Post-Christmas Wrap-up

Hope everyone had a great Christmas. I'm enjoying some great gifts, laughing at the crappy ones, and burning through the useful ones (cash) a bit quicker than I thought--I'm talking about those After Christmas sales. I've been quite busy, so I didn't do any post-Christmas shopping until today. A lot of people have already beat me to the punch: some shelves at Ikea and Target have already been picked clean by the time I got there. I wanted a chest of metal drawers from Ikea when it became $15, but alas, they were all gone. They've been on sale for a while. [Ed.--they magically appeared again on the next day when I went back for some specialty foods for New Year's. I'm quite happy about it--it will really help with my much-needed organization project.]

As usual, I tried to grab the most seasonally-irrelevant items as possible. The only Christmas-y item I bought was a box of fancy gift tags. I tend not to buy things to save for next Christmas because my aesthetic leanings may change over the year, and besides, it's easy to forget about my purchases and I may end up with 10 boxes of Christmas cards next year. If I do get anything Christmas-y, it's because they were fancy and deservedly pricey to begin with (like the said gift tags).

That said, here are some things that I believe are great deals for New Year's and beyond:

-wrapping paper--some are obviously holiday-themed, while others are not. I love Ikea's after-Christmas sales because I've always managed to snag good wrapping paper that I can use for other occasions such as birthdays and housewarmings. Today, I got a 6-pack of wrapping paper for $1.50. Only 2 of those rolls are outwardly Christmas-y. Each roll lasts quite a while, too.

-gift boxes and tissue paper--I love to stock up on these right now. When I have to go out and get boxes for, say, birthdays in the summer, boxes and wrapping paper tend to be more expensive. I've just covered the wrapping paper, so let's talk about the boxes. Plain boxes are great for all occassions, and at sale prices, you can afford to get boxes of all different sizes. Likewise with tissue paper--right now you can choose from lots of colors and patterns. Leftovers can be saved for next Christmas, when stores are so overwhelmed that boxes become scarce.

-objets d'art and household goods--the holiday season is a time for people to entertain. As a result, stores carry a glut of festive decorative items and dining service. In addition, some stores like Target package such things as boxed gift sets, which become half-priced the minute Christmas passes.

Some of the said wares are winter-themed, while others are simply pretty or have holiday colors such as red, gold, and silver. When the colors are by themselves, you can hardly tell that they're for winter holidays. Combo color schemes are not so forgiving. Red and white whispers candy cane, though you can probably get away with it, but red and green screams Christmas.

At Ikea, I picked up some red picture frames and a red heart-shaped pillow for $1 and $3, respectively. I've seen some warm-weather leaf-shaped plates on sale at Target, and there were also boxed gift sets of some nifty bookends. The bookends are awesome, but not worth my $10. I'll snag them if they fall to $3.74.

-gadgets--many novelty gadgets are packaged as Christmas gifts. Many of them are nifty, but not worth buying at full price. If you've been coveting them, now is a good time to move in.

When I was out Christmas shopping with my family a few days ago, I saw an 8-in-1 thingus that I could use for my car. It includes an air compressor (for tires), blinking lights, tire gauge, and a vacuum cleaner. I could imagine that the vacuum isn't all that strong, but it could work out OK for my car. I wasn't willing to pay $20 for it, but somehow I knew that the price is going to drop in a few days. There were only a few boxes left, so I knew I had to move in ASAP after Christmas. Sure enough, it was a popular item. I had to go to 2 Targets to hunt it down today, but I got it at half-price.

-storage containers--sure, some of them are in Christmas colors, but if they're only going to be stowed away, who cares as long as they're they're sturdy and inexpensive?

-host/hostess gifts--candles, potpourri, and chocolates galore, all at half price or even less. Again, it's best to avoid anything overtly holiday-ish. There are plenty of delightful scents other than Pleasant Pine or Pumpkin Spice. Something like ylang-ylang or French vanilla is good all year round, and really cheap too. Candles and potpourri will keep for ages.

Be careful when it comes to food. Fancy boxes of chocolates can be had for 30% off or more as we speak, and they're are perfect as host/hostess gifts for New Year's visits or dinners in the next month or two, but there's a danger that they'll get old, dry, and discolored beyond that.

-bath and beauty sets--cosmetics, bath products, perfumes, colognes: these are great all year round, and stores have too much of it on their shelves right now. Bad for them, good for us.

Besides snapping up reduced-price essentials, another thing to do after the holidays is to gather up all the holiday stuff for use next year. Put all the leftover (or newly purchased) wrapping paper, Christmas cards, ribbons, and bows in the same place, preferrably with the wrapping paper and cards you use for other occasions so that you won't forget about them. It's just good to use them up and not let things go to waste. On one hand, it's not cool for people to get the same card year after year, but on another hand, do people even remember? If you're concerned about this, send the "old" cards to new friends and acquaintances that haven't gotten them before, or give them to family members who need to send Christmas cards next year.

Hope everyone will have a fun and successful New Year!


Happy Holidays!

I remember that when I was a kid, I couldn't wait until Christmas is here. As an adult, I feel stressed by the holiday bustle, particularly because it coincides with final exams. On top of that, I get a bit put off by the hypercommercialism. What do I want for Christmas? Why, nothing I didn't already want before and after Christmas every year. There's always something that I want, there's always something that everyone else wants. Christmas is just an excuse or opportunity (whichever way you choose to see it) to throw caution to the wind and buy all the things we've been coveting.

I hope that no one is falling into that trap.

Despite my cynical views on Christmas, I do feel the warm and fuzzies of the holiday spirit. It is a time to treat yourself if you've been working hard all year and didn't have a chance to enjoy the fruits of your labor. It is a time to show your friends and family that you care about them--if not with gifts, then with words of kindness. It is a time for reflection--what was good, what was bad, and what we can do to rectify the bad. What ultimately triumphs over materialism is the sense of community. Instead of thinking about what I'm going to get for Christmas, I cherish the opportunity to talk to or meet with friends and family that I haven't seen in a long time. Christmas is the one time in the year when I have time and they have time. In a world where we have to check our schedules to see if we have time to meet with our friends, having a universal set of days off is certainly a blessing.

Since Christmas is only days away, my room has transformed into Santa's Little Workshop, where gifts are wrapped and made. Through the holiday rush, I feel a strange sense of ease as I look back at this tumultuous year. There were many lows, but I also had a lot of personal growth and much to be thankful for. I'm going to enjoy a lot of face time with my friends and family who helped me get through it all; IM, email, and cell phones will never channel the joy garnered through personal interactions.

Thank you for reading and leaving encouraging comments, especially when I was having a rough time. It's been a pleasure writing for you this year. I wish you and yours a very happy holiday, and best wishes for the New Year. Have fun, stay safe, and I'll see you (figuratively speaking) in 2007!


Vegas Adventure: The Shopping

Even though there were a number of snags in my Vegas trip (caused both by my own unpreparedness and the expensive restaurant's disappointing service), I had a great time. It's always fun chatting it up with the girls, and even more fun when we show each other the fruits of our retail endeavors.

Since my carpool group isn't that big into gambling, and walking around isn't much fun, we had to come up with things to do. Not surprisingly, I suggested shopping. I knew there were great outlets in the Vegas area, but since I was busy with finals, I didn't have time to look into it. Fortunately, my dear roommate did the homework and found a couple of outlets to hit.

On our way to Vegas, we stopped by the fashion outlet mall in Primm, which is on the California-Nevada border. That place was great--I did the bulk of my shopping there. When we got there, we thought we'd spend an hour or so there. Instead, we ended up staying there for a couple of hours until the stores closed. I got some clothes for family, stocked up on Bath and Body Works stuff for future b-day gifts, got a Pottery Barn picture album set for another aunt, $7 Fossil cuff links for a cousin, just to name a few. Being singularly focused on getting Christmas gifts, I didn't get anything for myself there. As a bonus, many things I purchased ended up being cheaper than the marked price. My friends did pretty well too. They all got some great gifts, and one of them scored big on work clothes. She had a hard time finding things that looked good, fitted right, and priced well until she found the outlet. We all agreed that the Primm outlets is a must-visit attraction the next time we go to Vegas.

The next day, we were already in Vegas, so we went to the Las Vegas Outlet Center just outside of town. I didn't think the stores there were as good, but there were a few stores with lots of goodies. I found gifts for the hardest-to-shop-for members of my family, and I even bought gifts on behalf of my parents because (I hate to say this, but) they're a bit clueless about what's cool for teens. Even though it was completely unexpected, I ended up spending money on myself. I bought 3 things:

The pair of Vans was the first thing I bought. I wore flats to go shopping in the morning, but walking was painful because the shoes were stiff and my feet were swollen and calloused from breaking in new shoes the night before. I went into Vans to buy things for family when I saw a few pairs of shoes on the $9.99 table. Whaddaya know? The green/white checkered pair was the last pair of its kind, and it was in my size. They were really comfortable. As soon as I walked out the store with them, I decided to wear them. My feet felt much relieved, and off I went to buy things from other stores.

One of my last stops was the Adidas store, where I found a gift for my sister and a couple of things for myself. I've been looking for a zip-up hoodie for a long time, and while $23 isn't cheap, the price was very reasonable and it's hard to find something lower and of the same quality. The bag is a "want" more than a "need," but it was just so "me." I really dig the metallic green trim, and isn't the heart-shaped reflector cute? I love the Stella McCartney line of Adidas products because it embodies the perfect fusion of form and function, but it's always been too expensive for me. At $10 instead of $80, this bag was affordable and perfect for my needs. I overheard a salesperson tell a customer that the Stella McCartney sale starts Monday. Bummers...I couldn't take advantage of it, but I got a good deal nonetheless. I started using it right away in place of my little quilted bag because the shoulder strap made things much easier. I call this a bucket bag because the bottom is round. Round is good because it increases the capacity; I was able to put in a bottle of water later.

One thing I learned is that outlet stores of the same brand are not created equal. For instance, the Fossil outlet at Primm had way more and better stuff than the one in Las Vegas proper.

An interesting observation: I didn't expect to buy anything from the Coach outlet, but I wanted to check it out. I was surprised by how many people were in there pawing at stuff as if they were free. On the contrary, everything was quite expensive in there, though I liked one of the pouchettes. The patchwork purse, however, is something to avoid. It may look cool in a weird sort of way right now, but it'll be so out by next year.

Good thing my friend's little hybrid SUV had lots of room in the trunk to fit both our travelling bags and all our purchases. Everything was piled high, but they fit. Our guy friends (including the groom) shook their heads when they heard we went shopping that first night and again the next day. Oh well, they've got their gambling, we've got our shopping. Works for me.


Vegas Adventure: The Planning (or lack thereof)

Last night was the first time I got a good night's sleep in weeks. Sure, there was this one night when I slept for 9 hours before taking my exam, but my dreams were basically reviews of what 15 U.S.C. 1114(1) and 1125(a), (c), and (d) covered. It's been a hectic few weeks, and I'm so glad that I finally have time to do nothing today.

Everyone knows that the best thing to do before a trip is to plan--being prepared will save a lot of money and prevent the type of chaos that would ruin a good time. The friends I went with did a great job with planning, but sadly, I did not. I was too consumed with memorizing stuff for exams, and when it was all over, I had a few hours to go out with a friend who visits once a year. I literally didn't do my packing until 30 minutes before heading out the door. The result--a "what I did right" slash "don't let this happen to you" post. It doesn't matter where you're travelling to--these notes apply to a lot of different situations.

1) What to wear--that was easy part since I'm pretty good at packing light. If you're heading somewhere for a particular purpose and know you won't have much time to plan to put outfits together, focus on the big event itself. Then, think of the other activities you'll be partaking. The average itinerary consists of a formal/business event, a dressed-down-but-still-sophisticated social gathering, and some casual schlepping-around downtime. Once you've gotten your activities mapped out, pick out pieces that can be recycled, layered, and reassembled for the different occasions; it helps to start with one versatile piece and work around it. See if your dress-up pieces can be dressed down, and vice versa. Don't forget to check the weather report; if you're on a strict budget, it doesn't help if you have to go out and buy clothes just to stay warm. When it's time to pack, it might be a good idea to wear the bulkier pieces and stuff the smaller pieces inside the bag.

For me, my friend's wedding ceremony was the main focus, so I figured out what to wear way ahead of the time (off-the-shoulder sweater, a chiffon skirt with crazy stuff hanging off of it, high-heeled sandals, a coat, small quilted purse). I didn't think of what to wear for the other events until the night before and the morning of the trip. For travelling time, I wore the high heels, a flattering pair of jeans, long-sleeve tee, a graphic tee, a short-sleeve hoodie, scarf, and a yellow down jacket. My jeans was my staple piece. I could wear the wedding ceremony sweater and have another casual outfit. For my sophisticated social outfit, I chose a lacy halter. I also threw in a lounging outfit for sleeping. Just in case I needed it, I included a pair of tights (which I ended up not needing). After packing whatever I wasn't wearing, my duffle still had plenty of room. All the outfits worked as expected, so I was very happy.

2) Shoes/accessories--this is where I get a B-.

I wore the dressy sandals for travelling because they were bulky, but I packed away a pair of ballet flats for casual walking around. Ballet flats seem like a good choice because they're nice and compact, but they'll be good only if they are soft and pliable. I was dumb and decided to bring a cute pair of flats with a stiff upper. After spending a day breaking in my sandals, my calloused toes were not happy to be rubbing against the stiff upper of the flats...totally didn't expect this to happen, though I should have. I happened upon a cheap and comfortable pair of Vans slip-ons while shopping and started wearing them right after paying. I didn't buy shoes for the sake of replacing my flats, but I know some people have to pay full price for comfortable shoes they forgot to bring for the trip. That's just not good for budget travelling. Next time, I'll opt for more comfortable flats.

I also made the stupid mistake of not bringing a tote bag for casual downtime. A tote bag is nice because it folds up easily and doesn't take up much room, but it holds a lot of stuff. All I had was my little quilted purse, which holds my essentials but nothing more. While I was shopping, I found a cute Stella McCartney for Adidas bag, which was roomier. I also started using it right after I bought it. Again, I didn't run out to buy a bag just because I didn't bring one. It just happened to work out that way. Still, it's nice to remember to bring a tote in the future.

With jewelry, keep it to a minimum and bring a small pouch so that you won't lose your baubles when you're not wearing them.

3) Toiletries--yes, hotels have shampoos, lotions, and soap, but supplies are limited. If you're travelling with other people, and all of you planned on relying on the hotel stock, one of you is bound to be out of luck. So, bring your own travel-sized body wash, toothpaste, and lotion. Don't forget your toothbrush and towel. In most big cities, getting toiletries is not a problem (CVS bailed me out this time), but if you're in the mountains and it's snowing (which happened to me a couple of years ago), it can be a big problem.

4) Food--my friends brought a lot of snacks and water (plus a gallon for refill) for the trip, and one even brought enough crackers and energy bars for breakfast. I was going to bring my box of Triscuits and a gallon of water, but in my ill-advised haste of packing, I forgot them. Boo to me. Eating out for breakfast can add up, so bringing donuts and energy bars for breakfast is a good idea. If you don't want to lug them on the road, they're cheap enough to buy at any market at the destination...unless you're going to be in the middle of nowhere.

5) Cash--this is where I got into big, big trouble this time. I don't like the idea of walking around with a lot of cash on me, but when you're going out for dinner and drinks with a big group, you're going to need it. Inevitably, someone will not have enough cash and will have to put it on their credit card. If only 1 or 2 people do it, that's usually OK, but restaurants are not going to be happy to deal with more than 2 credit cards (and probably not allow it).

Even though the dates were set long ago, my friend's wedding ceremony and dinner were planned in a rather last-minute fashion, so I didn't know how much I was going to spend until, well, the last minute. Instead of going to a buffet as originally planned (where I thought I could use my credit card), we ended up going to a very expensive sushi restaurant. I started off the day with (what I thought was) a lot of cash, but that amount was reduced by lunch and a drink. I forgot that I needed to help pay for the bride's and groom's dinner on top of my own dinner and drink. I ended up borrowing $10 from my friend to cover dinner. But wait, my mistakes didn't end there--I got cash-back at CVS and then realized I may have overdrafted. I forgot to transfer more money to my checking account before leaving for the trip. It was a good thing that the Vegas drug stores had a cap on how much people can get for cash back, since enough people are in the same predicament that the stores might run out of money.

What's the bottom line? A couple of things--know your account balances and know where the nearest bank ATMs are. This could only be done if you looked them up ahead of time. I knew how much was in my checking account, but I was too lazy to transfer the money, thinking that I wouldn't spend that much. I missed overdrafting by a hair. That was really stupid of me--if I had only taken a few minutes worth of time to take care of it, I wouldn't have subjected myself to worries of a big overdraft fee. Another thing you should know where your bank's ATMs are. I've seen some B of A ATMs at the outlets and in Caesar's Palace, but I don't know where other banks have their ATMs. I shake my head with pity every time I see someone use one of those standalone ATM's that charge an arm and a leg per transaction.

6) Cell-phone charger--finally, we close with something I did right. You never know when your phone might die, even if you're not out of town for long.

Almost at the Finish Line

I can't believe that Christmas is almost here! Just got back from Vegas, where I did almost no gambling but lots of eating and shopping. I went outlet shopping with the girls and we all found great deals for Christmas presents.

My Christmas budget was pretty ambitious: this year I wanted a $150 ceiling on gifts for family AND friends. I finished less than half my shopping last week and was starting to get worried, but I took care of business at Vegas. As of now, I only need to get gifts for 2 more people. As it turns out, my budget was a bit too ambitious and unrealistic. It's hard to get great gifts at $5 per person--not impossible to do, just really difficult. So far I've spent roughly $178 (including tax) on gifts for 20 people, which isn't too bad. At the end the total should come out to roughly $200 this year for 22 people. Yes, it's quite a bit of money, but I see Christmas as an opportunity for me to say Thanks to my friends and family for their love and support. I could never put a price on what everyone has done for me; a token of appreciation and some heartfelt words is the least I can do.

More on my Vegas adventure soon...


Some gifts can wait

Ah, finally, a real break. I've been outlining for almost 11 hours straight, with very brief breaks for lunch and snacks. I just had the most delicious dinner cooked in less than 15 minutes (thanks to those easy-to-deal-with chicken fillets that I just stocked up on and some delish salad dressing as marinade), and I'm ready to get back to work. Just thought I'd pop in with a quick post pertaining to Christmas shopping, well, before Christmas.

If you're stressed about not having finished your Christmas shopping yet for everyone on your long list of names, breathe, then prioritize. Since there are so many get-togethers during the holiday season, there's bound to be some people that you won't be meeting up with until after Christmas. As Stacie pointed out a few posts back, a lot of money could be saved by shopping at after-Christmas sales. So, if you're already busy and don't have much time, focus on people that you'll be exchanging gifts with either on or before Christmas Day. Get the rest of the gifts after Christmas. Usually I'd rather get all my shopping done before Christmas, but this year I'm just way too busy to do that. Now it seems like having unfinished business is a good idea.

I'll be taking my finals this coming week, then I'm heading to Vegas right after that. Since I'll be there for a wedding and don't want to get all partied out before the big event, I'll be spending a lot of downtime doing Christmas shopping with my girls. We'll be hitting the many outlets in and around Vegas--"shop, drink, and be merry" sounds good to me. I'll be posting again when I get back!


Law of Sales

Ah, I wish this post was really about going to sales, but no. I'm going off topic again. Remember how I said I decided to save some money by not buying a statutory supplement for my commercial law class? That's because the materials I need are available online. Clicking and cut-and-paste is so much better than flipping through pages.

Here's a look at why I'm been slacking-slash-blogging. If you had to look at these all day (and I do mean that literally), wouldn't you start to lose your mind too?

Crunch-time Stock-up

For those of you who are still in school, you may either be in the middle of final exams or about to start. Oh, what to do about food? Eating out gets expensive, and even though fast food is served quickly, it takes time to go out and get it, then time to get home. If you're studying on campus, there may be no choice but to buy food, but if you're going to be stuck at home all day, it's just quicker and cheaper to heat something up.

Right before my car broke down, I made a trip to the market to stock up on frozen foods. The money I spent on all that food would have been just enough for 2-3 fast food meals. I wound up with enough food for more than a week. It's also important to eat healthy, because getting sick or tired in the middle of exam sucks. Hence, getting a combination of healthy and quick-to-work-with materials is better than relying on TV dinners or fast food alone.

Here's what I think are good to get stocked up on before doing battle with the textbooks:
-cereal--if you really need to eat breakfast for lunch or dinner, or a snack, there's nothing quicker.
-eggs--fried or scrambled eggs for a fast source of protein. Egg sandwich w/lunch meat is pretty yummy.
-pasta/rice/Top Ramen--keeps you full and very easy to make in a jiffy. With rice, the ricecooker does almost all the work
-canned soups--won't fill you up, but warm soup helps during cold winter nights and goes well with sandwiches.
-frozen boneless chicken fillets--it's on the expensive side (I got a huge bag for $9), but right now time is money so I'm willing to invest. Brush on some BBQ sauce or add some salt/pepper, and either bake or pan-fry. Ready to eat in 10-15 minutes depending on method of cooking, and you can make enough at a time to feed you for a few days.
-a few frozen dinners/pizzas--in case you're really on the run. If you have access to a refrigerator/freezer, you won't have to eat out.
-frozen veggies--I got 3 packages of these for a dollar each. They make a healthy addition to every meal, including Top Ramen.
-tofu--another quick source of protein, and also easy to make, though I hate eating it by itself. For a quick dish, I usually cook tofu cubes with canned corn, green onions, and black pepper for flavoring. It's enough to last through several meals.
-canned tuna or lunch meats--I don't like cold cuts when it's cold, but a sandwich is a fast meal. Even better with warm soup. You can also save money by taking it to school with you.

I may add to the list for future reference as they come to mind, but in the meantime, good luck with finals!

[Ed.--a few more things that came to mind after the original publication date:
-flour tortillas--very versatile. There are great uses beyond the standard tacos and burritos. Quesadillas make a great snack; cold cuts can be used to make wraps/rolls.
-boxes of Mac and Cheese--I don't recommend stockpiling tons of it, since I tend to get sick of eating Mac and Cheese really quickly, but it's something I'd get to stock up.]


This is why I scrimp and save

I don't go to the movies, I don't buy movies and music, and I don't eat out much unless I'm out with friends, so shopping is my entertainment. Still, I only buy cheap stuff once in a while. Even though I have enough money in my bank account for bigger purchases, I never do it. That's because life is unpredictable, and this is one of those times where I'm glad I'm a tightwad.

Throughout law school, I've had a fair share of misfortune, especially around Finals. Health problems took a huge bite out of my account balance, and then there's car trouble. Without fail, car problems always occurred around Finals. For the past few years, the problems were fairly minor and relatively inexpensive to fix. Yesterday, however, my car's transmission decided to blow out. I was lucky that the car didn't die until it got home. My dad tried to coax the car back to the family home so that he can fix it himself, but the car said "you can't make me." Towing it back home would have been expensive, and it would have taken a long time and lots of effort for my dad to fix it. After weighing the costs and benefits, we decided to have it towed to a local shop.

Since I have to put aside money for my bar courses, I can't afford to have the repairs done. Fortunately, my dad said he would pay for all it, even though I offered to pay half. As much as I like to be financially independent and not rely on anyone, as I've done for my undergrad years, sometimes I just have to accept help. Obviously I don't have enough money to deal with this crisis, but I did save up enough to make Christmas special for him this year.

Looking back, one mistake I made this year is underborrowing for school. I know that it's a good idea to borrow as little as you can, but it's good to borrow enough for an emergency budget. I didn't expect major car trouble like this, as my car ran pretty well and my dad can fix the problems, but since I already owe so much money, a couple thousand more of debt wouldn't have made that much of a difference. It's better to borrow a little more rather than less, but of course, don't borrow more than what you actually need (including that emergency fund).

If you're a student who is in a similar situation, see if can borrow more for the next semester to cover for these unexpected situations. One good thing about borrowing this late is that you won't be accruing interest for times when you didn't need to use that money. If you have a work-study allotment that you ended up not using, maybe it's possible to convert it into a loan. Whether and how you can do these things may vary by school. Sometimes schools don't allow you to borrow more if you've already maxed out the limit they've set for your financial aid package; since I underborrowed, I haven't exceeded my limit. That said, don't borrow more money if you can avoid it. This should be a recourse strictly for times when big and bad things happen due to no fault of your own. The rates are way better than a non-educational loan, or worse yet, a credit card debt.


Away for now, and not for vacation (sadly)

My final exams are next week, so now I seriously have to cram. I said I would talk about how I replaced the lining for one of my bags, but that will just have to wait. I will get to it though.

In anticipation of the hiatus, I've done some frontloading today. There will be no major posts again until December 18 at the earliest. I might post something short again this week, but definitely nothing next week. In the meantime, enjoy reading the wonderful blogs linked on the right.

Good luck finishing your holiday shopping! Bargain-hunter style, I hope =)

Regifting is not a dirty word...if done right

I know that regifting may be considered a "how dare you!" concept by some. Sure, you hate what you got, but the person probably meant well and you should be thankful for his/her kindness. I do appreciate the gesture, and I don't like to regift, but it's economically and environmentally sound. If you can't use it, why waste it? It's just going to sit around taking up valuable space, or worse yet, contributing to dangerous methane buildup at the local landfill. It's best to give it to someone else who can and wants to use it.

That said, there are some ground rules to regifting:

1) Don't give it away if you think it's junk. Seriously.

2) Give it to someone whom you know will and can appreciate it. This includes fit when it comes to clothing. Don't try to palm stuff off on people--it'll do more harm than good for all parties involved. You don't want people to hate you, not just for the lousy gift, but for wasting money/time/thought on a nice gift for you.

3) If you can't keep track of where things came from, don't regift. It's the equivalent of a slap in the face for the recipient, and there's nothing more embarrassing than "didn't I get this for you last year?" In the event that you get yourself stuck in this situation (which I hope will never happen), smile and say, "yes, you did. That's why I got one for you--you said liked it too and wanted it for yourself, so now we have matching [fill in blank here]."

4) Generally speaking, don't give it away if you've already used it. The only exception is when the item is still in pristine condition after a single use. In my book, pristine means almost perfect, never washed or otherwise cleaned (but still remains clean). The single very light use of a handbag, sweater/coat (as long as something was worn underneath), or an electrical item (running for a very, very short amount of time for testing) would fit the bill.

Corollary: unless you know the person is into vintage things, don't ever give anything second-hand from a flea market or a thrift store.

5) If an original box/package is involved and you've opened it, try to restore to the original condition as best as you can. Glue may work better than tape for this purpose. If you can't restore it to the point where no one can tell, don't bother giving it away.

6) Make sure that the person you got the thingus from and the person who will receive the thingus will not be at the same situs at the time gifts are exchanged. Better yet, make sure that those two parties do not know each other.

7) If the thingus has been sitting around for a few years, make sure it's still usable. By usable, I mean fully functional, not technologically defunct, and not out of style.

8) Make sure no dates are printed on the box/packaging, and that the box/packaging does not show its age through natural decay (fading, yellowing, etc.).

If you got something you don't want to keep this year, make sure you make a note of who it's from when you get home. That'll definitely minimize the risk of regifting-related embarrassment next year.

Turkey Curry in a Hurry

Still dealing with leftover turkey? Read the comments on the last turkey post for more reader suggestions. I found another yummy use for turkey--throw it in a curry sauce! I got the inspiration when Japanese curry cubes at the local market went on sale. This is especially good for turkey meat that seems dry. Other than all the salt and whatnot in the curry sauce, the rest of the ingredients are pretty good for you. It's a fancy meal without the fancy price tag, all done in less than 10 minutes.

What you need:
-a box of curry that can be divided into cubes--about $2 at most Asian markets. Each cube makes one serving of sauce. A brand call "House" is my favorite, particularly the "Vermont" apple curry.
-a little bit of olive oil
-frozen veggies (I prefer a "garden mix" or "Italian mix" instead of the standard corn/peas/carrots combo, even though it's slightly more expensive)--about $1.50 at most markets
-rice or pasta--around $1

The how-to:
-cut or shred turkey meat into bite-size pieces
-boil the frozen veggies, drain
-saute turkey on low-medium heat
-if on medium heat, turn it down to low
-add about a cup of water
-add in a cube of curry to dissolve, add more water or boil off to achieve desired consistency
-throw in the boiled veggies
-serve over pasta or rice

Given my need to push on with studying, that's probably what I'll have for dinner tonight.


Sample Sale Fridays: The Holiday Edition

It's been months since I went sample sale shopping at the Fashion District showrooms. I'm supposed to be outlining like crazy for finals, but if I didn't get some shopping out of the way, I'm going to be so stressed out when I have to shop after exams are over. Ideally I would have started my day earlier, but I was sick again today. Shopping with the sniffles was a borderline miserable experience, but I got gifts for 5 people with just $25. All of them are good stuff, since I'm not going to go through the trouble of sample sale shopping only to go home with something I could have bought at the mall.

The biggest problem for me are the teenaged boys in my family. I'm on a completely different planet from them, that's for sure. I've lost touch with what teenage boys consider to be cool. In my opinion, it's best to keep to general categories rather than pinning yourself down to a specific item. It helps to know what the guys are into--bands, cars, skateboarding, snowboarding, travelling, etc.

I know that a lot of people say buying clothes for guys are bad, but I think my instincts have been pretty good. With guys, I think accessories (particularly messenger bags) or t-shirts/sweaters are a safe bet. I avoid pants because it requires knowing the exact waist size, height, and fit, which is way too complicated. If you insist, bigger is probably better for young men. Graphic tees are really practical, and unless you pick shirts with some outrageous slogans, they'll be worn if they're clean. Generally speaking, home in on styles and graphics that reflect the person's lifestyle. Someone who appreciates heavy metal and wears all black probably won't be happy with a preppy polo. Likewise, a shirt with "pimp" prominently emblazoned will go unused by a shy guy. If you're unsure about the guy's personality, go for something generic or tongue-in-cheek funny...who doesn't like a sense of humor? If you're gifting family members, stay away from double entendres and profanities lest you draw their parents' ire.

Last year I got the boys some mini duffles from the Yak Pak specials so that they can carry games, etc. with them on road trips, so this year I wanted to do something different. Today I had the luck of finding a showroom that sold graphic tees at 3 for $10. The shirts are definitely cool, and one of them is distressed so that it has a soft, worn-in feel. Too bad the sizes were limited to the smaller end, because otherwise I would have grabbed some for 2 male cousins and a couple of guy friends.

As for my brother, who is a pretty big guy living in a much colder place, I found a $10 sweater with a slogan that totally fits with who he is. It would have been pretty expensive at some hip store, but it's $10 because it was a slashed sample (more on that later). But since he's my bro and the sweater is black, he probably won't notice my repair job, and even if he does, it doesn't really matter. He knows I don't have money and I'm trying to do the best I can.

I also bought a few things not worth mentioning, including $6 worth of necessaries (in the true sense of the word) for myself. There were lots of cute clothes, but I steered cleared of them because a) I didn't need them, b) I already have too much clothes as it is, and c) my money is needed in other places. I'm back to being disciplined, but I let myself have some cheap candy every now and then. As for self-indulgence, I spent $5 for a treat of shiny shiny:

I just can't get enough of Tarina Tarantino's jewelry, and this is the only way I can afford them. They are 3 separate bracelets, but really cute when worn together.

Finally, a few notes concerning Christmas shopping in general, and doing your Christmas shopping at sample sales:

-Don't expect or even attempt to get everything on one trip. It may be impossible to do so, and setting yourself up to complete that monumental task in such a short time is going to stress you out. Yes, Christmas is only weeks away, but take it one day at a time. Do as much as you can on one trip, and once you've crossed off names on that gift list, you'll feel better about tackling the rest. With the large array online shopping and brick-and-mortar stores available, you'll be sure to finish your holiday shopping at some point.

-If you're in LA, a number of showrooms at the Marts will be open for the next 2 Fridays. The people who work there aren't thrilled, and some aren't shy about expressing their discontent out loud, but it's great for us shoppers. This usually happens around Christmas time. Having gotten half of my shopping done, I can go back for a few hours next week and try to get a little shopping done in between studying.

-Bring a big bag! Or several big bags, depending on your expected haul.

-On this particular trip, I noticed that a number of samples were purposefully slashed so that they can't be resold at retail price. I can see why they do it, but I think it's rather wasteful (isn't a "sample" stamp inside a piece of clothing enough?). If you're buying things for the purpose of giving them away, check carefully. Usually the rips are covered with tape, so they're easy to spot, but it's not always the case. Case in point: I bought a $3 pair of lounge pants that had a rip at a rather prominent place, but I wouldn't have found if it wasn't pointed out to me. If you are set on mending then gifting, make sure the damage is at an inconspicuous location, and stick with dark colors so that your repairs won't be noticeable. With light colors, you run the risk of having thread that won't quite match. With the aforementioned lounge pants, the shade of pink of my thread doesn't match quite right; it doesn't matter much since I'm only going to wear them at home, but it's certainly a big problem if they went to someone else. One rep at a showroom suggested that I use fabric glue. I have no idea how it works, but if you do, please let me know.

-Stay focused on shopping for others. There are lots of good deals for yourself, but if you get lured away by those siren calls, you may end up spending too much time at one spot and not able to hit others before they close or run out of good stuff. Besides, you'll be out a lot of money real soon. Sample sales like these are cash-only, so preserving cash is a big deal.

-You can also read more holiday shopping tips by looking at posts from December 2005, when I had a readership of 5 people.

Next time I'll talk about a sensitive topic: regifting.


Pigskin Inferno

You know the story about the Trojan Horse. I don't understand why anyone would base their team's mascot on the big losers of an ancient war, much less use a horse as another mascot.

Anyway, when Thanksgiving hits, you know it's time for the big college football rivalries--Texas and Texas A&M, Florida and Florida State, just to name a few. This week Los Angeles is in the grips of Beat $C Week (or something else if you're rooting for that other team), which brings me to the topic of saving money when it comes to sporting events. There are two camps of people: those who can afford to spend ridiculous amounts of money for tickets to that big game, and those who can't. Either way, there are certain ways of doing things, then there are cheaper ways to get it done. Admittedly, the cheaper ways don't necessarily achieve the same result, but a game is a game is a game, nothing more--this coming from a pretty big sports fan.

A while back, I heard about some fans (of which school, I can't remember) who bought $C season tickets just so they can go to the Rose Bowl game on New Year's Day. Since they're quite a distance away from the regular season action, they used none of the tickets except one. Dude, I get there are some true fans out there, but I can think of a million ways in which that money could be put to a better use. I don't know how well this works, but one backdoor way in which the hard-core fan can get a better shot at tickets than the general population (and perhaps cheaper tickets) is to join that school's alumni association. Believe it or not, some schools don't even require that you be an actual alum; your money is what counts. Oftentimes there's an alumni seating section that's not open to other people, which is why this oddball strategy might work (and I emphasize might). The amount you pay for the membership fee may end up paying for itself, since membership does confer some special benefits outside of the sporting context.

If you can't get the tickets, don't despair. Remember there are other ways to enjoy the action. You can go tailgate and enjoy the company of equally-devoted fans. While I find it silly to spend the whole day outside the stadium only to watch the game on the TV in the back of your truck/car, it's heck of a lot better than spending the boatload of cash it takes to get inside. Besides, you have an endless supply of food and booze without spending even more money and waiting in long lines. Better yet, spend the day on your couch. Food, drink, and bathroom are all yours and readily within reach, and if your team loses, you don't have to endure the heckling from the other guys. Make it a party and have your fellow ticket-less friends over for some raucous fun--make it a potluck to cut down on costs.

No matter whose side you're on, I hope you'll enjoy the last of the college football season!


Reinventing Turkey

Hope everyone had a good Thanksgiving. I got really stuffed at dinner hosted by members of the extended family. After hearing stories of how back in the day things were tough in Russia, and then many humorous yet heartbreaking stories of poverty and survival during the Great Depression, I am very grateful for the relatively comfortable life I have today. It's hard to get back to school, but at least I have a good education, and it won't be long before the next big holiday.

It must be tough to deal with lots of leftover turkey. I've got a huge hunk of it sitting in my fridge. The day after Thanksgiving, my parents decided to cook up a turkey. It was delicious, but having had lots of turkey on Thanksgiving already, I really couldn't eat much more. So, my parents had me take a hunk of it when I left. Now I'm trying to figure out what to do with it. Trouble is, I also cooked toward the end of the week, so now I've got plenty of cooked food in my fridge. When I didn't have time to cook, I had nothing, but now suddenly the fridge is packed. Still, I'm very thankful for a full fridge.

I've got a lot of ideas of what to do with that turkey so that nothing is wasted--some traditional, some not. Whether I have time to use all those ideas is a different story:

1) turkey sandwich--really obvious, but there are some non-obvious ways to make them better. My brother used to love to shred up the meat, add lots of black pepper, then melt some cheese on it. It's much better than having a dry slice of turkey on sliced bread.

2) turkey soup--I love making chicken tortilla soup, and I suppose turkey tortilla is just as good. All you need is a can of diced tomatoes w/chili, slice up a jalapeno pepper, mince some garlic, chop up some onions, green onions, and cilantro, drop in some corn tortillas, and of course the turkey, and you've got a quick and easy soup. Of course there's also the traditional turkey noodle, turkey vegetable, or turkey with rice.

3) turkey pot pie--chicken pot pie is actually pretty easy to make from scratch. I used to make it for potlucks all the time. Make the pie dough the night before (it's easy to find a recipe online). Cut up some carrots, potatoes, celery, and onions, sautee them until the carrots and potatoes are somewhat cooked through in order to cut down on baking time. Mix in the turkey bits. Add in some milk, flour, and a can of chicken broth to make a creamy mixture. Flavor with pepper or other herbs to your fancy. Roll out 2 pieces of dough, line the pan, pour in the filling, slap on the top crust, and bake at 375 for 45 minutes or so.

4) turkey pasta--make a cream or pesto sauce for it. I think anything tomato-based will ruin it.

5) turkey salad--the possibilities are endless. You can turn turkey into a meat-heavy salad, or have turkey pieces over a bed of greens. The latter, of course, is a lot more nutritious.

6) turkey porridge--my mom gets credit for this one. The leftover shell of the turkey that no one can or wants to eat is still flavorful, and this is one way to really milk the turkey for all it's worth. We didn't hunt the turkey, but we waste nothing, just like the hunters of yore. Making a rice porridge is simple--boil water, add a few scoops of already cooked rice (should be about a 1/2 to 1/3 ratio of rice to water), and boil until the rice is quite broken up. Add in the turkey carcass and anything else to flavor as necessary. Peanuts (without the shells, of course) make a good addition as well.

If you can't deal with having turkey all week, cut it up and freeze it. Deal with it a bit at a time.


Black Friday Without the Madness

After waking up at the crack of dawn only to get nothing a few years ago, I swore I'd never go back to do any Black Friday shopping ever again. My family went out this morning, but I declined the invitation. Instead, I spent my time catching up on sleep.

After lunch, I realized that I needed a pair of strappy sandals for an upcoming wedding. I also need to get some Christmas shopping done. While I totally gave up on those jawdropping deals that require some crazy amount of committment (namely camping out), I do believe that stores do offer some good additional discounts today, so that's why I ended up going to the mall in the late afternoon, when things weren't so crazy.

After all that walking around, I didn't find the shoes I wanted, but I did pick up a few things for family and friends...and me. I found them all at Charlotte Russe, which had 25% throughout the store for non-marked down items. Even things that were not eligible for additional discounts were surprisingly cheap. I grabbed a top for a family member, thinking that it was 30-50% off $20, but it turned out to be $5. There was a kimono top that I intended to get for someone else, but it fitted me so well that it was hard to give it up. Since it also turned out to be $5, I decided that I can afford to keep it. Bad, I know, but at least my intentions were good. That's a really bad excuse.

Having gotten 3 more people off the list (I'll make some jewelry as supplements), the search continues...


Review: Original Trends Sample Sale

Thanks for your kind words and support for my trial. It's been the most frustrating and emotionally draining experience in my academic life in the sense that there was a lot of fighting between both sides--not that any of us are bad people, but we cared so much about doing things right (as in real life) and were so passionately advocating that things got really contentious. In the end, I think we've put on quite a show (thought a very long one), and on a personal level, all of us ended on a good note. I'm just glad it's over so that I can start going to sleep at a reasonable hour!

Now that it's over, I have a little bit of time to breathe and blog before the onslaught of outlining, which begins the day after Thanksgiving. When I'm not hitting the books, I'm excited about Christmas shopping! This past weekend I went to the Original Trends sample sale. I usually don't bother with sales where you have to pay a fee to get in, but since I got a chance to go for free, I decided to check it out. I had planned on going all along, but then I got sick and things became less certain. In the end, I'm glad I went out. It was really hot, which surprisingly made me feel a lot better. Street parking wasn't the easiest to find, but it was possible and wound up better than "valet" parking in a tiny lot. There was a long line outside, but since I was on the VIP list, I tried to ask someone to see if there's a separate sign-in. There was quite a bit of confusion at first, and the people waiting in line were probably pissed at me for "cutting," but I just didn't really know what was going on. Finally, the person in charge got me checked off the list and I was able to get inside. I grabbed my goodie bag and threw it in my big gold tote (see the Mike and Chris post from last week), thinking that I'll wait till later to check it out. I had a limited amount of time and I wanted to use it all for shopping.

It was one crowded sale. The space was big, but there were lots of vendors and shoppers so everyone were just squished together. I was quite overwhelmed at first (and being sick didn't help), so I made a few rounds to check out what the goods were before actually diving down to shop. There was a good variety: all kinds of clothes (outerwear, casual/formal, women/men/babies), jewelry, beauty/bath, bags. Some were truly indie designers themselves, some were boutiques selling both mainstream and up-and-comers, and one in particular appeared to sell things that you can buy anywhere (nothing special). Good deals were found, that's for sure, and unlike a lot sample sales that sell things for rock-bottom pricing, many vendors in this one do take credit cards.

The first vendor that caught my eye was the one with a 2 for $10 sign, but that's the vendor that sold regular stuff. I was there to look for deals from indie designers, something less run-of-the mill. I found that at the Mi So Happi table. I think the designs are funky but very wearable, and there's something for everyone, be it the adventurous or the ones with more tempered tastes. The selections ranged from cotton skirts with flower prints to tanks with simple appliques and embellishments. There were a lot of cute $10 items, and even the full-priced items were affordable. It was also nice to talk to the designer a little bit. I learned that her line is sold at some boutiques and at shows like this one. Here's what I bought from the $10 box:

Usually I don't like cardigans without buttons, but this one works just fine because of the ruffles. I just love everything about it--the lace ruffles, the stripes, and the gathered part at the sleeves. This is going to one of my cousins, who is a designer herself and likes funkier stuff, but if she doesn't want it, I'd be happy to keep it (hehe). The little corduroy bag is just too cute. The flower design is made of many scraps of fabric, with the ends fluttering loosely. I can't imagine anyone can say "no" to it.

I went to another table to get a pashmina and a funky scarf for $10 each. Wraps and scarfs are elegant and work well for almost everyone, so it's an easy/lazy gift if you don't know what to get.

One label I've always liked is Moss Mills. The $15 printed tanks were so cute, but since I've made up my mind that I wasn't going to buy anything for myself, I had to let them go. Nature seems to be a motif of the brand. The deer prints were especially cute, and the silver tree print was beautiful. There were also dresses and outerwear. I fell hard for the cropped swing jackets. They were wool, lined, and well-made for about $40. Maybe next year when I (hopefully) start making good money...

Another label that caught my eye was Whish. I loved the cute fitted wool coats and leather-belted dresses. Obviously not cheap, but they were nice to look at and covet.

I think the strangest sight of the event was a denim display at the Dalia table. They had jeans with back pockets that light up and animate. It's really cool, but I'm not sure I want people staring at my butt on the pretense of admiring the animated cat.

With these sales, here's how I'd go about it:

-The key is to get there early and circle all around. See what's out there before you start buying anything.

-I lucked out, but parking generally sucks. Not much to do about it except get there early, then try streets in all different directions.

-Even if the vendors take credit cards, it's better to do business with cash. Some vendors are willing to dispense with sales tax if you got cash.

-Don't forget to bring ID. There was a dressing area, but to make sure you don't take off with valuable merchandise, they keep your ID while you try things on.

Finally, I didn't take a look at the goodie bag until I got home. Here's what I ended up getting:

-a novel, "Miss Understanding"
-gourmet chocolates
-some fancy drink
-some fancy water
-lotion and body scrub
-magazines: Yogi Times and 944
-a fortune cookie (huh?)
-a body wash sample
-Mobile Spa 1-hour massage session (worth $125)
-and yes, that's a pair of undies at the bottom, by Biatta.

Happy Turkey Day!


Someday I'll be debt-free too

These past few days have not gone well. I got sick and have to rush to prepare for my case-in-chief--so that I can rehearse my witnesses (thanks again, guys)--and oppositions to motions. Gosh, if a fake trial is this much work, I can't imagine what's going to happen next year when I have to work on real ones. Still working on my closing statement, but at least the most urgent parts are over and I'm feeling better. Went to do some Christmas shopping yesterday at the Original Trends sale (more on that on Wednesday). I didn't buy anything for myself since I'm tight on cash (have to save up for my bar courses and a trip to Vegas for a friend's wedding), but I did get some nice gifts for family. Unlike a lot of cash-only sample sales, many vendors did take credit cards, which was nice--sample sale prices without some of the sample sale hassles.

That said, use credit cards judiciously. I understand that some struggling families have to get into credit card debt just to survive, and there's not much of a choice. However, if you don't really need (and I do mean need) to buy things for survival, don't think of credit as some bottomless pit of money. It's actually a deadly black hole. If you're just spending and thinking you can charge it and worry about it later, think again. That's a big mistake. Have you seen what the interest rates are on those things? The next time you get your statement, read the numbers. On top of that, read all the fine print in the back. You'll be shocked at how many ways they can bilk you for late fees and so forth, and the changes in terms that you were notified of (bet you ignored them, didn't you?). I recently read mine and I was pretty blown away. Yes, some of the terms are convoluted even for me, who is trained to read and interpret this stuff, but take the time to do it. If the fine print doesn't scare you, I'm not sure what will. At the very least, you know what your rights are.

I hate debt. I have tons of educational debt, but that's out of necessity. I would NEVER voluntarily get into credit card debt. Even though I use my credit card all the time, I only spend what I can afford to pay. I see it as writing a check--if you're spending more than you have, you'll get penalized for insufficient funds. Credit cards are especially tempting for college students, since the tables offering free gifts in return for credit card apps are everywhere on campus. If you're a student, resist that urge to get multiple credit cards. They're preying on young impressionable kids who don't have a clue what they're getting into. Kiplinger have a very informative article especially pertaining to young adults, but I think it's informative for everyone at large.

Not only do credit card companies make big money off interest, but they also charge late fees for late payments. With online billpay nowadays, there's almost no excuse. Even if you can't afford to pay that month (I know things happen sometimes), at least make the minimum payment. That way you won't be classified as late.

I've wanted to write about credit cards for a long time, and I thought about saving this topic for days when I have nothing else to write about, but today is a special occasion. Today, Leigh Ann at Save Leigh Ann paid off her $19,000+ credit card debt. It took her about a year to do it, thanks to her hard work and help from people around the world. If you're reading this, Leigh Ann, Congratulations! I wish you all the best.


Two for the Price of 1/3

[Pics now available]

I just came back from the Mike & Chris sale and I'm still giddy with excitement! Today is another long day at school, so I squeezed in the trip in the big gap between classes. This trip was much less relaxed, because I was nervous about being out too long and then getting back to class late. [Ed.: I agree with comments over at Closet Therapy's post on the sale. The sizes do run smaller and are a bit inconsistent. I have to go up one size for some styles and two for others. Since the sizes tend to run small, there's a lot of the smaller ones left.]

As an aside, American Idol is doing something at the Orpheum, which was next door to the Anjac Building. I was pacing back and forth looking for an entrance to the Anjac, so I probably pissed off the American Idol people when I was walking around. Sorry folks! I am really not a camera whore.

Anyway, the prices are just a tad higher than last time, but that's predictable since the Fall line looks like it takes more work and materials--the "Cody" sleeveless hoodie tunic was $35, but everything else were $70 and up. A long trench was $140. Some leather things were more. I LOVED the Lucas hoodie, but it's a bit expensive for me. Most of the hoodies looked supercute, but some of the ruched ones weren't to my liking and others looked a bit plain for the price.

However, I did not walk away empty-handed. Unlike the Spring sale, there was a $35 clearance bin. Apparently there was a bunch of $10 sample stuff the minute the sale opened, but they were all gone by the time I got there. I bought 2 items that I wanted to buy last time but couldn't afford--one was a short-sleeved "Tyler" trench, and the "Ryan" hoodie...I can't describe it well except it's more casual and in olive green and have puffy sleeves, but you can see for yourself.

The green one had no buttons on it, but I figured I can sew them on myself. I thought that I would have to shell out $70 total or maybe give up one of them, but when I asked the salesperson about where the buttons were supposed to go, she explained and then said, "well, this one is even cheaper because it has no buttons. It's $10." I was so stoked! I kept a poker face because I didn't want her to change her mind. What's even better is that she gave me the buttons to take home. I ended up spending a total of $45, and it's definitely worth it...my sister spent $50 at PacSun for 2 zip-up hoodies, and they're pretty run-of-the-mill. I appreciate the innovative designs of Mike and Chris hoodies a lot more than anything that can be found at the mall, and I'll be wearing these hoodies again and again. In fact, while I'm waiting for class to start in a freezing room, I'm already wearing the trench right now. My arms are bared, but I still feel quite warm.

Victor & Rolf for H&M --> Hungry & Merciless Fashionistas

I got a message today from a reader regarding the upcoming BCBG warehouse sale, which reminds me of how crazy things were last year. Shopping at crazy sales is kind of like going to war, and a sense of camradarie does emerge from the survivors. One girl from school recognized me at the sale, and even though I didn't see her there at the time, there's that "special bond" that comes from knowing that common experience.

All that reminiscence reminds me of things that happened at the Oxford H&M in the UK when the Viktor and Rolf collection came out. Shiny Shiny and Susie Bubble recounted their experiences, and man, that made what went on at last year's BCBG sale look tame in comparison. Check out the videos!


Good Works (Part 5): Cleansing Essentials

OK, part 4 was the fake ending. This is the real one. Stacie, thank you so much for bringing up the shampoos and soaps...I can't believe I was writing about the drive and didn't go into it. In the aforementioned drive for battered women's shelters, some of the donations requested were soap, shampoos, conditioner, toothpaste, lotions, and clothing for the children the women bring along with them. Here's what Stacie said about toiletries she collected:

Oh, here's another thing. I had a yard sale a couple years ago and was getting rid of a small box of hotel soaps and shampoos I had collected. Someone told me that the local battered women's shelter would take stuff like that. I always send away for a lot of free samples that I never end up using which they would probably accept as well. Also, I had a whole box of new boxes of toothpaste, soap, and shampoo which I had been getting for free at the grocery store with doubled coupons. My mom gave a whole bunch of that away to Hurricane Katrina victims when there was a call to donate. I usually give a bunch of it away every year during the Postal Service Food drive.

That's why my readers rock =)

Good Works (Part 4): Let Old Glossies Shine

Here's the last post of my charitable givings series, and it's a pretty short one (thank goodness, right?). I'm sure that most people subscribe to magazines, and if you subscribe to weeklies, there's the problem of what to do with all the issues that starts to pile up. At the minimum, they should be recycled, but there are places that can make more use of them than the recycling plant.

The obvious place is a school or public library. Public libraries can always use a second copy of something they already have, and if they don't want to use it, they can sell it for a dime or a quarter to make some chump change. Sometimes school libraries appreciate them as well. However, there are places least expected that really need them. Last year my school had a clothing/sundries drive for battered women shelters; during the course of that, I was surprised to learn that one of the things these shelters need is reading materials. I also learned during my jury duty that the courthouse wants new reading materials for the jury room.

Donating reading materials is not exactly a popular way of giving, since the logistics is more involved than simply giving money, canned goods, or clothing, but it's something to consider nonetheless. Lest any of the institutions think you're crazy and trying to foist junk upon them, call ahead to see if the donations are needed. If accepted, cut out your address from the cover. Blacking out with a marker just doesn't work well enough because people can still see through.

Since I'm rushing to get things done the rest of this week, I won't be posting again until next Wednesday at the earliest. I'll probably review any sales that I choose to check out, and then I'll talk about my bag lining project.


LA Sample Sales

Quite a bit of sample sales going on this week, and I have neither the money nor the time to go to them. Sad...

1) For those of you who were dying to get their hands on a Mike and Chris hoodie without paying the $150 and up retail, here's your chance. Their sample sale is this Thursday through Saturday, 10am - 6pm at 834 S. Broadway (at Ninth St.) Ste. 505, their Downtown LA showroom. Prices are up to 70% off, and to gauge how much that translates to in dollars, you can read about my visit to their last sale here. I have to warn you though, if you are a small or an extra-small, you're probably not getting anything in your size (at least for the popular styles) unless you're there Thursday morning. That said, the sizes run small, so you can get away with buying a medium and it might still be fine. I haven't decided if I'll check it out just for the heck of it Thursday afternoon.

2) On Friday 11/17, from 4-8pm, there will be a multidesigner sale featuring Porridge (I love their print thermals, though I don't own any), Chic-Le vintage frocks, and Trez jewelry at wholesale and below. The sale will also take donations of toys and books for Proyecto Pastoral.

3) Almost forgot about the Original Trends sale this Saturday. I mentioned it 2 weeks ago, and I'll definitely be there. I'll post a follow-up sometime afterwards.

[Info courtesy of Daily Candy and Bargains LA]

Good Works (Part 3): Lend Your Talents

If you can't afford to give money to a cause but still want to help out, one option to consider is volunteering. Sometimes you get to help those in need directly, and sometimes indirectly through behind-the-scenes functions such as fundraising. When it comes to fundraising events, volunteers are needed to staff ticket sales and food service, to name a few. It can be quite a tedious and thankless chore, as people may snap at you to do this and that. In the end, it will help out a lot, though it doesn't necessarily feel rewarding (believe me, I've been there quite a few times). However, some of the perks include free food or at least free admission, and maybe you might get to scoop up some free leftover goodie bags. If you want something more substantive, you gotta work it. Make it your opportunity to learn a few things and meet some people. I've done a little bit of networking that way. I usually hate networking, but when you're working together, you share something in common. It's a good start for conversations and such.

If doing grunt work is not for you, make yourself part of the attraction. If you love being in the spotlight, consider performing at an event. You'll get the above perks without feeling like you're being ordered around. Even though dealing with the event planning bureaucracy can be a bit annoying, winning the adoration of the crowd at the end of the performance is very rewarding, not to mention all the money you've helped raised. If you're artistic and crafty, create something to donate for an auction. The costs on your part varies, depending on materials and time, but you'll be doing what you love, and best of all, your work may fetch a lot of money. Whether you're performing or crafting, your work will help get your name out there, thereby creating some potential brand recognition. It's virtually free publicity, and any publicity is valuable, especially for a start-up.

That said, even though you're doing something for cheap or for free, put in a professional effort. Don't act or make your product look like crap. Make sure both the quality of the thing itself and its presentation are as high as can be. Packaging is important as a matter of general principles (this goes for gifts you give to your family and friends, especially with the winter holidays coming up and all), but a professional appearance can be achieved with minimal cost. Take this necklace I made as an example:

Until now, I only made things for myself and people I know on a casual basis, so I never bothered to package jewelry. However, when I decided to design a piece for an auction, I had to worry about packaging. I actually spent a lot of time looking all over the place for creative yet inexpensive ways of packaging things. In the end, I ended up using a free-with-purchase box that I got from FIDM and some tag board that I bought to make exhibits with for my trial class. The board functions as a little raised platform on which the necklace is pinned down and displayed. The yellow plastic box alone looks incredibly cheapy, but add some creative arrangement and you've got yourself something marketable.

This is certainly not the best example. If I had more time, I would have done a better job. Weeks later, I went to the Container Store and found some sleek yet affordable boxes.


Trial by Fire

Oh my goodness, time sho' flies! It's almost Thanksgiving! Tell that to the weather gods controlling the Southern California jurisdiction...the last couple weeks felt like summer!

As I've mentioned earlier, I need to catch up with my reading and prepare for trial. All of a sudden, my trial is 2 weeks away [scratch that...make that less than 2 weeks away], and my co-counsel and I are still sorting through tons of evidentiary problems! After that, I'll have to scramble for final exams.

That said, this is the last time for nearly-daily posts until the madness is over. I've got 3 posts lined up for the next 2 weeks. I'll wrap up my "good works" series and talk about my last major DIY project. For starters, feast your eyes on this:

I got these when I took my friend on her first thrifting trip. She must have been my lucky charm. I love the color of the vintage pumps and the little studs. Here's the result when both items were worn today:

[Forever 21 tunic, Charlotte Russe lace cami, antique-looking necklace, Geren Ford shorts, thrifted bag, black tights, vintage heels]

The subject of the major DIY project was the red bag--I had to replace the lining because it had holes and was badly stained. Stay tuned for my misadventures when I did it without a sewing machine!



I'm quite surprised that I've never posted about the topic of used books, given my experiences in the area. It's too late for this semester/quarter, but it's a good time to consider what to do with books for the next one. An article in the LA Times got me thinking.

I'd like to preface this post with a warning about copyright infringement. Yes, it's tempting and it's cheaper to make copies of books, but you can get into a lot of trouble if you get caught. "Fair use" is not a defense in this case. Just so you know, that's all. Besides, it's really labor intensive. Personally, I'm too lazy to go through with it.

Unless the publisher is coming out with a new edition, every thrifty college student knows to buy used books for their classes. It's a no-brainer. Beyond that, how can we save even more money? Better yet, how do we recoup the costs when the book is no longer needed?

Before you consider buying books, ask around to see if you have friends who can let you borrow their book for free. Even if they won't, at least they'd be more willing to sell it to you for cheaper than the bookstore. Another way to score free books is through the school itself. My college had a special program that allows low-income students to have certain titles for free or a much-reduced price. If your school has something like this, it's worth looking into.

The Big U Bookstore used to have a monopoly on certain textbooks, but nowadays there's quite a bit of competitions from online stores specializing in new and used college textbooks. I'm not going to name or endorse any particular bookstore since I never dealt with them before, but lots of people I know have and recommend doing it. The prices are sometimes better than what the Big U sells them for, but remember to factor in shipping. Another place to look is Half.com or eBay; no need to worry about knock-offs when it comes to titles such as Alcock's Animal Behavior. Yet another oft-overlooked way to find cheaper books is through fellow students, who either post on bulletin boards (real or virtual) or in student newspaper ads. It's a win-win situation--the seller can get more than he/she would have through the bookstore's textbook buy-back program, and the buyer can get a book for potentially cheaper than what's available at the bookstore.

New editions sometimes means you have to buy a new book, but before you do that, see what the major differences are. You can usually find out by reading the preface, and you can check with the professor. If the changes are not substantial, you might be able to get away with using a free or cheap older edition, then go to the library or your classmates to borrow the new edition and read the relevant new parts. This method usually works fine because tests are typically lecture-based; I managed to do that for both of my Constitutional Law classes and did fairly well. However, make sure the edition you're using is the last edition, not 2 or more editions before the newest edition.

Another thing you might have to buy is a supplement that accompanies the textbook, which is especially common in law schools. The supplements include the latest developments in that particular area of study, and since not knowing the new law can lead to malpractice, it's probably a good idea to know what's new. Whether to buy the supplement depends on what type of classes you're taking:

-If your class involves case law, just buy the dang supplement. You'll save yourself a lot of time down the road because most of the cases have been edited from, say, 50 pages down to about 5. It's not worth it to read the cases in their entirety just to save $20.

-If you're taking a statutory class, a statutory supplement is often necessary. However, if you've already taken a class in the same field, and you've been given or have bought a volume with selections of major statutes in that field, you can probably get away with not buying a new statutory supplement provided that the law hasn't changed in that area. For example, I already have a statutory supplement from first-year Contracts, which contains selections of the CISG and U.C.C. Articles 1, 2, 7, and 9 in it. This semester I'm taking a class that focuses solely on the UCC and CISG. I decided not to buy another statutory supplement because the U.C.C. hasn't changed for a while, and the revised Article 2 is probably not going to be adopted anytime soon. I'll be using the Westlaw or Lexis to fill in the gaps, of which there aren't many.

If you're forced to buy a new book, think outside the box. Believe it or not, some college textbooks are actually sold through regular bookstores. Take the Norton Anthology of English Literature, Vol. 1 and 2, for example. I saw them in Barnes and Noble once upon a time. If you can get a coupon code, you can save money. I doubt the Big U Bookstore ever offers any discounts. Check Amazon, because it has worked for some people.

When it comes time to get rid of your books, try selling it on your own first. I've only sold 1 book back to the bookstore because 1) I wanted to build a reference library, and 2) I would have only gotten back 25% of what I paid, even though I kept my books really clean. Even if you sell yours for slightly less than what the bookstore charges for used books (typically half the price of new books), you'd be making a significant chunk of money back. If you keep your book in a good condition, you'll probably have more bargaining power.



Hope you guys voted today! It's been quite an interesting night watching election results and working out while I was at it. Yeah, I know I'm supposed to be studying, but I didn't have much sleep last night, so I took it easy tonight.

I know I've been experiencing a serious case of senioritis, which I have never felt until now. And as I'm about to finish school, I'm starting to feel old. But when I got my mail today, nothing prepared me for this:

Wow...I thought I'd have to wait at least a few decades before I'd be able to save money this way.

Good Works (Part 2): In the Can

Man, it's been an exhausting day. Just wanted to unwind a little bit before doing tomorrow's reading...coffee ain't helping me stay awake. Watch that by 4am, I'd be too jittery to get any sleep.

Anyway, back on track with the charitable giving series. It's November, so you know what that means--food banks are especially in need of canned goods for the holiday seasons. They need food all year round, but the holiday period is significant for obvious reasons. It's sad that most people don't do anything to help out until now, but if nothing else, give families that are less fortunate a chance to have some holiday cheer. Some people may be apathetic about giving, thinking that food banks only help some drug-addict bum who just won't get a job, or some welfare mom looking to freeload. It may surprise you that a large number of families, including people you might know, don't have enough to eat. Sometimes even grad students need welfare or foodstamps. People who work hard at their jobs can barely make enough to feed their families. I'm not exaggerating--I've seen a lot of things through some volunteering gigs and I also personally know people in this situation.

Traditionally, supermarkets are the biggest donors because they often have overstocked goods. However, because of modern technology, stores are much more efficient with their inventory and hence there's less overstocked items, which in turn lowers the amount of donations going to food banks. Hence, it is more important than ever for individual citizens to do their part. Being a (educational) debt-ridden student, I can't afford to give much cash, but canned goods donation is a small way through which I can help out. It's virtually painless--everyone is bound to have something in their pantry that's been there for a while. It's probably going to continue to sit there, so why not get rid of it? Sometimes donating cans will get you a little something in return. Some business will offer a token gift (like a coupon) to customers that donate cans.

If you're in a leadership position, you can rally people to action. If you're able to give a small perk, you can really generate a tremendous response. In the same class where we generated huge donations for Hurricane Katrina relief efforts, the professor got a load of canned goods donated. He made us a deal: if each person (in a class of 125) brings in 2 cans, he won't call on anyone in class for a day. Since it was a fairly difficult class, no one wanted to get called on. He allowed people to bring extra to cover for those who forgot. He instituted one rule: no cheap stuff. He was going to inspect each can and make fun of people who brought in some strange crap.

Peer pressure certainly worked; who wants to be the one that blew it for the entire class? Some people brought in lots of cans to cover for the absentminded; I remember seeing several pyramids throughout the classroom. Sadly, some people did bring in crap, but their public humiliation by the professor (who read the labels out loud to the entire class) was quite entertaining; I'm laughing about it as we speak.

The point is, it doesn't take a lot to make a difference, so just make that small effort. If you think "well, I'm just one person, so they're not missing out on much," imagine what happens when everyone thinks the same way. 2 cans a person can lead to hudreds of cans if enough people get involved, and that makes a huge difference. It's the cheapest way to solve a social problem and feel good about yourself at the same time...even better than retail therapy.


Cost Minus

I wonder why "Cost Plus" is "Cost Plus." Why would you want to make your store sound like it costs an arm and a leg? I've always wondered.

Either way, the store is sometimes true to its name. At full price, some of things are ridiculously expensive, like a cloisonne bead bracelet they're selling for $12.99. I could have whipped that up for 1/10 of that amount in less than 5 minutes. However, the clearance section can be quite a bonanza of a deal. I've gotten great bargains there, ranging from Christmas-themed items to candies and household goods.

I went there today only because it was next door to a place I was heading to. There were couple of things I was looking for to refill my pantry: tea and Ghirardelli hot chocolate. The hot chocolate was still a bit expensive, and the tea was very expensive (at around $10 a can). I wandered to a clearance corner of the store and didn't find anything interesting. Disappointed, I was about to leave through the food aisles when I spotted a clearance section for food. The discount was 50% off, which got my attention. I saw 1-liter cans of extra virgin olive oil: originally priced at $9, and now at $4.50. That's a lot of olive oil for so low a price! I remembered that my apartment is running low on olive oil, so I grabbed a can. Not ideal for cooking, but I'm not all that picky. There were various exotic salad dressings, including a pear vinagrette with honey. I like trying new things but can only afford to do that if they are on sale, so I picked up a bottle. That sets me back $3.50, but not bad for salad dressing. Best of all, they had tea on sale as well. I picked up a can of "champagne tea" (so named because of the color) for $4.50--at least $5 off from the cans I decided not to buy. When I went to pay, the cashier did a double take when the prices rang up. Yup, the deals were that good.

There are special concerns with buying clearance foods. Certain things like tea last for years, but generally speaking, food is perishable, so you need to check the expiration dates. There were a couple of bottles that I let go because they've already expired. Even though bottled stuff generally have a shelf life longer than the date, I wouldn't chance it. And even if it hasn't expired, ask yourself whether you'll use everything up by the time it does expire. If you're buying something just to try (like me and my salad dressing), ask yourself if it's worth it if you only get to use it just a few times, or even just once. Whatever it is you buy, there is one rule that fits all: use it as soon as you buy it. It's better than buying it and forgetting about it, then it goes bad and you would have thrown money out the window.


I took the expression "wearing my heart on my sleeve" quite literally yesterday:

I have a very perverse way of procrastinating: when I don't want to do work, I don't want to sit around doing nothing. I didn't want to read about how the Uniform Commercial Code treats liquidated damages, so I ended up doing arts and crafts. I saw a felt heart pin that I thought was oh-so-cute, but probably a little too cute for my age. The idea remains intriguing, so I made my own anatomical heart pin. That anatomical heart idea had been in my head for quite some time, but I was looking for an excuse to execute it.

For those of you who are dipping your toes in DIYland, felt is ideal for a beginner's project. It's stiff enough to hold its shape for easy cutting and sewing, but pliable enough to be molded into a number of things. It's not too expensive, either; I got a few large square sheets for about 50 cents each a good few years ago to make ballet slippers for a tooth fairy costume (yeah, I was too cheap to go out and buy a pair of shoes). It was the leftovers that got used for the heart pin project.

Here's a simple how-to. I didn't take pics to document the process because my camera was not cooperating.

1) Fold a piece of felt in half.

2) Find a picture of something you want to make a pin out of, be it a heart, a shoe, etc.

3) Use a pen to draw the outline and details, but don't mark it too dark.

4) Now it's time to cut out the shape. Hold the two sides together because you're going to cut out 2 identical pieces. Don't cut exactly along the outline--leave about a centimeter of space between the outline and where you actually cut. This extra space is needed because the two sides have to be sewn together.

6) Stitch over the lines you drew. This is simple enough.

7) Sewing the pieces together. There's the easy way and the hard way.

a) The easy way:

-Sew halfway in between the edge of the felt piece and the outlines of your shape.

-When you're about 3/4 done, stuff it. I used bits and pieces from 2 cotton balls. Pack it in with a pen.

-Proceed to sew the rest close.

b) The hard way:

-You'll need to cut out some darts so that the final product won't look distorted. Don't cut too deep--stop a little bit short of the drawn outline. The curviness of the shape dictates how many darts you need: the more curves, the more darts needed.

-Turn the pieces over so that the "wrong" sides are facing out. Do your stitching right below the tip of the darts. Proceed to sew this way until you're 3/4 done. Flip the piece so that the "right" side is back out again. You now get the chance to assess how good a job you've been doing.

-Stuff with wads of cotton. I pulled apart two cotton balls and just stuffed everything inside with the help of a pen.

-Close up the puffy contraption. This is the hardest part of all--you want to stuff the edges inward and find a way to stitch it close. I'm still looking for the least ugly way to accomplish this. Try to do your best to keep the shape as you're sewing it close (you can tell where I started getting in trouble).

8) Sew a safety pin on the back. Make sure you sew down the side that doesn't pop out. It doesn't take all that many stitches to get the job done, but make sure the pin stays put and hidden behind the puffy piece.


The hard way took me an hour or so. The whole project took a couple of hours to conceive and finish, including thinking time.

Now I'll finally get that reading done. I mean it!

Have fun!


Sale Event [LA]: Original Trends Fabulous Holiday Fashion Bazaar

I got a "VIP" invite a week or two ago from the good folks organizing the Original Trends Fabulous Holiday Fashion Bazaar, which will be held on Saturday, November 18 at the Seeley Lofts in Glendale. Since the "VIP" invite gives me a few free perks, I thought I'd check it out. It'll be a nice treat to start the day, given that I'd be spending that whole weekend preparing for trial. =(

The sale features independent designers, with prices ranging from 40-80% off. It's not limited to just clothing--jewelry/accessory designers and vendors for beauty/bath goods will be there too. I prefer buying from emerging designers because they offer decidedly non-cookie-cutter looks. Besides, it's nice to help fledging labels on their way to become the Next Big Thing. Even if I don't buy anything, it's still nice to look around and see what's up-and-coming.

Here's the "fine print": the sale runs 10:30 to 5:30. There is a general admission fee of $3 if you RSVP to RSVP@originaltrends.com, or $5 at the door. If you bring 2 friends with you, one (or yourself) gets in for free! If you're there early, you'll get a goodie bag worth over $150, but since there's only 300 of them, you want to get there really early. I don't know what the street parking situation is, but valet is $3.


Once and Future Blues

My wardrobe used to be in want of color. It seemed like the only colors I had were blue, black, and various shades of greys and browns. Then I got adventurous and bought a lot of clothes in all kinds of wild and crazy colors. Now it seems like I'm going back to my roots.

All three items were purchased from the Goodwill, but on separate days. The coat and the bag were acquired on the same trip. I bought the dress a couple of days ago on a side trip after getting gas (it was only a block away).

I've been using the bag almost everyday. It really is one of those bags that can be used anytime--weekday, workday, schoolday, and weekends. It's incredibly soft and holds a surprising amount of stuff for a clutch, probably because the pleats and the flexible faux-leather fabric accomodate expansion. Because I carry a backpack, I don't like to mess with a separate purse. When I need to run errands on or near campus, I don't want to haul all my stuff around. Hence, I put my purse, cell phone, keys, etc. in the clutch and toss it in my backpack. Even though it sounds like cruel and unusual punishment for such a beautiful accessory, trust me when I say that it gets to see a lot of daylight. It is so versatile and cheap (only $3)! The cost-per-use ratio is going to be so low by the time this bag finally expires (which I hope won't be anytime close).

As an aside, one caveat about disinfecting vintage bags. I decided to spray the inside and outside with ethanol, per my usual practice, but colors were coming off! I tried to even out the splotches where color came off by wiping down the surrounding areas with ethanol; I figure that doing so would help the splotches "blend in" a little more. It worked out as a mitigating measure. What I should have done was to test a corner for color-fastness. If alcohol or other organic solvents take color off, the better idea is to wipe with mild soap and water, and spray the inside with a disinfectant spray if you want to be extra-cautious.

The dress, the dress, the dress. I absolutely love the color and the collar detail on the dress. What's even better is that the store happened to have a sale on dresses. I got this for $4 instead of the usual $6.99--score! Too bad it wrinkles easily. I tried ironing it while it was still a little damp from the wash, but maybe I should have ironed while it was more wet.

As you can see, I've been on a kick for vintage pieces. Often times they're made better than what we have today, and in my case, they fit a lot better too. I don't like to look like I've stepped out of a time machine. Rather, I like to mix them in with modern pieces. If I were going out on my leisurely time, I could wear the dress exactly how you see it above (with a long-sleeve tee and tights), and with a cute pair of shoes. That look might be a little too cute for my age, however. Since I wore this dress to school, I wanted to look a little more mature and didn't want to be ridiculed for looking like I'm an "Austin Powers" extra. Besides, I wanted to have a bit of a tough chick look anyway. So, I wore a pair of knee-high boot and a loose denim jacket.

The coat is the most expensive item I've gotten from a thrift store so far. Usually the coats look really ratty and I'm aghast at the audacity to charge $10 for them. Hence, I usually don't even bother looking at the coats, but the one I bought is an exception. It was stuck onto the blazer rack, so the length stood out. I've always wanted a 3/4 length light coat with a pattern on it. The weight and length are perfect for Southern California Autumn weather. All I've been wearing lately is my black hooded sweater coat, and sometimes my denim trench--both of them are in solid colors, so I wanted something different to keep me warm.

I'm guessing the coat is from the early 70's. I found the pattern to be very refreshing--I've never been all that into plaid, even though red tartan seems to be all the rage these days, but the blue and gold pattern is different yet classic. On top of that, the coat is in remarkably good shape. Even though it's polyester, there's absolutely no pilling at all. The inside is lined, and the whole coat is very clean. The tag indicated that it's at least 4 sizes bigger than me, even accounting for the smaller vintage sizing, but as you can see below, it seems to fit just fine when I tie the sash. Overall, this piece has the sillouette of the modern, streamlined look that I like when I feel like dressing up, but the "pop" from the print and colors exudes more personality.

I threw the coat over a green tee, a pair of casual but fitted pants, and a pair of boots. Instantly I felt dressed up. That's why I love 3/4 length outerwear.