How to respond to someone when they ask how much you earn?

Bradley Wilson 08/16/2017. 12 answers, 7.971 views
united-kingdom acquaintances socializing

When I'm at social gatherings/parties, people would enquire about my job and, because I'm an app developer, they think I earn substantially more than I do. (Oh, the joy!) They then follow up asking about my job with something along the lines of

"So, how much do you earn then?"

What would be a valid response when someone asks this question, as this information isn't something I feel comfortable giving out.

Note: I don't care too much about where data protection/professionalism is involved, i.e. a recruiter asking me how much I currently earn for them to gauge how much I would like to earn in another job or when applying for a loan (as a couple of examples).

5 Comments
1 Blaszard 08/15/2017
Why do you not like to get asked the question? Because people start to get jealous?
6 Bradley Wilson 08/15/2017
@Blaszard I really don't think people would get jealous of the answer, it's just abit too personal for someone I wouldn't consider being very close to. To me, they don't need to know. They can't do much with the information after they know anyway.
3 Aaron 08/15/2017
@Blaszard Many people, myself included, don't like to get asked this question because 1) it's none of anyone else's business, 2) yes people get jealous, 3) people might feel awkward if they realize you make less than you should, 4) again, it's none of their business. The moment people realize what my job is, I frequently get "Oh wow, you must make a lot of money doing that! That must be nice." or "Christmas must be great at your house!" (referring to the assumption that there must be lots of expensive gifts, though we do not do a Christmas gift exchange at all), and more. It is very awkward.
2 sgroves 08/15/2017
I just bluntly say "that's none of your business", because it's not. They will get the message.
2 henning 08/16/2017
Salary is a much more innocent conversation topic in the U.S. than in most states of Europe.

12 Answers


Bradley Wilson 08/15/2017.

How I would normally respond is:

"Enough to pay the bills"

This way, they'll get that you're unwilling to disclose this information, they'll also know you earn enough to get by.

You should reply with a polite undertone which insinuates that you're saying it in a way that you haven't taken offence to the question, either.

As @Emrakul rightly points out in the comments. Your body language can change this response from a light-hearted and friendly one to a hostile one. So, as recommended a "Smile, grin and shrug" alongside the speech, should suffice.

5 comments
2 A J 08/15/2017
Right. This should be reply when asked. It always works for me. Say this with a smile qnd they won't mind.
7 Emrakul 08/15/2017
If you say it right, it comes across lighthearted and friendly. Smile, grin, shrug. But it's possible to make this sound hostile when it's not meant that way, so it's something to be mindful of.
12 Cronax 08/15/2017
If the OP wants to emphasise that they're not making as much as the other party probably thinks, they might add "but I'm not going to get rich anytime soon".
3 corsiKa 08/15/2017
Using humor as a deflection technique is a powerful cue.
2 RedSonja 08/16/2017
I say this too, followed by "and keep the Skoda on the road". Because here people with lots of cash drive Mercs.

Pete 08/15/2017.

I go the other way

Not nearly enough

It's a pretty crass question, and not one that I like to answer.

3 comments
1 Bradley Wilson 08/15/2017
I like this, because it's true (sigh!)
18 JollyJoker 08/15/2017
"Half of what I'm worth"
OldPadawan 08/15/2017
@JollyJoker : and twice the amount my boss would like to pay any of us at work ;)

Richard 08/15/2017.

In the UK, it is incredibly rude to directly ask someone how much they earn. I wouldn't even expect to be asked by my own parents. It's not necessary to make light of the situation or play it off with humour. You can just respond with

I prefer not to say.

Or

That's not something I talk about.

You wouldn't be considered rude by refusing the answer the question, the person who asked the question is the one being rude.

4 comments
Bradley Wilson 08/15/2017
I wholeheartedly agree, but unfortunately it still happens. It's just a vain conversation and people assume when you work in tech, you're on the big money (not like, I don't ever hope to be). Nice first answer btw and welcome.
1 NVZ 08/15/2017
Oh, how could I have forgotten this! I posted the exact same answer once on EL&U. english.stackexchange.com/a/346314/50044
7 Guy G 08/15/2017
I think that this is considered so rude in the UK that I'd be tempted to respond with something like "How much do you weigh?", whilst ignoring their question altogether.
2 JBentley 08/15/2017
Whilst I agree that in general it is rude in the UK, you can't apply that generalization too widely. Whether or not it is rude depends on the nature of your relationship with someone. I freely discuss money and earnings with my parents and a couple of my closest friends, and with these relationships there would be odd looks if either of us got offended when the other asked. The fact that you wouldn't expect your parents to ask is specific to your relationship with your parents.

David W 08/15/2017.

I'm always reminded of my sage uncle's answer to such rude, inappropriate questions:

If you'll forgive me for not answering, I'll forgive you for asking


anongoodnurse 08/15/2017.

I'm a physician, and people often think that as a result, I make a ton of money. Some people let their curiosity get the better of them and ask me how much I make. I usually say,

Not nearly as much as you'd think; enough to get by and to take a decent vacation once in a while, but not enough to have saved for our kids' college tuitions! That's gonna hurt!

That usually is all that is needed, and from there, the conversation can be steered to kids, colleges, recent vacations (recommendations?), etc. Also, the answer is true.

Farming takes a significant amount of money. I've had two colleagues who were also farmers. One of them would answer that question with, "Enough to keep farming."

1 comments
2 Buhb 08/16/2017
The person asking is probably not really interested in knowing how much this specific person makes, but is curious about a ballpark figure for app developers in general. This is the only answer i have seen here that actually makes an effort to answer without going into details.

NVZ 08/15/2017.

A clever quote I had often used in a humorous way is

You might very well ask that; but I couldn't possibly comment.

which is one of the many variants of a quote from House of Cards. It's used as a plausibly deniable way of agreeing with people and/or leaking information.

Watch on Youtube an example, and another.

NOTE: Use with caution, and only to friends who will "get" it. And as always, your body language will be a factor.


nodws 08/15/2017.

Being a developer myself I'm often in this situation and it all depends on "who's asking" maybe it's someone who doesn't think it's a big deal because of their culture.

In any case it's custom that the person asking provides their information first (Asia for example) so just ask back

"why, how much do you make?"

that way they can answer honestly if not that will defuse the situation.

Of course if they are being friendly just humorously say:

"not enough man, why? you got an offer?".

1 comments
nodws 08/16/2017
Ah thanks for the Edit in formatting :)

Princee 08/15/2017.

I'd say something like

More than I need, less than I want.

It shows that you're getting by, and at the same time balances ambition and modesty.


Simon 08/15/2017.
Enough to get by, but not as much as I'd like

This is a slight variation to yours, but often the one I would use if I am not comfortable disclosing pay to strangers, friends or family. It has a nice

"I am doing good, but not Bill Gates rich"

feel to it.

Alternatively, a friend of mine loves using:

Not enough to sort from high to low

Explanation:

It's a joke about online shopping. When people go online shopping they often sort prices from "low to high", because you want to buy what is cheapest and not most expensive. My friend is implying he does not make enough to have the luxury to always shop and start with the most expensive option


Craig 08/15/2017.

Depends on the social situation, but it usually comes out as the following:

None of your business

For me, it's all in the tone of how it is delivered. I can say it playfully if I get on with the person asking and I don't mind sharing / just leave them hanging if I change my mind last second. Or it can come out sharp and blunt to imply "Don't be so rude. Don't push it."

4 comments
1 WGroleau 08/15/2017
"That's for me to know and you to find out." Is an expression I often heard as a child.
Bradley Wilson 08/15/2017
@WGroleau In regards to UK culture, that's quite an immature response IMO. It would be something I would certainly say in my childhood days.
1 WGroleau 08/15/2017
Like I said, I heard it in childhood. From other immature people.
Bradley Wilson 08/15/2017
@WGroleau apologies, it was a crude way of agreeing with you.

WGroleau 08/15/2017.

"You'd have to ask my accountant." (The joke is that if you have an accountant, he/she won't answer either.)

4 comments
3 WBT 08/15/2017
That answer translates to, "I make so much that (a) I have my own accountant, and (b) I've lost track of all that money I make...I never have to worry about not having enough." OP doesn't want to communicate those kind of riches.
2 Bradley Wilson 08/15/2017
@WBT It could also be translated to "I'm clearly not the type to have an accountant, I just don't want you to know."
1 WGroleau 08/15/2017
@BradleyWilson understood what I meant. If the rude questioner doesn't recognize a brush-off, that's not my fault.
AndyT 08/16/2017
I lean towards WBT's interpretation when reading this response. I can see that tone when saying this response might give the intended implication.

DaneJoe 08/16/2017.

The way to respond in a manner that doesn't offends people while keeping your privacy, based on the consensus of people I have met, is simply to say what the "average entry-level person" in your position makes. It would require you to have connections in your field or do a little research pre-hand, but that wouldn't be hard to know for someone with years of experience.

2 comments
AndyT 08/16/2017
That's just lying. That's not very useful for someone who is uncomfortable with the situation. Lying isn't going to make you feel more comfortable, most people it makes less comfortable.
DaneJoe 08/16/2017
It's not lying if it is simply a statement of observations. You're actually discriminating against a certain culture by saying that I'm lying, should I call you a biggot?

Related questions

Hot questions

Language

Popular Tags