When I lived in New York, I could have told you what virtually all of my friends paid in rent. It was a fairly common topic of conversation, and the conversation was one of two types: the can-you-believe-I-pay-$2,000-for-this-dump, or can-you-believe-I-only-pay-$3,500-for-this-apartment.[fn1]
I didn’t really think much of it; I didn’t put much stock in financial privacy. And it wasn’t just the amount I paid in rent—as an attorney at a big firm in New York, if you wanted to know how much I made, you basically just needed to know the year I graduated from law school, the firm I worked for, and the website for NALP.[fn2] My salary was there for the viewing.
After my first stint in New York, while living in the DC metro area, an acquaintance bought a house. And he mentioned the price[fn3] at his housewarming party. His wife was mortified. She explained to him that that is a number you don’t mention in public. It came as a shock to me—I was so acclimated to the public discussion of rent payments as a cocktail party discussion that it never occurred to me that anybody would want to be cagey about how much they paid for housing.
I remembered these differing social conventions about money when I read the Parade Magazine[fn4] interview with the Romneys. When asked about tithing, Mitt Romney says,
Our church doesn’t publish how much people have given. This is done entirely privately. One of the downsides of releasing one’s financial information is that this is now all public, but we had never intended our contributions to be known. It’s a very personal thing between ourselves and our commitment to our God and to our church.[fn5]
I’m interested in the assertion that tithing is a private, personal thing. On one level, it isn’t: when you and I pay our tithing, somebody knows how much we pay. It may be a bishopric member or a ward clerk. If we pay directly to Church headquarters, it may be someone in Salt Lake. If we itemize, the amount we pay in tithing is on an IRS computer somewhere, and may be accessed by one or more IRS agents.[fn6]
But, on the other hand, even in my most unconstrained I’ll-share-my-financial-information days, I never told people how much tithing I paid. Yes, they could have gone to NALP and made an educated guess about approximately how much we paid, but that wouldn’t have occurred to me back then.
I suspect that this reticence to share the amount we tithe is pretty common throughout the Church. But there doesn’t seem to be a policy of requesting members to keep their own tithing amounts private.[fn7]
Ultimately, then, I have a couple questions:
(1) Is there a general cultural norm in the Church of not talking about tithing?
(2) If so, is it a norm throughout the Church, or are there regional (or demographic) exceptions to the rule?
(3) What is the derivation of the norm?[fn8]
[fn1] Note that the numbers are kind of amalgamations of friends’ rents from several years ago; I suspect that these days, even the dumpiest dump probably runs more than $2,000 on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.
[fn2] Actually, at the time, you probably didn’t even need to know the firm I worked for. Most big New York law firms paid identical salaries.
[fn3] Or maybe his mortgage payment. It’s been a few years.
[fn4] Apparently it’s still a thing. Who knew?
[fn5] Note that, right before that, Ann Romney says that she loves tithing and, when she pays it, she actually cries. To which Mitt, belying the popular image of his being humorless, says, “So do I, but for a different reason.” Which is like the funniest thing I’ve heard a politician say (or, at least, the funniest thing I’ve heard a politician say that he or she meant to be funny) in a long, long time.
[fn6] Which, for reasons I hope become clear through the rest of the post, is not an assertion that Romney was lying. I suspect he wasn’t. Which leads me to this: this is not a political post, notwithstanding its being inspired by something Mitt Romney said in a fluff interview in a Sunday paper insert magazine. I’m not interested in attacking or burnishing Romney. If you want to do either, there are plenty of places on teh internets to do it. Here, I’m more interested in the norms of sharing religious financial data.
[fn7] There is, on the other hand, a Church policy requiring that anybody who handles tithing not disclose the amounts any member pays.
[fn8] On this, I have a two ideas, but neither is particularly Mormon-specific. Maybe our reticence derives from the reticence that we (at least Americans) feel about talking about money. Or maybe it derives from the injunction in Matt. 6:3-4 that, when we give alms, we not let our left hand know what our right is doing.
Maybe, though, it derives from something else entirely.
Heh, yeah. Rent is just part of that package of initial get-to-know-you questions; where you from, what do you do, how much do you pay for this place?
I think the general rule people are trying to follow is not to make known our good works before men as the hypocrits do, they have their reward in the praise of the world. Most LDS either want to keep it private, skip the public awe at their generosity, and get the heavenly reward; or they want to keep it private so that others can think that they must pay a full tithe when they don’t – then they can still feel comfortable in church settings without feeling like everyone is looking down on them for not paying a full tithe.
As a side note… anyone have any idea what percentage of people pay a partial tithe? Seems like anyone willing to pay anything would be willing to pay a full 10%. is the partial % number very high?
Yes, there is definitely a norm against talking about tithing in a way that uses real numbers. Or salary altogether. That goes for everywhere in the US I’ve lived (though not in areas abroad, interestingly.) When I have gotten promotions or raises, even telling my family about them was awkward. However, if you, like many mormons, can check for tell-tale signs of endowedness (celestial smile, anyone), you can guess/assume that a person is a full-tithe payer, even if you don’t know the amount.
There are a lot of things in a tax statement- actually, pretty much the whole thing- that we wouldn’t discuss at a dinner party.
If the Romneys have counted their tithe as a deduction, then they have made it the business of the government. And running for the president obviously greatly reduces privacy.
The Romneys have had no problem declaring publicly they pay a full tithe, so that part of it isn’t a secret. Anyone who could do math could figure out what 10% of X is, and vice versa… I think the number Romney is much more reticent to give isn’t what 10% amounts to, but what X is.
My bro in law asked a lady once how much her and her hubbie paid for their house and she slapped him! both were members of the same ward at the time! So, unless people say how much they pay in rent I never ask
Everywhere I’ve been, Mormons have fully assimilated the idea that the amount you pay in tithing is meaningless, its only whether you pay in full or not. So there would literally be no point to bring up the amount you pay in tithing except to reveal how much your income is. Bragging about your income is kinda verboten.
I’ve never known a world where it was appropriate to discuss salary, bonuses, tithing, or housing costs unless it was someone close to you…
I’ve never discussed tithing with other ward members and I would say it’s probably not a topic for discussion. Specifying a number may bring up the dreaded “gross vs. net” debate, tactless comments about not being a full tithe payer, assumptions about salary or any of the above.
I think rents in NYC (or San Francisco or any other ridiculous real estate market) are exempt from the “don’t talk about finances” rule. Those rents are more of a luck/schadenfreude thing.
In my part of the country (Gulf South), what you earn is your own business. If people want to tell others what they earn or pay for things, that is their choice. I don’t know too many people in the private sector who publicly disclose what they make. One of the main reasons financial disclosures are maid in the public servant arena is to make sure their are no conflicts of interest or ethical problems going on. I think non-disclosure is a common practice, and certainly not limited to members of the church. My parents are non-members, and growing up, and even now, I have no clue what they earn. Quite frankly, it’s none of my business. And my children don’t know exactly what our household brings in. My brother in law has the obnoxious habit of asking what I paid for cars, house, and so forth. It’s strange because I don’t have the slightest desire to know what he earns or what he paid for his big ticket items. In my younger years, talking about minimum wage jobs or discussing rent wasn’t a big deal, but once I started earning some decent money, I preferred to keep it my business, and my business only. Why? Good question. Good manners. Privacy. A sense of shame if you don’t make much, a sense of humilty if you do and realize how lucky you are to do so. Some people like to talk about all their problems, yet most of us don’t. I think the same principle applies to salary disclosure. It’s usually pretty easy to guess people’s rough income by the way they live. I know- looks can be deceiving, and many people are drowning in debt. But for many LDS, you know they’re already paying 10% of their income to the church, so their standard of living is arguably less than their non-member neighbor. I’m self employed, and my net effective income tax rate is 25% fed, 3% state. Add in tithing, and I’m quickly living off 62% of my income. That really gripes me to no end. Don’t even get me started on the inequities of a scaled tax bracket as opposed to a flat tax. To Jax – my personal observation is that very few people pay a partial tithe – like 2 or 3 in a ward attendance of 180. It’s pretty much an all or nothing thing.
I’ve been wondering if Romney didn’t want to reveal other non-tithing donations made to the church, for instance, if he was a donor or not in the prop 8 campaign.
As for income and rent, we only ever talked about the amount we paid in rent when we lived in New York. It was just so mind-boggling crazy, and I never could figure out how people managed to buy houses on Long Island or live there permanently. The only way we survived was knowing that we would only be there for a short time while my husband did his post-doc.
At BYU we are told that salaries are “confidential”.
Thanks for the comments so far. Romni, do you mind following up on a couple things? I’m curious about who “we” is (students? student employees? faculty or staff?). I’m also curious who does the telling and what, if any, explanation they give.
For the record, these days I probably won’t tell you how much I make unless you’re a close friend and you ask (but it’s something more than $200 and something less than Romney makes, if that helps). And my employer doesn’t make it public these days.
I had never really considered that talking about money was faux pas until my mission. I encountered it with some of my French companions. I thought it interesting and brought it up to an American companion and he felt the same hesitance to talk about salary. For him he didn’t want to disclose how much his parents made because they were fairly wealthy.
So it looks like it’s not just an American thing. Also, every company I’ve worked for discouraged telling your co-workers what your salary was. I can think of a number of reasons a company would not want their employees to discuss salary mostly because they don’t want their employees to realize they can push for a higher salary. It saves some jealousy and HR headaches too.
Talking about income is pretty taboo in our culture. I have no idea what my brothers make, for instance, even though I know exactly how much they paid for their houses. Housing seems much more acceptable to talk about than income–I suspect that on some level we (collectively, culturally) see housing prices as more a function of the market, and income as a function of our own worth to the market.
I think E.D. is right about rents in the high-rent areas being off the taboo list, and that’s especially true if you’ve managed to find a deal. I went to grad school at UCLA, and my roommate and I scored a 2-bedroom, 2-bath in pricey West LA (“Brentwood adjacent” is how it was advertised) for the unheard-of low price of $1200/mo. I’m pretty sure all of our friends knew exactly how much we paid, and we were quite the envy of our social circle. The apartment had issues, for sure, but I still miss the ocean breezes….
Sam – I am interested in your comment that information disclosed to a clergy member or a government compliance official (acting in their course of their office) is not private. As an attorney, do you consider information disclosed to you by clients to be private?
JT, I’m not talking legal or professional norms. I’m just saying that somebody else knows the number. Like I said, the Church has a policy of those who deal with tithing not disclosing, and the IRC makes disclosure by government officials illegal. But, nonetheless, someone else knows, and so it’s not entirely private.
Romney, as I read him, is using “private” in the same non-technical sense.
Idiat: ” I’m self employed, and my net effective income tax rate is 25% fed, 3% state. Add in tithing, and I’m quickly living off 62% of my income.”
Heh. I think you’re undercounting your taxes. I’m a self-employed attorney myself. Because of my spouse’s income, 100% of my income is taxed at 25%, plus I pay SECA (FICA for the self-employed) of 10.4%, plus state at 5%. Add in tithing and overhead (my virtual office, license & membership fees, professional liability insurance, advertising, continuing legal education, etc.), and I get to use far far less than half of what I earn.
But it keeps the boys on missions and pays off my student loans. So I can’t complain too much.
I’m surprised so many have said that talking about money is taboo… well only partly surprised. On one side of my family, the poorer side, no one ever talks about money/rent/housing/etc. But on my other side, which is much more wealthy (private jets, multiple homes, etc) there are often conversations about recent investments, house purchase prices, etc. They don’t mind giving or receiving advice about money. They’d love to hear how to make/keep more of it and would love it just as much if they could help you learn to make/keep more of it yourself.
I don’t think talking about tithing is useful since the % for that is pretty non-negotiable. But talking money seems to me to only be taboo for people who don’t know what to do with it.
I’ve never known anyone who talked about, or asked about, tithing. Whether you pay it, how much you pay, etc.–I’d consider that all to be very confidential.
If you say what you pay, you don’t get blessings.
Look it up.
Tim, let me save you some work: you’re talking about Matt. 6, as mentioned in my footnote 8. But, see, I’m going to have to assume that you’re misreading the passage. It says nothing about (a) not saying how much charity you give, or (b) not getting blessings. Rather, it says that, if your purpose in mentioning the amount of alms you give (your mens rea, as it were) is to get praised by others, then you’ve been rewarded by their praise.
That said, there are plenty of reasons to, in your words, “say what you pay” that don’t implicate boasting. I don’t list my tithing and other charitable donations on my tax return so that some anonymous IRS computer praises me. Candidates for president and for Treasury appointments don’t release their tax returns (including charitable donations if they itemize) in order to be praised.
I can actually think of plenty of reasons to discuss donations to the Church, and possibly even talk hard numbers, other than to receive praise. For example, in a ward without a norm of paying fast offerings, it may be helpful if a couple people were to talk about their paying, including, possibly, amounts.[fn]
Sure, we seem to have a norm of not talking about the amounts we pay in offerings, but, based on the language of the New Testament, I don’t think it fully explains the reticence, because, as far as I can tell, it does not proscribe sharing the amount of our giving so much as bad motivations for that sharing.
[fn] Note that I haven’t fully thought this through: it’s just conceptually the first thing to leap to mind. Instead of a normative suggestion, I mean it as an example of when talking specifically about the amount you give would not constitute seeking glory. Maybe you can come up with a better example.
I do like your reasonable reading of Matt 6. And while I agree that there is no direct council not to share hard numbers and that it could be done in such a way as to NOT be done for praise, it is still simply safer to not say at all… tby not saying how much one pays there can be no mistake about their purpose for saying.
Like others, I’ve never lived in a culture where talking about amounts of income, donations, prices of homes, etc., was considered appropriate.
The one exception I can think of is that sometimes when talking about financial principles, I have mentioned how poor we were in college. But isn’t everyone “normal” really poor in college? :)
I think Adam’s comment comes the closest to how I would respond to this. The only think that matters is that you are a full tithe payer. If you start disclosing exactly how much you pay, you are at risk of bragging about your income. Discussing prices of homes, amounts of income etc certainly isn’t considered very appropriate in my culture.
Talking about rent costs in Manhattan likely has something to do with the shock of having to pay so much. Coming from most parts of the country, it will be a major adjustment and anyone living in Manhattan has shared the experience of hating the rent or being amazed at somehow squeezing out a ‘great’ deal.
Coffinberry – I get what you’re saying. I used the term “net” tax rate because the is what I pay after all expenses and deductions are made. In other words, say I make $100,000 of net profit (last line on Schedule C) Then I itemize my tithing, mortgage interest, etc on Schedule A, as well as figure out other deductions and credits. When it’s all said and done, I pay $25,000 in taxes, and that of course includes basic income tax as well as the self-employment tax. For me, looking at if from a “net” view is what really matters because that’s where the green hits the road in terms of usable income. And then there’s the local and state sales tax, which runs at 9%. Like you, I still pay the bills and get by better than most, but I have no incentive to bust my tail to work any harder because more and more of it just goes to Uncle Sam. The rate of return on investment (my time and labor) diminishes the more I put in. That’s why I feel a flat rate is fair. Imagine if in the church, the “revelation” was that the more you earn, the more you pay. “Make less than $100K? Your tithing is 10%. $100k – $200K? Your tithing is 15%.” And so on. If God doesn’t need to live off a progressive tax schedule, I don’t see why “we” (the government) can’t do the same. Okay. Enough griping.
Everywhere that I’ve lived (Mountain West, West Coast, Deep South, New England) talking about money is very taboo. I think that it being that way is indicative of an unhealthy societal relationship with money. IMO, a cultural change to encourage the open discussion of finances would be very beneficial in the long-term, though not without some immediate discomfort. Money is not a sacred thing, in general, (offerings excepted) and so being secret about it implies we are succumbing to the natural man (fear, envy, greed, etc…). It allows us to be un-Christlike to each other without immediate consequences, which is just sad. It’s gotten so bad in my family that I don’t even know what they do for a living, not to mention what they make. As a result, we usually have to guess when somebody might need help and miss a lot of meaningful opportunities in the meantime. That’s my theory regarding the derivation of this norm. Collectivelly, we’re not mature enough to discuss it, much like some discussions about sex I remember from scout camp.
I don’t think anyone is interested in how much Romney paid in tithing. There is considerable interest in where his money is and why it’s there and what tax breaks he received for putting it there. He is, after all, running for president.
There is also the fact that people can place value judgments on you based on how much you pay in tithing. If it is revealed that you pay less than 10% (which many members do) then there may be a tendency for many to see that as stingy and judge you not worthy to hold a temple recommend.
And (off topic) Aaron (27), I beg to differ. I think that not only most Mormons are terribly curious in how much Romney pays or has paid in tithing, but a great number of voters too. They want to see how rooted he is in the LDS church.
I don’t discuss my income, tithing, how much I paid for cars, or my effective tax rate. But, I don’t have any issue talking about what I paid for my house. With websites like Zillow and county public records online, I don’t see any point in keeping it secret. Anybody who wants to can find out how much I paid for my house, can.
At the same time, it’s not my conversation starter at parties. If the topic of conversation leads that direction, and it would add something meaningful to what we’re talking about, I don’t feel any need to keep the information private.
Interesting post, Sam. Thanks.
In my family growing up, we never talked about how much my dad made. Mom regularly told us they could not afford whatever it was we asked for that day, but we ate well, lived well and dressed well, so I assume it was her way of saying no to our requests for every toy we saw.
In most wards I’ve attended there’s a broad spectrum of economic circumstance — from relatively wealthy CFOs and doctors to very poor unemployed. In that environment, I suspect the wealthier members avoid discussions of money to avoid making others unconfortable (or, perhaps jealous). So I’m not surprised that people do not discuss donation amounts.
We do hear only the most general references to generousity of members related to fast offering contributions from time to time.
When I was in a position to count tithing now and again, I’d see a particularly member’s contributions, but those data were quickly forgotten, except for one specific example. We were living overseas, and one member who owned his own business made a fast offering contribution that was larger than all the tithing contributions for the month combined. I no longer remember the amount, but I still remember my reaction at seeing his private generousity.
Thanks, all. The idea that even our children would not know how much we make is strange to me; I admit that I haven’t given my daughters hard numbers yet, but I suspect that I will, if, for no other reason, than to give them some kind of context for potential salaries as they pursue careers. And I think any open familial dialogue about finances is absolutely essential.
Which is not to denigrate any family that functioned (or functions) that way. Still, like Brian (26) said, a need to keep silent about money suggests an unhealthy relationship with it, just like the need to constantly flash it (I would argue) does.
In the public sector salaries are often not private. If you work for the federal government or a school district or whatever, anybody with little effort can figure out about what you make. So which is more humble and responsible? To be accountable by disclosing what you get (and by inference give in tithing) or to keep secrets? There seems to be a certain degree of privilege the private sector assumes for itself by wanting to keep everything out of the public eye. But with elections, things should be different. With respect to presidential candidates and financial disclosures (including 1040s), there is far more interesting analyses to be made than what is on the contributions line of a Schedule A.
In my 20 years in the Air Force, all you had to know was a person’s rank (which they wear on their shoulders) and the years in service (which is indicated by another device on the uniform) and consult the pay table, and you pretty much know what his or her basic salary is. If the person has wings on the uniform, they are likely collecting an extra amount for flight pay. JAG officers started getting a small bonus pay after I retired. I got a small amount each month as a qualified translator.
But that being said, we did not talk about our income with each other at the office, and did not talk about it or our tithing at church. And that was on the East Coast, on the West Coast, in Japan, or in Nebraska or Colorado or Utah. No one talked salaries in my presence at the law firms I worked at in San Francisco or Salt Lake, nor do I have any idea about the salaries of tithes of the people I have worked with in corporations or at church in Idaho and Washington (where there was some specific overlap in the two groups). Since you don;t talk about it, you don’t talk about WHY you don’t talk about it. My personal feeling is that anyone who ASKED me about it would have no legitimate motive, and I have no particular need to ask other people about their incomes, because it would entitle them to ask ME about mine. I don’t even know what my sons and son-in-law make and daughters-in-law earn, and I know that I (currently) make a lot more than any of them and don’t want to make them feel bad about that difference. It may be that one or more of them will someday exceed my current income, but there is no point in inserting it into any conversation, where just the fact of pointing to it could be misunderstood as being disappointed in them.
Some of the people I work with and attend church with are doctors and lawyers and business executives, so I am pretty sure they are comfortable thinking about their money, but I have never lived in a ward that includes people that I guess earn a million dollars a year or more. Maybe it is different in a ward full of high rollers in Utah, but in most of the world, the Church seems to do what it can to draw ward boundaries so that every ward gets a segment of relatively prosperous people to offset the lower income members. We have some really long and skinny wards up here that stretch across demographic boundaries.
@#9 Rachel Whipple – Prop 8 contributions are not tax deductible so they would not appear on tax statements. But I see what you mean about other tax deductible contributions the Romneys may have (or may not have) made could be on there.
I could honestly care less about the tax statements.
Jenn hit the nail on the head. If you claimed a deduction for your tithing — and you happen to be running for president — then that amount becomes a legitimate interest of the public.
Tithing is Romney’s delay tactic. The real “hot” issue is taxes.
Matt. 6 is pretty clear. Give in secret. Be rewarded openly.
I’ll grant you that a good lawyer could make a case for a motive-based waiver and a flexible definition of “secret”. But this has to be argued case-by-case.
Most of us would rather save our rationalizing for more enjoyable vices. :)
At least where I’ve lived (various parts of the western U.S.), talking about income in most contexts is a no-no. I don’t know how much even some of my closest relatives earn.
As to house cost or rent, that depends. It might be OK if it’s clear that the purpose of the question is to gauge that market (and even then, one might say, “Would you mind me asking how much the house cost?” or “What does an apartment like yours rent for?” rather than asking directly), even where such detail is a matter of public record. But it would never be socially acceptable to ask how much a person’s monthly house payments are (because that involves more than the value of the house).
I was shocked in India to discover that nothing is private. People were constantly asking my salary, how much I paid in rent, etc. Being an expat in a third world country, of course I did not want to disclose this information. The questions came from coworkers as well as complete strangers. I usually just said I do not disclose this information. At the work place, there was complete salary transparency. Everyone talks about it.
Back in the states, our neighbor in UT (when we lived there) was Vietnamese and he flat out asked me how much I paid for my car and house. I decided just to tell him. Anyone can figure out about how much a house or car is worth these days anyway thanks to the internet.
SoCal is much like other high rent places where people are curious about rents. Again, thanks to the internet, it’s not hard to figure it all out so I’ve told people what I pay in rent.
Like Sam, being a CPA, our salary ranges are pretty well known both inside and outside the accounting circles. While I’ve still never disclosed my salary in other than general terms, I have mentioned to people some basics. We work in a demanding profession and our associates often want to know what kind of payoff to expect if they stick around, so I’m happy to provide them those guidelines (double your salary in 6 years, triple it in 12, individual results may vary).
But. The younger generation clearly want salary transparency. All the associates this year were openly discussing salary at the water cooler recently. Apparently my younger counterparts are ok discussing the things we in middle management do not. There is even a website, goingconcern.com, where people annually disclose their raises and bonuses.
Also, given the turmoil in the housing market, people are more than excited to talk about interest rates I’ve found! I just refinanced under HARP to 3.6% for example is something I hear people talk about daily.
Never have I ever discussed salary with my family. I make more than all my family, parents included, so I don’t go there. They know I make more than them (I make more than even my siblings where both parents work) but I live in Irvine, they live in UT, and I work in a demanding profession while they work strictly 9-5. Still, I have never given out salary figures.
I’ve also never discussed tithing with anybody either. I can’t imagine a single scenario where I would. Can you, Sam? (Other than those listed in the OP, where your information become public).
I presume Romney has people smarter than me thinking about this. But just for the sake of argument, what if the tax returns show he didn’t pay a “full tithing?”
He claims to be this upstanding Mormon stake president, mission president, etc. He earns money by the train load. What would you do if your business earns a cool ten million and your wife/family only spends about 1 million of it? The rest gets plowed back into other business investments and you never actually see it as what you consider income. But it might be taxed. Wouldn’t it be enough to pay tithing on the lower amount?
I realize it is much more complex for people who are smart enough to earn money in ways beyond a simple salary and they have many complicated considerations and the definition of a full tithing is a difficult question. In the case of a guy like Romney, there will be plenty of room for criticism, mark my words.
I had a friend who worked for his dad’s business with his brothers and uncles and the family business owned his house, cars, etc. When he got active again back in the church he had no idea how much to pay in tithing. He couldn’t tell his net income. It was pocket change even though he drove expensive cars and had a really nice house. So he decided the most honest estimation of his income was to do a survey of his neighbors and ask them how much they thought he was earning based on his lifestyle. Even then he didn’t think he was giving 10%
Which will harm Romney more? That he pays taxes and hides money in a clever way just like every other rich guy who ever went to Washington? Or that he acts like a good Mormon but doesn’t pay an HONEST tithing? Remember the seriousness of the charge trumps the credibility of the evidence this close to the election. When you run as a known liar then one more lie doesn’t hurt you much. When you run on integrity then any breach in your honesty is serious. (Telling stretchers about policy related estimates is part of the game and not the same).
I was trained to couch the cost of things in general terms: “How much does such a thing cost?” or “I wonder what they’re selling those for these days?”
With respect to real estate, isn’t the sale price of a home/condo/whatever public record? Available for anyone to look up?