Money Talks

ImageThis is something that has bugged me for a while.

As a child I was taught that it’s considered rude to talk about money. Specifically, that it was in bad taste to bring up what you spent or what other people spent.

Then as I grew older I found that in some circumstances people do find it acceptable to talk about what they paid for things. (This is especially so among women bargain-hunting for good deals ; ) Even though the rules on money conversations seemed more relaxed than I was taught to believe, I was definitely taken aback when an acquaintance asked me point-blank how much James and I paid for our condo unit.

Now I’m firmly on the side of caution when it comes to such conversations. Topics concerning money only come up when among good friends. And while I’m on board with the culture of showing off one’s purchases on Facebook, Twitter and the like, I still think it’s déclassé to openly discuss the price tag.

But I’m starting to feel like there is a reverse snobbery taking place in some circles when it comes to money conversations. I know people who go on a bit about how frugal they were or how little they spent on something, by way of contrasting other people’s spending habits. E.g. “My $20 pair of shoes serves me so well, people who spend $200 on shoes are ridiculous and extravagant.”

I don’t understand how this is more socially acceptable than someone bragging about her $200 shoes. Is it just me?

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13 Comments

  1. Alli - March 19, 2012

    That’s a good point. It does seem to be fine to talk about a “deal” but not fine to talk about anything on the other side of the spectrum. Is it because at least you assume that the deal is less likely to be alienating anyone else who may be discussing? Like… anyone can discuss $20 shoes, but not everyone can discuss $200 shoes? Is it different if you’re “sharing” a deal vs. being superior (per your example)?

    That said, how is it that someone only recently asked you what you paid for your condo?!? Someone asks me once a week what we pay in rent. Like, everyone I know, plus most people that are in the elevator with me. We had decided that was a cultural thing. Is it different because we rent? Are we the difference?

    • Ms Brightside - March 19, 2012

      That is really the difference, between sharing a deal (or as some call it here, a ‘lobang’ :) ) or being superior about one’s frugality. I think being frugal is a virtue, for sure, but virtuosity isn’t supposed to be bragged about…

      People talk about housing and rental prices here a lot. I was asked by someone who was planning to buy property, but the thing is, most people are happy to know the price per square foot. Not this acquaintance, who wanted to know the total dollar amount!

  2. James - March 19, 2012

    strangely, people don’t really see asking about rent as a social faux pas, but asking how much you paid for a place is. i don’t know how that works, but it makes some mild sense from the perspective of degree.

    i think people are eternally comparing in singapore, and that’s what bothers me. if its someone i know, i’m fine telling. if you want to ask, you should be prepared to hear the answer. don’t judge and gawk.

    as far as people boasting about being frugal… i’ve just learnt over the years that everyone wants to feel superior about something. any attempt to condescend others is just masking insecurity.

    • Ms Brightside - March 19, 2012

      It seems there are people who are happy to share exactly what they paid for a place. I guess you learn something new every day.

      • Candice Yang Tay - March 19, 2012

        i thought how much one paid for a certain private property can be seen from the caveat? if the person wants to ask, then he/she should aga-aga know the price range from the caveat..right?

        but i know what you mean..i only share prices and purchases with friends. some acquaintances judge as if they know us very well. i also lazy to explain further to them.

      • Ms Brightside - March 19, 2012

        Candice: Yep, people can check up on the caveat :) But I just don’t like being put on the spot by acquaintances (of the type you described) especially when in a bigger group of people I don’t know that well.

      • James Leong - March 22, 2012

        the caveats are almost always empty of information like unit number and floor level, making it hard to identify which unit it is. unless you use a paid service that some prop vendors provide, then you may get floor ranges. i think ura’s latest thing has a range of floors. but in the event of buying at the launch, you’ll almost never be able to tell.

        in any case, i earn my money fair and square. i don’t need someone’s judgement about how i use it. they’re entitled to feel however they want to feel about how they use their money. no judgement from me either!

  3. triciaseow - March 19, 2012

    Whether it’s reverse snobbery or not depends on who is saying it and what is being said I guess. And whether it gives offense also depends on who is on the receiving end of the comments. Perhaps your parents were right that it might be better to just not talk about it at all because it might lead to an unintentional faux pas.

    I think asking how much you paid is rude, but at the same time, it might have been a genuine in-poor-taste question. Similarly when friends talk about material goods and the money they spent (or did not spend) on it, whether (reverse) snobbery comes into play or not is really up to the rest of us to discern. I think in the end, I usually just take the person as a whole package. If they are eternally braying about prices, or seem fixated on competing either way, then I take what they say as more of the same. It’s about them, their values, their insecurities. If it’s just a once-in-while comment, I tend to think they are just sharing a good buy or asking a real question.

    • Ms Brightside - March 19, 2012

      I’m more bothered by unintentionally hurt feelings and bruised egos than rudeness. Like I wouldn’t like being drawn into a conversation about the price of designer handbags in the company of someone who wants them but can’t afford them. At times like those, I do think my folks had a really good point about not talking about money and prices.

      • triciaseow - March 22, 2012

        Negotiating all the social rules these days can be darn complicated given what’s ok and what’s not isn’t so well-defined anymore. Sometimes it even brings out the anti-social in me! And that’s saying something :)

  4. kris - April 4, 2012

    Makes me feel guilty for wanting me some ferragamos :(

    • Ms Brightside - April 4, 2012

      Don’t feel guilty! I love my Ferragamos and I try not to let the naysayers get me down. :)

      • kris - April 4, 2012

        I wanted to get a pair last year then I got preggers. So I’m waiting til after. Don’t wanna get a pair and then be unable to stuff my sausage feet in or the other way around. and the all important question “what colour??” I’ll probably get black ;)

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