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Why Gifts Designed to Save Money Leave the Recipient Feeling Blue

The Big Takeaway: Telling friends that the gift you are giving will help them save money or ease financial stress is a surefire way for the recipient to wish you’d kept the gift for yourself.

The Details

Consider the following scenario: you give your friend the latest personal finance book, and as they unwrap it, you share that it will help them save money. You should be getting an A+ for helping your friend, right?

Researchers have found quite the opposite. Most of us feel worse after receiving a gift from someone designed or designated to save us money. Here’s what the authors share from the article summary: “Here’s a good way to make sure a friend hates a gift from you: Say it will save him money. In a series of studies, researchers found that people reacted negatively to gifts that they were told – or that they inferred – were given to help them save money.”

Why does this happen? Researchers have found an interesting social explanation: receiving such a gift makes the recipient feel inferior to the gift giver. This is due to the social psychology concept of status, that is, our perception of how we “stack up” compared to those around us. Even if the gift giver was well-intentioned, we would feel as if we do not measure up. The result? We feel worse receiving those types of gifts.

Here are a few things to consider related to this fascinating research:

  • Think about the messages you send to friends, family members when you give gifts, especially resources related to personal finance or even gift cards (“Hey! You can save some money the next time you go to _____!”). Depending on the context and your relationship, consider leaving out messages that refer to the recipient’s financial state of the world.

  • If the gift you receive comes with a message of “financial help,” recognize that, more than likely, the gift giver is trying to be just that: helpful. Recognize the psychology at work, and work to appreciate the gift (and the thought) and leave the negative feelings related to status behind.

  • Evaluate if the way you feel after someone offers you a “money-saving gift” might indicate that a change is needed. If you do tend to feel like you’re not quite making the grade when it comes to your financial life, what steps could you take today to begin moving in the right direction?


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