5 Financial Faux-Pas

By Tara Struyk | July 19, 2010 AAA
5 Financial Faux-Pas

No one is really supposed to talk about money, despite the fact that much of our lives revolve around making it, saving it, spending it and pretending that we have more of it than we really do. This is probably because we tend to associate money with other attributes, such as power and success. As a result or our hang-ups about money, there are certain dos and don'ts surrounding this topic. Here we look at the top five financial faux-pas – and why some of them shouldn't be.

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  1. Asking About Earnings
    How much money did you make last year? Ask someone this question and you're unlikely to get a response; many people are simply uncomfortable disclosing it. If you've ever accidentally stumbled into an awkward conversation about this, you've probably already learned that this question is best left unasked, particularly of people you don't know very well.

    But should this really be a faux-pas? When you consider some of the most common financial problems people tend to have, it's easy to wonder if a little more transparency would help. According to creditcards.com, the average credit card debt of households with credit card debt is more than $15,000. If you knew that the Joneses next door made $100,000 per year more than you do, you might be less likely to covet their lifestyle. (For more on how conspicuous consumption can impact you, read Stop Keeping Up With The Joneses – They're Broke.)

  2. Broadcasting Your Bottom Line
    Just as common norms dictate that you shouldn't inquire about other people's net worth, or the cost of their possessions, the same rules suggest that you shouldn't blithely throw around this information about yourself either. Declarations about income or expenses can come across as boastful – or self-deprecating – to those around you. However, this is another faux-pas that deserves to move up to a more respectable caste, at least for those who deliver this information in the name of honesty. For example, providing transparency about your finances to your children could really help them get a sense of what it takes to keep a household running – and perhaps even why they can't always have what they want. (To learn more about what your financial situation means, see What's Your Net Worth Telling You?)

  3. Inquiring About Cost
    Have you ever pulled out a fancy new gadget only to have someone pounce on you to ask you how much it cost? This isn't as big of a faux-pas as digging for salary, but it has the same implications: that what you can and can't afford says something about you as a person. If you want to avoid making a bad impression with an acquaintance, you may want to avoid this question, but consider delivering an honest answer when someone asks it of you. Chances are, the person isn't trying to size you up, but just trying to get a sense of whether they can afford to covet what you already have.

  4. Asking for More
    Asking for a raise, if approached correctly, certainly isn't a faux-pas, but many people have such difficulty broaching this subject that it may as well be. However, if you can provide concrete evidence to your employer that you've contributed significantly to the company, or that your level of responsibility is not reflected in your pay, your desire for a bigger paycheck may be well-founded. Asking for a raise is not a faux-pas, especially if you go in respectfully, have a plan and can provide evidence of why you deserve one. (Get some tips on how to increase your compensation in How To Ask For A Pay Raise.)

  5. Stretching the Truth
    Sometimes when you've spent a little more than you meant to (or probably should have), it can be tempting to stretch the truth about your shopping trip, whether to your parents, a roommate or to your spouse. Sorry, but this one really is a faux pas. A 2005 survey by Money Magazine found that 71% of those polled kept money secrets from their spouses. So, while this financial faux-pas may be very common, it's one social norm you must avoid. (Check out some of the dishonest money behaviors many couples indulge in in Financial Infidelity: Are YOU A Cheater?)


The Bottom Line
It can be hard to break the rules when it comes to faux-pas, but the discomfort that tends to go along with discussing money matters usually serves to hurt us more than it helps us. As such, it can be worthwhile to broach those awkward financial conversations – just be sure to pick your battles carefully.

Catch up on your financial news; read Water Cooler Finance: Goldman Fined, Financial Fixes And Apple's "Apology".

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