Thursday, January 28, 2021

January 2021 Book Reflections

One thing I'm noticing - in light of my recent goal to not shop as much for my closet for the next several months, in order to focus on finishing my student loan repayment - is that this goal is... not very good for my blog writing inspiration. After all, the main focus of my blog is arguably clothes and shopping - even if I also discuss other topics - so when I'm not very interested in either thing, I have far less to write about! This is on top of the general difficulty of blogging since March 2020, after COVID-19 shutdowns began in the US and dramatically changed our day-to-day lives. 

Separately, I felt somewhat... not sad, exactly, but maybe wistful...  about how difficult it was for me to consistently read for fun for most of 2020, even with all the additional time I spent at home. Not long before, from around September 2019 through March 2020 - when work was especially hard and my billable hours particularly many - books and reading were a major source of comfort, just about the only thing that could take my mind away from work-related stress for a while. So it was surprising to me that reading couldn't fill that role for me again, or provide quite that same comfort and distraction, after March 2020. 

For 2021, I'm going to try blogging each month about the books I've read, and I'll maybe also mention the ones I couldn't finish if I think they're also worthy of some comment. Maybe it'll help encourage me to read more for fun this year. I also generally enjoy talking about, or writing about, the books I've read. It'll be a very low-pressure or no-pressure kind of project, I definitely don't have a goal to read a particular number of books this year or anything like that. 

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!

As you'll see, I enjoy books from a fairly wide range of genres. I would say that page-turners like horror novels, thrillers, or murder mystery police procedural-type series form the backbone of my overall volume of reading. Though there are many other genres I enjoy and that might also feature regularly. That's definitely all reflected in this month's selection. These books are listed in the order in which I finished reading them: 

  • The Silent Wife by Karin Slaughter - Over the years, I've mentioned my fondness for Karin Slaughter books a few times. I find her a very reliable author for murder mystery or police procedural-type thrillers, I've read through almost her entire catalog and enjoyed every single book. But be warned that many of the crimes described in her books tend to involve sexual assault or extremely violent murders, and while Slaughter doesn't write about these acts in a gratuitous way -  it's a very small portion of any given book - the matter-of-fact descriptions might still be off-putting to some. 
  • The Pull of the Stars by Emma Donoghue - This is my third Emma Donoghue novel (I've also read Room and The Wonder), and I've enjoyed her work a lot. Out of these books, I think Room is the most famous, and it's also stylistically quite unlike the other two, which are both more straightforward historical fiction. This book focuses on a nurse and her work over a few days during the 1918 flu pandemic, so it felt like a fitting novel for these times. 
  • The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins - I enjoyed reading The Hunger Games trilogy, so I was curious about this prequel. This book is nowhere near as engaging or fast-paced as the original series - and the future President Snow is a far less pleasant narrator than Katniss, not just in terms of his moral compass but also in terms of being more passive and less self-aware - but I must say, it still grabbed my attention and I couldn't put it down. There's a lot of not-so-nice things one could say about this book: I found the world-building clunky and I don't think the story makes that much sense. I also absolutely detest main characters or narrators who are in near-full denial about or almost completely lack self-awareness about the fact they're actively choosing to do bad things. (I don't mind an objectively unpleasant main character who does terrible things - longtime readers here may recall my somewhat... unusual fondness for Gone Girl's Amy Dunne - and it's fine if they have some fatal flaws or blind spots they don't fully acknowledge, but that's not what's going on in this novel.) But these days, not many books can hold my attention as well as this one did, so it may still be worth picking up for someone who enjoyed The Hunger Games
  • The Chalk Man by C.J. Tudor - This is my second C.J. Tudor novel, after The Hiding Place. Both books initially appear to straddle the line between the horror and murder mystery genres, it was not immediately clear whether there was a supernatural explanation for what was happening. I find these to be fairly quick, light reads, not the best thing ever, but readable and entertaining. It's worth giving it a try from the library if one is already interested in horror or thrillers. (There's a moderate amount of murder or other violent acts in these stories, but there's not much detail provided about those events.) 
  • Hidden Valley Road by Robert Kolker - This is, hands down, my favorite of this month's books. It's just a very well-written deep dive into the story of a large family profoundly affected by schizophrenia, with six of 12 children diagnosed. It's such a good book, but also incredibly sad, as the disease brought considerable pain and tragedy into all their lives over several decades. This book reminded me somewhat of Andrew Solomon's Far From the Tree, which is also extremely well-written and also addressed the theme of families grappling with the difficulties of caring for children who are indelibly different from their parents, including when the children's differences sometimes cause harm or grief to other family members. 

I also picked up one book this month I ultimately couldn't finish: Rodham by Curtis Sittenfeld. I really enjoy Sittenfeld's writing, I've read three of her other books to date (American Wife, Eligible, and the short story collection You Think It, I'll Say Itand enjoyed them all greatly. But the premise of this novel - about Hilary Rodham in an alternate universe where she didn't marry Bill Clinton, and yes, they're referred to by their real names - was just too weird for me, essentially fanfiction about real people. The book is well-written, tasteful, and definitely not trying to be overly salacious, but the concept was just too strange for me to stick with. 

Have you read anything good recently? If you've read any of the books I mentioned, what did you think?

Monday, January 25, 2021

January 2021 Shopping Reflections

I stuck to my goal this month of not shopping very much for my closet. Only one purchase for January, which I already previewed a few weeks ago. Admittedly, it is a few days early to declare this, but I'm pretty sure. 

My certainty that this is it for the month comes, in part, from how I haven't been in the mood to mindlessly browse or window shop online for clothes, shoes, or accessories, even though there have been some significant stressors in terms of both current events and some of my work-related tasks. So, for now, I think the chances are looking reasonably good that I'll be able to continue buying relatively little for my closet in the next few months, as I focus my attention and extra dollars on finishing off my student loan repayment. 

Maybe this is just because I'm specifically trying to avoid shopping for fashion-related things right now, but I feel like the post-New Year's sales haven't been that good this year? At least for the very short and specific list of clothes I would maybe have been interested in buying only if an unusually good discount came along, none of them have really been significantly on sale since Christmas or New Year's. It's starting to look like Black Friday was the better time to buy, which isn't consistent with my experience from past years. Anyway, this is definitely not important because it's so much better for me that I'm not tempted, but I'm just a bit surprised. 

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!

The clothing I've been checking the post-New Year's sales for is not that interesting. There's an all-cotton white and gray melange lounge set (joggers and a turtleneck) from J.Crew that I find overpriced at the intermittently available sale price of ~$90 to $100 for the set. On paper, I think this would be a fair price for an all-cotton lounge set, except that I - like many other customers out there - have long found the quality of J.Crew items and materials especially inconsistent. And there are quite a few reviews on J.Crew's website stating that these specific items are prone to noticeable shrinkage, even when the customer follows the care instructions on the label.

If the Vince boiled cashmere funnel neck sweater in this season's medium blue shade was discounted by a significant percentage, I might consider getting it even though I already have another perfectly nice and very similar-looking cashmere sweater in a nearly-identical color. In the event of such a sale, I suspect I'd ultimately still be able to resist because, even after a large discount, it'd still be an expensive sweater, plus it really is just too similar to the one I already have. Regardless, I've been saved from needing to make a decision because I haven't actually seen the Vince sweater in this color on sale anywhere since Christmas. 

In other words, it's been easy to stick to just buying one item this month!

Fashion - (TOTAL: $70.00) 

  • Ugg "Scuffette II" Slipper - $70.00 - (also on sale here and here, limited sizes remain) These sequined shearling-lined slippers are so fun to look at. I sort of had my eye on these specific Ugg slippers since last November, but was waiting for the post-Christmas sales. On top of getting these for the discounted $70 price, I'm also getting an additional 10% cash back, or $7, from this purchase via Ebates a.k.a. Rakuten. Before I bought these slippers, I was a little concerned they might be too warm to wear in my sort-of-stuffy, sometimes overly warm apartment - we don't fully control the heat, the heaters automatically turn on when it's cold enough outside in the winter - but they've actually been just fine and comfortable. These only come in full sizes, so I sized up from my usual 7.5 to an 8. 

Have you been able to find anything good in the post-New Year's sales this year? Is it just me thinking that this year's post-holiday sales aren't that great? I'm admittedly not the most able to actually analyze whether this year's sales are of typical quality or not because I've only really looked at the specific clothing items I mentioned. 

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

How I Approach Investing

Kate Spade Polly Wallet (affiliate link)

How I approach my investments is a topic I've alluded to a few times over the years - see for instance here and here - although I don't think I've ever discussed it in great detail. Accordingly, I thought I might as well write a full post about it. Though, spoiler alert, nothing here will be at all new or novel to anyone familiar with what many Financial Independence, Retire Early ("FIRE") related internet forums and bloggers generally recommend! It's also mostly consistent with the recommendations in the two beginners' personal finance books I've mentioned over the years. 

One quick and important disclaimer before I continue: I'm definitely not a qualified investment professional. Please do your own research elsewhere before making any investment decisions.

Investing History

Because I didn't really start investing - whether in tax-advantaged retirement accounts or anything else - until I graduated law school, I got my start on the later side of early adulthood, at age 27. Before then, I briefly had up to ~$2,000 in a Mandatory Provident Fund ("MPF") retirement account in Hong Kong, but didn't even really know I needed to proactively select my own investments - not just let them sit in the settlement fund - much less how to actually select said investments. So my money in my MPF only really ever stayed in their equivalent of a money market account, until I eventually cashed out and used it all to help pay my living expenses in law school. (Given what I've explained, the money obviously didn't grow much. It was the equivalent of roughly two months' rent in my law school student housing.) 

My first contribution to a tax-advantaged retirement account in the US was at the tail end of December 2015, when I first became eligible to contribute to a 401(k) - with no employer match, as is somewhat standard in the industry - at my first biglaw job. And then because of the timing of my clerkship and the pay cut I took that year, I still wasn't able to invest much in the beginning. I never even got remotely close to maxing out my 401(k) or backdoor Roth IRA for any year until 2018, once I'd returned to the private sector for a while. 

Since 2018, though, I've been maxing out on contributions to my 401(k) - still no employer match, because my workplace takes many of its benefits-related cues from biglaw - and backdoor Roth IRA each year. These are the only types of tax-advantaged investment accounts I currently invest through. (Because my workplace doesn't offer a High Deductible Health Plan or "HDHP", I cannot invest through a Health Savings Account or "HSA".) On top of that, I also started investing a bit in a post-tax brokerage account beginning in early 2019. Since then, I've also budgeted to continue adding more to those post-tax investments every month. 

Friday, January 15, 2021

Skincare Update: Two Months of Curology

via Unsplash

Here's a quick update about my skincare routine, even though it may still be too early to do a full review of my Curology experience. I've now been using Curology for a little over 60 days, or two months. 

Because my Curology formula includes some fairly powerful, potentially irritating active ingredients - the tretinoin and possibly also the azelaic acid as well - I use it with a fairly light hand. As with prescription Retin-A Micro, a roughly pea-sized amount should be plenty to cover the entire face in a thin layer. In practice, because of how much the Curology pump bottle dispenses with each push of the pump, I often end up using slightly less than the typical pea-sized amount each night. (One full pump is generally just shy of the right amount, but two full pumps would be way too much and result in some wasted product.) 

Accordingly, even though it's been a little more than 60 days now since I started, I'm actually still using my first supposedly one month-sized, just-pay-shipping trial bottle of my Curology formula. (Which means that the $19.99/month price of Curology may work out to be more like $10/month for me in practice, at least with my current formula.)  Because of the opaque bottle, I also can't tell how much more is left in there! 

I've mentioned that K and I spent the year-end holidays staying over with his parents at their home, after a strict 16 days of quarantine for both households before they picked us up and drove us there. We stayed with them for nearly two weeks total, and my skin reacted somewhat oddly to the change in setting.

Please note that this portion of the 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!

In general, the air felt slightly more dry at K's parents house than it usually is at our apartment, maybe from running the heater more. They don't buy or eat as much in the way of dairy products as we do, a change, however temporary, in diet that past experience suggests should improve my acne. And while we were staying with them, I switched back to using Cerave foaming face wash - a trusted part of my routine for several years, though I recently switched to and now prefer the Vanicream gentle facial cleanser because it's less drying - because that was what they had on hand. 

I was a bit mystified that my acne got noticeably worse all of a sudden while we were staying over for the holidays, especially with the diet change that should be helpful. Any new blemishes got significantly more inflamed and healed more slowly than they had been since I started using Curology. I found it very odd, since I thought the change in my skin's condition was so significant that it couldn't be fully explained by the drier air or the switch back to a face cleanser I'd used with no problems for such a long time in the past. 

Now that I've been back home for a while, however, my skin's back to improving noticeably on Curology. Back when I was around three or four weeks in, I'd already started noticing that new blemishes were smaller and healed more quickly, and that trend has continued. My skin is still a little dry and dull-looking some days, but is also still free of the extreme flakiness and irritation that I had back when I was a first-time topical tretinoin user. I might potentially inquire about increasing the potency of either the azelaic acid or tretinoin in my Curology formula for my next refill - which I may not need for four months, since I just received a two-month sized refill bottle, but haven't opened it yet due to still working my way through the first bottle - though I'm also not sure it's necessary to change my formula.

Monday, January 11, 2021

Things I Like Lately: Stationery, Kitchen Goods, and Slippers

As I mentioned in my 2020 year-end shopping reflections, I'm currently trying to have a low-spending, low-shopping few months when it comes to clothes, shoes, and accessories. At the moment, I'm very focused on the impending end of my student loan repayment journey, which will hopefully be in mid-August if all goes according to plan. In the absence of being able to safely travel or go out to dine at restaurants, fashion-related shopping is my biggest discretionary expense, so that's why I'm so focused on trying to keep that spending category down for now! 

This doesn't mean I'll completely stop shopping for things that are fun or a bit indulgent, however. I also don't think I'll completely eliminate shopping for my closet until August. I'm satisfied as long as I'm just shopping noticeably less than usual in that area. Here are a few, mostly non-fashion things I've been looking at so far in the new year. 

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!

Stationery: I recently decided to order my first ever set of washi tapes and stickers from Yoseka Stationery (a small stationery shop local to me, though I've unfortunately never had a chance to visit in person due to COVID-19). I mainly want to use them to decorate my five-year Hobonichi Techo - ordered last September - which I've been using as a sort of hybrid memory book and "a line a day"-type journal. I'll probably also use the stickers and washi tape to add more color to my bullet journal-slash-planner, which I currently keep in a dot-grid Leuchtturm1917 notebook, handwriting in all the dates and weekly planner layouts myself. 

I've only just started playing around with my new washi tapes and stickers. One observation so far is that an A6-sized notebook - like my five-year Hobonichi - is maybe a little small to allow much room for showing off washi tapes wider than ~15 mm or so, at least for long-winded writers like me! I'm still able to use the ~15 mm tapes as small, colorful accents on the pages, but can't use full lines of them to separate off each one-year section on each page. 

Ooh, and the "print-on stickers" I bought are particularly fun! Here's a quick video clip from one of Yoseka Stationery's Instagram posts that shows you how to use them. I've tried a few of these stickers now, and they're really easy to use. 

Saturday, January 9, 2021

January 6, 2021

via Unsplash

On the morning of January 6, 2021, I was happy because it was clear that Democrats had won both of the Senate runoff races in Georgia. Since last November, I'd donated to the Warnock and Ossoff campaigns and to Fair Fight in hopes of helping to make this happen, but I hadn't really dared to get my hopes up too much. With the news of the results of the Georgia Senate runoffs, it was shaping up to be a good day. 

Then, in the afternoon, there was an attempted coup incited by our outgoing President, in which domestic terrorists breached the US Capitol Building while Congress was in session. I was horrified and disgusted. I don't think I am equal to the task of writing something adequate to address what happened, but it also doesn't feel right to not say anything. 

The thing that struck me most in the heat of the moment, when the Capitol Building was breached, was the stark reminder of how deeply racism permeates law enforcement and policing in our country. As President-Elect Biden stated in his January 7 speech:

"No one can tell me that if it had been a group of Black Lives Matter protesting yesterday, they wouldn't have been treated very, very differently than the mob of thugs that stormed the Capitol. We all know that's true, and it is unacceptable. Totally unacceptable. The American people saw it in plain view." 

Last year, I did a bit of pro bono work related to NYPD police reform, a surpassingly small contribution to the fight against police violence and racially discriminatory policing here in NYC. This, in particular, is an area in which the work of individual lawyers is hard, against tall odds (in part because of qualified immunity), time-consuming, and ultimately feels like a mere drop in the bucket. I saw how one important reform took decades, really, and the major victory in that area was through legislative reform, not litigation. Even then, that new legislation is currently being held up by legal challenges from the police unions. 

I also feel a particularly intense disgust for people like Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley. It's probably too much to hope for that their political careers be tanked forever by what they've said and done this week, but I hope for it nonetheless. In truth, this same special opprobrium is appropriate for any attorney that has voluntarily participated in the efforts to undermine the recent presidential election, whether by appearing as attorneys of record in the relevant cases or by making public statements spouting lies about election fraud. Those cases clearly added fuel to the fire. 

As part of the process of being admitted to the bar, I took an oath to support and defend the US Constitution, and this is true about every attorney from every state. We are obligated to maintain our integrity, along with our competence, in the practice of law. Our duties of professional responsibility also require candor to the tribunal, that we tell the truth to the Court, including by refusing to offer up information or evidence that we know to be false. (Different state bars may phrase their professional responsibility rules somewhat differently, but the same general obligations should be present everywhere.) It seems clear to me that so many attorneys involved in the litigation seeking to overturn the outcome of the 2020 presidential election have failed in these duties.

And that's all I've got. I don't think my words are adequate or particularly eloquent in addressing this historical moment. It's been horrifying and sad, and I'm afraid of what all this means for the future of American democracy. I do at least derive some satisfaction from the sitting President's permanent suspension from Twitter, and only wish the company would have made this decision sooner. 

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

2020 Year-End Shopping Reflections

Unlike in past years, I don't really have all that much to say when it comes to my 2020 fashion-related shopping, particularly when it comes to the analysis of individual purchases. I shopped a fair bit less than normal because it was a strange year, purchasing 20 total items in 2020 compared to 28 total items in 2019. I spent $3,528.14, significantly less than 2019's personal all-time high of $4,409.33 and also less than 2018's $4,016.51

I've already laid out most of the relevant personal finance context for 2020's fashion-related shopping in my recent and very belated 2019 year-end shopping roundup. My personal finance situation has changed dramatically since 2018: I first hit "net worth zero" in April 2019; paid down my student loan balance to five figures in late December 2019; and I've been steadily making substantial student loan payments since, most recently at $5,100/month. Assuming all goes well, I should finish paying off my current ~$38,900 balance - down from over $190,000 when I graduated law school in 2015 - by mid-August 2021. The end of my student loan repayment journey is finally in sight! 

Now that my student loan balance is solidly in the lower five figures and the possibility of being debt-free seems far more concrete and easier to imagine than before, I feel more acutely that every dollar spent now to indulge my fondness for clothes, shoes, and accessories - or to enjoy any other luxury - is a dollar not put into eradicating my remaining student loan balance even more quickly. To have full repayment be so tantalizingly close is to develop a more acute sense of opportunity costs with all my discretionary spending, I suppose. Would I rather buy this fun or pretty thing? Or are those dollars better spent on leaving my student loans behind for good? 

That's an indirect way of saying that I think - fingers crossed! - the first half of 2021 should be a fairly low shopping time for me when it comes to my closet, mainly because I'm just so eager to put more cash into my student loans. In any case, I expect to still be working almost fully from home until the COVID-19 vaccine is widely available to the general public here in NYC (vaccine distribution has been logistically challenging and slow in NYC so far, so this may not occur until summer). Between that and all the nice, colorful loungewear I already bought in 2020, I really shouldn't have any wardrobe "needs" coming up before August this year. 

I can't guarantee I won't still pick up something for my closet here and there when I see something pretty, particularly if there's a good sale available. But I also feel like I've gotten all the pandemic-induced stress-shopping urges out of my system by now - I pretty much went through two separate rounds of that in the first six or seven months of social distancing - so I also don't think I'll indulge too much. 

Monday, January 4, 2021

2020 Year in Review: Books and Podcasts

2020 was a very strange year for me, reading-wise. I had a terrible attention span and often struggled to focus enough to read more than a few pages at a time, starting from relatively early on in the pandemic. I was also a much fussier and pickier reader than usual. But I was still able to find a few books I enjoyed, in the end. I read 35 books in 2020, finishing around half of them before the COVID-19 shutdowns in NYC began in mid-March and my ability to focus on reading took a hit.

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!

Here are some of my favorite books from this year, listed in chronological order based on when I finished them:

  • Circe by Madeline Miller: You've likely already heard about this book because both Circe and Madeline Miller's debut novel, The Song of Achilles, were ultra-popular bestsellers. As far as I'm concerned, all the hype about these books is well-earned! They're extremely well-written and engaging adaptations of Greek myths. 
  • The Night Sister by Jennifer McMahon: This is a horror novel, which I know isn't everyone's cup of tea, but I like being swept away into a good, creepy story the way I also enjoy thrillers and murder mysteries. I started reading Jennifer McMahon's most recent novels in late December 2019, and almost immediately blazed through three of them. Suffice to say, I think McMahon's a good, reliable writer. Each of her books that I've picked up is quite enjoyable! It's difficult to pull off a good "reveal" in horror to explain what caused the creepy events by the end of the story. Out of her most recent three novels, I personally think this one has the best "reveal."
  • The Testaments by Margaret Atwood: I don't think this book will quite attain modern-day classic status like The Handmaid's Tale - which was part of my required reading list in high school - but it's still an interesting story. It's the first book on this list that I started reading after all the COVID-19 shutdowns started, when it became difficult for any book to hold my attention. The Testaments contains a fairly fast-paced story, and I couldn't put it down. 
  • I Contain Multitudes by Ed Yong: This is an older book I borrowed because it was featured on the New York Public Library's ebook website. Ed Yong is able to write in a clear and accessible way about science, as you might have seen from his recent articles about the COVID-19 pandemic for The Atlantic
  • The Broken Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin: This book was my personal favorite in N.K. Jemisin's debut series The Inheritance Trilogy. (You probably do need to read the first book in this series, however, before getting to this one, which is the second installment.) The entire series was great, each of them is separated by a significant time jump and told from the perspective of a different character. 

I was also a somewhat fussy and flighty podcast listener last year, I sometimes found my attention wandering even from podcasts I typically enjoy. Still, I did encounter a few engaging podcasts that were able to entertain me while stuck at home and social distancing. 

Here are two podcasts I enjoyed this year:  

  • You're Wrong About: The journalists who host this podcast series do deep dives into various top news stories from the semi-recent past. The Princess Diana-focused episodes might be a good starting point to see if you'll also enjoy this series. I listened to those episodes right before watching the most recent season of The Crown, and they provided good background.
  • Doctor Death, season two: I recommended the first season of Doctor Death quite a while back and, I must say, I was shocked to learn there was another doctor out there worthy of the moniker, leading the show to have a second season. I would say the content warnings on this season are not as serious as for season one because there aren't detailed descriptions of failed surgeries. But the subject matter is still similarly dark and horrifying. As far as federal crimes go, Medicare and Medicaid fraud are extremely common (see, for instance, the health care fraud-related press releases from just the SDNY US Attorney's office), but not like this, where actual patients were being seriously harmed. By far the more common variant of health care fraud is for defendants to bill Medicare and Medicaid for services never actually delivered, which... is not what happened in the case discussed in Doctor Death season two. 

Did you also have a harder time focusing on books or podcasts than usual in 2020? Were you still able to find some favorite books or podcasts last year? I'm basically always interested in getting more book or podcast recommendations, even if I always have a big backlog of past recommendations I still need to look into. 

I also hope that everyone is having a good start to 2021! 

Friday, January 1, 2021

(Very Belated) 2019 Year-End Shopping Reflections

Now here's a post that's a year overdue! I'll admit, it feels silly to look back now on lessons learned from 2019 - particularly about something as light as my wardrobe and shopping - when we know, in hindsight, that it's soon to be followed by the postscript of the dramatic changes wrought by 2020 and the COVID-19 pandemic. 

But in the end, this type of shopping reflection is the original focus of my blog. Also, I really do think I came into my own in 2019 with regards to knowing and understanding my fashion tastes and preferences. Even if, starting in March 2020, I then had to learn yet another set of tastes and preferences to accommodate my new - even if temporary - work-from-home lifestyle.

Before getting into the shopping-focused analysis, some words about the larger, mostly financial context: April 2019 was when I first hit "net worth zero" - my student loan balance was finally equal to my cash savings and investments - nearly four years after graduating law school. (If I hadn't delayed my repayment progress by nearly two years due to the pay cut I took while clerking, I would probably have finished paying off my loans by April 2019. But that's not the career path I've chosen.) Then, in late December 2019, my student loan balance dropped below six figures for the first time, which really made it feel like the end was in sight. Since then, I've continued to ratchet up my monthly student loan payments, I now pay $5,100/month. Assuming no significant disruptions to my income, I'm now on track to finish paying off my loans in August 2021.

My total spending on my closet in 2019 - as documented monthly here - was $4,409.33, a personal all-time high. Totals for previous years were $2,729 (2015), $1,945.99 (2016), $2,883.13 (2017), and $4,016.51 (2018), as listed in my 2018 year-end shopping reflections post. I could even argue that most of my rather jaw-dropping January 2020 shopping should more properly be attributed to December 2019, as these were almost all post-Christmas sale purchases I ordered before the end of the year, though they arrived after. This would drive my 2019 total up even further. 

For all that I've been facing the prospect of, and then slowly chipping away at, a massive - initially over $190,000 total - student loan balance the entire time I've kept this blog, I've never been too worried about how much I spend on my wardrobe. Sure, the year-end totals look - and, in fact, often are - extravagant, given that my net worth was negative until April 2019. But whenever I've had a private-sector income - for four years out of the past five - I've always devoted well over half my take-home pay to "net worth positive" activities, a.k.a. loan repayment or savings and investments. Furthermore, with the exception of 2015, each year's total spend on clothes, shoes, and accessories is generally less than just a single a month's worth of student loan payments I'm making at the time, or would soon be making. 

And, as you'll see once I get into the nitty-gritty analysis of my 2019 purchases, I knew my fashion tastes and preferences well. There were no significant mistake purchases or shopping regrets that, in hindsight, I should have seen coming.