Skip to content

This Is the Worst Thing You Can Say When Giving a Gift

Research has found that people react more negatively to gifts when they accompany this phrase.

Every time you give a gift, you hope it's well-received. Of course, that's not always the case, unfortunately. But that may not be because the present itself is a bad one. It's entirely possible you could be ruining the gift you're so excited to give if you accompany it with five words in particular. According to research, the worst thing you can say to someone when giving them a present is, "It will save you money." To find out what you should say instead, read on. And for more words that shouldn't leave your lips, find out The One Word You Should Never Say When Apologizing.

The study, published in the Journal of the Association for Consumer Research in July, found that people react negatively to gifts given to them when they're told that it will help save them money. And it doesn't even have to be said outright. The researchers found that recipients didn't respond well if it was even just inferred that the gift-giver thought the present would save them money.

The researchers conducted a series of experiments to reach their conclusion. In one of them, they asked more than 400 people to recall a time in which they recently received a present they thought was intended to save them money. When asked to write a few sentences about how they felt about the gift, participants often said it made them feel embarrassed, ashamed, and bad. People also "thought the gift-giver was implying they couldn't take care of themselves and were incompetent because they needed money," study co-author Grant Donnelly, an assistant professor of marketing at Ohio State University's Fisher College of Business, said in a statement.

"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," Donnelly added.

Heterosexual couple in their home exchanging gifts.

However, the opposite holds true for gifts intended to save the recipient time. In another experiment, the researchers provided 200 college students with a $5 Starbucks gift card to give to a friend. In half of the instances, they were told to include the following the 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 cards had an identical message, except the word "money" was replaced with "time."

Those who received the gift cards that indicated it would help save them money reacted more negatively than those who received one with a note that indicated it would help them save time. Donnelly says this is because people see gifts intended to save them precious minutes as a compliment rather than a slight.

"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," he said.

According to Donnelly, this doesn't mean you can't give presents intended to help out friends or family who are having a hard time financially. Instead, you just have to consider your approach. "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," he explained.

For more ways to be a better gift-giver, read on, and for other situations where you might be saying the wrong thing, find out The Worst Thing You Could Say to Someone Who Lost Their Job.

Think about the personality of the recipient before picking out a gift.

young black woman looking in store window

People don't typically consider money to be an aspect of their personality. Instead of focusing on monetary advantages to gifts, Lynne Goldberg—founder of the Lynne Goldberg Group, which offers consulting services on event etiquette—says it is "important to understand the personality of the recipient and try to match the gift to their lifestyle and essence."

"If someone likes practical, useful items, don't buy them a gag gift for their desk. If someone only reads books on their Kindle, don't buy them a hard copy of a new book," she says. "In other words, understanding the recipient before you choose their gift is important." And for more advice to consider, check out what an etiquette expert says is The Worst Thing You Can Do When Introducing Yourself.

Talk about what the person you're giving the gift to means to you.

woman giving her friend a gift, best friend gifts

According to Susan Johnson, an online marketing expert, people care a lot about what people think of them. And if you're focused on the money aspect of a gift, the recipient may assume you think they care a lot about money, which people often associate with shallowness. Instead, Johnson recommends asking yourself what that person means to you and telling them that when you give them the gift. After all, you can't go wrong with combining a present and a compliment, according to Johnson. And for good compliments to give, check out The Best Little Compliments That Go a Long Way.

Highlight advantages of the gift that aren't about money.

couple exchanging gifts at home.

Anne Keery, a gift-giving expert at Unique Gifter, says instead of focusing on saving a recipient money, you should focus on the other advantages a certain gift may provide.

For example, she says that many money-saving gifts are often also ecologically friendly. "If you're giving a gift which could be misconstrued, put extra effort into focusing on its non-monetary aspects," she says. "For instance, you could say something like, 'I absolutely love how these wool dryer balls are made from natural products, which means I'm not throwing out trash every time I do laundry, and I thought you would like them, too.'" And if you want to cut down on economic waste yourself, check out This Is the Biggest Waste of Money You're Spending Without Knowing It.

Leave money out of the conversation altogether.

elderly man being surprised with gift

No matter what, money should be entirely left out of the conversation when giving a gift, says Lynell Ross, a behavior change specialist and resource director for Education Advocates. That's because any way you spin it, it could go poorly. For instance, "if you give someone a gift that is too expensive, they may feel uncomfortable," Ross says. Plus, if you make it appear as if they couldn't afford the gift themselves, they may feel offended or ashamed. And for more useful tips delivered straight to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter.

Kali Coleman
Kali Coleman is a Senior Editor at Best Life. Her primary focus is covering news, where she often keeps readers informed on the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and up-to-date on the latest retail closures. Read more
Filed Under
 •  •