Wednesday, November 6, 2013

When it Rains, it Pours Surprise

Sometimes it rains. Sometimes it rains in Austin, TX. Sometimes it rains in the Atacama Desert, although in that last sentence "sometimes" is a word meaning "really almost never."

Me in the rain. Approximately.
People have always had their little methods to determine when it's going to rain: checking the weather reports, feeling the ol' rheumatoid arthritis, the sky that's a funny color, and looking at whether my hair has expanded to encompass two zip codes. 

This fall has been rainy in Austin, but don't tell anyone, because they're too busy complaining about the DEADLY DROUGHT. A few weeks ago, one day was especially noteworthy. All of the signs pointed to rain. The Weather Channel app said it would rain. The nearly-100%-humidity said that it was very moist. My hair said we should start building an ark. And yet I did not take an umbrella

Why did I neglect to grab such a handy apparatus? Well, probably because by the time I'm heading out the door on any given morning, I've generally eaten into any buffer time I gave myself, and it's imperative that I eventually get around to actually crossing the threshold and leaving my apartment. We call this the "Lot's Wife Directive for Getting Ready: DON'T LOOK BACK." So even though I walked out the door and my hair immediately started heading for the hills (the hills are everywhere and so was my hair), I thought "nah, I won't need an umbrella!" 

This, children, is what we call "a foolish decision." Of COURSE I needed an umbrella. Just the week
Prior Adventure: Wading in
the Beltway
prior, I had been on my way back from an interview in D.C. and had taken public transportation instead of a cab because I had to prove it to myself that my urban skills had not completely dissipated after a few years of lying fallow. That had ended with my drying off some very wet interview clothes with approximately one forest's worth of paper towels. You'd think the lesson "getting caught in the rain is a big bummer," would be into my head by now. You'd be wrong. 

So anyway, I set off and made it to school without a single drop hitting me. Hooray! But when it was time to go home later, the weather was very different. Downpour different. You're-not-leaving-here-dry-if-we-have-anything-to-do-with-it different ("we" being the personified raindrop army). So I waited as long as I could, then put my things in my backpack, reminded myself I was not the first human to get caught in a rainstorm, and blazed on home. 

There is a reason no dive bar has ever done a "wet pencil skirt contest." It's just not a good look on anyone. 

Theoretically, I should always carry an umbrella—but my backpack isn't that big. Theoretically, I
should always have an umbrella in my locker—but that's only good one way. Theoretically, I should at least carry an umbrella when all the warning signs point to needing an umbrella. But I didn't. 

As we so often do, we can be warned repeatedly that something (walking without an umbrella, investing in speculative markets, eating cauliflower) is a bad idea, and yet we continue to try it, convinced that maybe this time we'll get lucky. Free tip: luck is highly unlikely. 

We rarely take precaution, however, because we're opportunistic and running late and caution is expensive. So instead of
2008's Face of the Year: Shock. 
planning for the worst (business planning, investments, etc.), we're always surprised to hear that a bubble popped or geopolitical rumblings changed the price of oil, or any number of things.

The world would be exhausting if you had to plan for 100 contingencies every time you made a decision—and few of us are creative enough to anticipate all of the possible disasters waiting to greet us. Fair enough. The point is not that caution is always required; but rather that surprise at the downpour (particularly if all signs point to imminent doom) is rarely justified.

I got caught in a downpour in:
Grayish pencil skirt, semi-sheer cobalt tie-neck blouse, magenta blazer with three-quarter-length sleeves, blue glass earrings, gold and rhinestone bangles, and floral-print peep-toe stilettos.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Taxes Aren't Bigger in Texas

Nothing says "Amurhica"
like Texas flag overalls.
Every August, Texans take a break from their normal routine of eating great BBQ, shooting excellent firearms, and wearing the state flag in every conceivable manner, and participate in that great American activity: shopping.  

"Big deal," I can hear you thinking. "Everyone shops, right?" Well yes, Texans have sartorial needs too. But each August, in addition to its no-income-taxes-ever policy, Texas ALSO suspends sales tax on certain back-to-school purchases, including clothing under $100, for an entire weekend. Happily, Texas avoided the intuitive but burdensome slogan "Taxes is just another way to spell Texas," and instead has famously low tax rates. 

 A simple Google search reveals that tax-free weekend has been happening since 1999, and CBS reported that it results in
Texas: Cutting taxes since before
approximately $8 saved by consumers for every $100 spent, and nearly $79 million in state and local taxes that will not be collected Friday through Sunday." 

This is a little tricky to estimate, though, because the tax break is designed to boost sales as parents do back-to-school shopping. It's a high-revenue weekend, but the rebate drives additional sales. Thus, it's hard to know by how much bargain-driven shoppers are increasing their spending, and thus where the number would be without the shopping boost. Still, let's take the numbers the nice journalists provided for us, and dig in. 

If consumers are saving $8 for every $100 spent, that's eight cents on the dollar. Hardly going to make or break the budget one way or the other, but resulting in an alleged loss of $79 million. On its face, this sounds crazier than a Nicki Minaj hairstyle. But I think it's actually pretty brilliant. 

Gemstones. Also multifaceted. 
Tax policy is a multifaceted debate, but this provides a nice opportunity to do some isolated analysis. First, we're only dealing with sales tax for a single weekend. Yes, $79 million is a gigantic number. But it's not like we completely suspended taxes forever (property tax, the main revenue driver in a no-income-tax state, was not suspended for a back-to-school special). Additionally, many businesses are not open on the weekends, not all businesses charge a sales tax, and only certain items are eligible for the tax-free status. The government will not shut down. 

Second, since this is a long-standing tradition (awkward moment where you realize that 1999 was actually a long time ago), people expect it and can plan their shopping accordingly. If consumers are planning to drop a hefty chunk of change already, they're usually more willing to purchase additional items, thus boosting them into higher amounts saved. Suppose a family would normally buy $185 of back-to-school items over three weeks of piecemeal shopping—with $14.80 in taxes, the total is $198.80. Suppose that same family, incentivized to buy a little more, now spends $200 on back-to-school items in a single weekend. The
The House of [Cheap] Shoes. 
end price is about the same, but you can think of it as either getting $15 in "stuff," or keeping $16 that you otherwise would have had to spend. Either way, that's a great-looking pair of sale shoes (yes, I really have bought shoes for under $15, and yes, they look great). 

Third, stores will run tax-free weekend specials to stretch dollars even further. This allows them to concentrate sales on a single weekend and actually charge full-price at other times, which helps reverse the trend to constantly cut prices at the expense of profit margins. Retail isn't necessarily representative of all business, but it's the business that consumers tend to think of most immediately. Stores can thus drive sales, which ultimately allows them to stay in business, employ people, and provide stylish clothing for the masses. 

Fourth, tax-free weekend creates a perverse incentive to shop, because it creates crowds. There really are some people who would rather not shop on tax-free weekend, because the crowds aren't worth it for them. As a crazy bargain-hunter, this is inconceivable to me. "I WILL BATTLE THE CROWDS! I
"The Boston Tea Party." Or, "The
breaking point of tax elasticity."
WILL SAVE SMALL AMOUNTS OF MONEY! I WILL BUY AN EXTRA PAIR OF SHOES!" tends to be my mantra. But, if you have people who purposely avoid tax-free weekend, then neither stores nor the government are putting all of their revenue-driving eggs in a single basket. This illustrates the price elasticity of sales tax, or what people are willing to trade to not pay tax. 

Fifth, tax-free weekend is a great political move. Especially now that it's established, people expect it, which means they anticipate it with joy and would cry foul were it abolished. That helps promulgate an overall attitude of lower taxation, because it creates a more direct correlation between public approval and tax rates. Otherwise, the problem of decentralized costs and aggregated benefits arises: if the tax rate goes up by 1%, it's a small harm to everyone, but potentially a large revenue raise. After a few moves like this, though, people have a high tax rate and are truly struggling, but the gradual
He loves gradual change. And flies.
change has prevented them from caring enough to hold politicians accountable. Politicians thus enjoy the continued benefit of cutting taxes without having to go through the political process of cutting them anew. 

Most importantly, for one glorious weekend, Texas is even more of a bastion of liberty than usual. Instead of a nanny state that insists that it needs additional tax dollars to provide back-to-school supplies for everyone's children, we have a weekend in which families are encouraged to take care of their own children, and given tax incentives for doing so. At the end of the day, a government that lets people decide how to spend their own money is a government that believes in liberty. 

Liberty: Drawing your own lines
on your own piggy bank. 
I ended tax-free weekend in:
Neon green pencil skirt, lime and yellow ikat blouse, silver hoop earrings, neon green zipper cuff bracelet, and gray ankle-strap platform d'orsays. 

Friday, July 5, 2013

D.C. = Daily Commuters

I recently got to spend some time in our nation's capital, Washington, D.C. It turns out this is sort of like a bar mitzvah for people who are interested in law and politics. How do you know you've come of age as someone interested in policy? You've interned in D.C. at least one summer.

It's a great city - it's kind of quaint (the Washington Monument is basically the closest thing to a skyscraper ... and it's an obelisk), it's laid out on a confusing grid system (letters, numbers, states, and "words of the Republic"), and if you look closely, you can see Nicholas Cage stealing the Declaration of Independence.
Is that the Declaration or a telescope? 

Sadly, the Metro system is NOT an excellent part of D.C. Oh sure, it gets you around town, and it's very clean, and you feel kind of like an alien in a space portal. But the pricing system is really quite mean.
"A long time ago in a galaxy far,
far away ..."

Let's establish some backstory here. I went to college in New York City. As a poor student who would rather spend money on shoes and dessert than basically anything else, I walked nearly everywhere. I was too cheap to take the subway, and taxi cabs were chariots of the gods. IF I took the subway, it was because I had a long way to go - probably to another borough. In NYC, the subway is a flat fee. It costs the same amount of money to ride one stop down as it does to ride to the end of the line. That meant that I could really get my money's worth by only riding when I was going to use a significant amount of subway services. As you know, getting my money's worth is practically a full-time hobby for me.

But the D.C. Metro, in all of its bureaucratic glory, had outsmarted me. How? Because the farther you ride, the more you pay. To add insult to wallet-conscious-injury, the bus is a flat fee. What did this mean for me?

Well, I commuted from West Falls Church, VA, all the way to the Hill. I was in Falls Church because a dear friend let me sleep on her futon, practically rent-free—thus proving either that miracles DO
Life goal: be this kid, as cheaply
as possible. 
happen, or that you should make friends with people who own futons and live in expensive cities.

Every day, I took the bus to the Metro station ($1.60 flat fee with a SmarTrip Card, $1.80 flat fee cash - no change given), then took the Metro all the way to the Capital South stop. It cost about $5 ... each direction. Can I tell you that spending $10 commuting every day is THE WORST? Happily I caught some rides with my aunt, and my roommate would usually pick me up from the Metro station so that I didn't have to bus twice. BUT STILL.

Why does D.C. do this? Well, I have three theories, which I've laid out below:

Tie consumption to price - this theory says that fewer people are going to need to haul themselves out to West Falls Church than to Gallery Place/Chinatown. The Metro is a public good, so if you can charge people based on how much of the good they use, that's actually more efficient in the long run. Of course, you'd have to make sure the supply and demand met and that the pricing structure accurately reflected the elasticity of the need and use. Presumably, the farther away people live, the more likely they are to have cars, which makes the farther stops more elastic. The farther away people are, the more likely it is that they're routine uses —their consumption patterns aren't going to change, unlike the
They'll be gone soon - only
to be replaced. 
tourists who are in and out of D.C. all the time, and really only use the Metro around the monuments. It's theoretically unfair to make the concentrated, one-time users subsidize the dispersed, routine commuters.

Vindictively punish people trying to save money in the 'burbs - D.C. is an expensive place to live. So people live in surrounding cities in Virginia and Maryland to save on rent. But if you don't live in D.C., you really need a car, which brings costs of gas, insurance, and occasional repairs. You also now have to pay more for the Metro. Your commute is longer, which translates into sunk costs commuting (though these can be recovered through reading or listening to music/books on tape). Even though people COULD theoretically drive in, that translates into even more sunk time commuting, plus the need to pay for parking, or move the car around every
Not really a viable alternative ...
few hours. The bureaucrats know that these are both terrible options, and that pricing isn't really as elastic as it could be, so they can have a pay-more-for-more-riding system.

Blindly institute a system that punishes repeat customers the most - let's face it. The D.C. Metro is a public project, and even if it's run by the most competent business mind in America, it doesn't have to answer to the market; it reaps the benefits of monopoly. In most industries, it's very rare to see your customers twice a day, five days a week (even most loyal Starbucks drinkers are only in
"Fourth Coffee: Buy 10, don't get
fourth one free."
once a day). This kind of routine, repeat business would typically garner thank-yous and benefits, because it's far more profitable to keep an existing customer than to acquire a new short-term one. Instead, the repeat customers end up paying more than new, briefly-acquired ones.

Overall, the D.C. Metro is probably priced accurately for use. But as someone who was using it more, I sure would have liked to free-ride on a flat fee a bit more.

I paid my own way in:
White and black polka dot skirt, black cami, black suit jacket, black figure eight earrings, black and purple statement necklace, black and silver watch, and black patent pumps.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Park Avenue

Street parking in Austin is the bane of my existence. 

The taxi is probably still
moving. Brave Katie.
Maybe it comes from spending three years in New York City, where the cabs never park so much as letting you and your bags tumble out, but I don't enjoy parking in urban environments. Austin has the added charm of having insufficient infrastructure for its recent population boom. It's a multi-step process that makes divorcing Kim Kardashian look like something fun to do on a Sunday afternoon. 

First, there's the general hassle of trying to FIND a parking spot - on top of the pedestrians/cyclists/cars-running-lights, you now have to watch for empty spots along the side of the road. This also involves a fair amount of gambling— do you park early and walk farther, content that you have a spot? Do you overshoot the destination and backtrack? Do you circle the block 18 times, only to end up marginally closer to your end destination than when you left the office? 

Once you've found that mystical, grail-like empty parking spot, you've got to make sure that your car can fit inside the microscopic gap left between the "No Parking" sign and the jerk in front of you. Obviously, it's not going to fit. Do not pass Go, do not collect $200, do not arrive on time. Repeat step 1.  
Even Olde England had
restrictive parking rules.

You also have to somehow read the signs and their 8 pt font describing how you can't park there because it's the third Tuesday of the month, and this is the only spot left in a ten-block radius, and YOU'RE NOT GETTING IT, by golly! Repeat steps 1-2. If you find a legal, empty parking spot, good luck parallel parking while rush hour traffic gridlocks behind you.

Now that you're approximately 18 months older, embarrassingly late, and parked at a rakishly askew angle thanks to a cyclist whizzing by and a jerk in a forest green pickup riding your tail, it's time to pay. Some Austin meters take credit cards, which is great and makes you feel like you live in the 21st century. Some do not. Regardless, you will either be out of all coins except pennies, or the machine won't read your card, or something. So after finding another source of payment (probably pawning off your firstborn to some random troll), we come to a horrid dilemma. How long should you reserve this spot? 

Alternative: GARAGE/LOT
Shouldn't park between two Hummers
- for other reasons.
If all this fails, you can always pay to park in a garage or commercial lot. It's not enough that you paid for your car, and continue to buy gas and insurance. You've got to now forego approximately 1.5 Chipotle burritos so that you can QUIT using your car. And don't think that you're going to have to ignore the steps above - you're now trying to find a garage in the same zip code as your destination. It'd be a bonus if you could find a space inside that isn't sandwiched between two Hummers that are oozing out of the made-for-a-Ducati spaces. Also, please avoiding parking in the spots reserved for the sheriff/CEO/Santa/librarians/weekday guests/weekend guests/clients/friends/enemies. 

The "how much to feed the meter" question was my unfortunate choice the other night, after passing through Steps 1-4 with surprising speed. I was going to dinner with some classmates, and figured we
Mugs lie.
wouldn't be there much longer than two hours. But I'm a square (and nothing frosts my flakes quite like
a parking ticket), and so I put in extra money. 

Stupid me. I should have remembered that when eating with a large group of people, inevitably the wait staff thinks that you should all be on the same ticket, and then you have to parse out everyone's individual orders, only to come up far over or under the actual total. The waitress will disappear, and you'll spend an extra 30 minutes waiting to get your card back. My "extra" meter money wasn't enough.

As we parsed out individual orders of California rolls, my meter was coming dangerously close to 9:44. So I had a huge dilemma - did I wager that the statistical probability of the Austin PD checking parking meters on that street at that time was probably pretty low, or did I blow another dollar on parking to guarantee not having to pay a ticket later?

This is a basic insurance dilemma—and bears some similarities to a classic prisoner's dilemma. In short, it's much more likely that nothing bad will happen, and you don't need to pay anything for additional
The parking meter mascot. Your
failure is his delight. 
"insurance." (A parking meter is more properly a very short-term lease, but could also be seen as short-term insurance against a parking ticket.) If you're wrong, you pay much more in fines than adding money to the meter would have cost. So for a little peace and security, you pay money you probably didn't need to pay. This is how insurance companies (and the city of Austin) make their money. 

I went out to the meter, fed it, and made it back to the restaurant long before our cards came back. Of course, no one was checking the meters that night. But hey — now I can live to pay another meter on another day.  

I overpaid for parking in: 
Teal skinnies, black cami, sheer white blouse with black collar trim, silver rhinestone boomerang earrings, silver sphere ring, and black patent pumps. 

*A lacuna traditionally refers to a gap in music, or a gap in a language (like when you translate Yiddish into English, and you find that there's really no equivalent word for "chutzpah"). I'm stretching it here to apply to gaps mercifully left by by other cars in the line of parallel-parked autos so that we can enjoy an uninterrupted alliterative list. If you don't like it, don't use it. 

Sunday, April 7, 2013

My Budget Starts Tomorrow

The ominous sequester is still in full swing, but news updates about it are dimming. Why? Because most of the cuts have been to high-profile items (like the Army's annual birthday ball) that only have a microscopic effect on the overall budget. This is a good political move if you want to authorize more spending (make it look like all the fun is being cut out of life without actually fixing the problem).
Muffin topping. Belt tightening.
The problem is that most Americans haven't felt it at all—which indicates that we could do a lot more belt-tightening before things really started to pinch.

Admittedly, I'm an anomaly on the delayed-gratification concept. Living on the fat of student loans routinely gives me panic attacks, because 1) my pile of money just gets continually smaller and 2) the amount of money I owe gets continually bigger. I'm one of those old-fashioned, uptight types. You know—I'm the kind of girl who writes a fashion and economics blog, who likes to have a large savings account, and who puts her money in the bank
Obviously, my perfect life. 
because she's suspicious that thieves would find it under the mattress.

But it's more than just money—I'm always worried about "running out." For example, I like Greek yogurt, but I don't buy it all the time because it's expensive. I currently have a tub of Greek yogurt in the fridge. It has about half a serving left in it. It will take me a long time to finish that Greek yogurt. Why? Because WHAT IF, someday, I had a really intense craving for Greek yogurt, and I didn't have any, because I ate it in a moment of foolish self-indulgence? The horrors.

Setting aside my Depression-era mindset, I kind of think I have a point about both money and food. Budgeting is like dieting—it's not generally anyone's idea of fun, but it's necessary if you want to see changes.

^ America personified. Even down
to the red and white stripes. 
I've been hearing about how "Americans are saddled with debt that their children and grandchildren will have to pay," since I was in middle school. But this is like the diet that's going to start tomorrow—or the government who cried wolf.

Politicians refuse to cut spending because they know that it will make some constituent, somewhere, very unhappy. And in the age of YouTube, one upset constituent can really make a fuss, which can really derail a reelection campaign. So instead, we continue to overspend, pushing our debt off on some unseen future generation.

The problem, of course, is that many of us will still be around when our children and grandchildren are paying off the debt. And unless austerity-era Greece sounds like fun, I'd really rather start dealing with it now.

He's going to grow up to have round
glasses and excessive facial hair and
No one seems to realize that choices have consequences, and schlepping those consequences off on your kids never helped anyone. And don't start with the whole "I think kids are gross and I'm not having any" shtick, because everyone is somebody's kid. A world in which other people's children are adversely affected is a world in which all persons (from cashiers to CEOs) are adversely affected, because we all live around other people's children.

This blindness to cause-and-effect in choices is evident on a small and large scale. Western nations spend beyond their means; women* have children out of wedlock, and turn a blind eye to the tumultuous effect being raised by a single parent (with any cocktail of boyfriends and step-parents you'd care to throw in) can have on a kid. It's like an obese person insisting that there are no calories in cake because calories won't start counting until next month.

In fact, there seems to be a breakdown in communication between Mr. and Mrs. Obama's approaches to
Whee. Veggies. 
budgeting and dieting. Mrs. Obama is advocating diet and exercise; her pet project is reminding America of the old-fashioned solution to obesity. Mr. Obama's government, on the other hand, is obese, and his small-ticket, big-stink budget cuts are more like cutting out the broccoli ("Times are so desperate, we can't even eat our veggies!"), than stopping the Supersize mentality.**

This is my "I'm playing an invisible trumpet
because budget cuts hurt" face. 
The only reasonable thing to do is step on the scale and take a hard look in the mirror and start to change. Enough of this "eat/spend today, diet/save tomorrow"blather. America is using all of its student loan money to buy tubs of Greek yogurt to make "healthy" desserts that are only adding to our budgetary waistline (or bottom line, as it were). We can man up today, or we can man up tomorrow, when it's just a little bit worse. But quit saying "Yes We Can!" to passing this problem off to future politicians ... er, generations.

I saved my money and didn't finish the Greek yogurt in:
Teal skinny pants, black cami, gray wool blazer, silver hoops, silver chain necklace with purple glass beads,  silver ring, and black over-the-knee boots.

*Obviously it takes a man and a woman to make a baby, and guys aren't off the hook. But the normalization of women choosing to have children outside marriage (either through traditional intercourse or through sperm donation) is a post-Sexual-Revolution phenomenon, while male promiscuity levels have historically remained more steady.

**As someone alive before 2004, I remember when Supersize was more than a documentary title.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Romanconomics: Self Valuation

The "Foley's Mannequin
Goes to Prom" dress
As much as I talk about the importance of market principles in dating, sometimes it's only as helpful as seeing ANOTHER picture of Anne Hathaway in that awful pink Prada dress. Why?

Well, because if you're a 20-something, educated, middle- or upper-middle-class woman, statistics show that the dating market kind of stinks for us. Thanks to a variety of factors ranging from the rise of pornography to the decline of men in higher education, we're dating less.

Besides more lonely Friday nights and Saturdays spent with girlfriends brunching (admittedly, it's not like the single life is always synonymous with the pit of hell), what does this reduction in dating frequency mean? It means it can be sorely tempting to undervalue yourself.

Nothing's scarier than late 80s
special effects
What do I mean? Well, normally in a market economy, the price is what a willing buyer pays a willing seller for a product. But if there are no willing buyers (i.e. no one seems to want to date lil ol' fabulous YOU), there is a dangerous temptation to lower the asking price. This is a temptation from which you should run like you're being chased by a herd of R.O.U.S.s.

Like a house in a down market, sometimes you start to wonder if the custom fixtures and sharp built-ins are actually adding that much value, right? Maybe dropping the price $10k or so would mean you could actually sell? Or maybe you need to pour more money into re-landscaping and really sprucing up if you want to get the asking price. Or maybe repainting the neon green bathroom is what it's going to take to increase the "universal appeal" factor.

Behold: the flawless
logic of dieting women.
Similarly, when you're dealing with a dating market that's taken a downturn, it can be worrisome that perhaps you're not all that great. Maybe if you put up with a little less care and commitment, you'd actually get someone to buy you dinner. Maybe if you poured more money into hair and clothes and makeup and weight loss, you'd start attracting Mr. Right.  Maybe if you were a little more bland and giggled insipidly a little more, you'd find more takers.

In fact, it's really important to not drop your asking price*—your value is not correlated to the number of dates you're getting. This means not only do you keep the asking price the same, but you don't entertain bids that aren't at least in the ballpark.

Valuing oneself without the benefit of a market can be difficult. But high net worth individuals and owners of rare antiques do this all the time. High net worth individuals pool the worth of all their assets and measure it against the sum of all their liabilities. Owners of rare antiques take into account all of the characteristics of the piece, and count its rarity as a value-adder, rather than an inconvenience because of lack of a market. Often, the desire to make sure the right person gets the piece will prevent an owner from selling to just anyone.

I mean, don't go overboard here. 
In other words, you have a lot going for you. You're a human being, so you're entitled to some basic rights and liberties and stuff. Keep going, though. You're pretty, smart, nice, funny, athletic, musical, competitive, tough, sensitive, loyal, honest, modest, sarcastic, tidy, friendly, etc. Obviously you're not all of those things - but that's sort of the point. You're you, and not everyone is looking for you, and that doesn't mean that you is bad or wrong or overrated. It just means you shouldn't necessarily take the first bid. (Also, this is not carte blanche to be a snob to everyone.)

What does this look like practically? Well, take yourself seriously. This means DON'T GET DESPERATE. You're worth something, even though you and your girlfriends have brunched your way through the entire city at this point.

Example: It's not worth it to let some guy text you "hey, what's up?" as a precurser to a date.
"hey, what's up?" is death.
It's hyper casual, it screams "I'm bored and looking for the best option for my evening," and it is BEGGING you to friendzone the sender. Do yourself a favor. Put him in the friendzone. Forever.

Hmm. You're older.
But still immature.
Because guess what? If he's not trying to get your attention now, he's not going to be trying to get your attention in 10 years when there are bills to pay and the pizza is cold and life is kind of a drag. If his most impressive feats of derring do are texts he'd send to his friends, move on. You're not going to die in a convent. You're an impressive bundle of assets that far outweigh your liabilities. Dating you should NOT be first-come, first-serve basis. Some guys are actually disqualified from even getting in line. Because ultimately, you owe it to yourself to find a good guy (more on this next week).

I retained my value in:
Black and cream patterned skirt, black tank, cream sweater, cream vintage-inspired necklace, black tights, black figure-eight earrings, black and silver ring, and black over-the-knee boots.

*Obviously I don't mean you should actually have a numerical value in mind that a guy has to/can spend to win your affection. This is an analogy. Please, please, please don't actually put yourself on some sort of market. That's a really terrible idea. 

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Romanconomics: VALENTINE'S DAY!

So it's Valentine's Day. As nerdy as it is, I think Valentine's Day is the greatest.

Fine. I surrender.
Why? You get to dress up, support the chocolate-producing segment of the economy, and consider all the romanconomics issues in your life for an entire day. Additionally, the internet produces some exceptionally snarky humor around Valentine's Day, and little kids give each other cards and sugar, which is the equivalent of an international ceasefire in the Second Grade. If that isn't utterly fantastic, I don't know what is.

Now, some people, Valentine's Day Grinches, as it were, dispute the above contentions loudly. Here are some of my favorite gripes:

Obviously, this guy is the devil
  • "Just another 'Single's Awareness Day - or SAD, as I call it.'" -The bitterly single 
  • "Saint Valentine was martyred, you know. That's awful." - The church-history snobs
  • "Valentine's Day is just another overly-commercialized holiday, tragically distant from anything resembling real, unconditional love." -The anti-capitalist hipster singles
  • "Valentine's Day is an evil conspiracy between Hershey's, Hallmark, and ProFlowers." - The anti-capitalist conspiracy-theory singles with impressive name brand specificity 
  • "My significant other and I like to be romantic ALL the time, not just one day a year" - The "Our love is saccharine, and it's giving everyone an artificial sweetener headache" couples
  • "Valentine's Day is a great day for watching plays about the feminist struggle, with names not appropriate for searchable blogs." - The artistically avant-garde and nauseatingly politically correct, who are neither single nor in a relationship, because they're beyond definitions
  • "[Insert holiday/event name here] is another example of masculine oppression and patriarchy ..."- The feminists (who have started just using a form letter to express their outrage over life)
  • "But we haven't been dating that long" - The reluctant gift-buyers
  • "Bummer - it's not Friday yet" - Everyone else

To overcome the weeping and gnashing of teeth, not to mention the siphon on the wallet, here are my Top 10 Cheap and Easy Things To Do this Valentine's Day!*

On the other hand, some
pieces deserve to die. 
1. Wear red/pink/white/hearts. Chances are good that you're underutilizing your wardrobe, so pull out something festive and get a great return on investment for that red sparkly sweater.

2. Actually give paper valentines. Give them to your coworkers, your family, your significant other. Buy some cheesy ones, or make something Pinterest-worthy. You can't go wrong here.

Also, you should buy
a cookie sheet.
3. Bake up something delicious. If you're a normal human, you can probably do this with what's in your pantry. If you're a college student in NYC, well, good luck finding baking soda at Trader Joe's.

4. Make dinner. "Eating in" is romantic and involves no crowds. Plus, if you live in Austin, it's 72 degrees and you could totally picnic. Self-conscious about cooking? Here are 37 people way worse than you.

5. Rent a movie. Considering Netflix, Hulu, and Redbox, this should be free/ridiculously cheap and provide hours of entertainment.

6. Buy a plant. Instead of sending flowers, which tend to be expensive and die a week later, try planting your own, or bringing a bit of life to your living room. I'm partial to windowsill basil.

7. Go dancing. Lots of gyms and rec centers have free or cheap classes that rarely require a partner. If you're in Texas, I've heard that two-stepping is manageable, even for the very rhythmically-challenged.
Yes. These actually exist.

8. Go star-gazing. Unless you live in the middle of the city, you can probably see a few twinklers. For bonus points, drive out to the middle of nowhere, pull off to the side of the road, spread out a blanket, and look at the night sky. The iPhone has a variety of free apps so you can impress your friends and neighbors with your knowledge of constellations.

9. Play board games. Or cards, or charades, or Pictionary, or whatever. There's something about trying to take over the world, or take over New Jersey real estate, or drawing a spaceship that more closely resembles a frisbee, that really brings people together.

10. Host a party, and do any combination of 1-9. Everyone is secretly sitting at home waiting for an invitation to do something this Valentine's Day.

But oh, I can hear it now. "Why didn't you post this BEFORE Valentine's Day?" Well, because earlier, you were too busy griping or making plans to listen to all my fantastic ideas. Plus, now it's the weekend, so you can make a few excuses and extend the fun. After all, don't you like doing these things more than once a year?

Someone else pulled a #10, so I got to celebrate #1-4 in:
Magenta sheath dress, black blazer with rolled sleeves, black and clear chunky necklace, pink rhinestone heart earrings, pink geometric ring, and gray patent pumps.

* No, Snooki doesn't count

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Romanconomics: The Short-Run Always Loses

It's February!
Guitars + Tears = Album Sales.
Sorry, Harry Styles.
Even as the world falls apart, two things will never change. Taylor Swift will always write songs about her exes, and February will always be Romanconomics month. So hang on to your heartstrings, kids, because there might be an economic reason for those teardrops on your guitar!

I recently attended a fantastic seminar about personal
finances. My main takeaway was a sense of overwhelming depression that I'm in school, have no income, and thus don't save 15% of my income. Whee! I also learned some helpful tips about personal finances in general—like the difference between IRAs (Individual Retirement Accounts) and 401Ks (not actually shorthand for piles of $401,000, although that would be awesome). Interestingly, one of the best pieces of advice about the stock market also applies to romantic endeavors—the short-run is controlled by emotions. You always lose the short-run game.

Stay cool, man. I've got
See, in the short-run, prices rise and fall as fear and greed control headlines. If the market takes a downhill turn, the instinct is to run. Alternatively, when the market is on the up-and-up, the instinct may be to snatch up whatever you can. Everyone has a lot at stake—and everyone is trying to "beat the market" by anticipating those fiduciary mood swings, taking appropriate action ahead of time, and then playing it cool while everyone else runs around overreacting like amateurs.

It turns out that this is a horrible strategy. So some people, aware of their own shortcomings, hire managers to "beat the market" for them. But it turns out that even brilliant managers may lose money in the short-term. So you have to be willing to trust them and forgive them for losing your money now, and hold on for the next 10-60 years.

"I don't have commitment issues!"
It turns out that the short-run dating game is ALSO run by emotions. And the rate of return rises and falls based on fear and greed:

He's acting cold? GET OUT NOW! RUN WHILE YOU CAN STILL PRETEND THAT YOU HAD NO EMOTIONAL CAPITAL ON THE LINE! CUT YOUR LOSSES! GO GO GO! Alternatively, when things are going swimmingly and every restaurant the yummiest and every park the prettiest and every movie the cinematograph-iest, and every joke is just so FUNNY, the temptation is to abandon all former friends and pour every waking minute into this amazing guy you just could never live without.

What people think dating will be like.
Everyone has a lot at stake here. I mean, the dating market isn't exactly a 24/7 funzone, which is why most people enter only for the explicit purpose of finding a spouse and permanently exiting. So all the time and emotion and hoping and waiting is compounded into this highly volatile portfolio (you) that's just seeking a stable asset with a good return on investment (future spouse). And guess what? There's always the chance that you'll lose everything. The flipside is that you might get exactly what you want—but timing is everything, and you can't play the short-run game, because you'll overreact and lose.

What dating is actually like.
But we're short-run people. We have instant communication methods, an overabundance of options (thanks, E-Harmony, for putting all of cyberspace into our network of possible "Mr. Rights"), and very little patience. So we angst over text messages, and put people into mental hierarchies of datability upon introduction, and after about two weeks of anything, we're ready to rip out our hair and start over, promising ourselves to read the signs, and to cooly anticipate everything next time. (See Mr. Aviators above.)

PLEEEEASSEEE don't break my heart
(or lose it in the next dot com bubble).
And it turns out that no matter what kind of amazing, wholly compatible stocks you find out there, you don't actually manage any of them. They're all run by other people, with their own fear and greed and timetables, who are also trying to beat the market. And at some point, after you've done your research, you decide to trust one of these crazy managers with your own emotional portfolio/heart.

Because let's face it. Even the best manager is going to make countless mistakes, and is going to lose a lot of the time. But when you're in it for the long run, you see the return on investment. The long-run market is based on growth and improvement, not on emotion. So even though the headlines and the day-to-day feelings are controlled by fear and greed, in the long-run there's the possibility for growth and improvement and trust. And that, my friends, is a great investment.

I learned about my finances in:
Dark wash boot-cut jeans,* brown cami, brown and white dotted flared jacket, gold and crystal earrings, gold and purple necklace, gold bangles, and brown snakeskin pumps.

*The question of whether denim is "business casual" is hotly debated and is largely answered by region and office culture. Considering this was a weekend event with a "semi-casual" dress code, I decided in favor of a dressed-up jean. Feel free to judge me. 

Sunday, January 6, 2013

The Faithful Fighters

A few weeks ago, I had to say goodbye to two dear friends. We may never see each other again. And that decision is entirely in my hands.

ah ... ah... WAHHHHH!!!!!!!
See, I was in the throes of law school finals, and was heading out for a little study break. I had slipped into my faithful black pumps. They were a little worse for last summer, in which I wore them mercilessly because—out of all my shoes—they are one of three pairs with a sensible heel that could handle eight hours of retail. I was adding the finishing baubles to my outfit, and turned to leave my room, when there was an odd shift in my left leg. After the initial panicked-toddler-reaction (where I wait to see if anyone else is crying or if anything is suddenly pierced with pain, and absent either result, continue on my way), I looked at the bottom of my shoe. And the entire rubber tip, and the nail that attaches it to the shoe, was on the floor. And the shoe was in my hand.

Oh tragedy. I needed those shoes. I didn't just need them for that night, and I didn't just need them for their sensible heel, and I didn't just need them because I'm a girl, and they are a pair of patent black pointed-toe pumps. I needed them because those shoes were part of my life.

It's not like I have horseshoes.
The rubber tip I now distressingly saw in all its raw glory was probably a sixth generation tip, thanks to New York City's rough sidewalks, my unyielding frugality, and the happy proximity of a cobbler. I had had those shoes reheeled (and re-soled) more times than I cared to count. They were good shoes - worth keeping around.

Those shoes carried me all over Manhattan. To and from class, and work, and brunch, and Broadway shows in the rain, and church hallways, and birthday parties, and subway steps, and a hundred places in between.

This summer, those shoes got cushion inserts, and they carried me to the suit store, and they held me through hours 1-4, and then I sat down and flexed my feet, and then they carried me through hours 5-8, and some days they carried me to my desk job before all that. And they wore out around the edges.

The leather around the joint, was cracked on the outside corner from the motion of my foot bending with each step. The leather near my toes was wrinkling. Inside, the gel inserts had stripped the finish off, leaving the lining discolored. My heels had rubbed through layers of inner lining, leaving the back of my shoes exposed, like the striated rock formations of the southwest.

It's bad when your shoes look like
the feet on lotion commercials.
These pumps were walking lessons in shoe anatomy (you could see all layers in all places, like a transparent biology diagram of bones and muscles and blood cells and organs and skin). The impropriety overcame me. After all, I sold menswear. I wrote a business casual blog. I was an expert in not wearing crappy shoes, and these shoes were getting worn. I finished my time in retail, and vowed I would not wear those shoes ever again.

A few months passed, and my student budgets of time and money didn't allow for the hours required to replace a staple wardrobe item - classic, discreetly fashionable, walkable heel. As my stubborn refusal to wear the shoes limited my outfit choices and relegated me to higher heels on increasingly uneven cobblestone, I caved. I wore the pumps again. Once became twice, twice became occasionally, occasionally became once a week. But only when I was desperate, and only when I was pretty sure the light wouldn't show the cracks in the leather.

And then, that fateful night. The turn that severed new tip from old shoe. Luckily, it happened before I walked out the door, so I was able to change shoes, but still.

My pumps are now sitting in my closet, awaiting my decision of whether I will re-heel them once again, or begin the long and miserable process of finding a replacement pair, which will inevitably involve a significant amount of time for which I am without black pumps.

If re-heeled ...
If my shoes are re-heeled, it is because they have a fighting spirit. They will not yield to creative destruction, and they see that the only way to die with dignity is to literally fall apart. If they are reheeled, it is because they're no quitters, and no one ever really noticed the cracked leather, and the cost of repair cannot compete with their value to me.

And if my shoes are replaced, it is because they have already fought. It is because they fell apart. It is because they pushed through to the final breath, when they died on the threshold of my bedroom door.

If replaced ... 
See, shoes are like people. And it's dangerous to replace them too soon under the guise of letting them die with dignity. People are fighters—as is evident by the thousands of entrepreneurs who face horrific odds, and pour themselves into new businesses anyway. And as long as there is half of a fighting chance, we ought not let the cracks in the leather abandon us to the trash heap or back corner of the closet. We face the rough pavement, the uneven streets, the parties and interviews and commutes and services. And we carry on.

Happy New Year—let's roll.

I ended up wearing:
Dark wash skinny jeans, blue and black button-up, black hoops with rhinestone beads, black and clear bead necklace, and black over-the-knee boots.