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Bank a favor vs cold hard cash
August 17, 2010 9:52 AM   Subscribe

Is it better to accept money for a favor or to bank the favor?

I am interested in links to articles on the cognitive processes that go on consciously/subconsciously in a person when deciding. Is this game theory or something else? I do want everyone's opinion, but also post something objective so as not to get chat filtery.

My personal example is having to get up at 4:30AM from North Jersey, pick up someone 30 minutes away, drive 45 minutes to JFK airport in NYC, paying 2 tolls on the way, then do the reverse in traffic.

I want to bank the favor, my missus wants the cash. It's for her friend whom I see on occasion. Said friend offered to pay whatever we requested. I say since she has an ongoing relationship with her friend, you never know when you may need a favor in return(with the understanding that you may never need a favor repaid). She just wants tolls and gas money (sniff-me getting up on my day off has no value).
posted by MrMulan to Human Relations (31 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
You're doing the favor, so you get to decide. If your wife wants the cash, she should get up at 4:30 am and do it herself. Plus, since the favor is for her friend, it's really a favor to her too, so she should say thank you and keep her mouth shut about the manner in which you choose to perform the favor.
posted by decathecting at 9:54 AM on August 17, 2010 [8 favorites]


Pay it forward is also an option.
posted by TheGoodBlood at 9:55 AM on August 17, 2010


Personally, I think that the point of doing something nice for someone else (or, "a favor") is that you're doing it out of the goodness of your heart without expecting any kind of payback. I'm sorry that I don't have an objective piece of research to post, but I do think that expecting to bank the favor (and, what, charge interest?) is missing the point. Ask for gas and toll money if you think it's fair, but leave it at that.
posted by sarabeth at 9:56 AM on August 17, 2010 [6 favorites]


I think it's really awkward to accept money for favors like that from friends. If money is really tight, having the friend pay whatever concrete amount of money you have to lay out (like tolls) makes sense to me, though. That's still a favor.
posted by needs more cowbell at 10:02 AM on August 17, 2010 [2 favorites]


If I were requesting that favor of someone, I would pay for tolls and gas and still feel I owed them a favor for the time invested. Trying to pay for the time would be icky.
posted by ecsh at 10:05 AM on August 17, 2010 [6 favorites]


Given the situation you explained, I would "bank the favor". Money is money, but asking a friend to return a similar favor (and knowing they probably will) is priceless.
posted by NoraCharles at 10:05 AM on August 17, 2010


Assuming your wife knows this person and what they're like, it's really her call. There are hardcore takers in the world, where one has to either accept that you're doing them a favor altruistically, or get repayment (gas money or whatever) up front, because they WILL NOT be there when YOU need them to do you a favor.

Maybe your wife has a reason to want repayment from this person. Let her decide. FWIW, I use the cash/bank/pay forward/altruism options at different times, depending on the favor asked and who is doing the asking.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 10:05 AM on August 17, 2010


I'm a big believer in banking favors, in the sense that I try to do nice things for people I care about without asking for anything specific in return with the assumption that at some point in the future, I'm going to need help with something and hope that they can be there for me.

But all of this is unspoken, because that's what friends do. Friends of friends (or spouses) becomes a slightly different story, but were it me, I'd just expect to have the expenses covered.
posted by quin at 10:07 AM on August 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


I would bank the favor too. Or, I would ask to be paid as a shuttle driver, at full rates. This can work if your friend is a lot richer than you, and doesn't want to use a public service for some reason (like it's super early in the morning and they're not open or something).

Nothing in between, though.
posted by alternateuniverse at 10:07 AM on August 17, 2010


There's a good chapter (short excerpt here) in Dan Ariely's Predictably Irrational about mixing social and market norms. Ariely's a behavioral economist. The conclusion is that social relationships get weird when you infuse a customer/supplier dynamic in them. If you value the social relationship, leave it in that sphere entirely. His research is more interesting than my paraphrase and much more detailed than that brief, sort of cartoonish, excerpt.
posted by gladly at 10:09 AM on August 17, 2010 [3 favorites]


This particular favor involves a not inconsiderable outlay of expenses, which should be reimbursed. This doesn't mean that the friend owes your wife nothing at that point, only a similar favor under the same conditions. That's worth something. There are a lot of people who wouldn't be willing to go through all that at that hour even if they made a profit off of it.
posted by grouse at 10:11 AM on August 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


Agreed with needs more cowbell.

As a general rule, I don't accept money for favors from friends, with the distinct exception of gas and tolls on long trips. In these cases, I lowball the number to a nice even denomination if they insist on paying me. If they don't say anything, I drop the issue -- if I like you enough to drive you to the airport (and JFK* at that) at 4:30AM, your company is worth more than $10 in gas and tolls to me.

*The commute from NJ to JFK might quite possibly be the worst "ride to the airport" experience on the face of the planet. I know plenty of people who gladly pay the extra $1-200 to fly out of Newark (or even LaGuardia) to avoid it.
posted by schmod at 10:12 AM on August 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


Sarabeth,
I respectfully disagree. When you do a favor, if you are a well adjusted functioning group member, you don't do it out of the "goodness of your heart". If you did you would be the group patsy that everyone would get over on. I don't think you are a patsy. You express the ideal (which is great) of doing a favor for it's own sake, but the reality is you would not let someone keep asking for favors and not repaying them. BTW-banking the favor was just an expression.


TheGoodBlood,
I have done this and have had it done to me.
posted by MrMulan at 10:25 AM on August 17, 2010


I respectfully disagree. When you do a favor, if you are a well adjusted functioning group member, you don't do it out of the "goodness of your heart". If you did you would be the group patsy that everyone would get over on. I don't think you are a patsy. You express the ideal (which is great) of doing a favor for it's own sake, but the reality is you would not let someone keep asking for favors and not repaying them. BTW-banking the favor was just an expression.

No offense, MrMulan, but you I sincerely doubt that you have a better insight into Sarabeth's mind than she does herself. If she says she does favors just to be nice, there's no need to try and belittle that just because that's not your personal philosophy.

Like others have said, I'd ask for tolls and gas money, but then leave it at that and hope you'd be helped in a similar situation (but not counting on it). In my opinion, it's no longer a favor if the person pays full price for it or if you expect the same exact thing in return.
posted by kylej at 10:40 AM on August 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


A bird in hand is worth two in the bush.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 10:45 AM on August 17, 2010


I get really pissed off when I have friends that try to run a mental bank with payment reminders of what I "owe" them.
I am of the opinion that it's each individuals responsibility to remember FOR THEMSELVES how they would like to repay people and at what point they'd like to do that. I do this incredibly well, usually with some overcompensation because I value people knowing how much I appreciate the rare favor that I ask for, so that adds to my level of being disgruntled when someone says, "remember when I ______, you need to _____"
If I have friends that try to run a mental bank on me or do not remember for themselves on how to "repay" I usually keep the friendship on a more basic level because I don't appreciate being used.

So my philosophy applied to your example -- your friend wants to pay you now and has offered to do so. This eliminates a specific need for them trying to go out of there way to do something in the future for this service. So you have 3 choices:
#You should either accept that payment.
#Say that you don't want anything and then actually leave it at that without hoping to cash in on a future favor
#Say that no, you cannot do the favor.
posted by zephyr_words at 10:51 AM on August 17, 2010


MrMulan, as a "well adjusted functioning group member," I either offer or agree to do a favor and consider it a gift of my time/money, or I decline or don't offer to do the favor. If my friend offers to pay the concrete expenses, I may or may not accept their payment. What I don't do is get out my calculator and start rounding up the decimals. If I then need a favor and my friend declines, I might reconsider doing this friend another favor the next time, but I certainly don't start fretting that I have become "the group patsy."

I won't pretend I've never been taken advantage of, but what kind of friends do you have if you can't do a nice thing for anyone without fear of becoming the group patsy? Yes, I can usually expect my friends to reciprocate favors, but that's not because anyone's keeping a tally, it's just how we as friends express our love and caring for each other.
posted by keep it under cover at 11:02 AM on August 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


If your wife wants the cash, she should get up at 4:30 am and do it herself

I don't know about their financial situation, but if money is tight she might have a valid complaint about spending gas money and whatnot on this and refusing any kind of payment. Otherwise I agree that it's somewhat unfair to both ask a partner to do a favor for a friend and also expect the partner to ask for money for the favor if they don't want to.

When you do a favor, if you are a well adjusted functioning group member, you don't do it out of the "goodness of your heart". If you did you would be the group patsy that everyone would get over on.

I am personally glad that I don't belong to any groups that work like this. I help out people that I care about for the same types of reasons that I donate money to charity, I do it because it's a positive thing and I have time/money/energy to spend on it, rather than as an investment to help myself in the future, and I don't find people treating me like a patsy. You may find that having a less mercenary view of helping others can be a more fulfilling way to live your life (or not, your mileage may vary).
posted by burnmp3s at 11:50 AM on August 17, 2010 [4 favorites]


I'd quickly stop doing favors for anyone who expected this kind of repayment. "Hey, remember that one time when I did something for you? Now I want you to come pick me up at the airport at 2:30am, because you owe me" is playing a patsy a lot more than friends who don't keep tally, but just do nice things now and then.
posted by sageleaf at 11:58 AM on August 17, 2010


A favor is one thing, freely given with no expectation of payback.
A hired job is another, one person engages another to perform a task, and pays for it.
A friend who requests the favor of a ride to the airport will offer to pay tolls and gas, right? What kind of "friend" would not?
So I'd drive him/her to the airport, pocket the gas/tolls reimbursement with mild thanks, acknowledge the favor-asking friend's mild thanks for the lift, and proceed through my day with a song in my heart.
(If the friend didn't offer/pay tolls/gas, I'd keep a sharp eye on him/her for a while and see what kind of friend he/she really is.)
All those slants/slashes are ugly, aren't they?
posted by fivesavagepalms at 12:31 PM on August 17, 2010


I meant to add that favors and bank don't really go in the same sentence--not in my book.
posted by fivesavagepalms at 12:32 PM on August 17, 2010


I don't see how you're being repaid for the favor, if they're just paying gas/tolls. The favor is getting out of bed at oh-dark-hundred and spending your time ferrying them to an airport, and they're just saying they don't think that, on top of the favor, you should be financially in the hole for gas/tolls. "Paying you" for what you're doing would mean paying you what a car service would charge, not the tolls/gas.

So: take the money for gas/tolls, and you've still "banked" a favor.

(Also, I have to suspect that anyone who doesn't believe debts exist in the context of favors might be significantly in the hole.)
posted by palliser at 12:44 PM on August 17, 2010


Palliser,
If you take the money for gas/tolls thinking you banked a favor (which would be right in your view), the other party may think it was not a favor and so do not owe you anything (which would be right in their minds).

The Cost of Social Norms shows a possible explanation of the cognitive dissonance that may be experienced. Both favors and money are currency but need to be used in their respective spheres.
posted by MrMulan at 1:02 PM on August 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


I could see that: some people would think they'd "paid," so no favor was done. So here's a further suggestion: ask your wife what the friend's reasoning is for wanting to pay gas/tolls. If I were the friend, I would be saying, "This is such a huge favor anyway, I can't stand to not AT LEAST pick up the out-of-pocket costs." If, on the other hand, she's saying, "I want to pay you back for doing this" as a reason to get the gas/tolls, then you can assume she'd think you hadn't done her a favor at all.
posted by palliser at 1:25 PM on August 17, 2010


I could see that: some people would think they'd "paid," so no favor was done.

Those people are jerks. I think you should give the benefit of the doubt here, and assume that people are not jerky until proven otherwise.
posted by grouse at 2:01 PM on August 17, 2010


If I asked a friend for this favour, I would insist on giving them some cash - money for tolls and petrol, and whatever change from the note for a beer later or something. I'd still be appreciative of their time and sacrifice of a sleep in, and I'd certainly be more inclined to help them out in future.

That being said, if that person refused to accept any money, it wouldn't add to my gratitude. In fact, it'd be a little weird if we were both in the car, at a toll, and you insisted on paying.

One more thing - you only see this person on occasion. How do you expect to 'withdraw' this banked favour? Next time you need a ride to the airport you'll call her up and let her know what time to stop by? That would seem a little tacky to me.
posted by twirlypen at 2:21 PM on August 17, 2010


If I were doing this favour for a friend, I'd expect them to pay gas, tolls, and some coffee for me while driving, and it would still count as a favour; if a friend did me this favour, same thing but in reverse. If you want to charge the friend, charge some amount that includes tolls, gas and your time.

I expect that friends will do me favours, yes, as this seems to be part of friendship, and I expect to do favours for friends. I don't expect a perfect 1:1 ratio, but overall I am sure I would notice if some specific friend never did favours and not do anything significantly out of my way or inconvenient for that friend. Actually, I'm vengeful and might eventually go out of my way not to do them a favour, but I have no selfish friends like that, so it's moot.
posted by jeather at 2:25 PM on August 17, 2010


Since when is doing something for someone out of the kindness of your heart, and not expecting anything in return make you a 'patsy'?

I'm a firm believer in karma... what goes around, comes around. YOU are the one driving this friend to the airport, so if you're comfortable accepting gas/ toll money, it would be perfectly within social norms to do so. Just don't file this good deed away in your memory bank for later use. It seems a pretty callous thing to hold this over this person's head whether or not she knows it... and imagine how she'd feel if she read this.
posted by Everydayville at 2:52 PM on August 17, 2010


First thank you Gladly for pointing me to Dan Ariely. I spent hours last night combing through his clips and videos.

For all those that think it is mercenary, callous, or ungracious and the whole point of a favor is being missed...let's just say you have a different worldview.
Another worldview would be that we have these calculations whether we are aware of them or not. There is no calculator that comes out (though as zephyr points out that is not always the case), but a sort of fuzzy, back of the mind calculation.

The second sentence of my original post clearly states this, but many people seemed to have a gut reaction to the question, only latched on to the conscious aspects of the decision making process, and were aghast that anybody that had these things going on in their head could be somebody they would want to associate with. I was not asking whether or not these subconscious processes are occurring but how. If you don't believe they occur that is your worldview, but then there is no need to post a reply. If you want to give reasons as to WHY these processes do not occur I am more than happy to see what you have to write.

As to baking the favors and expecting payback, Jeather said it better than I did:
I don't expect a perfect 1:1 ratio, but overall I am sure I would notice if some specific friend never did favours and not do anything significantly out of my way or inconvenient for that friend.

If you are interested there is a 20 minute presentation on irrationality by Dan Ariely.
posted by MrMulan at 6:52 AM on August 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


Another worldview would be that we have these calculations whether we are aware of them or not. There is no calculator that comes out (though as zephyr points out that is not always the case), but a sort of fuzzy, back of the mind calculation.

I didn't really want to get into this because it's kind of a derail from your original question, but since you're bringing it up I'll give my two cents. You seem to assuming that everyone does the same sort of "What am I going to get out of this favor?" calculation every time they decide whether or not to do a favor for someone, whether it's conscious or subconscious. I think you are projecting your personal view of favors, which is pretty normal but by no means universal, onto everyone else, and justifying the objections in this thread by saying that everyone who disagrees is just subconsciously doing it without realizing it.

For me personally there is some sort of mental calculation that goes on when someone asks me for a favor, but it does not work exactly like your's does. I think about how much it costs me to do the favor (in terms of effort, time, money, etc.), how much I care about the person asking for the favor, how much they need my help, and other factors, but I don't generally think about how I can benefit in the future from reciprocal favors. Looking at the favors I do objectively, I tend to do more favors for people that need more help rather than people who are well-connected and can help me. I have done major favors for people I knew I would never see again and would never be able to return the favor, and would do so again. Your idea of using game theory to describe a decision to do a favor wouldn't really work for me, because in this situation I am not acting as a self-interested individual trying to maximize my own gains. Favors for me are sort of about taking on someone else's needs as my own and acting in their interest, for the sole purpose of helping them, because helping their situation is the goal rather than a means to an end.

As I said before, I think this is a better way to live my life with regard to favors and would not want to start treating them the way you do. I do get something out of doing a lot of favors without expecting anything for them, but it's usually only the internal good feeling of helping other people and feeling like I have a positive effect on the world and the people I interact with. I suspect a lot of other people feel the same way. I do not expect you or anyone else to adopt my personal view of favors as a non-self-interested act, but I do think you should realize that not everyone thinks about favors (consciously or subconsciously) the same way you do.
posted by burnmp3s at 8:08 AM on August 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


Thanks burnmp3s for your well thought out critique of my thought process on favors. I agree to the possibility of me projecting and rationalizing, but I feel, , barring any minute physiological damage, there has to be something universal in this type of thought process. Where that line is is what is debatable.

Your second paragraph I agree with, but would say that is just another description of paying it forward. However, for it to work the environment has to be conducive to it. Reset it to a post apocalyptic world and that type of behavior may not be the best one to follow. People follow individually their own value set, moral compass, thought processes (both conscious and subconscious) but the environment is what decides which one is optimal. And yes I do want to live a world where paying it forward would be the optimal strategy, but can't help to think of the darker alternate realities where this is not so.

I am not a sociologist, or a behavioral psychologist, but am just curious as to what is below the surface of how we think and do. Even then, these disciplines are still viewed in some circles as soft sciences, and are attacked from all sides when it seems these researchers are also just curious and want to delve deeper into what interests them. How the research is presented and used is a different issue. I loved Freakonomics. Thanks again for your well thought out response.
posted by MrMulan at 12:05 PM on August 18, 2010


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