What to Say When Someone Asks How Much You Make

What do you say when someone asks how much you make? Do you tell them? The topic of income is usually taboo, but I bet almost everyone has been asked about their salary at least once. In college, my friends and I talked openly and honestly about money.

We discussed increasing book costs, rent, and utilities. I even remember celebrating the 15-cent raise of one of my roommates. No one objected to talking about money when working in low-paying, part-time jobs, but it seemed no one wanted to discuss salaries when we started our ‘real jobs.’

When graduation dates neared, a few of my friends discussed their starting salaries but most kept their new incomes to themselves.

Since I graduated from college, quite a few people have indirectly asked about my salary. My mom, who works part-time and makes very little money, started asking many questions when my husband and I decided to purchase a beach house.

Although I love my mom dearly, I was uncomfortable telling her my salary. In part, I didn’t think she needed to know the answer, but I was sad to tell her how much I made because my income was much higher than her own. When I told her I wouldn’t discuss it, she started listing numbers, $40,000… $60,000… $80,000.

I finally told my mother and father my salary after realizing they were asking out of concern. They feared I couldn’t afford a second house, and I drew up a spreadsheet of our income versus expenses to put their minds at ease.

So what do you do if someone crosses the taboo barrier? If someone asks how much you make, do you tell them? As a child, I remember a competitive friend of my father’s asking my dad how much he made.

My father answered, “I make enough.” Since his retirement, my dad’s answer has been roughly the same. When that friend asks him about money, my dad answers, “I have enough.”

When asked about my income, I steal my father’s line and say, “I make enough.” I often find this hard to do with close friends and family, but I’m fearful that people will think differently of me if they know just how much my husband and I make.

5 thoughts on “What to Say When Someone Asks How Much You Make”

  1. Interesting question. I go back and forth on this; a close friend and I have shared salary details. We’re in the same industry, and we both find it useful for deciding what the going rate for our work should be.

    But for the most part when the topic comes up in real life, I have the same answer you do. I just say “enough to pay the bills”. Usually that’s enough to let the person know that I’m not saying much more on that topic.

    For some reason it’s different on my blog. I don’t think I’ve ever revealed my income, but I’ve disclosed enough that one could probably guess it within some reasonable margin of error.

  2. When I was at university, comparing pay for holiday, part time and post-graduation jobs was common place. The numbers were always low and as most of us had little in the way of accumulated net worth (many were in debt), there was not much reason for being secretive. It was also one way of assessing the attractiveness of various offers. Generally, the differences in income were small.

    As I have got older (now on the wrong side of 40), income levels and financial positions have diverged among my peer group for a number of reasons. This leads to a greater degree of sensitivity in discussing and disclosing income and financial position. When I immigrated to Hong Kong I also disclosed pay offers I received to a number of friends as a means of evaluating them.

    It has been a long time since anoyone other than my wife, my employer, the bank to which my income is paid, the banks from which I borrow money and the tax collector have known exactly what I earn (although many others could make a reasonably educated guess). Actually, this is quite a long list – much longer than I would like – but apart from my wife, does not include any friends or relatives. I prefer it that way as I do not want financial comparisons to be a factor in a relationship.

  3. There has been numerous times at work when co-workers and subordinates try to get me tell them ho much I make. It is something, that even the employee handbook says that were are not to discuss with each other.

    What makes it even harder for me, is that I openly talk about personal finances in my main blog, but I try not to be exact on my income. Like samerwriter, a reader could probably guess it with-in some reasonable margin of error.

  4. I’m so happy to see that the comments to this post echo my own thoughts and feelings on this issue. I believe I have discussed my income in general terms, throughout previous blogs, but postings in the anonymous blog realm are much different than discussing income with those you know. Thanks again for the comments.

  5. huh,i answer this question by saying how much i spent. i mean “it doesn’t matter how much i make, but i spent xxx $ / month” – and this is usually much lower than their salaries.


Leave a Comment