Do You Support More Openness About Finances?

friends sharing secretI guess I haven’t fully understood why money is the last taboo topic in our society.  Obviously, I wanted to talk about money so much in my real life that I created a blog about it and I’ve only gotten worse since then.  You can connect almost anything we do or value in life to money somehow, which is why writing in the “niche” of personal finance actually opens you up to writing about almost anything you want.  I love that how people handle their money reveals so much about them.  Is that why it’s taboo?  Because it’s too honest?


No, I don’t think the taboo is chiefly because we don’t want to be known by our friends and family.  I think it’s because we don’t want to be sized up against them in cold, hard numbers – either through our incomes (when higher is obviously better – until it’s too high), our spending (sometimes spending is a status symbol, sometimes a sign that you’re careless), or our debt (potentially a source of shame).  We don’t want to be compared and come out behind or ahead.  We don’t want to feel bad about ourselves or make others feel bad about themselves.


Why are finances, specifically, this last remaining taboo?  Perhaps it’s because it’s so easy to deceive others about our own money.  Most of our lives are lived out among others so our behaviors are observable – what we eat, where we worship, our bodies, our (FB) relationship status.  But our money is kept secret behind password-protected firewalls.  Even what you think you know from what you see others spending could be a deception, as lifestyle can be inflated by credit or kept tamped down with high savings or giving rates.


I think we would all benefit from we talking about money more openly.  Isn’t that kind of the point behind this whole PF blogosphere?  We use it to clarify our goals, share strategies, gain accountability, pick up tips, and keep abreast of the financial news of the day.  Talking about money more openly would lead to more financial success and therefore less shame.  We will likely even learn that it’s far too reductionist to think of others only in terms of salary/spending/debt/net worth, if we know those figures about more people.  Honestly, in a society where money issues are the #1 cause of divorce and cause rifts in so many families and friendships, how can we do any worse than we already are?


I want others to be successful with their finances, by whatever metrics they use to define success.  That’s why I participated in FPU last fall and I’m serving as a financial coach through my churchI’m particularly passionate about PhD students getting ahead financially during that time of their lives instead of just keeping their heads above water, which is why I’ve devoted so many posts on here to grad student-specific money issues and I’m serving on my university’s personal finance committee.  I talk about money whenever it seems to be both tactful and of interest to my conversational partner (Kyle thinks I often overestimate the latter!).


Yet I’m sure there is more that I could do.  I don’t often reveal precise numbers when talking about finances – sometimes because I don’t know them off the top of my head, sometimes because being vague is a hat-tip to the taboo.  I could be more open about strategies IRL like I am here on the blog.  I would love to learn the strategies of more of my peers.


Here’s a step, for me.  It’s an easy one, actually.  I’ll tell you our precise (expected) salaries for the academic year 2013-2014.  They’re on the internet anyway – we’re paid exactly what our university recommends we should be in each of our schools.  This year, my gross stipend will be $27,850 and Kyle’s gross stipend will be $29,420.  (That’s just for living expenses, not tuition, fees, or health insurance.)  Our total income is slightly higher from Kyle’s tiny weekend almost-volunteer job, blog income, the occasional clinical study, and interest/dividend income – but not much.  So there you have it!  I revealed our net worth a few months ago, too, so you’re welcome to check that out.


I’m not ashamed of these numbers, I’m not proud of these numbers (well, I’m little proud of the retirement saving-to-income ratio), and I don’t think they stand for my value.  If you think I’ve been successful, great – check out this blog or talk with me in person/through email to learn from me.  If you see room for improvement, great – I want to learn from you.  I believe that by talking more openly finances, we can all make expeditious progress toward our goals.


Do you think we should strive to break down the money taboo and that we would all be more successful if we did?  Do you avoid talking about your finances because you are ashamed or because you don’t want to make others feel bad?  Who in your real life knows your salary and would you reveal it anonymously?  Do you blog/comment in a way that can be traced to your real identity?


photo from Free Digital Photos


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36 Responses to "Do You Support More Openness About Finances?"

  1. E.M. says:

    I don’t mind being open with friends and family if they ask. My parents and grandma know how much I make, but considering they’re retired, it’s not like I can really compare! My parents were able to survive on a modest salary and that’s what I’m hoping for. I just want to be happy; someone could be making six figures and be miserable, so I wouldn’t feel inferior in that case. However, it does sting a bit when I see college classmates in what appears to be great jobs. I just keep telling myself I’ll get there.
    E.M. recently posted..4 Financial Tips for Young Professionals

    1. Emily says:

      That’s great that your parents gave you an example of happiness at a reasonable income level. Do you aspire to the same careers as your college classmates or a similar income level? I know people who earn far more than I would need to (or want to work for).

      1. E.M. says:

        I would be happy if, combined, my boyfriend and I made around $75-$80k. Since we’re considering moving to a lower cost of living area, I have to be realistic that we won’t make as much as we could here. I would love to be able to save half or live off of one income eventually.

  2. David W says:

    Hard to say what the overall effect on society would be. There would almost certainly be more annoyed co-workers when they found out you make more, or self-righteous ones when they make more.

    Depending on the month, we live on around 30-50% of our income with the remainder going to saving/giving, which is a fact I’ve mentioned to a few people without mentioning actual dollar amount. It has always led to good conversation about the topic and other money related ones. I don’t think though that most people are mature enough to handle realizing in concrete terms that somebody else makes a greater (or lesser) amount of money than they do. In my experience it almost always leads to people trying to push you around in some way or asking for money (or for you to pay the bill because “you can afford it”).

    The few people I have shared more concrete numbers with (nobody but my wife knows the exact figures) have been ones I trust in regard to money and it has led to great conversation and better friendships. One guy even listed me on his will as one of two people for his wife to talk to about money if he died (the other being a parent).

    In general I think the average american is in a financial mess that they don’t even realize they’re in yet. More open conversation would be painful for many, but would ultimately be a good thing.
    David W recently posted..A Closer Look at Cash Value vs Term Life Insurance

    1. Emily says:

      The shift in workplaces might be awkward for a while, but don’t you think that transparency would be better in the end? Shouldn’t companies have objective reasons why they pay some employees more than others?

      I’ve never had the experience of anyone presuming on me, but maybe that’s because we earn so little! I wouldn’t take well to that even with a higher income.

      It does seem that the topic of money can be broached in closer friendships but I wish it would go beyond so that people can realize how they can improve and get out of bad situations, like you said. If you only talk with your peers about money you probably won’t learn much that’s new, and they might be broke, too!

      1. David W says:

        Yes, probably better in the end, but many companies expressly forbid you from sharing pay level with co-workers. Ideally companies would be totally objective, but I know from experience that many companies are less worried about paying people what they’re “worth” and more about paying enough to keep them around.

        1. Emily says:

          That policy only benefits the employers as far as I can see. I don’t like gagging people.

  3. Bill Nast says:

    It’ an excellent topic of conversation. My parents thought it was taboo, and I wish they hadn’t. I went through all of high school and college knowing little about personal finance, and this was even after going to business school during undergrad. At the age of 22 for Christmas, my brother finally gave me a personal finance book, telling me it was the one thing he’d learned earlier. I was lucky he did that.

    If parents, especially, would talk about it with their kids, they could develop credit earlier, start investing earlier, save earlier, etc.

    But yes, I agree that revealing specific numbers is a bit too personal. Revealing successful investments, bad investments, and other wise choices and mistakes is a good way to go about it.
    Bill Nast recently posted..Stocks and Shares for Beginners

    1. Emily says:

      I was fortunate to fall into PF early as well, because my parents didn’t prepare me well (or gave me info that I now think isn’t the best). I guess the problem is that so many parents don’t know what’s best or how to achieve it, either!

      I’m much more reticent to talk about specific investments than I am about specific numbers, though I’m happy to explain our dollar cost averageing index investing strategy to anyone.

  4. Richard says:

    To me, it is less taboo to share salaries than savings, probably because anyone with Google can figure out what my wife and I, or pretty much any of our colleagues makes. The rest is a little more difficult to share or ask. Why? Because it can change how people act around you. It certainly changes how I treat other people (should I be ashamed?). It can seem rather harmless to share mundane financial data that you might expect, but the surprises are important to think about too.

    What if we had an inheritance that left us fabulously wealthy?

    What if we had crippling medical debt?

    Knowing either of those would probably change our relationship, at least slightly. Certainly knowing that you two are such reasonable stewards of resources changes how we interact. For example, you narrowly missed out on some re-gifted theater tickets that we ended up exchanging, but you also usually don’t rise to the top when we’re thinking of trying a new restaurant. I’ve definitely singled out poor graduate students for free holiday meals, and underpaid lab techs and undergrads for the occasional free coffee, but there’s no way I’m buying my dad dinner anytime soon.

    Feel free to make the case that information sharing alters relationships in an appropriate way.

    1. Emily says:

      Yeah, the salary reveal is not a huge deal for us since I say it approximately all the time. But “getting naked” with our net worth took a lot of consideration (and convincing).

      I’m not sure if I really let what I know about others’ financial situations alter how I behave toward them – and since I talk about this a lot, I end up hearing details that people don’t normally share. I know people who are in massive amounts of debt and who have had windfalls, but I really can’t think that it’s changed how I behave. I certainly enjoy when I find that a friend is like-minded or interested in learning. Maybe you are more charitable and discerning than we are! And please do think of us when trying a new restaurant because we pretty much only go out to eat when others invite us! If it’s too expensive, we can say no. 🙂

      LIke I said in the post, I just don’t think that our numbers represent who we are as people. I do think that I’ve become closer friends with people who open up their finances to me a bit, and vice versa, as we have with you. I think it’s a way to know one another better and find new connections as well as potentially learn from one another.

  5. Ashley says:

    Some of the craziest/most uncomfortable situations have happened when talking about money with my mom. I discovered that I had more saved for retirement than her at one point… and that I made almost $20k more than her when I quit my job! It’s not that those were bad situations, exactly… it’s just kind of awkward, I guess? Maybe it’s awkward because it’s a taboo subject? I just didn’t know what to say when those things came up!
    Ashley recently posted..Toastmasters Day 1

    1. Emily says:

      I’ve thought about how it’s possible that we’ll shortly earn more than our higher-earning parent… It’s weird to anticipate that! Maybe it’s awkward because there is an implied obligation if your mom can’t provide for herself in the future?

  6. I do think that money is an important subject to discuss. My only qualm about talking about money is that it’s much more comfortable for those of us who have enough. It can be uncomfortable for those who don’t, as it’s a sign of lack of success.
    Tushar @ Everything Finance recently posted..5 Things you didn’t know Could Affect your Credit Rating

    1. Emily says:

      I guess I’m kind of in between on that point – I see myself as doing well with the little money I have at my disposal. I’ve never been in the position of not having enough or not doing well. But I have coached people who are deep in the red and I think that they came out of it encouraged.

  7. Jim says:

    often times people don’t want to talk about money because they do not manage it well. Growing up in a family who never talked about money, looking back it was because my parents didn’t manage it very well. It’s an uncomfortable subject unless you can use money to your advantage rather than your demise.
    Jim recently posted..The Internet | Our Last Tie To The Freedoms We Claimed In 1776

    1. Emily says:

      Do you think the issue is that people know what to do with their money but don’t or a lack of understanding of what to do at all?

  8. Daniel says:

    I’ve found that my group of friends are much more open to sharing their finances than I expected. The more you share, the more you learn and know. I remember graduating college, and nobody knew anything about 401(k)s or Roth IRAs. Slowly we learned and when our friends got jobs, they knew to ask us for advice since we had been through the same process recently.
    Daniel recently posted..What Are You Doing To Improve Yourself?

    1. Emily says:

      That sounds really fun! I would like to be in that group. 🙂 I hope you verified the advice, though.

  9. Matt Becker says:

    I would love for money to be a more open topic and I 100% agree with you that our society would be better off if it was. I don’t often bring it up though, but I love it when people bring it up with me. I’ve noticed people doing that more often recently, which I think is great.
    Matt Becker recently posted..Struggling to Find Your Motivation? How About Creating it Instead?

    1. Emily says:

      Me too and I love it. I try to make openings in conversations from time to time. When my main hobby (blogging) comes up I tell them the subject and sometimes they want to talk about money and sometimes not.

  10. Cash Rebel says:

    I agree with your whole thesis. I wouldn’t have a problem with all this money secrecy if it don’t lead to so many crazy issues like divorce and unexpecrltdd bankruptcy. I always talk in generalities with my friends just because I don’t want to make assumptions or judgements about their salary. It would be so much easier to help them if we could just be real. Way to put your numbers out there. That’s a tough thing to do even on a blog.
    Cash Rebel recently posted..When it’s finally time to find a new job

    1. Emily says:

      Our detailed spending reports are here every month anyway and I think that’s more sensitive than salary! I think one of the main problems in marriages is that people don’t talk about money while dating – not necessarily the balance sheet stuff but the general attitudes toward spending/saving/giving and financial goals in life.

  11. I think it is especially important for families to talk about money. Parents need to educate their children more about the importance of their fiances and what they should look out for. Too often people have to learn the hard way.
    Michael Solari recently posted..What a Certified Financial Planner (TM) Brings to the Table

    1. Emily says:

      I don’t think my parents had it figured out when I was a kid, though! I don’t agree now with much of what they taught me.

  12. It’s weird, but I’m conflicted on this front. I’m probably about as transparent a blogger as you’ll find with our budget and net worth, but the idea of just sharing my income makes me uncomfortable. (Though an enterprising person with a calculator and a good understanding of our tax code could figure that out from our Budget Port posts). Income, in particular, is a fig leaf I want to keep on for now. Don’t know why.
    Done by Forty recently posted..How We Used Mental Accounting to Pay Off Our Mortgage

    1. Emily says:

      That is interesting. I think of net worth as more sensitive than salary – especially when you can report 2 incomes combined. Does it have anything to do with your wife being in grad school?

  13. SarahN says:

    Definitely think there should be more transparency on finances, and smart use of money and debt.

    I blog with a photo of me, but on my blog I try to steer away from specifics of dollar figures. However, I comment on blogs, linked back to mine, with specifics, so yes people might work out the full picture. My salary, like yours, is public. That being said, my net worth isn’t as transparent, but I’ll tell people. The two are both higher than the ‘norm’ at my age I think, and whilst I am proud, I don’t want to make others jealous/annoyed. So is my retirement savings (I posted that I was statistically ahead of people up to the age of 40!~) In any case, as I’m proud of my achievements, I would definitely share them if asked directly in the blogosphere, and in public to friends I would trust to be as honest.

    1. Emily says:

      Yeah, the levels of sharing IRL, on one’s own blog, and in comments on other blogs all seem to be different levels of disclosure. You should be proud of your accomplishments, while sensitive to your audience.

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