Manners & Misdemeanors

Modern Manners: The Proper Way to Talk About Money

Beyond pleading the fifth, there are other ways to sidestep tricky financial concerns.
IMAGE Lawrence Antaran
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When our banker asks us how much money we make to determine an investment portfolio, we feel our privacy invaded. It is no different from going to confession. Money, like sin, is a personal thing. This is because money stands for too many things.

Money is not just a store of value but a measure of our worth as an individual, if only in a material sense. It seems to determine whether we get invited to parties or be considered as friends and if people feel compelled to laugh at our jokes, even when we forget the punchline which they will kindly supply. So, being asked a question which has anything to do with this medium of exchange is certain to make us uncomfortable. We need to understand how to handle questions of money.

Is there some etiquette involved in handling financial queries properly in a social setting? We have received some questions from readers and try to answer them as honestly as we can, mindful of the niceties required in even the most officious probes.

Sometimes I get asked in a non-business setting how much money I make in my job. How do I handle this intrusive question without being violent and obnoxious?

It really depends on who’s posing this socially taboo question. A few people are entitled to get a straight answer like your spouse or your boss who may be evaluating you. (Sometimes he doesn’t really know how much you make.) Nosy relatives like to ask this question as it serves to make them feel good or bad, depending on the number you give as it relates to the ones they have. They presume anyway that the number you give is exaggerated.

Money, like sin, is a personal thing. This is because money stands for too many things.

The applicable reaction to this question is not to give a reply at all. Even if someone seems to be offering you a job at a party, you are not obliged to disclose how much you are presently getting, if only to achieve a better bargaining position. Besides, such a discussion, if it’s serious, has to be done in an office—if the guy offering the job is really in a position to.

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Here’s one way to handle the question. When it is asked, you can give out a belly laugh. “I actually thought you were asking how much I was making. Imagine that.” If the pest is insistent, just ask him—why, how much do you make? If the person actually gives a number, just nod your head—that’s nice. Good for you. And then turn around and head for the buffet table.

People who need money are seldom forthright in saying that they are asking to meet you precisely to get you to transfer cash from your account to theirs—then they even give you their account numbers to make the deposit for them. How do I handle the request for a personal loan?

“Loan” is a loosely used word here. Requests from friends for money are unfortunately made too frequently because social rules seem to decree that the onus of discomfort should lie not on the one requesting for the handout but the one who turns it down. This works on the mistaken premise that the one whose favor is sought is so rich that he can afford to write off a bad loan
the way other people throw coins in a wishing well.

The prospect of repayment, even without interest, is nil or about as likely as the revival of theater as a commercial enterprise.

Any financial outlay given under the heading of “personal loans” should only be extended with the following assumptions:

a) The prospect of repayment, even without interest, is nil or about as likely as the revival of theater as a commercial enterprise;

b) There is only discord to be derived from such a loan between borrower and lender;

c)There will be a deluge of other applicants—why did you lend him and not me?

With the understanding that the words “personal” and “loan” should not be used together in the same sentence, it is best to extend a simple dole out to a friend in need. This should be equivalent to 10 percent of the loan being requested or two thousand pesos whichever is lower. There is no need to give a sermon or a schedule for a next meeting when this business is done.

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Friends who get together often sometimes decide to go into business. How should I handle an invitation to invest in a project being proposed by a friend? This comes with a feasibility study and a fantastic rate of return and seems too good to turn down. Should I take the plunge?

There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with investing in a venture that looks like it will give decent returns. It is good to ask yourself whether you would have gone into this business if the proponents were total strangers who presented this investment opportunity in a seminar.

Drinking buddies, especially after too many shots of vodka, are capable of discussing only businesses with low barriers to entry. These are businesses with no unique proposition that retired basketball players or boxers lose money in—internet cafés, tutorial services, barbershops, and a food franchise with no advertising support.

To preserve the friendship, it is best not to incorporate it.

There is usually one person pushing the enterprise and tapping his friends to join him (see above on personal loans). All are given fancy titles like CEO or Strategic Planner while the proponent takes the lowly title of “manager.” Guess who ends up with all the money after two years when the company has to declare bankruptcy.

To preserve the friendship, it is best not to incorporate it. Then there are no demands for accountability, variance analysis, or lame excuses why the sales projections are off—it seems everybody is using his own tablet and the internet café is resorting to cutthroat pricing with ever-narrowing margins. We need more capital.

Sometimes I feel I am recruited to sit on the board of a fundraising organization only to take advantage of my connections. I really want to help these organizations and I often find myself on the pleading end of the equation. What is the best way to approach my wealthy friends for cash? This is not for me personally after all but for a good cause.

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It is unfortunate that you are often recruited to organizations, not for your good looks and scintillating conversation but for the value, you add—in this case, your social network, maybe of classmates or distant relatives. Sadly too, you have to accept that had the organizers been able to directly invite your friend to the board, they would have. Assume that the exalted one has turned them down, possibly even giving your name as a consolation prize, much like insurance targets have to cough up the names of “referrals” as a way of avoiding further follow-ups.

You need to make clear to your recruiters that you will do your best and cannot guarantee success.

There are so many good causes and so few donors. You will need to overcome the targets’ donor fatigue. The same people have been asked so often that it is understandable when they have to say no to the people they can afford to offend, to which group, judging from your query, you seem to belong.

You need to make clear to your recruiters that you will do your best and cannot guarantee success. This will naturally not be accepted as an excuse. Prepare then to pad your knees for the expected genuflections that need to be made. As you imply, this is not for your vacations in Paris but for cancer patients, the homeless, scholars in a top school, or victims of domestic violence.

The best way to approach your wealthy friends is to be upfront. It is not advisable to dream up of fictitious occasions on which to spring this request. Maybe, set a lunch and when the secretary asks you what the agenda is you can frankly say that it’s a begging expedition for the poor. Do not expect to be able to book the lunch within a month. You can catch the skinflint in your next incarnation as the walking stick of a Buddhist monk.

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As in all things, you just need to manage expectations, yours and those who invited you to their board.

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About The Author
A.R. Samson
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