Take the Vogue Challenge: Could You Live on $92,000 a Year?

If you’re anything like me, you’ve wondered this as you flip through magazines and encounter the $500 “investment” pants and the $175 “bargain” belt: Who is buying this stuff, and why don’t I do what they do for a living?

Vogue may models

The May issue of Vogue sheds some light on the matter, introducing us Target-shopping types to the suffering that occurs when women who've invested in trousers lose their source of income. In “On the Market,” fashion writer Lynn Yaeger details her financial troubles after being laid off from job at the Village Voice—“troubles,” of course, being a relative term. See, after numerous calculations, Yaeger decides that she requires a minimum of $92,000 a year to maintain her rent, utilities, and Wolford hosiery collection.

Okay, Yaeger has a mortgage in New York City, which could easily run several thousand dollars a month, but excuse me if I can’t quite empathize with someone for whom that kind of cash is a bare minimum. Vogue certainly knows its audience: Why bother with the stories of families struggling to eat when you can reveal how the
upper crust might have to cut back on the Bergdorf's shopping benders? The essay includes so little focus on expenses like housing and insurance and so much attention to items sold at Henri Bendel that only two conclusions can be gleaned: The Village Voice must have paid Yaeger in wheelbarrows full of cash, and maybe Comme des Garcons skirts really are essentials.

So, could you scrape by on 92K? I’ve devised this quiz to help you decide.

1. If dozens of employees at your company were being let go in the weeks before your layoff, what would you be likely to purchase?

A. Nothing unnecessary. I’m saving!

B. “A Victorian diamond-and-sapphire snake ring…just because I liked it, just because I wanted it.”

2. Oh no! The axe fell. Now that you’re unemployed, you need some quick cash. Check your closet—are there any garments with tags still attached that you can return?

A. Yeah, but…is it worth braving the crowds at H&M for a refund on a $24.90 cotton skirt?

B. “Back went the Lanvin bag…the tulle Comme des Garcons skirt that looked like a benign black mushroom cloud, recently acquired at Saks, had already been worn once, so that was a reluctant keeper.”

3. The biggest obstacle to getting by on just savings, severance, and unemployment benefits is:

A. Giving up Starbucks and lunches out

B. “I am the consummate compulsive shopper.”

4. You schedule a consultation with a financial planner. After considering your fixed expenses, the planner gives you a daily pocket-cash allowance of:

A. Enough to buy dinner off the Taco Bell value menu

B. $50

5. On this strict budget, the item you’re most concerned about purchasing is:

A. Health insurance

B. Rene Furterer Okara shampoo, T. LeClerc face powder, Wolford tights, and tickets to South Pacific on Broadway

6. You decide to freelance to supplement your income, but you need a printer/copier. You find one for $99. That sum is:

A. A lot of money now that you’re out of work, but a worthwhile investment

B. “Far less than the cheapest Marc Jacobs T-shirt” (And anyway, you simply require it: “The prospect of having to wait in line with other unemployed people at the local copy shop…had filled me with horror.”)

7. After a few months of unemployment, your perspective on money changes. You realize this when:

A. You discover in the worst possible way that the least expensive bath tissue really isn’t the same as the national brand.

B. You meet with a friend and “neither of us could believe that only a few months ago we thought $900 was a typical price for a sweater.”

8. Good news! You’ve landed some freelance work. You treat yourself to:

A. Name-brand toothpaste and a pedicure at the neighborhood salon (skip the callus removal treatment!)

B. “I found myself looking at the Web site of…the dealer who sold me the snake ring, and gazing weakly at it. I was terrified that one day the ring would be marked SOLD and slip out of my life forever.”

9. Even though you’re now financially stable, you’ve had to work out a payment plan with:

A. Your student loan financier and the electric company

B. Your antique jewelry dealer

10. Now that you’re back on your feet, you decide it’s time to plan for the future. You:

A. Open a high-yield savings account and max out your retirement contributions

B. Admire your jewelry! “And if I’m wrong, well, a diamond-and-sapphire cobra will always be worth something—which is more than you can say for a 401(k).”

If you’ve chosen mostly Bs, then you’ve opted to invest mostly in your appearance. And isn’t that what matters? You’re wearing an antique ring shaped like a cobra! (As for the actual Yaeger, talk about cognitive dissonance. How can she write both this Vogue essay and an article noting that $49.90 dresses
are “not the cheapest things in the world”? Different readership, I guess.)

If you’ve selected mostly As, you’ve chosen money in the bank over money on
your back. Priorities, people! Invest in yourself! Does solvency really feel
better than the flawless fit of designer pants? It’s a choice every woman has
to make, but I think we all know where Vogue
stands on the matter.

30 thoughts on “Take the Vogue Challenge: Could You Live on $92,000 a Year?

  1. I assume the cobra ring is cursed by an evil wizard and it’s only a matter of time before Lynn Yaeger is transformed into a snake.

    I mean, who else makes *cobra rings* except for evil wizards?

  2. I am SO GLAD you picked this apart- I was waiting for it. I read this article and wanted to vomit. How the hell is this woman for real? I would love to see her live as I do for a week- in a room I rent by the week, subsisting mostly on things I cook in a hot pot, and considering things like $20 jeans a splurge. Hello, Salvation Army? Yeah. Reality check, woman. She seriously needs to fall off that cloud she’s on. $50 a day? Woman, I’m lucky if I have an extra $50 a WEEK!

  3. Instead of spending so much money on designer garments and then writing about them, Vogue writers should just pose on the cover with cardboard signs around their necks saying “HI, WE’RE RICH!” It would have the same effect.

  4. I blame part of this current economic “strife” on Carrie Bradshaw and her weekly indulgences, maxing out her credit card with no remorse and convincing millions of female viewers that the only way to really snag a man is by wearing $500 shoes that still make you want to chop your feet off by the end of the night.

  5. As a PhD student, my stipend is $16,000/year. My parents help me out but I make do mostly on that income. I nearly choked on my coffee when I read the headline of this article. S.

  6. But Yeager wasn’t making that kind of money at the Voice! Who does she think she’s kidding?

    I think she’s a renter, no mortgage.

  7. That article infuriated me. I found it telling that she never really divulged her credit card debt but instead tried to paint a sunny picture by mentioning that her apartment was worth much more than she paid for it.

    On top of everything, her “style” looks like an exploded garbage can.

    I know too many people who are suffering and unemployed to wish that on anyone but she sure does have it coming.

  8. Ahh the things I could do with 92,000 a year:

    -pay off my student loan debt
    -Given 9,200 to charities
    -have a down payment for a first home
    -max out my HSA

    One can dream right?

  9. Yeah, it is kind of obnoxious to think about, especially in this economic climate. But to be fair, it sounds like that is what her average expenditures are, NOT what she is currently living on. I have not read the article, so I don’t know.

    But it is also a location issue. I live in Los Angeles, one of the most expensive cities in the country. Between mortgage/rent, car maintenance, gas (there is no public transpo here), utilities (they recently upped charges for electricity and water), increased sales tax (9.25%), and simply the cost of food… 92k doesn’t go quite as far as it sounds. You can barely put a down payment on a house for 92k here (easier in the current economy, but impossible 3 years ago)

    Not trying to defend her at all (again, haven’t read the article). But she’s not 100% bitchy. just 75%

  10. I’ve been broke for as long as I can remember, so $92,000 per year sounds like a small fortune. I imagine that if I’d been living a luxe lifestyle for my whole life, however, and worked a job that required me to dress in this way and had nothing but friends who lived this way that a drastic reduction in my budget would be entirely shocking.

    Just because my annual budget is less than half of this doesn’t mean I’m better.

  11. The problem isn’t the amount (although $92,000 is obviously sufficient to live on) but perspective. Most people who’ve lost their jobs recently aren’t worried about maintaining their designer wardrobes. Addressing the recession by publishing an article about a woman who was never in danger of losing anything is just an insult to everyone else who has lost a job…or a home, a car, or a solid credit rating. This isn’t even journalism. It’s just whining.

  12. I’m going to have to defend Lynn and before you all tell me how effed up that is, finish reading what I’m writing!!

    Ms. Yeager’s writing on fashion at the Village Voice had a consistently frugal yet fabulous tone. She had a sense of humor about herself and often wrote from the perspective of a fashion outsider who wasn’t rich enough or interested enough to fully participate in NYC’s fashionista crowd.

    I’m guessing that she is in her mid to late 50′s. She was laid off a while ago. I get the feeling that she was accommodating Vogue’s audience in order to sell this piece. Grown folks need to eat too!!!

    That being said, I agree that $92,000/year is a ton of money. I get the feeling that she was making fun of herself and Vogue’s audience by whining that that’s what she needs to get by. I’ve never made that kind of money (not even half that) and I can almost guarantee that Lynn was not paid that much at the Voice. She consistently wrote about ridiculous pricing and how she’d buy knock-offs from Forever 21 if she could fit into their ridiculously teeny clothes.

    I don’t know. She seemed like a down to earth smart funny lady at the Voice. It breaks my heart to think that she’s become snobbish, and uber materialistic and that the humor and humanity I liked so much about her was just a front!!


  13. This is odd to me. Like the commenter before me I used to read Lynn Yeager in the Village Voice. In fact, I looked forward to it. Not only did she write about frugal fashion but also about working class life and left politics. I appreciated how she was able to blend those elements for some very insightful pieces.

    I’m not criticizing her life choices or her knowing what it takes to finance them. I have not read the article yet (I will if I can find an empty table in the Barnes & Noble cafe this weekend), but it would be a shame if she put all that aside to write as if living on $92,000 is a sacrifice. I have faith that she didn’t lobotomize herself before deciding to write for the Vogue audience.

    Then again, times are tough and we do what we think we must.

  14. OMG about the toilet paper – sooo true. I will spend 5$ more just to get the Charmin… even if that means no morning coffee for 2 days!

  15. OMG about the toilet paper – sooo true. I will spend 5$ more just to get the Charmin… even if that means no morning coffee for 2 days!

  16. I agree with the commenters who wondered what happened to the Yaeger who wrote for the Voice. When she still worked there, that was the first thing I’d check on their website every week — she was always scouring the flea markets or the sale racks and turning up intriguing stuff. Is she channeling Anna Wintour now?

  17. Not sure if this is a similar situation but I used to be the editor of a small women’s interest magazine in Australia. The money was solid, not spectacular, but my boyfriend and I lived extremely well because the discounts and freebies (dinners, trips away, parties, clothes, beauty products) were so great. We calculated that we’d have needed an extra $80,000 at least to maintain that lifestyle if we were actually paying for it. Maybe this is how Lynn has done her sums? The point is, editorial positions often come with perks your wages could never buy, and if you lose that position you just have to face reality and stop shopping!

  18. I’ve made a living as a free lance writer going on 11 years now. With emphasis on “living.” So come on, someone, please, cough it up: Where in the heck fire are all these high paying writing jobs that allow me to bounce around in Manolos all day?

  19. WOW, this reminds me of GOOP! Is Yaeger’s article supposed to be ironic… or not? And which possibility is funnier? My husband and I, together, live on less than 1/3 of that income. It requires a little creativity, but we have a great life. I have a friend whose husband built her a mannequin cast from her body, and she flips through Vogue and recreates the designer clothes from ads on her sewing machine–custom tailored. It’s not difficult to be glamorous and trendy and stylish on a low budget… and this article makes me thankful that I’ve never experienced a lifestyle that taught me to count my life’s value in price tags and brand logos. I feel fulfilled and happy at 30% of this woman’s survival minimum. What a deal!

  20. Oh what a life that would be. I am a student and as of right now I am in debt approx. $80,000…and that’s not including the money I borrowed from my parents throughout my years in school. So, um, yes I believe I could scrape by with $92,000 a year.

  21. $92K is a lot of money (twice the median household income) but if you’re paying housing costs in New York, L.A., or San Francisco, it is not enough money to sustain the lifestyle described in that article. She must be living on $92K and big credit card bills. Or maybe it’s $92K after taxes.

  22. Hello! I’m assuming you’re on summer hiatus, but I thought I’d post a link to this cool “art action” that a friend sent me a link to. It seems to do a great job of counteracting women’s magazines in their drive to send messages of inadequacy and self-loathing to women and girls: http://www.bjtwya.com/

  23. Pingback: The Seventh Annual Vogue Liveblog – Glossed Over

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