‘How Much Do You Make?’: How To Politely Shut Down Nosy Money Questions

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Everyone has at least one family member or friend who hasn’t gotten the memo that it’s impolite to ask personal questions about your finances. Whether they’re inquiring about your annual salary, the price of your home or the cost of your most recent vacation, there’s nothing they won’t ask.

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Boundaries might be nonexistent to them, but they’re very real to you. Therefore, you’re searching for a way to respond, without divulging more information than you’re comfortable sharing.

Karen Donaldson, a certified confidence coach and executive public speaking coach, said the best reply is one that’s not rude or confrontational.

“Take ownership of how you feel about the question — use ‘I’ statements,” said Donaldson, who is also a celebrity communication and body language expert and a No. 1 bestselling author. “If you would rather not share that information, say so.”

For example, she said you could reply by saying, “I’d rather not share that.”

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She said it’s OK to set healthy boundaries for yourself with information you’re not comfortable divulging to the other person.

“Respond with a smile and a calm tone and don’t go back to the topic,” she said. “If they do, you repeat what you’ve already said, and don’t entertain the conversation. You’re not being rude, but they should get the point and stop asking.”

If you do feel comfortable sharing a bit of information, Donaldson said it’s perfectly fine to give a partial answer.

For example, if the other person asks how much you earn per year, she recommended saying, “I don’t feel comfortable sharing the exact amount, however, it’s an improvement from my last position at (place of employment).”

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Jodi RR Smith, president of Mannersmith Etiquette Consulting, said asking personal financial questions is within the realm of polite conversation in some social circles. However, she agreed that you shouldn’t answer questions that make you uncomfortable.

“What is important is what you deem to be private and that you may have different boundaries with different people,” she said. “For example, you might be fine sharing the cost of your new house with your cousins, but not your college buddies.”

Smith said knowing your limits will help you answer a question you feel is too nosy. She suggested replying, “Why do you ask?” when you believe a financial inquiry has crossed a line, as it buys you a bit of processing time.

“It could be that they are considering a similar vacation,” she said. “Now, instead of telling them your costs, you can refer them to your travel agent or send them the link to your hotel.”

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Maryanne Parker, an etiquette expert, said some people ask nosy financial questions because common sense is not always common practice. Despite the provocative and insensitive nature of these questions, she said it’s common to feel uncomfortable or guilty if you have a snarky response.

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“Good manners do not represent weakness,” she said. “We can respond politely, yet firmly, to questions which shouldn’t be asked in the first place.”

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Parker said conversations about money are considered an etiquette taboo topic.

“This is simply forbidden around the world,” she said. “And of course mannered and civilized individuals will never ask such questions, but from time to time we get surprised.”

Ultimately, your personal finances are your private business. Some people are more open than others about the information they’re willing to divulge — and that’s OK.

You should never feel like you need to disclose financial details you’d rather keep under wraps. Politely share as much or as little information as you’d like and leave it at that.

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Last updated: May 17, 2021

About the Author

Laura Woods is a freelance writer with more than 10 years of experience. She specializes in a variety of topics, including marketing, personal finance, entertainment and lifestyle. Her work has been featured on dozens of sites, including HuffPost, CNBC, Business Insider, Nasdaq, MSN, Yahoo, Fortune, Inc., Entrepreneur and POPSUGAR. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Communications from the University of Pittsburgh and an MBA from Robert Morris University.

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