A recent article in Pink Magazine called The Devil Wears Handbags cited the statistic that those with incomes over $150,000 spend three times more on luxury goods than those in households with incomes ranging from $75,000-$99,000. While it’s intuitive that people with more money would spend more and would have more disposable income for luxury items, that’s not the whole story.
When it comes to high earning single women, it seems that the more you have, the more you spend. Among my group of friends, all successful young female lawyers, shopping is huge. It seems that every time we get together, someone is wearing a new designer outfit, showing off a new Marc Jacobs bag or sporting the latest Manolo Blahniks from the resort collection (or sometimes all three).
While first year associates at major Manhattan law firms have a starting salary of $160,000 plus bonus, living in NYC and paying rent adds up too. Couple that with servicing law school debt, which can top out at $120,000, and suddenly there’s not as much left over as you might have hoped. And working soul-crushing hours as a first year associate doesn’t leave too much time to shop (one would think, but one would be wrong).
Among my friends, we have a new version of the three-martini lunch. It’s called the sample sale lunch. When I first moved to New York, I was introduced to the sample sale phenomenon, where top designers announce a limited-time sale of all of their runway samples, one-of-a-kind prototypes and surplus stock from last season. Top shoppers and fashionistas in the know read blogs like Daily Candy, TopButton and receive special emails letting them know when and where the sales are being held. Then, we sneakily run out the door at lunchtime and head over to the sale location, usually in a non-descript warehouse in midtown. We then join a hoard of underfed, over-caffeinated women standing in a block-long line outside. We busily check our blackberries in line to make sure we are not needed back at the office for at least an hour.
Once inside, it’s pandemonium. Tiny vulture-like hands are grabbing the best items off the rack and hoarding them. There are no dressing rooms, or huge common dressing rooms with long lines, where once again the vulture ladies will literally steal the clothes right off your back (if they happen to be the last hot pink Diane Von Furstenberg wrap dress in a size zero, that is). Sometimes, we are in such a hurry, we don’t even try on our purchases, just eyeball them, snatch them, and furtively take them up to the front of the line, where we pay cash and have them stuffed in non-identifying trash bags. Then we hop a cab and haul it back to the office, sweating and breathing hard. Thousands of dollars go by this way.
Don’t even get me started on internet shopping. For that, I don’t even need to leave my desk to get instant gratification.
But is all this shopping healthy? Sometimes, I get back from a sample sale, with Botkier bags in three colors, and think, “Whoah, maybe I overdid it.” But at the time, I got such an adrenaline rush and was just swept away in the moment. And its never hard to find uses for beautiful clothes or give them as gifts.
But, I have to remind myself that someone with a six figure income should not be living pay-check to pay-check. If I want to fulfill my goal of buying a condo, shopping like this is not going to get me there. Is this the behavior of a shopaholic?
In a recent WebMD article, Donald Black, MD, professor of psychiatry at the University of Iowa College of Medicine discussed shopping addiction. “Compulsive shopping and spending are defined as inappropriate, excessive, and out of control,” he explained. “Like other addictions, it basically has to do with impulsiveness and lack of control over one’s impulses. In America, shopping is embedded in our culture; so often, the impulsiveness comes out as excessive shopping.”
Among high-income young women, this compulsive shopping seems to be filling a void in life. When you work for 80 or even 100 hours a week, hobbies, friends and dating sometimes fall by the wayside. In this environment of hard work and social sacrifice, sometimes you need tangible proof that what you are working so hard for has its rewards. Buying a status symbol bag has the instantaneous effect of making you feel like you are “somebody,” even if you have to go back to work and get screamed at by that senior partner or MD who is always on your case.
But, like any addiction, this behavior can get out of control, and have negative consequences on your life. I know a successful woman in finance who wanted to break up with her boyfriend and move out of the apartment that they shared, but she couldn’t because she had less than $2000 in the bank and a closet full of Prada and Gucci. This gives the term “working poor” a whole new meaning.
Here are a few practical tips to curb out of control shopping:
- Set a monthly shopping budget and stick to it.
- Don’t buy on credit — write checks or use a debit card.
- Don’t shop with “bad influence” friends who can afford to spend more than you.
- Keep track of your spending by saving receipts and tallying them monthly.
- Don’t buy when you feel emotional, stressed out or under time pressure.
- Put aside money from each paycheck into your savings before you start shopping. Use direct deposit into a separate savings account if it’s available.
- Ask yourself realistic questions like – do I need this? Will I use this? And most importantly, can I really afford this?
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