Money Matters: Questions that are too personal

by epi on March 5, 2012

Q: I live on a modest income since I retired to a small town several years ago. I am surprised by so much gossip, the presumption that everyone knows everything about everyone. I am forthright about most of my life. As a youngster, I learned it is inappropriate to discuss personal finances outside the home. Questions on the subject make me uncomfortable. Am I alone in feeling curiosity about money is offensive? if so, how do I respond to questions I feel are rude?

A: No, you’re not alone. In general, personal finances outside the home should only be discussed at home or possibly with other family members depending on the circumstances. Therefore, in most cases, it is rude to ask about another’s personal finances. Two examples are asking how much you paid for your home or your income. Nonetheless, if someone does ask, you may simply respond: “I find that a personal question and would rather than discuss it.” or “I’d rather not discuss my personal finances.”

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Allyson March 5, 2012 at 11:53 am

Turning the issue the other way around, how do you handle someone who talks too much about their personal finances? I have a stay-at-home sister-in-law who insists on telling people how strapped for cash she and my sibling are. I don’t know if my brother doesn’t care or just doesn’t know that she’s telling people very personal information, but it’s embarrassing to watch her make a mockery an obvious money management problem on her part.

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Elizabeth March 5, 2012 at 1:55 pm

Well, one strategy would be to speak your brother and say, “Hey Bro, is everything alright at home? SIL has mentioned to me a few times how strapped for cash you are, and I’m concerned.” Presumably your brother will be a little embarrassed about this and will tell his wife to stop blabbing about their problems.

If that won’t work, then you could make it very unpleasant for her to speak to you about her problems. All you have to do is offer her some really banal and insufferable advice – tell her all about Aunt Milly’s money-saving casserole in great detail, or how they can save so much money by shopping at Costco, etc. Pretty soon she’ll know to avoid bringing it up to you.

If this too is not a good fit with your personality, you could go the direct route: “SIL, it makes me really uncomfortable to hear about your issues in so much detail. Perhaps you and Bro should see a financial counselor?”

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Heather March 9, 2012 at 4:26 pm

The advice given is good, but I’d have a hard time being that direct! I always manage to deflect questions with things like, “Yes, the rent is high here, but it is so convenient. Have you been to the restaurant right next door?” and “Well, of course, it is hard getting by on a teacher’s salary sometimes, but I love my job. Why yesterday, a student said the cutest thing…” I see no reason to embarrass the asker by telling them they’ve made me uncomfortable.

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