The Real-Life Salaries Of Your Favorite TV Characters

It’s a strange time of year: Weeks into our New Year's resolutions, most of us are fighting hard to abide by the budgets we made, or our vows to socially detox. (See: More nights in watching Netflix, fewer nights out at bars or restaurants.)

All this downtime in front of the TV has given us a lot of time to think — particularly about how our lives stack up against our favorite pop culture characters. For years, we’ve been drawn to hard working women who we've watched make their mark in their fields, and enjoy the financial windfall that comes from all those long hours. It’s hard not to think that a job in PR or publishing would be as glamorous and well-paying as it seems on TV. Nab one of those gigs, and you’ll enjoy the same lifestyle as your favorite characters.

Or will you? (Dun, dun, dun.)

That’s why we reached out to Aubrey Bach of PayScale.com, who gave us realistic salary ranges for jobs held by some of our most beloved fictional working women, from Samantha Jones to Annalise Keating. Unfortunately, fiction pays way better than reality.

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Photo: Courtesy of Tyler Golden/ THE CW.
Jane Villanueva, Jane The Virgin

Job: Waitress at a Resort

The Fantasy: As in all things, Jane is the model of responsibility. She still lives with her mother and grandmother and takes the bus to and from work and school. She's always dressed well, but as fans of the show know, she's also obsessed with Target. Maybe that's where she scores her cute sundresses?

The Reality: Jane could probably count on around $37,000 a year, says Bach, or $8/hour plus tips. Depending on how much she contributes to household expenses and how much she's paying for tuition, she still might be able to put some aside in savings. Of course, an unexpected pregnancy can throw even the most carefully planned budget out the window, so it's a good thing the baby's father has plenty to spare.
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Photo: Courtesy of FOX.
Jessica Day, New Girl

Job: Elementary School Teacher

Fantasy: In season 1, Jess needs a place to live — and winds up crashing with three bachelors in a loft in downtown L.A. We can assume that's partially to save money, and a lack of cash is certainly a theme for many characters on the show. While Jess is never as down-and-out as her on-again, off-again boyfriend Nick, she drives an old station wagon and has to shower in a bathroom that looks like it came from the locker room of our nightmares. But then again, she does have an amazing wardrobe.

Reality: Jess probably would need roommates in real life, as well. Bach found that a teacher in L.A. makes around $41,000 a year, hardly enough to strike out on your own. Of course, we have no word on how that someone would also afford Jess' trademark adorkable clothes.
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Photo: Courtesy of Dean Buscher/ THE CW.
Felicity Smoak, Arrow

Job: I.T. Support Specialist

Fantasy: Felicity pretty much stops being an average IT worker starting in episode 1, but when we first meet her, she's already a skilled hacker who manages to be both socially awkward and incredibly well-dressed. We do get a glimpse of the interior of her amazing apartment later in season 3 — but hopefully by then, her new responsibilities working for Arrow have earned her a well-deserved raise.

Reality: While there is no Star City in real life, the closest equivalent U.S. city by population (and some briefly visible GPS coordinates in episode one) is Seattle. The cost of living is considerably lower there than in other major U.S. cities, but it's still not cheap compared to the rest of the country. Bach's projected salary for an I.T. specialist, $51,000 is doable but not queenly. Our guess is that, in real life, Felicity would be scoring her cute duds from the sales racks at T.J. Maxx.
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Photo: Courtesy of Ron Tom/ ABC.
Abby Whelan, Scandal

Job: Investigator at Olivia Pope & Associates

Fantasy: When we first meet Abby Whelan in season 1 of Scandal, she's already a seasoned gladiator working for Pope. It's hard to say if anyone in Pope's employ has much free time, but, like Olivia herself, Abby is almost always flawlessly dressed, well-heeled, and living in a gorgeous apartment. It looks like she makes a good living.

Reality: While it's hard to price some of the illegal (or morally questionable) skills that Whelan has, Bach says that a private investigator in D.C. with a law degree can expect to make $71,000. While it's not peanuts, it's a low considering what lawyers can make at a big firm — and it's not much given the likely debt incurred by law school. Of course, we also know that Olivia was able to get Abby the best divorce attorney in the state of Virginia, so she could also be benefitting from a sizable settlement.
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Photo: Paul Drinkwater/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images.
Monica Geller, Friends

Job: Chef

Fantasy: Monica had more than a few jobs during the series 10-season run, but after getting fired in season two and doing time as a caterer and line cook, we finally saw her settle into a dream job with a sweet chef gig at a nice restaurant. There, she not only thrived professionally, but she managed to live a pretty comfortable lifestyle, taking some great vacations, buying some beautiful clothes, and eventually planning one heck of a wedding (granted, she had more than little help from Chandler for that celebration).

Reality: The median salary of an executive chef is $74,250, according to PayScale. So while Monica was doing pretty well, she wouldn’t have been able to afford that sweet West Village apartment if it wasn't rent-controlled (thanks, grandma we never met). Her salary probably also explains why she and Rachel decided to live together for so long. Spending less on rent means you can spend more on shoes, right?
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Photo: Courtesy of Jordin Althaus/ NBC.
Mindy Lahiri, The Mindy Project

Job: OB/GYN

Fantasy: Dr. Lahiri’s lifestyle is a mess of contradictions. Her wardrobe — a mix of Kate Spade and J.Crew prints — is totally believable. Her luxe apartment? Eh, for New York City, it’s pretty fancy. But she does take public transportation, so add another point for Team Reality.

Reality: The median salary for an OB/GYN in a private practice is around $152,604, says Bach. So as long as Mindy’s not spending $6,000 a month on rent, she’s probably not living outside her means, and she might even be saving a few bucks every month. Or she was, until she started spending all her extra income on the new baby.
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Photo: Courtesy of Patrick Harbon/ HBO.
Amy Brookheimer, Veep

Job: Campaign manager

Fantasy: Admittedly, we don’t know much about Amy’s personal life (minus the brief glimpse into her nicely decorated home during season three’s dinner party), but that’s not surprising considering her high-powered job. As Selina Meyer’s former campaign manager, Amy’s life revolved around the president (which leaves you wondering how she found time to pick up so many great dresses).

Reality: It’s a little tricky to know Amy’s exact salary, Bach says. Most campaign managers can expect to earn between $35,000 and $80,000 per year. But if you’re working for the most powerful person on the planet? Well, let’s just say you make a lot more. Bach estimates that Amy could make up to $125,000 per year. And for all that she puts up with, she deserves every penny.
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Photo: Courtesy of Ron Tom/ ABC.
Meredith Grey, Grey’s Anatomy

Job: Head of general surgery

Fantasy: Watching Meredith Grey face one crisis after another doesn’t really inspire young women to become surgeons. (No spoilers, but her life is just the worst.) That being said, she does have some beautiful clothes. Which still doesn’t offset the fact that she spends most of her time at work or away from work trying to process any number of horrible things that have happened to her on the job.

Reality: The good news? Despite her life being defined by sorrow, Meredith would be earning roughly $235,000 a year, Bach says. And, because she lives in Seattle, where the cost of living isn’t as high as New York City — not to mention she was married to a neurosurgeon — we’re probably not seeing her live as extravagantly as she could. She should go buy Christian Grey’s helicopter. Or, you know, maybe take a really nice vacation.
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Photo: Courtesy of David M. Russell/ CBS.
Alicia Florrick, The Good Wife

Job: Equity partner of a private firm

Fantasy: Alicia’s lifestyle seems relatively luxe: her wardrobe is top tier, her home is beautiful, and we’ve never seen her waiting for a bus, subway, or Uber. That said, she works hard for her money.

Reality: As a legal partner in Chicago, Alicia would earn between $120,000 to $350,000 a year, with a rough median of $221,092. And Bach thinks that makes sense because Alicia's got a huge job with a ton of responsibility and high billable hours.
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Photo: John Fleenor/ ABC.
Annalise Keating, How To Get Away With Murder

Job: Law professor

Fantasy: Arguably, Keating’s life seems stressful (#understatement) — particularly outside the realm of academia, so we’ll stick to what we know: When at school, she teaches. Also, she finds herself embroiled in murder mysteries that end up involving her students. We can't say much more without giving away any spoilers, but we will note that the woman can dress, and every meal she eats looks delicious.

Reality: Law professors — who don't have side gigs working as actual attorneys — make a median of $127,530, according to Bach at Payscale. Job duties would include teaching, syllabus planning, publishing, research, and keeping office hours (which, admittedly, we don’t see Annalise do much of). Also keep in mind that it’s hard to get tenure (university speak for Job For Life) in the current economic climate, so there are fewer opportunities for would-be law profs.
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Photo: Courtesy of Netflix.
Jessica Jones, Jessica Jones

Job: Private investigator

Fantasy: Jessica Jones is living the freelancer dream — making her own hours while getting shit done for her clients. All this funds her spacious apartment-office space in Hell's Kitchen. Jones isn't really living frivolously though — she sticks to some pretty basic wardrobe staples and her apartment is pretty sparsely furnished.

Reality: The median income for a private investigator is around $72,000, Bach says, but the salary range is pretty wide ($30,000 to $110,000). Not a bad salary, but probably not enough that Jones could afford her sweet apartment. Maybe she writes off the office space when she files her taxes?
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Photo: Courtesy of Robert Voets/ CBS.
Max and Caroline, 2 Broke Girls

Job: Servers

Fantasy: Max and Caroline certainly don't glamorize the restaurant industry. And the series makes the young women's relatable financial reality central to the story line. The friends work for food, shelter, and to harness their cupcake dreams. And all of the above requires a ton of work.

Reality: PayScale’s infographic looks at the income trends for servers across the country. It's not easy to sling burgers to crabby customers — and for the most part it doesn't pay that well either. The typical hourly income in New York City is $15.30, which makes Max and Caroline's cupcake fantasies seem that much further away.
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Photo: Trae Patton/ CBS.
Kara, Supergirl

Job: Editorial assistant

Fantasy: The stress of Kara’s editorial job seems realistic (as does her modest wardrobe), but her apartment — which is big enough that she can fly in and out of it — seems to be well beyond the means of someone starting their career in New York City.

Reality: Bach calculates that Kara’s median earnings would be about $33,000, and while it's likely she could see her salary increase to $69,011 as she's promoted to editor, that still isn’t enough to afford to live in a Manhattan loft. Supergirl’s creators recently cleared up the controversy: They told THR that Kara got her sweet digs because Mrs. Needleberg needed someone super nearby, so she offered Kara an affordable monthly rent. Convenient how showrunners can just invent a benefactor to explain why their characters are living in housing that is well beyond what they could afford to rent.

And that's exactly why you should do real research before choosing a career path rather than trusting you fictional friends to steer you in the right direction.
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Photo: Photofest.
Samantha Jones, Sex and the City

Job: Public Relations Director

The Fantasy: Like the rest of HBO’s favorite single ladies, Samantha Jones’ life is — in her own words — fabulous. Defined by a wardrobe full of designer pieces, a Birkin bag, nights out at four-star restaurants, and a loft apartment in the Meatpacking District, she’s the reason many young women were inspired to get a job in PR.

The Reality: According to PayScale, public relation directors earn between $60,000 and $140,000, with a median salary of $91,629. Samantha doesn’t have an entry-level job, so after years spent working her way up the PR ladder, it’s realistic to see her living the high life in New York City. Though she probably couldn’t afford that Birkin and an apartment in one of Manhattan’s hottest neighborhoods on $140,000 a year without carrying some credit card debt.
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