Updated on 04.14.11


Trent Hamm

Here’s a question for you. It’s more of a thought experiment – I’m not actually suggesting that you go out and do this.

Would you be comfortable showing your best friend your entire financial picture?

Or, what about your spouse? What about your parents?

Some of you will honestly answer this question with a resounding “Sure!” To those of you, I say congratulations. Your finances are in a situation that you’re happy with and that you’re proud enough of that you’re willing to let the sunshine in.

Now, what if you’re not comfortable revealing such information? Regardless of the reason, I think there’s almost always something valuable to find by digging into this question.

I’ll start off talking about my own situation. I’m comfortable revealing all of my financial picture to my spouse, and most of my financial picture to my parents and my closest friends.

What am I not willing to show? I’m mostly uncomfortable revealing my total income and a few specific elements of my spending. In terms of the salary, it’s mostly an issue of not wanting to create a sense of “this person makes more than me” or “this person makes less than me.” I don’t want to create a social conflict.

As for the spending, there are a few elements that I’m just not comfortable sharing. Why? Honestly, I’m not sure. It’s something that has certainly intrigued me over the past few days. I do know that there’s some element of that spending that I must be ashamed of or unwilling to share for some reason. Is it because, on some level, I recognize that it’s not a good way to spend my money?

I think there’s something to it, and it’s made me think seriously about how I’m spending my money in a few categories. If it’s something I’m uncomfortable sharing with the people I’m closest to in my life, then it’s probably very close to some distinct challenge in my own life.

What are your areas of discomfort?

Are you ashamed of some aspect of your finances? This might be a wake-up call to take charge of that aspect of your financial picture. Perhaps there are debts you need to focus on more intensely.

Are you uncomfortable revealing your specific spending habits? Perhaps those habits are pointing you to an aspect of your life or your personality that needs work or improvement. If there’s something that’s making you uncomfortable in the presence of those closest to you, that area may be one to really focus on.

You may also come to some conclusions about your relationships themselves. Why exactly are you uncomfortable about certain aspects of your finances with certain people? After some real consideration of this issue in my own life, I realized that, frankly, I would be willing to show everything to a very small group. Surprise! That small group happens to be my closest core of friends and family.

The glimpses you would allow others to have of your finances – or avoid allowing – can be very insightful, not just in terms of your own behavior, but in terms of your own relationships. As always, the better your relationship with money and the stronger your relationship with the key people around you, the better off you are in every aspect of life.

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  1. I do everything I can to live my life so that I’m not ashamed or embarrassed of anything, and that includes my finances. The only “secret” I have is my salary at work, because work tells me that I can’t share that information with coworkers. I don’t mind sharing it with my family and non-work friends though.

  2. graytham says:

    “Some of you will honestly answer this question with a resounding “Sure!” To those of you, I say congratulations. Your finances are in a situation that you’re happy with and that you’re proud enough of that you’re willing to let the sunshine in.”

    My finances are in a situation that I’m happy with and proud of, but I still wouldn’t share that information with ANYONE. It’s extremely private.

  3. Des says:

    I was totally comfortable sharing these things until I started making more than my friends and family. Even then, I was fine at first. I thought “they won’t change their opinions about me because of finances.” But I was wrong. I became the family bank, and it was wildly unpleasant. If I ever change jobs I will lie through my teeth about how much I make. I never imagined it would cause the problems it has to share that info.

    @Kevin – It isn’t legal for employers to tell you that you can’t share you salary information with your co-workers. Such rules make discrimination far too easy.

  4. Johanna says:

    I’m with graytham and Des. I’m proud of my financial situation, but I have all sorts of reasons for wanting to keep it private from the people I interact with socially. If I share my salary and my net worth with people, are they going to start wanting things from me, or are they going to get suspicious when I decline to participate in what they think of as “normal” spending?

    As for sharing my spending habits: My spending habits are a window on pretty much my whole life. Yesterday I spent 85 cents in the vending machine, $5 at the farmers’ market, $5 at Whole Foods, and $50 on a singing lesson, and $4.30 on subway fare. Is there anything there that I’m ashamed of? No. But I’m not going to shout my spending patterns for the whole month to the whole world, because it’s not anyone’s business.

  5. Tracy says:

    Trent, seriously, I think you need to cut yourself a break.

    Yesterday’s post you were blaming yourself for not being perfect on the piano. Today you’re ashamed of your spending (even though, based on previous posts, it’s not out of control by any normal standards.) It’s painting a pretty bleak picture and I don’t know if that’s really reflecting your reality or it’s just a style choice.

    There’s always a lot of discussion about how, when writing about yourself, you need to show your vulnerability. That you’re not perfect, that people can’t empathize with perfection. And maybe that’s what you’re going for. That doesn’t mean, however, that you should imagine this version of yourself that’s perfect and than keep highlighting where you don’t ‘measure up’!

    It’s about sharing when you screwed up and why and what you learned from it.

    It’s talking about a time when you made a frugal decision and it backfired.

    Or about a time when you ended up totally blowing your budget and how you recovered from it.

    Because the thing is, I know you have to have a life of joy. You’re making a living doing something you love. You have three beautiful, wonderful children. You have a fantastic and supportive wife. And yet, the picture you paint on this blog is of a perfectionist who is beating himself up because he’s not able to do everything exactly right. Somebody who is not only constantly but needlessly sacrificing a lot of joy because of it. Not just material things (although the blender yesterday made me cringe) but even when you talk about practicing the piano, it’s about something you’re suffering through, not something that’s enriching your life.

    I really want to challenge you to go a week writing only positive posts that celebrate your life. Which, like I said above, doesn’t mean not talking about where you’ve screwed up, but really understanding how being human means not being perfect.

  6. Laura G says:

    I wouldn’t share mine (except with my spouse) for two very different reasons:

    With my family, I was always told growing up that, as long as we had enough, how much “enough” wasn’t my business/concern. When my father was unemployed, the family cut luxuries; when he found a job, we brought them back. To this day, I have no idea how much my parents make or what they have saved up for retirement (I could make some educated estimates, but I don’t know for sure). So by the same token, as long as my spouse and I have enough, they don’t need to worry about how much “enough” is for us. When/if we have children, we’re leaning toward more openness, but not full transparency.

    With my friends, the hesitation is that so many of them, particularly the very closest, have massive student debt. They generally have very little debt otherwise, but the student loans are *really* bad — one friend lives with his parents and pays most of his paycheck into his loans, and he has a decent income! So the conversation always gets awkward, even slightly depressing, if it ever comes up that we’re debt-free; I’d be concerned that a snapshot of our savings and investments would make it that much worse (though, unlike with my family, I’d be a bit more comfortable discussing income).

  7. Lauren says:

    My finances are totally fine (and I wouldn’t want to share them for the reasons that others mentioned above, but I also wouldn’t object to sharing the information anonymously, etc.), but I totally understand your point when it comes to food.

    My weight is on the higher side of normal, and I have been trying to lose the last few pounds, but I am terrible about splurging. There are definitely times when I hide candy wrappers, etc., so my boyfriend won’t see what a pig I’ve been (even though I know he won’t care). This is also why I have a hard time keeping a food journal – when I splurge, I can’t bear to write it own. If only I had the same sort of discipline that I do with money!

  8. Laura G says:

    Also, sorry for the double-post, but I second Tracy’s request for a “week of positivity”!

  9. venkat says:

    If somebody is part of your core group, I think, they can infer your spending patterns based on observations/Interactions with you and your family.
    Also, I prefer not to share my Spending/Saving Patterns with anybody except my spouse.
    Trent, I do agree with other Commentors that you need to set the coming week as “Positivity Week”!

  10. Jessica says:

    My husband and I are public employees so our salaries are no secret.

  11. Johanna says:

    Can’t say I’m on board with the “positivity week” idea. Somehow, I suspect that it would turn into a week of “this is why I am better than everyone else because I make my own laundry detergent.”

  12. Snowy Heron says:

    I am not ashamed of my financial situation, but I am not ready to share it with anyone. I agree with Des, too many folks see high earning relatives as the family bank. If you are unwilling to “help” out, you are the bad guy. For most of my adult life, I have not been particularly high earning but neither was I a mooch – sometimes my in laws would offer and we were happy to accept some help, but we never asked. My sister and her husband, both high earning doctors, have been harassed frequently by family (most often, my parents!!), asking for money. I don’t see my parents much these days(long story), so they recall my lower income life. I am not sorry about that, even though we are doing a lot better (not to the 2 doctor level, but better than normal). We still live in the same house we did when our income was less than half what it is now and do not take extravagant trips or anything.

  13. Kerry D. says:

    I’m not worried Trent beating himself up–I think he’s expressing an ongoing interest in improving, not necessarily self loathing or something like that…

    But, I think this post wasn’t really about really showing your finances to people, but imagining what you might not want to share, not for privacy reasons, but because they are somehow inconsistent with one’s own value system.

    Personally, I’m always a bit embarrasssed to admit to people that we have a housecleaner every couple weeks. It just seems elitist, and I don’t want people to think that about us. To us, it is well worth the $100 a cleaning to keep things decent amidst a houseful of kids, dogs, and busy schedules. In contrast, we seldom eat out, and are very frugal about food, clothing and everything else.

    Even without sharing financial informational, we’ve had family members ask for loans, expect to be taken care of… because we own our own home. How funny is that? Maybe we’d be better off sharing financials!

  14. Matthew says:

    This is such a good topic. I feel we should discuss money. When I first found the frugal websites and blogs, it was like a homecoming. I felt alone and isolated before as I did participate in the American borrowing binge. I pay cash for everything, car, condo, home… Though when I make my anti debt views known I have been accused of insensitivity so I tread very lightly.

    My Family knows of my general “prosperity” and I was nearly left of my Grandfather’s will as a result. He reasoned I didnt need help, but he relented. I have invested the $150k he left me and named his Great grandchildren in my will so his money stays in the family.

    I try to talk about the idea of “paying yourself first” to family members and fellow employees. This was the foundation of my prosperity. And I am close to my goal of being a multi millionaire (there I said it). I wish everyone happiness and prosperity in their journey.

  15. Adam P says:

    I like to keep people guessing about how much I make, though I make no secret that I am not in debt and have savings and investments and sock lots away for retirement.

    How much I make is nobodies business. I would show anyone my credit card statements (I pay it in full) or my bank balance (though not a bank statement that shows my pay going in).

    I guess I’m open until it’s salary or income related. I like the mystique. And yes, I have family who try to get me to help them out all the time as it is, never mind if they knew my salary.

  16. Monica says:

    To me, talking to others about your salary is like walking around without any clothes on.

    I have nothing to hide … our finances are sound … it’s just a privacy thing for me.

    That being said, my parents know how much my husband and I make. My dad works in finance, and is able to provide helpful financial advice.

    Are there are a few select friends I would be comfortable sharing my salary with? Yes.

    But in general, I agree with some of the other posters who have said “None of your business.”

  17. valleycat1 says:

    Like Tracy, my interpretation of Trent’s post was whether I’d be embarrassed were someone to find out about my complete financial picture, not actually planning to share it with them.

    For instance, maybe someone sees a copy of our budget lying around, or my spouse opens my CC bill or bank statement by mistake, or I go on Suze Orman’s How Am I Doing segment, or the kids decide it’s time to find out my financial situation for retirement/long term care planning. If I think I’d cringe in any of those instances, then I need to get more honest with myself about my spending/saving/investment patterns & get them on track with my goals & ethic.

  18. jackson says:

    I am always comfortable sharing my financial situation with family and friends and I share tips on what I do for my own financial security. It is helpful to have that dialogue.

    The one thing I never share with anyone (except my spouse) is how much I make because it is a lose-lose situation. If I make more than you, you feel bad and it is perceived like I am bragging. If you make more than I, I feel bad. You should never discuss how much you make with work colleagues.

  19. Anitra says:

    My husband and I share all our financial info with each other (good thing, too, since I now stay home with our kids and he brings in our only income). We also share pretty freely with our parents; both the positive and the negative.

    I don’t think we share quite so freely with my husband’s siblings; with them, it’s mostly sharing our financial mistakes and problems (student loans, anyone?) so that they can learn and not dig themselves as deep a hole. Again, not that we’re ashamed to be making “decent” money, but we don’t want them to think that because big brother has a good salary, that he can support them.

  20. Katie says:

    You should never discuss how much you make with work colleagues.

    Actually, here I disagree. Never discussing what you make with work colleagues just makes it easy for companies to underpay employees who abide by that taboo; feeling out how much other employees at your level (or below it) are making helps you ensure that you’re being compensated fairly.

  21. Riki says:

    I tend to be a fairly open person, but I hesitate to discuss my personal finacial situation with anybody but my partner.

    My partner and I are DINKs who live relatively frugally (but we don’t go to extremes). He likes to take vacations and I like to spend a lot of money on camera equipment. Everything is paid for in cash but you’d better believe we hear lots of comments like, “It must be nice to go to California whenever you want” or “Wow, I’d hate to see your Visa bill.” Those comments really bother me and there has, at times, been a request for money attached.

    So, we have entirely transparent finances with eachother but don’t really discuss much with anybody else. Although I do admit to having made a few pointed comments to various people about spending cash rather than on credit . . . but I always regret that and am trying to watch my mouth in response to negativity from others. (Lifelong challenge!)

    I’m comforted to see other people struggling with the same issues.

  22. Steven says:

    If it makes you happy, why be ashamed? It if brings you satisfaction, why would you want to stop that spending? Because you “shouldn’t” spend your money how you feel is appropriate at that point in time?

    You’re way too hard on yourself, Trent. Money is a tool and should be used to provide a comfortable and secure lifestyle, but you should also use your money to bring happiness and satisfaction without feeling guilty over doing so.

    I’m not really sure why you’re so interested in bashing yourself lately. It seems you aren’t a spendthrift, or out wasting money you don’t have and can’t pay your bills. It almost seems to me like you’ve gone off the deep end from being frugal to being miserly.

    Frugality is a lifestyle meant to allow the person practicing it the freedom to do what they wish with their money based on their priorities, not to build a huge bank account for the sake of collecting money. Again, money is a tool that’s meant to be used.

    If you can’t use your money for enjoyment, what’s the point in making your own laundry detergent? Do you want to be an ascetic and shun all forms of consumerism? To think that any spending beyond necessity is bad or should make a person feel guilty?

    Lighten up and enjoy the life you’ve built for yourself. That’s the point of all this, afterall, isn’t it?

  23. Evita says:

    “Now, what if you’re not comfortable revealing such information? Regardless of the reason, I think there’s almost always something valuable to find by digging into this question.”

    Some people don’t gain anything by over-analysing everything. I personally find it irksome even.

    Like manypeople, I am a private person and will never disclose details that I consider private: my finances (in great shape), my sex life and my health. None of their business !
    (except with my spouse of course!)

  24. lurker carl says:

    No one knows how much my wife and I earn because that information is none of their business. Only a handful of people have a vague idea but probably could not guess with any accuracy. No one knows our net worth and I doubt if anyone has any clue from our lifestyle and material possessions. We do not hide our consumer spending, hobbies, etc but I don’t really see or understand the purpose in doing so. Family and friends assume we are financially secure but have no inkling as to details. Casual acquaintances and strangers assume we are working class stiffs from all outward appearances and activities.

    We don’t have anything to hide due to embarrassment or shame, only sound reasons for keeping our finances private.

  25. Tara C says:

    I really liked this post – I went through a period of many years where I was deeply embarrassed about my spending habits and my credit card debts, and prayed that I would not be incapacitated or killed before I got the debts paid off so my parents would not find out how irresponsible I had been. Now that I am solvent and in good shape, I feel comfortable knowing that if something happened to me, I would not have to be embarrassed to have my finances exposed.

    That said, I do not usually discuss my income or financial picture other than my 401K portfolio with my dad who is a good investor and helps me choose funds to invest in.

  26. *pol says:

    We don’t have full financial disclosure because it’s not their business, but if a dear close friend or family member asks, I will happily share the truth. “We are living within our means, debt free (except the small mortgage) have enough to have modest fun and save a bit for a rainy day.” Anyone casually looking at us might say we were average. Older nice car, very old good running truck, nothing fancy, not alot new — in fact my own family calls me CHEAP on a regular basis. But the truth is we are happy with the way we live and what we have, and our personal comfort is more important to us than outward appearances.

  27. Jonathan says:

    @Kerry D (#13) – You and I received the same message from this post. It sounds like Trent is working on self-improvement and using TSD as a way to motivate others to do the same. I think it would do us all good to think about which parts of our lives (financial or otherwise) we would be uncomfortable sharing with those around us and consider the reasons for that. It may not be that the actions themselves need to change, just the way we perceive the actions or other reactions to them.

  28. Anne says:

    I’m perfectly comfortable sharing information about my finances with friends. I live within my means but just barely. But that’s because I don’t make very much money, even though I work 2 jobs. And that’s why I would never share information about my salary with my family because I’m confident that I would be judged for being such an economic/career “failure”.

  29. Pat S. says:

    I don’t think I would. Not because of shame, but rather because I’m just a private person like that.

    I always find it amazing when a personal finance blogger shares that kind of information. At the same time, its incredibly compelling.

  30. marta says:

    I don’t do the full financial disclosure thing either, but I’m a private person. I am not ashamed of my spending whatsoever, and I prefer not to be specific about income, even with friends and family.It can be tricky, especially among peers. There is this misconception that connects one’s worth to her income (“the more you earn, the more worthy, important, yadda yadda, you are”), which is BS.

  31. Julia says:

    I think I’m in that resounding “sure” category – when it comes to my finances.

    Then I thought about it a bit more closely and came up with a few things I wouldn’t volunteer. But it wasn’t the financial aspect of these things that bother me – it’s how I spend my time.
    I don’t like to tell people how much I spend on my gym membership – except when I’m going regularly.
    I don’t like to tell people how much I’ve spent on games – unless I’m talking about selling them because I no longer play them because I’ve been doing other things.
    I don’t like telling coworkers how much I make – because I often question whether or not I deserve it – because I’m not good at managing my time.

    I’m perfectly comfortable talking about finances – I’m living well below my means, making great progress paying off my debt, and when it comes to the rest, well, I don’t sweat the small stuff so long as I’m staying within my discretionary budget and everything else is on plan.

    Another thought provoking post. Thanks Trent.

  32. Courtney20 says:

    Sharing salary or spending has never bothered me personally. We make $154K a year. And a few minutes ago I just spend $60 buying clothes for friends’ kids. Little pants and shirts *slay* me :-)

  33. moom says:

    My wife and my brother have the full financial picture because it is all up on my blog and they know who I am. I tell anyone who is interested what my salary is because it is on our university website. But I don’t go around telling other people what my net worth is. Especially, if they knew how much money we could actually access reasonably fast by liquidating non-retirement investments. Those who I hint at this tend to be shocked that I could have so much in accessible savings. Usually, it is in terms of “I’m not worried about being out of work for a while”. Both of us could be out of work for about 5-6 years actually….

  34. Danielle says:

    I have a habit of buying things and then struggling to tell my husband that I’ve bought them. To be thinking more on this habit and what I plan to do about it (change or not change) is the message I got from this post.

    Thanks for the thought provoking post.

  35. Peggy says:

    Some of you will honestly answer this question with a resounding “Sure!” To those of you, I say congratulations. Your finances are in a situation that you’re happy with and that you’re proud enough of that you’re willing to let the sunshine in.

    This comment makes an assumption that only those who are in a good financial situation will share, or that those who will share are in a good status. I have no issues with showing my debts/spending/saving spreadsheet and I am in a bad situation. I have shown this info to a couple of people while I would make tweaks to the spreadsheet and was I got from it was that it was more interesting, exciting and helpful to me, than it was to them. Of course, if the spreadsheet showed I had a lot of money – it would be another story.

  36. Evangeline says:

    I agree with #24 lurker carl. It really isn’t anyone’s business. ‘What size do you wear, how much do you make, and how much do you weigh?’ should not be asked in polite company. It isn’t about letting a little sunshine in on the matter; it is all about good manners.

  37. kristine says:

    Lurker Carl, Evangeline:
    “What size do you wear, how much do you make, and how much do you weigh?’ should not be asked in polite company”

    Regarding money- do you ask yourself how this social moray developed, and is that framework still valid? (The others have to do with the private body itself, and I agree.)

    I would share my finances with anyone I personally know and trust, who asked me. I think opacity has always favored the “haves” to avoid resentment, and historically- uprisings. But I agree about not wanting to be the family bank- I have a loan seeking relative who sniffs out anyone’s good fortune quickly, and is at their door.

    The only thing I wold be uncomfortable sharing is my year’s “gift” budget- which has people, events, and budgeted amounts. Often- the lowest budgeted amount is assigned to people I care for dearly- for them I spend time and make something grand.

  38. TheBudgeteer says:

    As a Budget Coach, I’m deeply concerned about this issue. There is a notion that it is “Not polite to talk about money.” That kind thinking can have some pretty terrible results.
    Most major financial catastrophes, like bankruptcy, started out as relatively small problems with easy solutions. Being secretive only makes things worse.

  39. getagrip says:

    I don’t talk real numbers with most of my family because though I don’t feel I make a lot for my profession, compared to my family I’m “rolling in it” and as others have mentioned there is a real fear I’ll become the family “bank”. I think this is particularly true in many families who have the struggling sibling or relative who is tapping out the parents or one of the other siblings and they are looking for someone to carry on the financial bleeding, either to latch on to or to relieve them of the burden. I’ve shared some information with my mother, and I know she’s considered cutting me out of any inheritance (not that there’s much there) because I don’t “need” it and one of my leeching siblings does. Ditto for my mother-in-law, though she’s more interested in passing our “share” through to our kids.

    With most of my family and friends I talk more in percentages and general goals. I’m saving x percent of my salary, or x percent towards college for the kids, and I think that will help this way, etc. I find people are more open to talking that way than real numbers.

  40. Emma says:

    I disagree with your logic. I would share my financial situation with anyone – but not because I’m proud of it or even satisfied with it. It is what it is, and my sharing it with my partner, my parents, or a stranger on the street neither harms the situation nor improves it.

  41. aj says:

    I agree with Emma…it is what it is. I am not proud of what it has been in the past, but I am proud for the progress we have made over the last few years. I am proud of my plan for the future, and proud that I have the support of my wonderful dh. We are a team — in it to win it :)

    We are flat-ass broke at the moment but by the end of this year we will have a $5000 emergency fund in place, and have $360 less monthly payments so we are in a good position for the winter months when my husband doesn’t have much work. We feel like squirrels stocking up for the winter, lol.

    It has taken a long time to dig ourselves out to this point and this is the year that we finally get back into the black.

    I openly discuss all of our financials with our teen children, trying to teach them some PF along the way. I want them to have a better understanding of PF than I did when I got thrust out into “real life.”

    In fact just last night I was explaining to my daughter (and dh) how I had just applied for a hardship withdrawal from my 401k. Something I definitely do not like to do but the money is needed for some very basic necessities (house payment) for next month until my dh gets some $$ flowing in. But I also explained what my investment plan is for the future & using a 401k estimator – what my estimated balance would be when I retire. I explained the importance of getting started early and showed just how much that compounded interest is worth over the years.

    My parents seem to have done well for themselves but they certainly never let me in on any of the details! So, no, I probably wouldn’t share with them now, either, lol. But I must prepare my kids so they learn from my mistakes and be ahead in the game.

  42. Tony says:

    A personal finance blogger that does not want his readers to know his personal finance situation. mmmmm. Ironic, isn’t it?

  43. Stephanie says:

    I would probably be willing to share my financial situation openly with my family and my boyfriend. I’d probably be willing to share with close friends if they asked, since they know I’m into personal finance. But I don’t think I just share it out of the blue. I’d only share if someone asked or was curious, or if we were talking about finances already.

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