Wednesday, October 03, 2007

When is it Okay to Ask?

When do you think it's okay to ask someone how much money they make? I'm not thinking of situations like when you're going to be giving someone a mortgage, I mean personal situations. Have you ever asked a friend how much money he or she made? Why did you ask? Were they willing to answer? What about a family member? Or a co-worker? What about someone you were dating? Is there a point in a relationship where you start to have money discussions with a partner and lay all your cards on the table? Is it only when you're thinking of moving in together or getting married? Or might it come up under other circumstances, just in the course of negotiating how you spend your time and how you pay for things?
The question isn't one that people are used to asking, I think. It seems rude, and your motivation for asking could be questionable. In many cases, maybe people would rather not know. But more often, I'm sure people are dying to know, although they would never dream of just coming out and saying it: "How much money do you make?" Have you ever said these words?

33 comments:

APP Funds said...

In my opinion, I shouldn`t ask such a question, but I do it :)

Anonymous said...

I get this question all the time.

That, and how much my rent is. Part of living in new york, i guess.

Anonymous said...

I never ask about income. Rent seems a more reasonable question somehow. But my parents taught me never to ask someone's income, that it's rude and that unless you are spot-on with what you thought that person makes, it can (doesn't have to, but can) change your relationship ... and not for the better.

Chitown said...

I won't ask unless I am really cool with that person and it would be acceptable. Or, I may ask if the conversation allows. But you're right, I do want to know and the question is often on the tip of my tongue.

SavingDiva said...

I haven't ever asked the question. I have given my income in order to pull out the information of another person...but I guess I don't have the guts to ask someone the question straight out.

Anonymous said...

I think its rude to ask someone about their income. People are curious about how much I make b/c I am a CPA w/MBA in NYC. But I never reveal my salary when asked.

Anonymous said...

Well, all my friends and I just graduated, and in applying for new jobs, we all asked what the salaries were. We're all entry level individuals in the same field, so all 5 of us know eachother's salaries and are all w/in a 10g range - varies for employer and location.

Other than that, I've spoken to good friends about it, or if it's more of an acquaintace, I'll hint at it if they're considering a large purchase, like a car or new apartment, and ask "well, can you afford that much a month, and still be okay for all of your other expenses?"

I don't have any qualms about telling anyone how much I make, because it's my first real job, and it's the most I've ever made before, so it feels good to me. : )

MEG said...

It really depends on the person and the relationship. I would NEVER ask a stranger or casual acquaintence what he/she makes. And I have never asked a friend either.

On the other hand I know what several of my co-workers make, as we all got raises recently and couldn't resist comparing.

But I've never asked my BF what he makes, and I really have no idea. My dad asked him once what his rent was, and he wouldn't answer! He looked at me and and I had to be like "Oh, dad, don't be nosy!" So of course I don't know what his rent is either...I was surprised he was so private, but after that I knew never to bring it up.

The only time it seems appropriate to ask is if the person in question is seeking your financial advice or having serious financial difficulty.

SandyVoice said...

You would ask about income if you were making a business partnership, woudn't you? Sharing an apartment is a business arrangement, and you SHOULD ask about income, so you can be reassured the rent will be paid. How much more important would it be to ask for that information from a potential life partner? Marriage is many things, but it is also a business relationship. If you are moving in together, or considering marriage, you have to know income, so you can make decisions and plans. Every decision you will make in the future will be predicated on how much money you have, how reliably it comes in, what the prospect for change might be. You must be honest about money in a serious relationship. You can't have surprises which could be avoided, and which could both wreck your financial lives and your relationship.

Sicilian said...

I find it interesting to read others answers. I am open. . . I tell people who ask nearly anything. It doesn't bother me to talk about how much money I make (which isn't much), how much my house is worth, how much I owe on it, however there are subjects I don't talk about with just anyone. None of them have to do with money.
In my family it was a common thing to talk about income and I never really heard that it was rude not to ask.
Asking someone's rent is a way of asking what you make. With the rent being what ya'll pay. . . . most people know rent should be about 25% of your income. Not to hard to do the math and guess what you make.
Ciao

Moneymonk said...

For as a long relationship or engagment with someone else you must know b/c you are planning a life together.

Close college friends, yes I know how much they make b/c we all look out for each other. So when we refer to a company, of course that is the first thing we ask, how much is the salary.

Other than that. No need to ask that question to someone.

ronia said...

I would be really wary of someone who asked about my income early on in a romantic relationship.

I see income as an issue that you only discuss if you are moving in together, etc. - or if s/he volunteers it.

Anonymous said...

Even here in this anonymous forum, you see people are not even willing to say what's their income.

Let me start. I'm 37 and married. I make $97k as a sofware test engineer. Living in San Francisco bay area.

Anonymous said...

I have been reading this and some other obessed savings blogs and truely enjoying the read. But the thing I want to know is how much they earn and where they are....to put it all in perspective. In some blogs you have to do a bit of hunting to find the person's salary.

I like, everyone else wants to know other peoples salary. I will ask the question but it has to be the right circumstances. I know many of my friends salaries back home (USA) but I think that is due to the fact that I am not there and we cannot compare salaries. It is also common overseas to compare salaries to what you would get in your home country because we know we would be getting paid more.

I am open about how and how much we paid for our house and most other financial matters. I believe talking about these things will benefit others that are going through the same situations.

I am a 26 year old, engaged homeowner. I live in Auckland, New Zealand working as a Research and Development chemist earning $55,000.

Anonymous said...

I don’t ask mostly because I find it rude and normally I don’t care. If someone asks me, I don’t reveal as it’s really none of their business and I find that people tend to have different expectations—both good and bad, but almost always wrong—once they know a bit about someone else’s finances.

SMB said...

I couldn't bring myself to ask it. At most, I would say, "Could you give me an idea of the range someone in your position might make?"

Escape Brooklyn said...

I think knowing people's salaries empowers all of us to get more money.

When a former co-worker and I were getting "promoted" to senior positions, she insisted on staying secretive about the negotiations and it became a tense competition between us. (Who do they like better? Who would get more money?) As it turned out, our employer used that to their advantage and screwed us both, which we found out after the fact. My co-worker then admitted that we probably should have teamed up because we both could have negotiated higher raises.

Suze Orman said pretty much the same thing on The View a while back. She told everyone what she earned and encouraged the hosts to do the same, but they all freaked out and refused to share their salaries. Most people are just super touchy since salary is often equated with "success" or one's value on the planet, silly as that is.

All my info is online and most of my family and many of my friends know about my blog, although I haven't told any current co-workers. I couldn't imagine not being able to share financial details with a significant other.

Debbie M said...

Whenever people I know get new jobs I ask them questions about how fun or interesting the job seems, I ask what they think of their co-workers, I ask about the commute/location, and then I ask if they are making more than at their old job. This is all so I know which ways I should congratulate them. Sort of the way you might ask people who get a new car about horse power, torque, and gas mileage.

I sometimes discover rent (or cost of house) the same way, by asking people all kinds of questions when they find a new place to move. I may ask if it's cheaper or say it sounds more expensive, and then they may answer something like, "But it's so worth it because ..." or some other answer that tells me the kinds of things I'm really most interested in.

If I'm dating someone I usually do end up finding out something about what they make just as a part of finding out about them. I can at least make a guess based on the kind of job they have. (Uh, I mostly date programmers, which means they make at least double what I make.) Also, I'm very into frugality and open about money questions, so it makes it easier for others to volunteer.

Caroline said...

It is NEVER ok. Unless you are in a relationship and you're ready to have joint accounts.

Single Ma said...

Almost everyone said it was rude to ask, but NO ONE explained why? Can anyone help me understand why it's considered rude, other than society standard or just because my parents' said so.

Debbie M said...

Single ma, I'm afraid it's just a cultural taboo. Every cultural has their inexplicable taboos, passed down from generation to generation, and this is one of ours.

We can chip away at taboos, especially with our loved ones, but it takes skill and it's risky. Meanwhile, employers are trying to keep these taboos alive, though even they want to know what other people make. (This is how we get blind ads requesting salary requirements!)

I think we also feel judged by our salaries. If it sounds too high, people will think you're an ass-kisser, or evil, or someone who should give them money. If it's too low, people will think you're pathetic. I have seriously had people start ignoring me after asking me what my job was (I'm a glorified secretary who hangs around programmers and other techno-geeks).

So, you're supposed to be polite and not ask about salaries, religion, and sexual orientation (none of which should be embarrassing, but which can be when you're around judgmental folk).

(Maybe you should ask this question in a new post. It's a related but different question.)

Anonymous said...

My parents never told me it was rude but I do feel some things are private unless being asked because one has a related interest. Most people want to know so they can make comparisons, equate your value and figure out how someone maintains a certain lifestyle or not. Many equate status with achievement and worthiness. I find it to be personal just like your sex life or your intimate relationship. Outside of being close friends, I don’t need to know about your salary unless I’m interested in your field of work. I don’t need to know about your sex life unless I’m interested in you sexually.

Anonymous said...

Very interesting topic. My income has been a very closely guarded secret from family and friends for many years (unless they are friends on a similar income level). Oddly, others are more than willing to share their (unsolicited) info with me, perhaps in hopes that I would spill the beans some day.

Several reasons for the secrecy:

1) It will appear shockingly high to most people. Even though leaving it to guessing might mean people could over-estimate, I doubt it. Even if they think they know, what I have found is that wondering and actually knowing are two different things. In my case, they are better off not knowing.

2) It would make others feel uncomfortable. What if you found out that your brother or even your son made 10 to 20 times what you made? Would that make you feel uncomfortable? Inadequate? etc.

3) It would generate some entitlement issues especially w/family - there's always a relative that lives by the "what's yours is mine" philosophy of life. People who tend to borrow and forget to pay back. Again, let them guess all they want, but since they don't actually know, its hard for them to quite put all the pieces together.

I have lost a couple of friends over these issues. It was nothing I did or said. It's just that major difference in wealth will eventually become obvious and some people simply cannot handle it.

So, in my case, as much as I'd love to share, there is good reason to keep a tight lid on income info.

Caroline said...

It is rude to ask because you are putting the person in an uncomfortable position. Once people know how much you earn (or how much you own), you are open to all kinds of judgements.
You will be judged on your worth as a person and how hard you work and whether you should really be paid that much. You will be judged on what you spend your money on.

Christine said...

It's completely cultural as to whether or not it's considered rude. In Chinese cultures, even people you have just met will ask about your relationship status, how old you are, and yes, how much money you make. I was born and raised in the US but find the whole secrecy around finances absurd. It seems like it's only a big deal for people who are ashamed of something or tie their self-worth to their salary.

Anonymous said...

@ Christine, Most westerners find the Chinese to be insufferably forward and aggressive on these topics. It's a matter of culture and what's acceptable within cultures. Money is a big deal no matter the culture (otherwise why would the Chinese be asking in the 1st place), its just expressed differently. To compare one to the other and make value judgements is "absurd".

Strange Bird said...

I asked once because my friend was looking for a job and my company was hiring. However, they never discussed salary with me until they made an offer, and the interview process was LONG. She told me she couldn't take a pay cut, so I asked what she made to see if it was appropriate for her to apply. I thought it made sense.

Anonymous said...

I never ask as a rule. My friends and I are a few years out of college and getting to the point where the disparities between each of our salaries is getting larger.

It makes it easier on friendships to not bring salary equation, in my opinion.

Christine said...

reply to 10/05/2007 7:50 AM:

Ok, maybe "absurd" was too strong of a word. Speaking from a rational point of view without regard to culture, does it really help (your general life, relationships, etc.) to keep all your financial information under wraps? It seems like people get caught up in "keeping up with the Jones'" because they have no idea of the financial status of their neighbors or friends. Typically, transparency equals accountability. And regarding relationships between people who have unequal incomes-- I find it is better to know the difference so that if I go out to dinner or on a trip with that person I'll make sure I don't plan something that will stretch their finances. You can only adapt to the situation if you know the parameters. My intention was not to make a value judgement between the two cultures but to question the rationale behind the US custom.

Anonymous said...

@ Christine, okay that makes way more sense than the previous comment. I'd have to agree, that in general, I'd love to see greater income transparency, though I'm not really sure what that would achieve. It still doesn't tell you what they've got in the bank or what assistance their getting from parents, or what they expect to inherit, etc. One of the more interesting peeks into other people's finances I have gotten was when I was on a co-op board. I got to see fin'l statements and credit reports for all the applicants, right down to how much they were borrowing, and what assistance they were getting from parents. Unfortunately, all it really did was make me envious of all the financial help people (i.e. full-grown 30 - 40 year old adults) were getting from family. It truly opened my eyes to how much this type of help can make all the difference in the world and comepltely distort the income picture. For example, I have an artist friend who makes maybe $20K in a good year, but manages to live in a $1mm apt and travel to Europe for the summer. Guess how.

I have not and will not likely ever get that kind of help from anyone. Fortunately, I've made a point of making sure I don't and won't need their help, though it certainly could have made life a lot easier at certain critical junctures like paying for college or coming up with a down payment on a house.

Tiredbuthappy said...

I'm a librarian, and it's pretty common for friends to ask my advice about whether they should go to library school. As part of the conversation, I always tell what an average starting salary is in our area, and how much I make now after being in the field for 5 years.

Anonymous said...

I think the only party that could lose out the most is the employer. If they try to be "strategic" and give unequal salaries, nobody would notice and everyone will be happy. It happened to my company once - a new less experienced person who had just joined revealed to us that he was being paid about 20% more than all of us in the same role. And it was also revealed that one of the best performing ones of us earned only 66% of this new person.

If we hadn't decided to be transparent with each other this unfairness would have never been revealed..

Anonymous said...

34 year old single male. 13 year flight attendant. 75k