My dear friends know where I stand on absolutely every single political issue in the world. My dear friends know where I stand on every possible issue of faith. My dear friends know who I voted for in the last several elections. My dear friends even know my weight. My dear friends know everything about who I am. But they don’t know a damn thing about my income. But why? Why have I chosen to pull-back the curtain on virtually every single area of my life, except for one number?
Our incomes are the one thing we don’t talk about.
Let’s get a few things out of the way. First, we shouldn’t really play the “it’s no one else’s business” card. Are any of my sensitive views or details anyone else’s business? Of course not. But I share them rather openly. Not only do my friends know what church I attend, they know exactly what church doctrines I disagree with. That’s some pretty sensitive stuff, no?
We also shouldn’t pull the “it doesn’t matter” move. If it didn’t matter, then it wouldn’t matter if our friends knew our incomes. Again, do my friends need to know that I weigh a gingery, robust 190 lbs? Not really, but they do. Damn, I guess you and I are friends now.
I find our reluctance especially strange given our penchant for oversharing on social media. Why do we take the perfect filter-heavy picture of a beautiful meal? Why do we take the obligatory down-the-leg beach vacation shot? We take these pics because we want to be perceived as living a life of a certain standard. I’m as guilty of this as anyone else. We overshare everything, except one stinkin’ number. I’m going to do something right now. As I write this, I’m going to tell you the first five pictures I see on my Instagram feed, as shared by my friends. Wow, this is going to work swimmingly. First pic: beach shot. Second pic: fancy dinner pic. Third pic: breastfeeding. Fourth pic: wine bottle. Fifth pic: a cat, of course.
We are teases. We want our friends to be carnies. We want them to guess our weight. “Look at the life I live, but no, I’m not going to tell you how much money I make.”
I think there are a few main reason why we don’t talk about money with our friends.
- We are embarrassed that we make too little: Right? No matter how much we love our friends, we still feel like they would potentially value us less, if they happen to know what our employers pay us. Somewhere, somehow, making less money than the person across from you became a bad thing. I’m sure there are some actual documented reasons for this, but I’m inclined to chalk-it-up to a size matters discussion. An income is a number. Numbers are typically able to be used as metrics. And since we can’t objectively compare and measure how good we are at our jobs, then our incomes become the measure. If my number is smaller than your number, then that has to mean something, right? It doesn’t. Yet most of us view it this way.
- We are embarrassed that we make too much: If I’m choosing to be transparent, which I am, I’ve thought a great deal about this idea. I don’t think this sentiment is about not being proud of what you’ve done. I think it’s more about preserving friends’ feelings, rightfully so, or otherwise. This is a crappy thing altogether. Not only are you assuming that your friends would be offended by your income, but you are assuming they are the type of person who would be offended in knowing that their friends made more money than them. Holding onto the “preserve their feelings” rationale is pretty insulting…to your friends.
- We don’t want our friends to do the math: “You mean you make $60,000, and you live in a $450,000 house, what in the hell are you doing?!?!?” Our financial lives are manifested in the things we have and/or don’t have, whether we like it or not. But each evaluation of our financial standing has two possible conclusions. People can assume the positive, or they can assume the negative. If I make $100,000/year and live modestly, does that outwardly appear as though something is wrong, or does it appear as though I’m saving a ton of money? If I make $45,000/year and outwardly spend money as though I’m Birdman (rapper, not baller), will my friends think I’m stupid? Well, yes. They will think you’re stupid in this instance, and rightfully so. Our friends don’t see us saving money, but they do see us spending money. Their judgments of us are inclined to come from what they see us spending money on.
We can’t really argue modesty or humility. Because as a group, we’ve done a pretty poor job of displaying modesty and/or humility. Frankly, I don’t know why this is so taboo. And to be fair, I refuse to disclose my income to my friends. If I think about it too much, I start getting mad at myself, because I feel like my hesitation is based on priority. Is my income the most important thing in the world to me? I sure act like it. I will tell you my opinion and/or action on any other topic, except my income. Does that stink of someone who values weird things? I just don’t know.
This taboo is disturbing to me. Are we reluctant to share in order to protect our feelings or others’ feelings? And does it really matter whose feelings we’re sparing? I mean, who’s the real dumbass? The person who buys the cubic zirconia or the person who buys the diamond? Do we do things to look nice for ourselves, or for the others around us?
I’d love your thoughts below (in the comment section).
Peter Dunn a.k.a. Pete the Planner® is an award-winning financial mind and a former comedian. He’s a USA TODAY columnist, author of ten books, and is the host of the popular radio show and podcast, The Pete the Planner Show. Pete is considered one of the foremost experts on financial wellness in the world, but he’s just as likely to talk your ear off about bass fishing.
3 thoughts on “The last taboo: Discussing our incomes”
Nailed it! 1, 2, and 3!
I think it is too personal.
I think income is less personal than net worth . Net worth shows what you did with that income. I really don’t see how knowing either one of those numbers will make me a better friend.