This is a guest post from Ashley, who blogs at skintinthecity.com, a site which reveals how you can live the high life even when your budget's tighter than your skinny jeans.
Last weekend my husband and I went to dinner with my two closest and oldest friends and their partners. These days, the six of us nearly always meet up with our kids in tow, but that night was a rare adults-only evening. We were all dressed up in Great Gatsby finery to celebrate my friend's birthday, and the conversation turned, amidst the cocktails, to more adult topics — money.
Now, I've known my two friends since we were 5 years old. We've holidayed together, visited each other in hospital, cared for each others' kids regularly and are as close as family. We've discussed health problems, family worries, renovations and separations, but you know what we've never, ever discussed? Cash.
I have no idea what my pals earn. And they probably have even less idea about me, since my earnings come from hazy sources like Internet advertising, which isn't really on any sort of pay scale. And whilst over the years we've celebrated promotions and applauded when one of us made partner or professor, we've never, ever, discussed what that meant financially. To be honest I don't even know whether friends are in good financial shape or not. Does that matter? Is it their business alone? I used to think so — until I started blogging.
That was when I discovered that, far from everyone being financially reticent, many people share every detail of their financial affairs, not only with their friends and family but the whole darned WORLD! From net-worth updates to financial lowdowns; from revealing pay rises to details of bankruptcy, it seems that the personal finance blogging world is full of people who love to share details of their financial successes and woes.
And you know what? I have to admit that though I blog about money, I just don't feel comfortable doing the same. Sure, I reveal little bits of my financial affairs, like this. But sharing how much I earn, how much I owe and how big my mortgage is? No way. Is that hypocritical? As a personal finance blogger shouldn't I practice what I preach and open my closets wide for all to see?
I posed the question on Twitter: who knows how much you earn? The results were largely as I expected, with the odd surprise thrown in. Most people said their partner knew, some said friends know, and a couple of people (I was surprised at this) shared all their financial details with their parents. One Tweeter said they were comfortable talking about salaries with whoever asked, but drew the line at talking about net worth. That's an interesting distinction — I guess it's because salary is the raw material, whereas net worth reveals what you do with your cash post-payday, in terms of spending priorities, investing and life goals.
A few people had discussed salaries with colleagues, to the chagrin of their boss. I once worked in a place where discussing salaries was a disciplinary matter — clearly an attempt to prevent collective bargaining. And recent equal pay claims from women who've discovered they're being paid far less than male colleagues for doing the same job shows quite clearly why bosses prefer to keep us in the dark when it comes to how much the person in the next cubicle's getting.
At dinner this weekend, in the interest of research, I asked my pals just why, when we know each other so well, we're such modest types when it comes to baring our financial souls. We all agreed that we were happy to discuss money when it came to bragging about bargains, but not when it comes to salaries, or how much big-ticket purchases cost.
Here's what we agreed over dinner:
Pros of being financially naked
- More leverage for us all in terms of salary negotiation. (If you find out your colleague's getting paid more, you'll ask for a raise, right?)
- If you know what your friends and coworkers earn you may be more sensitive to their circumstances e.g., adjusting your expectations of Christmas presents, sharing expensive activities, etc.
- It gets everything out in the open and so lessens the pressure of keeping up with the Joneses.
Reasons for remaining financially mysterious
- It's no one else's business.
- You don't want to make others uncomfortable if you earn more.
- You don't want to provoke pity if you earn less.
It seems to me partly a cultural reticence. I've noticed that U.S. bloggers, for example, are far more likely than U.K. ones to share details of salary and their financial affairs in general. Does this play out in the general population, too? What do GRS readers think?
Are we right to stay modest when it comes to money? Or should we all be more direct about what we earn? Who knows how much you earn — and would you tell others if asked outright?