Thursday, August 5, 2021

Money Life Lately: Less Biglaw-ish Than Before

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Today's post is a bit of a grab bag about some of the smaller things going on in my financial life recently, outside of the really big thing - fully paying off my law school student loans! - that just happened. 

Less Biglaw-ish Than Before

Throughout the years since starting my current workplace in 2017, I've always described my job as "biglaw-ish." This made sense because our attorneys are similarly credentialed; typically have biglaw work experience; sometimes have similar work hours; and also because we were on the same salary scale, even if our year-end bonuses were typically ~25% of what our biglaw peers were earning and we also never got any part of the "special bonuses" that started appearing in recent years.  

After a bit of a market-wide slowdown in the first month or two of COVID-driven shutdowns in the US, business has apparently mostly been booming at many American biglaw firms. Early this year, a round of new special bonuses were announced. I understand that assurances were also given by certain firms that these special bonuses would not result in the reduction of year-end bonuses later on. Given typical practices at my workplace, I naturally expected the biglaw special bonuses would not have any effect on my total compensation. 

A few months later, I was rather shocked when biglaw firms also provided a new round of across-the-board raises for associates, on top of the special bonuses. So, uh, business is clearly still extremely good at some biglaw firms, to say the least. 

As for me, my workplace is officially no longer on the biglaw salary scale. This isn't too much of a surprise because we're a much smaller entity, and accordingly, our practice is far less diversified than that of any given biglaw firm. Instead, we got smaller raises across the board, and it's unclear what will happen the next time biglaw firms decide to increase associate salaries again. Anyway, I'm not worried about this change, though obviously, more total compensation is always nice. I had a lot of reasons for joining my current workplace rather than returning to my original biglaw firm, and I've never truly regretted that choice. 

The MTA No Longer Owes me Money

Back in June, I complained about how the only solution for getting back the value stored on NYC Metrocards expired for longer than one year - but for less than two years; if they're expired for longer than that, you're apparently completely out of luck - was to snail mail them back to the MTA, the relevant government agency, for replacement. After four weeks passed with no response, I was all ready to complain about how the MTA owed me money and left me with absolutely no recourse. But then in the fifth or sixth week, I finally received my new Metrocards in the mail. 

This whole snail mail procedure felt extremely low-tech and haphazard, but at least it had a happy ending! I had a slightly shocking amount - $120 total, thanks to my poor inventory management with my workplace's pre-tax public transit benefit - stored on those expired Metrocards. So it would have been very annoying if I never got a response from the MTA. 

Outside of pandemic times, it's highly unusual for any NYC resident to hold on to so much stored value on their Metrocards to the point where the cards have been expired for longer than a year. When the Metrocard has only been expired for a year or less, it can quickly and easily be switched for a new one any time at the fare machines located in every single subway station.

The Cost of Orthodontics

Longtime readers may recall that, back in late 2017, I had a freak accident where I tripped and fell and needed quite a bit of expensive dental work as a result (though not as much as I could have needed, for which I'm thankful). All that work got me back to an alright state, but there were still some lingering visible effects of the accident. 

I had braces as a young teen to straighten out all my teeth, but after the accident, several of my top front teeth were left slightly out of alignment. One of those front teeth also stuck out noticeably further down than the others because the dentist wasn't able to fully push it back into place. It now looks like I have a single buck tooth, and the other alignment issues on the rest of my top front teeth are not nearly as obvious in comparison.

In the years since, I've vaguely considered consulting with an orthodontist about fixing the remaining effects of my 2017 accident. At times, I wondered if ~$2,500 might be enough to budget, since only three or four teeth were visibly affected and most of them only negligibly, at least to my eyes. 

I never ended up seeking out an orthodontist for a consult, in large part because I was still paying off my student loans. Furthermore, my workplace dental insurance plan didn't offer any coverage at all for orthodontics.* I also wasn't sure anyone could actually tell my teeth had cosmetic issues unless I explicitly pointed it out to them. It's not like people run around taking close looks at other people's teeth in the course of normal life! 

Now that I've finished paying off my student loans however, it felt like the right time to at least think about getting that single buck tooth fixed. I do feel self-conscious about it sometimes, and I actually felt more self conscious about it than before when we started doing more Zoom calls and meetings, since it's something odd that's pretty much located right in the middle of my face. When people only really see me from the shoulders up on a computer screen, issues with my teeth or face feel relatively more conspicuous.

I haven't quite made a final decision yet on whether to move forward with treatment, but my first consultation revealed that ~$2,500 is not enough to budget for this type of thing. Instead, it seems the right number is more like ~$4,000+, even if it's only the upper front teeth that will receive braces. (If I decide to get treatment, I'd most likely also add another permanent retainer like I got after my childhood orthodontic treatment, for another ~$550 or so in fees.)**

This price estimate is for treatment that's expected to take four to sixth months with traditional braces with metal brackets, Once the orthodontist explained that Invisalign would cost more and potentially take longer to achieve results, I wasn't interested in that option. There are also clear ceramic brackets that can be used with traditional braces, but those also cost more than metal brackets and would still be connected by a visible wire in the front, so I didn't want those either. At any rate, I'm still planning to wear masks indoors for the foreseeable future - except when seated at a restaurant or when actively eating and drinking - so it'll be rare for anyone to even see my braces for the relatively brief period I'm expected to have them! 

* In general, I believe most American dental insurance offers fairly weak coverage, so patients still expect to pay hundreds - and very possibly thousands - of dollars for any remotely complicated work. Dental insurance is also far less expensive than medical insurance, at least. Throughout my career thus far, dental insurance typically costs ~$50 or less in pre-tax deductions/paycheck, sometimes a lot less, while medical insurance often costs ~$250 or more in pre-tax deductions/paycheck. 

** For another data point: My sister once did a consult around 2012 for a similar level of treatment on only a portion of her teeth with an orthodontist in the Boston suburbs - another high cost of living ("HCOL") area, though not as much as NYC most likely - and she was quoted a similar price. So maybe there just isn't much of an option out there in relatively HCOL areas for getting orthodontic work for much less than ~$4,000 per course of treatment, even when it's not on all of the teeth!

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