Do you know how much money your best friend makes? What about your brother? Are you aware of how much your colleague, who works in a completely different department, puts into her 401K? Or how much your girlfriend has in her Roth IRA? How many people in your life actually know what your annual salary is?
The thing is, talking about money is awkward. Correction: Talking about salary-related finances is awkward. It makes people feel uncomfortable. I’ll gladly share how much my rent is; sometimes, I might even brag about the price of the sweater on my back if someone compliments it, and I’m excited about the bargain I found. Maybe you think nothing of telling your colleagues how much your flight to Spain cost or how much you spent on Beyoncé concert tickets.
But when it comes to how you negotiated your latest job offer, you’re probably more apt to say that you bargained for a couple thousand dollars (if you’re apt to say anything at all), not that you got them to go up to 55K. Something about disclosing the actual number is unfamiliar and foreign-sounding. Somehow announcing, “I got a new job and I’ll be making 63K a year,” over brunch doesn’t feel normal—for lack of a better word.
You’d rather complain about how much your dog walker costs than reveal how much you gross per month. It’s strange when you really stop to think about it, yet it’s hard to break the pattern.
But break it we should. Knowing what other people in your field get paid is vital to stop the gender wage gap. And negotiating is more likely to become second nature during the job offer process if we talk about our earnings with others.
The only way to normalize the topic and, consequently, become more financially savvy is to stop treating it as taboo. While that might seem like a scary concept, there are two easy ways to get started.
1. Set The Precedent
Because I know it’s not the prime topic of conversation among friends when you get together, I’m not going to suggest that the next time you meet up with your pals you lead by saying, “So, let’s all go around and tell each other what we make, what we’re saving and how we’re investing.”
Do that, and no matter how tight your squad is, you’re likely to get some odd looks and more than one person awkwardly excusing himself. Since we’re just not used to being so brazen about our finances—for many of us (raises hand) it’s a result of being brought up to believe that talking about money is inappropriate—going all in like this probably won’t reap the best results.
Instead of jumping in head first, keep your eyes open for opportunity. The next time you’re up for a raise or receive a job offer, instead of circumventing the number, the thing you’re talking about, why not just say it? This is how it would sound, “My boss approved the raise I asked for, and so now I’m holding steady at 80K. My goal is to be making six figures by the time I’m 35.”
Your friend or co-worker will probably feel as enlightened as you feel after being candid about your financial situation. The more often you start opening up about your earnings and your future salary goals, the more comfortable you’ll be with it, so that, eventually, mentioning your income will be as easy as talking about your insane summer electric bill.
2. Affirm Your Worth
If your reason for not being open about how much you make and how much you’re socking away is because a) you’re embarrassed by your salary and b) you’re not saving and feel uncomfortable admitting that, it’s time to get over it. One of the very reasons for opening up about your finances is to better understand your value and figure out a way to get paid what you’re worth if that’s not already happening.
Saying aloud to someone other than your spouse or your parents that in two years, you hope to be making just under six figures is liberating and goal-setting at the same time. Holding yourself accountable to others and yourself even in this pretty relaxed way is good for your bottom line. It’s OK to admit you wish you were making more. (Don’t we all?) Maybe your friends can help you brainstorm how to get closer to your ideal number.
At the end of the day, we should be pushing each other to make sure we’re making smart financial decisions for ourselves, and salary is an obvious part of that.
Again, I’m not saying that you or I should send an email announcement with a screenshot of our latest pay stub, but there’s a big difference between constantly evading this major figure in our lives and dropping it into every conversation.
While I’m personally on the fence about salary transparency within a company (I don’t know that I need to know what all of my colleagues are bringing home), I’d like to get to a place where talking about earnings with certain colleagues and friends is no longer a heavy conversation topic, but rather a typical one that occurs organically without anyone feeling bashful, nervous or tentative.
Stacey Gawronski is the Senior Editor/Writer of The Muse