Thursday, June 28, 2012

Quickie: Obamacare

As many of you probably already know, the Supreme Court upheld the Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. "Obamacare") in a close 5-4 decision this morning.  If you only watched the first ten minutes of CNN's coverage, you might have been misled:

(image) (NOT ACCURATE.  People are comparing CNN's gaffe to this one:)



In any case, if you're confused about what all this means and don't want to look as confused as you actually are at lunch or happy hour today, I recommend checking out this link (thanks to my friend Kate for the heads-up).  In it, NPR breaks down the Supreme Court decision using commentary from constitutional bloggers.  You can click on links to the major portions of the opinion and the commentary will give you a quick run-down of the holding to go along with the dense text.


What do you think of the opinion?  Are you excited about Obamacare?  Do you think it's an unjustifiable government intrusion?

What about CNN's reporting error?  Personally, when I heard their conclusion that the mandate had been struck down I was skeptical, if only because they issued that statement within MINUTES of getting the opinion, and I don't know too many lawyers who can read a complicated legal opinion and understand it within a few minutes. 

Of course, perhaps if CNN had just made like a lazy law student and skipped to the last paragraph of the opinion they might have gotten it right the first time!

[Edit:  Also, don't fail to check out this great tumblr, "When SCOTUS Upheld Obamacare," where you will find gems like this:]


[If anyone finds a conservative version of that tumblr (only a matter of time) let me know!]

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

On not shopping so much

The hardest part of my aggressive loan repayment plan is the dramatic difference in my spending budget. Before, my shopping budget was almost entirely discretionary, and that discretion often amounted to most of the extra money I had beyond my minimum student loan payments. (See here for examples.)

Now, I've cut my spending back to $100 a week --- on everything. Food, transportation, entertainment, the whole shebang. I realize this is still more than some people have to work with, but it's been a big change for me.

My food expenses are slim to none because so many meals are being provided for me at work (yay summer associates) but those of you who have been around here for a while know that I did a LOT of shopping before setting these new restrictions. In the last month, I have not purchased one item of clothing, jewelry, accessories, etc.

A few of the new behaviors that have helped curb my spending:

1. Don't read that blog entry.
A bunch of the blogs in my google reader are VERY shopping-focused. I still love looking at people's outfits for inspiration, but whenever someone posts an entry entirely about current sales or promotions or fitting room reviews, I either skim the entry or skip it. Why torment myself?

2. Don't click on that link.
I appreciate that bloggers often post links to items that are or resemble what they are wearing. It's a helpful resource. However, I've stopped clicking on those links because I don't need to find myself staring in the face of a $35 dress from ASOS that I could easily justify but don't need. Instead, I try to think about the items I already have that could create a similar look. This is somewhat easier when I rarely ever allow myself the possibility of buying the actual item.

3. Don't browse.
Oh, how many items did I end up buying online because I just wanted to innocently peruse the sale section at J.Crew or Kate Spade? That money seriously adds up, and while I love the clothes I bought I also recognize that at this point I DON'T NEED MORE CLOTHES. Are you hearing me, brain? There is nothing else we need. Therefore browsing the sale section on Madewell, for example, is at best a small act of self-torture and at worst an activity that will result in the loss of a few hundred dollars. (although curse you, 25% off sale. This is what happens when I don't skim blogs fast enough. Small torture, not hundreds of dollars.)

Don't browse! Save yourselves!

4. Don't subscribe.
Do I need to be getting twenty daily emails from sample sale websites, J.Crew, Anthro, Gap, Old Navy, Seychelles, etc? No I do not. Those emails are quite obviously designed to prompt you to buy something you otherwise wouldn't have. When I barely have enough money to make it through the week, there's little room for an impulse buy.  I spent a few days unsubscribing from every single retail email that came into my inbox.  Email from a store?  Blindly scroll to the bottom to unsubscribe.  One of the nice bonuses of this act is that now when I get an email notification, it's almost always a personal email I want to read!

Where I don't unsubscribe, I delete. Sorry, Anthro summer looks.

The "don't browse" rule works for brick and mortar stores as well. When I find myself with spare time to wander about nowadays, I try to use that time to read, ride my bike, or relax outside somewhere instead of meandering around Georgetown.

What are your defensive shopping strategies?

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Brompton, the Megabus, and Philly: A Love Story

This past Sunday, I took a short day trip to Philadelphia to see family for Father's Day.  Although the Amtrak is the fastest and most delightful way to get to Philly, I am trying to save money and can really only justify Amtrak when my law firm is paying for the trip.  I ended up with a last-minute Megabus ticket.  Megabus, for those who are unfamiliar, is a bus company that runs cheap bus routes between relatively close-together cities.  A round-trip fare from DC to Philly set me back a whole $30.

This trip seemed as good a time as any to experiment with out-of-town mass transit on my Brompton.  And yes, I know that I still owe you a proper review of the Brompton, but I don't see how I can do that review without video, and I think I will need a volunteer cameraperson to aid me in shooting said video, so this may take a little while still.

Anyhoo, I left the house on Sunday morning with only my Brompton, my purse, and a father's day gift as cargo.  I opted not to take my large front-fastening cargo bag because once I off-loaded the gift I knew I would not need any extra cargo space.  The gift fit easily on the rear rack of the bike, secured by the included bungee cords.

The rear rack + bungees (image).

When I arrived at the Megabus stop in Union Station, I unfastened the gift, folded up the bike, and handed it to the bus baggage handler.  I didn't have any kind of bag or carrying case for the bike, but nobody seemed to have a problem with this.  The ticket-taking lady asked me why I didn't have a bag for the bike, but I think she was more worried about the bike's safety than about any kind of company policy.*

(Spoiler alert:  The bike emerged from both legs of the trip undamaged.  I wonder whether the lack of a bag actually kept it safe, because the baggage handlers could clearly see they were dealing with a bike and thus were inclined not to toss it around or throw things on top of it.)

Upon arrival at 30th Street Station in Philly, I grabbed my bike, unfolded it, and immediately rode to Center City where I met my fam.  No dealing with public transit, no paying for a cab, and no inconveniencing anybody with the task of coming to pick me up.

I was most worried about spending a day in the city lugging a bike around with me, but I found this to be mostly a non-issue.  It is possible to only partially fold the Brompton so that the handlebars stick out, turning it into kind of a wheely cart.

(FYI:  This is an M6R.  I realize that means nothing to 95% of my readers but in case anyone gets here by Googling Bromptons, there you have it.  Hopefully by the time you find me I have finally written a real review of this thing.)

That's how I got around the city with the bike in tow given the fact that my two companions were walking.  It was only a slight inconvenience (the way it would be to lug anything around with you), but most importantly wheeling the bike around this way was not difficult and didn't exhaust me with exertion.  The bike weighs 25 pounds, so it's definitely too heavy to carry around for five hours.

Once the day wrapped to a close, I made my way back to the bus stop on the Brompton.  I was an hour early for my bus and was not particularly looking forward to killing an hour on line outside the station.  As I approached my destination, I passed over the Schuylkill River and stared longingly at the long, beautiful bike bath that runs along the river, up into Fairmount Park.  I thought about what I lovely bike ride that would be and wished I could . . .

. . . wait a minute . . .

. . . I HAD a bike with me!  In fact, I was riding it in that exact moment!  And I had an hour to kill!

I came to a screeching halt, turned myself around, and made my way onto the trail for an hour-long bike ride into Fairmount Park.



And because I clearly cannot get enough sunsets:


There's a cemetary along the way.  I didn't go inside, but from the trail it looked old and regal.

Tombs.

A marble angel watching over the road.

It was mostly dark by the time I made my way back to the bus stop.  Along the way, the fireflies came out.

Can you see them in the grass?

Who could resist a photo opp like this?

The Philly museum of art (Rocky steps!)

I rode back to 30th Street Station and took my place in line with the Brompton, thrilled to have both gotten a bit of exercise and cut my wait time down to fifteen minutes. 

Upon arrival in D.C., I had an easy time of unfolding the Brompton and riding the easy mile back home.  I was not at all disappointed to skip the late-night taxi line at the station:


Overall, I didn't have any problems taking my folding bike on Megabus* and having my own mode of transport made it much easier to get to and from the station on both ends of the trip!  If this tale was a love story between the Brompton and Megabus, then the Schuylkill River Trail would be their love child.  The trail from Center City a bit up into Fairmont Park was a beautiful bike ride that I would love to repeat with more time.

* [Edit:  Note that it appears from their website that Megabus's official policy is not to allow bikes on board.  I'm not sure if the policy is not applied to folding bikes or if I just got away with something, but there you go.]

Monday, June 18, 2012

OOTD: Plain and Simple

On Thursday I wore that J.Crew dress from a month or so ago (see here) that I was debating returning.

In This Outfit:
J.Crew Winnie* dress (here - sold out, but on sale for ~$50 in stores)**
Payless Dexter Karma Pump (no longer available) (similar at target here)
Kate Spade Eyeglasses Necklace (not really similar eyeglass necklace at F21 here) (or etsy)
Kate Spade Citron lever-back earrings (similar)
Michael Kors watch (similar here on sale)

* Thanks to Caitlin for the identification!
** As caligiari mentions in the comments, this dress runs big.  I am wearing a size four here (I'm usually a six at J.Crew) and my boyfriend still observed that the dress looked a bit loose.  I like the fit of the four, but YMMV.)

I'm glad you guys talked me into keeping this one. It's somewhat of a heavy weight fabric, but it's loose-fitting and comfortable and it flatters me the way I wish Anthro's Embossed Basket Dress flattered me. (it did not.). Cap sleeves are a great look for me, I think.

Wearing this dress on Tuesday once again reminded me of the simple versatility of a good black dress.  I wore it in the office all day, and then it transitioned seamlessly to an after-work dinner reception for the American Constitutional Society.  (I saw Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick speak --- he is VERY compelling.)  Then I made my way to a sports bar to watch the Heat/OKC game (go Heat!) (<-- born in Miami) and it still worked.  Of course, it helped that this is DC so people are rarely out-of-place wearing work clothes anywhere on a weeknight.

Also, I rode my bike to all of these destinations and the dress is stretchy and breathable and long enough that I didn't even flash anybody along the way!

My workplace is such that I don't need to wear all-black EVERY day, but since I sometimes wear spunky clothes around the office, it's important for me to throw in a mix of simple, classic, utterly unassailable outfits as well. How do you balance your "personality" outfits with classic work pieces, if you do at all?

And now it's time to stare down the face of a few written products that need to get finished today. I'll have a financial update for you at some point this week!

Saturday, June 16, 2012

A non-OOTD OOTD

This is something like what I wore on Friday:
 

Except instead of pizza and a video game controller it was coffee and my laptop, remotely connected to the office from my boyfriend's couch.
 
Friday did not go quite as planned.
 
This is what happened:

I woke up extra-early to finish what I thought would be a one-hour assignment remotely from home before running (literally) into the office for the remainder of the day. I plopped onto the futon in my boyfriend's basketball shorts and what may or may not have been a clean men's undershirt.

You know what happens next, of course.
 
This "one hour assignment" had become, overnight, a three-hour assignment...which became, over the course of the morning, a full-day assignment.
 
A three-hour assignment....a threeeee houuurr assiiiignmennnt...(image)
 
Of course this assignment produced new wrinkles at unexpected intervals meaning I COULD NOT LEAVE MY COMPUTER OR TAKE A SHOWER ALL DAY.
 
I'm being slightly over dramatic; I probably could have done one or both of these things, but just my luck the twenty minutes I was disconnected would have been the twenty minutes when I needed to be around.

In any case, that's the story of how you bill ten hours before 4pm on a Friday.
 
After our project finally left my hands, I could not bring myself to move on to the next task on my list. Instead, BF and I hopped on some bikes (me on my folding bike---still pending adequate blog coverage---and he on my old hybrid bike, which now feels to me like riding a monster truck) and rode a bit along DC's Mount Vernon trail and Capital Crescent trail.
 
DC has some wonderful bike trails that I didn't take much advantage of before getting my Brompton, but because I now find myself wanting to ride my bike EVERYWHERE I have started exploring them.
 
Along the Mount Vernon trail in Alexandria, VA

Best part of the ride---I didn't even need to change out of my "OOTD"!

I hope you all have lovely, active, and work-free weekends. My weekend will be at least two of these three things!

PS: don't forget to call your dad tomorrow!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

OOTD: An unlikely pairing

What do you get when you pair a shirt that you only ever wear tucked-in with pants that you only ever wear with a tucked-in shirt?

It should be a shirt-tucked-into-pants combo, right? So what happened here?

In this Outfit:
Anthropologie Take Two Shirt (purchased last year)
ASOS Low-Slung Peg Pants (here - only $23!) (I took a size 8 - I'm usually a size 6 at Anthro.  There's some stretch in the waist.) (similar if your size is sold out)
Kate Spade Lever-Back earrings (similar)
Thrifted necklace (similar for $28)
Payless Lela Rose colorblock Travis pump (Fall 2011)
Michael Kors chronograph watch (similar)

I don't know, but frankly I love it! It feels classy and sleek but not uncomfortable or stuffy. Because this shirt looks a bit tenty I have never tried wearing it untucked, but I think it works with these pants (which themselves can sometimes be poochy with shirts tucked in):

(top previously)

(here and here)
(pants previously)

(here)

Not to mention, I can throw a black blazer on this whole shebang and HEYO look who's ready for her associate evaluation! (see also here and here for more songs of the black blazer.)


Finally, let me get another amen for Payless. These shoes, circa this fall, are just stellar. Comfortable, professional, and match almost everything in my wardrobe.


I hope you all are having a great hump day! I am dragging my (well-shoed) feet on a tough work assignment and could use some periodic distractions!

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Vegas, baby!

Ah, Las Vegas, how I love thee. Unlimited poker, unlimited stimulation, fantastic weather. Here are a few OOTDs from one of my favorite vacation destinations.

J.Crew chambray top, Anthropologie Cuernacava dress, Payless flats, J.Crew factory beaded bib necklace, Kate Spade earrings (and yes, you have seen this before)

My rule of thumb for Vegas is comfort, lightweight fabrics, and a light outer layer to put in when sitting down to the poker table (casinos get chilly!)

Forever 21 blazer, J.Crew factory dress, Payless flats, Kate Spade necklace, J.Crew factory belt, J.Crew factory earrings

This Forever 21 blazer did double duty:

Forever 21 Blazer, Kate Spade Necklace, Madewell Hi-Line Shirt (S), Urban Outfitters self-made cutoffs, Payless flats, J.Crew factory earrings.

Of course, you also need to be prepared for a pool day...


Like my summer iPhone case?


Nom nom! One of my favorite childhood snacks!

Friday, June 8, 2012

OOTD: I need an intervention


Have you ever bought something that was just too perfect?

You know, the kind of clothing item that goes with everything, makes you feel great, is practical, is comfortable, is easy, and pretty much gives you an attitude orgasm every time you look at it?  Something so fantastic that it has essentially stunted your wardrobe because you can imagine no way to get dressed without said item?

Well, these shoes are that for me right now:

I just adore everything about them.  They are the perfect summer flat.  Work-appropriate, easy for biking, good summer color, and because they are only $17 full price (here) I will not feel badly if I shred them up while biking and need to buy several backup pairs.

I've been wearing them almost non-stop for a month and biking in them nearly every day, and they still look pretty good:



There are some minor scratches around the toe, which I attribute to the biking (when I stop at a light, I put my toe down on the road), but these are not noticeable from a normal height.

So, thank you Payless for making a splendid nude flat and selling it for a song.  This is the only pair of shoes for which I have ever contemplated buying a backup pair (and probably will).

In this Outfit:
Anthropologie Pave Posts (here)
Anthropologie Season's Way Shirt (S)
Isaac Mizrahi for Target Skirt (thrifted)
J.Crew Factory Patent Triple Loop Belt (here)
J.Crew Bracelet
Michael Kors Watch (similar)
Payless Chelsea Flat (nude) (here)


Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Introduction to The Debt Snowball

I mentioned a few weeks back that I would be re-focusing my financial attention on the speedy repayment of my student loans.  The method I've chosen is called the "debt snowball," which I first heard about from Couch Potato Athlete (a.k.a. The Runny Egg) (here), and she read about it from Dave Ramsey (here) (Jewish girl warning:  there's quite a bit of God talk in Dave Ramsey's book.  It's not a Jewish God, so if that kind of thing bothers you then be forewarned).


The basic idea behind the debt snowball is that you stack up all of your loans from lowest balance to highest balance.  You then make the minimum payments on each loan and then throw every extra red cent towards the loan with the lowest balance until you have killed it.  The next month, you again pay the minimums on each loan, but now you take each extra red cent, PLUS the minimum payment that you were paying towards the smallest loan and you apply it to your next highest loan until it has been cold-bloodedly murdered.  

The idea is that you end up creating a bit of a snowball, so that by the time you get to your largest loans you are throwing huge chunks of money at them until they are gutted in their sleep and left to die in a pool of their own blood and intestines.

[image removed]

(OMG, do not google image search "bloody snowball."  People are sick!)

Those of you who understand interest rates will observe that this is not the most mathematically optimal method of loan repayment.  The success of the method is generally based on psychology in that most people feel motivated to continue on a difficult path after accumulating a few small "wins," i.e., the repayment of small debts.


So here's what I did:

1.  I made a detailed list of each of my loans.  I broke down each loan into components; I have several loans that seemed huge, but once I looked at the statement detail I realized that this seemingly huge loan was actually a large loan group made up of smaller loans.  I'm focusing on each individual loan.

2.  I identified my smallest loan.

3.  I determined my monthly disposable income that will be the money I can throw at my smallest loan until it has been bludgeoned to death.  After rent and $100/week for food and fun, that amount is $1,000.

4.  I am suspending payments to my 401(k) for a year as a preliminary emergency measure.  That hasn't kicked in yet, but once it does that will add another $500 to my monthly disposable income that will go towards the snowball.

5.  I calculated my current snowball.  There is only one loan I have that has been consolidated, and I don't plan to consolidate my other loans, so my initial snowball was $66.

6.  I owe money to my parents for pre-job expenses, and after hearing about my debt repayment plan, my father offered to defer repayment of my interest-free loan until April of 2014 in exchange for a small interest payment.  That added $500 to my monthly snowball.


Here's where things stand at the start of this adventure:



For the sake of some degree of financial privacy, I have only approximated my loan balances.  I include the approximate balances because I saw in your comments that at least some folks are in a similar student loan situation as I, and I assume it will make you feel a bit better to see that I have a long way to go as well.  Again, three Ivy League degrees don't come cheap.

As you can see, many of my loans are under $5,000 each, but those minimum payments really add up.  Once all of these small loans are cruelly assassinated, I will have an extra $840 to add to my snowball ($566 finished minimum payments + $1500 monthly income) to slaughter the <$10k loans.  Once I slit the throat of the <$10k loans and laugh while they exsanguinate, I will add $435 to my $840 and $566 and $1500 for a total of $3341.  And so forth.

And that's the snowball!  

I'll keep you posted on my repayment progress at the top of each month, and I'll continue to explore financial themes as they come up in my life.  I'm ruminating on a few topics as we speak, and I'd love to hear your suggestions, success stories, and general thoughts!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Stay classy, Imperial Palace

I'm in Vegas until late tonight, but here's a quickie WTF.

We got free rooms at a cheap hotel/casino on the strip (called Imperial Palace) for three of the five nights we were in town. The rooms have balconies, and each balcony window has a sign advising you "do not drape anything over the balcony."

We stayed at two rooms in the Imperial Palace, and both featured a sign that was defaced in the same way by the classy clientele at this somewhat run-down casino:


Stay classy, Imperial Palace. Stay classy.

 

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