rudeness? [to ask questions about summer camp]

Is it rude to question/ask someone how they could afford to send their child to a summer camp (even if the camp did have a higher than usual tuition)? I was totally caught off guard by someone asking me this question today, and really felt like they were being a bit rude, does anyone have thoughts on this topic? :confused:

Since the OP is asking for opinions, let’s move this to IMHO. Title edited to indicate subject.

General Questions Moderator

In what context are they asking? And who is asking? I would be offended if the person asking wasn’t a close friend or involved in my finances and the underlying assumption was judgmental.

I have a decidedly non-glamorous government job and it is generally understood that we aren’t hauling in the dough. I have had coworkers ask a more politely phrased “how can you afford to” question when I mention that our son goes to a private school. I did understand that the sub context was probably “do you get some kind of financial assistance and if so is this is a possibility for my family” question. It is exactly the reason I asked a friend the same question several years ago. And got useful information about making it work for our family.

I find it a little rude when people ask about things like that but it depends on how they’re asking and (to me) why they’re asking.

It could be that they want to be able to do those same type of things and are honestly curious how you swing it to make adjustments in their own finances.

As with any personal question I say you should realize you are not required to give anyone an answer you’re not comfortable giving. You might say:
[li]It isn’t easy but we plan ahead and adjust our spending to accommodate it.[/li][li]It isn’t easy, I’ll say that![/li][li]My husband is a gigolo on the weekends.[/li][li]We put it on a credit card.[/li][li]I got a part time job.[/li][li]Talking about finances is no fun, what are you doing for the 4th of July weekend?[/li][/ul]
In other words, tell them exactly as much as you want them to know.

Many people can afford private schools and/or expensive summer camps, luxury cars, or world-sweeping vacations. Few people can afford them all. How can people know that you are not scrimping in other categories to afford this? So I say this would usually count as rude.

I say usually because if the person saying this is aware of other high expenses that you are incurring, and you often complain about tight finances, the person may be trying to give you advice to ease your apparently tight financial situation. But that’s a special set of circumstances that is rare. If you’re not complaining about hard times, how do they know you don’t have a small inheritance you are dipping into to afford this?

It’s rude to ask, and the only exception I can possibly think of would be if the person asking is providing you with ostensibly-needed financial assistance.
Even if you’re being audited, I’d still call it rude, but you should probably overlook it in that case.

I tend to think it’s rude, but I do see some posters’ points about the person maybe looking for information about how they can do the same for their kids. Rather than “how can you afford that,” it would be better to say something like, “Wow, that’s a really good school/camp/whatever. I’ve been thinking about sending my daughter there, and if you don’t mind me asking, do you have any advice about the financial end of things?”

Of course, the person being asked is in no way obligated to answer with anything more specific than, “We made it work.”

To ask how someone affords something, or to inquire about their finances is always rude, IMHO. If they’re looking for ways to possibly send their kid, there might be diplomatic ways to bring up financing camp ("Wow, I’d love it if my kid can go to Space Camp! Did his school do fundraising?"or “Do you know if Camp AcrossTheLake has scholarships? I don’t think we could afford the whole tuition.”) But to say “Boy, that camp must cost BigBucks! How can you afford that?” is rude, IMHO.

I have a friend and coworker who constantly talks about her pathetic financial state. I know she has $40K in credit card debt. She brings it up, not me. I did pick up a copy of Financial Peace for her at the library book sale. She’s remarked to me several times that I must make a lot more than her (we have the same job title and grade). I told her no, just look at the things I do without - no vacation trips, no central heat and air, thrift store shopping. I put that money into my retirement savings.


Did it feel intrusive? Then probably rude, yeah. If it felt more curious it may have just been poorly phrased. Of course you’re welcome to put any interpretation on it you like, regardless.

For myself, I’d be tempted to respond: “Same way anyone affords anything, I suppose. Forgo a new car/Disneyland, count my pennies, make hard choices and sacrifices. Wish it was an easier answer like, won the lotto, or my rich uncle died, but I’m afraid it’s just the same old dull thing that everyone does to afford the things that matter to them. Scrimp, save, manage money and debt responsibly!” Then smile and beg to be told if they come across an easier way! Smile and go on your way.

Chances are, if you can’t just toss off a witty response, and move on, then some of the rudeness you feel may be projection, on your part, because the question hit too close to some judgement you are feeling, real or imagined.

Depends on context. If it’s…

“Hey, Steve.”
“Hey, Sara. I’ll have that report for you by Thursday.”
“Great! Now, how did you pay to send your kid to Camp X-Ray?”

…then yeah, rude.

It was sort of like…“Hey, I heard your son was going to such and such this summer, how do you guys afford that”? I was shocked and took a minute to reply,“Yeah, it is expensive but he was asked to attend by the director so we couldn’t really pass up such a great opportunity/experience. He will be a camp counselor in training and it really is a wonderful camp”.
I would never blurt out “how do you afford that” to anyone, so I guess I am just wondering if I am being too conservative or if others think that this is rude/crossing social etiquette boundaries. This person is not a good friend of mine, just an acquaintance that I think I will probably avoid from now on. Thanks for all of the responses, they have been insightful and quite helpful.:slight_smile:

Maybe I will try to be more witty next time someone puts me on the spot with an uncomfortable question…humor might be the best response.

Very rude in that context. And you answered brilliantly.

It is incredibly, unbelievably rude. I wouldn’t even try to be humorous in my reply; I would answer in as icy a tone as possible, “Oh, we manage.” Then silence.

If the person has concerns about whether their child could afford the camp, they should express their concern about their finances and ask you whom to contact at the camp for more information. They should not be asking about your finances.

I have to disagree entirely with this. Any question that starts with “How can you afford…” is rude on its face, because the person speaking is making a judgment about you and your financial situation. Of course, you have the choice how to respond, but that doesn’t change the fact that the initial question is rude.

As others have pointed out, if you have a legitimate reason to ask about how to obtain or afford something, there are better ways to ask. But “How can you afford…” is always rude.

Like “Oh, you wouldn’t believe the sum my dildo collection brought in on eBay!” said with a big smile or something with less shock value?

It’s mainly because we have a taboo on discussing finances… It’s probably as private, or more private, than discussing death.
Nobody wants to discuss: (Rate these in liklihood of most people answering, or answering honestly)
How much was your inheritance?
How much do you expect to inherit when your parents die? (Let’s combine the taboos of money and death!!)
How much do you make?
How big is your bank account? Your retirement savings?
How much did you pay for your house? What is your mortgage balance? Monthly payment?
How much did you pay for your car?
How big is your credit card debt?
How much did your last vacation cost?

I’m not sure why. Partly, it’s envy and greed… how is it theycan afford that and I can’t? Partly, you don’t want to be lectured by the guy who brings a thermos of coffee and a peanut butter sandwich rather than spend money on frivolous meat for lunch. I also think it’s bad juju - the more information you give out about such private matters, the more ammunition you give to people who want to pick and criticise.

The question may have been entirely innocent - sort of “I make about the same as you, and I know I could never hav afforded that, how were you able to?”). Some people are just socially blunt and inept. However, they way it was worded basically an invitation to start a tell-all about your finances.

The best way to handle it, was to do what you did - you can deflect it with “We managed” or “It was not easy!”. If they keep prying, they are really asking “tell me all about your finances”. people who can’t take a hint need a direct reply. Then you can be explicit - “I told you we managed, any more detail is none of your effin business…”

Things are different in different cultures. My wife is Egyptian. When a friend of her parents came to visit the U.S. from Egypt, my mother-in-law said:

"There are three things you shouldn’t ask Americans about when you meet them:

[li]How much money do you make?[/li][li]What do you do for a living?[/li][li]Who did you vote for?"[/li][/ol]

The friend said, “What else is there to talk about?”

Interestingly, Bill Bryson thinks talking about finances is one of the big differences between Britons and Yanks, in the sense that Americans do it a lot more.

Yes, the proscription against talking about finances is old school; I think it’s become more common with the advent of the 20th century nouveaux riches. And in DC, asking about your job is considered a common opening remark. It used to be that it was frowned on socially because it appeared you were trying to make a judgement about a person based on his professional status.

I was once at a party where the first question was what is my job, and the second question was what was my salary. When I got the second question I was visibly flabbergasted and the woman who asked told me she was a recruiter for my industry and apologized for her zeal. I would hate a job where all you can think about even at parties is your job.