Money

15 years later, 'Sex and the City' writer defends Carrie's controversial money choices

The notorious "Ring a Ding Ding" episode from Season 4 of HBO's blockbuster series "Sex and the City," in which Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker) must buy or lose her Manhattan apartment, aired 15 years ago in 2002, but the lessons it teaches about money are as relevant as ever.

The episode features Carrie at her most irresponsible as she deals with the fallout from her break up with her ex-fiancee Aidan, who is now her landlord. He presents her with the choice to either buy her co-op back from him or vacate in 30 days.

After she realizes how little she could get elsewhere in Manhattan for what she was spending on her rent-stabilized studio, she panics and tries to raise about $40,000 for a down payment any way she can. She scolds her friend Charlotte for not offering to help, leading Charlotte, in the end, to bail her out.

"If people were pissed and hated that Carrie did that, I'm OK with that," writer-producer Amy Harris tells CNBC Make It. After all, the writers' room itself was deeply divided: "The biggest fight we ever got into in the writers' room was about the money," she says. "That was a very big debate."

On the set of the hit HBO series 'Sex and the City' July 29, 2003.
Mark Mainz | Getty Images
On the set of the hit HBO series 'Sex and the City' July 29, 2003.

Carrie's first step is to try to get a loan from a bank. There she learns, along with viewers, that, at 35, she has $700 in checking and $957 in savings. She has no other assets, property, stocks or bonds. She has no other income except what she brings in from her newspaper column.

That might be par for the course for a young creative trying to get by in New York City — except for Carrie's extravagant lifestyle. One viewer did the math and concluded that, in Season 1 of the show, Carrie "made approximately $15,400" and "spent an estimated $21,216."

Carrie takes taxis everywhere, dines out regularly and has spent around $40,000 on fancy shoes alone, her friend Miranda calculates for her. "There's your down payment," Miranda says, to Carrie's horror.

Carrie approaches her wealthy ex-boyfriend, Big, who gives her a check she is too uncomfortable to cash. Finally, she turns to her social circle, only to be rebuffed by one of her closest — and wealthiest — friends, the underemployed Park Avenue divorcee Charlotte.

Although Charlotte initially tells Carrie she doesn't like mixing money and friendship, she ends up giving Carrie the expensive engagement ring from her failed marriage.

Even some loyal viewers and fans of the series shake their heads both at Carrie's choices and the way she evades responsibility for them. Critic Kate Erbland has called "Ring a Ding Ding" the show's "worst episode." It also makes No. 1 on critic Ali Rothwell's list of "The 7 most messed-up things about 'Sex and the City.'"

Harris isn't surprised to hear the response has been passionate. "People are funny about money," she says.

In the end, Harris says, the writers decided to let Charlotte help Carrie, in part because that's what a good friend might do if she could. Anyway, Harris says, "Sarah Jessica and I talked about this: We believe she paid her back. It was a loan, not a gift, so she did have to learn to save a little, to not spend everything on shoes and clothes."

Although that transaction never made it into the show itself, Harris says, "In my mind, she had to acknowledge all the s----- choices she'd made and the fact that she hadn't saved a penny and that was a big mistake, and so she was living with that."

Besides, she insists, "Carrie learned a lesson. I do believe she sat down every month and wrote Charlotte a check."

Was Carrie ever good with money? "I don't want to judge her," Harris says. "Money is a tricky, complicated thing. She spent it well on things she enjoyed, and luckily it all worked out well for her."

And, Harris says, "I love happy endings."

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