Saving Money for Someone Else; Quid Pro Quo?

Dendrobiums for the front yard?

One of my favorite fun weekly reads is the Social Q’s column in the NYTimes.  If you’ve never read it, think of it as a cheeky version of Dear Abby, but updated to address more modern social dilemmas.

A recent column particularly tickled my fancy because it touched on money – a subject a bit more applicable to my daily life that many of the others that are often (hilariously) addressed in the column.

Here’s the reader’s question:

An acquaintance told me he was interested in joining my gym. I asked if he would mention my name when he did, because I would receive a free month as a referral bonus. He said he would like a cut of it. I thought he was joking and told him there was no cash involved, and the conversation ended. Recently, he let me know he had joined my gym and used my name, and would like part of my bonus. How should I respond? I never agreed to anything. – Anonymous”

You can go here to read the full text of Philip Galanes’ answer to Anonymous, but here’s the gist of it.  Anonymous needs to pay up.  “And no eye-rolling when you pay him. Your pal might just as easily have rolled his eyes when you asked to take credit for his joining. What’s sauce for the penny-pinching goose is sauce for the opportunity-seeking gander.”

In this scenario, I kindof agreed with Galanes.  The “acquaintance” was straightforward in his request for cash in exchange for using Anonymous’ name as a referral.  So when push came to shove, it probably wasn’t worth Anonymous making a big stink over the exchange.  If they were friends rather than acquantances, I’d say that Anonymous should have used the savings to treat the pair to a nice lunch out and not split hairs over a cash exchange.  But at the same time – Anonymous’ request (and demand for payment) struck me as odd.

Is There a Quid-Pro-Quo When We Save Each Other Money?

It’s not an uncommon situations.  In fact, quite often we enter into situations with another person (family, friend, or perfect stranger), and we have the opportunity to save that person money.  Passing that savings along is sometimes of no cost to us, other times it can be a small cost in terms of time and money.  Is there a line that gets drawn as to how far you would go in saving money for another person?  Would you expect a kickback for your help?  Does it depend on who the person is to you?

Let’s look at a few situations.


  • Leaving Them With An Item In The Store – Target had an awesome coupon recently for $2 off cat food.  Stacking that with a manufacturer’s coupon and one of those Target Gift Card offers meant that I got an awesome deal for Kitty PoP.  I had 4 coupons, but did not want 4 packages.  60lbs of cat food goes beyond my stockpiling limits!  So after I put my cat food and the coupons I was using in my cart, I left the remaining coupons (that were expiring that weekend) on top of the cat food for the next customer who came along.
  • Mailing Them To A Friend – Publix often gives out great coupons at the races they sponsor, but occasionally I get home and find that they’re only valid in the county the race was in, not my county.  So I’ve mailed them to friends who do live where they’re valid.  It cost me a couple of stamps to mail the coupon books, but if she used the coupons in there, it could have easily saved her $50 or more on groceries over a period of several months.

For these kinds of transactions, I expect precisely no kickback.  It was nice when my friend called and thanked me when she received the coupons – just the good excuse to catch up on the phone was worth the $1 in postage it probably cost.


Employee Discounts

  • A Friend Goes Out Of Her Way To Save Me $40 – I needed a dress for an event about five years ago, and found the perfect one at the mall.  Only problem, it was $100.  Eeep!  But I had a friend who worked for the company that sold the dress and she had always offered to share her 40% employee discount if I ever needed it.  Well, this one seemed worth it.  She met me after work, and I was able to save $40.
  • Skeevy Guy Behind the Counter Gives You Discount – I call it the “boobs” discount.  Unasked for, and definitely unwanted.  Your ice cream (why is it always ice cream guys who are the skeeviest!) rings up for way less than it should.  Or he doesn’t ring it up at all.

Skeevy guy deserves a polite “thank you” and for you to walk out as fast as possible.  That kind of behavior should not be encouraged.  As for the friend who went out of her way to save me $40, after I bought the dress we walked to a restaurant and enjoyed a couple of happy hour drinks, on me of course.


Sharing Recommendations and Information

  • Suggesting a Better Value Product To a Friend – One of my coworkers was in the market for a blender to keep at the office for smoothies, and mentioned a Breville Blender that cost ~$200.  “Before you spend a couple hundred, try my awesome Cuisinart blender.”  He liked it, and bought it instead – and got it on sale, to boot! – saving him about $150.
  • Mr. CBB’s Grocery Game Saves Money For Many – Over at Canadian Budget Binder, Mr. CBB runs what he calls the Grocery Game Challenge where readers check in with their monthly grocery purchases, and share ways to shrink your grocery budget.  I bet he’s helped participants save thousands of dollars.  Maybe more.

With the blender, a coworker joked (or was it a joke?) that I should get a cut of the savings, but that was laughed off by all.  I’m just glad my coworker got an awesome blender, and since he keeps it at the office, he doesn’t mind if I use it every once in a while, too!  And as for Mr CBB, I don’t know his financial details, but I’m pretty sure people aren’t sending him monthly checks with his cut of their grocery savings, and I don’t think he expects them to, either!


My Take Home

I don’t really operate under a quid-pro-quo when it comes to saving someone else money, but if someone goes out of their way to save me some money (like my friend with the employee discount), it feels nice to give some of that back by way of spending time with them or treating them to lunch.  It just seems like a no-brainer way to grease the squeaky wheel of social interaction.


What about you guys?  If you save someone money are you expecting a cut in return?  What would you have told Anonymous?  Was the acquaintance that asked for the kick back in the wrong?


Note – the links to Amazon are affiliate.  So if you want to go buy that $200 blender, use that link and it’ll shoot us a couple of bucks.  But really, the cheaper blender is actually better for smoothies.  =)

57 comments to Saving Money for Someone Else; Quid Pro Quo?

  • Treating your dress friend to lunch is an appropriate gesture. Giving her half of the $40 savings could get her in trouble with her employer.

    The woman does have to give something to the new gym member but she should only nod politely to him when they pass at the weight rack. I don’t think I would want to make this guy my friend.
    Jane Savers @ The Money Puzzle recently posted..My Parents And MoneyMy Profile

    • I hadn’t even considered the employer perspective on sharing the employee discount. Your probably right. If she took kick backs or did it too many times for people, it would probably be frowned upon if not overtly against her employment contract.

  • The guy in the story sounds like an economist. But he should realize that he doesn’t get a cut unless he’s contracted to do that ahead of time.
    nicoleandmaggie recently posted..Ask the grumpies: Lower cost pampering substitutesMy Profile

  • I got a discount on rent from my landlord for referring my friend, and I split the bonus with her 50-50. She didn’t sign the lease just so I can earn the discount, but I still felt I owed her part of the cut.
    My Shiny Pennies recently posted..Original Prices are Not MeaninglessMy Profile

    • That was really generous of you! We give referral discounts to our renters, and I’ve always wondered if they tell the other party about the referral money. (Our last referral offer was $250, so non-trivial.) After all, that person is going to move in, and the next time there’s an opening, we’ll tell them about the referral offer… so they’ll find out eventually.

  • I think the person at the gym is crazy. I don’t think you should expect something back when you do something nice for someone. That eliminates the fact that you are doing something NICE for them.
    Michelle recently posted..Preparing Your Minimalist Wardrobe for SpringMy Profile

  • I’d probably reluctantly fork over the money, just to avoid bad feelings. But it would definitely leave a bad feeling, especially since anonymous never agreed to pay him, and all it probably took him was 5 seconds to write her name on the application.

    A friend and I once agreed to share a hotel room for another friend’s out of town wedding. The friend was supposed to book the room at the special wedding rate, but never “got around to it”. I arrived at the hotel to check in and found I had no reservation, and all the hotel was willing to give me was the corporate rate, which was $80 more a night! And, the room wasn’t available yet, so I couldn’t check in until after the wedding. I ended up getting ready for the wedding in the hotel bathroom.

    Admittedly, my dress for the wedding was too low cut, even after I had altered it to bring the neckline higher, but I couldn’t find another dress. After I had changed, I stopped back at the front desk to ensure they had the reservation in the system, and that I could check in later. The shift had changed, and now there was a woman at the desk who made it obvious she was very into me (not my thing, but whatever). Suddenly I was able to check in, and got a rate that was even better than the wedding rate! It became the joke of the night about the “girls’ discount.” I certainly didn’t expect my friend to pony up the difference of savings. I did, however, expect her to show respect for the power of the girls!
    Ms.W @ GrowingHerWorth recently posted..Luck o’ the IrishMy Profile

  • I’d rather take a friend out to dinner than give him cash. Isn’t that more fun for everyone?
    Emily @ evolvingPF recently posted..When Did We Acquire All This Cash?My Profile

    • That’s pretty much how I feel =) But clearly Anonymous didn’t think of the acquaintance as a friend. Or at least didn’t any longer and was trying to distance him/herself.

  • I’ve been dress friend before, and when I’ve offered to use my employee discount, I don’t expect anything in return. There were some people who asked me-often!- to use it, and that got offensive pretty quickly.

    One of my classmates posted on our facebook wall when she joined the local gym and asked everyone to use her name when signing up for memberships. I thought that was out of line too
    Sara recently posted..Wardrobe updatesMy Profile

    • Yeah, I can see it being super annoying if friends are always asking for your employee discount code. The store is one of my favorites to browse in, but I don’t usually buy since it’s pricey. But if I find something on clearance or at the outlet, I’m definitely not going to call my friend to meet me to save $5.

  • Wow, this guy is ridiculous! How presumptuous of him to expect a kick back just for dropping a name while he’s signing a membership. I think it’s surprising that the person who answered suggested that he pony up. I would not call someone like that my friend. And if I found myself in that situation, there’s a chance I would pay up the 50% just to get myself out of the situation, but I would also consider that paying my way out of the ‘friendship.’ I would not consider someone that rude my friend. And if the person truly was an ‘acquaintance’ I would not pay them and I would probably cut them off. Jeez that’s just so rude!

    On the other hand, the story of Ms. W getting a discount at the hotel is hilarious! I get printing done at Staples a lot and every time there is a guy ringing me up, I always get my prints cut for free, lol. I wish I would say it’s because I’m flirting my way through it, but I’m not that savvy! haha, guess it’s just the ‘girls’ that hand me a little luck in life. 😉
    Sharon J. Gilman recently posted..Hands off my Starbucks!My Profile

    • Yeah, I think it was pretty clear that Anonymous and the “acquaintance” weren’t going to be lifting buddies after he demanded payment.

      Hopefully the guys at Staples aren’t Skeevy about it. Because usually you leave your phone number for a print order and I wouldn’t want one getting the wrong idea and calling for a date because I got free hole punches in my print-outs. =)

  • I actually thought the friend in the advice column was pretty out there for asking for a cash return from the poster. I would have been somewhat offended if it were me. However, I do see the point you’re making here about returning the favor to friends who help you (especially by buying them lunch/drinks), and I love the idea of leaving behind coupons you’re not going to use.
    Lisa @ Lisa the Vegetarian recently posted..Friday Chaos Blog HopMy Profile

    • Yeah, I don’t know how common leaving coupons behind is. I’ve seen others sitting around and used them, so why not pay it forward? It’s not costing me a dime!

  • I would only give the guy money to buy out of the friendship like others have said. It would be too weird to see this guy at my gym and know he wants his cut still.

    As for getting discounts I love taking people out for a fun time and returning the favor, but in all reality won’t take favors unless I know the terms in advance. e.g. Can I use it once, or what is expected in return?
    Financial Black Sheep recently posted..How I am Going to Celebrate my Debt PayoffMy Profile

    • I think for small things, we’re pretty loose with favors. But with bigger stuff… Well, we did draw up a formal contract when we took out that loan from Mr. PoP’s parents. That certainly wasn’t a loosey-goosey exchange.

  • Pretty crazy…

    I think it depends. If your friends gets you an employee discount than show gratitude but not necessarily in giving cash, that’s not what friends do.

    As far as referrals, if was an apartment referral, I would probably split the referral bonus.
    SavvyFinancialLatina recently posted..I Filed our 2012 TaxesMy Profile

  • I’ve helped a lot of other people save money, but I’ve never asked for a cut. That just seems wrong.
    My Financial Independence Journey recently posted..Portfolio Status: March 2013My Profile

  • I would have told Anonymous to tell her “friend” to take a long hike off a short pier. What a turkey!

    Seriously: There was no contract, implied or explicit. She’d already declined his suggestion. The answer to this jerk was “I told you I didn’t care to do that, and I meant it. Good-bye.”

    And if I felt uncomfortable about encountering him at the gym, I’d just join different gym. If this is the big chain gym I’m thinking of (they tried to get me to recruit people with the same come-on), there are other sites all over the city — so just go to one he doesn’t frequent.

    As for a friendly exchange, an “acquaintance” is not a friend. Of course, when someone I know well offers some sort of bonus or lagniappe, I’m going to try to reciprocate — take the person to lunch or at least spend some time with her or him. That’s ordinary good manners. But…”good manners” was not what was going on here.
    Funny about Money recently posted..MORE Perp Hassle!My Profile

    • Funny, I had to look up “lagniappe”. It’s not terribly often that I have to do that. You truly have a vocabulary like no one else!

      I think I’d probably prefer to pay the money rather than go out of my way to attend a different gym. For me, the convenience of my favorite place to work out is worth way more than 1 month of membership fees. And you’re totally right – none of this interaction would be classified under “good manners”.

  • Mary F. Campbell

    I enjoy helping others save money and don’t expect any payback for my willingness to share information or whatever to accomplish the goal.

    I post regularly on the Canadian Budget Binder Grocery Game Challenge and really enjoy doing so. It’s a game to me…can I come in “on budget” in these times of ever increasing prices or better yet how about “below budget”? Posting my shops gives me a chance to highlight really good sales for others in my region.

    Mr CBB also has a “What’s for Dinner” feed that encourages us all to cook from scratch rather than eating out or picking up fast food. It’s a great place to hang out, pose questions and get all kinds of support from the fellow fans. It’s walking the walk… in action!

    Is it nice to see what goes around come around, sure, but my preferred method of generosity is either an anonymous gift/donation or else support when someone is in need. It would be a lot nicer world if we’d all commit to giving what we can without being motivated by what’s in it for me. :-)

  • Ivy

    I’ve been wondering myself recently about something similar. I referred a friend for a rewards credit card that came with $75 referral fee, pretty good offer. I caught the tail end of that offer and they have been dragging their feet for 6 months now to post the credit to my account, but it seems from my last conversation it may happen soon. Do I offer her something half a year after the fact? We are pretty close and sharing things all the time (kids clothes, etc), so it’s not like anybody is keeping count, but this was indeed an unusually high benefit

    • If I were in your shoes, when the credit hit, I’d probably take the friend out to lunch and when the bill comes grab it and say “This one is on VISA” (or whatever the card is…) and remind her of the bonus that she’s probably forgotten about. Or maybe ice cream with the kids. Just something fun for everyone.

      It’ll probably be a pleasant surprise for her, and hopefully an enjoyable get together for everybody.

  • I think saving money for someone else should only ever earn you karma. I love doing it, but it’d be totally inappropriate to ask for money. Karma should be good enough!
    Ross recently posted..Consumed By An IdeaMy Profile

    • What color does your aura turn if you start demanding money from people? jk. =)

      Karma is definitely a tough to value asset, but I’d argue it’s probably worth more than most people think.

  • If I’m helping my mates out I don’t expect anything from them. For example last summer I helped my mate install a range hood in the kitchen. He wanted to give me money and I told him no so he took me out for a couple of beers. I’m sure there will be a day when I need to borrow something of his or need a hand and he will be there to help. There’s more to life than just money and helping people or volunteering really does feel good. I’ve been blogging over a year and have not received a penny from doing it thus far. I have contests and give out spare coupons that I have or receive and purchase stamps, envelopes to send them out. It helps my fans save a few bucks here and there and I’m happy. The grocery game has gotten much bigger since it started last year with fans from around the world who post their shops. It has kept us on track with our budget and it’s a great group of fans! Thanks for mentioning the GG and CBB!! Cheers Mr.CBB
    Canadianbudgetbinder recently posted..PF Weekly Reading List #11- Free Money, Want Some?My Profile

    • I think the beers were a perfect way for your friend to say thanks for helping him out with the range hood. Back in college, six packs were a pretty standard form of currency to use if someone took their time out of their weekend to come help you move or did you some other favor.

      You’re welcome for the mention. I think what you do with the grocery game is pretty awesome. Even though I don’t post my purchases, I am definitely nosey about reading others’ and seeing what people are stocking up on!

  • I would tell anonymous to stop being friends with that person. I would be happy to refer anyone, if that doesn’t cost me a thing why wouldn’t I do it? Actually I was even sad one time I talked to a blogger about a product I wanted to buy and that person gave me a lot of advice but omitted to talk about his referral link. So I bought the product without helping him out. I like to help and I would rather keep the favor owed for when I need something than split a quick buck.

    • I think IF there was a time that Anonymous thought of this guy as his friend, that time has passed. He kept calling the guy “an acquaintance” in his letter to Social Qs.

      Good form on that blogger for not sharing his referral link! Since starting blogging, I really have been impressed with how many bloggers selflessly help others. It’s pretty great. =)

  • Christine Weadick

    I post on Mr CBB’s Grocery Game, I am still having a hard time coming in on target but the encouragement I get from him and the rest of the crew is awesome!!! If nothing else the game has given me a much better idea of what I’m spending!!! I also post my dinners, not that I’m making meals to rival some of the wonderful cooks out there! My family tends to be pretty much meat and potatoes or rice for meals so that’s usually what gets made for meals…. Like the song says…. I get by with a little help from my friends….
    My sister-in-law and her husband will help anyone that needs it. They have helped by driving us to medical appointments out of town where I didn’t know my way there, paying for the gas and parking(I tried to pay but they wouldn’t let me!!!) then hand me the receipt so we could claim the deduction for income tax. He has done work on our vehicle and refused payment…. we know he’s like that so we show up with a case of beer……that he’ll take!!! I make it a point that when we go to their place I take treats for the dog…. Mitzi loves me, and she is my 4pawed little niece….

    • Your in-laws sound like they are amazing family to have. And it’s so nice that you don’t take their kindness for granted, but have found other ways to give back to them that they are happy to accept. Beer and dog treats are hard to turn down – I’m sure Mitzi is not complaining about the arrangement.

  • Interesting post, Mrs. PoP. I never really thought about this subject before, mostly, I suppose, as the most money-saving obsessed of my family and friends, I’m usually the one on the giving end of the savings advice. It’s nice to have some guidelines though, for when it happens to me. I think it’s great that when someone like your sis in law helps and refuses to take compensation, that you do neat little things like take Mitzi treats. That’s a great way of showing your gratitude.
    Laurie @thefrugalfarmer recently posted..Our Dream GardenMy Profile

    • And it sounds like on the giving side of the savings advice, you’re not expecting a whole lot in return. Just friendship and goodwill =)

  • I think expecting a kickback for dropping your friends name while signing up for a gym membership is pretty petty. I’d be a little annoyed if that was my friend. I’d be much more apt to share the savings with a friend who really went out of their way, like your friend who got you the employee discount on the dress.
    The First Million is the Hardest recently posted..How To Avoid Fraud When Booking Your Next Trip OnlineMy Profile

  • Wow, some people are jerks. I would never sign up for something and expect the referrer to give me a portion of the referral feed. As for the friend/dress situation, I would have done the same. It was kind of the friend to help you out so I’d make a return gesture. I do leave coupons when I’m not going to use them, or can’t use all of them.
    KK @ Student Debt Survivor recently posted..My Spending Life StagesMy Profile

    • So if someone asked you for the referral money flat out, do you think you’d give it to them, or tell them they’re a jerk? That part’s tougher, I think.

  • […] Planting Our Pennies -The Pops gave a shout out about The Grocery Game Challenge […]

  • I think it’s tacky to expect something in return for using someone’s name at the gym! I don’t know how I would answer if someone wanted me to give them a cut =/
    Holly@ClubThrifty recently posted..5 Reasons I’m Killing My MortgageMy Profile

  • I wouldn’t expect anyone to give me a cut of their savings, and I wouldn’t ask. How petty! Do a favor for a friend, and they’ll return the favor at some point. If you count every little penny or debt someone “owes” you for any reason, you’ll soon find you either owe lots of people or no one wants to help you out for fear of owing you.
    Leah recently posted..100%My Profile

    • And keeping track of everything that’s “owed” to you probably sent going to help you enjoy those relationships. Happiness had worth, too!

  • I think true friend want to help each other save money and wouldn’t want anything in return. Even if I wasn’t a good friend with the lady who referred me to her gym, I’d still give her credit. It doesn’t cost me anything and helps her. I believe doing nice things for others when you can will come back around to help you at some point. It just feels good too.

    When I know someone is having a hard time and they end up getting an exam in my office, I sometimes only charge $10. (Free feels like charity) It’s not often, and they certainly don’t expect or ask for it, but it’s a good feeling. I’ve done this with a few people who have lost jobs, and I have a few people with chronic conditions that are very poor. I would hope someone would do the same for me in a similar situation.
    Kim@Eyesonthedollar recently posted..Eyes on the Dollar 20/20 Roundup #30-Pink is My Favorite ColorMy Profile

    • That’s nice that you have a sliding payment scale of sorts for people in need. Do you think people would be upset or feel insulted if you gave service for free? Like people who are too stubborn to sign up for food stamps even if they need them?

  • […] PoP from Planting Our Pennies presents Saving Money for Someone Else – Is There A Quid Pro Quo? When you save someone else money, do you expect a cut of the savings in return? Mrs. PoP […]

  • […] Mrs PoP asks if you should get a cut when you save your friends some money. […]

  • Jacq

    What about a referral bonus for a job? In my industry, depending on the level of the person referred, it can range from~$1000 -5000 (Higher level executive). I spoke with a former co-worker at one point and said if I ended up getting her the bonus, she should treat for a coffee. Mostly because we bonded over trips to grab coffee In the past. I would much rather a friend/ former co-woker I like get a referral bonus, than have the $ not go to anyone.