How Much Do You Spend On Bags?

Purses & Pumps :), originally uploaded to Flickr by nikkicookiebaker.How much do you spend on bags? After our discussion on Tuesday regarding whether a reader should spend $2100 on a bag that she was different from what she normally carried, reader E wrote in with this comment:

After reading your post yesterday regarding expensive, professional bags, I wonder who out there can afford such a bag? I am a lawyer at a big firm and live in DC. My firm pays the standard scale — I currently make $185,000 and will soon get a raise to $210,000. While I realize I may be somewhat conservative when it comes to clothes (I tend to buy designer clothes on sale or through Gilt or Ideeli), I am definitely not cheap. I would buy a $350 purse, but that is a far cry from $2100! Like most lawyers I know, I have student loans and a mortgage. However, I don’t save that much money (though I do pay extra on my loans). So my question is, who pays $2100 for a purse? Are these people who have no loans? Who have married money? Or am I just not investing enough in my wardrobe? I am interested in getting your (and other readers) opinion(s).

This is a great question, and we haven’t discussed this since the big discussion on how much people generally spend on clothes a few years ago.*  (Pictured.) I’m curious to hear what readers say here, but for my own $.02, this is how I look at it:

– The vast majority of my bags are in the $300-$600 price range.  Many were purchased for below $200, though, either at sample sales, online sales, or through flash sales (some of where I had “referral points” from recommending different flash sale sites on the blog). 

– When I bought my most expensive bag (my LV), I used money from my aunts/grandmother.  See, every holiday in my family, all the kids get money from all the aunts.  Happy Easter, here’s $50.  When I started working as a lawyer, I decided to use the cash mostly for cab money/random expenses, but to keep track in my Palm Pilot of who gave me what, and when, and save it for some “splurge” purchase.  After three or four years it added up to a lot of money… so I used it to buy the LV, guilt-free.  It always makes me smile because I think of the bag as a gift from them.

– That said: I have way too many bags.  When I was working I tried to switch purses once every few weeks or so, to keep them in rotation.  (For my current lifestyle, I almost never see the vast majority of my collection — I keep pictures of them all so I can easily remember what I have and want without having to rifle through the bags on the tippy top shelf of my closet, mostly covered in dustbags.) (Um: because I am insane, I thought I’d share some of those pictures with you below… I’m obviously not a professional photographer or Photoshopper!)  Looking back, I probably could have/should have saved up the money I was spending on various small purse purchases, and instead bought one really nice purse once a year.   Four $300 purses = One $1200 purse.  I think the majority of women who spend Big Money on one bag do so with the acknowledgement that they don’t like to switch bags and the intention to carry that single bag for two or three years.  Ultimately: do I spend a lot on bags?  Sure.  Do I spend a lot less than some of my friends do?  Yep.  Do I spend a lot more than some of my other friends do? Yep.  (Just to be totally clear: The collection below goes back as far back as law school in some cases, so this is almost 10 years of purse purchases.  When the vast majority of these were purchased, I was a single girl with a lot of extra income — I thought they were a good investment, and I liked that purses “fit” no matter what size I happened to be that morning. I purchase far less bags these days, if only because it’s harder to justify the expense with a baby.  And yes, you probably do recognize some of these from Coffee Break postings and other blog posts.)

- Update: I just remembered that Jean at Extra Petite had a great video about how she’s saved money on Chanel bags over the years by taking advantage of store-wide discounts and store credit card offers (e.g., sign up for a credit card, get 15% off all day)… so keep in mind that $2100 could quickly become less than that if you’re smart about it.

Readers, how much do you spend on bags, generally?  Whatever the price range, how often do you switch bags — and how does that affect your purchasing decisions?  If you’re spending Big Money on the bag, how do you justify it to yourself?

* Fun story: in the “how much do you generally spend on clothes” post in 2009, I listed the price ranges that I generally expect to see for clothing that I wore to work, and neglected to make clear that those were the ticket prices, not the prices I actually pay [you guys KNOW I love a good sale].  Anyway: this was 2009, so I was still anonymous as a blogger, and had a big conference/charity dinner for the day job when the post went live, so I totally missed the fact that commenters were incensed re: some of my “normal” price ranges.  A good friend, who knew my deep dark blogging secret (as well as the fact that I generally turn up my nose at anything less than a 35% sale), happened to be at the event, tracked me down, and said, YOU MUST FIX THIS NOW. So: huddling behind a big round charity dinner table, using my friend’s Blackberry, I posted the update.)

Comments

  1. Diana Barry :

    Heh. LOL re the update during the charity dinner! :)

    I usually spend about $200 on a bag, which feels like a lot to me. I get them at Cole Haan and Kate Spade outlets, and I only have about 4, since I only got into bags a couple of years ago. (Thank you, [this site]!) No idea what the ticket prices are.

    With that in mind, any recommendations for a new large bag that could hold my legal files, lunch and pump parts? (I have a Michael Michael Kors large tote now, red, works well but is looking a bit tired.)

  2. When I gradueated LAW SCHOOL and told my father I would be workeing in litiegieation, he went out to a VERY important luggage place in New York City and bought me a LIT BAG, and he had them emmboss my full name on it, so that if I were ever to loose it that I would get it back. Also, by haveing my NAME on it, it would not get confused with all of the other lawyer’s, who had similear litieigation bag’s like it, b/c it look’s the same as other’s who are goeing to court every day with case’s and breif’s. Yay!!!

    Mine is very large so I carry every thing in it, includeing my gym clothe’s and my lunch, and my purse. It does NOT really pay to carry to many things on the SUBWAY.

    My DAD NEVER told me how much he paid for the bag, but all of the guy’s come up to me to admire the bag. Unfortunately, that’s also how some doofus got my name and called my firm to see if I was interested in goieng out with him. FOOEY! I guess I have to take the good with the bad! Yay!

    • Senior Attorney :

      “Gym clothe’s.”

      That? Is pure comic gold.

    • Lawstudent :

      You being a lawyer has to be a joke….your spelling is horrendous! And your stories always involve your dad and come off as so childish…

      • Lawstudent,

        Don’t be mean to Ellen!

      • Laughing Hard :

        OMG, you are so right about that! This chick can hardly write English, and she claims that GUYS come up to her to admire her bag? REALLY? Must be uber-flaming gay guys, cause no guy I know would ever come up to any woman and admire her bag. Do they want one to go with their pink skinny jeans and canary yellow thong with hearts on it? This is pure comedy:

        “When I gradueated LAW SCHOOL and told my father I would be workeing in litiegieation”

        LMAO!

  3. I’m in big law and use one purse for two to three years. I don’t really rotate. That being said, I only spend about $300 on each one, sometimes a bit more. I can’t imagine spending $2100 on a bag I would carry for only a couple of years. I’d have to carry that thing forever – which just isn’t going to happen with a bag that gets so much wear and tear.

    • I’m with b23 (though now in-house). I use the same purse every day for as long as it looks good, and tend to spend $300-500.

      I also have a small clutch/cross body that I use for casual outings where I don’t need to carry much, a formal clutch, and an MZ Wallace bag that I like for travel. All black.

      I may be the least interesting person on this blog, but it works for me :)

    • Same here. Although I do typically switch to a different bag for summer. I don’t think I’ve ever spent more than $400 on a bag, and I view that as a lot, even though I spend pretty freely on clothes. But I wear my clothes all day, while my bag mostly sits in my desk drawer, so that makes sense to me.

  4. Nothing annoys me more than when someone refers to an insanely frivolous purchase as “an investment”. Buying a purse is NEVER an investment. It may be a worthwhile purchase, especially if you will get a lot of use out of it, but it is not an investment. Calling it that is just a way to justify spending the equivalent of a mortgage payment on something that you could easily do without.

    • Cornellian :

      I basically agree, although there may be a caveat that in some fields (banking, some BigLaw firms), an expensive, recognizable bag is an investment in your career in the same having well-tailored clothing is. It seems like for some firms it’s part of the uniform.

      • Second. I don’t know that you need an “expensive recognizable bag” but it would be weird to go to certain client /professional meetings with cheapo bags that are falling apart.

    • Not so sure about that. My LV is now worth more used than it was when I bought it years ago.

      • a passion for fashion :

        this. all of mine are worth more. in fact, the small little LV clutch like bag that was so popular years ago is now worth twice what i paid. And i agree with the above that the real “investment” is in you and your appearence. i think the word investment also really means buying a piece that will last for years — a bag or shoe or suit that is classic enough and well made such that — with good care — you will be able to use it years from now.

      • There’s a difference between the replacement value of something (which in this case just means that more women are willing too spend way too much on a bag) and what it’s worth. Unless you can sell your bag on ebay for a lot more than you paid for it, you can substitute replacement value for value.

    • My long-term boyfriend of many years bought me a $3000 purse that I pined over for the last 10 months as a combination gift for my birthday and graduation (might be a missed Christmas gift in there somewhere too). It had jumped significantly in price the first time I missed the boat on buying it and the price jumped yet again shortly after he purchased it. Investment? Perhaps not. But to us personally, it’s a good value. I love the thing and he loves that I love it. Many of the commenters mention the purses they own so I get the impression that they own several handbags. I’ve owned exactly TWO designer purses in the last decade, both purchased on Ebay long after they had been pre-loved by a previous owner and purchased at a fraction of its original cost. I value quality, design, and things that last the test of time. Almost every item of clothing I own (some of it designer) was purchased on sale at a minimum of 40-60% off. If purses aren’t really your “thing,” then of course one shouldn’t spend some exorbitant amount of money on one, but there’s nothing wrong with saving up, spending smart, and buying something indulgent, like a purse, every once in awhile.

    • I think “investment” more refers to you being able to use it longer while looking presentable (see comment on lawyers/bankers needing to look polished) than the target bag that looks cheap/will fall apart after 50 uses.

  5. I have a large leather Gucci bag that my husband gifted me a few years ago. I would never have purchased something that expensive, but I think it was over $3,000. That said, we’re both 10 year lawyers and have the money to make splurges. (I probably would have splurged on a vacation w/out our kids …) I wear the Gucci out. It’s huge and everything goes in it. Sometimes I think he wants me to be gentle with it, but it was a celebration of not having a diaper bag all the time! It was big enough to stuff a couple of diapers and wipes into.

    He also gave me a DVF Harper Connect bag (and an ipad!) last year for Christmas. I love that bag too. I think it was under $1000.

    That said, other than those 2, ALL my purses are probably under $100, maybe $200. I don’t like changing bags, either. I’ll use the DVF for 6 months, then the Gucci for 6 months. Then rotate again. I occassionally grab a cheap colored clutch for a night out. But usually not.

    I think purse prices are ridiculous. You can get a nice leather bag without a $1000+ price tag.

  6. Most of my collection ranges from $100 to $500 for the bags I use all the time. I’ll probably buy 1 or 2 bags a year, maybe a bit higher for a nice evening bag. I have 2 that were each >$2,500 – one as an MBA graduation present to myself, one as a 30th bday present to myself. both are classic and neutral (and beautiful, if I can add…) and I plan to use forever.

    I’ll switch every 2-3 days, mostly to force myself to clean out change and receipts and other junk. I live in an expensive city but really thankfully have no loans, so I feel less bad about blowing my savings goals every now and again for some french leather. Speaking of, I’ve had a ‘birkin’ savings fund since college that I keep dipping into for ‘fun’ expenses over the years, but I’ve got my eye on one for a 40th bday present.

  7. anon for this :

    I have loans, also work at a large law firm, am married, consider myself pretty well off, and a collection of $$$ handbags. I see it partially as “use per wear”: I’ve kept my bags (Bottega Veneta, Tod’s, even a Chanel and a few Hermes) for several years already and they’re still going strong. I know I’ll have my BV hobo for at least a decade, and it still looks fabulous four years after I bought it. The Tod’s is my daily workhorse (and cheapest!), and I keep the really fancy stuff (Chanel and the noticeable Hermes–I use my garden party for work sometimes) for personal time. I only get one fancy bag a year, if that, but by now I’ve got a great collection of classic pieces that will last for years and years. They’re all I buy–I don’t buy any other bags ever; rather, I save for what I really want.

  8. I tried to find an extra-special splurge bag to use as my work tote last year – my grandparents wrote a generous check for Christmas, plus I wanted to find my “bonus gift.” After looking at Prada, LV, Ferragamo, and the entire Neiman’s sales floor, I wasn’t thrilled with any of them — either they weren’t shoulder bags, weren’t big enough to carry a laptop and files, were too flashy / logo’ed or too plain, I gave up – for the equivalent of a mortgage payment, I’d better LOVE it. And frankly, I reached a mental block as I was seriously looking at the price tags – just because I could comfortably afford the bag didn’t mean I actually wanted to spend that much – after all, it was going to end up on the conference room floor next to dangerous wheely chairs running over the corners :) Fortunately, Coach’s Legacy collection saved the day for me this fall.

    Anyway, like Kat, I almost always buy on sale, meaning I have a decent sized collection of bags that were purchased for $200-300. Now that I have a good collection (a few formal bags, a few daytime bags, and a few work options, each for summer and winter), I’ve found myself totally ignoring the market altogether.

  9. Anonymous :

    The most I’ve ever spent is $400 on a Katherine Kwei tote that I use daily in Fall and Winter for work. Most of my bags are in the $18 to $150 range (but retail in the $200 – $400 range, such as Cole Haan, Kate Spade, and Coach).

  10. Three purses: (1) large tan leather tote for work ~$300 (current one is 3 yrs old, before that had one for 9 years that was the same only black); (2) medium tan leather hobo for weekends ~$160 (at least 8 yrs old — the leather just seems to age instead of getting scruffy); (3) gray satin beaded evening clutch, no idea on price b/c it was a gift from my aunt (but likely in the $30-$50 range). That’s it. No rotating. No $1,000+ bags, but the leather bags are both very high quality leather (no designer label to drive up the price).

  11. Honestly, I think the most I’ve ever spent on a bag is about $120. I’ve spent a lot of time in school – first I got a Ph.D., then a J.D. – so didn’t have the income for anything more. Even when I was working as a college professor, I didn’t carry a purse to work – I had large book-bag type things that were all about function, not fashion (same for law school); my obsession was with finding the just-right laptop case, not purse. (Also, a multi-hundreds-dollars purse/bag doesn’t usually fly in academia, at least in the corners I inhabited.) It’s only since I’ve started working 9-5 after law school that I’ve got into purses, and I haven’t had the money to buy any of the pretties yet.

    But I have started looking, and have started steeling myself at the prospect of spending more. This may change someday, but right now I can’t see bringing myself to spend more than $300. (I showed my husband a $278 Dooney & Bourke bag when we were in a Nordstrom’s recently, and he nodded approvingly. That matters, too!) Obviously if I can find the right sales $300 would get me a more expensive bag. But I also can’t see buying more than one of those a year, if that (I tend to get one neutral bag and wear it into the ground, in part because if I switch bags I lose things).

    (it might also be relevant that I’m clerking and going to a federal job after, so no biglaw salaries here.)

    • (I currently have: one black purse, one green purse – both Tignanello; an $8 bronze purse from Target I can use for fancy occasions; a black “leather” tote thing from Target for $25; and a teeny Coach shoulder bag that I got around 1989. So my collection is pretty minimal!)

    • THIS. I’ve never spent more than like $150 and don’t see myself ever spending more than about $300, regardless of future salary or financial situation.

      • What'sWrongWithYou :

        Seriously. Yes. Do not spend more than $100 on a bag. Don’t you have better things to do wtih your money? I, too, did the Phd–>JD track and am now in Europe making $35000 a year. Who buys that expensive of purses? And who CARES? Sure, your purse shouldn’t be falling apart, but I have perfectly respectable bags that cost me $25.
        America is such a consumer culture, it’s incredible. If it were consumer in activities, that’d be one thing, but in purses? Multiple ones? At more than $1000 each? And people are proud of purses at $300-$1000? WHAT?!

        • I’m sorry, I must have missed the memo saying it’s tell-people-what-they-should-and-shouldn’t-do-with-their-money day.

        • People not making $35,000 a year do.

        • Of note, I’ve met people on modest incomes who sniff at expensive bags just like you do. Except they have really nice laptops, or all the latest apple products. (really makes me laugh that “struggling” 20-somethings walk around with iphones)

          Meanwhile, my biglaw husband his laptop literally held together with scotch tape before it stopped working, and he replaced it with the cheapest functional thing he could find at bestbuy. But he has several pairs of $300 shoes that he takes excellent care of.

          It’s your money, choose your spend.

          • This reminds me of an excellent article I read a while back about how to maximise the happiness you get out of spending your money. The idea was to to:
            1. Spend nothing on things you don’t need and don’t love
            2. Find the best deal you can on things you need but don’t love
            3. Spend as much as you can on things you need and love
            4. Spend everything else on things you love.

          • Miss O. I love that.

  12. I usually buy 1 Kate Spade price-range purse every 2-3 years. My last was from a sample sale and I think it was around $150. I don’t rotate either and tend to get fairly conservative all black leather or nylon bags. I have two kids now so I just can’t justify much more. Maybe someday.

  13. Threadjack, but this morning’s post is already SO LONG! Do you give cash gifts or other gifts to your paralegal? Obviously I’ll be giving cash to my secretary. But my paralegal has hours requirements and gets a bonus. She only works for our team, but that is three lawyers. If you do give cash gifts, is it more or less than the secretary or the same? Mid size firm in mid size city.

    • karenpadi :

      Gifts for support staff (including paralegals) is a know-your-office thing. I’d ask the other lawyers on your team what they are doing. In most offices, cash gifts are preferred along with a nice card with nice messages from the lawyers.

    • As a junior/mid-level associate, I never gave gifts to the paralegals who worked in my department. However, I think that the partners and counsel usually gave them something.

  14. I think there are people, and I aspire to be one of them, who save money by buying expensive things they love. They take good care of the items and keep them for years. They don’t buy a bunch of junk that they’ll just end up purging.

    If someone who has that mentality spends $2100 on a bag she’ll carry for years, rather than needing to buy the latest Kate Spade or Cole Haan bag in the newest color(s) every season, I imagine the $2100 handbag buyer comes out ahead financially.

    • Susan (edna_mode_nyc) :

      I’m one of these aspirants. I don’t have a ton of bags– I’ve got about 5 cheap ones (mixture of stuff from Filene’s basement and Chinatown no-name bags) I bought in my first year after undergrad, when I moved to NYC for work. I took good care of them and they’re still in good shape today.

      And then, I have a $1000 leather briefcase, which I have used only 6 times in 6 years, but know I’ll have forever. And then my $600 Ghurka bag, which I bought for myself when I got a major promotion. I use this bag and one of my ancient (I’m well in my 30s now!) cheap ones every single day.

      I love looking at bags, but rarely feel tempted to buy. I think I might get myself a nice clutch or small purse when I turn 40, though. And I’d probably spend between $250-$500.

    • That is true, though it’s all relative – a lot of us are in the price range where the most we can really do is a Kate Spade/Cole Haan discounted bag we’ll carry for a few years (and I’m sure that seems really excessive to others). So while it is totally about your individual financial situation, I still get that “wow” reaction when I see the big price tags of some bags because it’s just about where I am in life.

    • I am 25 and have had a large Burberry leather tote I purchased 3 years ago for $1400ish. Other than a small longchamp ($100) and clutch ($50), it is the only bag I have used for the past 3 years. It still looks good and I can probably get another 2 years out of it at least, which will put it at an average of $1.30 per use assuming I use it every day (which is def an overestimate) but anyway my point is that I love my bag and don’t plan on buying another one for a few more years and refuse to feel guilty about it :)

    • I have decided to become that person. I spent $1000 (combined xmas money from parents boyfriend and family) on a LV, and have spent 300-400 on another couple of bags. The rest of my bags are in the under $100 range, and I did collect many of THOSE over the years. The only bags i ever want to use are the LV and the $300-400 ones. With that said, it annoys me that I have about a dozen or so $100ish bags in my closet that are ok but i never want to use. I spent $1200 total on those, never use them, and could possibly sell them on ebay for a total of $50, bc nobody wants no-named used purses. Meanwhile, the $1000 LV i use all the time, love, and if i really wanted to i could get at least 600 or more out of it.

      I decided to not buy another bag unless it was really what i wanted, even if it was not cheap. Cnsequently i haven’t bought a bag in a year and a half, and i have my eye on a couple in the $1000-1200 range. I dont need a new bag now and probably wont buy one for another year or two, but when i do, it’s going to be a nice one. I definitely am at the point where id rather buy very few items that are good quality, more expensive and that i love and appreciate….than have ten times that amount of stuff that was one tenth the cost that i dont really like all that much.

  15. des-pairing :

    Um, bags.
    -One for work, on which I spent ~$200 and plan to use for ~3 years.
    – One small clutch for fancy / formal events. It costs ~$200.
    – One small cross-body for running errands etc. It’s a second-hand Coach I got at consignment store for ~$50 and I wear that baby to the ground.
    They are all black and go with everything, so I don’t need to spend more money on more bags. I don’t need a bag collection!
    I did recently consider buying a (black) designer bag in the $500-$1000 range as a milestone gift for myself but the ladies here have steered me into the direction of jewelry instead.

  16. I think it has a lot to do with personal taste- what you’re willing to spend money on over other things. For example, my husband (the biglaw lawyer) has a growing collection of Allen Edmonds shoes ($300ish/pair, though he does shop the sales), but he’s absolutely horrified at the cost of furniture anywhere outside of Ikea. In fact, he’s not even happy with Ikea prices.

    I make a bit more than a quarter of his biglaw salary (that’s what I get for living abroad as a writer, like a hippie, while he went to law school), but have a collection of 5 brahmins and 1 kate spade bag, though some were gifted. I just can’t stand the quality of cheaper bags. I rotate them frequently (using 2-3 of them per week) and plan to buy 1-2/year. In fact, if I could drop the money on a Ferragamo or LV, I would. To sustain my expensive habits while accomodating my less-than-stellar salary, building my savings, and paying my loans, I just cut costs elsewhere.

    It’s a choose your battle (expensive habit) kind of thing.

    • Totally agree. My husband winces at spending more than $30 on any one piece of ordinary clothing, but will drop $150 on a running jacket and $100 or more on tights. But he will also buy one running jacket and use it until it falls apart (which is a long time, when he buys good quality). I can’t bear to spend more on workout gear than Target charges, but probably have more changes of workout clothing than he does. As long as the parties in question can afford what they like, it’s all good.

    • I was trying to say something similar in my comment below, but I think you said it better. Totally agree. We all have our things. My SO will only buy jeans on sale at the Gap($40 or less) but he only like Brooks Brothers suits. I have another friend who has probably purchased half of whatever Anthropologie has ever sold but she considers J Crew too expensive. We all have our value judgments. I would spend $500 on a bag on sale but consider a bag that is $300 full price too expensive. There is no right or wrong. And no one should feel like they need to spend a specific amount on a purse or on anything else. Buy what makes sense to you.

  17. LadyEnginerd :

    Paging Magnolia!

    This might be too little too late (just saw your comment from Tuesday’s bag thread) but… I love love love my Tom Bihn Western Flyer. It might be too big for everyday commuting (no compression straps to help it size down), but if I pack smart using the packing cubes, I can fit a laptop, some files, and a week’s worth of casual outfits in there. It comfortably fits underneath airline seats side by side with my purse. I don’t know how much stuff you haul around every day, but there’d be a lot of extra room in there if I used it to commute to work.

  18. Never more than $200 but usually they are between $200-$400 when they go on sale. I only replace my purse every season. Once one of the four in rotation dies, I buy a new one. I have about 30 little clutches and small purses all ranging from $5-$75. Those are for evening events or weddings or dates. I don’t think I could spend more than $500 now. My salary is $50K-$75K range and I have $200K in student loans though so not likely.

  19. I am married, still have boatloads of student loan debt, no kids (yet). All of my bags are sub-$500, and I probably buy 1 new bag every 1-2 years. I’m trying to be more judicious in my purchases, so I’ll buy things to fill specific needs (i.e., I “needed” a brown bag because I didn’t have one). I would love a classic Chanel purse one day, but that might be a long time off. Right now it’s a bigger priority to me that I build my emergency fund and pay down debt.

  20. Sorry for the TJ but I need some holiday gift basket ideas. I work for a small start-up and we wanted to gift one of our partners a gift basket with chocolates/sweets for around $250. There are so many options online and I want to make sure we choose a high quality store with nice products. Any ideas would be appreciated. Thanks!

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