Talking about money has always perplexed me. From watching my parents fight with their friends over the check to being scolded as an eight-year-old when I asked my uncle how much money he makes, I rarely understood the manners that surround finances. However, like most things, as I grew up I learned the basic practices of money. I tried to tip when I could, cover a friend for a smoothie, chip in for gas, Venmo as quick as possible, etc. While I feel I have these actions down pat, I never quite conquered how to talk about money
When we discuss money, we are discussing the privileges and institutions that either empower or oppress us. Especially in the United States, those types of conversations are not common and conjure up a lot of discomfort. Our typical education does not equip us with tools to effectively converse about the power of money. While that issue is not the purpose of this article, it is critical to note.
One realm of money talk I struggle with is the professional one. I first encountered this challenge when applying for internships. When I was offered a position in the federal government, it was unclear whether I would be paid or not. I was so excited about the opportunity that I failed to ask about the wage or lack thereof.
While the responsibility to disclose the finances of a position lies largely with the employer, it is also important for the hired person to have the money talk to inquire and understand what they are agreeing to.
It was not until a couple of dozen emails in that my new employer mentioned benefits, and I felt comfortable asking about my salary. Once that was over with, I was relieved and thought the discomfort was over.
But then COVID-19 struck and I was sent home on stand by. Federal government interns cannot work from home due to certain labor laws so I was merely awaiting the call to return to work. Obviously, that call never happened due to the unfortunate momentum of the pandemic, and I was listless and left in a state of limbo. On top of wondering when life would return to normal, I wondered whether I was getting paid. I felt bad for wondering about this, =as but looking back on it, this was a totally appropriate quandary.
After a pep talk from my father, I sent a polite money talk email regarding “the status of my employment in terms of salary”. This was just a fancy way of asking if I was still getting paid and subsequently still employed. My boss emailed me back apologizing for the murkiness and clearly laid out my financial situation. It was not awkward, and she was not upset with me for asking, at all. I realized that this was a completely fair question to ask and that it was more than acceptable of me to advocate for myself in this way.
Having money talks to ask about salary and wages feels uncomfortable and possibly even like you are jeopardizing your position, however, it is a crucial skill to obtain and develop as you enter the professional world. Whether it takes practice with your friends, a pep talk from your parent, or a splash of cold water, empower yourself to have money talks as a means to advocate for yourself! Your wage is not your worth, but you have the right to be in the know.
Genevieve McCloy is from San Francisco and a current junior at Northeastern University. She is pursuing a major in Political Science, Philosophy, and Economics and a minor in Women's Studies.