How Much Personal Finance Info Should You Share?

By Dr Penny Pincher on 27 September 2016 2 comments

Money is one of those topics that is not often discussed freely. In fact, it is common for people to disguise how much money they really have.

But then there are a few people who are happy to say exactly how much money they make without holding anything back. Some people even post their income and net worth updates on the Internet every month! Is there a benefit to freely sharing personal finance information?

What Can Go Wrong When Sharing Too Much About Your Finances

There are some good reasons people tend to avoid disclosing details when talking about money. Much like the usual sensitive topics of religion and politics, open conversations about money can result in friction and even damaged relationships. If you reveal how much money — or debt — you really have, you can make people uncomfortable or even lose friends.

People have a strong sense of fairness about money, and sharing financial details can highlight inequity and cause hard feelings: "Why does that person make more than me when I work harder?" Sensitivity about salary fairness is accentuated among people who work for the same employer.

When you reveal your financial details, you may unintentionally hurt someone's feelings and sense of self-worth. Let's say that in a moment of truthfulness, you decide to reveal how much you make to a close friend. Imagine how disappointed your friend would feel if he/she makes a lot less than you. On the other hand, imagine your dismay if your friend surprises you by revealing that she makes a lot more than you. Discussing your income can spark feelings of dissatisfaction that can last for a long time.

Money can divide people into "us" versus "them." The Occupy Wall Street movement with dividing lines drawn at the 99% versus the 1% is a dramatic example of this. It can be hard to relate to someone if you think they are in a different economic situation and that they do not face the same problems and issues that you are dealing with. Imagine if you suddenly learned your friend who you see as a peer makes twice as much income as you. This may impact your relationship since you know your friend has options and financial resources that are not available to you. Your friendships may be stronger if you do not know how much your money your friends make.

If you reveal that you have a lot of debt and/or little savings, others may think that you are not competent with money and may assume that you are not competent at other things as well. Some people feel that borrowing money to buy things you don't really need is irresponsible, especially when they are forgoing such purchases in order to pay down debt and achieve financial independence. Discussing money freely may bring up differences in philosophy about saving and spending that can make it harder for people to relate to each other.

Once you reveal personal finance details, it is impossible to put the toothpaste back in the tube. Once your secret is out, your financial privacy has been lost and there is no way to get it back.

Why Do Some People Reveal Everything?

Even with all of the downsides to revealing financial details, some people are eager to share full details of their personal finances. Why?

Some people use "full financial disclosure" as a way to keep themselves accountable and motivated to improve their financial situation. If I had to publish my income and net worth every month, I can see how this would make me focus on getting the numbers to look as good as possible. Plus, I wouldn't want to have to explain any embarrassing purchases or debt. Publishing financial information to help stay on track is sort of like participating a weight loss program where you share a list of everything you eat with your group. You are less likely to slip up if you know you will have to share your setbacks with the world.

Some people share their financial details to get attention — and money. Personal finance bloggers know that sharing their income and financial details publicly can generate traffic to their blog. People are curious to see how much money other people make and how they spend it. I find it fascinating to look at other people's expenses so I can look for areas where I could improve my own budget. Some personal finance blogs are set up with a stated monetary goal and readers can track the blogger's progress toward the goal over time. Sharing intimate financial details on a blog helps build a following which generates income from advertising.

Another benefit of full disclosure is that you don't have to worry about keeping secrets. You can speak freely about money without worrying about something slipping out. If you reveal your financial details to others, they are more likely to share their details with you. You might learn lessons from their experience that you can use to improve your own finances.

How Much Should You Share?

How much personal finance information should you share? The right answer for you depends on your comfort level with your financial situation and what you hope to accomplish by sharing. I see little benefit to sharing my personal finance information and lots of potential drawbacks. I could always change my mind and decide to share later, but for now I am keeping my personal finances personal.

One of the biggest problems with sharing personal finance details is that once you share, your information is out and there is no way to get it back. You won't be able to get people to forget that number if you change your mind later and regret sharing it.

In the end, your finances matter much more to you and your family than to anyone else. Others may be curious, but your money situation doesn't directly impact anyone outside your family very much. Most people have more to lose than to gain by freely sharing their financial details.

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Guest's picture
Matt

I will share pretty much anything in regards to my finances. I learn a lot from others, and vice versa. As a general rule, I share info that I'm not only comfortable with, but I take in the possible opportunity cost of not finding a possible solution to a financial issue if I don't share. Granted, many of things I share are the things I learned after a financial apocalypse, not during. Because of that, I have many that ask for my advice.

Guest's picture
Olivia

It depends on who you share with. Particular circumstances may warrant it. We had a relative who was always on the brink of disaster financially, eviction, etc. We helped her often. One time we could not, and she laid us out with roses. My husband told her what we cleared, what we had to cover, and she hasn't asked us since.

My sisters and I can talk freely about it, perhaps because our finances work out similarly, even though our locations/actual numbers are different. We use it as a means of encouraging each other. We also share frugal hacks, recipes, online deals.

Like you said though, it's not for everyone.