I’ve written before about how TV shows impacted the way we viewed money growing up – and how they probably contributed to the severity of the shattering realisation that you can’t live in a cosy two bedroom apartment in the middle of a great city and work as a waitress. I’m looking at you, Rachel Greene. But this time I thought I’d dig into some actual characters and unpack their spending habits. Despite television writers’ impeccable ability to gloss over the financial viability of any of the lifestyles they portray, we do get some small glimpses into what goes on in the bank accounts of our favourite characters.
Carrie Bradshaw, Sex and the City
Of course I had to lead with everyone’s favourite nightmare, Carrie Bradshaw. The inconsistencies of Carrie’s designer lifestyle have been questioned for years, though the show’s writers have admitted that it was one of the biggest issues they had with the character. Carrie lived in her own apartment with the quintessential New York steps, and flounced around town wearing Jimmy Choos and Oscar de la Renta dresses, yet was only ever seen writing one column a week for a newspaper. Go figure.
This likely contributed to our wild dreams of a cosmopolitan lifestyle, indulging in anything we wanted and living the ultimate cool girl lifestyle without ever worrying about how we’d fund it. It also sold us the lie that you actually get any damn time to explore the city you’re living in – when in reality your 9-5 is 8-6 and your stinky public transport commute shits on the very last of any desire you have to go exploring the Guggenheim by night.
What we did learn from Carrie, at least, is that spending all your money on clothes and shoes does mean you can’t afford to buy property. Finally, some reality. Though sadly most of us aren’t afforded not one but two high flying friends willing to offer us the down payment – and let’s not forget the hunky cheque from hunky Mr Big that was also on the table.
Chandler Bing, Friends
Ah, the Chan Chan Man. The one we all secretly fancied while pretending Joey was the hottest. No? Just me? In season 7, we see the lovable yet damaged funnyman reveal to fiancé Monica that he actually does have some savings – shock horror and gasp. Someone has savings. Likely stacked up from his corporate job doing data reconfiguration and statistical factoring (if you know you know), we don’t ever find out how much it is, but Monica immediately starts squealing about splurging the whole lot on her dream wedding.
What we subconsciously pick up on as young impressionable viewers, is that having savings is absolutely shocking and totally rare. Nobody expected him to have savings, and it didn’t seem like anyone else did, either. The conflict that arises between Chandler and Monica upon the discovery of the money further contributes to our negative perception of money. The money causes the issue in the relationship.
Lily Aldrin, How I Met Your Mother
Money wasn’t often mentioned in How I Met Your Mother, until Marshall and Lily try to buy a property. Marshall is rightly concerned whether his student loans from his law degree would impact their borrowing capacity, but it transpires that Lily has secretly been sitting on stacks of credit card debt that Marshall never knew about.
While the problem isn’t ever really followed through later in the series, what we’re absorbing from the situation is that debt is shameful. Lily’s debt came from a shoe addiction that her Kindergarten teacher salary couldn’t sustain on its own, which plants the seed in our minds that all debt comes from frivolous and unnecessary spending, and never from genuine need, hardship or necessity.
Miranda Hobbes, Sex and the City
Weeeee! Three fist pumps for our favourite sarcasm champ, Miranda, who we see purchasing her own apartment on the Upper West Side with her likely tasty salary from her job as a lawyer. While Miranda is often portrayed as the financially savvy one of the group, including her mention that she invests in shares, what we’re also left chewing on is how hard she has to work to earn that money. Her life is made a living hell at her law firm on a number of occasions, including going straight back to work after her mother died.
This paints the picture in our naive little minds that earning good money has to mean working in toxic environments and pulling all nighters to the point we drive away loving partners (I got your back, Steve) as a result. We see Miranda having to choose between a happy home life and a well paying job, which leaves us assuming that financial confidence of that kind becomes a trade off. Unfortunately in many cases it does, but it’s interesting how it’s portrayed in the show.
Penny, The Big Bang Theory
Irritatingly for my title, Penny’s last name is never revealed in the show, and the writers confirm she was deliberately not assigned one. Throughout the series we see Penny flexing her fairly negative relationship with money while working at the Cheesecake Factory, while she declares that when she’s stressed out she buys a cute top or a cute skirt. When questioned by Sheldon whether she realises that she’s still the same stressed person but in a cuter skirt, she replies “that’s when I buy shoes.”
While it’s a cute quirk of her character, Penny’s flippant approach to spending normalises women spending on clothing to feel better about themselves (as do many shows), which leaves us feeling like this is a viable way of coping with life’s ups and downs.
Jerry Seinfeld, Seinfeld
Like many US sitcoms of our time, money was seldom spoken about in Seinfeld, despite the characters comfortable roommate-free lives in New York and a handful of periods of unemployment between them. What we do know, though, is that Jerry has money. His neat freak personality and considered approach to most things in life make his financial situation one to be admired, in many ways.
In season two, we see Jerry debating over an expensive suede jacket, which he ends up purchasing. The inspo we can take from Jerry’s spending habits in this scenario is that he makes a considered purchase of a luxury jacket, and takes to wearing it everywhere in place of what seems to be his only other jacket. However, the secrecy around money in the series could tarnish our financial perceptions, because once again, having money is seen as rare, elusive and something to be hidden. This is portrayed in both Jerry and Kramer’s characters, whose financial situations we know very little about throughout the entire narrative.