How Much Money Do You Make?

It’s pretty widely documented that many of us gals are uncomfortable talking about money, especially the details about how much we make. When this question arises, it’s important to think about who is doing the asking. There are plenty of ways to talk money while keeping your “number” discreet depending on the circumstances—and we’re here to help you decipher your answer.

If you’re asked in an interview…..

The real question here isn’t actually how much money you make, but how much money you’re asking to make at a new job. Many employers will ask this delicately by saying: “What are your salary requirements?” But you may still come across some stage of the interview process where they’ll lob across the table asking how much you’re making now. Don’t be lured into providing an exact number here—you are allowed to stay mum! Focus on how the compensation you want is aligned with the skills you bring to the table and that it is commensurate with increased responsibilities.

You want to be professional and tactful here too, so this is not the place to complain about your current salary. Responding in this situation might look something like: “My current compensation is tied to the responsibilities I have now, but I know that in the project manager role I’ll be managing more direct reports and be bringing five years of design experience to the position. Because that work looks very different from what I’m doing now, I’m seeking…..” Not directly providing a number at this stage of the game is very common so don’t let the redirection make you uncomfortable!

If a work colleague is asking…

There is almost never a scenario when it’s in your best interest to disclose salary or bonuses to a work colleague. If a colleague asks how much you make, it’s completely appropriate to respond, “Why do you ask that?” This puts the responsibility on them to explain their motivation. Most of the time, a colleague is asking because they believe they are underpaid or are looking to negotiate their own salary. If they let you know they are researching for a raise, shift the conversation to helping them with negotiating tactics rather than sharing an actual number.

You might also suggest they reach out to an HR representative to get a true “average” for the grade of their position to more effectively inform their conversation. In this scenario it’s also perfectly reasonable to let people know you don’t discuss your personal compensation package. If it’s a group setting at the office, you might be best off using humor to diffuse the question: “A million over three years, isn’t that what we all make?”

If family is asking…

The motivation for this question from family members will vary and can be very personal. Sometimes parents who ask do so out of feeling excited and proud of your career accomplishments. Sharing with them other benefits of your job and opportunities will scratch that itch of them wanting to know about what you’ve achieved: “The salary was a strong market rate and I was offered a lot of great training opportunities coming up this fall.”

Family might also be asking if you’re lucky enough to have their assistance financing your education or something like a down payment on a home. The question of how much you are making is likely to come up when you are paying back this type of personal loan. At this point you probably want to begin to build additional privacy into your personal finances. An option here would be to reassure them that you are comfortable and capable of whatever monthly repayment amount you’ve agreed to, instead of disclosing your exact salary.

If your partner is asking…

This is when to go full disclosure! Being honest with your partner is one of the most important factors when discussing money with your significant other. At the point in a long-term relationship when you are planning financial goals and sharing a life together, your partner should be aware of the details of your personal income. This includes everything from how you earn your salary (is it a base salary or variable, dependent on sales and commissions?) to the stability of income over time. When your partner asks this question, it’s best answered when you have time to make it a thorough discussion.

If it comes up for the first time in a place where you don’t feel that’s possible, acknowledge the question’s importance by setting up a chat for another time: “Thanks for starting this discussion for us; I’m excited to talk more about our financial goals together. Can we spend some time discussing this Sunday after dinner?” The time to chat finances with your loved one is when you two are alone, not under time constraints, and have the emotional energy to devote to a productive discussion.

If friends are asking…

Your closest girlfriends should be a safe space to talk finances so this response can go a few different ways. Friends asking this question might have an interest in your industry or career and are hoping to get a sense of what their lifestyle could look like doing similar work. If you believe this the motivation, it’s best to still talk in ranges, saying something like, “Most people on my team make between $45,000 and $55,00 annually, but that can also be project dependent.” In this way, you’re providing a broad range, but there is flexibility in the response.

You also don’t have to give your exact salary to your friends to engage in honest money talk. Focusing on percentages—the percentage raise you received or lifestyle questions such as what percentage of your income you spend on rent—is another way to have productive salary conversations with girlfriends while still maintaining some privacy and discretion about personal finances.

How do you answer this question? Let us know your ideas for responses in the comments!

  • Dru Olson

    I work in an office with salary transparency. As a female I appreciate the transparency. It has allowed me to negotiate my salary from an informed position. My salary for the first time is comparable to my male co-workers. As well, I see amount my co-workers a significant reduced the wadge gap due to gender and race.

    While I understand why many people are uncomfortable discussing salary. Transparancy may not always be the best move but it has benefits.

  • Clambuterol

    I think this article is off the mark. While there may be a few circumstances (interviews) where not stating your salary is strategic, not sharing with coworkers or friends isn’t good advice, and it doesn’t help anyone. So many studies show that women under-negotiate their salaries, that women are less comfortable discussing money. We need to be more open!! Knowledge is power, particularly in money matters. I usually like Everygirl articles, but this one is a disappointment.

    • Fazilogika

      Well, I can agree here. After discussing this question with my colleges, I found out that in our company they agree to pay higher salary to new workers and don’t really want to rise for old ones. And knowing that, there are ways how to approach boss and ask for the rise. Besides, more you know about real situation, more you can get the salary you want.
      http://www.facebook.com/fazilogika

  • Heidi

    I totally agree with the previous comments! I see no good coming from keeping salary-information from colleagues. Do you remember that the Friends-cast used to negotiate their salary as a group? Transparency is the only way for equal-pay. I think transparency would also force companies to establish better compensation plans -> certain degree or number of years of service means this amount, seniority in the company that amount and so on.

  • Jenelle

    Agree with some of the other comments. Not talking about salary openly, especially with friends, is something that often hinders women. We’re already in a position where we’re often not making the same as some of our male colleagues and don’t negotiate often enough for appropriate or higher salaries. There is no shame in discussing your salary with your friends in order to gauge what not only your friends in similar careers might be making but also to use as a guide for your own salary track.

  • Kari

    While I appreciate the article, and The EveryGirl for being one of the only blogs to broach the subject, the article reinforces what we already aren’t doing…talking about money! A girlfriend and I were recently talking about how we wish people would be more open about their salaries, as a learning opportunity and reference. I didn’t grow up in a household where money was directly discussed, and now it feels like a taboo subject in almost all systems in my life, despite it being a necessity. I know it can be a tricky topic, but I believe true transparency could be informing and helpful to challenge the wage gap, help younger women better understand the career fields they are entering, and help us get better acquainted with negotiating pay we feel we deserve.

  • I agree that there should be some transparency around the salaries, but I also agree with the article. While it may help to bridge the wage gap, it also creates rifts between people. I find it quite difficult negotiating my salary, but I’ve worked in an office where people used to point fingers at others when negotiating their own, which is why I prefer to give away the range rather than the exact number. I still believe it’s personal information and the only person apart from payroll who knows the exact number is my partner. However, I’ve provided my salary information anonymously to websites that calculate the averages for individual roles.

  • Kara

    Great take on this question. Love that you broke it down into different groups of people who may ask. It’s a touch question to field!

  • Taylor

    I disagree with many of these comments. I am not ashamed to talk about money and finances, however there is definitely something to be said about keeping your salary to yourself.

    In regards to salary negotiation, there are plenty of resources that help you understand your value in a given market, which really eliminates the need for you to understand what everyone in your own organization or company makes. I see if there are multiple positions with the same job responsibilities within your company, perhaps that would be a better gauge, however that is so rare the case… Overall, I really don’t see the relevance in knowing what my coworkers in Finance or Public Relations are making because, while I’m sure they work very hard, they have nothing to do with what I contribute to my employer. I think we need to make sure we fully understand our own industry, our own goals and that of our employer to negotiate salaries. We need to be willing to have more conversations with our employers about long term goals and how they see our position contributing to that goal… moreover, how they see us as an employee contributing to that goal long-term (i.e. Am I someone you want to invest in to keep around for the long-haul?) That’s more revealing to me of my value in an organization, and what kind of salary I should try to negotiate, than trying to find out what Donna in HR makes.

  • I think this number is unlimited. But it limits the number of people you serve are limited.

  • Casey

    Completely disagree with most of these comments. My boyfriend knows what I earn because we’ve started having the marriage conversation, and we believe it’s important to know where we each stand, financially. But I will never discuss my salary with my friends or family and most definitely not with my co-workers. My salary is my responsibility; it’s not yours or any other woman’s.

    I find it profoundly disappointing that 21st century women would demand that fellow women give up their privacy and be used as a crutch, an excuse, or a bargaining tool for those who feel like they don’t earn enough. We will all be better off if we decide for ourselves what we deserve and then summon the courage to ask for it, rather than rudely intruding upon each other and blaming those who don’t wish to divulge their earnings for why we don’t earn more.