Let's be honest. Sex and the City is, in many ways, the ultimate financial fantasy. The girls eat out at the trendiest restaurants, drink expensive cocktails, take taxis everywhere, and dress in designer duds from head to Manolo Blahniks. When you consider that the real-life income for an art gallery director like Charlotte York is around $50,000, it's hard to believe they can realistically afford such luxuries.
Still, harsh financial realities have frequently intruded into this idyllic bubble. Carrie Bradshaw and her gal pals, as it turns out, have raised some very important financial issues over the years. As excitement builds about Sex and the City 2 this week, BillShrink profiles five financial conundrums the girls have faced and offers advice for you to manage the money issues in your glossy (or not so glossy) life.
1. It's OK to make more (or less) than your partner.
In "The Caste System" (S2E10), Miranda sees Steve's apartment for the first time and experiences her "first pangs of yuppie guilt." Her apartment is nice and spacious; his apartment is the classic tiny New York City studio. It's the first sign of their income inequality and a harbinger of arguments to come. Later in the episode, Miranda wants to buy him a nice suit, but Steve insists on paying although he can't afford it.
Confronting income inequality can be hard. In the same episode, Carrie is blasé about her financially unequal relationship with Big. "It's not about money, it's about compatibility," she says. She's forced to reconsider her words later when Big has a swell time with his Park Avenue friends and Carrie would rather hobnob with the waiter.
In real life:
Income inequality opens a huge can of worms. You don't want to discriminate against guys who don't have cash, but as Miranda points out, "How can you get serious with a guy whose entire future is based on tips?" To complicate matters further, income level does tend to correlate with interests, background, and education, and will therefore affect compatibility - as Carrie found out at the Park Avenue party.
If you're in a similar situation, keep in mind that Carrie and Miranda were ultimately successful with their romantic partners, despite differences in income. It took several years of tough conversations, though. Remember when Big offers Carrie a $30,000 loan in Season 4 and Carrie rips up the check because she doesn't feel comfortable accepting the money? Be open and honest about your comfort level when it comes to merging finances or relying on one income, and true love will win out in the end.
2. Motherhood can force tough decisions.
Miranda is one tough corporate attorney. Her pregnancy and the birth of Brady Hobbes, however, gave her a new role: Mommy. In "Hop, Skip, and a Week" (S6E6), she finds it difficult to excel at both jobs. Colleagues at her law firm chastise her for arriving late and leaving early. Eventually, Miranda sits down with her supervisor and says, "I can't keep working like this. I'm going to have to cut way back. To 50 hours a week. 55 tops."
Cutting back on her office hours isn't the only drastic change in Miranda's life. To the shock and horror of Carrie, Miranda chooses to give up her Manhattan apartment for a roomier Brooklyn "family" townhouse.
In real life:
Babies change everything. While Miranda is luckier than most of us - her finances are in order, she has help at home - her dilemmas still reflect ours. Will you keep working after you have a baby? Can you afford to stop working? Can your living quarters accommodate your new addition to the family? Definitely all tough real-life questions new mommies face every day.
If you are a working mother, let age and wisdom be a good guide. In other words, take the lessons you've learned over the years to work smarter and not longer. Focus on the work projects where you can be most successful and don't volunteer for every side task that leave you compiling presentations at 1am with a crying baby needing attention. Set expectations with your boss and your peers that while you won't be in the office until 8 pm every night, you won't miss a deadline and you won't let your work slack.
3. Don't neglect your financial security.
In "Ring a Ding Ding" (S4E16), Carrie has the opportunity to purchase her apartment - but she doesn't have the cash. When she visits the bank in search of a loan, we learn her full financial picture, and it is not pretty. Turns out Carrie has no financial cushion: only $700 in checking, only $957 in savings, and no stocks, bonds, properties, or assets. Eeek! Guess Carrie wasn't joking when she quipped: "I like my money where I can see it - hanging in my closet." Unfortunately, a closet of the latest fashions can't keep a roof over Carrie's head.
In real life:
Carrie's predicament is endemic. Women tend to save less than men. (Most women, we have to note, are spending their dollars tending to children or parents, not to runway fashions.) Still, having only a couple dollars in the bank is a huge problem for women when you consider that we tend to outlive men, BUT earn 77 cents of every dollar earned by men. Learn from Carrie's mistake and start building your financial cushion today. You should aim for enough money to cover all your expenses for several months in the event of job loss or family emergency. Currently, only a shocking 34% of women maintain such a fund, compared to 53% of men.
PLUS: Want to learn more about gender differences in financial planning? The answers may surprise you.
4. Luxuries can add up.
Carrie realizes in the same episode ("Ring a Ding Ding" S4E16) that she has spent a whopping $40,000 on Manolo Blahnik shoes over the years. Meanwhile, she can't put together enough money to make a down payment on her apartment. Facing eviction, she exclaims to Miranda: "I will literally be the old woman who lived in her shoes!"
In real life:
Most of us don't trot around in $400 shoes, but small luxuries do add up over time. Most of us just don't realize how much we spend and what we spend it on. The next time you complain that your family can't afford a widescreen television or a Caribbean cruise, think about how much those weekly manicures or margarita nights are costing you over time. Calculate their worth versus a long-treasured object or goal. Are they really worth it? Admittedly, they sometimes are. Carrie herself confesses to once upon a time willingly trading dinner for Vogue. In "The Real Me" (S4E2), she claims: "I felt it fed me more."
PLUS: Does your phone bill give you a headache? BillShrink helps you compare cell phone plans.
5. Never skimp on your friends.
In "A Woman's Right to Shoes" (S6E9), Carrie attends a baby shower hosted by her formerly single friend Kyra who has now settled down into married life. After reluctantly removing her expensive Manolo Blahniks at the door of the party, Carrie is crestfallen at departure time to find that the shoes have disappeared. Kyra offers to reimburse Carrie for the shoes, but upon discovering their cost - a whopping $485 - proceeds to shame the swingin' single for her extravagance.
Carrie is predictably upset. As she gripes to her gal pals, however, she claims that her anger is because of the implied insult to her life choices. She points out that Kyra's life choices have cost her a pretty penny: "Over the years, I have bought Kyra an engagement gift, a wedding gift, then there was that trip to Maine for the wedding, three baby gifts. In total, I have spent over $23,000 dollars celebrating her choices." Eventually, Carrie registers for a party celebrating herself and invites Kyra to purchase a present; Kyra gets the hint when the only item on the registry is a pair of $485 Manolo Blahnik shoes.
In real life:
Our friends mean a lot to us, and we do want to take the time (and the cash) to properly celebrate their lives. But as Carrie so conveniently totaled up for us, all the parties - birthdays, bachelorette parties, weddings, baby showers, etc. - do in fact add up over time. For friends that are dear to your heart, consider pooling your cash together with other women to buy them a truly memorable gift. In turn, be considerate, as well, when planning your own celebrations. Is it financially realistic to hold your bachelorette party in Vegas? Do you have to have your wedding at a posh hotel or are there less expensive options? Perhaps the true financial lesson from Sex and the City is that the venue matters so much less than the company. True girl friends will have a fantastic time together, no matter if they're spending $100 or $1,000.
If your salary is like Carrie's, but your spending is like Big's, you may have a few financial lessons coming your way. Until then, know that you are in good company if your high ideals don't quite match up to your Nine West high heels. Are there other memorable financial moments from Sex and the City? Did we miss any? What do you think of the ladies' financial choices? Share below!
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