Monday, June 29, 2009

Money Etiquette

We've all been in situations where money has been the topic and you feel quite awkward, whether it's a question of "How much was your new car?", "How much money do you make?", or my new favorite "How much is your wedding going to cost?" Regardless... we've all been there. So here are the top five "Money Faux Pas" according to AOL:

1. Asking Nosy Money Questions

The faux pas: What's your salary? How much did you pay for that huge flat-screen TV? What's the value of your house? "People like to play 'The Price Is Right,'" jokes Jodi R.R. Smith, founder of Mannersmith, a Boston-based etiquette consulting firm. "Whether it's the cost of a new sweater or a new house, inquiring minds want to know." But most people are uncomfortable talking about their life in terms of dollar signs. And asking makes you seem wealth obsessed.

The fix: "When in doubt, don't ask," says Smith. If you have a valid reason for your question, change its direction. Say you're hoping to switch job fields. Ask about the salary range for similar positions, rather than your friend's, specifically. Just being nosy? Do your own research. Figures for everything from property values to salary estimates are available online.

Should you be on the receiving end of a nosy money question, your best bet is to answer it, without really answering. Instead of rattling off the price of your new sweater, says Smith, you might say, "I got it at Bloomingdales. Isn't it lovely?"

2. Flashing Your Cash

The faux pas: You're not shy about spending money -- and you never let anyone forget it. When you're not leaving a 30 percent tip (in big bills) at a fancy restaurant, you're bragging about the cost of your suit, how well your portfolio is doing or the big check you just wrote for charity. "There are people who think that showing they have money will equate with having people like them, with being important," says Peter Post, a director at The Emily Post Institute and author of 'The Etiquette Advantage in Business.' "Really, everyone is thinking, 'What's wrong with this idiot?'"

The fix: "There's a difference between being generous and being flashy," says Post. Aim for the former by not bragging about or otherwise drawing attention to your finances. People will still notice that you paid for dinner or made a substantial charitable contribution (charities usually make sure of this by posting donor lists) -- and will like you better for not rubbing their noses in it.

Stuck making small talk with a cash-flasher? Steer the conversation to another subject, he says. Feel free to say that you think money's too serious a topic for a party (or wedding, golf game, etc.).

3. Banking Via Friends

The faux pas: When you're short on cash, it's all too easy to turn to a friend for a loan, whether $5 for lunch or $800 for emergency car repairs. But it's wise to neither a borrower nor a lender be, says P.M. Forni, author of 'Choosing Civility.' "Money is something people take very seriously," he says. "The risk is always there that a good relationship will be mortally wounded."

The fix: "Don't borrow because it's convenient," says Forni. Only ask for money in an emergency -- and then repay the debt as soon as possible. And if you're the would-be lender, know that it's acceptable to decline. "It's perfectly OK to say you'd like to help in any other way," he says.

In either case, your best bet is to formalize the loan. Set out terms for when the borrowed amount will be paid back, and whether any additional cash will be owed as interest.

4. Depersonalizing Gifts

The faux pas: "If your friend buys you a $200 T-shirt, there's this idea that you're obligated to turn around and buy her a $200 T-shirt," says Smith. But that's not friendship -- it's obligation. When you take away the thought that goes into choosing a gift, all you're left with is the bill. (And who enjoys those?)

The fix: "Your gift should be a reflection of your relationship with the person, and of your budget," says Smith. Not the per-person cost of the wedding you're attending, or the value of the gift someone gave you. If you focus instead on finding a gift your recipient will enjoy, she says, no one involved is likely to focus on its price tag.

5. Spending Someone Else's Money

The faux pas: Organizing a birthday dinner for a friend, you pick a pricey restaurant and notify the guests that they're expected to chip in for the guest-of-honor's bill. Sounds good -- except you've made assumptions about the other guests' budgets, says Judith Martin, aka Miss Manners. "First they decide what they want, and then they figure out how they'll get others to pay for it," she gripes. This gaffe also takes the form of expecting someone to spend money on your behalf, she says -- to sponsor you when you run a 5K for charity, for example, or buy the lot when you host a Tupperware or Pampered Chef party.

The fix: Consider only your own budget before you make plans, rather than what others might spend, Martin advises. Don't assume, or ask, that others contribute. It's OK to mention, for example, that you're joining a charity walk. Just let your friends be the ones to bring up the offer of a donation.

When someone is trying to spend your money, be up front about what you can afford. Try offering an alternative. In the case of the birthday dinner, for example, suggest (cheaper) Restaurant X instead; or say that you've already purchased a gift, but would be happy to attend dinner if everyone pays his own way.


mrosev14 said...

Those are all really good tips. I appreciate the one about the buying a present that equals the cost of the one your friend bought you. Money talk is always awkward.

GingerSnap said...

These are great tips, I especially like the one dealing with the issue of "how much is..." I get that a lot. People ask often how much my dog cost, how much my purse was, etc. It puts you in a tough spot. I've learned too that if I don't want to answer a good thing to say is "oh, it was a gift" :)

Needs Help said...

I really like #4. Whenever I give a gift I really try hard to think about what the recipient might like and I honestly enjoy gifts more when the giver has done the same regardless of price tag. I think people should stop focusing on how extravagant they can be with a gift and more on what the recipient would truly like!!

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