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Taking the Personal out of Personal Finances: Has America Gone Too Far with Sharing Numbers?

Do you openly share your household income with family and friends? Here's why I don't.

I’ve had several uncomfortable run-ins with people wanting me to disclose my personal financial information.

When I graduated college both my mother and my father separately pressured me to release my new salary information. I know they were just super-excited and wanted a mathematical vote of confidence that they had not screwed me up, but it was like pulling teeth to get it out of me.

Around that same time my boss from my college library job had blurted out the same question — obviously just excited that I had found that crucial and all-defining first job — and I reluctantly mentioned the amount. I thought I owed it to her, seeing how I was leaving and everything.

America seems to have gotten really comfortable with sharing salary and other financial information. We’ve bounced from extreme privacy to extreme transparency.

Your salary range is available on dating sites, social media sites, and people are talking about it at the water cooler.

I’d like to make clear that others sharing their financial information is completely okay with me as it is obviously their decision, but I often feel that if someone shares with you, they expect you to reciprocate; like an I-showed-you-mine-now-show-me-yours situation. I am the first to admit that I am curious of other people’s financial information.

I often wonder: What is their salary and how does it compare with mine? How much debt do they have? What are their assets and how does it compare to my own situation (taking age into consideration, of course)?

Whenever I read someone else’s blog and they give out this information or someone at work happens to share it in passing, I feel like I am opening up a corner of a present before the break of Christmas dawn—it is a guilty pleasure.

So why am I so weary of giving my own information out? I have given it some thought, and here is what I’ve come up with.

Sometimes Your Salary Defines You…Either in Your Own Eyes or in Another’s

Your income is not supposed to define who you are…but I am a number-driven person.

I want to be paid what I am worth. Money is definitely an incentive for me. If I believe I am not being paid properly for my skills set, or I find out that someone else is getting more and I am sure that I should be making comparable, then this causes an issue for me.

I start thinking about whether or not they are doing a better job than me, or if that person is just pushier in asking for a higher salary.

In other words, I start thinking about things like worth and value, and the issue becomes about so much more than money.

If I don’t know what you are making and you don’t know what I am making, then we don’t need to go down that road.

People Have Perceptions about Your Money

People make judgments on your finances and your choices based off of their own perceptions, values, and situations — which are almost always going to be different from yours. If they know how much you are making and it is more than they make, then they may not understand why you have chosen to live a frugal life.

It’s almost as if they have decided that you can afford anything and everything…they quickly think of ways for you to spend your own money because “hey, you can afford it.”

If you have debt, they might look down upon you, wondering why you did that to yourself when it could have been from medical concerns or a student loan that enabled you to get a nice paying job. (Of course, it could have been for dumb mistakes as well).

Both scenarios put the other person (at least in their minds) in the position to tell you what to do with your money, which will be based off of their own experiences, perceptions, and values. And then what are you supposed to do?

Gets Weird with Family and Friends

Finally, money can get very weird between friends and family. In fact, most financial gurus suggest that you never mix money and friends or family, including co-signing, small loans, etc.

I’d like to think that I would always loan a family member or friend money if they are truly in need, so I am not 100% on board with never mixing relationships with money.

But I have to admit, money does get very weird in a relationship. What happens when you need the money back from someone who has borrowed it from you? If it is just a stranger, making the phone call is not a problem.

But what if it is your mom, or your brother? If they have just forgotten, that is one thing, but if they can’t pay it and you need that money, your relationship may feel the strain.

Perhaps I am just too sensitive about sharing my own financial information. My grandfather always taught us to hold our cards close to our vests, and until the day he died no one knew what was in his accounts. But I believe there is more to it; I believe that America has gotten very comfortable with sharing their personal financial information…and I must say: I am not there yet.

How do you feel about sharing your own financial information? Who knows your salary? Has this added any weirdness to your relationships?

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Amanda L. Grossman is a Certified Financial Education Instructor, Plutus Foundation Grant Recipient, and founder of Frugal Confessions. Over the last 10 years, her money work helping people with how to save money and how to manage money has been featured in Kiplinger, Washington Post, U.S. News & World Report, Business Insider, LifeHacker, Woman's World, Woman's Day, ABC 13 Houston, Keybank, and more. Read more here.


Sunday 3rd of October 2010

I'm happy to share that info with my friends, but haven't really since I started my new role (and new pay).

We're all quite open about money and have always talked about what we make and spend.

On the blog...I don't think I've ever disclosed what I earn exactly. I'm more comfortable talking about how I spend it!

Musings of an Abstract Aucklander


Friday 1st of October 2010

Hmmm....interesting question. My husband has been at his new job for almost five years now and has really moved up the ladder. He is pleased and proud that he is now doing well in the field for which he earned his college degree, after 11 years at a not-so-great job. I am very proud of him, as well. He told me the other day that he wishes he could tell his mother how much money he makes. He can't, though, because he knows it is a whole lot more than his stepdad makes, and it would be embarrassing for his mom and stepdad. So I gleefully told him, "I told MY mom how much you make and she said 'Way to Go!'"

That's it, though. I would only tell my parents and no one else.

Amanda L. Grossman

Friday 1st of October 2010

Hello Carrie! Thank you for thinking about the question and sharing your thoughts.


Wednesday 29th of September 2010

I think people share too much about everything these days---money, sex, intimate medical details. Yesterday someone I know just casually, felt the need to tell me how often she and her partner have sex and that "he is like a stallion." Talk to me aobut books, movies, politics, the weather...but, for heaven's sake, shut up about the rest.

[email protected]

Wednesday 29th of September 2010

I think your article brings up a very good question about social etiquette. Many people are shockingly open about all topics. You give a good reminder that we all need to be able to say that we prefer not to discuss something.

I grew up in a no money conversation home and made many mistakes before I started reading all I could find on the subject. With the current economic situation I think people are using money discussions to act as a support and advice group for one another. Balance is an important goal. Common courtesy should be even higher.

Amanda L. Grossman

Wednesday 29th of September 2010

Hello Carol,

Thank you for your thoughts. I think financial transparency has increased twofold in the recession--and you make a good point; it's helpful to share with others what you are dealing with and to get help.


Wednesday 29th of September 2010

I don't think it is anyone's business what you make, owe, how much you paid for your house, cars or whatever...

And, I feel that people that ask are rude. Now, I understand that they might not mean to pry into your business (maybe it's more out of curiousity), but it still is very inappropriate. No one owes anyone else an explanation--I believe in privacy and respecting peoples boundaries.

I guess I'm finally old enough not to care what everyone thinks about me. It's really a great place to be!!! :o)

Amanda L. Grossman

Wednesday 29th of September 2010

Hello Cypress! Thanks for your comments and thoughts. That is good you don't care what others think:).