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How Much Money Do You Make?

Have you ever asked someone this question? Have you been asked this question outside of a job interview? If you live in America, the odds are probably neither.

Let’s imagine someone asks you, “How much money do you make?” They probably have an idea in their head what they’re expecting your response to be, so your answer can either be in that ballpark, or higher or lower than their expectations. If the questioner happens to have had the right anchor in their head, then there’s really no way for the conversation to go sideways. Too high or low on the other hand, and things could get weird.

If you make more than the curious one thinks you do, they might feel surprise, jealousy, anger, respect, incredulity, inspiration, etc. If your income is lower than this person thought, they might feel pity, triumph, sadness, etc.

Despite the potential for weirdness, if someone asked me straight up, I would tell them and live with the consequences. Since I am a high earner at the time of this writing, my assumption is that they would write off a lot of my financial success with some internal monologue along the lines of, “Oh, if I made that much money I would have a rental house, no car payment, and plenty of money for vacations too.” (Which is probably wrong. Most people would spend whatever they made regardless of how much money that is.) Then they wouldn’t get me anything nice for my birthday or Christmas ever again. And then they’d be annoyed my presents to them weren’t better. (Ha.)

But what if no one asks? Should you tell people what you make? I can’t see any other option than it sounding like boasting if I tell someone what I make out of nowhere. If someone were to just up and tell me what they made and it was on the low side, it might sound like they’re complaining, maybe even that they’re asking for help.

So, there you have it. My advice is not to tell anyone what you make.

Actually, that’s not the case!

We need to normalize talking about how much money we make. The mystification behind salaries only helps businesses. The taboo surrounding wages means that occasionally businesses must pay someone what they’re worth and for the most part they can keep paying people much less than they deserve. This problem disproportionately affects women and minorities. Salary disclosure will go a low way to closing the wage gaps that exist in this country.

Now, don’t go posting your pay as your Facebook status, but don’t be afraid to broach the subject with those close to you, family, friends, and coworkers. Certainly, be candid if they ask. If our plan is to break the taboo, we need to start in our inner circles. It’s only with small steps and short conversations that we can move the needle. Then, someday in the future, “How much do you make?” won’t feel so awkward.

To practice what we preach, my husband and I are going to broach the subject on the Adulting Is Easy podcast soon. We're also going to host a guest who is an expert on Breaking Money Silence. Stay tuned.

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