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How a Couple With Very Different Salaries Shops

Bee, 31, and Jeff, 30, have to work around space constraints in their small Brooklyn apartment.

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Welcome to Racked’s How Do You Shop? series, in which we ask a variety of people some deeply personal questions about how they earn, save, and especially spend their money. If you know or are someone with an interesting relationship to $$$, email alanna@racked.com.

This week, we spoke with Bee, a 31-year-old graphic designer making $82,000, and Jeff, a 30-year-old PhD-turned-med-school student making $25,000. The couple lives in Brooklyn.


How much do you spend on rent?

Jeff: $800 a person. It’s going to increase to $1,000 a person.

How much do you put toward your savings each month?

Bee: If I have too much money in my checking account, then I slide some of it to my savings. I usually try to keep a couple thousand dollars in the checking account for rent checks or whatever I’m randomly spending, and then if it goes above two grand, I try to move a minimum of $500 at a time. So that’s my weird, non-mathematical window.

Jeff: I have $4,000 in an emergency fund, but other than that, I can’t really contribute to any sort of savings because I have so much student debt. So I just keep some money for when Bee kicks me out.

How much would you say you spend on clothing per month?

Bee: Maybe hundreds if I get mad at work and online shop.

Jeff: I’m spending a little bit more money on clothes, so maybe $100 a month now because I have to get fancy clothes to be in a hospital. I can’t be wearing trash clothes.

Is this something that you budget for, or do you just shop when you feel like it?

Bee: I just shop when there’s a really good sale. It’s gotta be, like, 40% to 60% off. And I’ve been trying to buy clothes that are more useful, just because the closet space is at a minimum now. So if I buy something, I usually try and get rid of five other things to legitimize putting it in the closet.

Jeff: Yeah, definitely sale things and thrift stores and stuff.

How often do you shop?

Bee: If I do shop, it’s online, usually. Probably once a month.

Jeff: I mostly shop online. There’s this website called slickdeals.com, and it shows you, like, “Oh, you can buy 200 rolls of paper towels today for $10.” And they’ll also have sales for clothes and stuff like that. So I just check that website, and if something is on sale, then I’ll buy it, kind of regardless of whether or not I need it at that point in time.

How often do you pay full price for an item rather than buying it on sale?

Bee: Not often. Like, severely not often.

Jeff: Yeah, I would say zero percent of the time.

How long does it typically take you to make a decision to buy something?

Bee: It depends on how much I need it and how frustrated I am at work. If I really, truly need something, I’ll do the research and probably end up paying full price for it. My tolerance for decision-making is low, so I'm just like, “Alright, let’s just do it and get it over with.”

Has shopping ever gotten you into debt?

Bee: No. I have no debt.

Jeff: No.

Is there anything in your life that makes you feel pressured to shop?

Bee: No. Mostly just the stress at the office. When I first started my job, I was like, “I have to buy real pants!” And then I bought a bunch of pants from Banana Republic. And then it turns out no one cares. So I wore jeans one day and everyone’s like, “That’s cool. You’re so creative.” I was like, “Okay.”

Jeff: When I was doing my PhD, really nobody is judging you on what you’re wearing. Most people are wearing a Fisher Scientific giveaway T-shirt and cargo shorts. And now, we have to look reasonable to be in the hospital, so I have to get a lot more fancy clothes. That’s the biggest pressure, to look reasonable.

Bee: “Look reasonable” is your goal.

What are the most expensive items of clothing or accessories that you own?

Bee: I recently bought two necklaces for 16 pounds apiece in Hackney in London. I’ll throw down on shoes, for sure. I think the shoes I have on right now were in the hundreds.

Jeff: Oh, your purse. We got that in Paris.

Bee: It was, like, $300, I think. It’s leather and it’s gonna last forever. And when I travel, usually that’s where I end up spending money on stuff, ‘cause then you’re like, "Oh, this is a thing I can’t get in New York.”

Jeff: I have a suit that we got made in Hong Kong. It was around $700. I would say that’s my most expensive thing. And I have a tuxedo that was in the $400 range.

Whats the average amount of money you typically spend on jeans?

Bee: Well, Levi’s has really good sales, so... $30? If they fit really well, I’d probably spend under $100. Jeans last for so long that I haven’t bought a new pair of jeans in a couple years.

Jeff: I buy those Levi’s commuter jeans because the crotch doesn’t wear out super fast. When those are on sale, they’ll be, like, $50. When I was in school in the UK, I only biked. You had to bike every single day, so the crotch wore out real fast.

Whats the average amount of money you typically spend on T-shirts?

Bee: Oh, too much, which is another problem. Since we travel a lot, I end up buying T-shirts wherever we go. I’ll spend $20 or $25 on a dumb T-shirt that I’ll wear three times a year.

Jeff: I mostly wear the plain-colored American Apparel T-shirts, so between $10 and $20. What I’m going to do now, I don’t know. But I’ll have to find a new source of T-shirts.

Whats the average amount of money that you would typically spend on a fancy outfit?

Bee: We just went to a wedding where I spent $60 on a Rent the Runway dress that I don’t have to worry about ever again. It was awesome. I could probably spend up to $300 on a dumb dress. But I think I’ve got enough in the closet right now, and people haven’t seen me in all of them yet, so...

Levi’s Commuter Jeans, $98

How does your approach to shopping compare to your parents or familys approach to shopping?

Bee: I’ve definitely been shaped by my mom’s approach to shopping, which means don’t buy anything over $5. For my mom, nothing’s well-made enough for the price that it is. So it’s always like, “I could make it instead for cheaper.”

My dad will treat himself. He’ll be like, “Eh. It’s worth it. Whatever.” So I’m a balance between the two. But I probably spend more money than my mom would want me to.

What about you, Jeff?

Jeff: My mom doesn’t buy too many things. Mostly just stuff for the house and the cats and whatnot. My dad’s shopping habits have gotten much stranger as he’s gotten older, ‘cause now he’s gone from wearing regular old man clothes to shopping at Hollister and shopping at Superdry and just wearing super skinny jeans.

Bee: He’s got a lot of distressed jeans.

Jeff: And I’m not exactly sure where it came from... so he’s got very strange shopping habits, and they are changing as he’s getting old. Ten years ago, I spent more than him, but now he spends more than me, I would guess, on clothes and stuff. When I was in high school, he wouldn’t take me to an Abercrombie & Fitch. He was like, “It smells bad in there, the music is loud!” And now he’s, like, dragging me into a Hollister store.

Do you have similar shopping habits as your friends or coworkers?

Bee: Not really. Just because space is such a constraint now, I generally don’t buy something unless I really, really want it or really, really have to, because there’s nowhere to put it and I don’t want to be tripping over it all the time. Some friends of mine at work would buy stuff just because it was there. But as we get older, it’s like, “Fuck it, man. I just wear the same thing every day anyway.” So all I need is the same four outfits.

Jeff: Also, I spend no money on alcohol ‘cause I hate drinking, but I spend a ton of money on pot, so I think that that’s different than my friends. But other than that, pretty similar.