What's in Your Wallet?

I was having drinks with two friends recently when the unthinkable happened: one of us revealed how much money she made.

The three of us -- a teacher, a freelance writer and a social service agency worker -- had been talking about the difficulties of trying to save for a new furnace or a trip somewhere above 75 degrees on our modest incomes. One thing led to another and before I knew it, my teacher pal whipped out her figurative wallet, announcing her annual salary with the nonchalance of someone sharing the next day's weather forecast.

"I hope it's OK to talk about this," she said tentatively.

It wasn't just OK, it was helpful. My social service friend and I eagerly chimed in with our own earnings, and the floodgates opened. Soon we were swapping tips on everything from negotiating pay raises to saving for retirement to earning a little extra income on the side.

Maybe today's hard-knock-life mentality is what prompted us to open up about our financial realities. Or maybe the fact that none of us are giving Suze Orman a run for her money took the taboo out of this once-verboten topic.

I wondered if other friends and colleagues in bars around the country were also opening up about what was in their respective wallets. But according to a recent Glassdoor.com survey, they aren't. In fact, 17 percent of the 2,300 survey respondents said they won't even talk about their income with their family, significant other or BFF, up from 11 percent in 2008.

Likewise, my own unscientific probe of professionals currently working turned up dozens of comments along the lines of "I'm making a good living when so many others aren't -- I don't want to flaunt that" and "I'd sooner talk colonoscopies in a five-star restaurant."

But a couple of unconventional souls said that, yes, they were indeed talking salary with their peers, and they were doing it often. I asked them to explain why. Here's what they had to say.

Look Who's Talking

Danny Kofke of Hoschton, Ga., has nothing to hide. He's a schoolteacher and so are many of his friends, meaning they can guess one another's pay grade by the years each of them has been on the job.

Kofke, who supports a family of four on a little less than $40,000 a year, is also happy to share his salary information with those outside his profession. In fact, he self-published a guidebook on getting by on a teacher's salary.

"I know a lot of people guard their financial information," said Kofke, who's been teaching for 10 years. "But I like being open about mine to hopefully show others how [my family and I] live a 'wealthy' life on a moderate income."

Daniel Packer of Washington, D.C., who publishes a personal finance blog, is in a similar situation. Having recently graduated from college, he and his friends "have no problem talking about salaries, benefits and compensation from work."

Besides, said Packer, who works as a systems analyst and makes roughly $50,000 a year, it's easy to guess what your fellow entry-level workers make.

"If you work for a big accounting firm, you make over $60,000," he explained. "If you have a technical degree, you make $50,000 to $55,000. And if you have a liberal arts degree, you are either jobless or make under $40,000."

That said, Kofke and Packer agreed that if they made more money themselves, they'd be less inclined to be as upfront about their salary with their peers.

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