Lunchtime Excursions

Lunchtime is starting to get expensive. I try to bring my lunch a couple of times a week, but people at the office tend to go out a lot. New girl, fitting in, etc...you get the picture. Unfortunately, it's an unavoidable expense at this point. I try to go for the less expensive items on the menu, and I get water instead of soda.

Another source of lunchtime expenses come in the form of retail. I've often heard of people doing their shopping at lunch, but it was a foreign concept for me. Doesn't eating take a lot of time? However, now it's a lot more plausible because a huge shopping complex is just a block away from work. Since I bring my lunch to the outdoor area, which is a nice place to eat, I'd pass through the shops on my way back to work. I found these two things on the clearance racks, which are great for the type of dress code in my office and adds variety to the sea of blue that I've been wearing lately:

Practically everyone knows that wearing all black lends a sophisticated air. It's just not my style, that's all. However, different shades of the same color can be pretty fun to work with. The top is $8, and I love how it's casual with jeans but sharp with black pants. I always go for something that I can wear off the clock, and this fits the bill. That bangle is a new acquisition from the Target clearance section. Houndstooth and bangle don't usually go together, as the former is more work and the latter trendy and casual. The combination is a bit preppy and perfect for the job.

It's nice to bring a bright color into the mix. I wore a black cardigan over it, which helps tone down the brightness, but it's entirely appropriate when worn alone. I love the lace/crochet detailing at the collar.

Have no fear--these lunchtime shopping excursions will be the exception to the norm. I haven't turned into a spendaholic. First of all, meals are already costing me money that I could have otherwise saved or spent on cute goodies from Etsy. Second, this article scared me straight. I can't tell you how lucky and grateful I am for having this job, since I know a lot of people who are having trouble finding one. I need to save up for the impending increase of student loan payments, and in the event I become unemployed again, I need to have some money to live on. Contrary to what the article and some commenters said, I never came into this career expecting 6-figure salaries. I came in knowing that I want to work hard and have a successful career, but I also want to have a life, which necessarily results in a job that pays less. Even if I get that kind of salary (which probably won't be for a while), I'm not going to live it up because I want to get rid of my 6-figure loan ASAP.

It's nice to be able to live comfortably, and with my experiences living on a shoestring budget, it won't be a problem regardless of what salary I'll get. Back in the days of my first career, I didn't make much, but I was still able to pay for rent, food, clothes, and had leftovers for savings. Sure, it's nice to be able to do more now, and I'd be lying if I say I don't have an urge to buy nicer things because I've been deprived of that opportunity for so long, but I simply can't lose sight of the debt. It's dangerous to fall into the mentality that I have money to spend, since that money is already destined to go somewhere.

This post isn't going to end on a depressing note, however. Some of that earmarked money is going into a 401(k). Being fiscally conservative now will allow me to have a wonderful retirement. Yes, I'm just starting my new career, but it's never too early to think ahead.


Clothes, shoes, make-up, band-aids, and groceries

Where can you get all these under one roof, and cheaply?

One answer is Costco's, but you need a membership. WalMart is another option, though I avoid shopping there in protest of their unethical corporate policies.

In the middle of last week, I decided to go back to the family home for dinner. Right as I was leaving work, I got a text message from my sister with an odd request: bring home some band-aids and mayo. I was a little bit annoyed since I had a long day at work already, and then I had to sit through an hour's worth of traffic, spend another half hour travelling to, search, and then stand in line before I get to go home. I didn't want to do more driving than I needed to, so I decided to go to a plaza that had both a Target and a Food4Less. Mayo is obviously cheap at a place called Food4Less. Quality band-aids (the ones that don't fall off, don't hurt, and have packages that don't turn yellow over time like the cheapy 99 Cents store kind) tend to be more expensive at supermarkets, so I can head to Target for that.

I ended up doing all my shopping at Target because, surprisingly, it's a great place for non-perishable groceries. And the band-aids were inexpensive.

Target's affordable and gourmetesque snack selection has always been fascinating. Where my family lives, there's no such thing as Trader Joe's, Bristol Farms, or Whole Paycheck--stores that exist in trendy, relatively affluent areas that are the antitheses of my hometown. But I've never considered it to be a great place for groceries until I got extremely lazy and decided to explore the aisles on my way to the checkout line. Some things were more expensive than the grocery store, which was expected, but the bullseye-branded items were very competitively priced. At that point, I had already picked up some Target brand band-aids. There wasn't any Target brand mayo, but the Best Foods kind was priced equally with what I've seen at other markets, so I didn't mind picking it up. I also got a can of Target vegetable-and-beef soup, which appeared to be comparable to Campbell's Chunky soup, only cheaper--99 cents. I had it for dinner tonight, and it definitely tastes better than the cheaper supermarket-branded soups I've gotten.

Apparently Target is good with this kind of thing, but I didn't get the memo earlier. At least I get the message now.


Blue-collared and uncollared

Blue used to dominate my wardrobe, then I diversified. Now it's back to square one. While building a work-worthy collection, I'm turning back to the blues. It's safe yet different from the whites, grays, and beiges.

Working near a big outdoor mall can be a dangerous thing. I've done a little bit of lunch-time and after-work shopping there. And there's a Target nearby, too. It's convenient for items that I need right away (such as an $18 Spiderman fleece blanket as a birthday gift), but I'm staying the heck away from it as far as clothing goes. The one in my hometown is already doing me in.

The Loehmann's close to my work is much smaller than the one I usually go to, but it has some pretty good basics. I wanted to get tops that would be suitable for work but can be dressed down for play. The blue Rebecca Beeson sleeveless top is nice and soft, and only $5. The black one by the same designer is around $10, but the understated details are worth it. There's a flap that drapes from one shoulder to the other--graceful details in a conservative sillouette. It's a great contrast with my vintage thrifted skirt.

One of my lunchtime excursions netted me this $8 batwing top. It's really more of a treat, but I love the color. If I wear my black t-shirt from Target underneath, it'll be perfect for work. Both of them have collars of the same shape, but the black t-shirt provides a lot of coverage.

My hometown Target came through for me yet again. Right before I started my job, I needed dress shirts. I love the color and the satiny sheen of this blue one. On a trip to another Target, I found the Isaac Mizrahi for Target cardigan. I don't like the twin-set look, but I do like something like this. Not bad for about $15.

Actually, this whole outfit is a Target outfit except for the thrifted vintage skirt. I bought the shoes at the end of last Spring's clearance.

Casual Friday means blue jeans. Actually, jeans are acceptable in my office even if it's not Friday, but I'm the new girl and want to make this job permanent, so it's better to dress up a little more. I bought two pairs of Fins Denim jeans from a discounter sometime last year. Boutiques like Le Train Bleu had them for $100+; I bought mine for $10 each. The non-stretch pair has broken in really nicely and fits perfectly without being tight...I love it! The darker wash--which I love--is perfect for a more professional environment.

Maybe I ruined it (my mom seems to think so), maybe not (personally, I think it's cute), by pairing the jeans with a $5 cropped jacket sample I picked up from a Forever 21 store somewhere in Alhambra. That store bears the original name, which was Fashion 21, and the sale racks held a fabulous selection. Where else can you find a cropped jacket sample like this for $5, and then a nice, warm peacoat for $20?

I'm just very lucky to have a job that lets me indulge in my style whimsies, both in terms of the dress code and the disposable income. With all sorts of obligations, primarily student loans, I'm not gonna go overboard with spending, but it's been quite a few years since I had the ability to buy clothes without feeling guilty. I'm enjoying the moment, that's for sure.


Behavioral Patterns

This is probably my first post on unrelated things within the same theme. Usually my topics are very compartmentalized, but sometimes change is good. "Compartmentalized" sounds too neat and a tad boring.

I used to wear solid colors almost exclusively. It was easy, and it was cheap, but somewhere down the line, it also became boring. I expanded my solid colors collection to bright orange, green, and even hot pink--much better, but I wanted to be more adventurous. Adding clothes with prints on them was not easy. It was hard to find the right print, and I usually stayed on the conservative side. But once I started embracing crazy patterns, there's no going back.

While I was studying for the bar, I went on a thrifting run. I got a couple of things I couldn't wear then due to the hot weather (which breaks my usual rule of wearing something ASAP instead of buying and forgetting about it) but now that the weather has cooled down, it's time to bring them to action. One of them is still in need of repairs, but the other one has already entered the rotation.

I still can't believe I bought this top. What really got me interested was the tie-neck style. The pattern was at once crazy and unique. I really wavered back and forth before plunking down a couple of bucks for it. When I was in the store, I tried on the top with gray cropped pants and my electric blue heels. It looked great, which is why I bought it. But once I got home with it, I wondered if I had gone crazy; I liked it, but it was clearly ugly.

The weather has finally cooled down enough for me to wear this cool-weather piece. I thought about wearing it with plain dark jeans, but it just wouldn't do. The pattern felt too busy, so I wore my new Target tee over it. Perfecto! It's still crazy, but tastefully so.

Some would call this a "hipster" outfit. I don't consider myself a hipster at all, but I don't care. Wearing the blouse to work is a bit much, but it's a really fun weekend piece.

Patterns permeate other aspects of my aesthetical leanings. A lot of my jewelry designs are centered around mathematical patterns, which is why I arranged a bunch of drawings of patterns on the wall in this particular fashion:

It's a bunch of patterns within a single pattern. My sister originally did all these squares for a class project examining lines and curves. She made tons of these, and I took the leftovers she didn't use. It's been a couple of years since I've had these, so I'm glad that I can finally put some of this free art onto my walls. To make things interesting and to cover up as much of the pillar as possible, I made things stagger a little bit. Everyone who walked by my office stopped to marvel at it. I think that even if you can't draw, you can achieve the same interesting effect using brightly colored cardboard (my personal preference would be blue). It's a cheap and cute way of bringing modern art to your home or workspace.

I still wear solid colors most of the time, but it's nice to break out of the mold.


No such thing as a free lunch?

As they say, there's no such thing as a free lunch. Or is there? I got free lunch a couple of times courtesy of work, but I've also pulled a couple of 12+ hour days this week (which is why I haven't posted very frequently). I wouldn't call it bartering, though...I guess you can say I choose to stay there. But I'll end the philosophizing here.

So perhaps lunch isn't free, but lunchtime freebies are. Yesterday Maybelline had a big trailer parked at a big outdoor mall near my work, and they gave free samples. This is probably the most generously-sized free sample I've ever gotten. It's the exact kind of Great Lash mascara that you can buy at the store. I've always wanted to try it out, and now I can. They also had a "mascara bar" with makeup artists standing ready, but I had to get back to work.

I need to bring my lunch there more often. I love free samples.


If the shoe fits...

...then you acquit. Of all charges of spendthriftiness.

Sorry, being around trial lawyers all day, I've adopted their sense of humor. I absolute love my new job. We work hard, but we play hard as well. The dress code turns out to be a lot more relaxed than I thought, but it's still important to have a couple of good pairs of pumps, particularly for court days.

Remember the pair of shoes with worn out heel caps that I was going to throw away? My good friend has counseled me wisely and changed my mind. Other than the heel caps, they are in great condition, and perfectly-fitting shoes are really hard to find--I went both high and low for a loooong time and was never able to find a worthy replacement for them, which proves the point. So, I'm gonna keep them until I have the time and more money to get the caps replaced.

In the meantime, I still needed shoes that won't make me sound like a horse clomping down the pavement. I went to the Citadel outlet mall in the city of Commerce. It's not as great as the outlet malls in the desert regions, but it's easy to get to without having to sweat it out. I walked all through the various shoe stores and didn't find anything that looked like my old pair and priced like it. In the end, I had to settle for what I found in Nine West. This was a good settlement:

These are a bit expensive in my book--$40--but they are incredibly comfortable (and not as shiny as in the picture). The leather upper moulded to my feet really well, and the peeptoe style is so cute and retro.

At the time, they had a buy one get one promotion, so I ended up getting these for $10:

I'm not sure what happened, but either my foot got bigger overnight or I didn't have the luxury of an extended try-on at the store. They fit fine when I was there, but they were particularly tight at the toes when I wore them the next day. They are incredibly cute and will probably do quite well once I've broken them in, but even if I fail, $10 is an acceptable loss.

At least now I'm well-stocked in the career shoe department.


What a $12 haircut looks like

You all know that I'm cheap, and you also know I like to be stylish. It may seem that the two are mutually exclusive, but they don't have to be.

People are often shocked that I think a $40 haircut is too expensive. What do you pay? They'd ask. It used to be $10, then price went up, or the stylist isn't available and I have to go to another. Still, most of the time I spend no more than $15-30.

Being broke and busy with studying meant haircuts had to wait, but since I start my new job on Monday, I decided to get a nice cut before my schedule is booked again. My stylist usually knows my hair well, which is why I kept going back, but this time the results leave me with a love-hate relationship with my haircut. She was out of the country for quite a few months, so it appears that she forgot my preferences. I ended up getting choppy bangs that I didn't have before, and my hair is shorter than I normally would like. I left the salon unhappy, but over time, it doesn't seem as bad.

This is what a $12 (plus tip) haircut looks like. My mom cautioned me against going to those $5 places, but a $12 place does a pretty good job, even when it's an "off" day:

Hopefully this isn't too trendy for the office. At any rate, I have a bit of time to let it grow up before I have to look, well, lawyerly.

Hair notwithstanding, today ended on a good note. I finally scored 2 pairs of comfortable shoes. They're a bit more than I'd usually shell out for, but after spending days searching for the right shoes, they're great ones to "settle" for. More on that next time.


Back to Work Shopping

It's hard to believe, but I'm re-entering the work force for good. No more schooling for me. I'm done. Reality is setting in.

A couple of days ago, I was in a bit of a panic. I realized that I had nothing to wear for work. When other people say they have nothing, they often mean they have nothing they liked. I was pretty serious when I said I had nothing--sure, I had a few business-casual things, and I have quite a few suits, but the firms I worked at were more on the casual side of the dress code. I need enough items that would last me for at least a week. To make matters worst, my favorite pair of kitten heel black pumps from Target--the pair that served me faithfully for 3 years--have finally been worn to the hilt. It is simply not worth paying a cobbler to have the heel caps replaced.

So I spent Labor Day weekend wandering throughout the mall in search of dress shirts. And wouldn't you know it, the stores with shirts that fit me the best (Gap and Express) were also the most expensive. There was no way I was going to plunk down $45 for a single shirt. No luck with shoes either. I felt like Goldilocks--the heels were either too high, too flat, or too uncomfortable. Nothing was just right.

I'm still in search of the perfect replacement shoes, but my search for dress shirts is more or less over. Target was the perfect place to stock up. I bought a dark blue dress shirt with a satiny sheen for (gasp!) full price! Of $18, as opposed to twice as much. I found a 3/4 sleeve white dress shirt for a little over $8 on the clearance rack. Finally, I picked up a simple black top for a few bucks; I can wear it for work or casual times, which is great.

Tomorrow I need to go get a cheap (but good) haircut.


Happily Scrappy

I decided to spend the last days of "freedom" doing lots of crafting, celebrating my newfound employment with friends, and doing more work to spruce up the pictures in my store. Remember how I got some photo props from the Big Lots cookware department? Well, I'm still working on perfecting the technique of taking pics off a stainless steel surface. Not quite there yet, but it does produce a cool futuristic look:

The cooling rack has actually been indispensible. I use it to prop up the cookie sheet, and I'd hook earrings on the overhanging part of the cooling rack. So much for using the cooling rack for its intended purpose. Oh well...not like I'm going to be baking cookies any time soon. It's so incredibly hot these days!

Still, the cookie sheet alone is not going to be enough to bridge the gap between the black leather and stark white backgrounds. I wanted a neutral-colored surface like wood. I have a mahogany-colored bench (courtesy of Target), but the surface is too narrow for jewelry photography. Oddly enough, Ikea solved my problem, and not in the way you'd expect.

When I went to Ikea about a month ago, the end of season clearance was on. Lots of things were marked down to a ridiculously low price. I hit the cookware section, hoping to find some interesting (and cheap) thingamabob to serve as a photography surface. Didn't find anything. In fact, I didn't find anything of interest until I was about to leave. I noticed some colorful plastic plant pots for sale for 25 cents each, and they were of a pretty good size. Once I saw them, I thought they'd be good storage receptacles for knicknacks, so I got 3 of them (2 blue and one green). Recently I started using them in a different way than I've earmarked--they work very well as small waste buckets. I'd use one to catch snippets of wire as I'm making jewelry.

Then, as usual, my last stop was the as-is department. They sell the craziest things sometimes, ranging from floor boards to sofa covers to drawer fronts. I wasn't surprised that drawer fronts and sofa covers weren't flying off the shelves; after all, unless you have the exact same model of the sofa or storage units AND you were in need of a cover or a drawer front (what are the odds of that?), they're practically useless.

Or are they?

The big hunk of a drawer front was exactly what I needed--it was small enough that I can carry it around and big enough for me to put large necklaces on. I could even use the piece of wood as a work surface if I wanted to. The best part is that I was only out $2.

It really is the perfect surface to bridge the gap between black and white. The color is neutral, and the surface reflects light the way my black portfolio pictures do--just the cohesion I needed.

Imagination saves us money. Who would have thunk that? It does pay to be a dreamer sometimes.