Category: Goals

September Accountability

“Don’t tell me what you value, show me your budget, and I’ll tell you what you value.” 
― Joe Biden

As part of my self accountability in monitoring my spending for the rest of the year, here’s the summary of what I bought this month and why.

Actually, let the record show, this was a pretty good month. I had to do a lot of travel for work, which mean eating on the road, but I’m lucky to be able to expense those meals. We have gotten a bit lazy and sloppy with cooking, which is going to be a big goal over the next month instead, as is exercise, which is something that fell off the radar over the past couple of weeks as I’ve dealt with a dust up of hormones and anxiety. You are never 100% in all areas of your life, but in terms of self control, I’m doing pretty well of late. I credit good friends and effective habit building.

Justifiable purchases: Another humble trouser purchase was required as yet another pair of work pants bit the dust…but as if in answer to a prayer from the sartorial gods, my beloved Everlane finally opened their wares to international shipping! I picked up this pair of fairly reasonably priced trousers and have been extremely happy with the fit.

Less justifiable purchases: I did not, however, strictly need the jumper that also wended its way onto my Everlane checkout screen. I’m calming myself down immediately but come January I will definitely be making another purchase, probably of their ethical cashmere or silk lines.

Takeaway orders: 3 because the Small Dog fam got absolutely lazy this month. SHAME.

Small wins: I did not succumb to a 30% off coupon for a skincare product that I’d definitely like, but do not need until I use up other items in my bathroom cupboard. I also have not, as yet, succumbed to the temptation of Sezane’s fall collection launch–which is difficult because a lot of it is exactly my aesthetic right now.

 

Check Your Budgets

“Wealth consists not in having great possessions, but in having few wants.” 
― Epictetus

The other weekend, Jeff and I were doing our monthly bills round up when we noticed some charges on a card that neither of us recognized. We’re pretty sure this card was “skimmed,” as it’s not the first time we’ve had a security issue with the bank in question. It’s a solvable problem but we were angry and frustrated by it. This was over the bank holiday and we were considering a bit of a madcap city break for some quality time. The money in the budget for this? Compromised by these false charges. Ugh.

Jeff got on the phone to the bank immediately and we’ve done the necessary paperwork to resolve it, but it was a shock and annoyance all the same. We’re probably going to close this account after two cases of lax security from the same provider in a year. 2018 is already too fraught for this kind of stress!

However it was a good moment to review our household budget and goals. I’ve started a new contract and Jeff earned a promotion this past summer, so we had some modest growth in our take home pay and we hadn’t really considered how to use it. Our one purchase for the house was made and I’m on some personal spending challenges already, but we knew we had gotten a bit lax with items like eating out or travel costs around the city. Take into account the ever fluctuating exchange rate between dollars and pounds (thanks, Brexit, you slow moving mess), which has more of an impact on our monthly finances than you may think, and you can see why expat life and banking can be a bother on a good day, to say nothing of an obnoxious one. We decided we wanted to try and add another $300 to our debt/savings plan. Which also would have been doable had not our card been compromised. Ugh again. Anyway, we’ve set up some minor self goals to help achieve this in spite of other people’s criminality and it was a nice way to look ahead to the upcoming season in terms of money and plans.

Moral of the story: always check your bank statements, kittens. Some jerk may have prevented your planned trip to Bath.

Lipstick Usage: A Junkie’s Confession

“I believe in manicures. I believe in overdressing. I believe in primping at leisure and wearing lipstick.”
– Audrey Hepburn

Big news, team, I’ve finished another full sized lip product this month. This is my third this year so far and means I’m two for three in my 13 by Halloween panning challenge. Progress!

I’ve said it before, and others have said it with far more eloquence, but we live in an age of conspicuous beauty consumption and it’s fascinating to watch whole media and production industries shift to accelerate our spending habits. But there is much less interrogation of the perish-ability of beauty items and how long it takes to use some of them. It took me months of almost single-product usage to use up these lipsticks…and I own at least two dozen lip products. The sheer time it will take me to use these items is daunting.

So. Damn. Satisfying.

In fact I can hand on heart say that I own years worth of makeup… and I don’t feel great about that. Earlier this year I made an inventory of all the beauty products I own and how much they cost to purchase. I still can’t share the number because even now I’m shocked by it. However, quantifying what I owned was a real wake up call and has helped me set (and mostly keep) spending challenges, and has motivated me to take more pleasure in using items than hoarding or collecting them.

Similar to clothing, I definitely went through a period in my young adulthood of not really knowing who I was (aesthetically speaking) or what face or image I wanted to portray to the world. I tried on a lot of looks, hoping to find myself in the mirror. I bought items that editors and bloggers recommended, shopped for the kind of girl I thought I wanted to be (rather than who I actually was), and frankly indulged in retail therapy. It was an expensive and frankly wasteful process to go through, and I recognize my own privilege in being able to afford it, but I’m grateful to have had the experience of learning a bit more about myself through the mirror of…well, my bathroom mirror. I’ve learned a lot.

I’ve learned that I don’t care if everyone and their dog loves it, I don’t like NARS’ iconic blush shade, “Orgasm.” It has glitter in it, and that’s not my jam. I’ve learned that blue based red lipstick may make my teeth look whiter, but too bad. I loved orangey reds and if given the choices will always reach for the latter–and should probably therefore stop buying the former. I’ve learned that I don’t know how or care to contour my face; I am not a Kardashian. I’ve learned that I may love the idea of colorful eyeliners and pencils but I will not wear them and they are a waste of money.

I’ve learned that 90% of any successful and cohesive aesthetic as an adult woman seems to be confidence. I’m sure in retrospect that literally no one on earth besides me was paying significant attention to how my face looked on any given day, and that most of the angst and insecurity I felt was emotional energy spent that I’ll never get back. I’ve also learned that because almost know one cares about my face as much as me, I may as well have fun from time to time and actually wear colorful makeup or lipstick and enjoy the hell out of it rather than allow it to languish on a shelf due to timidity.

I’ve learned that no amount of product or pigment will compensate for poor health or self care. Good skin, an exercised body, and healthy food may not be as bold as red lipstick, but I will feel ten times better in them than any amount of the latter. A balanced emotional state and tended to mental health is not notably glamorous but it is infinitely better for my wallet. And I’ve learned that before I am allowed to buy anything, I must do the months worth of work to use what I have first. It’s been a mindset shift that has stretched into almost every area of my life as a capitalist consumer.

Beauty has taught me a lot, and I think that’s why I like to write about it and read about it as much as I do. It’s an interesting glimpse into an inner life with a very shallow surface and very deep through lines.

 

Trying to Buy “Cheap” Beauty, When You Love Expensive ****

“Save your marriage, and buy that someone special Revlon Colorburst. You’ll be glad that you did.” 
― Anthony T. Hincks

The thing about high end makeup and beauty products is…sometimes they really, actually are better. The pigments are more stable, the powders are more finely milled and therefore easier to use, the formulas have more potent (and therefore expensive) ingredients.

But as I’ve tried to restrict my beauty spending this year (and owning up where I fall off the wagon), I’ve been slowly trying confront where I spend money because it gets me a better product or experience…and where I’m paying more money but not getting anything more out of it than feeling fancy. There are an awful lot of beauty products out there where you are paying top dollar for little more than than the brand, a logo on a package, or a case of some kind that probably cost to much to make and may not be recyclable in the end.

Part of my new spending goals include nearly a year of not buying any beauty or skincare items that isn’t a replacement pf something I’ve used up, replacing as much as a can like for like or from the drugstore rather than a boutique or high street shop. Luckily I’ve been unofficially doing the research for this for years now and I can tell you exactly where I think you should spend money in putting together a beauty or grooming routine.

Save

This is a caveated category, but we need to talk about drugstore lipsticks. My love for lipstick is VERY well documented at this point and it is a product where the quality of the ingredients matters to its application. But I’ve noticed a distinct trend of improvement in drugstore lipsticks over the past few years. Gone are the chalky, sticky bullets of my teenage years; what you can buy at your typical Boots or CVS is a much better, quality product. In fact, it’s incredibly rare for me to buy a “designer” or high end lip product, when a lot of what you’re paying for is fancy packaging and a brand name. Most of my formulas are considered “mid range,” and I think that’s because of this overall trend towards improved formulas at lower price points. I simply don’t see the need for most designer lip products when I can find the same colors in good formulas for better prices. Now listen, you will pry those mid range lipsticks I do have from my cold dead fingers, but I’ve started rediscovering my love for drugstore brands this past year and want to ensure that I buy from them much more.

Basic skincare. Similar to drugstore makeup, a lot of basic skincare has gotten much more effective at lower price points. The No 7 brand at Boots, for instance, is something I only got into this past year and it’s been revelatory. Once I used up more expensive cleansers, for example, I decided to see if I could get at least as good results at a lower price point and presto. Ditto with micellar waters, eye creams (which are a “disputed” product when it comes to effectiveness), and makeup wipes (which you should try to avoid using regularly as they aren’t great for your skin and are definitely not great for the environment). Save money on the basics and spend more on an “active” product like a serum, SPF, or treatment with much more potent ingredients that will help treat your trouble spots or maintain your skin health against sun, pollution, or chronic issues like acne.

Mascara. Some people swear by their designer mascaras but I am convinced they are the most ridiculous waste of money. The recommendation is to use up an entire tube of mascara in three months (which I have never once done in my life) or toss it to avoid it becoming a breeding ground for bacteria (again, advice I have never followed, but whatever). If you are spending more than a handful of dollars or pounds on a tube that’s designed to be perishable within 90 days, you are nuts.

Hair care. Again, fight me in the comments if you must, but I have yet to meet the shampoo or conditioner that is worth more than what I will pay at Boots. I’m sure that there are some styling products worth the coin and I am open to evangelizing on this point, but hair is decidedly Not My Thing and spending anything more than drugstore prices on it would be a silly choice for me. The bigger lesson is, if [insert a beauty/grooming routine step here] is Not Your Thing, do not be duped or pressured into spending your money on it.

Nail polish. Chanel may be iconic, but I say: save your money. Nail colors are easy trends to follow and incredibly cheap compared to the constant churn of fashion trends (which Instagram has spend up to light year speeds). Spend a handful on some seasonal or fun colors from the drugstore and save yourself the tears when liquid dries up, you drop the bottle, or you just get bored with it and want to chuck it. Enjoy double the savings if you paint your nails regularly yourself instead of paying someone else to do it for you (again, something I refuse to do).

 

Spend

If you wear foundation and concealer, it is worth spending some money on. If you have found a brilliant drugstore product that you love, suits your skin, and looks the way you want it to, YOU ARE A HERO TO ALL OF US AND SHARE YOUR WISDOM. But I personally have found the best performing products on my skin tend to be more expensive. I’m fine with this. The trade off I make is that I own only one foundation and have to replace it only one every couple of years, which feels reasonable.

Powder products. See my comments at the start of this post; things that take more work to produce generally cost more and this is particularly applicable for powder products which have to be milled and blended and often pressed several times during production to achieve what’s considered a high quality. Like unto lipstick, drugstore brands are getting better at these, but I still prefer the quality I find higher priced brands. Also like unto lipstick, I have found very little quality difference between mid-high ranged brands and designer brands. Therefore, I say be willing to spend money in this category, but don’t pay silly prices for just packaging or a logo.

Active skincare products and lipstick. As discussed. Worth the money if you find a high performing product that treats a specific condition (rather than is just generally expensive lotion you smear on your face with indeterminate results), but be conscious about where you can find an equivalent at mid or even low range. The Ordinary is a range that’s made waves for providing skincare formulas at very low price points. The efficacy can vary but it’s worth experimenting to find what suits you, which also frees up other budget for more expensive products that you can’t duplicate.

Perfume. This may be a tad personal, but it is a rare cheap perfume that lasts long enough, smells good enough, and feels “exclusive” enough for me. I am an unrepentant snob about some things and I enjoy wearing clothes and perfumes that aren’t mass marketed. I wore Coco Chanel for years and loved it, but eventually gave it up because it was 1) expensive and 2) ubiquitous. The first wasn’t enough to stop me but the second was. However, in general, I think a perfume is a good place to spend your “luxury” money, whatever that means for you personally. Formulated well, a scent should last on you all day and therefore a bottle should last you at least a year. Find one that you adore and make it the finishing touch of your beauty or grooming routine to feel luxe. Even if everything else on your body or face is cheap as chips, the one thing that will literally encase you and float about your presence all day will be fancy AF, as the kids say.

A Week of Outfits: Friday

Oh God
Could it be the weather
Oh God 
Why am I here
If love Isn’t forever
And it’s not the weather
Hand me my leather
― Tori Amos

I had my Duchess of Sussex knock off look all planned…and then I checked the weather report before I got ready. Thank god because after weeks of heat wave, we’ve taken a turn for the cool and rainy. I don’t mind this personally, as I usually feel much better prepared for cool weather than warm, but it did sort of scupper my final look for the week. White trousers in the rain? I think not, I’m neither an idiot nor a masochist.

And so, to the back up plan! And let’s go to the exact opposite of Duchess territory while we’re at it!

These are vintage leather trousers, they are completely extra, and they are fun. To go back to an earlier post on this series, when I retreat to my single blocks of color in dressing, one element of dressing I like to play with is texture. Texture is why I bought these vintage leather trousers-slash-almost-culottes-kinda, and it’s the same reason I bought my navy velvet trousers. They are totally different sensory experiences, but tactile components can add visual complexity to an outfit. The photo is not my best angle…but who cares!

It’s also fun to mix other components. Leather is a very tough material and is often considered quite masculine or even butch, so you can cut the effect by introducing hyper feminine elements. In this case, I paired it with a loose, pink silk shirt from Everlane and my trusty charity shop heels again. I doubled down with the pearl earrings. All of those pieces are more traditionally feminine and so the trousers become the star of the show. Again. I think I’ve realized I have something of a trousers fetish during this project…

This project has been more fun to do that I thought it would be. I still don’t enjoy having my photo taken, I still feel pretty dumb in front of a camera, and I still have to quell negative comments about how I think I look (yes, even after dropping 20 lbs in a year and a lot of other health victories). But it has helped me think about putting outfits together in advance, which always makes getting out the door that much easier in the morning. It’s made me think about accessories and jewelry, which I clearly need to use more often and in different ways, and it’s definitely made me want to shop my own closet more.

I’ve written before about how I really have gotten to a place where I love my clothes. I can’t think of a single item in my closet that I don’t like–if I don’t like it, I don’t keep it–and even better, a lot of them have whole background and stories behind their purchase. I can explain why I bought an item, what was attractive about it, and how I like to wear it. Everything I own feels intentional. The vast majority of my closet is second hand or vintage items and in almost every case of buying something new, the item has been sourced from a transparent and ethical company. I feel good about what I own.

I’m happy to say that it looks like my furniture deal is going ahead therefore so is my Faustian bargain to not buy any more personal items for the rest of the year. Doing a project like this where I don’t just shop my own closet, but I write about it and try to articulate the way I use clothing better has been a great way to unofficially kick it off. I may do another week like this later in the year, when the cold weather has well and truly descended and I may need a jolt of inspiration again. But for now, I hope it wasn’t too boring to read about and I appreciate the indulgence.

A Week of Outfits: Thursday

“Black is modest and arrogant at the same time. Black is lazy and easy — but mysterious. But above all black says this: I don’t bother you — don’t bother me.”
– Yohji Yamamoto

And again proving myself a liar, today I went for simple all black. I’m a howling hypocrite.

There was a reason for the choice, however, it was because I had a visit to another client site scheduled, one that’s a bit less convenient for me to get to than my Monday trek was. Trousers, rather than a dress, were the way to go and frankly it had been too hot that week to cover both legs and sleeves, so a sleeveless top was a must. I don’t really have too many of those and they are all in black or white so this look was a bit of a foregone conclusion.

Then the meeting went and got cancelled at the last minute so my carefully chosen rationale was all for naught.

Going monochrome can be fun and gives you a chance to focus on other items rather than fabric color. In my case, I pulled out the big gold hoop earrings again and a bright red lip because why the hell not?

Wide leg trousers appeal to me on a visceral level, even though I’m sure there is some rule in some style book somewhere about how petite women shouldn’t wear them, and certainly not at the length I found these at this year in an LK Bennett sale for over 50% off. Sue me. If you go to my style inspiration Pinterest board, you will find it filled with  images of wide legged trousers, from photographs of flappers to Victoria Beckham. The vintage look appeals to me significantly; I love how a century ago women took a men’s piece and completely made it their own, and on their terms. I like the feminized “male” trouser of its day and though I do own skinny trousers and like them just fine, I’ve really gravitated towards voluminous pieces. It’s only in the past couple of years that I’ve felt confident enough to wear them. Maybe they do break some kind of rule for how you’re supposed to look or dress, but I love the way these ones look on me. I feel slightly like Katherine Hepburn, and that was exactly the point of them.

We’ve got to talk about the shoes. Because I was expecting to rotate through cars, buses, and trains all in a couple of hours, heels were also out of the question today. But these almost-flats are one of my favorite consignment store finds: a pair of Jimmy Choos at a fraction of the its sales price and barely ever worn. The metal detail at the front makes a fairly basic shoe feel fancier than it actually is, and the slight heel gives me a tiny bit of height while also feeling dressier than flats.

I love consignment shopping; exactly like thrifting, it’s incredible what you can find if you take the time to look and hold out for what you really want. I’ve found new or lightly used shoes by Jimmy Choo, Oscar de la Renta, Alexander McQueen, and Louboutin–all for pennies on the dollar. Ah, the shallowness of labels, right?

I used to work in an industry where the pros could look you head to toe and guess, with alarming accuracy, what your salary and net worth were because it was an industry where people deliberately telegraphed information about themselves with their clothing. I was always, always the most junior and lowest salaried person in the room in that world, but consignment shopping allowed me to blur that fact when I needed to. And now, older, wiser and in fields that fit me better and I like more, I still rely on a lot of the shallow but useful lessons learned from an earlier part of my work life about how much presentation matters. Especially in a city like London.

This outfit appeals to me because it’s simple and easy, but still has personality in spite of the monochrome and allows me to wear items that mean a lot to me and send certain signals effectively. The only thing I’d change about it is possible more or different jewelry, but I’ve barely started buying pieces that aren’t costume and growing that area of my closet is going to be the work of years. Maybe at some future point I’ll do a savings challenge around buying a really incredible piece of bling for myself…that would be motivation!

A Week of Outfits: Wednesday

“A little bad taste is like a nice splash of paprika. We all need a splash of bad taste—it’s hearty, it’s healthy, it’s physical. I think we could use more of it. No taste is what I’m against.”
– Diana Vreeland

After that whole spiel about rarely wearing patterns, I pulled out THE pattern, my ducklings. The quintessential, ride or die, take no prisoners pattern: the leopard print.

As I’ve written, I strive for polish, but I also take effort and I don’t like to be bored. For better or worse, I’m loud and sometimes I like for that to come out in my clothes.

I’ve joked about it before, but I completely aim to be the belle of the nursing home in my old age. I want to wear bright colors and loud prints in my twilight and be tsked for dressing inappropriately for my age. When I conjure this image, leopard print has always loomed large for some reason. Somewhere along the line I decided it was stupid to wait for old age to have this kind of fun, and I think that’s when I decided trying to be “chic” was a fruitless effort for me, at least in the way the word is usually used. The word “chic” usually conjures an impossibly thin woman, often in all black or neutrals, with perfect hair. I like this woman, a lot in fact, but I don’t think I am her and that’s okay.

I love the brashness of leopard print, how gleefully in your face it is, but also how easily it can be tamed and managed. Not an easy task for literal wildlife, but perfectly doable. Jenna Lyons, formerly of J. Crew famously once declared that “Leopard print is a neutral,” and that’s exactly the attitude you need to take in order to make this loud shout of wildness feel like the easiest thing in the world.

It’s not stereotypically chic, but I like to think it’s still a little stylish in spite of my clearly still ever-present awkwardness. No one should have to wait until they are old and out of ***** to give to wear leopard print.

To keep the pattern the focus on the look (like unto color in my previous post), I opted for neutral black elsewhere. A black silk top from Everlane, a thin black belt that serves no purpose except to accessorize, and a desceptively basic mid heel black pump. More on that tomorrow. It feels less aggressive than a pointed shoe…and also I don’t have a pointed toe black pump and won’t until next year thanks to my new shopping restrictions. That feels like a very silly and basic item to be missing from one’s closet, but them’s the rules, kids. I also shunned my big hoop earrings of yesterday for a delicate, practically invisible gold chain and pearls again instead, and once again wielded my trusty Longchamp–which I failed utterly to include in photos.

Also very granny as an aesthetic: my new found love for mid and low heeled shoes. It’s difficult to love heels and be a Londoner. The cobbles are not kind to either your shoes or your poster as you fight to keep your balance and navigate uneven pavement. I love heels and I always will, but it’s astonishing how often I am choosing to forgo them in favor of something much more practical, to say nothing of comfortable. I think I’m getting old, kittens…but that’s okay because I’m clearly already dressing for it.