35 Comments

  1. Thanks for writing this Penny.

    In my experience, the shame in sharing my salary comes from my experience five years into my career. I work for a regional bank, one of those basic institutions that gets deposits and loan money to businesses. It was 2008 and suddenly some back investment banks have to be bailed out by the government and all bankers were demonized for their pay, regardless of what they actually did (and I made around $60k at the time). It makes it tough to share.

    The other part of this is sometime salary increases at the upper range are like a frog in hot water. Its builds so slowly and in so many different ways, you don’t actually “feel” like you’re a high income earner. My last doubling of pay came in the form of multiple small salary increases, some stock grants that took years to start paying out, and higher bonus targets. I was already making more than I ever needed and look back and say “wow, I doubled my salary again in 5 years”. I completely get how folks can believe they are *not* a high income earner.

    • Income is so complicated. The psychology of money is so complicated and fascinating. I never want to silence any voices. I think there’s so much to learn from all income brackets, and I’m really trying to take the time to listen!

  2. So now can I release spoilers;). In all seriousness people shouldn’t judge each other on income, assets, or anything else money related. But they do. I generically label myself as high income but I don’t share what that means. Why? Some people might not think it’s high enough, some might think it’s too high. You can’t win on optics. That is sad.

  3. People’s reactions or demands for what people make almost always stem from their own stories about money and what having lots of it, or a little of it says about them as a person. People in real life often ask me about how much I make, or how much my house cost and it’s always in hushed tones, like they’re asking a really delicate question. I could care less. I’ll tell you anything you want to know. I work in a union environment, so I know almost everyone salary on my team. It’s liberating to know where you stand in relation to everyone else.

    No guilt Penny! I’m glad you got over your initial reaction.

  4. This is a great post, I love how you break down the feelings associated with sharing your salary and feeling relatable or not, as I often have those same thoughts.

    I pretty much share all my numbers on my blog (made easier by being anonymous) as I never want someone to accuse me of not being transparent about how I did something or that I am trying to hoodwink them. Even though I make a high income, I still hope I can be relatable to everyone by sharing my monthly expenses as well.

    One thing I’ve thought of recently though: I have a high 5-figure salary and thus consider myself a high earner (even though I live in a very HCOL city where I’m way below the median household income). I see other bloggers mainly blog about having a lower income (which is true individually) but when you combine their household income it is greater than mine… in some ways being single causes lower expenses, but in others it does not (looking at you housing).

    Just curious to your thoughts on whether people should be putting their whole picture in or just their own. (This isn’t a complaint, just something I’ve noticed!)

    • That’s tricky! I think bloggers should do whatever they’re comfortable doing. I think our readers will let us know if something looks fishy. Obviously, the more you can share, the better. But I also get why people limit their partner’s stories just because I’ve never felt comfortable speaking on his behalf.

  5. ha ha I’m happy to share mine – its ZERO! ha ha! I totally get this post. My other half earns more than the average without being “rich” yet he can run our household alone and doesnt have to work weekends. Its a tough choice whether to share or not.

  6. “I also see people who say that because someone crosses a financial threshold they have no right to be frugal or no right to talk about money struggles.” this is crazy! Frugality is part of how they got there and everyone has life struggles. Those don’t go away because you have more money.

    My husband is way less private than me, but I still don’t really want to blog his numbers either, which makes using numbers hard when he’s the one earning an income at the moment. They’re still in my spreadsheets though 😉 My family, on the other hand, are always asking what things cost and how much people make. I’m not sure anyone of them would guess what my husband is making. My in-laws seem to have figured out we will retire early. My husband can’t figure out what gave it away, but I’m sure it’s our not crazy extravagant lifestyle and them knowing we have a “high income”.

  7. Sherikr

    Good post. I’ve had a similar experience. I work in the Silicon Valley, where salaries are high, and so is cost of living. I used to feel bad about my salary, but I got over it. What you earn is different from what you keep. And we’re all just one lay-off away from financial challenges (dot.com meltdown anyone? 2008 financial crisis when you just had a baby and bought a house?).

    Being frugal (or at least frugal in some areas) keeps us afloat, even when one of us loses a job. (And we’ve lost several out here, thanks to economic fluctuations out of our control. Ugh.) So, while I don’t share what I make with others, I don’t feel bad about it. And I try to keep a handle on what we spend. Because you never know when you might need to fill a gap.

  8. Very well said, Penny. As a school admin with a teacher wife, I know the pain of the media published salary lists. After years in the profession, with both of us advancing and picking up additional certifications, tasks, and greater responsibility, TFI and I are doing well.

    But, you’re right that it feels so strange to talk about. And there is guilt. Like you, we’ve always considered ourselves public servants fully committed to the students. And we STILL ARE. But there is that voice that says if you’re actually making money at it, you might not be sacrificing enough. Well, that voice and the local newspaper….

  9. Holy cow, this is so good Penny. You would think the one place people wouldn’t be shamed for hustling and making a good income would be the PF community, but that obviously isn’t so. We are solidly still in the middle income spot for our area, but you better believe I have plans to (slowly) pull us up into the lower ranks of high earners. I also do wonder if the Frugalwoods would have had a different response if Nate was the author and not Liz.

    • I really struggle with the reaction to their income. I absolutely think they should have ballparked their income BUT I really struggle with the privacy aspect of things too.

  10. I stopped sharing numbers when my readers weighed in and said they didn’t want to know a few years back, but also I stopped sharing net worth numbers after I finally combined finances with PiC a few years ago as well.

    I’ve never stopped talking about how lucky we are to earn healthy salaries in a HCOLA, though. We work hard for that money but we are also reasonably lucky to make what we do, no matter how you cut it.

    The awkwardness for me isn’t the online world – I’m pretty transparent about the obstacles we face that offset making good money. If readers ignore that other half of reality it doesn’t impact me materially. But I would never share transparently offline with because I know most people make assumptions about how we should spend our money and can have an actual impact on our finances because of that.

    • Preeeeeeeeeach. Our families do know what we make, and I cannot tell you how many times people say to us, “Well, YOU can afford it.” Well, yeah, but if I bought everything you think I can afford, I wouldn’t be able to afford anything?!

  11. K

    I think people are mostly upset with the Frugalwoods talking about how they only make “average salaries”, not that they were non-profit. It makes it sound like they were making somewhere around the median US salary range, which would be below 100,000, not above 200,000.
    Obviously most people in North America are never going to be able to have a life like them, yet that is what they continue to preach – if you just work hard enough at it and stop spending money you can have our life.
    That is what bothers me the most as a family making less than half of what they make.

    • Yes. The income piece is essential if that’s the kind of numbers anyone is chasing. I’m a big fan of being frugal because it’s so difficult in teaching to get a raise, whereas frugality is something I can enact immediately (well, as soon as the new habit takes hold!). But there’s only so much you can cut!

  12. Thank you for writing this! I also work for a school district with public salary listings– very public, because people care a lot about what their colleagues are making — and yet still share your hesitation to name my salary in other settings. I don’t know if it’s because I’m a woman (I wondered when I read your post if a man would have been asked, “No, not with your wife. How much do you make?”) or because I’m so used to the “teachers are underpaid!” narrative (THEY ARE) or some other reason, but this post really resonated with me. I give you a TON of credit for staying in the classroom when you had kids; I ended up taking a much easier role but can say firsthand that you deserve a six-figure plus salary. Anyone who believes otherwise should sit down and calculate your hourly rate and include all of the evening/weekend/summer hours you put in. Congratulations on getting to where you are now, and thanks for sharing this!

    • Thanks for all the kind words and encouragement! Just today I was talking stipends with my coworker and we decided that she needs to go talk to our boss ASAP! It’s so important to talk money to make sure everyone’s time is treated fairly.

  13. I’m not sure what I would have done if I was on that podcast and asked to share my salary. I will share previous ones, but not the current one. Even if I am anonymous I’m careful about not sharing things that might jeopardize my current job.

    I didn’t care about the Frugalwoods salary thing. To me, their salary had no bearing on the effectiveness of their advice. At the end of the day, aren’t blogs about inspiring people to change their behavior? They also made it clear that they started out on food stamps, etc. so it’s not like they were always working with that amount. The salary was clearly worked up to.

    You’ve mentioned your goal of reaching six figures a few times now. I’m curious what that benchmark means for your life versus say, $95k instead? I haven’t thought about salary benchmarks at all, so I’m just wondering!

    • I think it means nothing (vanity metric? fun thing I never thought I’d get to say?! more taxes?!?!)! I also can’t imagine making $95k. But I couldn’t imagine crossing $50 or $60 or $70! I think what is most exciting and most infuriating is that I don’t have to pay anymore tuition (but now there’s nothing to do except wait).

      And yes to the Frugalwoods and salary progressions over time!

  14. I think because I’m not super frugal I feel a little guilty that we earn so much (like we haven’t really “earned” our net worth) but then I realize that even if we spend more than average we’re still saving 40-60% of our incomes and that’s a lot. Also I don’t earn near as much as my husband but I also earn a lot for a part-time teacher, like way more than a first year teacher for way less hours. I actually feel really good about that, like I’m not being underpaid or taken advantage of. And because we’re surrounded by high income earners I go back and forth on feeling like we earn a lot or not (we do). So, like you, really mixed emotions. I also grew up amidst high income earners so was always expected to earn a lot. Like, my grandparents’ reaction to my salaries has always been, “They’re not paying you enough!” So I was really surprised by your nana’s reaction to your salary (although I’m sure she was so proud of you).

  15. Hi Penny! This is a great read. I haven’t really had the opportunity to feel ashamed about my income, because very few people know my salary. It was always treated like a big secret at the firms – probably because they didn’t want us making comparisons – so I tend to not disclose it to anyone.

    As an attorney, people seem to assume that I make lots of money, but they never think about school loans. I’ve found myself more open to sharing the amount of my outstanding loans and/or debt, as opposed to my salary. I’m not sure why. Although I suspect it’s probably somewhat due to feeling like I need to explain our frugal lifestyle to the mainstream population, without going into lengthy discussions about financial independence.

    • It’s so weird and interesting and fun to me. Our family does know what we make. Where I struggle is when people who we outearn make comments like, “Well, if anyone can afford it, you can!” OKAY!?! ::insert awkward face::

  16. Hey Penny, I’m so happy for you that you are making bank as an educator! You should be proud of yourself. You’ve really put a lot of work into your own education so you can be a great educator. You deserve it! You will never be insufferable–your students will always keep you humble. Cheers! Dragon Gal
    PS Always great to meet other teachers!

  17. Just to say wow – I had no idea teachers salaries by name were out there and that all that personal stuff could be FOI requested.

    Then again, I do support transparency but that just feels like a bit too much information out there.

    • True story: when ed tech vendors come in to try to get districts to buy their products, they can request the papers that we write on. So all the notes I jot in meetings are fair game. Isn’t that wild?

  18. Jo-Anne

    This is so foreign to me (Canadian) with some of our extreme privacy laws in place… kinda like when the 911 recordings get “released” to the tabloids. We would NEVER be able to give someones address out to the general public… even with a FOIP request it would still be blacked out to protect the person’s privacy. We do have sunshine lists for government employees, but for the most part in those cases you have to earn over 125,000 a year… and its for provincial or higher employees/managers.

    I don’t think you should ever feel guilty about how much you earn. You have worked DAMN hard to get to the education level you are at and should be paid accordingly. It boggles my mind when people say teachers get paid too much. Like um…. YOU go deal with 30-40 children… make sure they dont kill themselves/each other, try to teach them BY YOURSELF WITH NO HELP and then still have to put in another who knows how many hours unpaid AFTER work hours doing lesson plans, marking, extra work whatever and then tell me they dont deserve what they are paid and they don’t work hard. Also…. we now have some of the highest educated educators and you don’t think they should be paid accordingly?!?! (not personally an educator, but lots of friends/family members who are)

    To sum it up, keep on rocking and doing what you do! Enjoy every win you get and know you have worked to get them.

  19. Hannah

    One thing that’s odd to me, is that most people easily buy into the idea that they have almost complete control over their spending. However, few will buy into the idea that they have even partial control over their income… until they experience it themselves.

    We went to a party with Rob’s colleagues a few nights ago, and he bragged to one of his colleagues that I out-earned him on an hourly basis. I was a little embarrassed, but I was also proud.

    While I’m a huge proponent of frugality, I think that big income wins offer more flexibility in the short term. Whenever I try to help people with their finances, I always offer a 3-5 year income goal. Once people see that someone else thinks that their skills are worth $40k more per year, I see them taking more action.

    Our five year goal is $250k from all sources. We expect to earn somewhere between $180k-$200k in 2019. I have to say, it’s nice having a working husband as the last two years we’ve earned around $100k combined. While money didn’t feel tight on a $100k income, we used it up faster than one might expect.

  20. I think for me, I love to provide tips and put out my stories on my blog but in terms of sharing my current income, I want to keep that to myself and the people who need to know like family and my company that pays my salary and I’m good with that. But I’m okay sharing my pay rate from my previous jobs since it resonates to how I got into debt(I didn’t do that in some of my posts but I should have). Everyone has their reasons whether or not they should put their salary out there.
    With the Frugalwoods, as a person who got into personal finance blogs because of Mrs. Frugalwoods, I didn’t really care about how much they made. It was about their stories, experiences and how they live frugally that drove me to read their blogs frequently. I know some think they should have shared their income voluntarily especially when their book came out but that is secondary to me.
    Great write up, Penny!! Fantastic as usual!

  21. I’ll admit to being shocked by the Frugalwoods reveal. I knew they weren’t making $50k each (because lol even with double my income I couldn’t afford real estate in a hot market like they could), but perhaps it was naiveté on my part to have never expected a number that big from a non-profit job. For ONE of their incomes, not combined. And I’m still having to take a step back to wonder why exactly that was my reaction.

    Because I don’t at all have a problem with people being able to say they make six figures. That is AWESOME and I am SO happy that you’re now making bank and within striking distance of six figures on your own! Perhaps it’s because in theory I know I won’t always be here, but right now it feels like modest non-profit salary/high COL *is* going to be it for me for a very long time. I think when I decided to go the non-profit route after college, that came with the assumption that I’d just never make a bunch of money unless I sold my soul and went corporate. Well hello, universe, this is me saying that I want to earn a shit ton of money! Now to just figure out how to do that, haha.

    As for transparency/privacy, I think it’s fairly easy for me, as a voice in the PF space that DOESN’T make a lot of money, to share numbers especially since I’m anonymous. I don’t honestly know if that would be so easy if I weren’t anonymous and/or made a bunch more than I do now. Definitely something to think about.

  22. Penny, this is so good. You put into words so much of what I’ve been feeling about the transparency discussion in the PF realm. I’m all for giving ballpark numbers but I don’t necessarily think good advice is lessened just because someone crosses some made up income threshold.

    I don’t feel guilty about my solid five figure income, and he’ll, I’d love to hit the six figure mark! However, I’ve often felt that I don’t have the right story for the personal finance world because I don’t have a huge debt payoff success. That’s such a common narrative but it’s not mine.

    We each have our own story, and we each get to decide how much of that we’re putting out there for the world to judge.

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