Social Question

livelaughlove21's avatar

Why do people dislike talking about money?

Asked by livelaughlove21 (15724points) October 25th, 2012 from iPhone

I learned a long time ago that asking people about their personal finances is a social no-no. I would never ask my boss how much money he or she makes and I know many workplaces have a policy stating employees cannot discuss compensation amongst themselves. I also wouldn’t ask a stranger what they’re income is, for obvious reasons.

But I’m wondering why people are uncomfortable talking about money in ANY situation, even among friends. I find myself stepping on eggshells around people when it comes to money, and I just find it strange. I have no problem telling someone “I make $11 an hour at my part time bank job” – what’s the harm in that?

There are people that have a problem with someone asking how much they paid for something. I may just be missing something. There are plenty of situations where it’s not appropriate, but I’m just talking about casual conversation between regular folks that know each other. In what way is it offensive?

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45 Answers

Coloma's avatar

I’m not one of them, I have always felt it’s no big deal, but, clearly it is to many.
I think a lot of it, as everything, has to do with individual programming as well as personality style. I am a very open type and no topic is taboo. Same goes for sex. I recently asked a conservative friend of mine if her 18 yr. old daughter was on birth control and she looked horrified and changed the subject. Ooookay…sorry. lol

I also have never understood why people, mostly women, are so anal about disclosing their age, I am PROUD of my age and would never lie or be offended if asked how old I am. I even announce it in my profile here. Different strokes…

livelaughlove21's avatar

@Coloma I’m glad I’m not the only one. I don’t understand why people get all worked up about a lot of things. For me, as long as you don’t ask my weight, it’s fair game. :) And even then I don’t get weird. I just barely confess my weight to myself. Some would say I’m too open, but I just don’t see what the big deal is.

KNOWITALL's avatar

I’ve always been taught it’s not classy to discuss money, we don’t even do it in my family much. My grandfather would actually grimace sometimes when money came up…lol

Trillian's avatar

Because it’s vulgar.

ucme's avatar

Vulgar & crass.

flutherother's avatar

I think most people like to see others as equals. Discussing money destroys that as one will be better off than the other. It makes things awkward in all sorts of ways and can ruin friendships before they even start. It is insensitive and tactless.

jehnstewart's avatar

1. Talking about how much money you have makes you vulnerable.
2. Talking about financial abundance can make you false friends.
3. Talking about your net worth causes rifts with friends and acqaintances.
4. Talking about how much money you have causes people to want undeserved favors from you.

livelaughlove21's avatar

@Trillian and @ucme Okaaaay, but I’m asking WHY people feel that way. “It just IS that way” isn’t really an answer. People think it’s “vulgar”...I know that much, tell me something I don’t know.

wundayatta's avatar

Money is a very competitive topic. If you know how much someone makes, you can know if you make more or less. If you know these things that specifically, I think people use it to make you fel less than them. A lot of people are very competitive.

So when we don’t talk about money, we have to use proxy measures: what car do you drive? What neighborhood is your house in and, more to the point, how much are houses worth there? What is your job? What company do you work for?

This tells us what your economic situation is, or gives us a clue. And then people make assumptions about you. About your education. Your worth. Whether it is worth talking to you or not.

Don’t forget, we are very status conscious animals. Status is everything. It determines our biological and reproductive success. It determines whether we get into the right clubs. It determines what kind of hotel we stay in and what kind of vacation we have and how much bling we can wear and who designs our clothes and on and on.

Telling people how much you make is, quite simply, bragging, except in a few circumstances. One of those circumstances is where you make so little, it can’t be bragging. Otherwise, people talk about it in order to get a leg up over others. There’s no way around that.

We don’t want to talk about money, especially in America, because we want to try to maintain this idea that we are a classless society. We aren’t classless, of course, but still, we like this idea that anyone could achieve anything. We don’t want to be defined by money, except, of course, that if we have money, we want people to know it in some way. Except for those who don’t want people to know.

Sorry for all the exceptions. It’s complicated.

I come from a New England Puritan heritage. If we have money, we don’t show it. We don’t spend it. We save it. So you could look at my house, and you wouldn’t know how much I’d spent on it, since I only spend on things that can’t really be seen. Insulation. Roofing. Heating. Painting. Just enough garden to be acceptable.

Nothing glitzy and gaudy and certainly nothing over the top.

And that’s how most people feel, I think. We don’t want to be obvious about it, mostly. Money and status shouldn’t come between us. That’s how most people are, I think.

Then there are those who use money to show off and make themselves feel better. They are different and are willing to talk about money because it gives them an advantage.

YARNLADY's avatar

It’s one of those social taboos that I don’t have a clue about. I think some of the reasons @jehnstewart came up with probably apply.

I often make the blunder of asking or talking about how much something cost. I’m usually proud of the fact I am very frugal and I get bargain prices.

ucme's avatar

Ooh, listen to her :¬)
It’s crass because it’s no one’s business but their own, I don’t care how much anyone earns, not in the least.

Crashsequence2012's avatar

Those people are demonstrating good taste.

Crashsequence2012's avatar

Because success and wealth envy is at an all time high.

KNOWITALL's avatar

Plus the southen definition of class is ‘how comfortable you make others feel’, and money often makes ppl uncomfortable. I’ve had money and when ppl knew they always wanted it, when I don’t have money, ppl always act like they feel sorry for you, either way I’m out.

Shippy's avatar

Nothing wrong with it at all. I just wonder at their motivation for asking.

livelaughlove21's avatar

I’m still seeing a lot of “it makes people uncomfortable” or “it’s not classy” – the question is why. Thanks to those of you that actually answered the question though.

I think people are just way to uptight for their own good. I know that some people may turn it into a competition or brag or whatever, but I’m talking about friends…I would never let money come between me and my friends – why would I? If I did, I probably wouldn’t be a great friend. And I disagree that MOST people do it to brag. I certainly don’t. If we’re talking about it, it’s just casual conversation, human curiosity.

Ok, so it’s “none if their business,” but if my friends and I only talked about things that are each other’s business, our conversations would be really boring. Because, really, what IS your friends’ business?

I guess it has a lot to do with the type if people you associate with. If I were to ask someone where they got a lamp and how much it was and they got offended by that, I’d just think that person was a tight-ass and move on.

@Shippy It’s just something I’ve always wondered about.

KNOWITALL's avatar

Because it’s a private issue, personal business, not for general knowledge….it’s just not done in polite society. Study your etiquette young one. :)

SavoirFaire's avatar

It seems to me that the reasons mentioned by @jehnstewart and @wundayatta are correct, but note that this bit of social etiquette is frequently abused. If people do not talk about their wages, they lose important opportunities to discover wage manipulation and other related unfair practices. In fact, the practice is rather anti-capitalistic. It removes information from the market place, and information is part of Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” (though few people bother to read the classics on which their arguments putatively rely anymore).

ucme's avatar

Reminds me of this daft bugger.

livelaughlove21's avatar

@KNOWITALL I’m very aware of etiquette, but I’m also known for questioning it. Someone saying “it’s bad etiquette” means nothing to me. But you’re telling me that you don’t discuss “personal business” with your friends? What do you talk about? Do you have them over for tea and discuss the weather and the new landscaping down at the country club? That’s what friendship is about…being able to discuss personal business with each other without judgment.

Trillian's avatar

Money is a personal topic. How much one makes and how much one spent on something is not to be discussed. Asking about how much someone spent or how much one makes indicates a lack of upbringing. Discussing how much you spent or make is tasteless and, as @ucme stated, crass.
One simply doesn’t, and retain any claim to polite society.
As one can see on multiple reality tv shows, having money is not an indicator of class.

Blackberry's avatar

It can embarrass people. If you have a person in hard times around people doing ok, it makes It really awkward if money is brought up.

livelaughlove21's avatar

@Trillian And once again, none of what you said answers the “why”...I’m beginning to think not many people have taken a basic philosophy course. Additionally, simply insulting people who see no harm in talking about money doesn’t make you more correct or, for that matter, classier.

livelaughlove21's avatar

@Blackberry I can understand that. And in those situations, talking money would be rude because it could make the other person feel awkward because of their situation, but not because talking about money is wrong in itself.

Bellatrix's avatar

I think because if you are the person who has more, talking about what you have has the potential to make you look as though you are big noting yourself (even if you don’t intend that) or even if the less affluent party doesn’t see it that way. So you might feel as though you are bragging or you might be perceived as bragging.

If you are at the other end of the scale and are the less affluent person, discussing the affluent person’s wealth or your lack of wealth has the potential to make you feel less valuable, less capable or just somehow less. I’m not saying this is true or right but this is my take on why people might avoid talking about money. I think being the less wealthy party can have the potential to awkwardness about ‘who should pay’ expectations. Not because the less affluent person wants to be paid for or that the affluent person wants to pay, just because there is the potential for awkwardness. We have had questions here about these ideas. Just because someone has less money, doesn’t make them less proud and nobody wants to feel less valuable because they don’t have as much wealth as another person.

It’s all about perception and individual comfort zones. Talking about how much you have is seen by some as (and depending on the context can be) crass and vulgar. It also has the potential to make one party or the other feel awkward.

I don’t care how much or how little money people have but I would hate to make someone feel uncomfortable by opening up a discussion of money. Plus, other people’s financial situation is their business and not mine. Such a discussion can be intrusive. I hope this makes sense.

Coloma's avatar

I agree it is not a topic I would bring up with those I don’t know, and could be seen as intrusive in certain situations, but as @livelaughlove21 says, amongst close friends or family it’s a non-issue for me.

augustlan's avatar

I’ve never really understood this, or the age thing or the weight thing, either. Whatever money I have (or don’t have), however old I am, whatever I weigh… none of that changes if I talk about it. The situation is the same, whether it’s secret or public.

KNOWITALL's avatar

@livelaughlove21 My friends and I talk politics, we talk about what we’re doing that weekend, how our families are, etc…. Why would I need to know their financial situation or vice versa? If they told me they needed $20 I’d give it to them and they’d do the same for me, but otherwise I don’t see that it would ever be necessary to bring the subject up.

livelaughlove21's avatar

@KNOWITALL Isn’t it also good etiquette not to talk about politics? I mean, how is it any if your friends’ business what your political affiliation is?

If you can talk about politics, you can talk about money. This isn’t about “hey, how much money do you make?” It’s about any conversation about money. I feel that friends should be able to talk about politics, sex, money, their relationships/dating/marriage, etc without the fear of being judged, making someone uncomfortable, or offending someone. It’s sort of the point of friendship – confiding in each other, trusting each other, understanding each other.

If you ask me, if you don’t have that in friendship, you don’t have friendship.

Trillian's avatar

^^ The fact that you don’t see a problem with something and can’t understand how rules of ettiquette came about does not change anything.
Go ahead and be that person. No one is trying to force you to apply propriety to your persona. There are no actual rules of conduct for which you have to live you life. Except those of good breeding, of course. Feel free to omit them from your own personal conduct.

KNOWITALL's avatar

@livelaughlove21 We do sometimes talk politics but we try to stick to generalities, like did you watch the debate the other night, interesting wasn’t it? Did you have fun on your date the other night? I mean friendships don’t always have to be intensely personal do they?

I have to say, I don’t think all my friends would appreciate me getting all up in their personal business, nor would I appreciate them being up in mine.

Unfortunately imo, some people who are comfortable in friendships don’t always follow the ‘rules’ for polite conversations, things are said, friendships are ruined. If you keep it classy, you may end up with more friends in the long run.

livelaughlove21's avatar

@KNOWITALL I have plenty of friends, and none of my friendships have ever ended because I got too personal. I just think if you can’t talk to your friends about personal things, who do you talk about them with? Just because something is personal doesn’t mean it should be secret. If my most personal conversation with a friend was “That debate sure was interesting, wasn’t it?” I wouldn’t value my friendships as much as I do. I can say that to a random person in line at the grocery store. I guess we define friendship in very different terms. I’d rather have a small group of friends I can talk to about anything than a large group that I can only have superficial conversations with. I guess my friends aren’t so easily offended. They know they can talk to me about anything and I can do the same.

My husband is the same way. He’s got a good job, but we’re by no means rich. If a friend was interested in applying for work at his company and asked about his salary, he’d tell them. And he wouldn’t be bragging either. It’s just a fact. And I’ve worked with many people, especially during my recent internship, that were very open about their salaries and were willing to discuss that with me. I’m not a rude person, I don’t just go around asking people how much money they make. In most cases, I don’t care, but there are certain situations when money does come up. And I can’t imagine being upset if someone were to ask me a simple question. I suppose I’m lucky enough to not associate with people who ask such questions with ulterior motives.

KNOWITALL's avatar

Bully for ya, it’s just not something I feel comfortable with but I’m not an extremely trusting person, nor do I consider it a requirement of ‘friendship’ that we discuss everything.

When I was younger, I did tend to run my mouth more tbh, so if you are a young person, it’s something you’ll learn in time.

livelaughlove21's avatar

@KNOWITALL Being condescending probably won’t help your politeness argument. I’m young, but I’m no teenager. Trusting your close friends doesn’t make you naive – trusting no one seems like a bigger problem.

Shippy's avatar

@livelaughlove21 Again may I ask? What is the motivation for asking?

livelaughlove21's avatar

@Shippy Again I will answer. I’ve just always been curious about it.

Shippy's avatar

@livelaughlove21 Curious because…...? I left the dots for you. I do understand though, your thinking. In life we are kind of taught ironically to measure ourselves against people constantly. This includes, are we engaged yet, are we married, have we bought our first car, or later on in life it goes, have we planned for retirement.

In the middle of all this, we also need to compare if we are earning enough? Have we also got the right insurance, and if so, how much are they paying, and why am I paying so much. Am I paying too little. Need I adjust my priorities and so forth.

I have just dumped a friend that asked a lot about my financial situation, and others, because I realize she was ‘calculating’. Had even tried to get an elderly old man to leave her his home once dead. If you can believe that.

So I think when it comes to money matters, you can kind of feel it out. You can sense if it is OK, or not? I am sure you do have that sense, that feeling? In that way I see nothing wrong with it. However, I am not sure if curious meant all of the above that I typed. I am just guessing.

livelaughlove21's avatar

@Shippy I often question social norms that I don’t feel make a whole lot of sense. I see many people get very offended by seemingly small things and I wonder what the mindset behind it is. I also think that simply “being polite” isn’t a good reason to do anything. I don’t think the better option is to be rude, but I simply find that people feel uncomfortable wayyyy too easily and, like I said, some people are way too uptight for their own good.

And yes, I do have that sense when it is or is not okay to discuss certain things with certain people. Like I said, I don’t go around asking random people how much money they make, but topics that are “taboo” confuse the hell out of me. And that’s why the “that’s just the way it is” argument doesn’t settle well with me. Like here, I asked why people find talking about money offensive. Some of the answers, “it’s crude” – “It’s vulgar” – “it’s not classy” – “it’s impolite” – that’s not an answer to my question! Throwing adjectives at me doesn’t get down to the WHY that I was searching for. Luckily some people understood that and, I must admit, I love a good debate. :)

So, there was no big reason or even a specific situation that spurred this question. It’s just something I wonder about. When it gets down to it, it’s all about “live and let live” (or the much nicer “if you don’t understand what etiquette is, then that’s your problem) but I can’t help but question it. I choose to not have friends that I have to walk on eggshells around and they should probably avoid me because I won’t.

KNOWITALL's avatar

@livelaughlove21 I just find you amusing, I’m not trying to cut you down or anything like that at all, you just reminded me of how I used to be when I was young and carefree. If I could say what I wanted, my job would be lost for sure, my marriage would probably be over and all kinds of devastation would occur, it is kind of sad.

livelaughlove21's avatar

@KNOWITALL Saying you’re not trying to cut me down in the same breath as saying you find me “amusing” is a little contradicting, no? What’s even worse than being condescending is not knowing you’re doing it.

I’m confused as to what any of this has to do with my job. It seems like you’re extrapolating my viewpoint on talking about money with friends and applying my apparent “crudeness” to all aspects of my life. I’m not a caveman, I have a social filter. But I just disagree that this filter should be up when speaking with close friends. And if you can’t talk to your own HUSBAND about everything, that sounds like a much more serious issue than being polite or not. What’s sad is that you don’t seem to have anyone in your life that you can talk about anything with. Just sounds lonely to me.

I’m married, I have friends, I go to college, and I have a job and a mortgage – and yet I’ve never lost any of these things because I said something offensive. I know how to act in public, but that doesn’t mean I can’t question the reasoning behind it. And the fact that I am questioning it has nothing to do with me being “young and carefree” (carefree I am not). Plenty of people much older than I am feel this way as well.

I respect that there are people like you who are very uncomfortable speaking about anything personal – I don’t have friends like this for obvious reasons, but I can still respect it. But you don’t hear me saying, “Oh, you just feel that way because you’re older. You 40-year-olds sure are amusing! Har har har!” If anything is crude, it’s that.

KNOWITALL's avatar

What I and many others know based on experience is that a good filter and good manners can get you further in life, including a marriage and a career. You’ll learn.

livelaughlove21's avatar

@KNOWITALL I’ll keep my filter-less marriage, thanks.

KNOWITALL's avatar

Great, I hope it brings you much joy.

flo's avatar

I was reading the answers and after I read @jehnstewart‘s answer I stopped reading. Great answer. I was also curious when I first learned it is a faux-pas. On a lighter note I’m curious why people care if I have my elbow on the table while eating.

flo's avatar

I would rather not care who knows how much I make or don’t make as long as I take care of the security related thing.

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