Do You Feel Comfortable Sharing Your Income?

oprahI had a lot of awkward conversations when I was pregnant, but there is one I simply cannot forget.  Let’s start with the back story, shall we? 

It was 2009, and I was 7 or 8 months pregnant and working as the Family Services Director at the locally-owned funeral home. We weren’t living a life of luxury by any means, but we were happy, healthy, and extremely excited about having our first child.  We were also bringing in about $90,000 per year, which is a huge chunk of cash for a small family living in the rural Midwest.

Here’s How to Get On Government Assistance

I was talking to one of our vendors one day when the topic of discussion turned to my pregnancy.  Feigning interest in my bump, she started asking the regular pregnancy questions.  You know, things like “are you excited?” and “is the baby’s room ready?”

Then she told me how to get on government assistance.

“You know, you have it easier than I did at my age,” she said.  “At least you can sign up for WIC and get your formula for free.  They’ll also give you tickets for free groceries like milk, cheese, and cereal.  Your income is definitely low enough.”

After her opening statement, she went into more detail about how to apply and where exactly where the local WIC office was located.  “The paperwork is simple,” she said, “but you’ll have to prove you are in need of healthy food.”

In case you don’t know, WIC is a government program that helps low-income families provide proper nutrition for babies and children.

“The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children is a federal assistance program of the Food and Nutrition Service of the United States Department of Agriculture for healthcare and nutrition of low-income pregnant women, breastfeeding women, and infants and children under the age of five.”

-USDA.gov

I listened intently to what she was saying and thanked her for the information when she was done.  However, the whole situation left me really confused.  On one hand, I think the WIC program is great and I am glad that our society has chosen to provide nourishment for pregnant women who really need it.  On the other hand, did she really think we would qualify?  Seriously?

Do You Feel Comfortable Sharing Your Income?

At the time, I didn’t feel comfortable telling her we made too much money for a multitude of reasons.  But most importantly, I didn’t want to insult someone who was trying to give me helpful advice.  I can’t think of any response that wouldn’t make me look like an asshole either, so it was probably wise to keep my mouth shut.

Fast forward five years and I am no longer an employee whose job is to make other people feel cared for and comfortable.  Now that I write for a living and share my income for anyone to see, I wonder how I would react if something similar happened to me today.  Would I tell her I make too much money?  Or, would I just let her assume we don’t make very much?

Choosing to Keep it Private

I obviously don’t mind talking about my income now, especially since one of my goals is showing other people how it’s possible to earn a living online.  However, the same cannot be said about my husband.  One of the reasons I don’t share his income and savings in my monthly income report is that he still works a regular 9-5 job with other people who may make more or less than him.  I wouldn’t want any of his co-workers to feel angry if he does in fact earn more, and I would be crushed if he didn’t get a raise or promotion because of some financial details I shared against his will.

In a lot of ways, I feel as though we need to keep his income secret and private even though a lot of our financial details are shared here and all over the web.  After all, what do we really have to gain by sharing his income in addition to mine?

Obviously, sharing your income is a personal decision.  Sometimes it might make sense to be honest with someone in order to help them understand something or motivate them to reach their own goals.  Other times it makes a lot more sense to keep your yap shut. 

Have you ever had an awkward situation where someone assumed you earned more or less than you do?  Do you feel comfortable sharing your income?

About Holly

Holly Johnson is a wife, mother of two, and frugal lifestyle enthusiast. She is the co-founder of Club Thrifty and a staff writer at Get Rich Slowly, Frugal Travel Guy, and U.S. News and World Report's "My Money Blog." Holly has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Kiplinger Personal Finance, Fox Business, and Daily Finance.

Comments

  1. Hah! It’s happened to me a lot over the years. People just assumed l made less money for a variety of reasons, woman, black, single (then) etc..I never shared my salary. Most people just thought l inherited money..lol! My last boyfriend before l met my hubby was a financial advisor and made bank. When he finally found out that we made the same amount, that was the beginning of the end. Good riddance!

  2. Wow, that was really presumptuous of that woman to assume you would qualify for WIC !! I understand your hubby’s desire to keep his income secret. I also don’t share my income for similar reasons. It can be a touchy subject and you never know how other people are going to react.

    • It really can be a touchy subject, especially in today’s economic environment. I feel bad complaining about little expenses that come up or all of my first world problems when so many people are just struggling to get by.

  3. I completely understand why you would keep your husband’s income secret. Salary is a very touchy subject. I’m in a position where I have to know the salary of a lot of my coworkers and I’ve had both bitterness when I thought someone was making too much and guilt when I thought someone was being taken advantage of.

  4. With Mr PoP working in sales, his performance numbers are literally written on a wall chart for everyone in the office to see. So his income information isn’t that big of a deal. And with me, most of my jobs have either been in standardized roles where everyone gets the exact same pay or in our current small office where I assume most folks know what I make. It’s just not a big deal to me.
    Come to think of it, a lot of my friends work for the government in some fashion, so their salaries are public information and when we celebrate their promotion to GS-13 or GS-14 , it’s really easy to go and look up what those numbers translate to if I really wanted.

  5. Maybe she was just completely confused about the income qualifications for WIC. There are some things that have over $100,000 income limits to them for a couple, but I am probably just trying to justify what she said. Maybe she was just an idiot. haha.

    I have no problem discussing my income; however, growing up, my parents that it was taboo to discuss income, even to us, their own kids. It taught me to be the same way until I realized that there wasn’t a good reason to keep it a secret in my opinion. Now I am totally transparent with my kids and I feel like it teaches them a lot. I could have learned so much from my parents if they would have let me in on their finances a little more. At least showing me their budget and how much their bills where. That would have discouraged me from moving out as early. HAHA

    • I think she meant well but just hadn’t run the numbers! Or maybe she didn’t know us as well as I thought she did. She saw my husband a lot because of work though, so I’m not sure how that could be.

  6. My income is public information– if you know my name, you can google it.

    Though most people in my field assume I make more than I do, which can be awkward. (No, actually we can’t afford a full-time personal assistant and week-long vacations to hired houses with servants in foreign countries on top of retirement savings and daycare.) They often think my husband makes more than he does as well. Which he would if we lived in San Francisco. But we don’t.

    People don’t tend to assume that we make less than we actually do, because: PhDs (for people not in academia) and STEM PhDs (for people in academia).

    I feel less comfortable about sharing it as an internet persona. There’s a lot of crazy people out there. And I still feel a little guilty about how much we spend each year, even though we save a large portion of our income.

    • Oh, I think most people assume that all PhDs make huge money. I thought that too a long time ago, but now I know better.

      We’ve been on both sides. Some people assume that morticians make a ton of money and others obviously do not. Some people think my online work brings in millions and others think we must be struggling because I am not really working. I share my income on my blog but don’t tell people about my blog in “real life,” so there is a disconnect there.

  7. I was raised with the idea that it is impolite and inappropriate to discuss income. I was never privy to my parent’s income, or anyone else’s for that matter. Personally, I am still not comfortable talking about it with people. Our society places such a big emphasis on income = personal worth, and I wouldn’t want to be judged one way or another based on a number.

  8. Wow, just wow. Anyway, I can totally understand the reasoning behind not sharing Greg’s income info – especially if any of his co-workers know about the blog. I will share if asked, though I try to keep it private online since we have clients who check out the site as well as family members. We have some in our family that really aren’t the best with their money (that’s being way too kind) that me sharing would create some uneasy conversations.

    • Well, we don’t know if they know about the blog for sure. I just wouldn’t want anyone to think he makes too much or doesn’t deserve a raise because of his income and savings. We already feel a little push-back because of all the vacations we take each year and where we go. It’s hard for people to understand.

  9. I would have probably said, “I don’t think I’ll qualify”. Weird situation though. I can’t imagine that happening here- I think there’s a lot of shame around the assistance program. Though I’ll admit, I did just qualify for Medicaid.

  10. I don’t disclose my income, although I share plenty of details about my net-worth. Discussing salary information within a business can really causes moral/bitterness between co-workers. There are several factors why someone might make more or less then others, education, experience, etc so it’s not always an apples to apples comparison. As far the vendor and WIC, sounds like you did the right thing, no way to politely reply to that one.

  11. OUCH. What a sticky situation. We don’t share Rick’s income either, for the very reasons you mentioned here. I’m not sure what I would’ve said to that gal either, Holly, that’s a tough one.

  12. I have the opposite problem – I have an inlaw that constantly gives me a hard time about my perceived salary. I get comments like “Oooh, The big time software engineer is here….guess who’s buying the next round?” then he start dropping numbers trying to get me to give him some hint as to how much I earn. Most annoying thing EVER.

  13. I’m with you, there are plenty of times where disclosing income can be encouraging, inspiring, etc. But at other times it’s just arrogant. I don’t mind sharing my income with my brother when he’s asking for career advice, because I want him to be able to properly weigh the consequences of his decisions. But most other people I wouldn’t share it with because I make more than they do, and it would only hurt my relationship with them.

  14. Thankfully my husband and I are both ok with sharing our income. If one of us wasn’t, I would leave it out of the blog. I am comfortable sharing it with anyone but immediate friends and family – strange, I know because I share it with all of you – but I think it goes along with the thinking that it is rude to ask someone’s income.

    • Hey, do what you need to do~ I’m okay with sharing mine. I think it helps me be accountable and inspires me to try to bring in more next month.

  15. Love this post! People constantly think I make a ton of money because I’m a lawyer. They forget about the loans! I feel very comfortable talking about my salary, but I really like to stress my student loans are almost half of my take home pay, so it’s really tight – not the glamorous life of an attorney that many think about.

    • Are they really half of your pay? Yikes! I bet you’ll be glad when those are paid off!

    • I have the same problem…people think I should make a lot of money because I’m an attorney, though I work in government so they have a slightly lower expectation but still expect me to make a good amount. The student loans definitely makes things tighter!

  16. I have no words for that lady. Who in their right mind assumes stuff like that about someone…unless she caught you dumpster diving or something. I don’t post what I make each month (I just say if I’ve made more or less than my projected budget) because I don’t want people who know me in real life to act differently around me whether I made a lot or very little. Like getting invited to things. I want the chance to either say yes or no. I already know, based on my topics, that I have been excluded from certain things. But in some ways that weeds out the true friends versus the acquaintances.

    • That stinks if people don’t invite you to some things because you are frugal. Like you, I want the opportunity to say yes or no. We splurge occasionally and might do so if asked to be included in something we really want to do.

  17. I’m personally ok with sharing most of the details of my finances, I have made mistakes and I am looking to clean everything up, so the debt sharing doesn’t bother me. I’m not an open book, but I’d rather share these things with close personal friends than someone I went to HS/College with trying to see if they are doing better than me.

    More importantly my wife is a very private person, I mention any numbers and she gives me the thumbs down and threatens to burn the place down, jk but I know how she feels and I prefer a happy life than sharing we make X.

  18. A single woman with 2 kids could qualify for WIC making around $17 an hour so lets not assume someone on WIC would be dumpster diving or even living a life of poverty. I have a full time job but work part time or do volunteer work in social work and I tell all people about all programs that I might know about even if I don’t know what their income is versus the income guidelines for the program. It is always good to share regardless so if they don’t qualify maybe one day they will have a friend who needs the assistance. I think people just need to find the right way to say things and we need to not be offended when people want to share what they know.
    I do not share my income with people because I find when you do people assume that you should be living a certain type of lifestyle. As some of the comments have stated sometimes if you don’t share people assume by the things that you have that you make the big time money. I just don’t assume and share as I see fit.

    • Ohhh….nooooo! Don’t take it that way. I know that WIC is tied to the poverty limit somehow, but I don’t think it’s only for extremely poor people. My best friend was on WIC with her first child and it helped her immensely.

      But this woman knew both me and my husband since we both worked together at the funeral home. She knew we both worked full-time and wore suits to work every day. I found it surprising that she would assume we qualified for any kind of help.

      Like you said, I think she was just trying to be helpful and share the information she had. It did catch me off guard though!

  19. One of my very first jobs was at a WIC office, so I’m happy to see them in a post!

    There’s nothing more awkward that a frank conversation about how much you make. I think it’s one of the last truly taboo subjects — to the point that people who would benefit most from a frank discussion about salary (co-workers) are afraid to share that information openly. Just imagine how much more money you could negotiate for in your annual review if you knew exactly how much your other team members made, what raises and bonuses they received, etc.

  20. We would get those kind of people all of the time because we lived in a more “suppressed” area of our city. We did it because we could afford it, but then we started to earn much more. We didn’t qualify for any of those programs, nor did we need them.

    I don’t talk about my income to anyone, unless they ask me. That is just not something I share, nor do I care to share.

  21. I only feel comfortable sharing my income on my blog. Now that all of our friends and family know about my blog, they also all know about my income. It is brought up about 50% of the time that I see anyone. It is awkward and I always try to change the subject.

    Before I told everyone about my blog, we did have a lot of friends who thought we were extremely poor. We received offers for help all the time (which we always turned down), and it was annoying.

  22. We’re in the same boat as Greg–we don’t want to share our precise incomes right now since we’re both still employed (of course that’s why we’re anonymous too!). I don’t have any qualms about sharing it otherwise because it would paint a more complete picture of our savings, investments, and FI strategy. But I think it’s prudent for us to wait until we’ve moved past the 9-5 phase of our lives. Thanks for sharing this story!

  23. I definitely think that if you’re in a corporate setting, you should keep your yap shut for the things you mentioned. That being said, I don’t have any problems telling people how much I make from my side job–and I guess I don’t really mind telling family or friends how much I make at my day job, but it’s not something I would share online and definitely not with someone I work with.

    • I don’t mind telling friends or family members either, but I would never tell certain people. It just depends on who they are.

  24. I never share income information except in the most general terms. I would never ask someone else how much they earn either. It may be generational, but I was taught it was personal. My students do not understand those boundaries probably due to their age. I had to remind them when we had guest speakers in a career class.

  25. I have never felt comfortable sharing my income because in the early part of my career I knew that I made more than most people, and I just didn’t think it was fair to share it with friends or family. Now that I have my own business and the blog, I have thought about disclosing my income and may add it one day if I felt as though it would serve a purpose that was positive and motivating for other people.

    • That makes sense! That’s ultimately why I started sharing it. Most of my readers knew I left my job to pursue an online writing career so I wanted to show people the reality of what that means.

  26. I’m all for breaking the taboo on money talk, but it has to be broken in a way that isn’t in-your-face. To this woman, I think it would have been appropriate to have said, “It sounds like a great program, but I’m pretty sure we earn too much to qualify for it.” On another note, the fact that she thought you were poor is a real testimony to your frugal living! The norm is to live above income. Living within – or better still – under income is so wise.

  27. I’ve had a family member assume I was eligible for WIC and try to talk me into it. I knew I wasn’t, but like you, just kept my mouth shut!

  28. I really don’t know what income level you need to be below to qualify. I was actually surprised when my Sister In Law said that they had WIC when their kid was born in February. I kind of assumed that their income level was near ours, but maybe it has more to do with the levels of student loans they have? Not sure how that stuff works.

    Anyways, I do share my net income (combined with the wife’s) so really no one would know how much is mine or hers, or really what the gross amount is. I do feel that the more finance is shared the less taboo of a subject it can become which is a good thing.

    • I’m not sure how it works either, but I know we wouldn’t qualify! The median income in the U.S. is something like 51K right now……

      • I have tried a little (not a lot) to see what the definition of “median income” is. I know what median means, but is it the median of Gross, AGI, or take home? I haven’t found a clear answer to that.

        Yea I would assume that they make at least median income being they both work full time (and not in a minimum wage position), but maybe if they used last year’s tax info they could have had less income then.

  29. I’m not comfortable talking about income either. I’ve shared lots of numbers on my blog…how much debt we’ve paid off, what we’ve paid for college for our daughter, what my side incomes bring in, but I haven’t (and probably won’t) share our income at any point.

    Crazy story about the WIC conversation.

  30. Awwwwkward!

    Most of my friends work in the same industry and so we all have a fair idea of what we all make. People talk about taxes and such. On my blog, I only disclose my overall gross income for the entire year and rounded to a nearby $10,000. I don’t want to get too specific. And of course, I blog anonymously. I only started mentioning my income so that people had an idea of how I am saving as much money as I am.

  31. I used to feel weird about telling people my income. But now just about every time you apply for something like a car loan or in-store credit card you have to declare it, and I’ve just come to be comfortable with it.

  32. Hey Holly, I never have been in a position like that, but I would imagine awkward would be an understatement. I’ve always been open about my income. If someone asks, I don’t see any reason not to tell them. When it comes to the question of “Would I qualify for government aid?” The answer is no, but I’ve never had to tell anyone that.

  33. That would have been awkward and a bit presumptuous on her part too. I think I would have done the same and politely nodded. :) Income is a hard one. I am all for money transparency within the home but some people are very judgmental about what you earn – either it’s too much or not enough. I generally don’t disclose my income because it really hasn’t been asked out of an innate curiosity but more as “keep up” question which I have no interest in playing.

  34. Most of our friends assume we must not make much money because we don’t spend a lot. I usually don’t say anything — I’m trying too hard not to laugh! I’m not trying to be mean, I genuinely do think it’s funny how people think like that. It’s even more interesting to find out what people think of our income now that I’m full-time self-employed. They tend to think we make even less and must be struggling, when the reality is we’re in a better financial position because I earn more on my own than I did as an employee. We’re certainly not makin’ it rain anywhere, but we’re comfortable and able to save a lot of what we make. I do think it’s bizarre the kind of assumptions people make based off what they can see.. don’t we all know by now not to judge a book by its cover? :)

  35. For me it depends on the crowd. I very openly talk to certain people about my income but others I do not. Like Greg, professionally I often don’t unless I’m asked directly. There isn’t a huge discrepancy in pay in my profession in this province but it varies based on a few factors but people get up in arms about it more than any other area I’ve ever worked in..Who cares if I make $32/hour and you make $33 people are nuts so I keep my mouth shut

  36. I don’t talk about incomes with people outside of the blog or at least my own. Since I do talk about income on the blog this is why I am anonymous. It’s not because I want to but because of the role I am in and for obvious reasons which you touched on. Some people might not care but for myself it’s a big deal. It’s only used as a tool to show fans how you can save and how we are saving etc.

  37. I have found that people around me often assume I don’t have any money. I think this is because I’m in my twenties, and I also think it’s because I don’t spend money and don’t own nice things. I often find myself getting defensive in these situations and feeling like I have to somehow convince them that I make a lot of money. Ridiculous, I know!

    What I always remind myself is that smart millionaires drive old cars, and everytime someone implies / treats me like I’m broke, it’s an opportunity for me to be humble and smile. If my objective for saving money is to impress others, I need to re-examine my goals :)

  38. I pretty well share my income. I do make a bit more than what is stated in my blog’s budget, but only from a couple of side jobs that fluctuate month to month, thus I don’t include that income in my budget since it varies so much.

  39. I think if you are employed and even if you blog anonymously it might be a bit risky to disclose your income.

  40. People are so weird to pregnant women! Seriously! I don’t blame you for not sharing Greg’s income. I don’t share my income but I’m thinking of doing it in a different way in the future. :)

  41. Wow that sounds like an awkward conversation. I always find conversations related to income to be awkward. It rarely comes up because I try to avoid it. I personally don’t care what someone makes so it’s not even worth mentioning unless we are talking about a related topic like budgeting

  42. I think it makes sense for you to share your income. As you said, it shows others you can make a full-time income online. It also probably attracts new readers because – at least in my opinion – people WANT to hear from people who are legitimately making money online. Greg’s reason is the same reason I don’t share my income publicly.

  43. I am totally uncomfortable sharing my income. A lot of people make assumptions about how much I make or what I can afford. I am lucky enough to have a healthy income that is way beyond the national average. I also work for a corporation, and I value protecting their privacy as well. As far as that conversation is concerned, I think I would have just been polite and thanked her for her advice. You are right, anything that you would say would have made you sound like a jerk.

  44. It depends on the situation, but generally I won’t share my income for a multitude of reasons. I think it’s still sort of taboo in society to talk about income, and while that is not why I don’t like to share mine, it contributes. I don’t want people thinking I’m bragging or being rude.

  45. I can’t believe someone would automatically presume anyone is eligible for WIC, let alone give them advice on how to get it. I’m weird, because I have no problem sharing my income online, but in person, I’m much less inclined to do so. I think I’d actually rather have people underestimate what we make.

  46. I don’t mind sharing our household income in person or on the blog, but I get a little shy about saying how much comes from where. Mostly that’s because of potential future workplace issues with sharing income from our individual jobs – it definitely doesn’t matter for our jobs right now since there is a set salary schedule. You can look up my income online if you know enough about me. So if I decline to share it’s not because of us but trying to keep some privacy at our future jobs.

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