Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Do You Have Financial Etiquette?

Mind Your Manners by Claire Wallace (1953)Image by Ann Douglas via Flickr 
Many years ago when I was a young lad my parents would take me and my siblings out to dinner. When the check came I would ask how much the bill was. Dad proceeded to hand me the check and told me to pay. He explained to me how talking about money was not done when it wasn't your business. It was a lesson we were all taught that there was a privacy issue when talking about others finances. It's a facet of American culture that you don't ask what someone earns, their religious views or how they vote. 
What happens when someone crosses these cultural boundaries it throws you off and I don't know how to respond - usually I say the wrong thing. What I did was go to the source for expert advice on etiquette. I went to Mary Mitchell. She is an author of many books and president of The Mitchell Organization, she's made a career out of coaching people in relational situations. 
You probably can't get out of talking about money with a spouse or a parent who's participating in your finances, you can with a friend or acquaintance who crosses the line and asks you something better left private. Mitchell suggests saying " it's raining outside". This is the same tone of voice you should use when responding to someone who asks an inappropriate financial question. No emotion, no judgement. If someone gets aggressive, you can smile and say,"Why would you ask a question like that?" or "If you will forgive me for not answering that question, I will forgive you for asking it. " 
Here's a list of the top ten uncomfortable money situations: 
1. Your friends make more money than you, and they treat you like a charity case. 
2. Someone asks how much your spouse makes. 
3. A friend borrowed money from you and they haven't paid it back or even mentioned it. 
4. You go out with a group of people and order a salad and water, everyone else orders wine and lots of appetizers. At the end someone says let's split the check. 
5. Someone asks how much an item of clothing costs, like shoes or a purse. 
6. A good friend is having hard financial times. How do you approach them and offer to pay for them. 
7. You're with an old friend and their credit card gets declined. 
8. An acquaintance criticizes your spending habits. 
9. A friend or family member always thinks your going to pay for them. 
10. Someone asks how much debt you have. 
In all these situations it's always best to approach your answer with a calm tone and politeness. When your responding to the comment or situation is the the time when you, or both of you will feel awkward. Remember these people are not trying to be unkind. They are just overstepping in a social situation. Try to respond calmly and then change the subject. Saving embarrassment for both you and your friend. 


  1. Some good advice. It is uncanny just how frequently some of these awkward situations arise.

  2. Although some of those awkward situations could be avoided (we don't loan money, for example), many can't because people don't have social skills, tact or boundaries.

    I love smiling and asking, "Why would you ask a question like that?" I just might use that one when the opportunity presents itself.

  3. Money is so integrated in our lives, it influences our societal interaction, causing big problems. If people get to nosy in your business it's perfectly alright to set them straight in a nice way, but if they persist you must be firm and stand your ground.

  4. Personally, I wonder if some of these rules are why our society is so messed up about how they handle money.
    Sometimes a person with debt has no one to talk to because the "etiquette" says not to talk about money. If more fathers reached over and explained a bill instead of challenging a boy to pay it themselves---maybe more boys would have learned what it takes to manage the money to go to the restaurant to begin with?

  5. It's great when an occasion comes up that you can teach a lesson to your children. We parents just have to pay attention and not waste the moment.

  6. I will tell you something, this post is really innovative,creating a positive energy. Thhankz a lots dude.


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