Q: Is it OK to ask a person how much something costs?
A: Etiquette is about putting other people at ease. When you ask how much they paid for something, it can make them uncomfortable. I especially advise not to ask if the item appears to be very costly, like a new piece of jewelry or a new car. It can be very rude and unbecoming of the asker.
It is OK to ask, though, based on two things: your relationship with the person, and if you plan to purchase that item yourself. For instance, if you see someone in a beautiful jacket, you can ask after explaining that you want to get one for yourself. But if you don’t plan on purchasing the item, then it can come across as nosy or as if you’re being comparative.
Always err on the side of caution. If you have to hesitate, then most likely you shouldn’t ask.
ELAINE SWANN, lifestyle and etiquette expert
A: When it comes to money conversations, it’s best not to ask unless prompted to do so. If you must find out, stick with the less-pointed, “Was it terribly expensive?” rather than: “How much did that cost?”
In general, a proud bargain-hunter will desire discussing a deal more than someone who splurged. If someone says, “You’ll never guess the price I paid for this chandelier at a garage sale,” it’s clear that they want to talk about what they perceive as a bargain. Go ahead and play along. But an out-of-the-blue, “Would you mind if I asked how much you paid for this lovely chandelier?” is inappropriate and might be met with a glare brighter than the light fixture itself.
THOMAS P. FARLEY, “Mister Manners” etiquette expert