Wednesday, February 17, 2021

February 2021 Shopping Reflections

Yes, I know what you're thinking: February is barely halfway over, isn't it far too early to write a month-end shopping reflections post? But I'm feeling pretty confident that I'm already done with shopping for my wardrobe this month. At the moment, I don't have ideas for anything else fashion-related I'd want to browse for or potentially buy in the near future. 

In other words, I think I remain on track with my current goal of not shopping too much for my closet these few months, while I focus on finishing off my student loans. I may have ideas for summer clothes I'd like to add to my wardrobe this year - I like the relaxed, flowy look of the Olivia dress and top from Two Days Off, both in midweight linen - but because the weather doesn't usually start warming up in NYC until April, it's going to be quite a while before I'm in the mood to browse for spring/summer clothes. 

You may have heard of Quince, formerly known as Last Brand, as I think quite a few bloggers - including Elaine - have done reviews of some of their items. Quince's main selling point is probably their low prices. For instance, their cashmere sweaters - priced as low as $50 - undercut most brands out there, including Naadam (affiliate link) or Uniqlo

Based on the sweater I purchased this month, Quince's cashmere feels at least equivalent to the standard Uniqlo cashmere available each year, it's similarly soft and has a comparable weight and thickness. I've been wearing the sweater frequently for around two weeks - and have hand-washed it twice, once before I first started wearing it - and I've seen relatively little pilling, though I do notice the fabric has a slightly more fuzzy appearance than with the basic Uniqlo cashmere sweaters. 

Because this is my first and only purchase from Quince, I can't really say anything about the rest of their product line. But I'm satisfied with this month's purchase, and I think it was a good value. I used a referral link and got a $10 discount off the regular price of this sweater. (If you're curious about trying Quince, you can use my referral link and get $10 off your first order as a new customer; I'll also get a $10 credit if you make a purchase.) 

Fashion - (TOTAL: $59.90) 

  • Quince Cashmere Batwing Sweater, black - $59.90 - This sweater comes in only one size, which initially made me nervous. Quince's product measurements state this sweater suits a 39'' bust measurement, and if that was actually the case, this sweater could feel uncomfortably small on my more top-heavy figure. But from the store and customer photos, it seemed clear that - because of the batwing sleeve design - this sweater should actually be quite spacious and flowy around the chest, so I took a chance and ordered it. And it does fit me comfortably, with plenty of room around the bust and the rest of my torso. I do, however, find the body of this sweater slightly short even though I'm only 5'3'', not remotely tall (but shirts and tops can look shorter on me because their hems get pulled up by the size of my chest). I'd definitely prefer it if this sweater were longer and had a bit more fabric all around. It'd feel a bit more luxurious that way, and I think it'd suit my body shape better. I don't know if everyone would like the batwing sleeves, but between the store photos and customer review photos, I think one can at least get a reasonably accurate sense of how the sleeves will fit before deciding to order. 

How has your shopping month been? 

Sunday, February 14, 2021

Link List: Lunchbox Stories

via Unsplash

Although it's currently too early for me to start writing my end-of-month reading reflections post for February, I needed to mention the novel I just finished because it was just too good! Susanna Clarke's Piranesi is really special, an incredibly beautiful, immersive story that I was completely swept up in and stayed up late to finish reading in one day. (It's not a particularly long book, but I started reading after dinner.) These days, not many books are able to capture my attention so fully. 

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!

And one definitely doesn't need to have been a fan of Clarke's first novel, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell to enjoy Piranesi. I tried to pick up Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell years ago, but never quite managed to get into it. The experience of reading Piranesi may inspire me to try reading Clarke's first novel again. 

1. // I enjoyed this insightful Eater article about "The Limits of the Lunchbox Moment." You've probably heard the story at least once, about the first or second-generation immigrant child whose ethnic food is declared gross or smelly by other children in the school cafeteria. No doubt that's happened to and been hurtful to many. But it's also not a universal Asian American or Chinese-American (or Taiwanese-American) experience, and that may be obscured by how ubiquitous the lunchbox story is in American media (a space that might not have room for all the complex, nuanced Asian American stories out there). 

In my case, I've never had a lunchbox story. Throughout elementary school, I ate cafeteria hot lunch almost every day. On field trip days when school lunch wasn't available, I generally got Lunchables. I only rarely brought anything else to school for lunch, if I did it'd typically be a sandwich with a somewhat Taiwanese bakery spin like this

And because I grew up in the Silicon Valley Bay Area, where the large-ish public schools I attended always had majority-Asian American student bodies - we may have been as much as 75% of the population at every school I attended, to the point where a notorious-in-our-community Wall Street Journal article from 2005 claimed we caused a "New White Flight" by scaring off white families - it was unlikely anyone would have had a "lunchbox moment," where they were shamed for bringing ethnic food. Our Asian American student population skewed heavily East Asian and South Asian. On any given day, one saw a wide range of both western and Asian-style lunches brought from home. No one really had reason to comment on anyone else's food, we'd seen it all before. When I shared this article with a close friend who attended public school in a midwestern state with a much smaller Asian population, she also had no lunchbox story. She observed that different schools have their own culture, and not all children learn to behave cruelly in this specific way. 

One theme in this article is that, for many of the people interviewed, published articles, essays, or books written by other Asian Americans often aren't accurate to their personal experiences. There's some frustration that a more diverse range of Asian American stories isn't being told, and that's likely at least in part because certain stories are seen as more marketable or "sellable to an editor" than others. 

It's difficult to find other stories about the Chinese-American or Taiwanese-American experience that truly resonate with me. Throughout my childhood, and even in college, I was sheltered from being made to feel "less than" because of my racial or ethnic identity, I was always at schools where at least a significant critical mass of students looked like me. With regards to race and identity, my personal story is therefore dominated by experiences of workplace discrimination and implicit bias that are specific to the legal industry. To the extent I look back further in time, issues of economic class and my parents' marital status - divorce being rare amongst the Asian American communities I grew up attending school with - weigh far heavier than questions related to my race. 

Friday, February 12, 2021

COVID-Era Spending Changes Revisited

Kate Spade Cardholder

That Vince boiled cashmere funnel neck sweater I like so much is finally on sale in pretty much all of this year's colors, including the medium blue color I'm somewhat tempted by. Many of their other sweaters from this fall/winter season are also on sale, including this cashmere donegal turtleneck. (Though alas, I don't think current sale prices are better than what was available during the most recent Black Friday/Cyber Monday sale period.) 

Back in August, I wrote about how COVID-19 social distancing and lockdowns changed my spending. Now that K and I have spent quite a few more months living a socially distanced lifestyle - it's been almost a full year now - I figured I should update my analysis to see if my main prediction - that "it's likely most of my spending changes from the [first] five months of COVID-19 lockdown could persist through the end of the [calendar] year" - turned out to be true. This post also serves as a sort of "spending year in review" for 2020. 

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!

Now that I have all my 2020 You Need a Budget ("YNAB") data to work with, I've adjusted the methodology for this analysis. Last time, I compared my average monthly spend for the entirety of 2019 with my average monthly spend in the full months for which I had data available from after COVID shutdowns started, namely April through July 2020. This time, I feel like comparing my spending for each full year - 2019 versus 2020 - makes more sense, even if January through mid-March 2020 weren't affected by COVID shutdowns. When averaged out over the entire year, the extra non-COVID era-compatible spending - e.g., at restaurants - from January and February 2020 is fairly negligible. 

This time around, I've also modified the list of spending categories omitted from the analysis. Like last time, I'm still leaving out my student loan payments and charitable contributions. Unlike last time, I'm now including my taxes (which increased slightly in 2020, but by a relatively negligible amount when averaged out over the entire year) and gift-related spending for my friends and family, the building staff at my apartment, and the non-attorneys at my workplace (which stayed about the same between 2019 and 2020). 

With regards to my student loan payments, I've ratcheted up the amount I pay each month significantly over time - for instance, I was at $4,800/month last August and am now at $5,100/month - so it'd throw off the analysis to include them. It's also a spending category I could pull back on significantly, if needed, because my minimum monthly payment after refinancing is only ~$1,600/month. And if all goes well, by August or September of this year, I'll be completely done repaying my student loans for good and will never need to worry about them again! 

As for charitable giving, I omit it from this analysis because it's so discretionary. Before 2020, I was admittedly not great about making charitable giving a regular part of my monthly budgets. In earlier years, particularly when I still had a negative net worth of five or six figures - recall I only hit "net worth zero" for the first time in April 2019 - it was something I struggled with because the hours I spent on pro bono work were clearly so much more valuable than any amount of money I could hope to give at the time. Now that I'm in a much stronger financial position than before, however, I can give more regularly (~$2,630 total last year, all from after the COVID shutdowns began in March). 

When I calculated my COVID-driven spending changes last August, I found I was spending an average of ~$1,300/month less than usual. This time around, when comparing my full-year spending for 2019 and 2020, I saw I spent an average of ~$980/month less than in 2019. So that's approximately $320/month less in COVID-driven reduced spending than I originally calculated back in August. (Keep in mind, though, that charitable contributions were omitted each time, so both measures of my "savings" from COVID social distancing should arguably be reduced by the ~$200/month I donated last year.) 

So what changed? Where did that other $320/month in reduced COVID-era spending or "lost" COVID-driven savings go? 

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Social Distancing Life Lately: Eleven Months

via Unsplash

Is everyone else here in the US - or in any other country that has failed to get COVID remotely under control - also at an emotional low point recently about the pandemic? Because I'm definitely feeling quite poorly about everything, noticeably worse than at any other point since last March. (Though what I mean when I say this is mostly that it's all relative. Somehow, I generally managed to stay in surprisingly good spirits throughout most of 2020 and am only really starting to feel the emotional difficulties of social distancing now, almost a year in.) And I can also see something similar in most of my friends and even infer it about some of my work colleagues. 

I definitely don't mean to fuss too much because I've been so incredibly fortunate - there really isn't any actual reason anyone should worry about me, I'm healthy, employed, and remain able to fully work from home - but darn, I really wish I could safely see my mom, my sister, or my friends in person. I even really wish to be able to safely go back to the office and go to court or do in-person depositions! 

Essentially, I'm really feeling this viral tweet about being "pandemic fine," and I'm sure I'm far from the only one:

Indoor dining will apparently reopen in NYC on February 12. I'm not sure that's a good idea, given current COVID numbers here. Regardless, K and I will absolutely not be partaking in any restaurant dining - whether indoors or outdoors - until the vaccine is readily available to younger, non-essential worker adults with no high-risk health conditions like us, and until we've been fully vaccinated. Recently, I do not have much faith in New York's state leadership, both as to vaccine distribution and as to COVID-related restrictions. Last I heard, we should not expect the COVID vaccine to become available to the general public - including K and I - until May or June. 

Because K's parents and my mom are all just under 65, do not work in front-line essential jobs, and do not have the types of preexisting conditions that would place them in a higher-priority category, they are also not yet eligible to receive the COVID vaccine. It's nerve-wracking to wait for the vaccine to become available to them, especially because my mom isn't able to work from home. At least she works in a very small office with no direct contact with customers or members of the general public. (But they still had a COVID exposure scare from one of her colleagues a few weeks ago, though thankfully everyone else - including my mom - has since tested negative.)  

Beginning in December, as COVID case numbers started spiking throughout the US, K and I started "double masking" whenever we leave our apartment, even if we're just going to the lobby to pick up packages from the doorman. At first, we wore basic surgical masks under our fabric Happy Masks (a brand we've been using since September). More recently, we switched to wearing KN95s under our Happy Masks, and I found that combination significantly more comfortable. Like the Happy Masks, KN95s have a more 3D cone shape, so only the edges of the mask sit on your face and the material isn't directly in contact with your mouth and nostrils. The Happy Mask shape fits nicely over the KN95 without squishing it noticeably or otherwise interfering with how securely the KN95 fits.  

We bought Powecom KN95s from Office Depot after I noticed Amanda Mull from The Atlantic had commented approvingly about them on Twitter. Stacey De-Lin - one of the doctors I follow on Instagram for COVID-related information - has recommended N95 Mask Co as a reliable source for KN95s and N95s, though N95s in particular are quite expensive. 

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Quiet Days at Home

via Unsplash

After a relatively productive January in terms of writing for this blog, I seem to be feeling a bit of blog-related writer's block again. It seems clear that when I'm trying to avoid shopping for my wardrobe, it becomes more difficult to get ideas for things to write here. Today's post is a light one, about some of the non-fashion things I've been enjoying recently. 

1. // While the weather's been quite cold out - including with a big snowstorm yesterday here in NYC - I've been making a lot of soup. Recently, I've made Balthazar's cream of mushroom soup (via Smitten Kitchen; I halve the recipe and get four light lunch-sized servings), Smitten Kitchen's white bean soup (I omit the crispy kale topping), and a baked potato soup from Delish (the resulting texture's quite thick, I add some chicken broth to thin it out), all of which were quite tasty and not too difficult to cook. 

2. // Netflix just released the second season of the glassblowing reality competition show, Blown Away, which I highly recommend! I've watched a few of the less well-known Netflix-distributed reality competition shows, including The Big Flower Fight (rather boring) and The American Barbecue Showdown (pretty good). Out of the ones I've tried, I think Blown Away is the best. 

For all that glassblowing as an art form has tons of inherent drama - lots of fire and heat, and things that accidentally break or crack - which, of course, helps keep each episode  interesting, I find I really enjoy Blown Away specifically because it still ultimately turns out to be a surprisingly low-drama competition. It's a comforting show to watch, somewhat like The Great British Bake Off ("GBBO"), particularly the older BBC seasons. All the contestants are extremely professional and also unfailingly gracious to each other, even the ones that might have more intense, potentially polarizing personalities. Because of the inherent fragility of glass as a medium and the ever-present risk of breaking or cracking, even in the hands of experienced artists, one gets the sense the contestants are all pretty good at rolling with the punches and staying calm to do their work. 

3. // After first buying Sims 4 (plus the Seasons expansion pack) years ago during a particularly good sale and then promptly forgetting all about owning it, I finally started actually playing the game over the Christmas holidays! Back when my current MacBook Pro was brand new - nearly seven years ago now -  it struggled mightily to run Sims 3 with just a single expansion pack installed, to the point where the game was nearly unplayable. I was initially worried my computer wouldn't be able to run Sims 4 either. Well, I was pleasantly surprised to find that, even though my laptop is much older now, it actually runs Sims 4 plus Seasons quite well. 

I don't find Sims 4 as interesting as Sims 3, they cut or changed a lot of things to make the newer game run better on most computers, and the experience of playing feels a bit less interesting and more empty. But it's still fun to try to build and decorate houses, so I can definitely at least get my money's worth from the heavily discounted sale price I paid for this game.