“Hey, guys, what do we want?”
The corporate lawyer, a 31-year-old associate, was addressing her seven friends, who were lying in the sun and sipping drinks on a patio at Casa del Campo, the exclusive Dominican beach resort. “What are women buying?” she asked them. The lawyer was talking to The Observer via cell phone. Her friends-and the Caribbean breeze-were audible in the background. She described her fellow travelers: all of them women, all of them earning six-digit salaries, all of them dressed in bikinis, pareos and sunglasses, relaxing on a long midwinter weekend away from their jobs at investment banks and law firms in Manhattan.
“I want a G5!” one of the women called out, referring to the Gulfstream V jet, the grandest toy of them all. The others laughed.
Then the women started calling out things they really want-things they can actually afford, things they like, things they need . “Massages!” “Vacations! “Apartments!” “Fendi bags!”
In short, they wanted what they were getting at Casa del Campo. They had massages scheduled at 6 p.m., then cocktails and a night of dancing, followed by a day of pampering and golf.
Nine years out of college, and almost that many years into the unprecedented economic boom, these eight women have hit their stride. These are women in their late 20’s and early 30’s, big earners in the traditionally male corporate world, just another crop of young, well-compensated professionals on their way to getting rich in Manhattan.
Like their male counterparts on Wall Street, they have been making hundreds of thousands of dollars, and now they are figuring out how to spend it. If the women who can afford Porsches and high-definition televisions aren’t splurging on such guy gadgets, then what are they doing with all that money?
“Maids, gyms, massages: You just spend more on everything,” said one equity analyst at a top firm who makes a quarter-million dollars a year. “It means no more bargain hunting. And I don’t miss bargain hunting.”
There are more women than ever in the middle ranks at the big Wall Street firms making good (if not yet great) money. “If women are in banking and they’re good at what they do, on the v.p. level in corporate finance, they should be at minimum making half a million dollars,” said one executive headhunter. “Last year, the business school class of ’91 made between $700,000 and $950,000. So this year they’re probably making a million.”
Crédit Suisse First Boston, for example, recently promoted a new crop of managing directors. A 30ish vice president at First Boston who earns about $1 million said that out of 590 total directors, 20 are women. “They’ll probably make between 1 and 2 million dollars,” she said, “and they’re in their late 30’s and 40’s.”
So The Observer called around in an attempt to find out what these women are blowing their bonuses on.
“At bonus time, you don’t see women running out and buying Porsches,” said the First Boston vice president. “Women go out and buy furs and diamond earrings. It’s no less conspicuous.”
Our headhunter bought a shearling coat on a recent trip to Paris: “It’s blue with silver lining. It was massively on sale-$3,000,” she said.
One 26-year-old senior financial analyst at a top Wall Street investment bank who earns about $150,000 a year gets a $110 massage at the TriBeCa spa Millefleurs at least once or twice a month, as well as facials every three weeks and manicures weekly. Basically, she spends on upkeep what some of her male counterparts might spend on ill-fated trips to the Mohegan Sun.
Then there are all the rudimentary accessories one must buy before embarking on some real idiosyncratic spending. “I have a Gucci wallet, I have a Prada belt. I have everything that everyone else has,” said a magazine marketing director who earns between $100,000 and $200,000 a year.
“I just bought a leather Kate Spade bag,” said one 30-year-old, a director in the leveraged finance department of a commercial bank. She said she earns in the low six figures. “It was originally $560, but I got it for $214. I spend really wisely. I bought a pair of Prada loafers for 50 bucks at the outlet this weekend. I will only buy on sale except for basic items that never go on sale, like basic Gucci loafers. I own four pairs in brown and black, cloth and leather.”
But what happens once you are fully stocked with the essentials? “My first year, I already got the Prada bag and the Gucci bag,” said a 30-year-old investment banking associate at a top Wall Street firm (annual pay: between $300,000 and $400,000). So what’s next? This year with her bonus, she bought a Cartier Tank watch for $1,800. “Apparently it’s a hot item because I had to wait an extra two weeks for it at Saks.”
The Cartier watch is also at the top of the 26-year-old financial analyst’s wish list, which she keeps on her Palm Pilot, under the heading “Gift List.” After the watch comes the leather J.P. Tods bag (which may be the most coveted accessory of this bonus season), the Hermès Kelly bag, the new 8860 Nokia cell phone, a three-quarter-length camel coat and a camel-colored cashmere twin set.
The analyst speculated that her chances of getting all this are pretty good. “My birthday’s coming up, so I can ask my sister for the twin set,” she said slowly. She was thinking aloud. “I’m on the waiting list for the Kelly bag. I might get the J.P. Tods bag from [my boyfriend] for my birthday. Then maybe when I get my bonus I might get my Tank watch.”
But among the women The Observer spoke to, the No. 1 thing they like to spend their money on is the future. That is, they don’t spend it. They save it.
“I know exactly what I do,” the First Boston vice president said when asked how she spent her million-dollar salary. “I distribute it amongst four-I just took on a fifth-money managers: Merrill Lynch, Investco, Rittenhouse. Some are global value funds, some have a domestic profile.” She said she invests 50 percent of her total income.
The mergers-and-acquisitions banker has a weakness for limited liability partnerships. She owns two homes, a Park Avenue apartment and a Dutchess County house, and more French antiques than she needs. But what she can’t get enough of is L.L.P.’s. But isn’t there some other indulgence? “Other limited liability partnerships, other investments,” she said. “I would never wear a fur coat. And diamonds are a commodity, so you would never see me at Harry Winston. I would never go someplace that sells a commodity at brand-name prices.”
A first-year associate at the law firm Davis, Polk & Wardwell, who earns $125,000 before bonus, invests $1,000 a month in mutual funds; the 26-year-old analyst invests about $15,000 a year in stocks; the magazine marketing director invests almost $20,000 annually in mutual funds.
But guess what? Even after salting the money away, there is still some to spare. And that money often gets invested in the most important asset of them all: herself. Herself works hard, stresses often, has money but little time. So she has no problem justifying quick jaunts to the Caribbean.
“This summer I’m planning a vacation,” said the law firm associate, “I’m going to the Bahamas. But I’m still not going to Belize or the Virgin Islands, which I know are pricier.”
The magazine marketing director spends about $4,000 or $5,000 on two vacations a year. “Last year, I was in Key West, where I stayed in this beautiful, beautiful place. I was by myself, and I indulged myself. It was like $500 a night, which for me was not cheap. I was really stressed, and I felt like I deserved it. I was the youngest person there. I clearly didn’t belong there, but I like nice places.”
Another woman, a 31-year-old vice president at a top investment bank who makes $225,000 per year, was leaving for Barbados in a few days: “I go down at least once a year, and this time we’re staying in a resort. Comfort is a very big deal to me. My work schedule is very hectic right now. It’s costing me about $800 a day, which I think is pretty excessive, but I think I’m worth it for a week.”
“The car thing as well,” she added, referring to the $42,000 Land Rover she just bought. “I don’t really drive it that much. Just on weekends. But when I travel somewhere, I like to be comfortable.”
She’s not home much, either, so she wants home to be comfortable, too. Comfortable means having designer furniture and art on the walls. “I’m looking in SoHo, at some galleries there,” she said. “If I see something and I like it, I’ll buy it. It’s just whatever catches my eye. Right now, my focus is just on some paintings, one big piece, maybe a piece of tapestry-I’ll know it when I see it. I’m thinking $25,000 tops. But if it’s a little more than that, and I like it, I’ll buy it.”
But that’s only when she has the time to go shopping. The problem with making a lot of money is that usually you have to work for it. “I am a shopper,” said the money management firm partner, “and I don’t even have time to go to Bloomingdale’s to buy new eye makeup.”