How do I thank someone who saved my very broke butt from public humiliation?
March 31, 2009 9:32 PM   Subscribe

How should I thank a stranger who got me out of a small but embarrassing money jam?

Backstory: last month I ran out of money. Completely out, all bank accounts in the negative, not fun, and it totally blindsided me. Lots of lessons were learned (like balance my checkbook from time to time, spend more responsibly, etc.) - not the point of the question.

Anyway, I discovered that I was totally and utterly broke while in the cafeteria line at work - went to ring up my lunch (something like $6.70) and my debit card is declined. So I'm standing there counting change down to the pennies (and knowing I was going to be a few bucks short), and the line behind me is building up, and the food was like a hot pasta dish or something that I couldn't just put back, and the cashier is rolling her eyes at me, and just as I'm wishing a hole would open up in the floor and let me disappear, a girl leans over and swipes her card. She tries to run away but I said, "Wait, what's your name, I have to pay you back!" and she says, "No, don't worry about it" and scampers off.

But she didn't take her receipt. So I took it, and now I have her name, and from there it's easy to find out where in my office complex she works. So, what should I do now? Send her a note and 7 bucks? Should I sign it or leave it anonymous? What should I say that will express my extreme gratitude but not sound totally weird?
posted by naoko to Work & Money (22 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Go to her office, ask for her, give her the receipt and the $7 and say "Thanks very much for the loaner, it really helped me out of a jam! Lunch is on me next time! See you around!"
posted by turgid dahlia at 9:37 PM on March 31, 2009 [3 favorites]

The best answer I can give to this question is to say ask how you would like to be thanked by somebody if you had been the helpful stranger, if indeed you wanted to be thanked at all. Some people, myself included, simply like to be nice to others on occassion just because it feels good to do so.

But yeah, simply sit down, think about what you would consider to be a nice, apprporiate way to be thanked and then do it. That way it's from the heart and will be all the more thoughtful.
posted by Effigy2000 at 9:48 PM on March 31, 2009

Lets look at it from that girls perspective. She probably felt pretty good doing that because being nice to strangers is a reward in itself. Dopamine receptors were flying around her brain making her happy she helped you out. I say letter her bask in her anonymitity (cant spell on iphone for beans). Let her think back in a few weeks "what ever happened that broke chick, I'm glad I got to help her out!"
posted by pwally at 9:53 PM on March 31, 2009 [1 favorite]

Let it be. She wanted to do an anonymous favor. Truth be told, while your intentions may be good, it may be less than comfortable to be tracked down like that.

I know I'd rather not make someone feel indebted with a good deed. Remember to help somebody else when you have the chance, and that will be more gratitude than any money or thank you note.
posted by Saydur at 9:56 PM on March 31, 2009 [5 favorites]

The best way to thank a stranger for helping you out is for you to help out the next person you see who needs it. Pay it forward and all that good stuff.
posted by phunniemee at 10:00 PM on March 31, 2009 [18 favorites]

If you do anything at all, you should pay the favor forward and let her know. Considering she expected this to be an anonymous gift, maybe you should just pay the favor forward and silently thank her instead.
posted by Addlepated at 10:01 PM on March 31, 2009 [2 favorites]

Why not do something anonymously nice for her? Send her a fruit basket without a card, or drop off a gift card to a movie theater or something. That way, you know that you did something nice for her.

Also nth-ing the pay it forward remarks.
posted by BiffSlamkovich at 10:15 PM on March 31, 2009

while your intentions may be good, it may be less than comfortable to be tracked down like that

Well, it's the same office complex and, from the sounds of it, a shared cafeteria. Not like she's on the other side of the country or anything.
posted by turgid dahlia at 10:16 PM on March 31, 2009

I've had the chance to give a few broke folks some inexpensive bus rides and meals, and pwally gets it right. Just being able to do that for someone anonymously gives you a pretty nice rush for the rest of the day. I didn't want or need to be rewarded or repaid.

A few of the various recipients who couldn't repay me in cash even if they wanted to have done whatever nice things they could manage at the time. I've been handed DJ passes to clubs where they were working, a handwritten note promising me free baked goods if I stopped in their bakery, etc. One lady tried to give me an unopened packet of Twinkies.

While that was charming and thoughtful of each of them, especially since they knew I wasn't likely to ever see them again, all I'm really hoping is that they'll cover the $3.50 bus ticket for someone else's broke ass some day, so I've started saying that when it happens: "Don't worry about it, you'll take care of it for somebody else sometime," with a smile.

If you want to do something nice for her, don't do it anonymously. No offense meant to BiffSlamkovich, but getting a mysterious gift could make a lot of women uncomfortable.
posted by jeeves at 10:48 PM on March 31, 2009

Are you a guy? Are you single? Was she cute? I've seen too many romance movies for the obvious answer to not be flowers and an invitation to buy her coffee at your favorite place.

Things will probably go well at first, but then you'll realize she has a kid or a dog that drools all the time (and you hate that), and you'll have to make some tough choices.

Either way, the most important thing is to not be a creep about whatever it is you do.
posted by Nonce at 11:33 PM on March 31, 2009 [2 favorites]

This could definitely be the start of a relationship. If you want that, then I guess sending flowers and a note is the non-creepy way to proceed. Do it by sending, not giving face-to-face so she doesn't feel put on the spot if she's not into it.

If you don't want to be flirty about it, just inter-office mail her a $10 Starbucks card or a pair of movie passes, and a note saying thanks for helping.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 12:19 AM on April 1, 2009

If you're an etero guy and she ran away like that, tracking her down and flirting with her would not be a nice show of class. Just find her office, leave there the receipt, 7$, a single flower and a note with just "Thank you" written on it.
If there's something you can do, a skill you possess, you could offer her to repay your debt by doing something useful. I, for example, work in a steel-working company, and often fix/build stuff for friends and acquaintances. Or help with computers. Or since I have a van, sometimes help people move stuff. Just examples.
posted by Incer at 1:46 AM on April 1, 2009

i second pseudostrabismus, flowers with a note would be a nice touch and would certainly make me smile if i went into work one day after helping someone like that.

as long as you explain how you found the person and that you want to show your thanks it wouldn't be creepy and you can include a offer of lunch/dinner.

Include your phone number or e-mail address so they can take you up on the offer and then the ball is in their court, they get flowers and if they want they get a lunch as well
posted by Phcyso at 1:47 AM on April 1, 2009

Thank her. She basically paid for your food, otherwise you'd have gone hungry. She also saved you from embarrassment. That's huge. So do that - in person or with a note. Make it count.

Then pay it forward. Keep the momentum of kindness and compassion moving and doing its magic.
posted by watercarrier at 2:13 AM on April 1, 2009

Definitely don't do nothing, it will be awkward should you run into her and you have to explain "Oh I did mean to come and thank you but I decided to "pay it forward" on your behalf instead." Or "Oh hi, sorry I didn't thank you in person but that anonymously delivered basket of fruit 3 months ago was mine." To my mind the fact you came face to face during the initial encounter, and the fact you are likely to see her around calls for an approach from you. 10 dollar bill inside a card or a gift of similar value dropped into her office with a note. No biggie at all.
posted by fire&wings at 3:54 AM on April 1, 2009

I would not track her down at all. She told you not to worry about it, she does not want nor expect you to repay her. I have done little things like this in the past, and I enjoy being able to do it, and would feel a bit bad if the recipient then felt obligated to repay me.
I also think that it would be creepy turning it into some romantic gesture thing. If she was interested in you, she would have stuck around and chatted or got your name or anything.
She could probably sense your embarrassment and wanted to help you out. That was all. End of story.
If you feel absolutely compelled to contact her, a card saying that you appreciated her gesture so much that it inspired you to pay it forward is probably the best gift that she could receive, and would probably make her day, if not week.
posted by newpotato at 5:41 AM on April 1, 2009

She just wanted to keep the line moving. No need to make a production out of it, methinks.
posted by NekulturnY at 6:25 AM on April 1, 2009

Seconding "10 dollar bill inside a card or a gift of similar value dropped into her office with a note." Perfect.
posted by applemeat at 6:41 AM on April 1, 2009

Just do whatever you'd do if she were a man (assuming you're a hetro guy).
posted by bonobothegreat at 7:11 AM on April 1, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks guys - I think note + cash + promise to also pay it forward might be the way to go, but I'm really enjoying the suggestions so far. A few notes:

1. Sorry to burst some romantic bubbles, but I am a hetersoxual female, so I don't see this going anywhere!

2. Also, she wasn't in the same line as me, so she didn't have to do it to keep the line moving.

3. Mildly amusing twist: we both work in politics. I'm a Democrat, she's a Republican (I'm starting to wish I were a dude - this is clearly a romantic comedy waiting to happen).
posted by naoko at 7:21 AM on April 1, 2009 [3 favorites]

It ruins it for me a little bit if someone tracks me down to thank me for something I did spur of the moment to be nice. I know that sounds weird.

When you have the chance to do something for someone else, remember how thankful you were that day, and help out someone else.

If you run into her again - "You might not remember me, but you bought my lunch for me one day in the cafeteria back in [whenever]. That was really nice - I'm glad to see you because I've been wanting to say thanks and tell you how much I appreciated it."
posted by KAS at 12:47 PM on April 1, 2009 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Ugh, that's heterosexual. I can, in fact, spell. Just not type.
posted by naoko at 1:46 PM on April 1, 2009

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