Quid Pro Quo
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[This post is by staff writer Stefanie O’Connell.]

I like to think that family and friendships are about love and support rather than keeping tabs and quid pro quo, but when financial resources come into play, the reality of tit for tat and the question of fairness inevitably comes to the surface, particularly when it comes to giving.

I often think of my aunt who never married or had children.  She is constantly giving- for weddings, baby showers, friends’ children’s’ birthdays, etc- but never has she benefited from equal reciprocity.  It might be crass to suggest “keeping score”, but when we’re talking hundreds and hundreds of dollars in disparities, it’s a bit harder to ignore the inequity of it all.

On the other hand, arguing “equality” when it comes to gifting seems to defeat the whole purpose.  Perhaps it’s the culture of gifting that needs more scrutiny- the expectation, the feeling of obligation.

I hate that inevitable dread that starts to creep up on me as a holiday draws nearer and the blank on what I “have” to get someone grows bigger.  It’s not that I don’t want to give, it’s just that sometimes, I really can’t think of anything, or I honestly can’t afford to give in line with expectations and established social norms.

I think I might prefer a system of “compelled gifting”; giving when I come across something that I’d really love to give, something that’s just perfect for a particular person.  Otherwise, I could really do without the whole gift giving practice.

Wouldn’t you like to avoid those awkward moments of receiving something you really didn’t need or giving something that a gift recipient clearly dislikes?  How about those moments where you’ve given a thoughtful homemade scrapbook, but you get a fancy new ipod in return?  I don’t know about you, but it all makes me really uncomfortable.  Whether it’s spoken or not, I often feel that underlying sense of quid pro quo when it comes to giving.

There are, however, a few tactics I’ve employed to help mitigate some of those uncomfortable moments.

  1. Draw Names.  When it comes to giving within a group, like a family or circle of friends, drawing names can help relieve some of the pressure of figuring out how you’re going to budget for multiple gifts.  Rather than the singleton having to buy for each member of a large family and getting one group gift in return, each person in the hat, regardless of whether or not they’re part of a family unit or not, participates in equal measure.
  1. Set Limits.  Setting clear limits, from spending caps to exactly when gifts will (or won’t) be exchanged, can also be helpful.  For instance, adults only buy gifts for each other and not each other’s children (or vice versa), or gifts will only be given for the first baby shower, or holiday gifts will be capped at $50, etc.
  1. Be Honest.  To avoid any resentment or misunderstanding, I always strive to remain as open as possible with my financial realities and priorities.  The fact is, if someone gets me a fancy gift valued at several hundred dollars, I won’t be able to reciprocate that, no matter how much I care about and love them.

Do you ever get a sense of quid pro quo when it comes to giving?  How do you handle it/ avoid it?

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About The Author: Stefanie O’Connell is a New York City based actress and freelance writer. She chronicles her struggle to “live the dream” on a starving artists’ budget at thebrokeandbeautifullife.com.

P.s. If you start to panic on December 9th  since you didn’t save any money to buy presents for people on your list, may I suggest checking out how to set up an automated savings plan.

Photo credit: Jon Gosier

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