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Sex vs. salary: Which would you rather talk about?

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Sex or salary: which would you rather talk about?
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My friend, a perpetual Manhattan bachelor, just got into a relationship with a sweet girl.
So naturally, we invited them out and asked EXTREMELY uncomfortable questions, primarily for my amusement.

  • “How’d you make the first move? No, no, slow down…literally, tell us every word. Show us your text messages too, please.”
  • “How do you talk dirty in bed? Here, I’ll pretend to be her, and you play yourself. Go ahead.”
  • “Have you said ‘I love you’ yet? Why not?” (They’ve been dating for 10 days.)

Lessons learned: Introducing your significant other to us is a special kind of gauntlet.

If someone had asked me those questions years ago, I would have clammed up and gotten super embarrassed. “…that’s really inappropriate dude!!”

But over the years, I’ve realized that some of my favorite people are brutally, refreshingly honest. You can ask them ANYTHING and they’ll answer. Take James Altucher or Michael Ellsberg, who bare their souls about their deepest fears and crushing insecurities.

As I wrote in my book, there are certain areas of our lives — surprising areas — that we HATE sharing:

‘We asked how many people pay off their debt in full every month,’ said Greg McBride, the senior financial analyst for, says. ‘The number of people who said they paid off their credit card every month was high compared to the number of people who actually do. They were more willing to give their name, age, and even details of their sex life than providing the amount of their credit card debt.’ Really? Their sex lives? I would like to talk to these people…alone.

Let’s talk about your salary. If you were sitting around with friends eating, and someone asked you how much you make, what would you say?

In my experience, the vast majority of us would not answer (including me). But why not? Is the number…

  • Too personal?
  • Something that makes us feel bad?
  • Embarrassing because our salary is too low (or too high)?
  • Capable of making things “weird” and damaging relationships?

I think for a lot of us, the answer is YES! All of the above! It’s opening up a can of worms that we just don’t want to deal with.

And yet…we all want to know. How much does SHE make? He makes WHAT? Oh wow…I had no idea you could earn that much at 31.

Beyond pure curiosity, I want to start a conversation about how much we make because there’s amazing support when you’re able to share how much you earn, and how much others of a similar age and educational background earn. You can know if you’re on track and you might discover you’re woefully underpaid or paid very well.

You just don’t want to talk about it with people you know.

So today, I’m going to try an experiment: We’re going to ANONYMOUSLY share how much we make. And as you do, notice how it makes you feel.

Note: If this makes you feel uncomfortable, you should probably check out my huge free guide to salary negotiation and getting paid what you’re worth.

Questions (feel free to answer anonymously):

  1. What’s your annual income?
  2. Stats: Your age, location, job title (e.g., “31, Marketing coordinator for a tech startup in San Francisco”)
  3. What number would be “comfortable” for you?

And tell us what you think about seeing other people’s salaries. Anxious? Relieved? Jealous?

Leave your comment below.

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  1. Annual Income: 179K
    32 yrs old, Seattle, Software Engineer @ Blue Chip Tech Company
    Current income is comfortable. 130K and up is comfortable.

    • Just curious, are income numbers include bonus or just salary?

    • Ambitious African Link to this comment

      I earn more than my man and it really is a non-issue. We are planning our wedding and I am footing most of the bills, but we make decisions together and a still get shut-down when I’m heading in the wrong direction…and so does he. We have been open about money since month 2 of our dating and we have been together 4 years. I would say, that if you treat money as “our money” and make decisions based on that, then you will be ok. Problems start when people start being guarded about income.

      Also, we’ve been dating since I had 0-income…aka student. So maybe that’s why it’s always been ok. I asked him after about 2 months, how much he earns and he was honest about it. He even showed me his payslip and other proof. So, I have no reason to doubt him and neither does he have to doubt me.

      If we all stopped being funny about money, we’d have happier relationships.

    • i earn USD$27K per year.
      +USD$20K yearly by freelance jobs.

      40, monterrey mexico, manager.
      2 kids.
      private school.
      1 car.
      house rented.

      my wife rise children. we make a lot of sacrifices to pay the bills and keep girls on school.
      not enough to vacations or invest on a beautiful house.

      its not enough to fulfill all the requests. Its not comfortable.

  2. I'll be the first I guess Link to this comment

    (1) CAD$125,000 + bonus, retirement match, 5 weeks vaca, education allowance, and many other little perqs in my day job. Side business approx $15,000 per annum.
    (2) 37, Toronto, I manage construction projects.
    (3) This is comfortable. I wouldn’t refuse more, obviously, but we live well and happily and relatively stress-free on my (and my spouse’s) salary.

    • I'll be the first I guess Link to this comment

      Also either sex or money discussions can be light hearted or challenging, depending. I can talk about either pretty easily. Hell people talk about the impact of a house purchase or a kid on their bottom line like they talk about the weather, and many people I know (particularly in sales or in govt jobs or self employed tradespeople, and most people we know from my spouse’s home country) talk salary just as easily.

      But I’ve also had challenging and upsetting conversations with friends about their major debt issues or long term unemployment or their partner’s gambling problem, on the money side, and their ED issues, dead bedroom problems and performance issues post-partum, on the sex side. Those are the things that people keep hidden more than dirty-talk bar banter and salary info.

    • As a recent grad, I’d love to work up to a construction project manager, and in Toronto! I love Toronto! It’s a second home.

      I think looking through these salaries, it’s easy to get jealous, be we have to take into consideration location and cost of living too.

  3. 1a. Annual Income: $225K, +/- based on fluctuating bonuses
    1b. Side Gig: currently ~$15K/year, just started last year
    2. 37 years old, software-related job at blue chip tech company in Portland OR
    3. Very comfortable. I support a family of four on this, and save a ton. Expect to be financially independent soon.

  4. £40k (approx. $70k), 27 year old CRO manager for a digital agency in London.

    I’d say that knowing my friends salary is completely different to knowing a strangers salary.

    Between friends, despite wanting them all to do well, I naturally want to do better. It’s not a competition to me but there’s something about discussing salaries which ties in with a feeling of superiority/inferiority – this could just be a personal issue of mine!?

    I believe I’ll be ‘comfortable’ when I doubled my salary to £80k but I’d always strive for more.

    • This is definitely not a personal issue of yours. I think probably a lot of people feel similar ways, like they are better at providing, they can afford more in life, support their lifestyle better – the more they make and one you get to the point where you can live very comfortable and go even beyond that, then you can start to afford increasingly extreme luxuries if you wish.

      Doing so can give you certain “status symbols” like a high end car, personal full time maids or servants, a second house or cottage, lavish vacations, etc.

      When you can have these things, and you get the sense that people are jealous or envious and want to be you – I think it’s pretty natural to feel really good about that.

    • Thanks BG

      It’s good to know that other people feel the same. Reading through the posts today leaves me in awe of others earning (in a positive way). I’m not at the stage where I feel like I’m enjoy all of the luxuries I’d like but I’m starting to slow down and start enjoying life more.

      I have only used 1 day of my 28 day holiday allowance so far this year which a plan on changing very soon.

      To add a bit of a background for anyone interested, my progression so far has been:

      First job (2009): after being a digital marketing intern for a month (it was originally a 3 month internship but I managed to negotiate a shorter term) I started on £19k ($32k) working in London’s “silicon roundabout” at a startup.

      Second job (2011): I changed companies to move into a ‘Managers’ role before I felt I was ready. I like to think I’m a quick learner though and my compensation was £25k ($42k). This was in the jewellery industry as a digital marketing manager.

      Current job (2012 until now): I knew I needed to specialise as digital marketing roles are abundant and therefore not the highest paid. I moved to an agency into as a conversion rate optimisation manager being paid £40k + £6k bonus ($70 + $11k bonus)

      For me personally, I have changed jobs a fair bit in order to progress but I initially had personal challenges I wanted to overcome. I left university/college TWO YEARS LATER THAN I SHOULD HAVE. In my mind I had plenty of catching up to do and wasted no more time. I still have the same drive now and am inspired by a lot of the commenters on this blog.

      I’m new here, but I’ll be hanging around.

  5. 1. $0. My business is currently earning $40k (and growing). It covers operations but it’s not paying me yet.
    2. 31, Australia, profesional services (quit my day job year ago).
    3. If I could double that I’d be laughing.

    • I was you last year until Ramit got a hold of me. Still growing and have a lot of expenses, but paying myself $1,000-$1,500 per month and on track to double that next year, possibly 3 or 4x if I can get my systems in place. Feel free to email me if you want to talk details.

    • 1) CAD 32K/year, 25K on the side
      2) 26, Vancouver, Internet Marketing Consultant
      3) Base on my calculation of the lifestyle I want to live in, it would be $126,000/year.

      Actually at this point in life, I don’t really care, if someone asked me, I just tell them I make $32k a year and 2K a month on the side.

      I don’t feel anxious, relieved or jealous, or uncomfortable when talking about my salary, but I am careful if I am the person asking. But if I make more than X amount, perhaps 100K or more, I may be more reluctant to share my income. Just a feeling..

      When everyone just started to get their first job, most of my friends are more willing to share, about 2-3 years down the road, it becomes a topic you want to avoid. Not sure why.

      I am actually very interested in learning how much a person make especially if he is in the field I am in, so that I can dissect what they do, how they do it and apply it for myself. Jealous? Nope. Admire, Yes!

  6. 1. $102k + 10 – 12% annual bonus
    2. 33, Sr. Financial Analyst at a large corporation you’ve all heard of, Dallas-Fort Worth area
    3. I feel like I don’t make enough money compared to my B-school peers. I know that I make much more than the average American, and I’m incredibly fortunate to be in the position I’m in. However, I would feel more comfortable in the $120 – $130k range.

  7. 1) $140K/yr. Although about to transition to full time executive coaching so it will be a different ball game.
    2) 34, Product Management in software technology startup… Just started my 6K consulting company on Executive coaching so that’s going to change.
    3) Anything over $100K is comfortable for me.

  8. 1. $93k (76k salary and 17k side business last year)

    2. 42, Chicago, project manager at a non-profit (with great benefits), plus side consulting

    3. I’m fairly comfortable now, but my target is to make another 20-30% (enough that when we have children we could drop down to one income for awhile without too much sacrifice).

    I don’t feel that uncomfortable talking about salary, but I do feel guilty in some ways for wanting more. I know a lot of people who get by on much less. I’m grateful for how well I do.

    • You mentioned you feel guilty. Why?

    • Ramit,

      I think he has already answered it – “I know a lot of people who get by on much less.” So he is comparing his salary to people who make much less and probably think they are “happier” than him, but he still wants more, so he feels guilty.

      BTW – Me in India.

      1) I make USD $20,000 per year on an average but Ramit knows by making INR 100,000 per month one can live a comfortable life in India and save for future too.

      2) 40, with 2 kids. Own home, car. Full mortgage paid. Car on down payment. No other debt.

      3) On that income we eat 4 times in a month in a good restaurant, watch movies many times, and take a weeks’ vacation every ear.

      4) Kids going to good English medium school.

      5) We even afford servants to help my wife in household chores.

      6) Wife does not work.

      7) Yes want to earn more as things are getting costly every year here in India. But I know that I can easily live a comfortable life and retire happily in that income even if it does not increase.

    • I understand that feeling of guilt especially when you have the mindset of a non-profit professional.

  9. 1)59k + 5k bonus
    2)26, Oahu, Commercial Solar Designer for a large PV company
    3) With a kid, one on the way and a stay at home mom, 90k + would be comfortable.

    • Oahu rates are so low… businesses pay bare minimum. No need to retain talent when plenty of bright eyed youth want to live there for anything!

      I lived there. I left. Pay was paltry. Spent every penny on rent and fish.

  10. 1. 90k
    2. 26, Detroit MI, IT Consultant
    3. I’m pretty comfortable right now, but my girlfriend will be moving in soon and we will be looking at condos/houses together. I’d like to be at 110k+