Little bit of background: a few weeks ago, my friend/coworker's sister, we'll call her Lila, opened up a shop with her boyfriend, let's call him Mark, about things that generally interest me. I've helped them as much as I could to set up the shop before it opened, because I thought it was a nice place, and I generally like their family. We weren't friends before, but since then I started visiting them on their shop regularly (about twice a week), just to chit-chat, look around what's new, or just hang out.

However, since they seem to be very grateful for my help (even though I don't think it was really that much), and because they're generally kind and nice, they'll often offer me things from the shop for free, or with a great discount, when I show interest in that thing or intend to actually buy them. The values of these things are in the tens of dollars. As much as I appreciate their generosity and friendliness, I'd rather pay full-price for the things I get there, since it is still a business and I feel like I shouldn't have privileges over other clients, not to mention I can't help but think of how these discounts might sum up at the end of the month on their profits.

I'd like to tell them that I don't want free things/discounts just because I'm friends with them, but I don't know how to communicate it in such a way that doesn't make me sound ungrateful, uncaring or rude. Sometimes Lila would offer me something I wanted to buy for free, to which I awkwardly insisted in paying full price. Sometimes Mark would offer me a product with a discount, which I would often just end up accepting, to avoid any embarrassment. Note that I'm very introverted, so I have a hard time communicating those things without it coming off weird.

How can I decline a friend's continuous acts of generosity without being rude or ungrateful?

EDIT: Some clarifications that I should have considered before posting: this is a small business and they're just starting, so I don't think they're as well-established as to be able to provide free/discounted items all the time. Maybe in the future it might not be such a problem, but for a new and small shop, I'm not so comfortable with it.

I've been friends with Lila's sister for years, but not with Lila herself (or Mark, whom I had just met) until I started helping them with their shop, so I don't have as much intimacy with them as I'd like to in order to approach this subject without causing awkwardness.

The reasoning behind their gifts are both because I helped them and because they want to be kind with a friend, so it's not as much "bothering" to me as it is guilt-tripping. The discomfort comes from me trying to be fair to them business-wise without it sounding like I don't appreciate their kindness friendship-wise.

Thanks everyone for the answers! I talked to them and insisted on paying full price, and they insisted on giving me discounts, especially since I was always there to help them, and because we're friends. So we've settled for reasonable discounts only.


9 Answers 9


Sometimes Lila would offer me something I wanted to buy for free, to which I awkwardly insisted in paying full price. Sometimes Mark would offer me a product with a discount, which I would often just end up accepting, to avoid any embarrassment.

For me, addressing behaviors while they aren't actually happening is often easier than having a good talk about it when in the middle of that behavior happening. Maybe it can help you as well, to have a talk about this behavior while you're not buying anything. This will probably remove some of the pressure from having such a talk, and it's easier to not be awkward (since you're not declining an offer right then and there).

Are there times when you're interacting with Lila and Mark without being in their shop to actually buy something? Then that is a good time to bring the topic up. Just refer to the last time you bought something, make it sound like you want to express your gratitude for getting it for free/cheap again, and then say that although you appreciate it very much, you'd like to pay for things from now on.

Are you familiar with the principle of reciprocity?

I think that's what's happening here: You provided a service (help with setting up the shop) and in return, Lila and Mark feel they should pay you back with gifts. These gifts might also be a way for them to build up their friendship with you.

Based on that, it might be a good idea to also ask them 'Why are you doing it?'. Start as suggested above, with appreciating that they gave you a discount/free item last time. You might even put both of them in the same sentence:

I appreciate you doing X last time, but why are you giving me so many discounts/free items? It makes me feel uncomfortable, and I'd like to pay to help your business succeed.

If the talk continues from there on, emphasize how uncomfortable the behavior makes you, make it more about you and a little less about the loss of money they face (but feel free to use it as an argument nonetheless). That way, they can't dismiss it with 'oh, the money isn't that much to us' because it's about your feelings, not the money.

I'm really hoping asking why Lila and Mark are doing this can give you some more handles for having the conversation. If they are doing it because they appreciated your help so much, you can say that you consider that debt paid, and you really like to pay full price for now.

If Lila and Mark are doing this because they appreciate your company/being a customer of their business, and there doesn't seem to be a way to dismiss their want for doing so, it might be better to agree on a small discount they can give you.

From where I'm from (Netherlands) when I worked retail, workers and their close family to get a 10 percent discount. Very regular customers got a 5 percent discount where I worked. If you know you're going to get 5 or 10 percent off, and that's a hard line, they can't offer you items for completely free, or very discounted.

Most of all, you don't have to feel guilty for accepting their kindness after you've let them know that there's really no need for them to do so.

If you're really done with the behaviour though, and things don't get better after talking to Lila and Mark about it, it might be time to take a stand:

I'm paying full price for this item or I won't be taking it. < Joke > So, it's up to you: Do I get to enjoy this item or not?

This is something that has worked for me with my grandma, but you really must have a good relation to Lila and Mark for it to work. I've used it when we go shopping and my grandma insists she wants to pay for me. My variant is 'I'm going to buy it for myself or I'm not going to have it all'...

  • 1
    Thanks for the extensive answer! I'm going to try the approach from the third part of your answer because I feel it is closer to my situation, then try the second part if that doesn't work. I wouldn't try the latter option because we're not that close yet, friendship-wise. If they insist on it, I suppose I'll just leave it at that and accept they're not doing this for a "debt", but because they want it, and it'd be rude rejecting it in that case. I'll try it later today, and depending on the outcome (and after 24 hours as customary), I'll accept this answer. Again, thank you! Commented Dec 20, 2017 at 15:17

How can I decline a friend's continuous acts of generosity without being rude or ungrateful?

I would suggest you say something like:

"Thank you for the kind offer, but I cannot accept this item for free. I feel very guilty about doing that as I am concerned it may affect our friendship. How much is it again?"

As far as accepting a discount, I don't see the big deal. Friends do things for each other where they can. There is a huge difference between free and at a discount IMHO, as I would not want my friends to lose money on a purchase I make.

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    @Erik's comment is spot-on. By emphasizing that you care about the success of their business (which friends should do), that turns it from "being rude" to "being considerate", and adequately explains why you at least want to pay cost for an item, if not full price. It's the same reason I'll buy an energy drink from my local coffee shop at nearly $3/can, when I could pay CVS <$2.50/can for the same thing -- I want my local businesses (and neighbors) to succeed.
    – Doktor J
    Commented Dec 20, 2017 at 14:27
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    Given that it's a common problem for friends and family to want things from a small business for free or at a great discount, I think they'd welcome this "problem". I can't imagine any circumstance where someone's wanting to pay full price would be considered rude. Commented Dec 20, 2017 at 14:45
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    @baldPrussian someone rejecting a gift. That's the point I think
    – DonQuiKong
    Commented Dec 20, 2017 at 15:04
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    I appreciate your answer very much, but I don't think I'm going to try this approach, as I feel outlining the guilt and concern for friendship might cause some unnecessary discomfort for both parts, which I'm trying to avoid. However, I do agree - after some insight - that I might have made a bigger deal out of the discounts than I should have, so it might just happen that I'll end up accepting those as acts of friendliness without guilt. Commented Dec 20, 2017 at 15:25
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    I do think that just "Thank you for the kind offer, but I cannot accept this item for free. I feel very guilty about doing that. How much is it again?" would be better. Saying "may affect our friendship" would absolutely (in my experience, when I've said similar) lead to the person saying "Oh nooo, it's all good" and go back to pushing the thing for free. Cutting out that part makes it more about your own feelings, and doesn't give them an edge to catch on. But it may work in some situations. I do really like the answer though, +1
    – user3316
    Commented Dec 20, 2017 at 23:10

I'd rather pay full-price for the things I get there, since it is still a business and I feel like I shouldn't have privileges over other clients, not to mention I can't help but think of how these discounts might sum up at the end of the month on their profits.

This is just it. You can say exactly this. I want to support you guys and your business.

Your goal is to not come off as unappreciative or ungrateful. By saying that you want to support them and their business not only shows your appreciation for what they've done but also for them in general. Paying for items can also show your gratitude.

It's short, simple and straight to the point.

Many people who run businesses appreciate this type of interaction because it can get sticky dealing with friends and acquaintances.

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    I like that this answer is short and straight to the point without having a bad tone to it. I might try a similar wording to this when I approach them later on, along with suggestions from @Tinkeringbell 's answer. Commented Dec 20, 2017 at 15:20
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    Can you please explain why you think that this is a good course of action?
    – Mithical
    Commented Dec 25, 2017 at 12:17

While I admire your consideration for their new business, I think you may be going too far. Friends do favors for each other, and if they own a business a common way to do this is by giving away their products or services. If the shop deals in products that they enjoy making and they know you like, it gives them joy to give them away to you. It's really up to them to decide if they can afford to give away these items, it's not for you to change their mind. It's fine to push back a little ("you've already given me so much, it's not necessary"), but if they insist, take it. Forcing them to take your money would be like trying to pay a friend when they invite you over for dinner -- it turns a friendly relationship into a business deal.

I don't think you should feel guilty. You didn't help them with the expectation of these favors, and you're not asking for them now; they're grateful and they're offering them to you. But if you want to assuage your guilt, return the favors -- invite them to dinner (or take them out to a nice restaurant if you don't cook), treat them to a show, take them to a sporting event, etc. If you have business skills useful to them, help them out for free.


Classic tropes are classic.

You really don't have to.

I couldn't possibly take that.

Please, I insist on paying.

Use the conventional language of propriety. Granted, using a "stock" phrase from the etiquette books doesn't automatically make a given action not-rude, but, if your position is that refusing an offer isn't rude and you're only looking for the right way to make the refusal without being rude, then, the "stock" phrases are the very tools necessary to convey your intent and wishes in the proper way.

As a bonus, these tropes can have the side effect of getting the other party to think about whether they are creating an imposition.

  • Thing is, this is what I've been trying out for the most part. Given it's only been a few weeks, maybe it just hasn't been enough time for the message to get across, but they tend to dismiss it as me being shy or polite, which is only half of the reasons. Commented Dec 20, 2017 at 19:03

Being that you describe yourself as an introvert, I interpret that quality as hesitation or reservations in speaking your mind and feelings without careful thought and consideration. Speaking directly to or with others about thoughts that are not simply agreeable may pose difficult.

I would suggest a special greeting card with a handwritten note, and your own small gift of some sort. As a sentiment of friendship and also a palate to carefully express your feelings about the gifts being given to you, you can "reciprocate", set boundaries and normalize the friendship of a couple who have exalted you with appreciation.

Potential wording? : Amazing friends! Thank you for everything- I wish you continued success and the best of luck- I love visiting the shop. But I must say, Please, refrain from gifts of merchandise and discounts. As much as I appreciate the thought, I cannot in good faith accept. I admire your generosity and honestly would rather pay full price for everything that I purchase from you. Its worth every penny its priced and I want your business to have every advantage.

Your friends will loooove you. And grow in respect.

You may even toot their horn, speak up to those in your circle when opportunity strikes and share the good news of the business, their products and the goodness of these independent retailers. This type of word of mouth may be good for the business because it is genuine, community based networking. They sound like new age givers, creating a flow in order to create affluence of giving and receiving, practicing laws of abundance.


Were you paid for helping them out setting up the store? If not, they might view the "gifts" as a way of compensating you for your work there, a practice formally called "payment in kind". If you think that that might be the case, you could just say something like "I was just helping you out set the shop up because I wanted to help, not because I was expecting compensation. You don't need to give me these things."


The best tactic for this is deflection. Don't insult their charity, just deflect the target of it: if they offer you something for free, grab another one and ask them to give that one to someone who really needs it. If they refuse to take cash in hand, pop the cash into a charity collection (especially if they have one on the counter). If there aren't any other good options, resolve to them to pay it forward, maybe even back to them when a time comes that they really need it. If the social aspect of it is that crippling, keep an internal balance and resolve that with your own generosity to others.

Also, don't think their approach is unquestionably bad business. Most businesses suffer things like spoilage, so a young business is well served learning to accommodate to not everything you stock selling at its intended retail price. Small businesses are also quite reliant on personal relationships and recommendations, so their impression on early customers may have a strong networking effect and be worth the investment. If they do overdo it, their business might fail- as many do- and they will learn a valuable lesson. There's no shame in that either.


Hmm, Most cultures find it to be an insult to reject, a gift of appreciation, however your position seems to be easy to handle in a respectful manner.A true friend and business minded person like yourself and I can foresee the potential devastation of this act of kindness.However,due to your generosity they may feel grateful. Nevertheless, I am a straight shooter when it comes to expressing the pitfalls to ones kindness in gifts from merchandised inventory in business, and you may not be the only FFI that receives gifts. I liked the idea of taking them to dinner. Because, you are in an environment of comfort,exchanging words of common interest.This gives you the opportunity of jokingly stating,the last thing you would want to be a part of, is a group of friends family and or investors, that shut your company down due to gift giving in personal friendships, I want to exchange money, for merchandise and watch you grow.Why? Because I love you guys, So make me a promise no more gifts except birthdays and Christmas.Raise your glasses of whatever,and keep a warm smile at all times.Do not text them, please or phone calls.However,if you are not good at confrontation, find a card with the inside blank and provided your signature and mail it or hand it to them.Your signature will be taken more graciously.

God bless you and America

Mama D.

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