What Is Casual Dress Code Even

It looks like I’ve been getting a lot of traffic on my “Should I Think Less About FIRE?” post. It seems like it came from someone’s email newsletter, but I can’t tell from whom? In any case, thanks internet stranger! And welcome new readers!

I know I’m on break, but I had a couple quick things I wanted to talk about with regard to my new company’s casual dress code.

First of all, “casual” pretends it is not a dress code, but it totally is. It mirrors what I think a lot of us had as school dress codes. As far as I can tell, casual means that one can wear jeans and T shirts, but that things that are more skin-revealing (even tank tops or off-the-shoulder looks which are trendy right now) or bodycon are really out of place.

Even within the realm of T shirts and jeans, some tees are normal and others are out of place. Lightly patterned tees (stripes, dots, little dog prints, etc.) are fine, but emblazoned words and three wolf moon-esque shirts are not. Also, fit is extremely important. Especially if one is literally wearing tees and sweats, the right fit is the one thing keeping wearers from being seen as truly unkempt.

Second of all, my business casual-leaning wardrobe is really close to feeling out of place at my current work place. I’ve been defaulting to my silk shirts and jeans and I’m worried it’s causing people to see me as too dressy to be technical? Like sometimes people don’t bother telling me things I can completely understand because they are “subtle”, but like I would really appreciate people to just tell me in order to perform my job thank you very much. Maybe this is just in my head? A projection of imposter syndrome, perhaps?

In any case, I think I’d be well-served to add a couple more pairs of jeans to my rotation and some non-silk shirts. I don’t really want to just wear tees, personally. Feels too informal. Some minimalist cotton or linen blouses, I reckon, but no button-ups because even as a bust size B, those tend to pucker like whoa. Recommendations welcome!

Third of all, I have a $50 credit to Saks through a new Amex partnership via my Platinum card. I can burn the credit between now and the end of the calendar year. It’s enough to buy maybe a third of a garment? Not really sure how and whether I’ll end up using this.

Alright, back to my exponentially increasing to do list!

Does your workplace have a “casual” dress code? What does that even mean? Any minimalist cotton or linen tops you’d recommend?

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What Kind Of Life Do I Want To Live?

I have been pretty alone with my thoughts lately, which has put me in a wee bit of a quarter life crisis.

It’s fine. I’m fine. Everything’s just f-i-n-e.

To pull myself out of this morass, though, I want to do something positive. Like identifying what kind of person I want to be in my life. I need a goal in order to create a plan, right?

Some of the things I outline below are less plausible than others based on my current behaviors, which I note. Some are also less important to me than others, which I also note.

Alright, with that said, let’s get started. I want to, in my life:

Very important

  • Raise two well-adjusted children. (more likely)
  • Maintain good health well into my old age. (likely)
  • Be seen as a highly technical person. (unlikely)
  • Create a deep and lasting impact on the lives of others. (unlikely)

Commentary: I have a bit of imposter syndrome when it comes to being seen as a “highly technical” person which, for those not in STEM, is code for “has an iota of intellectual worth.” This reflects a really dumb and toxic part of STEM culture but it’s in my brain now and I have to deal with it before it eats me alive. I’d also like to make a lasting impact on others which, given my current introverted, risk-averse, what-if-I-mess-things-up-even-more? nature is harder. I think developing a more specialized skill set will help me make it more possible though.

Important

  • Foster multiple children. (somewhat likely)
  • Be the kind of person that invites mentees or those in need into my home for meals with my family and makes them feel loved and cared for. (unlikely)

Commentary: It is important to me to be a generous person showing love for the people and in the language I care most about: children and food, respectively. While I think fiancé and I will end up fostering one day, I think I need to be more proactive about establishing other types of relationships with others wherein I am offering knowledge, assistance, and just warm human kindness instead of just taking it.

Somewhat important

  • Speak multiple languages. (unlikely)
  • Have my art or writing recognized at a national level. (very unlikely)
  • Create a successful company that works to solve difficult societal issues. (very unlikely)
  • Establish a large charitable foundation. (very unlikely)
  • Have someone write a biography of my life posthumously. (very unlikely)

Commentary: Here we get into various legacy-building items. I guess I want to be remembered? It feels vain to say it, but it’s true. I’d also like to be a polyglot– I am currently monolingual to a fault in spite of years of language instruction. Ideally I’d like to be able to speak Spanish (easier since I’m okay-proficient, just downloaded a bunch of Spanish-language podcasts to listen to) and Mandarin (way, way harder). Unless I force myself into an immersive setting, I don’t know that I’ll be able to make much progress on this.

Not very important

  • Establish multigenerational wealth. (likely)
  • Write and direct a movie. (very unlikely)

Commentary: It’s funny that one of the least important but ideal things (establishing family wealth) is perhaps one of the things I spend the most time on. I’d also like to direct a movie one day but given that I have zero related skills, that seems like a big leap.

What kind of person do you want to be? Are you that person already?

Three Notes On Families

I’m en route to my brother’s graduation in Chicago (activity and food recommendations welcome!) so this one is going to be even more slapdash than usual.

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about families.

1.

The administration’s new policy of separating all families at the border, including those making asylum claims, makes me sick. These families come to the US for relief and shelter, and we kick them while they are down. There are some snapshots and accounts reaching the public: this audio clip released on ProPublica broke my heart.

We donated to RAICES Texas, who is offering legal representation and bond money to those incarcerated for their border crossing. We will also be attending our local chapter of the nationwide Families Belong Together protests on June 30th. Our true blue federal representatives are already on the right side of this issue (and by that I mean the left side), but we’ve made calls to them anyway. Even our Republican governor is saying and, on a surface level, doing the right things for now.

At times I cannot believe this country, my country, would do this. But America’s history is full of racial violence, segregation, and cruelty. And yet we must fight for its ideals.

2. 

I recently finished reading Min Jin Lee’s Pachinko. The book has felt really appropriate to this moment.

Pachinko follows a Korean family through the generations, from Japanese occupation and colonialism through the second world war to the nineties. It’s an epic about family– chosen and “blood”– sticking together in a country that is intent on dehumanizing and forgetting them.

The book makes me think about how often we as humans have used ethnocentrism to caste people, even those who have fully integrated into the dominant culture. It makes me think of the intergenerational trauma that gets passed down in every family where no more than a few generations back at any point in history, the family narrative was one of war, genocide, migration, and hurt. And how quickly that is forgotten by the young ones who don’t live through it. How really all families, to a degree, are “mixed” and yet how culturally divided families themselves really are. Human history as waves of trauma and their rippling effects.

3. 

I think to my own family, itself mixed, intercontinental, and broken. I wonder how many disagreements between my parents and myself– on race, on sexual norms, on gender– come from differences in the culture versus a legacy of trauma. Is culture just a product of the trauma of the times?

I’d been taught from a young age that family was the most important thing. And by family, it was meant “blood” family. Your parents, your children, your grandparents, cousins, etc. Blood sticks together. “Blood” family– not friends, not even your spouse– they were the only ones you could trust when things got hard. How much of that message came from trauma?, I wonder.

And yet it is my chosen family– my friends, my partner, my community– among whom I rely and feel safest. Is this a function of my American-ness, my millennial-ism? Perhaps. Papering over the deep well of hurt and resentment from my family’s past makes it easy to start fresh and new, for me to move forward with my own life. But it also feels ahistorical and flippant.

What am I hiding from? What am I unwilling to engage with in my family’s past?

What are you doing to end family separations at the border? Have you read Pachinko? How do you feel about your “blood” vs. chosen families? Any recommendations for things to see, do, or eat in Chicago? 

All The Clothes I Bought In The First Half of 2018

After last year’s big clothing overhaul, I’m still basking in the glow of a nice, new-ish wardrobe. Honestly, I’ve found the idea of clothes shopping since to be kind of a chore, in part because I know I’ll have to get anything I buy tailored to make it feel as good as my clothes do right now.

And besides my wallet could use the break– I’m hoping to keep under $350 this year, but won’t be sad if I go slightly over. I also told JP from Fired Up Finance that I’d join her 12 items for 2018 challenge, so that’s another motivator for the relatively low key spending so far this year. Depending on how you count it, I’m somewhere between three and six items (do socks count? do duds count?). This does not include my wedding wardrobe, by the way, which I consider under its own separate budget.

Everything I Bought

Merrell Jungle MOCs – $80.00

MRL-R60801-01-yThese are, by far, my favorite shoes of all time. So comfy, good for urban walking and also light hikes through all sorts of weather. My old pair lasted me about a year to a year and a half, but I wore those shoes every. single. day. And they were probably still serviceable, though they were starting to develop some holes at the toes. If this replacement pair lasts me the year, I’ll be happy.

Mizuno Wave Paradox 3 – $53.13

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Over the past few years I’ve burned through quite a few pairs of Mizuno Wave Paradoxes which feels unfrugal but honestly I probably should be replacing them more often than I do. After burning through my stash and realizing that the original design is no longer being sold, I bought an updated though still older version from the same line which is designed for over-pronators like myself. They aren’t as lightweight as the original Wave Paradox, which were a dream, but so far I like them.

Silvertoe Socks – $28.29

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Bought a couple packs of Silvertoe socks to replace the thick, hole-in-the-sole pairs I’d inherited a decade ago from my parents. These are nice, thin, and feel appropriate for casual to business casual settings. No complaints so far.

Uniqlo Warhol Shirt – $9

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I was idling at one of the consignment shops in the schmancy part of town, and wasn’t feeling enamored by the selection and, more importantly, the prices. Everything was basically at the retail sale price (i.e. about as much as I could spend buying it new straight from the store). Also, they were selling heavy fall/winter wear in June which… why? But anyway, amongst the racks I found this Warhol-esque Campbell’s Beef Noodle tee shirt which was sold at the MoMA for a while. It’s soft, catches the eye, and serves as my one fun purchase of 2018.

Duds – $39.50

I tried out some pieces from Grana but they didn’t end up fitting my body shape well. That resulted in a $8 restocking fee. I also tried buying a pair of Merrells used on Poshmark, but found that their sizing had recently changed. I ended up donating the slightly too small shoes and buying the pair I use now new, as described above.

Total – $209.92

Things I Want

I want to get some more casual tops, but am waiting to start working at my new job to see what the dress code is there first. Also some linen, because summer is hot and while silk is light and breezy, it shows all the sweat, all the time.

What clothes have you bought so far in 2018? What clothes do you want?

Buying A Home Is (Mostly) Not An Investment

Brunching with friends over the weekend, the conversation gradually turned to local real estate, as it is wont to do among the late-twenties, early-thirties urban professional crowd. The hosts were heading out to a series of open houses, looking at everything from fixer uppers to new construction. “You’re so lucky you bought a few years ago,” they told me and the other home-owning couple of the group, “Buying a home is just so unaffordable now.”

I live in a bonkers market. For those uninitiated to the current whims of coastal, big city home purchasing, here’s a taste of what’s going on out here: Single family homes in my area start at $1MM and go up from there (unless you’re okay with a teardown or fire damaged property, which you can probably buy for a cool $700k). For any property, especially at the “starter home” bracket, you’ll end up in a bidding war with at least five other dual high-income couples, usually one or both partners in tech. Homes last one weekend, two at most on the MLS unless there’s something seriously wrong with the property. Cash buyers routinely put in offers hundreds of thousands of dollars over asking price without inspection contingencies.

Because demand outstrips supply, since we bought our home in 2015, we’ve seen a consistent 5-6% YoY increase in our home’s value. From purchase until now, our home value has jumped just under $200k in three years. You would think, given that kind of increase, that I’d think home ownership is a wonderful investment, right?

Methodology

I decided to crunch the numbers. What if all the money I have dumped into my home over the years had gone into the S&P 500 instead? Is my home equity more than what I’d’ve had in cold, hard, liquid cash?

In my analysis I took into account all housing expenses including: rent, mortgage, property taxes, insurance, repairs, and the federal and state income tax implications of home ownership. I did not include the impact of my solar panels— i.e. none of the cost, income, change in utility costs, or increase in value to the home– since I think of that more or less as its own self-contained thing with its own payback period. I assumed in my calculations a 3% yearly rent increases under the rental scenario. I discounted my home value by 5% to account for transaction costs upon sale; I also discounted the rental scenario profit numbers by 10% to account for LTCG.

Results

I’m not going to share all my numbers, but here’s how Renter YAPFB and Owner YAPFB do in the relevant time frame at a high level:

In 2015, Owner YAPFB spends a tidy six figure sum for a down payment, delayed maintenance, and repairs on her brand new (to her) condo. The value of her home shoots up after she does mid-five-figure remodel: replacing the roof, new plumbing and electrical, flooring, foundation work. However, most of that equity is eaten up by the transaction costs of buying a home and the four months she spends paying both rent and a mortgage while construction was happening. Cumulative net benefit of buying a home: -$5,777.62.

In 2016, Owner YAPFB thinks her spree of wallet-emptying home maintenance is over when her eight-year-old furnace breaks down in the middle of winter. While she could go with a cheap replacement, she decides to install a heat pump so she can have central air conditioning in the summer. This eats up a lot of her equity gain from increasing home values. Cumulative net benefit of buying a home: $493.24

In 2017, things have mostly stabilized on the home owning front. Owner YAPFB actually spends a little less than Renter YAPFB on housing costs for the year. However, because the stock market is also going gangbusters, the increase in Owner YAPFB’s home value with leverage barely matches Renter YAPFB’s profits from the market. Cumulative net benefit of buying a home: $3,728.56.

So far in 2018, both Owner and Renter YAPFB have been sitting on their laurels, while the stock market has been jutting in fits and starts, the local real estate market continues apace, though who knows how far it can go? Cumulative net benefit of buying a home: $41,266.57.

Conclusion

Even in a very hot market, it’s only really clear that buying has been better financially about three years into ownership. Yes, I’d be ahead ~$40k if I sold now, that’s a far cry from the $200k top line number I started with.

Now, assuming I’m done front-loading my repairs for a while, home ownership should cost a little less than renting by a couple thousand dollars a year. In addition, I’m at the point where I should be able to “pocket” the increase in home values rather than siphon it off into yet more repairs. So assuming (1) home values continue to increase, (2) the leveraged increase in home values outpaces stock market growth, and (3) nothing catastrophic happens in terms of maintenance, my home may turn out to be financially a “better” decision than non-ownership.

But given the unsure nature of the financial situation, I cannot say the money is the main source of value I derive from home ownership. For me, the big things are more qualitative than quantitative: stability in knowing where I will live, lack of worry about being priced out of my home due to rent increases, being more integrated with my local community (homeowners have a very outsized voice in local politics), and being able to customize my home to my aesthetic and comfort preferences (paint on the walls! central A/C!). All these qualitative benefits come with their own costs (liquidity, various worries about climate change on an ocean-adjacent city), but for now I feel they are mostly worth it.

Have you calculated the rent versus buy financials on your home? Why do you (or don’t you) value home ownership?

My Funemployment Bucket List

I am very bad at being unemployed. And by that I don’t mean I am not enjoying my newfound freedom from my recent job, not at all! Rather, I am too employed, even while I am not working for a pay check.

Salary research and negotiation for new job offer? Check. Extensive market research to prepare for new role and field? Check. Batch meal prepping? Check. Put together an Etsy dropshipping store? In progress.

There are so many things to do in this world and always so little time. And yet at some point, I hope I will be able to slow down and just smell the roses, so to speak. When that time comes and the delicious boredom starts to set in, I’ve put together a list of activities that might be nice to do given that I have a little bit of time. This is not a bucket list in a traditional sense– I won’t be sad if these things don’t get done. Rather, I consider it like a menu. Fun side quests for me to pursue while I wait for new content to be released on my main campaign.

  • Eat banana sorbet with chocolate olive oil sauce at my favorite gelato shop
  • Shop at the Japanese grocery store in nearby town and try natto
  • Go to one of the verdant green spaces nearby and read all the books in my queue (at the top of my list are Pachinko by Min Jin Lee and Representation by Hilary Putnam)
  • Travel locally: Providence, Acadia, Portland, New York City, or the Berkshires
  • Travel domestically, but not so locally: visit my friends in Seattle or Augusta, or visit Detroit and get a sense of the housing investment opportunities there
  • Rock climb at the local gym in the middle of the day while it’s empty or do a lunch time yoga or hip hop dance class
  • Keep running along the nearby (very long) bike path until I’ve reached a town I’ve never been to before
  • Watch a film at the independent movie theater (here’s looking at you Tully)
  • Write or outline some new fiction
  • Go to a random Meetup and make new friends
  • Work on one of my data science or web app project ideas to build my portfolio
  • Brush up on my Spanish by watching some telenovelas and reading simple novels

If you had a month of funemployment, what would you do?

Too Lazy for DIY

Before I bought my condo, I was thoroughly convinced I was going to do all minor repairs and maintenance on it myself. I thought: how hard could it be?

So in the midst of renovation madness, fiancé and I got ourselves all the makings of a fixer upper toolkit: a nine-foot tall ladder, a drill with all the fittings, hammers and screwdrivers, joint knives, buckets, HEPA filter face masks, and the like.

We set off on our first project taking off the aging and peeling wallpaper from all 4000+ sq. ft. of wall space in the house. It took us about two days of scraping and peeling and spraying and scraping again to clean it all off. During and after, our bodies were tired, dehydrated, and just plain crabby.

I will never look at wallpaper the same way again.

There are other areas of my life where a similar DIY/anti-consumerist ethos has made its way into my brain, only to be majorly shut down.

For instance, zero waste and the urban homestead movement had me convinced for a while that composting and growing my own vegetables indoors would solve all my worldly problems. Reduce my trash waste and get free fertilizer for my hypothetical patio garden? Sign me up!

Here’s the rub, though: we don’t have much paper waste which makes our compost wetter than it should be. And digging caked wet matter out of my tumbler is no fun at all. Once every few months, it’s just me, a trowel, gloves, and a bucket in which I plop the insect-ridden gloopy masses. I’m not really sure this stuff can be used as fertilizer anymore. But I keep at it, because that one women with the tiny jar of trash for an entire year has made me feel guilty and, gosh darn it, I want to life such an aesthetically pleasing environmentalist life!

And I haven’t even gotten to the DIY projects still loitering half-heartedly on my to do list like: growing mushrooms using the blue oyster plugs that have been in my fridge for six months, clean out the dryer vent lest the clogged up lint causes it to catch fire, start my patio herb and vegetable garden so I can have basil and zucchini in spades.

But, over time, I am slowly coming to terms with the fact that I am too lazy for DIY. Gutter cleaning? I know a guy. Need to change an outlet? Email my electrician. Draining our water heater? Just take my money already!

Though the thought I can do something with my own two hands wriggles in my brain and we start all over again.

Are you a DIY’er? What stuff are you willing to do yourself vs. what would you rather pay someone else to do?