescription have constantly changed on me practically every time I picked up a refill in the past two years or so, so I'm not sure I believe my recent good fortune will last...) 

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

Random Thing I Like: Whimsical Sweaters

Even though I've been overthinking everything to do with my wardrobe and fashion purchases for six years now, I still don't really know how best to describe my personal style. I know my tastes and preferences well, what's practical for my lifestyle, and how to identify items I'll keep reaching for and wanting to wear. But there's a significant gulf between what I like - in principle or in theory; maybe we call this my "ideal" or "fantasy" personal style - and what actually works for my body shape, lifestyle, and budget. 

In practice, my style - as seen in all my shopping since January 2015; keeping in mind it's not a perfectly representative picture because I still wear a moderate number of things I bought before 2015; I don't report gifts, including from my mom, sister, or K, which usually adds something like three or four items to my wardrobe every year; and some of my documented purchases have since worn out, or been resold, donated, or given away - is heavy on neutrals and fairly classic, basic designs and silhouettes, but with many "pops of color," particularly in jewel tones. I'd also love to add more prints to my wardrobe, but in practice it's rare to find a print I like, in colors I think will suit me, and on an item I think will suit my body shape, so I've mostly only bought fairly subdued, more "neutral"-looking prints in recent years. 

One aspect of my "personal style in practice", though it doesn't pop up often, is that I'm fond of occasional, distinctly un-subtle touches of whimsy. Think the bright pink limited edition Longchamp "Miaou" tote and the llama decal Soludos slip-on sneakers. And actually, were it not for the constraints of my budget and practicality concerns, I'd love to bring in even more of these rather in-your-face touches of whimsy into my wardrobe. 

There's been one particular type of whimsical item or design element I really like, which hasn't been represented in my monthly shopping budget posts: The sweater with whimsical motifs, typically flowers or maybe something animal-related. 

As far as I'm concerned, the ne plus ultra of this genre, based on all my online window shopping ever, was the Mansur Gavriel flower sweater pictured above. (I believe it's from 2016 or 2017. They also did a similar oversized sky blue sweater with a white cloud motif around this time, which I also thought was adorable.) If I ever see one of these Mansur Gavriel flower sweaters in my size - in either the pink or navy blue colorway - on the secondhand market for a remotely reasonable price, I probably won't be able to resist. Though if I recall correctly, the fabric composition wasn't ideal, there was a fair bit of nylon in it, and also alpaca (which I've never tried on before and could be itchy for me). 

Friday, December 4, 2020

Shopping Life Lately (and Curology Update)

I'm more than a bit surprised I've managed to not buy much for myself in this year's round of Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales. In fact, I haven't bought myself any clothing, shoes, or accessories this sale season. That is quite out of character for me: Just compare this year's Black Friday "haul" of zero things for my wardrobe with my 2018 and 2019 performance! 

Anyway, I definitely don't believe in Black Friday sales having special ethical or moral significance, whether one abstains or partakes. (Though my overall preference is generally to consume less, and to put what I do consume - particularly new items bought at retail - to the most rigorous, long-term use possible.) It's just another sale season and, frankly, there are many women's apparel and accessory sales all year round. In past years, particularly before I started this blog, I'd typically found that Black Friday and Cyber Monday weren't even a great time for discounts on women's fashion, though that's changed somewhat more recently. But, for the largest discounts on clothing and accessories this general time of year, it's still the post-Christmas sales one should really keep an eye out for. 

Black Friday Purchases (and a Return) 

I ordered that collared polo sweater from The Reset, and it arrived this week. Upon trying it on, I realized an important detail I overlooked when the design first caught my eye: The collar and v-neck design on most polo sweaters might not look quite right or proportional on me, as I'm busty enough that they won't look the way they do on the models. Plus, this sweater is a bit shorter in the body than my usual preference - it's not unusually short, and I definitely wouldn't call it cropped, but I personally prefer my tops on the longer side - and that combined with the neckline and the somewhat boxy fit made my torso look... stubby. I also found the sleeves puffed out a little too much just past the awkwardly-long-on-me cuffs. In other words, this sweater did not suit my body shape and proportions, and straight back into the mail it goes. 

Mostly because 2020 has been such a strange year, this return to The Reset is actually the first return of any kind I've done with any retailer this year. If you'd told me in 2019 that I'd spend 11 months of 2020 not making any shopping returns at all, I'd probably have laughed, it would just sound so outlandish given how much I typically rely on online shopping and my admitted propensity for ordering multiple sizes of a single item to try. 

Please note that this post contains affiliate links that could result in my earning a small commission - at no extra cost to you - if you click and make a purchase. Thank you for your support!

I was also briefly tempted by Vince's site-wide 30% off Black Friday sale, particularly by this year's medium blue version of that boiled cashmere funnel-neck sweater I liked so much from last year. But I already have a very similar-looking sweater from Brora in basically the same color, and I definitely do not need two different medium blue high-necked sweaters. (Though between the two designs, the Vince one is definitely more elegant-looking!) 

As for what I did buy during this year's Black Friday and Cyber Monday sale period, I did my Christmas shopping for K and his parents.* I decided on L.L. Bean Wicked Cozy blankets for his parents because I enjoy mine so much and had no better ideas for them while they're also stuck at home. (My Christmas gift for them last year was a set of nice, lightweight carry-on suitcases. For obvious reasons, those have gone unused.) For K, I pre-ordered a copy of the upcoming Cyberpunk 2077 game for Playstation 4. 

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Blog Thoughts, Year Six

via Unsplash

In two weeks, it'll officially be Invincible Summer's six year blog anniversary! And gosh, what a wild ride this year has been, albeit for reasons completely unrelated to keeping this blog. Back in May, when I wrote my belated "blogiversary" post for 2019, I was still cautiously optimistic that NYC might be able to return to mostly normal life with face masks and other precautions within a few more months. Unfortunately, that hope did not pan out long-term, as things are trending badly again here. The 2020 US presidential election did come out the way I wanted - thank goodness for that! - denying Trump a second term, but his team seems determined to do all they can to try and burn down our democratic system on their way out the door.

As always, I remain deeply grateful to all of you for reading here. It's been difficult to know what to say this year, especially because my normal wheelhouse as a writer is shopping; overthinking everything to do with my purchases and wardrobe; and my own personal finance management, all very navel-gazing topics that simply aren't important in light of everything that's happened in 2020. But I'm happy you're here, and I hope I've also been able to offer you something with my writing here at Invincible Summer.

There's been one big, important change when it comes to my blog income disclosures: In November, I opted in to the  Shopstyle Cost per Acquisition ("CPA") model, so I'm no longer getting a flat rate of a few cents per click on my Shopstyle affiliate links. Instead, I will earn a commission, at a percentage negotiated between the  retailer and Shopstyle, from actual sales resulting from use of my links, at no extra cost to you as the shopper. 

When Shopstyle first introduced CPA sometime in 2018, they originally said they'd force all users to switch by sometime in 2019, although that never ended up happening. But it seemed clear to me Shopstyle would eventually phase out their original Pay Per Click ("PPC") model; they'd stopped recalculating my commission rate every quarter like they used to - I spent roughly a year at $0.06/click before my rate was dropped to $0.05/click this June - and their new announcements and tools all seemed focused on CPA. So I figured it was time to lean in voluntarily to the change, rather than to be quietly transitioned with minimal notice at some unknown time in the future.   

I've felt nervous about this switch. I'd liked earning a flat rate on every click regardless of whether anyone ever made a purchase, it felt... neater, I guess. When my compensation is tied directly to someone's purchases, I feel more responsibility for how those purchases turn out. It's important to me that I don't let the switch to CPA change how I write about products, I'll continue to be completely honest about how I feel about products I've personally tried. I'm also personally committed to not letting CPA change how often I mention products I haven't tried, but that have caught my eye or interest. 

I think I'm helped in my efforts to not let the CPA model affect how I write by how small this blog is, and how few sales are historically made through my blog. From the limited Shopstyle tracking data available to me when I was on PPC, there's a lot of randomness to how many sales occur - or not - in a particular month, and I think it's averaged out over the years to something a little less than two sales a month. (Keeping in mind how affiliate link tracking cookies work: The most recent blogger or other influencer whose links for a specific retailer a shopper clicked will get the "credit" for resulting sales, if any. Tracking may remain active for a period of either a few days or weeks, depending on the affiliate link platform or retailer. My understanding is that cash back program cookies like from Ebates/Rakuten or Jewel may also "cancel out" affiliate link cookies, and I highly encourage everyone to use cash back programs to their own benefit when that's an option.) Furthermore, it appears that the vast majority of my sales are L.L. Bean boot or J.Crew sweater blazer-related, rather than anything resulting from newer posts. 

But because CPA commissions are based on a percentage of sales rather than a flat few cents per click, I think my total Shopstyle compensation will likely increase - at least slightly - even with all that randomness to whether and when sales are made through my blog. Before the pandemic, I would have been confident that my compensation would increase by a significant margin over the ~$15/month PPC commissions I used to earn, but because of the pandemic I believe many retailers have cut commission rates. (My PPC earnings also decreased to ~$5 to $7/month for a time, mostly because Ann Taylor and J.Crew briefly left Shopstyle, probably due to their bankruptcy restructurings.) So now I don't feel like I can make a reliable educated guess.  

Before jumping in to specific 2020 numbers, a quick note about taxes. As far as I can tell when entering the relevant numbers into Turbotax each year, I pay my marginal tax rate of ~40%+ on my blog-related income, which I continue to report on a Schedule C-EZ. To date, I still have not made enough from this blog in one year from any single source to receive any 1099s for blog-related income. (This is not to be taken as legal advice about the tax implications of blog-related income.)

Please follow the link below for a detailed 2020 blog income report. Thank you again for your support of Invincible Summer all this time!