$5,000 a month for a column: Could Carrie afford her life of luxury in ‘Sex and the City’?

Candace Bushnell, author of the book the TV show is based on, has spoken about how much she earned in the 1990s. While a lot compared to today’s rates, it’s not clear whether it would have been enough for designer shoes and Cosmopolitans

Carrie Bradshaw, the character played by Sarah Jessica Parker in 'Sex and the City'
Carrie Bradshaw, the character played by Sarah Jessica Parker in 'Sex and the City'

“I’ve spent $40,000 [€35,000] on shoes and I have no place to live? I will literally be the old woman who lived in her shoes!” This statement by Sex and the City character Carrie Bradshaw is just one of many that highlight her opulent lifestyle. These types of phrases have led to an ongoing debate about whether Carrie could really afford to live as she does in the TV show. Her expenses go beyond her enviable collection of Manolo Blahnik designer shoes. In the show, she also lives in an apartment in Greenwich Village with a walk-in wardrobe, she always eats out, she drinks Cosmopolitans as if they were glasses of water and she almost always catches a taxi home.

In a recent interview with The New Yorker, the author of Sex and the City, the book the show is based on, shed light on what columnists and writers earned in that period. “In the 1990s, for me – it was a real time for media. I worked for Vogue, writing the People Are Talking About column, and got paid $5,000 [€4,440] a month. The Observer paid less, but I could afford that, because of Vogue. I mean, this was a time that writers were getting a Vanity Fair contract for six pieces and $250,000 [€220,000] a year. People valued writing; it wasn’t considered something everyone can do. Now, because of the computer, everyone has to do it, so we think everyone can do it.”

Given that Carrie is Bushnell’s alter ego, it can be assumed that Carrie was earning the same amount as her creator. But while Bushnell was making an astronomical amount compared to today’s writing rates, it would still have been difficult for the character, who is played by actress Sarah Jessica Parker, to maintain her life of luxury.

According to Buzzfeed journalist Jame Jackson, Carrie Bradshaw would have accumulated more than one million dollars in debt to keep up the kind of life she has in the six-series show. Even though the articles estimate that Carrie made $4,000 a month, instead of $5,000 as revealed by Bushnell, if we subtract taxes, rent – which would have been around $2,000 a month at the time –, $400 a month for cocktails, another $300 for shoes and $30 for taxis (to name just some of the expenses), it would have been difficult for her to make ends meet.

Bushnell herself admitted in The New Yorker interview that she struggled at times to get by in a city as expensive as New York. What she earned would only be enough to live off for a few months until she sold her next article. Sometimes she had to borrow money or move into a friend’s place, where she lived rent-free in exchange for answering the phone or working as a secretary.

Bushnell’s statements about what she earned in the 1990s also quickly triggered debate about the drastic fall in writing rates. “Twenty years ago, the rate was $3/word. Others made more, but not many made less. Today? Other than The New Yorker, I can’t remember the last time I made $1/word,” writer and comedian Bill Scheft, who has worked as a writer on the David Letterman show, wrote in a message on Twitter.

While most TV characters appear to live above their means (with the exception of Succession’s Shiv Roy), it’s Carrie’s finances that continue to spark interest. Bushnell herself even waded into the debate. While she admitted to The New Yorker that she struggled, she told Vanity Fair in 2018 that she did not think Carrie would have faced the same problems, at least not when it came to rent. “Twenty years ago, rent was between $2,000 and $3,000 a month, and Carrie was definitely making around $60,000 or $70,000 a year, so she could have afforded it comfortably. It was a small apartment and it most probably didn’t have an elevator or a doorman. I have friends who lived in this type of apartment in those years, and they paid $2,000 a month, or even less.” Another question is whether she could afford the designer clothes and shoes inside the apartment.

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