Buying the right gifts for friends and family is always a tricky task. It’s hard to predict what someone is going to want or need, which is why many people tend to give out the same gifts year after year (gift cards, clothes).
Regardless of what you pick out for your loved ones, a new study from Ohio State University has a piece of advice. Whatever you do, don’t tell them your gift will save them money. According to the research, people often feel ashamed and even disrespected after receiving a “money-saving” gift from someone else.
Most of the time these types of gifts are given with the best of intentions, but that doesn’t stop recipients from feeling slighted. The implication when someone receives a money-saving gift is that they are inferior to the giver, which isn’t the best feeling.
Moreover, the giver doesn’t have to necessarily say out loud that the gift is intended to save the recipient money. If the recipient infers the gift is supposed to help them out financially, there’s a good chance they will react negatively to it.
“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,” says study co-author Grant Donnelly, assistant professor of marketing at The Ohio State University’s Fisher College of Business, in a release.
Okay, so money-saving gifts aren’t the way to go. So, what type of gifts should you purchase for friends and family? The team at OSU says people react much more positively to gifts that save them time.
“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,” professor Donnelly adds, explaining the difference between money-saving and time-saving gifts.
Multiple experiments were conducted to come to these findings. The first involved 405 people and asked each individual to remember a recent gift they had received that they thought was intended to save them either time or money. Participants were asked to write down their overall feelings on the gift, and complete a few different measures analyzing their impression of both the gift and the gift giver.
Across the board participants who said they had received a money-saving gift were more likely to say the present made them feel embarrassed, bad, and ashamed. When these subjects were asked why the gift had made them feel so bad, they said the gift implied the giver was better than them.
“They thought the gift-giver was implying they couldn’t take care of themselves and were incompetent because they needed money,” professor Donnelly comments.
The second experiment involved 200 college students. Each student was given a $5 Starbucks gift card by researchers to give to a friend. Half of the distributed gift cards included this 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.” The other half, meanwhile, contained the same message except the word “money” was switched out for “time.” Additionally, each gift card recipient was asked to fill out a survey about the gift they had received.
The results this time around mirrored the findings of the first experiment. Students who were given a gift card with a money-saving message reported more negativity regarding the gift in their surveys than those who were given a time-saving gift card. Also, just like the first experiment, students who were given a money-saving gift card felt like the giver was acting superior to them.
For what it’s worth, though, participants were just as likely to use the $5 gift card regardless of whether they received a money-saving or time-saving message. So, even if people resent money-saving gifts, they’ll still probably end up using them anyway.
A third experiment also found that money-saving gift card recipients often use their gift to purchase something especially classy or high-status. The research team theorizes this is probably to attain a quick self-esteem boost after having one’s ego bruised by receiving a money-saving gift.
“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,” professor Donnelly says.
Money-saving gifts don’t just make the recipient feel bad about themselves either; researchers noted that people generally feel less appreciation for money-saving gifts than time-saving gifts or other gifts with no obvious “purpose.”
“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,” professor Donnelly concludes. “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.”
The full study can be found here, published in the Journal of the Association for Consumer Research.