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I've recently been able to afford things rather easily and I also live with flatmates (who are also coworkers). We all make the same amount and share a lot of stuff.

Whenever I feel like it, I just buy them things like a coffee when I'm having one at work or I pay for the week's groceries. They also do this at about the same frequency.

However, one of them still seriously asks me:

"Hey I owe you amount right?"

I'm not sure how to respond to that. I usually laugh and tell them to shut up, because I'm not expecting them to deposit cash my way. But, in retrospect, it would be a lie to say I'm not expecting camaraderie in some way.

What would be a proper response to have others forget about keeping tabs without sounding pedantic or dismissive?

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  • Am I understanding it right, that you just want them to return the favor? Or is it something else? – XtremeBaumer Apr 16 '19 at 9:57
  • @XtremeBaumer I don't want anything in particular; I just recognize the implications of behavioral economics. Needless to say I'd like their friendship, not my cash back. – lucasgcb Apr 16 '19 at 10:27
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I can offer you the viewpoint of the person asking you if they owe you anything back.

As someone that's fairly strict with money, I get slightly uncomfortable when someone buys me snacks even if I didn't ask them to because we had not discussed beforehand how would the bill be split.

Furthermore, it is polite to acknowledge that someone just spent money on you and you at least ask if they'd like to be compensated for that.

Generally, if you would not like a compensation for what you just bought you can just say

it's fine, it's on me

When someone says this to me, I feel more comfortable because then I'll know for sure that they were okay buying me that item and they are not expecting anything in return.

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    +1 for offering the possibility that others don't have as much money as you. They might feel that because of all the treats, they should indeed return the favor, but they don't have the same finances as OP and might feel burdened by all this "debt" piling up. Maybe they don't want coffee as often as you. When doing unorganized stuff like this (i pay this now, he will pay next time), you always risk that one will pay more than another and that some tensions will appear, even if the initial intention is good. For example I don't like to do such things, I pay mine and you pay yours. no confusion – Manuki Apr 16 '19 at 18:22
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While it is OK to buy a coffee for them sometimes expecting nothing in return, you should not make it a habit. Yes, telling them to shut up, or "Just say thanks" is OK in that case.

But On the long run, think about it: they might want to return the favor in some way, they feel about you in a similar way that you feel about them.

So you can say:

It will be on you next time.

and accept their treat when they happen to offer it to you.

In this way, you keep a balance between yourselves, with none of you "superior" to others.


I learned this lesson while opening doors for colleagues, allowing them to pass first. Until one of them (of the non-fluid child-bearing-capable kind) explained to me what I explained above - that I should let other people do the same for me, for balancing the relationships and favors.

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    Can you add some backup for this answer - is this how you've handled similar situations before? If so, could you give some context for your experience (e.g. a short example, what culture you're in that considers it ok)? – Em C Apr 16 '19 at 18:02

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