How a 35-year-old mom in the US is making it all work on $600,000 a year

Two weeks ago, we introduced you to an idea we had for a new PurseBlog series: Closet Confessionals. We explained the idea in detail then (which you can read about now), but essentially, we wanted to answer the question we hear asked most frequently ny both our readers and friends: how in the world do people afford their bags?

To do that, we needed a little help for all of you, by way of an anonymous, detailed survey about income, career, budgeting and personal taste. Many of you were happy to share, and today, we’ve got the first entry in what we’re hoping will be an illuminating series on fashion and personal finance. We’d also love to hear from you about your own shopping habits in as much detail as you’d like to give, and we promise to keep you totally anonymous. The more you can tell us about your preferences and decisions, the more likely we are to use your submission! Our first installment series is a great example of what we’re hoping to hear about.

Take the Closet Confessionals Survey Now

The Basics

Age: 35
Gender Identity: Female
Location: Georgia
Occupation: Software designer
Industry: IT, and my husband works in entertainment
Income: Around $600,000. I make $110,000 to $120,000, and my husband makes $450,000 to $480,000, depending on what he’s working on. Things can vary in entertainment, but we’ve been steady at this level for the past several years. There are also residuals from previous projects.

The Bags

Are you a PurseForum member? Yes
How many bags do you own? 20
How much is your collection worth? Around $30,000
What is your most expensive bag? My Céline Luggage Tote or Céline Big Bag.
How old were you when you got your first designer bag, and what was it? I was in my mid-20s, and I got a Céline Cabas Hobo
What are the most important brands or pieces in your collection? Hmm, important. I have quite a few Célines, a few Louis Vuittons, a Goyard, a couple Fendis, some Faure le Page, a Valentino, and a few others.

The Shopping

How often do you buy new bags? Once or twice a month.
Which stores do you frequent the most? Saks in Atlanta, Céline, Hermès and Louis Vuitton.
Do you ever buy second-hand bags? Yes!
Where do you buy used? The Real Real
Do you sell old bags to pay for new purchases? Not premium designers—I’mkeeping those for my daughter. I did sell off my contemporary bags once I really got into luxury bags—Tory Burch, Kate Spade, Botkier, etc. I sold them through a friend of mine who has a high-volume Poshmark account and let her take 10% so I don’t have to deal with the hassle of eBay or consignment.
Who influences your buying decisions? Mostly I’ll see a bag or brand carried by someone else and start obsessing over it, or just go with an idea and browse. Occasionally I go to the store with a need in mind but not a preference, and at that point I’ll let a sales associate help me make a decisions. I see a lot of bags on TPF that I end up getting, but have also bought bags (the LV Saintogne, for example) and later had them show up as bags-of-the-moment on PurseBlog, which is very validating! I don’t really follow any celebrity or Instagram influencer for inspiration—maybe I’m too old!
Are sales associate relationships instrumental to your shopping? Sometimes! I have an SA at Céline who lets me know when things come in that I might be interested in, and I have an SA at Louis Vuitton in Heathrow, and communicate with the SA at Faure le Page. Most of the folks in the handbag/shoes/cosmetics department at Saks in Atlanta know me. I also have an SA at Neiman Marcus who helps me find things for events like premieres, etc.

The Money

Who pays for your bags? Me, myself, and I! I am a software designer, and my husband is in production. He makes gobs of money and is in no way a penny pincher, but has a hard time justifying me spending thousands on handbags and accessories, so a year or so ago, we split our accounts. I make around $10,000 a month, and I pay for our live-in-nanny (I know. It’s a lot more posh than it sounds. With my husband’s schedule, I am often a solo parent, so for all our sakes, we decided to opt for live-in help.) and any of my personal expenses, our personal trainer (oh god, I’m one of those people, please send help) and occasionally things like groceries, etc. Then I put a bit aside for taxes, and the rest is MINE TO SPEND.
Do you set aside a budget for your bag purchases? Not really. I have a couple of credit cards with a max spending limit of around $15,000, so if those get close to maxed, I take a break, pay them down, and then repeat. Generally I’d say I spend around $3,000 to $4,000 per month on shopping and luxury expenses (manis, pedis, massage, etc). I try to have at least $2,000 left over in my regular checking at the end of each month, and keep my credit card balances reasonable.

The Taboo Topics

Have you ever purchased a counterfeit because you couldn’t afford a designer item? First I said ABSOLUTELY NOT, then I remembered my late teens/early twenties in NYC. I lived there in the mid-aughts when the Monogram Multicolore white LV bags were all the rage, and my cousin asked me to go to Chinatown to get her a fake. I got myself a fake Prada while I was there; the logo fell off within 30 minutes of using it, and that was the end of that. I also bought my sister a fake Dior necklace off eBay around the same time. I have learned my lesson since then and actually actively discourage friends and family from purchasing fakes—a relative was recently abroad and bought some fake Hèrmes bracelets and I gave her a stern lecture. Nowadays, I would never in a MILLION YEARS consider carrying a fake. It feels disrespectful.
Do you ever hide purchases from your significant other? I did, at one point, until we decided to split the accounts. Now we operate on a need-to-know basis. He knows I shop and he has begun to recognize brands (to my dismay, ha!), but we have access to each other’s accounts so if he REALLY wants to know, he can look for himself. Splitting the accounts was a huge relief to both of us, because I was tired of feeling guilty and tired of fighting the urge to spend my well-earned money, especially when we do so well financially. I think he would probably faint if he saw an actual number, but the situation we have now seems to work out pretty well. He only gets mad when I don’t pay down credit card balances fast enough, so that’s something I have to be more careful about.
What’s the craziest thing you’ve done to afford a bag? Nothing crazy! I would say that the closest thing to crazy would be maxing out my cards a few years ago and hiding it from my husband. We’ve grown since then! Although, one time at Saks my credit cards kept getting inexplicably declined (plenty of credit, just Saks ineptitude and some unfortunate identify theft in the past that was throwing up red flags), and my mother-in-law had to pay for my Céline bag. I ended up returning it and getting a Fendi By The Way Bag anyway, and THEN!!!! I found the Céline I REALLY wanted on Gilt for like $700 off retail, so I was a happy camper.

The Rest Of It

Any other expensive hobbies or passions? Horses! Unfortunately I had an injury last year that has me temporarily unable to ride, but I’m getting back to it.

TRAVEL! I love traveling but hate flying, and I discovered a few years ago that flying first class alleviates that by about 90%. (I think much of it was claustrophobia!) This includes flying internationally, which is astronomically expensive but SO. FREAKING. WORTH IT.

Shoes, and to a lesser degree clothing. Luxury beauty products, without a double, and a personal trainer. Bi-weekly in-home massage. Oh god, I am literally the worst. (Just kidding—I love my life and I like to think I also manage to be relatively down to Earth, all things considered. Less than a decade ago, my husband and I made a combined $50,000, and now we make over $500,000, so it’s nice to have been on both sides.)

I will say that the more money you make, the more expensive your tastes get, which will probably come as no surprise to anyone. My bag journey was very predictable. Started with one luxury purchase after a lot of saving, then had years of contemporary bags, then consignment, then flash-sale sites, and now exclusively new items, though I am on the prowl for a Kelly some day and would not be opposed to pre-loved if next year’s Paris trip isn’t successful.

My collection and lifestyle are in no way the most extravagant, but I do see the signs of luxury fatigue. Not in the sense that I am tired of spending money (don’t know if that will ever happen…), but I am gravitating a bit more towards experiences vs. items. And I say that, but like two weeks ago I went to Saks and blew like $4,000 in a matter of hours, so I am probably a liar. That, and I find myself tiring of purchases quickly and moving on to the next thing, so that my collection grows but doesn’t really get much use beyond the newest items. I’d like to be able to take a step back and appreciate and evaluate what I have and consider selling a few things, especially if I know I am always going to be buying more.

Anything else?

I think for me, the desire to acquire any kind of luxury goods ignites a bit of cognitive dissonance—I know, intellectually, that this specific bag or that pair of shoes is not going to radically change my life in any way. When I start to let my desire for these things overpower the stuff in life that really matters to me (quality time with kids, husband, career fulfillment, personal creative projects), then it begins to feel hollow. If I start catching myself blowing off work to comb the internet for a good deal on X or a specific type of Y, or ignoring my kids to look at fashion blogs, it’s time for me to take a step back and reevaluate. I can’t ever let loving nice things become the most important thing in my life, which is hard to manage when you have an impulsive/compulsive personality. To really enjoy the things I splurge on, I gotta have my “house” in order, so to speak, otherwise I just feel temporarily elated, then guilty, and like an addict needing more and more. Life is too big and awesome for that! So in short I try to manage “lifestyle creep” as much as I can.

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