Skip to main content

We’ve all had that friend (or maybe we ARE that friend) who’s insistent on giving you money for something you did—like pick them up when their car is in the shop, shovel their driveway, rake their leaves, change a flat tire or walk their dog.

But what is the proper money etiquette for situations where you don’t want to accept the money or gifts that someone is trying to give you? Keep reading for a few tips to politely turn down money without being rude.

Good deeds turned awkward. Why do people insist on paying for kindness?

  • Sincere gratitude. If what you did went above and beyond, the gift giver likely felt an overwhelming sense of thankfulness and wanted to show you their appreciation or respect for what you did.
  • Even the playing field. Giving you money—especially if it is an acquaintance rather than a stranger—could be a way to make sure the playing fields are even and that they aren’t in debt to you.
  • Cultural norms. In some cases, it is a cultural norm or expectation that you show appreciation through a gift of money to someone who has done something kind or a good deed.
  • Remember, it’s not all about you. Yes, you read that right. If someone is offering to give you a gift for something you did, while they likely DO appreciate your efforts, they are likely giving you money for one of two primary reasons: to show gratitude for what you did OR to make themselves feel better. Keep this in mind as you decide how to move forward.

How to handle situations when someone is insistent on paying you back.

  1. First things first, acknowledge their thoughtfulness. Avoid being dismissive of their efforts to thank you. Instead of saying, “You didn’t have to do that” say something like, “That was so thoughtful of you. Thank you for offering.” Then, you can decide how you want to handle the remainder of the conversation (accepting the gift or not) on a more positive note.
  2. Consider who is giving the gift and what their motivation for giving might be. Is the gift coming out of a place of sincerity, or a place of obligation (for fear of being in debt to someone)? Taking a quick second to think about what motivated the other person to want to give you a gift can help you handle the situation with respect and proper money etiquette.
  3. For the sincere giver, offer some options. If the gift of money isn’t way over the top and really is a small token of appreciation, it’s OK to accept the money (keep reading for tips on how to use the funds). This can be a way to say you value the gift and value the giver’s thoughtfulness. If the gift is disproportionally large or you really don’t want to accept the money, offer some alternatives after you thank them for their thoughtfulness. If you know them well, suggest they bake your favorite treat, buy you a drink next time you’re out together or help you with a chore. If it’s a stranger or someone you don’t know well, ask them to give the funds to a charity or a cause you are passionate about instead.
  4. For the obligatory giver, talk about it. We know, money conversations are not fun ones, but talking about payments for good deeds is important, especially if this is someone you see often (i.e. there’s a chance this will be a recurring theme). If you’ve done something kind for someone else and they turn around and try to pay you for it, explain your actions. Let them know you saw a need and knew you could fill it and that you have no expectation for being paid back, ever. For some, the fear of having something—some debt—held in front of them motivates them to pay people back immediately. Reassure them that this is not the case and instead encourage them to look for small ways they can make a positive impact on the lives of others through their own good deeds (which don’t need to have financial ties), such as picking up litter while walking through a parking lot, offer to help someone carry their groceries, take time to straighten a room before you leave it, etc.

Whether you decide to accept the gift or not is up to you, but whatever you do, try to acknowledge the gift giver’s thoughtfulness.

If you did accept a financial gift, consider setting it aside in savings to help boost your emergency fund, donate it to a charity, cause or fundraiser that’s near to your heart, use it to fill a need in your life, or pay it forward with some random acts of kindness (read about a few of our Random Acts of Verve for some inspiration) of your own.