Price Prying: Do You Have To Reveal How Much You Paid?

Two friends standing in front of store with a mobile phone, presumably comparing online prices with the ones displayed in the store's window.
NicolasMcComber / Getty Images

To many, the subject of money is simply off limits. Asking questions like how much someone paid for something, what they make or what they spent on their house was once considered taboo and somewhat tactless.

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Today, however, standards are changing. It is not unheard of for someone other than a prying mother-in-law to feel comfortable inquiring what you paid for your car, your purse or even your pet. But what if you don’t feel at ease sharing that information? 

Is there anything in the rules of etiquette that says you have to share how much you spent on an item? Are there polite ways to avoid the question? Our experts weigh in about how to handle it when someone does ask and situations where you might need to be up front. 

Changing Times

Undoubtedly, the way we see and talk about money is changing. Despite being protected under the National Labor Relations Act, many people feel uncomfortable discussing their salaries with coworkers. There does seem to be a slight shift in this way of thinking, as more states enact legislation that prevents employers from retaliating against employees who talk about how much they make. 

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So, with more people willing to openly discuss wages, should we stop taking offense when someone asks how much we paid for something? McCarty Money Matters owner Ryan McCarty encourages people to “openly discuss pricing of anything.” 

“Traditionally, it was a taboo,” he said. “Why should it be now? With the internet in our hands, we can easily look up the price of a home, Amazon price for a product and MSRP for a car. What do we win if we didn’t discuss these things?”

However, he does caution against bragging, noting, “I am not an advocate for boasting about such things — unless you got a sweet deal.”

Keep It Casual

While the topic of money is no longer considered forbidden, it also isn’t something you should be forced into divulging. If you feel uncomfortable disclosing what you paid for something, then don’t. With limited exceptions, there is nothing that says you have to tell someone how much you spent on a product.

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Depending on who is asking, you can reply that it was a gift or that you are unsure how much it cost. A stranger stopping you on the street to ask how much you paid for your outfit likely is not looking for an in-depth conversation. The person may genuinely want to know whether it is in his or her price range. If you don’t want to say precisely what you spent, you can just let the person know where you got it. From there, the inquisitor can do the leg work.

Alternative Answers

Assuming someone has bad intentions when asking what you paid for something is not the best idea. But good intentions do not mean you have to answer. You can always say a loved one purchased it for you or you can coyly respond “too much.”

If you are afraid of what someone else will say about how much you spent on something, you can be more vague, giving an estimation. Alternatively, you can offer a price range, particularly for significant assets.

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Tami Claytor, owner of Always Appropriate: Image & Etiquette Consulting, said it is never “impolite to politely decline to answer the question.” She suggests for larger items, such as a house or car, being honest and saying, “I don’t feel comfortable answering that question.”

She also said you can pretend you didn’t hear the question and excuse yourself from the conversation. Money, she said, is “associated with status and evokes judgment.” Therefore, “a person should never feel that he or she is required to answer” questions about it.

Relationships Matter

There are situations where you may have to answer the question. For instance, if your spouse or financial partner asks, you probably should answer. Anyone you share finances with has at least some right to the information, particularly when it is a large purchase or it directly affects them.

As Claytor said, “One situation in which a response would be appropriate is if it is asked in the context of business and the item in question benefits the team or the organization.”

Another time you should be straightforward is if you borrowed money from a friend or relative. The priority should always be to repay money that was loaned to you before making unnecessary purchases. Etiquette goes out the window if you asked for money to get you out of financial trouble, only to turn around and buy a pricey item. 

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