How Much Do Your Friends and Family Know About Your Finances?

by Miranda Marquit · 45 comments


Near the beginning of each month, many in the personal finance community share, with varying degrees of detail, their financial situations. We see net worth reports, and some of them are even itemized. I always enjoy reading these reports and find them quite interesting — and sometimes inspiring. However, I have always been vaguely uncomfortable with offering too many details about my finances. A lot of it has to do with my upbringing in a family that did not talk much about the particulars of finances with those not in the immediate family.

While I think that this taboo is part of my reluctance to share details about my family’s financial situation with friends and family (and the wider PF community), for many of us, there are probably other factors at work. Especially if embarrassment about the financial situation comes into play.

Reluctance to Admit We are Poor

In many cases, being poor is embarrassing. We don’t like to admit that we can’t afford to buy something, or that we don’t make as much as our friends make — or as much as we think they make. It becomes a matter of pride to avoid sharing details that could reveal our circumstances.

Another compounding issue can be debt. I graduated from college with more debt than I should have had. While I admit that I had debt at my graduation, I am, frankly, embarrassed about the magnitude of it all. As a result, I don’t share dollar amounts. I’m lucky that I haven’t fell into this rabbit hole yet, but the funny thing is that the embarrassment of being poorer than friends and family can actually make us go further into debt, as borrowing more becomes a way to “prove” ourselves by buying things that we can’t really afford.

Debt can affect us in other ways. Namely:

debt costs1. Lost Opportunity

Few of us think of the costs associated with a lost opportunity. However, debt carries with it a lost opportunity cost. When you have to repay debt, with interest, you can’t direct your resources elsewhere. With debt hanging over you, you might not have the money to accomplish other goals or take advantage of money opportunities that come your way. This can cost far more in the future than the short-term gratification that comes with being able to buy something on credit immediately.

Consider: What if, instead of paying interest each month, you were able to invest the money in the stock market? You would be able to build up a portfolio over time that would allow you to create an income stream that would benefit you for years. The time you miss cannot be replaced. Instead of the opportunity to compound interest in your favor, you are instead paying compound interest.

2. Emotional Stress

Money can cause a great deal of emotional stress, and anxiety related to money is often strongest when associated with debt. Worry about paying down debt and how you will meet your obligations can cause true emotional problems and fatigue. Not only that, but the emotional strains can cause difficulties in your relationships. It’s hard to maintain good relations with your family and friends when anxiety and emotional stress are wearing you down. When constant debt is a worry, it can color aspects of your life, preventing you from sleeping enough and eating right — leading to health problems that can in turn cost more.

3. Your Credit

Carrying debt can also start to erode your credit rating. Indeed, if you have a high debt to income ratio, it will affect your credit score. If your debt problem becomes severe enough that you start paying late, and missing payments, your credit history will be affected further. It is vital that you consider the costs of having poor credit. A negative credit report can affect the following areas of your life and finances:

  • Insurance premiums
  • Ability to get a job
  • Ability to buy a home
  • Ability to buy a car
  • Security deposit on a rental
  • Service provider (cell phone and TV) transactions

Poor credit can mean higher insurance premiums, and hurt your chances to qualify for a mortgage to buy a home. Some employers look at your credit report and may decide to hire someone with a better financial reputation.

Reluctance to Admit We Are Rich

Another difficulty arises for those who don’t want to admit how much money they actually make. Being poor has lost some of its social stigma now; the recession has created a whole financial movement that rejects consumption and values frugality. This means that it can be somewhat embarrassing to admit how much we have in some cases.

And, of course, there is the issue of what constitutes “rich”. Many of us are worried about being labeled “rich” — even though we don’t feel as though we are financially wealthy. It can also seem embarrassing when we find that we make more than someone else. It can be awkward to admit that we make more money, especially if friends or family are struggling financially.

Finally, there is also the issue of not wanting friends and family to know how much we make. Concerns about relatives asking for money because they think that we “make enough” can be a real deterrent to sharing how much we managed to save through the years, and contribute to a reluctance to talk about finances.

In order to avoid the awkwardness that can come with sharing financial details with friends and family, I just say that I make enough to live comfortably. And we do. My son and I have a comfortable lifestyle for our location, and we enjoy our discretionary income. I am uncomfortable discussing the details with the public though. I’m not even sure I want to become comfortable with the idea of sharing, although I admire those who do.

What About the Immediate Family?

Having said that, I can’t let my embarrassment stop me from sharing my finances with my son. After all, one of the most important subjects you can talk with your kids about is money. Having money discussions with your children can be a good way for them to get a handle on what is happening in your family, as well as provide information that they can use later on in life. The discussions can also serve as a valuable resource for your children, as well as draw the whole family closer together. Here are a few tips on how to get started.

How to Talk About Money as a Family

First of all, it’s important to assess where everyone is at in terms of maturity. You want to cover topics that are general, and that most of your family members can understand. Think about the terms that you will need to use in order to make the discussion understandable to younger children.

Realize, too, that you don’t need to go into detail about family finances. There is no reason to pull out the bank statements and go through every item with the whole family. You can, though, talk about your budget in general terms, such as saying, “We have $XX for entertainment this month. Would you rather go to a movie, or go out to eat?” In tough economic times, explain that money is tight, and everyone needs to cut back. Tell your family what you will do to help the family finances, and encourage each member of the family to name something they can do to help.

A money discussion is also a great time to talk about shared financial goals. You can talk about planning a vacation, or saving up for a new TV for the whole family. Create a plan that shows how much is needed, and how much the family needs to set aside each month to reach the goal. Encourage everyone to contribute. Children will see how to plan for purchases, and you can encourage them to follow the same process with their individual wants.

Set aside a regular time to talk about finances. You should check in regularly with your life partner anyway, going over the budget and addressing problems or planning to reach goals. You can have a regular family budget meeting as often as you like. I think once a month is enough for a family money discussion, but others might want to meet more often than that. Create a regular time to talk about money so that family members have time to figure out what they want to talk about.

You can also set aside time to answer questions about money. Prepare “mini-lessons” on money, addressing basic topics of financial literacy. This way, you can make sure that your family understands the concepts behind money.

Are you comfortable sharing your finances with family and friends? What about your immediate family?

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{ read the comments below or add one }

  • Beau W says:

    I really don’t share my money information with my family much at all. My brother is the same way. I’m happy to talk financial stuff with my mom. She’s still really sharp about giving me advice even at 71 years old.

    • David@MoneyNing.com says:

      It’s amazing how some people are sharp as a whip even in old age while others just seem to slow down so much as they grow old.

      My wife’s grandmother is in her nineties but still take the bus to go grocery shopping to cook for herself. She even goes to different locations depending on the food she wants because they are either cheaper or fresher at different places!

  • lana says:

    My kids know some of our finances. I figure it helps them understand real world costs. My folks, in-laws, relatives and friends don’t know our financial situation.

    We are neither rich nor poor. But, we do have our home and four cars paid off, cash in the bank and the kids are in college debt free.

    The thing we do talk about is the stuff we do that costs money. Like, who has housekeepers, hairstylists, manicurists, pool guys, yard guys, tutors, maintenance people etc, etc.

    We do mostly everything ourselves. I do my own nails, I have my hair cut twice a year at Super cuts, I clean my own house etc. My hubby does maintenance, pool and yard etc. I think it has changed the way we think about money.

    Last week I told my girlfriends that I spent a total of $40 last year on my hair, they freaked! That was with good tips too. I don’t get my hair permed, frosted, highlighted or styled. It is clean and looks nice. No biggie. I cut my kids hair for twenty years. I watched a man cut my oldest kid’s hair and figured I could do it too.

    A relative sold her home FSBO, so I tried it too! I sold our home in 4 hours and saved over $20K!

    All of this way of thinking has allowed us to tithe, save and realize dreams. We were able to take our kids to Europe for six weeks and pay cash. Hubby and I just went overseas and spent less than $1500 because we manage our miles and points carefully.

    But the biggest thing about money for me is putting God first in our finances. That has made all the difference. He has richly blessed us. Our treasure is not on Earth.

    • David@MoneyNing.com says:

      There are many things I wanted to reply with, but nothing is more important than this so I will just say this and nothing else – God is good, all the time!

      You have a blessed life!

    • Beau W. says:

      I must say this. These comments are awesome. You have it together. Im very impressed Lana.

    • Paul says:

      4 cars? Sorry, but are you insane? Think about how much you are spending on vehicle registration. On insurance. On maintenance. I’d say, depending on your working situations, 2 would be ample. Heck, my wife & I get by on one. Have for most of our married life. And we brought up 3 kids as well.

      Now admittedly I’m no fan of real estate flunkies, but how do you know that you couldn’t have made substantially more using an agent?

      I know a person in our area who crows about how much he got by selling his house privately. His term? I stuck it to them real estate robbers. My next door neighbour, a real estate agent, told me at the time that he could have got at least 20% more using an agent, even accounting for commission costs.

      The buyer? Sold it 5 months later for 50% more than she’d paid. Food for thought?

  • Green Lagoon says:

    Those who share are either making money off of the act or are just plain crazy. I don’t think you need to shut off every conversation about money, but what I make is none of anybody’s business. What’s the point of telling people that I make more (or less) than them?

    • David@MoneyNing.com says:

      There are some people who make money off sharing, but I would say it’s not the majority. Unfortunately, there are plenty of people who flaunt their wealth for no reason other than to show off.

      And you are right about there being no point telling people how much you make. Friendship should be about shared interests and many other things, not how much money they have.

      • Paul says:

        …plus, telling people means they’ll tell other people thereby alerting members of the criminal fraternity. Oops! Not a smart thing to do.

  • Karen Kay says:

    I have never discussed any of my financial details with anyone. The people that know me, can see how I live. In the event that I can’t afford to go somewhere or buy something and it involves someone, I tell them. If someone asks me a financial question, I am blunt and tell them that it’s not any of their business and it isn’t. I also have made it a point all of my life to not look poor, and to not look too well off. I dress well, eat well and live well. I am frugal, but I don’t go without. My life is simple and I’m a pretty happy person. That’s all that really matters.

    • David@MoneyNing.com says:

      You have a good plan, Karen. Honestly, I still feel uncomfortable when someone makes a comment about how much money they think I have. As recently as a couple months ago when we moved, we were fielding many uncomfortable questions about how much our house costs.

      It’s strange that people just bluntly ask how much we paid for the place we just moved into. I guess money being taboo is only when it’s about their own money and not when it comes to someone else’s money.

      • Paul says:

        Don’t know about in the States, but in New Zealand one can generally find out within a couple of months as it shows up on local body records, and some websites harvest that info which they then publish that information. So, essentially I can find out the sale price of way over 90% of house sales in the country inside of 3 months. Those that don’t show generally are for those that are sold to related parties, trusts and the like for a nominal sum like $1.

  • millionaire mind says:

    At our seminars, we find that many people don’t like to discuss finances. It is mostly a secret and many would rather not share. After going through our millionaire mind intensive course we find that once people are open and honest with themselves, they then end up learning, growing and improving. Thank you for this blog post- its a great topic to discuss.

  • Olivia says:

    My husband’s a pastor so his income is voted on by every member who comes to the yearly budget meeting. It’s public afterwards to anyone who cares to pick up a church budget off the back table.

    His family has no idea, and their expectations run high. (Holiday gift exchanges, etc.) My sisters are cool with it all. I’m grateful we can be that open. We’ve been open with our kids, especially lately, so they don’t build unrealistic expectations. It’s also important to for them see we have a plan in place and certain items are priorities.

  • Donna says:

    This can be a touchy subject but as a rule unless the discussion is relevant to whom I am speaking I would rather not bore them. The economy has touched so many I am finding more people willing to talk than before–especially if their survival depends on it.

  • Mark says:

    I feel like my financial information is private so I am very careful about disclosing it. I think that people treat you differently once they know what you make whether it’s a lot or a little.

  • retirebyforty says:

    I’m very tight lip about my finance, but now that I have a blog….
    It’s weird to be able to put things on the internet that I wouldn’t talk about with friends. Yeah, I talk to friends about specific stocks and such, but never the amount of money.
    Anyway, the blog offers a degree of anonymity, but friends do read it and learn more about our finances.
    I guess that’s just the social media age.

  • Derek says:

    Income and finances is always a touchy subject. I’m glad that I have friends that I can talk to openly about investments and savings. It keeps me sharp and allows me to bounce ideas off from other people.

    My wife and I recently brainstormed together and came up with 101 Ways to Make More Money. I like to share this with everyone because no matter what our skill level, we can all do something to earn a little bit more.

  • Starshard0 says:

    I think a reluctance to discuss finances is what gets people into financial trouble in the first place.

    I’m completely willing to be open with anyone about the state of my finances and I like to help anyone who asks with theirs. I agree that it’s important not to give out tons of details online, but giving an itemized list of your net worth is way different from broadcasting your SSN or other sensitive information.

    • Eric says:

      But giving out your net worth indicates that you are, to some people, a target for crime. As a cop once told me, what crims don’t know won’t come back to bite your bum.

  • Marie@familymoneyvalues.com says:

    We currently share philosophies and numbers with our grown children and their significant others. If we had been more astute when raising our children, we would have shared more of our household finances with them to aid their financial education. We strive to maintain an open communication environment with our children so that we can learn from them and they from us. We are trying to develop more long term cross generation planning for our family finances – which requires disclosure and discussion.

    I agree with Jenna, in that we only share with people that actually need to know. I also congratulate Life Compass’s initiative to educate their children by sharing real life examples of family finances.

    Caution is needed for anyone sharing actual financial details online. You are not as anonymous and you might like to think.

  • Josh says:

    Very interesting topic. It’s hard to bring finances up. No one wants to beg or brag with their friends. My father never told us my families financial situation, still doesn’t.

  • Life Compass says:

    Michelle, my observation is that, if people are going to talk, they’re going to talk. They don’t have to know your financial numbers…they’ll make assumptions based on the car you drive, home you live in, trips you take, and stuff you spend money on.

    My wife and I have had frank discussions with both our sets of parents about money in the past. We’ve all enjoyed the discussions. We’ve been embarrassed by mistakes we’ve made, but it has been freeing to admit it and move on.

    Of course, every family is different.

  • Michelle says:

    You are right. It is hard to share your personal finances with anyone especially your friends. I also find it hard to share finances with your own parents. My fear is that the word will go around and soon many people will know how I am doing in terms of finance. Does anyone else feel this way?

    • Blue Spyder says:

      I have the mother with the biggest mouth in all of Chicago, tell her anything and its bound to be on the news tonight…

      • lana says:

        I hear you! We don’t talk about money outside my husband and children.

      • lana says:

        We don’t share financial information outside my immediate family. I have taught our children how I handle our finances, saving, investing, spending and giving. So far they eschew debt as we do and handle their money well. Hopefully, they will graduate without any debt. One is a senior and the other a freshman. Both are on target to do so. We parents have no debt, praise God. It’s been a goal we’ve attained, now we are just saving money.

  • Jenna says:

    I’m a need to know kind of person, so I share that information with people I think need to know (or ask questions in a non-nosey kind of way). But I tend to lean towards being more transparent than tight lipped.

  • Blue Spyder says:

    I say to hell with the stigma of rich or poor labels, I work hard for my money (kinda) so I’m not worried what anyone thinks about my pay.

    • Paul says:

      What they think and what they know are 2 very different things. If someone thinks, therefore in their mind they “know” then that could very easily make you a target for crime.

  • FB @ FabulouslyBroke.com says:

    I should note that this is all Anonymous of course. My friends and family don’t really know my money situation because I don’t want to make them uncomfortable.

    I guess I’m okay with faceless sharing, but not with putting my name or face on anything.

  • FB @ FabulouslyBroke.com says:

    I share it all. It’s all real spending, real income.

    I could lie about how much I make, but what would be the point? I never lied about how much I was in debt, nor about how much I made each month in the past when I was in debt, so there’s no point in lying about it now.

    Anyway, people can read it or not. I only post my budget once a month.

    • Paul says:

      Post your budget? Online? That is so incredibly dumb. No, nix that, that is incredibly stupid and foolish.

      Not sure about the States, but in New Zealand, if you get burgled and you have put compromising information on the internet they can void any claim you make. Believe it is similar in Australia too.

  • L. Marie Joseph says:

    I believe this is a taboo only in America. Other countries are not the private. This happens because most employers do not want employees to share their salary information amongst each other.

    Our financial empire stays within our marriage. Once you start to tell others it can make relationships become awkward

  • Life Compass says:

    My wife and I have 5 kids ages 4-14 and they ask us about our personal financial situation from time to time. I think sometimes they do it in order to compare themselves to others.

    Regardless of the reason, their question is always a great time to educate them on how money works, how we make money decisions in our family, how we’ve learned from our money mistakes, and how we hope they can be better at managing their money from the start (we think we’re doing a good job at training them to save, avoid debt, and be generous in their giving to others).

    We’ve told them how much money I make, how much our mortgage is, etc. And we remind them that it’s now so much a matter of how much money you make, but how much of it that you keep and give away that makes a difference.

  • Steve Jobs says:

    I don’t share my personal finances information to anybody, even to my immediate family. It is for me and my wife eyes only. Not that I don’t want to share it, but for me, it is more of a private thing. If I am going to tell about my personal finances, I might be construed of bragging about it thus making me boastful in the process. It is enough that they see that we eat three times a day, live on a house we own and send our kids to school.

  • Credit Worthy says:

    I was doing fine up until the terrible economic fall in Michigan. Even while things were comfortable I never shared my financial situation with my family because I still wasn’t doing as well as my first cousins. From childood my sibling and I were always measured by their accomplishments. Now that I’ve fallen financially I still don’t share. I’ve moved out of Michigan and only my mother has a small idea of my financial status. I don’t dare talk about how due to losing my job my credit and finances fell. I know not to open myself up to be judged. So in terms of sharing my weak finances with anyone, I would fair better with a complete stranger rather than my family.

    • Paul says:

      Smart move. Whenever I’ve been asked I just answer with somewhere between $1 and $50 million. Shuts people up pretty quick. They realise that 1) they’ve touched a sensitive subject and 2) that it really isn’t any of their business… at… all.

  • vered says:

    Different people have a different need for privacy. I feel as if I share a lot when I blog – more than I had ever planned to share. But I will never be able to bring myself to share actual numbers.

  • LoveBeingRetired says:

    I think the final decision about sharing financial information with family is a personal one. If you have money, sharing to much information with the kids can cloud their vision, making them feel that they are entitled at some point to the money. This could prevent them from getting out there and making it on their own. On the other hand, knowing the parents have money could be seen as a safety blanket. Get out there and work and establish yourself but in the back of your mind you know that if things fall through you have recourse. Whatever the case, I would prefer the having money problem.

    • Paul says:

      I told all my kids that when I die all my money will go to charity, not to them. It won’t but it certainly cut down the scheming by a couple of them. Yes, “some” will go to charity but the bulk will go to them. Unless I’ve spent it all of course. Can’t see that happening… too much of a scrooge am I.

  • Jackie Walters says:

    My family has been labeled as being “rich” and currently I feel we are not financially wealthy. Yes, we have some money in the bank for emergencies but looking at our retirement savings -well let’s just say we have a lot of catching up to do. We may not have a lot of discretionary money because what we do have already has a place in our budget. I get asked many times “why don’t you go shopping with the girls for the weekend? or out to dinner twice a week or why can’t you go to Hawaii?” – I usually say I can’t afford it but what I really need to say is that my money already has a purpose and it’s not going shopping or to Hawaii. It’s been designated for something else.

    I would love to share my financial story with family and friends and at times I have, but I tread very carefully. I just want them to feel at peace financially as our family does and they may already be at that point.

    I’m proud of what our family has accomplished and I want to share this with family and friends – but in the past I’ve gotten the “all she does is talk about money” comment. Well, that’s because it’s my passion to help others become financially secure and all I want to do is share the information of how to get there.

    Thanks, Jackie.

  • Financialbabysteps says:

    This is exactly why we decided to start writing about our financial journey anonymously. We wanted to be very open with what we shared, but didn’t want to reveal who we are. The downside of people we know seeing our finances is limited, and as we build a blog audience, we still get the accountability that comes with being open about our situation.

    On our blog, we are very open about where we’re at (and it’s not a rosy picture.), but in our real lives, we’re much more private, although as we’ve started down the path of budgeting and tracking, we’ve been telling people about what it’s done for us personally without revealing too many details.

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