A Damaging Taboo

So I am not sure if this taboo is universal, or not. But as a child I was always told never to discuss money. I never knew how much my parents made, and was told not to ask how much other people made. As a child this little rule was easy to abide by, but now I find myself still clinging to it.

In the few and short moments I decide to break this little rule, I apologize both before and after, but I find the information very useful. It lets me see that sometimes my spending is more lavish than it should be, and also that things I am frugal about are not helping me balance things out. If i paid for a gym membership, I’d tire myself out, which means I would probably, on average, drink less. Alcohol is expensive in cities, and I like good wine, and I often get in a rut where I use the intoxication as a catalyst to sleep, when really a few laps earlier that day would have been a much better choice.

So I wonder….is talking about money really that taboo? People who I know discuss money openly, all seem to do pretty well for themselves. They have a better understanding of how much people make, and are therefore able to push their employers to pay them what they deserve. When I worked at a firm, I was being paid very little to do a big job. After I moved, I learned that if I worked like that, I should have been making almost double. Whether that firm would have paid me double…is probably not useful, but I could have fought for better pay. When I did…all I had was a general survey of how much a person in my job should be making. They looked at it, and told me to wait. I moved from the state before anything came of it, but I think now if I had pressed harder it would have led to me being paid better.

So I understand why talking about money is not socially acceptable at parties and when you just meet someone….but when you are amongst friends….maybe it should be. Maybe it would help people out. I am pretty sure people on top talk about money, their money, a lot. So wouldn’t a little sharing amongst friends, no co-workers, be a good thing?

Clearly I’m channeling Sex and the City tonight, having watched 3 episodes of it to entice me to fall asleep, but it is a question I have been thinking about a lot. When I start my clerkship my finances are public knowledge/record. I can’t get paid anymore than any other clerk in my position. But after that is over I’m going to have to fight for a salary I think I deserve…I’d love to know what friends in my situation did….and whether they think they did it well.

Do people still think money talk is taboo when it is amongst friends?

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2 Comments

  1. Tanglethis said,

    February 4, 2011 at 2:17 pm

    I think I share some of those deep-rooted aversions to discussing money… and I’m not exactly sure why, although I suspect it is related to equally ingrained assumptions about who or what kind of work “deserves” what kind of money (as though these things can be objectively measured!) and fear of being judged undeserving if you’ve got a good deal, or stupid if you’ve got a raw deal. For example, I did my best to hide my grad school fellowship from my classmates. I was worried that they would judge me for making marginally more money than they did, for doing (in some cases, like my first and fourth years) less work. Sometimes it would come out, though, when comparing rent prices. Rent is a slightly easier conversation to have, although it gets snagged sometimes on differing expectations of what constitutes reasonable rent. (i.e. for my of my grad school career, rent was about 50% of my monthly salary. For most people, that’s nuts. but my monthly salary was so low!)

    I do think it’s better to be open about money because it helps you know what kind of deal you’re getting for your labor and money… but since those things are so subjective, it’s always a slightly uneasy conversation for me.

    P.S. Be active AND drink wine. Both of these things make you feel good. : )

  2. Katherine said,

    February 6, 2011 at 3:05 pm

    I’m pretty open about money, but not my salary. It’s the sort of thing that can bite you in the butt at work. Did you see that survey awhile back about what happened when people find out their coworkers salaries? It made those lower on the totem pole unhappy and didn’t make those above them happy. Still… it’s nice to have that info in negotiations.


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