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.
“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?
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. 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.
* You can always play down your wealth.
* You can play up your wealth if circumstances dictate.
* You don’t have to feel like you always have to pay because you make more.
* You can 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.
* 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 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.
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. 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.
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Updated for 2021 and beyond.