Response to an ask about money talk

A reader asked:

Why is asking about money rude?

I get why asking someone randomly is rude, but why is it rude if it’s got to do with the conversation? On a tv show someone wanted to buy something really expensive and someone else asked how they could afford it, and another person said it was rude.

I don’t get why it’s so personal. Other times it’s acceptable to talk about how someone made their money, but only really if they’re rich.

I get that some people feel ashamed that they don’t make as much money as some people, but why wasn’t it acceptable in the first situation?

It’s hard to say without knowing the full context. I’m going to arbitrarily use an iPad as an example. Here’s some reasons it could be rude to ask someone how they could afford an iPad:

It could be (or be seen as) an indirect way of asking how much money someone makes. The perceived question could be “I didn’t think you had that kind of income! So how much *do* you make, anyway?”

It could be seen as a judgement about someone’s priorities. Eg, the implied question could be (or perceived as) “why are you going around buying *that* when your house is a dump and you keep complaining about how you can’t afford to get the roof fixed?”

It could be seen as contempt for the particular category of purchase. Eg, implied question “Why would you spend all that money on a stupid expensive toy?”

It can be (or be perceived as) a class dynamic. Eg “Who do you think you are buying an iPad? That’s for rich people. Do you think you’re a rich person who deserves that kind of thing?!”

It could also just be (or perceived as) someone trying to assert that they have the right to demand that you justify your spending decisions to them. The less money people have, the more they tend to be treated as owing people an explanation, and it’s draining. Even if you don’t mean that, it’s likely to be perceived that way.