When Should You Share How Much Money You Make?

November 23, 2011 · 7 comments

Financial transparency is “in” right now. Especially when it comes to talking about entrepreneurship. If you really want to help others follow in your footsteps, you’ve got to be up-front about how much you’re making, right?

Because I totally keep $100 bills in my back pocket. Oh, and that's my butt, too.

Except a lot of us don’t feel comfortable with this type of honesty. In many circles, it’s taboo to talk about how much money you make. And there are other concerns here, too; you might not want to put your salary or rate out there if it could give your next employer or client a reason to pay you less.

So when, exactly, is it a good idea to share how much you make?

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately because I’m now part of that entrepreneurial circle that values financial honesty. When people ask how I’m succeeding at creating my own business, they’re usually most curious about the money component.

That’s why I shared a financial milestone last week: three months into working for myself, I’m making as much money as I was before I quit my job. Yup, I’ve matched my day-job-plus-side-hustle income. My online community relates to this and roots me on because getting where you need to be financially is one of the most daunting challenges of quitting your job to pursue a bigger dream.

And yet, I didn’t say how much I’m making. I’ve shared publicly that I used to make at least $2,000/month from my side biz when I was still working my day job, mostly because I needed that credibility to sell my eguide on social media consulting. If I didn’t make good money with my social media side hustle, why would anyone pay for an ebook that explains how I did it?

Sharing my entire income, however, feels like a different beast. I nearly spilled all my financial beans in a recent post (and if you read it closely and do a few calculations, you can figure out about how much I’m earning now), but in the end I just didn’t want to announce how much I’m worth. Instead, I share those intimate details in my Solopreneur Secrets newsletter.

Of course, the newsletter is technically public; it’s is available for anyone who wants to subscribe, and plenty of people who I don’t know personally are now reading about my financial struggles and triumphs. But publishing it there, behind a paywall (albeit only a $5 one), feels different than putting my income on display in the blogosphere.

Here’s one way this plays out in the world of publishing: When author Michael Ellsberg shared in a Mixergy interview last month that he’d received a $135,000 advance for The Education of Millionaires, my first thought — no, actually second thought, because my first thought was holy COW that’s an awesome advance — was whether it was smart of him to tell everyone that figure. My literary agent has blogged about how you shouldn’t share your advance. But maybe once you surpass six figures, making that knowledge public helps confirm the legitimacy of the book? Maybe it gives people another reason to read it.

Except plenty of people who make an impressive salary are reluctant to talk about it. I asked a client who’s now making six figures as a freelance writer to come on the blog for a Q&A and tell you all how she got to this point. Because making six figures as any type of writer is impressive! But she’s not sure she wants the world to know how much she makes, so she’s mulling it over.

So here’s the question I want to throw out there: What do we have to lose by sharing how much we earn? It’s certainly one of those topics that has the potential to make us feel naked and vulnerable. Yet as a friend pointed out recently over lunch, keeping your day-job salary secret benefits your employer more than anyone else — more than you.

What do you think? When might it behoove you to share intimate financial details, and when is it best to keep them to yourself? Do you see any differences between what a traditional worker might share vs. an entrepreneur?

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Tracy November 23, 2011 at 9:23 am

I’m all for financial honesty. I have a blog about quitting my job and finding what makes me happy. It would have been irresponsible for me not to mention that I had enough saved up to last at least a year. I didn’t want someone to take my advise without being realistic about their own financial security.
I have a few close friends who are very candid about their salaries. There’s never an air of judgment -it’s almost like once you get that number out in the open it is what it is.
When you’re working for yourself, it’s important to be proud of how much you’re making – you earned every single cent! Plus people are afraid of losing the financial security of a day job so it’s good to hear stories like yours. Keep up the great work!

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Leslie November 23, 2011 at 10:48 am

In China, it is very, very common to tell people how much you make. People often asked me “how much do you make?” before asking, “what is your name?” I kid you not. I found this so weird when I first arrived there.

I would answer this by saying, “Enough. I can go to restaurants and take taxis.” (Usually it was waitresses and taxi drivers asking this question.)

When I taught at a university, I would occasionally bring in my iPod and speakers to play music for the class. This always sparked a wave of whispers, “how much? how much?” I’d respond by saying, “It was a gift from my father.” This was true and it also fit nicely into the Chinese concept of how a dad should treat a daughter (buy her stuff! especially to support her career! hurray!)

I’ll never forget the time when I went to the home of a newlywed couple and they told me in precise detail how they had paid for their apartment (through generous gifts from both of their relatives.)

This sense of financial transparency was good for job interviews. Since I knew precisely how much my friends made in comparable jobs, I always asked for slightly more and generally got it.

But these days, I’m not quite ready to share how much I’m making from my new entrepreneurial lifestyle. Maybe later once I have a better sense of what I’m doing!

:)

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Alexis Grant November 24, 2011 at 9:30 am

Wow — This is so interesting! Thanks for sharing. And I like your “enough” response :)

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eemusings November 23, 2011 at 8:42 pm

I blog about finances, often. I don’t think I’ve ever explicitly said what I earn, even though I am semi-anonymous. It’s not so much that it’s a taboo, because I talk freely about spending and saving, and am happy to tell my friends how much I make and save. My main concern would be putting myself at a disadvantage in the future when negotiating new jobs or contracts – though how legitimate that concern is, I’m not sure.

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Conni Biesalski November 30, 2011 at 4:47 am

I don’t need to know how much people are making. If they can live the standard of life they enjoy than that’s all I need to know.
With many it feels like bragging. For me, no one needs to proof with numbers how much effort they put into their work, or how brilliant their work is or how smart they are. It also leads to comparisons and competitions (although not many would admit that personally), which I don’t find very useful for your own success and confidence.
When I just hear the word ‘6-figure income’ I get a little, hm how to say… let’s just say I’m over it. Is it because my yearly income after tax barely ever makes it into the five-figures? Some might say it’s jealousy. But I promise it’s not. I just don’t like the money talk. I personally don’t need much and I’m not big on capitalism.
You see, it’s interesting when you say, you make as much now as you did in your full-time job, then that’s as much info as I need. But maybe I’m just not big on numbers.

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Alexis Grant November 30, 2011 at 8:39 am

Conni — Thanks for this! I always assume people want numbers (in a non-braggy sense… though if it’s over six figures, just saying that is enough for me)… so it’s good to hear that you don’t. I like how you say, “If they can live the standard of life they enjoy then that’s all I need to know.”

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