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In this episode, Chelsea dives into all of the problematic ways Sex & The City portrayed women's financial lives, and the lasting impact that has had on our cultural understanding of money and aspiration.

Carrie Bradshaw, The Original Influencer:

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Hey, guys. of my favorite subjects to ramble about, which are Sex and the City and the negative impact it's had on our culture and finances.

And I should be clear that with all things pop culture guilty pleasures, I do believe that you can enjoy these things in a thoughtful way. I have seen every episode of Sex and the City at least four times, probably more than that if I'm being honest.

And although it didn't directly impact why I wanted to personally move to New York, in fact, I never did. I moved to New York for a job by chance. I am cognizant of the fact that it's infiltrated how I think about so many things, particularly because I watched that show at an age where, quite frankly I was probably a little too young to have been watching it, but also I was forming my ideas about relationships, love, sex, money, culture.

And looking back, it's sometimes hard to disentangle what are thoughts I arrived at independently on my own and what were things that were shaped by the culture I was consuming, not the least of which Carrie Bradshaw and Co. With news of the HBO Max reboot and photos of shooting basically all over the internet, I personally will not be tuning in because it makes my heart hurt, but you do you. Particularly with Kim Cattrall who had the mental and emotional wherewithal to say no, thank you, that chapter of my life is closed.

I'm not going to put on another fluorescent blazer and talk about how much I love blowjobs at this time in my life. Sex and the City is back in the zeitgeist. Anyone who is familiar with the show knows that there are many overarching storylines and plot points that have aged like milk over the years.

I'm thinking about some of Samantha's escapades dating men of color or the show's portrayal of trans sex workers when Samantha moved downtown to the meatpacking district. Or the show's treatment of Samantha's brief quote, "lesbian interlude." Now that I'm thinking of it basically all of these really, really painful romantic storylines had to do with Samantha, those scriptwriters really did Kim Cattrall dirty. But suffice it to say yes, a lot of the sex in Sex and the City was quite problematic looking back.

And I'm sure at the time not even the most progressive thing on television. But one theme that the show gives to us over and over, which underpins and underscores essentially everything else going on in the show. And leads to a number of really real problems that are basically hand waved away in a way that teaches women that they shouldn't be taken seriously, is the show's depiction of finances.

Here are a few of the ways that Sex and the City just torpedoed women's relationship to money. Number 1, and this one hurts as someone who long made her career as a freelance writer, unrealistic expectations about what one can expect to earn in a creative field. It is obviously no secret at this point that the lifestyle that Carrie Bradshaw was living spending tens of thousands of dollars on shoes, having a gorgeous New York City apartment, constantly sporting designer dresses and spending essentially every single night at expensive restaurants, is not something that someone should ever reasonably expect to have on a freelance columnist salary.

Particularly when the US Department of Labor reported that in 1998 the year Sex and the City's first season, premiered, female writers were earning an average of $591 per week. Without taxes taken out that is an annual salary in the low 30,000. And while salaries do and did vary depending on publication, Carrie was pretty notable for writing for a rather low tier New York City newspaper and having literally only one writing gig until her books came along in later seasons.

It's particularly shocking that a freelance writer-- Mona is here to join in the complaining. It's also her favorite activity. And it's particularly baffling that a freelance writer who at the time could not have been earning anything more than a few hundred dollars per column, would choose to have literally only one source of income until her books in the latter half of the series.

For a show that was ostensibly about dating and sex, it's pretty significant that the unspoken fifth character in the show while often referred to as being New York City was clearly money. And Carrie's relationship to money, both the extent to which she didn't feel compelled to earn it and the extent to which she felt empowered spending it in irresponsible ways, as she put it in one memorable line, I like my money right where I can see it, hanging in my closet. It's pretty shocking that this was not considered more of a hindrance to the plot.

Because even with the lower cost of living at that time, a salary anywhere in the 30s was not going to pay Carrie's bills in New York City, let alone leave enough cash for her fashion and food budget. In fact, it's the very discrepancy between salary and lifestyle that perpetuates most of the money issues that actually take place on the show and that we'll talk about. So let's dive into a day in the life of Carrie Bradshaw.

Because an article we published back in 2016, examined some of Carrie's monthly expenses based on the cost of living that year. And for this exercise, her estimated annual salary was $38,000. On any given month, she grabbed brunch with the girls every weekend to discuss their hottest dates, about $240.

She had a daily smoking habit for the first half of the season, $360. A couple of pairs of new shoes would run her about $1,800. A stroll through Central Park with Miranda for a therapy session did indeed cost her zero dollars, but we'll pin that more to Miranda's savvy than hers.

Taking cabs all around NYC probably set her back about 840, and meeting Stanford for happy hour, four cosmopolitans on a regular basis probably ran her about $360. Just these nonessential expenses, which don't count the rest of her fashion or other spending habits and which were seen consistently as part of Carrie's regimen come to an astounding $3,600 per month. On a columnist salary, this is essentially a recipe for crippling credit card debt, which the show does somewhat address later.

And lastly on this point, although it is most easy and common to refer to the discrepancy between what Carrie was earning and what she was spending, it's also notable that Charlotte was living just as luxurious a life on a downtown gallery curators salary which would have been nowhere near enough to finance the Upper East Side condo she lived in alone at the beginning of the series. But while the unexplored fifth character of finances was often the source of just an extremely luxurious and aspirational lifestyle, the show did at least gesture in occasional episodes towards the realities that this kind of financial lifestyle would probably lead to. However for the most part, these realities were pretty much unexplored.

And one of the strangest facets of the show was the extent to which the financial realities of living in a big city were completely ignored by essentially all parties, which brings us to our second point. It is not any sort of mystery or news that pop culture has long associated thriving in our young adulthood with being in a big city. That could be New York, like on sex in the city or another HBO problematic fave, Girls.

Or it could be dwelling in downtown LA, like in New Girl. Essentially, we have come to complete coming of age as an adult with being in a bustling urban jungle. But while other New York City best shows such as Gossip Girl take extreme pains to demonstrate the extent to which that glamorous New York lifestyle is in practice quite expensive and necessitates an essentially generations of inherited wealth in order to easily finance that, Sex and the City is pretty notable for completely brushing off what any of these big city realities might cost.

For example, we learn the Kerry is paying $700 for a one bedroom apartment on the Upper East Side. She must have found a steal, considering that the New York Times released a piece in 1994, four years before the premiere, listing the average rent for a one bedroom apartment to be about $1,550. Even at that time, it is highly unlikely that even a studio apartment would be available for that price considering that, again at the time the Upper East side was one of the most in demand neighborhoods, not as much anymore.

And it's not just the cost of living for their actual living situations, it's the things that their apartments are filled with such as takeout boxes, because for several of the cast members-- in fact now that I'm thinking of it, I think all of the cast members except occasionally Charlotte, the fact that these women didn't cook was considered a key part of their characters. I think at the time in the '90s it was a very strange second wave, cresting to third wave feminism moment, where it was considered like an emboldened empowered chic feminist thing for a woman to literally not know how to boil an egg. Obviously, today in an era of lifestyle bloggers and food influencers that's probably not considered the height of aspirational.

But at the time it was a plot point that Carrie used her oven for storage or that Samantha had no food in her kitchen or that Miranda's Chinese restaurant downstairs had her order memorized by heart just by the sound of her voice. Anyone who follows TFD knows that of course, this is one of the easiest and most common ways to simply hemorrhage money. But it's worth exploring in depth what that actually probably looked like on any given month.

Assuming Miranda orders her to-go meal, which is chicken and broccoli with brown sauce, brown rice and cold noodles for those keeping track at home, four nights per week. She is already dishing out an obscene amount of money due to the delivery fees alone. It's always hard to chicken or egg these cultural phenomena, especially as they pertain to spending.

And yes, it's true that in 2021 with our smartphones, we can basically access delivery meals at any time of day or night, and that contributes heavily to the extent to which millennials are coming to rely on that food as a huge staple part of their diets. But it is undeniable that shows like Sex and the City, specifically and in a way targeted to women and their sense of empowerment, framed not cooking and ordering food from I guess what today would be highly underpaid gig workers as a kind of lifestyle aspiration. I have had a thought, especially in my 20s when I was ordering takeout and having a martini or a glass of wine in my home with a girlfriend of wow this is such a Sex and the City moment.

And I know that I am not alone in thinking that. Looking back, it's worth unpacking what that actually tells us, not just about ourselves but about what we think our spending decisions mean about us. And another incredibly wasteful spending habit that the show went out of its way to normalize and never acknowledge the cost of was the endless extent to which these women took cabs.

Looking back, it's pretty insane that in a six year run of a show set primarily in Manhattan and occasionally in Brooklyn, you see a character on the subway like once or twice. I feel like I can remember once when Carrie was running out of the subway to the stock market, but only because the cab was stuck in traffic. And I think that might be it.

And that is insane. I have lived in New York for almost a decade and not only is taking a cab prohibitively expensive and we'll talk about that shortly, it is also often the most inconvenient way to get to wherever you're going. But the show did normalize, and in some ways iconicize the idea of an empowered woman in her beautiful outfit and slick stilettos holding her hand out to hail a cab.

But what did that cost in practice? Currently, New York City's standard taxi fare is a $2.50 initial charge and then an added $0.50 for every 1/2 mile. Plus, a million other surcharges.

Leading easily to 100, if not sometimes in the four figures worth of cab rides over the course of the month for these ladies if they're not taking other modes of transportation. Whereas standard buses and subway rides in the city are priced at 275 a ride, which means that taking public transit to your final destination cost as much in the initial charge of a taxi before any mileage is even taken into account. So whether you're living in 1998 or 2021, it is simply not worth it.

Number 3 is probably my personal favorite because it's so depressing. There's something so interesting about the way Sex and the City juxtaposed the idea of being an empowered single woman while depending on a man for financial or emotional security as being something, yes, I would say borderline aspirational. There are many story arcs in the show in which a man literally comes into deus ex machina, or one of the women's financial problems.

And although some of the women did technically in the show single when you factor the movies into account, although I like to not because I just don't consider them canon. Either way, for most of them the end goal at some point was landing a rich and well-connected man. I guess Steve would be the exception to this, but I think it's worth exploring perhaps in a separate video the way that Miranda always sort of undermined the otherwise very prevalent tropes of the show.

But it's high time if we're talking about the role that men play in these women's lives to come to the character of Charlotte, everyone's problematic fave. Yes, there are several storylines on the show that do not stand the test of time and are very yikes to watch in retrospect. But Charlotte's overall arc on the show in which her quest for love was always underpinned by the notion that it was also-- Don't let us interrupt you, Mona.

Her overall story arc, which was searching for true love in a way that was underpinned by the not even subtle notion that her true love was going to be obscenely wealthy, is one of the most embarrassing looking back. And it's worth considering what her framing in the show, which was ultimately a positive one taught us about what we should be looking for in our own lives. Throughout the show, we see her on a frankly a fervent and somewhat exhausting search for her true love.

She is the kind of girl to think after a single date that she's found the man she's going to marry and basically approaches the prospect of dating the way one would approach looking for a new job. When she finally finds the man who is perfect on paper, Trey MacDougal, who I honestly feel like got a bad shake in that show. Like he didn't want kids, he didn't want that lifestyle.

I feel like he was honest. I don't know. I feel like we really judge Trey a little too harshly looking back, but I digress.

She finds Trey the perfect man and is in such a rush to marry him and his fabulous classic sex on the Upper East Side that she doesn't even sleep with him before marrying him, which fans of the show will led to all kinds of problems. It became clear pretty early on that they just weren't compatible and a lot of very real ways, but it took her a long time to finally end that marriage. And again, mostly because he was otherwise perfect on paper.

And when we see the kinds of decisions that she makes in that relationship, for example, quitting her job as a gallery curator well before she was even pregnant, let alone had a child to take care of, we see the extent to which the show totally normalized the idea of making a man your financial plan. It's also important to note that even within the context of the show, it's not exactly clear that this is something, i.e leaving her job well before she even has a child, but Charlotte wanted at the time. And this very problematic way of thinking can be summed up by something Charlotte says in the very first episode of the show.

Quote, most men are threatened by successful women. If you want to get these guys, you have to keep your mouth shut and play by the rules. I think in the context of the show we're supposed to believe that this was like a naive and very childlike way of her initially approaching dating that changed over the years.

But when you look at the way that Charlotte ended up and moved throughout her two marriages, you see that she basically kind of kept the same approach throughout. And yes, her marriage to Trey did eventually dissolve, but he left her an extremely expensive apartment as well as a ring worth tens of thousands of dollars and all kinds of other assets in order to help her stay on her feet. So I guess the lesson we're supposed to draw is women watching that show is even if you marry a man you're totally incompatible with and give up any semblance of an independent life to please him and it still doesn't work out, you can at least get everything you want in the divorce settlement.

But Carrie on the other hand, has a different and honestly chaotic relationship to men and money. Obviously, throughout the show one of her biggest story arcs is that money is just not something she even remotely knows how to deal with. And various rash relationship decisions throughout the show leave her basically on the brink of homelessness at certain points.

For example, when she lets her burly woodworking and honestly kind of pathetic boyfriend, Aiden by her apartment as well as the one next door for both of them to live in, and I assume from the context of the show she's not even on the title. They very shortly break up afterwards because they never should have gotten back together and she was not interested in being with him long term, and she has essentially no way of buying back her part of the apartment. This is the borderline homeless part.

We also find out in this storyline that she has spent tens of thousands of dollars on shoes, has essentially nothing in her checking account and doesn't even know the first thing about how to get a mortgage. She initially approaches another ex-boyfriend to just write her a check for the entire down payment, which is beyond a psychotic storyline. But then eventually her deus ex machina in this particular situation is the aforementioned Charlotte.

And I must stress the extent to which this storyline is probably one of the most bananas and offensive when it comes to finances in all of the show's history. She essentially approaches Charlotte, who has no financial problems because of her lucrative recent divorce and corners her into giving her the money for the down payment. Initially Charlotte is very rightfully resistant and has a bit of a standoff in her apartment where she tells Carrie your financial irresponsibility is not my problem.

But eventually she caves and gives Carrie her Tiffany engagement ring for Carrie to pawn and pay for her down payment. And this is framed in the context of the show like Charlotte doing the right thing and being a good friend rather than perpetuating an enabling Carrie's serious financial and emotional problems. But when you take the lens out a tiny bit further and realize that the only reason Charlotte was even in a position to give that kind of money despite being someone who was completely functionally unemployed at the time was because of another rich man leaving her money.

You start to wonder if any of them are really in a position to be getting on their high horse about finances. Suffice to say, although it was not even really addressed during the show if you are ever considering lending a friend or family member this kind of money, this is something that should be quite structured and well planned out. We actually did in 2015.

An article on TFE laying out the five commandments of lending money between loved ones that would be good to follow. It's unclear whether or not Carrie ever paid Charlotte back. I think she probably did with all the money she ended up earning from her books and her Vogue column.

But suffice to say, the way this was gone about was just a recipe for disaster. And taught women ultimately the lesson that we should be just giving our friends money if they need it, no matter what led them to finding themselves in tough financial circumstances. Now the next one is quite frustrating to me as someone who does a lot of work and helping people create better relationships with the use of credit cards.

Because Sex and the City normalized and even to an extent idealized an extremely unhealthy relationship to credit card use. I will be the first to say that using credit cards responsibly can be a great part of any healthy financial plan. I do it myself.

It's how I pay for a lot of my airline tickets and hotel stays. Credit card turning can be an absolutely amazing thing to do when you master it. But the most important rule of it is you never put a single dollar on your credit card that you cannot afford to pay off in full before the end of the period so that you don't accrue a dollar of interest.

Suffice to say, that is not how Sex and the City portrayed credit card use. Now we've definitely been hardest on Carrie in this video and not without reason. She is after all the protagonist main character and narrator of the show.

And also the one through whom a lot of these decisions, which are being framed as aspirational, are portrayed. And perhaps the most dangerous lesson that this show taught to women through Carrie's on behavior was reckless use of credit cards. When Carrie goes to the bank to try and get a loan for her apartment that survey says she was in a bind to buy because of a bad relationship choice, she is told that she is, quote, an undesirable candidate.

With just $700 in her checking account a $900 in savings, she decides that a change is needed. So she does take the bus home for the first time ever. I have to stand corrected guys.

I thought we only saw these ladies on public transport once, it appears that Carrie took it twice. We stand a budget friendly queen. So with this insanely low and dangerous amount, don't even think about an emergency fund, how does Carrie fund this lavish lifestyle?

Well, she admits in that very scene that her funds are low because she recently paid off her credit card. That upwards of $40,000 she claims to have spent on shoes was almost certainly entirely spent via credit cards. And when we consider that Carrie's income must have been negligible and she had almost literally no money in her bank account at any given time, it is undeniable that a huge part of how she was funding this lifestyle was in carrying a credit card balance month over month.

She does mention credit card debt a few times on the show, but it's important to underscore the extent to which that show just normalized the idea of whipping out your Amex and buying whatever your heart desires. There's even a scene in the earlier episodes where a salesperson in a store physically cuts her credit card in half at the request of her credit card company because she was so far over her limit. How does the show deal with this?

Well, by having another rich frivolous woman who is having her life floated by a man, historians might remember, Amelita, coming over to her and simply handing her credit card over to pay for the shoes. Real academics on the matter will remember that later in the episode Carrie spends a night with a handsome French architect who leaves her $1,000 on the nightstand because he thought she was an escort and she uses the money to I assume pay back that overdue credit card bill. The lessons this show was giving us, chef's kiss, 10 out of 10, no notes.

And when we cut to 2021 and our obsession with fast fashion halls and designer bags being so popular that people literally resell those shopping bags on eBay, we understand the extent to which shows like Sex and the City normalized shopping for luxury items and fashion goods well beyond your means to pay for them as just something a chic city woman does. Lastly and perhaps most pervasively, we have the extent to which the show provided free advertising for completely financially unattainable brands. As I mentioned earlier, chicken and egging various cultural norms around money can be very difficult.

And it's not always easy to parse out what was Sex and the City versus other cultural touchstones. But when it comes specifically to the normalization of aspiring to and owning designer goods that are out of the budget of the vast majority of Americans, Sex and the City has got to be the biggest culprit. Last year here on TFD, we published a video in collaboration with Lindsay Ellis around why Carrie Bradshaw was the original influencer.

Because before places like Instagram or TikTok, consuming brands and finding them aspirational through their use by others was primarily the domain of magazines and shows like Sex and the City where Carrie was the ultimate avatar for these designer goods. I highly encourage you to watch this video, link in the description. But when we talk about product placement, we often have a tendency to think of things like sitcoms where a specific brand of cereal is very conspicuously placed on the breakfast table.

But with Sex and the City, such heavy handed product placement was unnecessary because her obsession with naming and sporting designer goods was such an integral part of her character. Her love of designer brands landed her jobs at places like Vogue led to a book deal filled her walk in closet and generally defined her as a character. To even have an ounce of Carrie's glamor or Samantha Miranda and Charllotte for that matter, you will need to look glamorous.

So if you're a fan watching the show in the late 90s to early 2000s, you might be tempted to pull out your credit card and treat yourself to a $4,000 Birkin. The bag that for those keeping score at home, Samantha once tried to pry away from her client Lucy Liu after discovering that it had a five year wait list. And in that episode, she says it best aka worst, buying a bag like this isn't even for its style.

Quote, it's what carrying it means. It means that you've made it. And all six seasons are Chock full of luxury brands from Tiffany's to Versace to Jimmy Choo to Gucci.

And the brand call outs were so ubiquitous that according to Forbes, Manolo Blahnik, who had long been in the low shoe business became essentially an overnight household name after Carrie gushed over a pair of Blahnik stilettos. Paula Correri, an editor at Tobe Report, a retail consultancy, admitted that the brand's success skyrocketed due to the show. Her direct quote was that prices keep rising but, quote, "women will starve themselves to score a pair of his shoes." Yikes.

Ultimately, the idea that women are going to be tempted into buying incredibly expensive fashion and accessories in order to project a lifestyle that they may not be able to afford didn't start and won't end with Sex and the City. But the extent to which Sex and the City made it ubiquitous and insinuated that this would be possible on a low income through the irresponsible use of credit cards, has probably done more damage to women's relationships with their own finances than basically any other pop culture touchstone. Ultimately like any other problematic media, we can consume it and enjoy it.

But the more we can do so with a critical eye, the more we can be sure not to be subtly indoctrinated by the very pernicious messages that this media And don't forget to hit the Subscribe button and to come back every Monday, Tuesday and Thursday for new and awesome videos. Goodbye.