The silk was the first real expense

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Jeff Jacobs

Senior Member
Meg sold John's coat and buy her an own cloth:

Meg: I'm sorry, John. The silk was the first real expense.
John: Ahem. Fifty dollars, while a lot, is not, I suppose, too much for a dress with all the notions that are needed to finish it these days.

what does "the first real expense" mean?
Source: Little Women 2019
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