Sunday, April 13, 2008

The $62,500 Question

$62,500. That's approximately how much I make, before taxes. I'm pretty comfortable revealing that here, in front of (mostly) strangers, but it's a different story in real life.

Last Monday morning, one of the women I supervise walked into my office before I'd even poured my first cup of tea.

"Did you freak out on Friday?" she asked. "Did you think you'd been demoted?"

"No...why?" I said, searching my brain for something that might have gone wrong on Friday afternoon.

She held up a pay envelope. "I accidentally got your paycheck."

We have the same first name, and our checks got switched. I rarely look at mine, so I hadn't even noticed.

She seemed to think it was a good joke, but for me, it was awkward. I don't like her knowing how much I make. And I don't really know why. I make more than her, of course, but the difference isn't astronomical, so I don't think she'd resent my salary. And I can't think of any situation in which her having that information would hurt me or benefit her. Still, it feels like she knows something private, something that somehow gives her a small edge on me.

I debated telling my parents about this blog because I wasn't sure I wanted them to know how much I make. I'm sure they assume the number is lower, even though they know I got a big raise when I took this job. I tell my parents a lot about my life, and would tell them even more if they weren't so conservative, but this, for some reason, I wanted to keep to myself. I did finally tell them about Working for Rachel. They don't read it--they read the one post I told them about, but I'm not sure they quite understand the concept. :)

Today R. and I went grocery shopping. At the checkout counter, I picked up the latest issue of Chicago magazine. Every year, Chicago does an issue where they feature the salaries of a cross-section of Chicagoans--celebrities, athletes, businesspeople, artists, and so on. Some people are identified only by their first names; others are profiled in half-page articles including all their vital information and a color picture.

I flipped to the page on arts and media. On the lower right hand page was a guy about my age standing amid piles of paper--my friend Sarah's ex-boyfriend. The article listed his name, occupation, alma mater, and salary down to the dollar.

That took bravery. I imagine most of the people he knows will see this article--it'll travel fast in the circles we run in. He grew up in Chicago, so people he knew as a kid may see it. And people who dislike him, like me and like Sarah, will also see it, and judge him for it. My first thought was, "Whoa, a guy I know is in a magazine." My second thought was, "Ha, Sarah makes way more than him."

The taboo against sharing salaries goes deep. I'm rather infamous for telling people more than they wanted to know about myself. With those I'm close to, I babble about painful childhood memories, openly share things that most people would consider deep dark secrets, and when something embarrassing happens to me, I can't wait to share the funny story. And yet even I get close-lipped when this topic comes up.


calgirlfinance said...

My immediate family knows how much I make, but I can never imagine telling them about my blog. My sister, mom, and I discuss our salaries fairly openly but I feel that my blog is much more private (although I don't even disclose my salary on my blog)

Anonymous said...

Yeah, money issues are always tricky. Right now I make very little money (grad student) but I am frugal so I have quite a large savings. I have friends that make many multiples of my salary and yet live in debt so it can make money chats uncomfortable.

I'm taking a new approach to not talk about money issues with most people I know in real life. I figure it's a good step to take before I graduate and start making real money...

julie said...

I think it's awful that your co-worker handled that so indiscreetly...

Sam said...

I recently told a friend (we were discussing salaries) how much I made. She makes $10,000 more than me and suddenly understood that I was supporting two people on my salary and why I wanted to only entertain at home instead of going out to eat/drink. She was very supportive and understanding about my views on being frugal, etc. It was a pleasant surprise.

Denise Mall said...

No way on earth I would be happy with a sub-ordinate knowing my business or anyone for that matter.

Time for a little fun and exercise - hehe - you've just been tagged for the Memoir MEME

Scarlett said...

@calgirl: Interesting--we're opposites in what we want to keep private. I did have a couple of blogs that I didn't tell my family about, though; this one I intended from the start to be more "public."

@jennifer: Yes, I think that's a good policy, especially when you're being frugal.

Scarlett said...

@julie: With someone else, I might have been angry at the awkward way she brought it up. But with her, I'm certain she reacted that way out of naivete rather than anything else...she's very young for her age.

@beany: Sounds like a nice encounter! It seems to help people understand when you give a reason for being frugal or explain your goals.

Beachgirl said...

Hi. I just found your blog and have really enjoyed catching up. I have added you to my blogroll. Good luck with your goal of early retirement. I look forward to continue reading about your journey.

Scarlett said...

@ntbeachnc: Thanks so much for subscribing and adding me to your blogroll! I just subscribed to yours; it looks like we're doing some similar things. Good luck with the grocery goal!

Dana Seilhan said...

I don't think people knowing what I make is a big deal, most of the time. Now, if they use it against me in some way, then that is a problem.

Part of this may be because my first employer as an adult was the United States Army. Everybody knows what everybody else makes in the military, because we have a pay chart broken down by pay grade. The only time any part of it's a mystery is if you don't know that the soldier you're talking to qualifies for combat pay, or whether their jump status (Airborne) is active, or something like that--but if they give you that info and you're familiar with the rates of extra pay then you can figure that out too.

It's all pretty much aboveboard which is really funny considering the amount of discipline and protocol involved when people of different ranks interact with one another--I mean, in a non-ceremonial situation we were pretty laid back, but at the same time there were a lot more things you just "didn't do." And yet pay wasn't a big deal.

I don't know why it's so different for civilians. I think it's part of the traditional emnity between employers and employees, if you want to know the truth--the whole "oh god, if one employee knows what I pay everybody, next thing you know I'll be UNIONIZED." Kind of sad, really.

Anonymous said...

I totally agree that finances (income, debt totals, and everything else) can be a very tricky subject. I grew up in a house where money was never discussed, so I'm hesitant to share any of my financial information with my parents or siblings. I always thought information was power, so why share it if I don't get a direct benefit.

My spouse, however, grew up in a family where they share almost everything openly, and I can see now that, even though it's risky to share such information, if you truly want to build your relationships this is one way to take a step forward in the trust category. I'm still working on that part. :-)

Anonymous said...

I am very close-mouthed about my salary too, especially around my family, my boyfriend and my friends in general. I guess I find it difficult to talk about money too. But I also suffer from this feeling that I make MORE than I should - that one day someone will walk in and say, ha, you shouldn't be making this salary. You are a fraud. (the miserable fantasy continues with various endings of demotion, job loss, life on the street).

However, I am the same as you in that as much as I'm closemouthed about my income, I totally blather to everyone about my soap opera of a personal life. I gotta learn to shut my yap sometimes!

Scarlett said...

@crystal: Yes, I also feel like I make more than I should--I'm a little underpaid for my position, but I'm also WAY underqualified!

I gotta learn to keep my mouth shut, but it doesn't seem to be happening--I blabbed way too much to coworkers last weekend.