Buying friends gifts to save them money or time 'may harm relationship'

Researchers say "the way a gift is presented can influence how people feel about it"

16 July 2020 - 08:16 By AFP Relaxnews
According to new research, friends don't always appreciate gifts that are intended to save us money.
According to new research, friends don't always appreciate gifts that are intended to save us money.
Image: 123RF/Antonio Guillem

Your intentions might be good but if you do buy a gift for someone in the hopes that it will help them save money, it might be better to present your rationale behind the gift as something a bit different. 

Researchers at the University of Ohio carried out two studies to see how people reacted when they were given a gift that they were told would save them money or time.

In the first study, the researchers recruited 405 participants and asked them to think about a gift that they had received recently which they thought had been given to them to save them either time or money. They were asked to report on how they felt about the gift, as well as complete a test to measure their impression of both the gift and gift-giver.

The findings, published in the Journal of the Association for Consumer Research, showed that the participants who thought their gift had been given to them to help them save money were more likely to say that the gift made them feel bad, embarrassed, or ashamed, compared to those who had received a gift to help save them time.

The participants who received a money-saving gift also said they believed that the gift-giver perceived their own status as being higher than the gift recipient's, which would make them feel inferior, say the researchers.

"Most of us have this belief that any gift we give is going to be appreciated — but the way a gift is presented can influence how people feel about it," said co-author of the study Grant Donnelly.

"When you don't have time, you're perceived as busy and in high demand. There's something high-status about that, compared to not having enough money, which is seen as low status," he said. "They thought the gift-giver was implying they couldn't take care of themselves and were incompetent because they needed money." 

In a second study, the researchers gave 200 college students a $5 Starbucks gift card which they were asked to give to a friend as a present. Half of the gift cards had the message "I know you've been stressed for money lately. I hope you'll enjoy this gift card in hopes that it will save you some money," while the other half had the same message, except it said it would save recipient time.

Once again, the team found that those who received a gift that was intended to save them money felt bad after receiving the gift, and believed that the gift-givers thought that they had higher-status.

Moreover, in another separate study, participants who imagined being given a gift card to save them money were more likely to spend it on a higher-status item.

"In part because people feel they have lower status if they need money, they are more drawn to buy status-oriented products that can help them bolster this deficiency they perceive," explains Donnelly.

"We can have this perspective gap where we don't really consider how our gifts are received. It can harm your relationship with the recipient if you're not careful," he said. "It may be best to give a money-saving gift without acknowledging the reason, or to find a way to make it about saving time."