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The financial cost of reciprocity #thrifty

In social psychology, reciprocity is a social rule that says people should repay, in kind, what another person has provided for them; that is, people give back (reciprocate) the kind of treatment they have received from another. By virtue of the rule of reciprocity, people are obligated to repay favours, gifts, invitations, etc. in the future.


Christmas Cards

We feel obliged to send Christmas cards people who have sent Christmas cards to us in the past, but it can be a very expensive business now with such high postage costs. We find it hard to defy this social rule and it is the same with reciprocating gifts. However, we can think about it and come to an agreement not to reciprocate anymore and to exchange greetings via social media or explain that reduced income forces us to cut our Christmas list. We can also suggest to people who we know are struggling, that gifts should be more of a token this year. The worst thing we can do is try to out-do others by always trying to buy more expensive gifts than they do. That can lead to resentment too.

Buying a round

Buying rounds of drinks in clubs and pubs can be expensive because again we feel the need to follow the social rule and reciprocate. We don’t always need to reciprocate in kind though and sometimes we should accept a drink in the spirit that it was given. If we do someone a favour and they reciprocate by buying us a drink, let that be an end of it! We don’t need to reciprocate because they bought us a drink! Reciprocation beginning as a one-off gesture can end up as a permanent and expensive feature of a relationship.

Saying thank you

Saying thank you is a very  thrifty way of reciprocating someone’s kindness. It is a very effective way of rewarding someone for their altruism without a cost to ourselves. It can also act as an IOU when you thank someone and add that if they need help they shouldn’t hesitate to ask.

An eye for an eye

The concept of an eye for an eye as a punishment is an extreme form of reciprocation. There is also a social tendency to  punish people who don’t or can’t reciprocate. The current tendency to demonize welfare claimants because they are viewed as free loaders who don’t reciprocate is driven by taking this social norm to an extreme. It is a social rule that should be regarded as flexible and one that shouldn’t be manipulated  for one’s own advantage.  We can save money and help others save money by being reasonable and not pressurising people to buy drinks or give presents or even exchange Christmas cards. We shouldn’t expect to receive a Christmas card in the post from someone on benefits or someone on a limited income.

Reciprocity as a beneficial social rule

Reciprocity is a beneficial social rule if we help our neighbours and combine our use of reciprocity with altruism. If we give to others and to our community with no expectation of reward, then we are appreciated and that can lead us to feel better about ourselves and enhance our self-esteem. That can be the greatest reward of all. We can also give our time when we have a lot of time on our hands rather than spending money when that is limited. We can use our free time to help a neighbour or a friend and they will often reciprocate with simple kindness when we need it. Having a friend offer to drive you to the hospital in your time of need is not only convenient but offers social support when you’re anxious and worried. Reciprocity can be worth its weight in gold when you need it.

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