When Should You Pay a Friend for a Favor?

(Photo by Jessica Hromas/Getty Images)

Jessica Hromas/Getty Images

True friends have your back no matter what. They’re there for you when you’re down, sick, or need a helping hand. However, when you’re requesting a favor, it’s important to keep in mind they’re giving up some of their time and resources to help you out. The worst thing you can do? Assume their favors are freebies simply because you’re friends. To help you sift through this tricky and sometimes uncomfortable situation, here’s a look at when and how you should consider paying friends for favors.

Basic Favor-Asking Etiquette

1. Before asking for a favor, consider the task and recipient, suggests Design Sponge. How much time, work, effort, skills, stress, and money will be used for this favor? Can you make your request easier for your friend in any way?

When you’re considering who to ask, take into account skills and experience. Design Sponge gives this example: Let’s say you have a newborn, and you’re looking for a friend to babysit for you. You have several friends, all of which have children except for one. First ask the friends who have children, rather than the one who doesn’t. It may not seem like a big deal to you, but sitting for a newborn can be overwhelming for someone who’s never been around infants.

2. Maintain boundaries. Design Sponge writes that one of the easiest ways to ruin a friendship is by taking advantage of your friend’s skills. If you are close friends with someone, you should be able to ask them for professional advice, knowing you’d do the same for them. But don’t do it everyday. For instance, asking them for advice once or twice is fine. If you’re asking for help more than that, you either need to pay your friend for their time or hire someone else to do the job.

If this person isn’t a close friend, don’t assume you can pick their brain for free. If this person is only an acquaintance, offering them a cup of coffee in exchange for professional advice just doesn’t cut it. Instead, ask if you can pay a smaller fee for a short consulting session, and then be sure to not take up too much of their time.

The Situations

Source: Thinkstock

Source: Thinkstock

1. They help you out when you’re sick

No payment necessary here, and if someone’s expecting a reward, you may want to reevaluate the friendship. Friends help other friends when they’re sick; it comes along with the territory.

That certainly doesn’t mean you shouldn’t express gratitude, though. A thank you note or phone call is a great way to let friends know you appreciate their help. If you feel like going the extra mile, offer to take them out for coffee or dinner. Of course, return the favor should your friend ever fall ill and need some assistance.

Source: Thinkstock

Source: Thinkstock

2. They drive you to/from the airport

Over the course of your friendships, it’s almost 100 percent guaranteed that you’ll be asked to give friends rides to and from the airport. Likewise, you’ll ask for the same favor in return. After all, who wants to pay for airport parking? But it’s important to keep in mind distance when asking a friend for a ride. Is it a 15-minute ride to the airport? Forty-five minutes? An hour? That’s a lot of time for someone to take out of their day, especially since it’s a round trip for the person driving you.

This is a situation when it’s important to find a way to pay your friend back. First option: Calculate the time and gas it’ll cost your friend to give you a ride. To determine how much you owe them for gas, use this DollarTimes road trip calculator, which takes into account the miles driven (round-trip), cost of gas, and the fuel efficiency of the vehicle. Then, add on a little bit extra, depending on how long it is going to take them to drive you there. If your pal is taking two hours out of the day, it’s certainly worth tagging on a few more dollars to show your gratitude.

Second option: If your friends aren’t comfortable accepting cash, find another way to pay them back. Will they need a ride to the airport at some point? Let them know you’ll make sure you’re available to give them a lift. Or, use one of your skills to help them out with something, whether it’s assistance with writing or editing something, tax-related advice, or offering a helping hand with a project they’re working on. Depending on the friend, it could be as simple as taking them out for dinner or drinks.

Source: Thinkstock

Source: Thinkstock

3. They feed you

This depends on whether your friend asked you to come over for dinner, or if you invited yourself. If your friend invited you, you shouldn’t feel obligated to pay them. Similarly, if a friend is hosting a dinner party, you shouldn’t feel obligated to cough up cash, and they shouldn’t be requesting money.

The Kitchn discusses a scenario where someone hosted a Thanksgiving dinner, and requested guests pay $50 to attend. Rude? Yes! If you’re hosting a party, never asks guests to pay you for it. On the other hand, as a guest attending a party, it’s best to not show up empty handed. Bring a bottle of wine, or offer to bring over dessert. These simple gestures can go a long way.

Now, if you’ve invited yourself to stay for a meal or come over for dinner, it changes things a bit. If you’re at a friend’s house, and she’s about to order Chinese, ask her to place an order for you as well, and then give her money for your portion. Just because it’s her house doesn’t mean she’s required to foot your bill. Or, if you’ve invited yourself over to enjoy a home-cooked meal, see if you can pick up some of the ingredients beforehand or come over earlier to help prepare it.

Source: Thinkstock

Source: Thinkstock

 4. They let you crash on their couch

Unless you’re planning on being a long-term resident on their couch, which I wouldn’t recommend, your friends probably aren’t expecting money. However, be respectful and show your appreciation in other ways. For example, if you’re there for a few days and have used some of the groceries, pick up a few items at the store for them.

You can also offer to help out around the place. If they have children and need a sitter for an evening, offer to watch the kids. Prepare dinner or breakfast for everyone, or offer to give someone a lift if it’s needed. Always remember to pick up after yourself. It never hurts to leave a parting gift, either. A bottle of wine is the perfect way to say thanks!

Source: Thinkstock

Source: Thinkstock

5. They help you move

No one likes moving. It’s physical labor and often takes a full day to do. But rather than spend money on movers, many enlist the help of their friends on moving day. So, should you pay your friends to help you move? Apartment Therapy suggests providing them with food and drinks. If you know they have a move coming up, or may need help with something else you can assist with, be sure to offer your services and then follow through. It also doesn’t hurt to go the extra mile and send a thank you note, either. It shows you appreciate them and value your friendship.

The bottom line: It can be hard to determine how and when you should pay friends. The easiest way to figure it out? Put yourself in their position, and figure out how’d you feel/what you’d expect if they asked you for the same favor.

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