Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Being shy about how much I make

I went out for dinner last night with two friends in my field, and had the most bizarre realization that I make way more money than they do.

I've never been in this situation before. For whatever reason, I tend to "friend up" and so all of my friends have generally been more professionally successful or in the industry longer than me, and so it could be safely assumed that they made more than me. Of these two friends, one has been working longer than me (about three years longer) and one has been working for the same length of time. And yet I make more -- quite a bit more in one case -- than both of them.

The way I found out is that one friend is interviewing for a job with my company and asked me how much I thought the job paid, and flat out told me what she's making now (which is quite low -- $15,000 less than me). The other friend was complaining that her younger brother, who lives in the midwest and has only been in the workforce for two years, is now making more than her, and she named a number which is $6,000 less than what I make. These conversations happened separately, so as far as I know, I know what friend A makes and what friend B makes, but friend A doesn't know what friend B makes and vice versa, and neither know what I make nor that I know what the other makes. Got that?

Both of these friends work full time. Both of them also have part-time jobs on the side, working evenings and weekends in service-type jobs. Both are single. One lives alone, the other lives with her parents outside of the city, where she owns a car and has a crazy expensive commute. Both are older than me by a year or two.

I want finances to be an open matter -- that's why I blog, even though it's anonymous. I want to be in friendships where we can discuss things like this. And yet, I feel very strange telling my friends how much I make since it's substantially more than them. I feel weird telling them that Peanut and I live off of my income alone, and bank his larger income for the future.

Why do I feel so weird about this?! I can't figure it out. We're in different jobs that have different salary expectations. We handle money differently (they both ordered appetizers with dinner and looked at the dessert menu; I did not). I work hard for my salary and I'm good at my job. I'm not ashamed of what I make and I intend to make more still, but I don't want to make them feel bad by saying out loud that I don't have to worry about money at this point in my life.

I also felt like geez, it's not really fair. I know how much they make, and they don't know how much I make. My salary never came up, as the conversations were pretty specific to their situation, and injecting my number was irrelevant. But it seems like introducing how much I make into the equation would make the friendship unequal, especially given how thrifty I generally am during outings. Would they think me a cheapskate for only ordering one drink, if they knew that I earned more than them? Would they feel like I should pick up more of the dinner tab, because I could? Should I, especially if I do the inviting or pick the restaurant?

If a more general salary discussion came up, I'm not sure what I would have said. Would I have told them the truth? Would I have demurred and said nothing substantial? Would I have lied to my friends to spare their feelings? Honestly, I don't know.

Do you earn more or less than your friends? If you're on either side of the situation, please weigh in and tell me how you prefer it to be handled. I'm really stumped.

28 comments:

  1. My thing is if that if they don't ask directly, I vaguely mention earning something like what I earned before.

    If they ask directly, I don't lie. I tell them exactly the number.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Most of my friends are teachers, and our salaries are available on the Internet. So it's not really something we discuss, but if anyone wanted to find out, they could.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I make a good salary in a business where no one gets paid well, so I don't like to talk about my salary with my friends in the biz too much. I just tell them I'm grateful for my salary but earn it by putting up with a lot of crap.

    ReplyDelete
  4. We never discuss our salaries in specifics but we do know roughly how much each other earns. It has never been an issue though as we are all in different professions and industries and have different lifestyles.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I do make more than my friends, but my expenses are also significantly higher (living on my own, paying off a massive car loan, saving aggressively) so if we're out, I'm the one saying, "what's the cheapest option?" Appearances can be deceiving!

    ReplyDelete
  6. Typically how much we make doesn't come up in conversation with friends. but I'd be more than honest with them about how much I make. Typically when someone asked I tell them what my base salary is. if they prob more I'll tell them that I am eligible to get straight time for overtime. Since that amount can fluctuate I can't give them an exact amount from there.

    But I would never tell anyone any of those things unless explicitly asked.

    ReplyDelete
  7. i don't think you should down play yourself. seems from this blog that you've earn and sacrificed a lot with peanut to get to the the point you are today. if anything your friends would have something to look up to.

    just sayin'

    ReplyDelete
  8. I don't think I've ever had a convo (when I was working) where my friends talked about how much we made. I've never volunteered the info and noone has asked. But now that I'm unemployed they all know I makes less than they do so there is no reason to ask.

    In your case I don't think telling a lie is the right choice. Either tell the truth or decide not to share.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Thank you, everyone, for your thoughtful comments! This has given me great food for thought, and as always, I love your feedback.

    ReplyDelete
  10. My closest friends know how much I make and vice versa, but I would be very hesitant to share that info with anyone else. And it only came up with those closest friends when we were struggling with whether to accept a job offer, buy a house, etc.

    ReplyDelete
  11. My grad stipend is common knowledge, and my coworkers can undoubtedly guess my part-time income, but no one seems to add the two up correctly.

    I don't make substantially more than my friends, but I have less expenses and I save more.

    ReplyDelete
  12. When you said substantially more, I was imagining at least 70 - 100k more! Maybe it's just me but I don't think 15k is much of a difference. At least not enough to feel uncomfortable about. Like you touched on, financial success comes down more to how you manage your money than how much you make, especially as you're all quite close in income in reality. Besides, you have a partner to combine forces with - I'm sure they'd realise the effect that has on your situation.

    I'm the youngest of my friends and I earn substantially - and I do mean substantially, hehe - more than any of them. They're happy for me and actively encourage me to reach my goals, just like I'm genuinely happy for the good things that happen to them. We're so close that it kind of feels like if one of us achieves something, we all did.

    I also think it's a non-issue because I'm actually more frugal than they are. It's not like I'm buying a new Chanel bag every week, although I could afford to, and shoving it in their faces.

    Bottom line: if they're real friends, and you don't act like a douche bag about it, you won't need to worry.

    ReplyDelete
  13. In my case, it depends on who I'm talking too. I make a lot less than some, and a decent amount more than others.

    ReplyDelete
  14. To be clear, I'm only talking about the difference between my friends' salaries and mine - not including Peanut's. Since we're currently living off of only my income, what Peanut makes didn't even cross my mind. That would just make the gap many times wider.

    @Ainsley, at the amounts we're talking, $15,000 IS substantial - it's a more than 30% difference between our salaries which at any level is significant.

    ReplyDelete
  15. My current salary is a little more than my friends. The minimum and maximum numbers for my rank are on the web because I work for a public university. My friends here mostly work for the Federal government also so I know roughly what they make.

    Some of my friends though for sure have a higher net worth than me, which levels the playing field. They also all have more secure employment.

    I do tell people that we only really spend Snork Maiden's salary, which is less than mine. That surprises some people. If someone asked my salary I'd tell them (AUD 112k plus 9% retirement contribution from the employer).

    ReplyDelete
  16. i accidentally let slip my amount per hour to a friend who worked in my office while bitching about the job. apparently i make more than he does- he wouldn't talk to me for about a week, and it took some extensive friendship repair efforts to get back a decent relationship.
    won't let my salary slip again, that's for sure. the ironic thing is that this is a couple years ago, since i have quit the job and make less than ever, i'm sure we're even or he makes more. i don't worry about it too much though- we're all recessionists these days.

    ReplyDelete
  17. I don't reveal my salary because I don't feel it's anyone's business but mine. Then again, I'm from a different generation (I'm 53) so maybe that has something to do with it.
    I wrote about this very topic on my own site. If it's kosher to post URLs, here goes:
    http://www.donnafreedman.com/2010/10/10/ill-show-you-my-salary-if-youll-show-me-yours/

    ReplyDelete
  18. A lot depends on the friend IMHO. For example, there's a chance that if you share with your friend who's looking at a job in your office, chances are if she got hired everyone where you work will eventually know your salary. Not necessarily good, especially if she complains during a performance review that she does as much as you and you are getting $X. I don't know said friend, so I don't know how probable that would be, just something to consider.

    I think part of it is when you make more money than someone, and you bring it up, it's like you're rubbing their face in it. In addition there are a lot of envious people out there who "just can't believe" you make as much as you do, regardless of the number, if it's more than they make. So I don't share unless asked, and then I tend to give a range (e.g "I made in the 60's last year)

    ReplyDelete
  19. I wouldn't have a problem sharing my salary with my close friends. I've actually shared mine with them (while in the midst of a job search and 2 job offers), but they have never told me theirs. Which, after reading your post, makes me think that they just make more than me so they don't want to tell me.
    I wouldn't be upset if they make more than me, since most of my close friends are 5-6 years older than me, and have been in the workforce that much longer than me. I just want to know how much they make so I can gauge where I could be in a few years, or to know if the job offers are giving me what I should be getting. (Yes, I know I can go to salary.com, and I know that different industries/professions vary by pay).
    I feel like if my friends won't tell me what they're making, or at least give me a range, then maybe we aren't really as good of friends as I thought, which hurts my feelings a bit. I think if you're true close friends, you should be able to share just about anything, and be happy for each other for it.

    ReplyDelete
  20. I think you can lose a lot and gain little by sharing salary info. with friends. Sometimes it does make sense if there is a really specific situation like what happened with your friends. Even then, if I were them, I would have kept it more general and given a range rather than naming my exact salary.

    I have a vague sense that most of my friends earn more than me (and I think my closest have a very vague idea of how much I make), but I know *exactly* how much my boyfriend makes as a teacher, and it is several thousand less than me. It makes me feel weird that I know his salary and he doesn't know mine. He knows that I make a little more than he does, but I brought it up once and he was completely uninterested in knowing the exact number. I think he thinks it's less of a gap than it is, but I'm going to leave the topic alone.

    A very sticky subject - thanks for the post!

    ReplyDelete
  21. @Donna - thanks for the link! I think you're right, that this is partly a generational difference. I find it very rude for someone to ask my salary, but the way these discussions with my friends came up, it didn't seem rude. They weren't angling to find out how much I make.

    ReplyDelete
  22. In my experience, folks generally don't like knowing that you make more than they do. They're perfectly happy knowing you make less than they do or about the same. Or they might not mind knowing that in general you make more but don't reaaaallly want to know the exact number difference.

    Of course, my salary is public information... my students all know how much I make.

    ReplyDelete
  23. Most of my friends are also coworkers, so we definitely don't share salary info - that would be too weird. The exception was a friend who was leaving and I was applying for her job - she gave me information which helped me negotiate a good offer.

    In a similar vein, I don't tell people how much I've saved for retirement. I broke 6 figures this year and am SUPER proud of it, but also feel a little shy about it at the same time. I do tell anyone who asks that I save 18% of my salary for retirement, so it's not like it's happened magically.

    ReplyDelete
  24. I am a stay-at-home-mother to two young girls, the younger of which has extensive medical difficulties which require me to stay in my chosen role. As such, I have no shyness about sharing my salary as technically, I don't have one.

    As far as my husband's salary... we aren't necessarily shy about disclosing the information, but very particular about when it's appropriate to talk numbers. He's shared with his brother who is going to graduate with a career in the same field soon (he's strongly considering making the same employment choice my husband did, which will necessitate a major move). On the flip side, we have a friend who like to talk numbers because she doesn't work as well in abstract. For awhile, we didn't share the information with her, but eventually did to help her understand why I can't spend money the same way that she does even though we had (at that time) very similar family life situations. The 25% salary difference and different financial goals just didn't give me the freedom to be as liberal as she enjoyed being.

    As it is... I still wondering if sharing with this friend was the correct decision, but the understanding has helped the friendship quite a bit.

    ReplyDelete
  25. I have strong feelings about this. Most women don't negotiate as well as most men do for salary, partly because good negotiating tactics are also things that are "rude" for young ladies to do.

    To help make it easier on us, I have a group of (very polite!) women friends who are mostly in my age range and in my professional field, and we all talk about salary in the bluntest terms. It helps us feel confident in what to ask for, and we can check the market about things like health care, etc. It's a really powerful practice to shine a little light on this situation.

    ReplyDelete
  26. I think it's okay to be open about certain aspects of your financial life but divulging how much you make is a no no in my book. I think in your situation, knowing that you made more would probably feel like a one up to your friends. It sounds like you didn't want to make your friends feel bad especially if they work extra jobs. Also, remember it's not how much you make, it's what you do with the money. Smart to bank one of the incomes. I think you did just fine.

    ReplyDelete
  27. Well, I agree with the comentator, who said, that it depends from a friend. There are different people in my environment, some eran more and some less than I do. And some tell me that they are in really hard monetary problems, and use to take cash loans in order to manage their monthly budget, these friends are really close, and they do not shy to tell this to me, and I always try to help them in such a situation.

    ReplyDelete
  28. I earn much more than my friends but I don't have this weird felling.In my opinion is nothing to be ashamed off because it depends also on the luck.It is simple I got more lucky then them because my company has more money to pay does big salaries.I would feel guilty only if I would win the money just doing nothing but in this situation I really deserve them cause I work hard.

    ReplyDelete

Thanks for commenting!