A reader recently asked:
I’m sick of my mom asking how much money I make. So far, I’ve been able to just mumble and walk away, but she keeps asking.
My friends are nosy in their own way. I just rented a new apartment, and no one seems to think twice about asking how much I’m paying for it. When I bought a car, everyone wanted to know what I paid. Same goes for some new clothes I bought. After complimenting them and asking where I bought them, the next question is usually, “How much was it?” Isn’t it in poor form for them to be asking those kinds of questions?
I just had a baby. Right now, I know everything about her – from the way her eyebrows furrow in a certain way when she needs her diaper changed to the difference between her “Pick me up, I’m bored” cry and the “I’m hungry, feed me” cry.
Your letter made me realize that I should relish this intimate knowledge of her, because the day will come when she won’t want me to know every little detail of her life.
Keep in mind that your mom is only asking about salary because she was once the ultimate authority on all-things-you, and assumes she still has a right to be. And just because you’re old enough to have your own apartment, doesn’t man mom doesn’t worry about you as much as she did when you were in pre-school.
Jorie Scholnik, an etiquette expert who specializes in the millennial market, agrees. “I like to think of parents asking about income as coming from a place of love — parents want to make sure their children have enough money to enjoy their lives and not stress about putting food on the table and a roof over their heads,” she says. “With that being said, it doesn’t necessarily mean you have to share this information with a parent. I would respond by saying something like ‘Don’t worry, mom. I have plenty of money to pay my bills and enjoy my hobbies.’”
Hopefully, your mom will accept your right to privacy. But I could see plenty of moms responding with something like, “I used to change your diapers. You think I don’t deserve to know this about you?” Even though I’m a mom now, I’m going to advocate keeping this topic off limits. Don’t take the path of least resistance and tell the truth.
Why? Because the truth may freak her out, and only increase her worry about your financial security. After all, salaries today aren’t what they used to be. Last year, economic analyst Robert Reich found that the median middle class salary is $51,017. In 1999, the median middle class salary was $56,080. And during that time, just about everything got more expensive.
The more mom worries, the more annoyed you’ll get with her. A University of Florida study found that when parents worry too much about their adult children, and discuss those worries ad nauseum, the child is more likely to view the parent negatively. The next thing you know, you’ll be avoiding visiting Mom at all.
You don’t need to tell your friends how much you spend either. Jorie says, “Try to brush off the question politely by saying something like, ‘I’m bad with remembering prices.’ As for the apartment, try, ‘I negotiated.’ If someone keeps pressing for the exact amount, I think it is fine to politely say, ‘I don’t want to focus on the price of the apartment.’”
Your friend should get the message loud and clear. And if they really want to know, they can always do some internet sleuthing.
Just keep in mind that your friends may not be asking these questions simply because they’re unabashedly nosy. They’re just used to knowing details about others’ lives. “We live in a time where people share everything on social media,” says Jorie. “People don’t think twice before asking questions even if a topic is still considered private.”
What comebacks do you have for someone who asks you private questions about money?