6 Money Questions You Never Have to Answer

By Emily Guy Birken on 27 January 2016 0 comments

Talking about money is a cultural taboo for a reason. Not only is money a personal and emotional issue, but it is also a conversational land mine that often makes someone feel uncomfortable and vulnerable.

Despite all of this, there are still plenty of Nosy Parkers out there who think nothing of asking intimate money questions of their friends, family, and strangers on the subway.

The thing is, unless you are sitting across the desk from a loan officer, an accountant, or an IRS agent, you never have to answer questions about money that make you feel awkward. Here are six of the most common nosy money questions you are likely to encounter, and some suggestions for deflecting your inquisitor.

1. How Much Do You Make?

People ask this question for a number of reasons, from idle curiosity to a desire to size up your entire life based upon your salary. While there are a few legitimate reasons someone might ask you what you earn — for instance, if the asker is looking to get into your field or planning to ask for a raise — there are better ways to answer that question without making a friend or colleague uncomfortable. For instance, Glassdoor offers a salary comparison tool that can help you understand salary trends in various fields and geographical areas.

There is one major caveat to putting the kibosh on this question, however. The fact that we do not discuss compensation in polite company has helped to entrench the gender wage gap. For instance, you may recall Jennifer Lawrence's essay about how shocked she was to discover that her male co-stars in the movie American Hustle made significantly more than she did. The only reason she was aware of the pay discrepancy was because of the Sony email hack.

It is for this reason that Jessica Bennett of Time recommends that women "simply [talk] about money with a colleague — or, who knows, maybe a friendly supervisor…[This] helps determine whether you're being fairly compensated in the first place."

Of course, there is a difference between having an open conversation with a trusted colleague and answering a question like "You're an art therapist? How much do you even make?"

Deflecting This Question

While you do not want to respond with a curt "None of your business," it is important to remember that your compensation really is no one's business but yours and your employer's. Often, responding lightly — for instance, by saying "Half of what I'm worth, I'd say," or by placing your pinky against your mouth and intoning "One million dollars!" can be enough of a diversion for you to change the subject.

2. How Much Did That Cost?

On the surface, this can seem like an innocuous question. The person asking it is often admiring your new car, your cute blouse, or the champagne fountain at your wedding. Asking the price of your item can be an indication that the asker is interested in getting something similar for herself.

However, knowing how much you spent on any purchase you have made is not anyone else's business. A lot can go into a purchase, including negotiation, a family and friends discount, or a recent windfall. You are under no obligation to tell anyone who asks that your uncle just started a champagne fountain business and he provided the one for your wedding as a present.

As with the question about salary, there are some legitimate reasons to ask this question. For instance, new parents will often swap stories about day care costs and where to get the best deal on baby gear. But even if your questioner has an excellent reason for asking, they do not have to get the information from you. (See also: 10 Money Moments That Are Awkward for Everyone)

Deflecting This Question

Instead of answering with how much you spent, tell your questioner where the item came from: "It's from Uncle Bingo's House o' Champagne Fountains. He has great stuff there!" If the questioner is truly interested in getting a similar item, that provides him with the necessary information.

3. Can You Afford That?

This is the ruder version of the question of how much things cost. It means the questioner has made assumptions about your finances, the cost of whatever you are purchasing, and your own ability to do a cost-benefit analysis. Unfortunately, this question often seems to come from a place of concern. The "concerned" friend, classmate, or fellow cocktail party guest can shame your choices while appearing to care about you.

The thing is, even if you can't afford it, it's not business of the concerned questioner.

Deflecting This Question

This is the kind of situation that the Southern phrase "Bless your heart" was coined for. Bless your heart is a sweet way of letting someone know that she is an idiot and she needs to butt out. In this case, you can respond by saying, "Bless your heart for worrying about me!" There is pretty much nothing a questioner can say once you've blessed his heart.

4. Do You Get Child Support/Alimony?

For some reason, people will treat divorcing couples as if all boundaries have been shattered, particularly if the couple has children. Asking a single parent or recent divorcé[e] if the ex is ponying up any support is a common line of questioning that is completely inappropriate. Generally, the questioner is indulging curiosity or hoping to judge your ex. There is no need for you to answer this question.

Deflecting This Question

This is the kind of question that is hardest to deflect. Many of the Miss Manners-approved suggestions for redirecting nosy questions do not work with the truly shameless — which includes anyone asking questions about child support and alimony. I have rarely met someone who was willing to ask such personal questions but stopped short when told, "I prefer not to discuss it."

Ultimately, however, that is the line in the sand that you must draw. It's also a good idea to immediately segue into something else, i.e., "So how about them Baltimore Ravens?"

5. How Much Do You Have in the Bank? (Or, How Much Do You Have Invested?)

In general, the only people who might ask such a question are either clueless, intrusive, or conmen. Unless the person asking is someone you are currently planning to marry, there is no need to even think about answering this one.

Deflecting This Question

For the clueless individuals asking about your net worth, remember that they may be looking for some sort of guidance. You can tell them that numbers are not up for discussion, but that you're happy to talk about your approach to finances if they are interested.

6. Can I Borrow/Have Some Money?

Technically, this is not a question you do not have to answer, since no is a complete answer in and of itself. But it needs to be included on this list because it can be an extremely sticky question, particularly when you simply do not want to give money to the person asking for it.

It can be very difficult to turn down money requests, especially if they are coming from family members or long-time friends. However, you need to remember that your money is your own to do with as you see fit.

Deflecting This Question

It may seem reasonable to simply say you cannot afford to give your questioner money, but this adds another layer of stress to the relationship. In that case, you might find your would-be borrower questioning every purchase you make since you said you couldn't afford to help her out.

Instead, it's good to be firm but straightforward. For instance, you might say, "I'm not comfortable giving/lending money to people." Or, you can simply say, "I'm sorry I can't help that way. I have specific plans for my money."

If you want to make sure the would-be borrower knows that you care, you can always follow up by asking if there are other, non-financial ways that you could help.

Have you ever been asked these — or other — questions about money? How did you respond?

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