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Why are you asking about my salary again?

With some exceptions, asking someone how much they make is a big no-no.

By MSN Money producer Nov 10, 2009 2:43PM

This guest post comes from J. Money at Budgets Are Sexy.

Are you my friend? Family? Are we helping each other out with our finances? If not, you're probably just making me angry. Unfortunately, I can't even say that with a straight face because I'm naturally happy.

Seriously though, I'm all for open discussions on money, but you can't be a jerk and ask someone how much they make just because you feel like it.

That may sound weird coming from someone who posts up their financial details for all to see, but I really feel there's a time and a place for stuff like this. The same goes for passwords and people's sex lives. Can you imagine if I just straight up ask you how many partners you've had? I'd be a total idiot. In fact, that's exactly how I should respond the next time someone butts in and asks me how much I make: "You wanna know my salary? OK, sure. But first tell me how many girls you've slept with!" That would probably shut 'em up for a bit.

As far as I'm concerned, both parties have to trust each other before dishing out the goods. Just like with sex, there are appropriate and inappropriate times to talk turkey. (On a side note, you're always more than welcome to ask me anything. The beauty of being anonymous is that I can give out my opinion 100% without worrying about who's reading. I might not know the answer, but I'll always do my best to point you in the right direction either way.)


So what are these "appropriate" and "inappropriate" times to ask about salaries? Well, keep on reading my friends . . . and keep in mind that these are my own preferences, they may differ depending on who you ask. Appropriate times to ask about my salary:

  • We're in Human Resources. If you're my boss, VP, CEO, or any member of Human Resources, I'll gladly provide you with my salary (although you probably already know it, eh?)
  • We're in a job interview. Ask away! You have the right to know how much I make so you can pay me more.
  • You're my financial adviser/accountant. Obviously this is OK. If not, you'd probably be hiding something.
  • We've been talking about finances and helping each other out. And we're friends. That second part is key. I have no problems at all talking openly with friends and family about salaries. Every now and then people ask for my opinion or what I would do in a certain situation, so in this case sharing my financial background or salary may be important keys to the conversation. In this case, I'd happily give out the details.
  • We're on my blog. Again, it's always cool here. It may not be on other blogs -- especially those who aren't as anonymous, but here it's a wide open door, baby.
  • I asked for yours first. This rarely happens outside of the above situation, but when it does I fully expect to be asked the same or to just give it out first to make both parties comfortable. The only time I can remember really doing this was when I was looking to join a friend's company and needed to know what I was dealing with before heading into an interview. There may be other times too when I was more naive, but regardless if I'm not willing to share my own salary with you, I'll never ask for yours in return.

I think that covers most of the times I'm cool with it. I'm sure others don't mind at all sharing a bit more freely, but again these are just my own opinions. If you're cool with dishing it out, more power to you. Just keep in mind that not all of us are so you don't step on many of our toes.

Inappropriate times to ask about my salary:
  • When we're not even talking about finances. Why would I tell you how much I make when we were talking about The Redskins killing me? What does it possibly have to do with them?
  • When I don't now you. The worst is when someone gets all up in your face with 101 questions about what you make when you wouldn't even tell them your apartment number. People are crazy sometimes. I was once asked how much my paycheck came out to THREE whole minutes after meeting them. Are you serious? Come on now.
  • When we work together. Bosses/HR aside, I know what happens when the guy sitting next to you knows you make more than them (or less for that matter). Everything gets weird and emotions start piling up when the only thing that's changes was a number you told them. No, sir. Been there done that. Try out if you have to, maybe you'll get lucky?
  • When we're on the metro/train/plane/anywhere else with hundreds of people around. I might be cool with telling you, but not with all those eyeballs staring at us. I'm pretty shy about that, so please don't force it.

These blunt and direct people actually remind me of those telemarketers who try to get receptionists to transfer them directly over to the CEO. They get so over the top that it stuns you and you give in before you even realize what's hit you. (I was pummeled with these last week when I was answering the phones for a bit. Sneaky, sneaky,)

When all is said and done, I feel there's a right and a wrong way to ask about how much someone makes. Sometimes they'll give it to you, and others they won't. Just please, whatever you do, respect their decision either way. There's no praise in bullying someone out of their lunch money.

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