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Why you should tell your mates what you earn

Compilation image of group of friends smiling and Australia $100 notes
How would it make you feel to learn that your mates earn a lot more, or less, than you? (Source: Getty) (Samantha Menzies)

Have you ever wondered how much your mates earn? Do they know how much you earn? I, for one, am pretty nosey. But let’s call it curious because it sounds more intellectual.

If a friend tells me they’ve got an “amazing pay rise” or a new job that’s “way more money”, I wanna know the juicy details. But I often have to remind myself that some people are private about their money before I go poking holes in the vagueness of their updates.

But am I wrong? Should we be talking about how much we earn? And why might people not want to?

Also by Emma Edwards:


As with most dilemmas in my world, I took my question to my Instagram community. I asked them, plain and simple, “do you tell your mates how much you earn?”

And 64 per cent said they were broadly open, while 36 per cent said they weren’t. Interesting.

Why money transparency is important

A big case for sharing what you earn is societal equity. A common reason people expressed in favour of being open about your income is that it helps others understand how much they should be paid.

This is incredibly important when tackling issues like gender, disability and racial pay gaps – secrecy fosters inequity. In fact, the Albanese government is working on the abolishment of pay secrecy rules to make it safer for employees to openly share their salaries within workplaces.

Outside of the workplace, income transparency can be helpful in social circles and communities, too. Understanding the income that underpins people’s lifestyles can help us contextualise what healthy financial habits look like for us, what different income levels can look like, and reduce the risk of overspending to keep up with people around us.

If you’re in a group of friends who all earn $100,000 and you earn $50,000, inequitable money norms may be established that can be hard to break. Hens and bucks parties are a prime example of this. What a higher income earner may deem ‘reasonable’ to spend on overnight accommodation could be a big stressor for someone on a lower income. Creating safe spaces for people to say ‘this is too much for me’ is important, and that can start with being more open about our financial reality.

Will people judge you for what you earn?

An important counter argument for sharing income with mates is our tendency to morph into judgy-wudgy gremlins upon hearing someone earns a jacked salary.

When we’re in a good head space or we’re comfortable with our own financial capacity, it’s much easier to feel indifferent to people who earn a lot. But I’m sure we can all admit we’ve experienced some judgy or jealous feelings towards higher earning people we know. You hear of someone you know earning a huge salary and your mind jumps to questions of how and why they earn so much more than you when you clearly work harder and deserve it way more than them.

Oops, sorry, my own gremlin popped up a bit there.

Respondents from my online community reflected this same concern, many even reporting very real judgement they’ve received from friends who earn less. Those earning more than their mates say they’ve been told their job is “easy”, or that it’s just “not fair”, or that they don’t work hard enough to earn that much. Our societal obsession with productivity equaling worth makes it really easy to tumble into this bias, even when it’s people we know.

Others have even noticed friends’ attitudes towards them changing when they hear they earn more. Some even said they’d been expected to pay for things because they earned more. This can be complicated because what’s often overlooked is that a higher salary doesn’t necessarily mean more disposable income.

Is it easier to be open if you earn a lower income?

Potentially. I’ve always been fairly open about how much I earn. I have often wondered, though, if this is because I’ve usually earned less than the people I’d be telling. Having spent much of my working life as a junior or midweight in the marketing and advertising industry, I’ve never had to contend with a salary that might make people uncomfortable.

However, I’m now self-employed. And anyone else who is too will know that money is a completely different playing field in the freelance or business world. While I’ve remained quite open about how much I earn and charge – particularly with my peers who do a similar thing to me, I’m all about that transparency – I’m still in the early days of my business, so I’m earning less than my salaried roles.

On the flip side, others from my community actually reported the opposite – that they don’t share with mates because they have reason to believe they earn less than their peers. This is also interesting.

Unpack the icky feeling

When it comes down to it, I’m personally pro income transparency. But, discernment around delivery and communication remains important.

But having healthier financial conversations isn’t just about deciding whether or not to tell your mates what you earn. I actually think we need a broader shift in perspective.

It might feel icky to find out your friend earns more than you. It might feel icky to tell people what you earn. But let’s unpack that. What feelings come up for you when people earn more or less than you? What comes up when you think about telling people what you earn?

We can learn a lot from our own individual icky feelings. Sometimes it’s shame. Sometimes it’s some latent belief that money is evil – you likely developed this at some point in your early years. Sometimes it’s fear. Sometimes it’s a self worth thing.

When we commit to untangling why money has been taboo for so long, and commit to creating safe spaces for money conversations with at least a few people close to us, we can start paving the way towards real change in money transparency.

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