Partially due to the global pandemic, the wealth gap is widening. Therefore, if you are doing well, I highly recommend you never tell anyone how much money you make. Instead, practice Stealth Wealth instead.
If you start telling people how much you make, you’re inevitably going to make people feel bad if they make less than you. And when you make people feel bad about their financial situation, you will no longer get their love and support.
Let me share a story of how I shared how much money I made one year. As a result, I ended up losing a close friendship because he couldn’t contain his jealousy.
The amazing thing is, he makes millions of dollars today as a biotech research analyst at Jeffries. So I hope he’s happy now!
Never Tell How Much Money You Make
Peter and I were golfing buddies for years until one day he started asking me about my compensation. I refused to tell him for weeks until he mentioned he was in a tough situation, negotiating a package with a potential new employer and sought my advice as someone several years his senior.
As I stood over my ball, ready to attempt a 30 foot birdie putt, Peter chimes up, “Sam, you’d really be doing me a favor by letting me know, so I can go back and counter them in case they are low balling me.”
Peter then proceeded to tell me what he was making at which point I felt forced to reveal my income because he was so upfront. When I did, he quieted down, walked to the next hole and smacked his driver down the pipe.
Then He Turned Sour After I Told Him How Much Money I Made
“280 yards with only a sand wedge in!” I applauded after I missed my putt. “Hmprh“, was the only sound that came out of his mouth as walked further and further away.
As weeks turned into months, I realized he no longer pinged me to play golf. It also turns out that he never took the new job offer and remains at his company ’til this day.
Peter turned cold and I later found out that the reason why he never took the new job was because he countered them so high based on what he heard from me that they pulled the offer.
Peter blames me for not getting the job and not making the money he feels he deserves to make. I have no control over what the potential suitor was willing to pay so why is it my fault?
Never Tell Your True Income
I’ve known Peter for years, and it saddens me that we no longer hang out. He asked me to be his mentor when he first graduated from college, and his competitive drive drove him overboard. He compares everything from cars to property with everybody.
As an example, he purchased a two year old Aston Martin Vanquish around his 30th birthday. All he had to do was buy a two year old Honda Civic and it would blow away what I was driving and most of our circle since we take the bus!
It was an absolute mistake revealing my income to him. I like to wear worn t-shirts and jeans, because I don’t like to draw attention. In fact, perhaps this is why I so often wear baseball caps, so I can be left alone to do my own thing.
Funny enough, I saw Peter at the playground almost a decade later. I didn’t recognize him because his hair was grey. However, Peter now makes $3-$4 million a year at Jeffries, as their biotech analyst. Amazing!
If you have a strong money mindset, you have a greater chance of getting rich!
Go “Grey Man”
Blending in is why I drive Moose, my 11 year old SUV that’s worth $4,000. He’s handsome and clean, but will never turn heads. It’s the best feeling when people look at me and think I’m just a kid with very little.
I’m not going to apologize for making more than Peter when I was his age. I was just trying to help him out in his negotiation process as he wouldn’t relent on asking.
We could have come up with a strategy for negotiation, and use my figure as a realistic anchoring point for further talks with his potential new employer. Instead, he decided to huff and puff and curse the world for life’s inequities.
Related: How To Convince People You Are Middle Class When You’re Actually Rich
The Benefits Of Keeping Your Income Hidden
- You can always play down your wealth.
- You can play up your wealth if circumstances dictate.
- Don’t have to always have to pay because you make more.
- Buy things and go on vacations in peace.
- You blend in with everybody else.
- If you make more than the average, nobody will envy you or try and take you down.
The Negatives Of Keeping Your Wealth Hidden
- You start associating your identity with your income.
- You might come across as arrogant and boastful.
- You lose ground in salary negotiations if you ever change jobs.
- People will start expecting things from you i.e. “Larry makes $10,000 a month, let him get the dinner tab!”
- You might get reported to the IRS agent who might think, “Oh really now?”
- You will be judged by everything you spend and don’t spend your money on i.e. “You only donate that little to charity?” “How can you afford a $25,000 car when you only make $60,000 a year?” “You’re 45 years old and still only make that little?” “You make that much and still drive a beater?” “You’re selling the dream, and your client’s dreams are failing.” etc.
- If you’re running a personal finance site, fewer people will take you seriously if they don’t see some financial transparency. As a result, I’ve shared my net worth when I retired in 2012 and my latest passive income streams. But I don’t share my entire income or net worth because it will likely piss a lot of people off.
If You Must Tell Others How Much You Make…
If for whatever reason, you just have to reveal your income to others, use this guideline to decide whether you should or not:
Reveal income if your income is equal to the median income of your peer group (industry, level, experience) up to +15% over. If you are making any more, then it’s probably best not to reveal and speak in generality. Any income below 115% of the median income of your peer group is fine.
If your business model is making money by showing others how much money you can make by making money off others, really try and reach out to those who’ve bought your products and failed.
Reimburse the occasional failure and set up some type of safety net fund or charity fund to help.
Practice Stealth Wealth And Don’t Reveal Your Income
The next time someone tries to dig compensation information out of you, stand strong and don’t reveal any details! Practice Stealth Wealth!
If you must share info given the other party has bared their soul, talk in percentages and temper them while you are at it. Never tell anyone how much money you make.
The other strategy is to provide a wide range below and above his or her salary so as to appease some of his/her desire to know, without making them feel unsatisfactory.
Look around at the most financially successful people out there. You’ll never see or read about them disclosing how much money they are pulling in. They are secure with themselves and understand the upsides of keeping their finances private.
Related posts to never telling others how much money you make:
Combine Stealth Wealth With Stealth Action
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Never Tell Anyone How Much You Make is a FS original post. FS has been helping people achieve financial freedom since 2009. Join 60,000+ others and sign up for my free weekly newsletter if you want to build more wealth.
Lance M Jungers says
It’s all about what you do and your priorities though. He’s right in asking you what you made and comparing it, because we are in a world today that experiences a 5x cost of living, but only 2x the salary compared to the older generations. We live in a world of inflation. The average person today needs 3x the retirement of someone 10 years ago to retire, but yet wages are not going up to represent that. Most people today have to work their entire life, because wages are not going up at the same pace as inflation.
I get very jealous when other people make more money than me. So I think it’s only right that other people tell me what they make so I can make more. The world is not fair and I think I deserve to make more as well.
It’s not right for you to expect other people to tell you how much money they make…I’m very happy for people to make millions and millions more than me.
look at Jeff bezos and elon musk…
Ambition is the key not jealousy!
Greedy rich people. All of you. I wish discomfort and pain on all of your lives. People go without and put in more work than you. Yet they never see what real luxury is. Only the illusion of it. PIGS
Not right to be jealous of them bc they didn’t create your situation.
no you should not
Question, first off, very simple , yet sometimes so simple of a rule it can be overlooked sometimes, example, I was approached by compitition and asked how much I bid a job for that he had bid prior but wasnt awarded. I proceeded to tell him that everyones overhead and markup are different and it would be of no value to tell him my bid, he then told me what he bid, then was an awkward silence, I folded for who knows what reason, maybe just to get him to go away so I could continue working on my project, I quickly figured what could it hurt? I already had the job, so I told him, I immediately regretted it as the whole conversation was awkward. What do I do now? I just pretend the conversation never happened, and remember to never tread those grounds again
A friend of mine makes 3 times my salary. His career went up at a crazy rate. In just 3 years at the save company his salary went from 2/3 of my current salary to 3 times my current salary. Over the same period my salary increased by 50%…
I feel stupid and worthless pretty often now.
I’m not hyper competitive, I don’t need to make more money than my friends, but we simply don’t have the same life anymore.
The guy saves in 1 year what I save in 5… We’re just not in the same category anymore.
He totally deserves this money, he is constantly working, he has huge pressure and stress. I don’t know if I could take on even 50% of his mental load.
The guy is also a freakin’ genius, learning new things instantly, with a crazy memory. For instance, he remembers how I was dressed at a dinner 5 years ago when I don’t even remember being there at all.
Anyways, it’s not easy to be the Peter either. It may not be something that someone else forces upon you, it’s something you do to yourself, but it’s not easy changing your own brain and mental functioning.
It’s been years, I’ve tried hard but so far it’s not really working so far. I don’t feel great when I’m with my friend anymore, I feel worthless and I don’t like that.
Long story short, don’t disclose your money (either income or savings) to friends, don’t ask them theirs (otherwise you’d may be compelled to tell yours).
Not only can it make you feel bad, but it can also make them feel bad. No one gains anything out of this and both situations could hurt your relationship.
Financial Samurai says
Man, sorry to hear this. It’s so human nature to feel what you feel. At least you’re making more and you can’t do what he’s doing to make his amount. And don’t want to it seems either.
It would be way worse if he was making more and you guys were doing the same.
Angela Dente says
I think the problem wasn’t that you told him your income, but the problem is with Peter himself. It looks like he’s the type that rates his self-worth and success base on other’s, so the problem is something that he needs to figure out himself.
As for the blanket statement of just not sharing your income, I do think it’s very important for people to get into the habit of sharing their income with their coworkers who hold the same position as them, especially if you’ve been holding that position for relatively the same time. That was how I was able to renegotiate my salary, to even know I should renegotiate my salary. I learned that my coworker made more than I did despite having the same job and both of us agreeing that we did the same amount of work. He then helped me renegotiate my salary, which put us on even ground. Now that kind of income sharing, I believe, is healthy for a work environment and should be normalized.
Laura Evans says
You are looking at this from only one viewpoint – that of a successful outcome.
Ask yourself this: How would you have felt about your coworker if your salary renegotiation had been UN-successful? Had that been the case, you almost certainly would have resented both him AND your employer.
Before you tear down a fence, consider first why it is there (The Parable of Chesterton’s Fence).
LAURA!!! (loud clapping!!!!) EXACTLY….
I don’t think revealing income is smart, in general. I can see possible exceptions within very functional, non-issue-ridden families… like revealing to siblings or parents or something. Sometimes even that isn’t a good idea. I grew up quite poor I suppose, by most peoples’ standards. Now I have a husband who earns what I consider an upper-middle class income for our household, and it’s still early in his career. We haven’t changed our lifestyle much at all because we’re saving money right now. Most people do not know that he makes more money now. (I think only his mom and my mom know.) I instinctively don’t want to tell most people, and he doesn’t either.
I admit this is mostly because a lot of the people in our circles don’t make quite as much as he does. We don’t make enough that I fear people wanting us to pay for everything. It’s more like I don’t want them to have any animosity towards us or think of us differently or be jealous. Sometimes family or friends tell me about raises they got (revealing specific amounts) or about how much they’re making with some side hustle they have. I smile and am happy for them. I am human though and sometimes it does seem like “bragging” to me, but I still hold my tongue, no matter how much that small part of me wants to let them know we have more than they do. I know nothing good would come from that.
It all just makes me begin to understand why many people who “have” don’t ever want to talk about it. I don’t necessarily even want to feel this way, but I find myself beginning to think somewhat less of people who talk so freely about specific amounts of money they’re making…
I made this mistake today. I might have lost my oldest and longest friend because they can’t get over the amount. It’s not even a high amount, but they think that they should be at the same amount and can’t believe it.
Better to say nothing I suppose.
Eric Terry says
Peter was never your friend.
Wealth is your life. The core of who you are as a person. Peter never knew even the most fundamental detail about who you are. You can’t be friends with someone you don’t truly know.
So what’s left? A shallow competitive relationship with someone who doesn’t trust him. Well, he found out he couldn’t compete and let me guess when he stopped calling you never called back and had a real conversation with him, did you? You assume what happened with him but you never cared enough to find out the reality just like you never trusted him enough to be a real mentor.
Which brings me to the next of this shockingly horrific article of yours. You call yourself his mentor but it took weeks of asking for you to share knowledge that every one posts on GlassDoor with him much less help him with his negotiation. Or reach out to him when he had a setback.
It is obvious that you are excellent with money and just as obvious that you are terrible at being a friend.
* You can always play down your wealth. / Lie -_-
* You can play up your wealth if circumstances dictate. Brag -_-
* You don’t have to feel like you always have to pay because you make more. / You don’t or is it just that you don’t want to use your money for others?
* You can buy things and go on vacations in peace. / You already could or again is it that you can buy more and go on more vacations if you don’t feel guilty. Why do you feel guilty?
* You blend in with everybody else. / You shouldn’t have started a website if you wanted to blend in.
* If you make more than the average, nobody will envy you or try and take you down. / Or respect you or ask your advice. Ohhhhh that’s why you started a website so you can hide behind the interenet and have it both ways. Hide from the people in your life who matter while getting respect and attention from strangers.
Choose better friends and maybe you wouldn’t still regret losing what sounds like a bad one. Of course, to choose better friends you would have to have an honest with relationship with them so that’s not likely.
Man, this was horrible to read… you guys are terrible and no I’m sure its not your “wealth” that makes you that way. Pat yourselves on the back for being selfish, spineless, lying little whiners.
I know its hard but hey you could actually own who you are and then maybe you would have relationships that could weather a quick salary fact check ffs…
Couldn’t of been more correct!!!
I was born July 20, 1965 in Madison, Wisconsin and we lived in the middle of farm country. Our family tree shows that our ancestors had a single steam trunk they brought over with them from Europe while their infant children were dying from the German-Measles. No one in my day as an American drove fancy cars, lived in large homes or went out to dinner three times a week. Call me now right now and I will tell you it’s a confirmed fact. American’s were here to fight taxation and government and religious influence. We were driven to desperation. We forget, how the human race goes on in current events, on how we all used to live. We are short-term memory humans. Do you remember yesterday’s headlines? Hardly. Well, let me get to the money discussion. My father died when I was nine, and we lived for a time on social security in the 70’s for many years along with a fertilizer warehouse he had been converting into a make-shift home. My mother never got a degree or most never did in those days. Most women like my mother got married at 18 and then had kids and then never got divorced because if they did it was a scandal. But let me tell you, there was never a lack of love, or a push for education. Everyone in my day wanted their kids to have an education and to do better than they did. For anyone in China or any foreign country reading this, American’s were not rich, but all want to to good by their children. My Mother wanted her kids to have a better life than her, and she loved us too. Flash forward, I was not poor for a brief moment in the 90’s, and people around me were supportive, nice and positive. Their were of course, some moments – where I thought – am I spending too much? Never. I remembered those days when I was poor. I was frugal. But during the 2000’s my ex-husband fell into the ego trap of big spending means you are successful. Right before the 2008 crash, my ex bought into the real estate game, thinking money can never run out. But this is this is the biggest rule I want everyone to remember – the poorest man can become the richest and the richest man can become the poorest. Just like me, money came in quickly but it quickly ran out. Very very quickly. Now I am wiser and smarter about money, have good credit and I never judge anyone, no matter how poor or rich they are. I see how people are, arrogant, driven, jealous, mean, or have a heart made of stone toward anyone who has success. If that person was sexually abused, faced bankruptcy, was meth-addicted or was dying of cancer, would that lessen your envy? What would it take for anyone to remember that the human spirit is about how to be free, not because we need money to do it, we just need enough to know about how to do it equally. Or how about, could it just be because we are losing sight of a bigger picture? ARE we being overtaxed? Is the private industry dying one day at a time for the public sector? Just remember, in the long run you can’t take it with you. Not the money, not the house, not the belongings. If you want money,…..you have to work for it. NO ONE IS JUST GOING TO GIVE IT TO YOU BECAUSE YOU GOT YOUR HAND OUT TO IT. No one is rich if they are young. No one has it easy. No one. All current office jobs are still factory jobs without windows for the most part. I bet there are a few people out there who won’t dirty themselves doing menial work. I would. Every step of the way if that was what I wanted to do to make a better life for myself and my children. Be humble. Be gracious. Be smart and intelligent and invent a better life for yourself and your children. I don’t want to hear anymore bullshit about golf-courses and Italian cars. Live below your means. Buy a used car, get a decent education and don’t get greedy. Take all the money you save and take a great vacation and set-up a decent IRA. If someone says, what are you doing with your money? Tell them, it isn’t for yourself – it’s for your children or to a better cause. That will stop the conversation. Because selflessness isn’t something people are accustomed too. Don’t disclose your income. Tell them how much you spent on your college education and the jobs they should take to get them on a career path so they can make as much as you do. (After working on the path for a long long time.)
IT’S NONE OF THEIR BUSINESS what you make. Want they may need is good financial planning and some sound financial advice. Give them advice! By all means.
Joseph D Willis says
LOL, i can help but think that you are Peter in disguise. Only he (you) would agree with Peter nosing in on Financial Samurai’s finances. Someone asking you how much money you make is a double edged sword. If you refuse to tell them, they get bitter. Why is he obligated to disclose this to Peter just because they’re golfing buddies? You’re right. They’re NOT good friends. Only buddies that occasionally golf. And undoubtedly Samurai did inquire about Crybaby Pete, otherwise he wouldn’t have known Peter was sore about the information he finally tricked Samurai out of. Which, by the way, Samurai never agreed to be his mentor. That was only a request from Peter. Now, back to Samurai’s sword (no pun intended! although it would be a clever one!). The other edge is that when you DO disclose this, the Peters of the world get jealous and bitter and/or do something dumb, like highball their employer for more money only to get rejected. And all the blame is put on the Samurais. It’s a trap. That’s all it is. Complete privacy is always the best answer. Unless he’s like your very BEST friend in the world. Then, maybe.
I came to the article’s same conclusion on my own over time unfortunately. I think the hardest thing was becoming successful and financially solvent while my friends did not and seeing how well I was doing made them resentful relative to their own successes. So much so that it strained and in some cases ended our friendships.
A decade ago a group of friends decided to make it big in LA. We all came to Los Angeles together to ‘find ourselves’. I was a big fan of movies and always liked movie vfx so I put in a lot of sweat and tears into that sort of gig. After a couple of years it panned out better than expected. I work with lots of people that I would say are very successful and are also very low key and I like that people could be that way without ‘needing’ to show that they are successful. That is something I admire very much.
Some of my friends just wanted that Hollywood lifestyle which is really easy to fall into and with the other aspiring XY or Z entertainer types doing the same sort of nothing it can go on forever or until the money runs out. Another friend and I were the more successful of the bunch (2 of us out of 7 friends actually) and we noticed that we would cover expenses more and more on outings. At first I felt I was just offering support as they found their own success but after a while it seemed like they just weren’t trying. People were getting resentful on both sides; I felt like I was being used and they felt bad about themselves since they weren’t making it. Things came to a head when we’d go out and I’d meet strangers that my friends knew but I didn’t; but I was the cool guy covering the tab. I just felt stupid. My other successful friend felt the same way. After a short while of needing favors and only being called when they wanted to go out to places they couldn’t afford we said to hell with them. And that ended a toxic relationship with childhood friends.
That was probably 5 years ago now and since then I keep my mouth shut about finances or my financial well being. I’d like to be treated like any person you’d meet at a coffee shop or bar or so on. I can say though that it was a situation that my friends saw me grow into over time, but seeing how those events panned out I wouldn’t want a repeat of it.
Another reason not to share is if you are separated / divorced. I don’t see any good coming out of your ex knowing your financial details. lol
I choose not to discuss my income or net worth with anyone in my personal circle. Just too much potential downside.
I am open, though, to sharing anonymously online. And I do like learning from others’ situations / successes / mistakes anonymously online as well.
As a female professional, I am sensitive to pay equity. So I would support whatever’s needed to ensure fair compensation practices. I once was accidentally sent pay information for hundreds of employees in the company where I currently work. You can bet that I checked for gender discrepancies (thankfully seemed to find none). I work in a large corporation with structured pay bands per job level, so that helps. My last employer was a smaller, with all male co-founders and a mostly male senior leadership team. My guess is there *were* probably pay equity issues there, but I’ll never know for sure.
Eric Terry says
These comments are cancer…
You are GOING to get divorced if you can’t even share that much trust with someone you are marrying and you will deserve it…
Of course, you are too dim to realize that your full financial state is disclosed by law during a divorce. Not surprising for someone who believes in the wage gap. News flash men work different jobs and different hours… OH, why do I bother be ignorant it will help anyone not insane from ever making the mistake of marrying you Haha
Would it be a good idea to let legal guardian know net worth so they can take care of children in case of death?
(We have substantially more net worth than they do)
Opposite side of the issue: What do you do when people constantly brag about what they are buying and how much they are spending? My high school friend / neighbor (joe) has a friend that comes over to get togethers when I am over for a drink or to let our kids play together. This other friend (Steve) constantly changes the topic to what he is buying now/just bought/is thinking of buying, etc. Steve has no problem saying how much he spends on things and bragging about possessions/services he gets done. We all live in a nice little older plan built in the 60s/early 70s with average home prices. A good, safe place to raise our 2 kids.
This Steve guy annoys the hell out of me since sometimes my wife and I dont have alot left over after the bills are paid. We pay 2 mortgages ( the other house we are trying to sell ), have student loans, etc.
Question is: why do people brag about what they spend and how much everything costs??
I recall one of the first times I ever saw my Dad loose his cool in front of family in when his brother-in-law had the nerve to ask him his salary. My Dad looked him straight in the eye, “that’s really none of your damn business, Bob…. unless you tell me yours first,” of course the topic of convo changed….. My parents always taught me the most sure-fire way to offend anyone is to ask them how much they make; they stressed do not do it, unless that’s the reaction you want. Most people will talk politics and religion before divulging that info.
I’m sure this cat bugs his co-workers with the one-upmanship games as well and he’s likely hated all through the office hallways. I’ve known several family members like this, they get a kick out of attempting to degrade you with their, “Im better than you,” schtick, but my mom was always good at say, “boy, that sure sounds like a waste of good money, you sure about that?” and the topic of convo was quickly changed.
I find it interesting that people are defining success by comparing him/herself to others. Being successful is as simple as paying off debt and living within your means, no matter what you make.
I love this article! It totally validates how I feel. I just graduated law school and got my first job in a firm so friends and family often ask me what my salary is, which I feel extremely uncomfortable revealing. That list of upsides describes exactly how I feel: I want to blend in, I want to spend my money in peace, and I never want someone’s view of me or expectations of me to change based on money (as in: “she should get the bill”). Personally, I would never ask someone that question.
Unfortunately I found this article because a friend just now asked me over text, I told her that I’m not comfortable talking about it, and she got offended. But I am prepared to accept those awkward and obnoxious moments :)
Financial Samurai says
Stand strong Mary and don’t give in, no matter how much your ego wants you to tell the world!
You’ll love this article too: Are You Smart Enough To Act Dumb Enough To Get Ahead?