On June 6th, 1998, Sex and the City premiered on HBO. Now, 20 years later we still can’t help but wonder: How the hell did Carrie Bradshaw afford her life?
Maybe her apartment was rent controlled. And maybe she made $2 a word (unlikely) for that weekly 1,200-word column, paying out nearly $125,000 a year (before taxes). Hell, as much as it pains us, maybe she even borrowed a whole lot of money from Charlotte. But let’s be honest: None of the answers available to us are satisfying, let alone realistic.
Logically we know that most freelance writers couldn’t afford that lifestyle—and we know that Sex and the City was a television show and not a manual for adulthood, friendship, and generally making it in New York. And yet, we’re still morbidly curious about what it would actually mean to budget for a life spent taking taxis en route to our second brunch of the weekend, stopping in for a casual Jimmy Choo shopping spree, and then strolling back to our beautiful alcove studio in one of Manhattan’s most expensive neighborhoods.
Well, cancel your date at Balthazar, throw on your tutu, and pour another cosmo because we’re digging into something Carrie Bradshaw almost never did: her finances.
Throughout most of the show, Carrie worked as a columnist for The New York Star. According to Glassdoor, a staff writer in the New York City area would earn an average of $52,000 today or $4,333 a month (not including taxes).
For the sake of this exercise, let’s focus on season one and have that job be her main source of income.
Which leads us to…
MNS reports that average rent for a studio apartment in a non-doorman building on the Upper East Side of Manhattan is $2,116 per month. But, in the show, it is revealed that Carrie’s apartment is rent controlled and she only pays $700 a month. Yeah, that’s going to require us to suspend disbelief—but fine. Except, in a zippy and unexpected twist, it turns out that particular building, at 34 East 62nd Street, has been torn down. Meaning Carrie would have had to move, and look for a new apartment at market value.
Rent: $2,116 / month
According to numbeo.com, basic utilities (electricity, heating, cooling, water, garbage) for a 915 sq. ft apartment in New York cost $132.52. Internet access would run her another $59.39, and let’s say her cell phone would run her $100 a month.
Utilities: $291.91 / month
Carrie Bradshaw may have her photo on the side of a bus, but she wouldn’t be caught dead riding one. And though she waxes poetic on the romance of a train trip in season five, we never see her take the subway in New York.
In 2018, a taxi in New York City charges $2.50 in base fare, plus $.050 per 1/5 mile. Let’s say she travels the 6.8 miles from her apartment to someplace downtown daily (for the purposes of our calculations, we’ll use the trip from 34 E. 62nd Street to 1 Whitehall Street, where the old New York Observer offices were—home to SATC author Bushnell’s own column, once upon a time). We’ll round that fare up to a very conservative $20 each way—even though we all know that trip down the FDR would be plagued by traffic and likely pricier. So, that’s$40 a day, if she goes straight to work and back daily (and somewhere similar on weekend days). That rounds out to $1,200 a month.
Just for reference, she could buy almost 10 months of unlimited rides on the subway for that much $$$.
One might argue that in 2018 she’d be able to save a little money by using Uber, but odds are pretty good that she’d never be able to get the app to work—or upgrade beyond a flip phone. So let’s stick with the cabs.
Transportation: $1,200 / month
Carrie Bradshaw doesn’t cook. In fact, she keeps her sweaters in her oven. But she does eat because we see her having brunch with her friends every weekend. So, let’s start there.
The average price of a meal at an inexpensive restaurant in New York is $20. So let’s say that Carrie is spending a minimum of $80 a month on brunch. Then, let’s assume she’s meeting one of the girls for lunch at least twice a week. We’ve seen her eat at Cafeteria before, so let’s assume that’s her norm. We’ll assume she orders an $8 avocado toast, a $5 side of bacon, and an $8 kale smoothie (doubtful, but it’s 2018). Add 10% tax and 20% tip, bringing the total to $28 per lunch. So, let’s add another $224 a month for lunch.
As far as her other meals, we don’t really know how often or how much she eats. Odds are her dates are paying for her dinners, but let’s assume she’s spending at the very, very least another $160 a month on other lunches out, take out, and Magnolia Bakery cupcakes.
Food: $464 / month
Carrie loves a night out and a night out generally involves a cocktail.
According to Expatistan, the average cocktail in New York City is $16. And as we all know, Carrie loves her cosmopolitans. For the purposes of fiscal conservatism (if not the purposes of feminism), let’s assume her dates are buying her drinks for the most part. But even in that scenario, she’s shelling out for her own pink drinks on the nights she’s out with the girls. Judging how in season four she gets drunk from one martini, she’s likely buying two drinks on nights out with the girls. So, we’ll go with $32 a week or $128 a month in cocktails. Plus another $10 in tips at the bar.
Drinks: $138 / month
At the beginning of the series, Carrie smokes like a chimney. Today cigarettes in New York are $14 a pack. So, assuming she was likely smoking a pack a day, that’s $98 a week or $392 a month.
Cigarettes: $392 / month
In season four, Miranda helps Carrie figure out why she has no money in savings—and it turns out to be because, over the years, she’s bought at least 100 pairs of super expensive shoes like Manolo Blahniks and Jimmy Choos at $400 a pop.
“I’ve spent $40,000 on shoes and I have no place to live?” says Carrie.“I will literally be the old woman who lived in her shoes!”
Let’s assume that $40,000 was spent over a 10 year period and call it $4,000 a year or $333 a month. Except of course, for the fact that designer shoes have appreciated significantly in the past 20 years. While $400 was an exorbitant amount to spend on shoes in the late ’90s, women are spending upwards of $1,000 on Charlotte Olympia, Alaïa, and Valentino heels these days. And even the most classic pair of Manolos rings in at $725.
And while shoes are always important to Carrie, they’re just the tip of the iceberg.
According to Elle, over the course of season four Carrie wears just under $175,000 worth of clothing, shoes, jewelry, and accessories. And that’s not counting the vintage items they weren’t able to price.
So, once again, using the assumption that the $175,000 was spent over a 10 year period, Carrie likely spends around $1,458 per month shopping.
Shopping: $1,458 / month
Total Monthly Expense: $6,059.91
If you’re still dreaming of that Carrie Bradshaw life after seeing that number, you might want to start thinking about getting a side hustle… and a second full time job… and a second side hustle. But, then again, there’s hope.
In season four, Carrie starts bringing in more money when she starts freelancing at Vogue. She’s paid $4 a word (side note: as a freelance writer, can I just say, hahahahahhahaha) for feature-length articles, meaning she’s likely bringing in another $3,000 a month. Then in season five, Carrie gets a book deal which nets her a $25,000 advance. In the movie, we learn she’s written five books and they’re all very successful. And eventually she ends up marrying rich. So, there is just a glimmer of possibility that by the end of the second Sex and the City movie, Carrie could actually afford her life.
But, if that requires ending up with Mr. Big, is it even worth it?