Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Friends get freebies, right?

Hello Polite Readers!

Today's topic is a reader request... How to deal with the expectation of freebies. This is similar to my early post about charity requests, but this time we're dealing with people who think they shouldn't have to pay you because they're family or friends.

It's so frustrating to me because it feels very one-sided. The usual excuse is "Oh, we're such good friends, how could you charge me?" I feel like a good friend wants to support her friend's business. I am always happy to buy things from my friends and I never expect a discount, let alone freebies.

This happens when you're not in business, too. If you're good at something, as a hobby or for your day job, people expect you to do it for them for free. I have friends who crochet and knit who have been asked to make baby blankets for people they don't even know! And of course, as soon as anyone admits to having a job in the computer industry (in any facet of it), they immediately become the go-to guy for everyone's computer problems.

Much like charity, this is an issue where you need to decide where you draw the line. For me, of course I will make my Mom things for free -- she gave birth to me, she can have some earrings to match her new necklace -- and if she wants to buy something from my shop, she gets a discount. The same for my best friend who lets me crash at her place whenever I'm in Phoenix. She cooks me crepes for breakfast and I make her a custom necklace while I wait. Other family members and close friends get discounts, or extra surprises with their orders. And I usually do a bigger discount on custom work than on things that I had to go to the effort of photographing and listing on Etsy.

So decide who you are willing to work for free for, and under what circumstances. For all others, have a speech prepared. Something like this:

I'm sorry, I can't do this for free. Making jewelry (crocheting, fixing computers, practicing law) is my career and the time that I spend on this is time I can't spend on the projects that pay the bills. Because we're so close, though, I'd be happy to do this for half my normal price (the cost of materials, a 20% discount, in return for you doing my yardwork).

The trade is one of my favorite compromises. Sometimes people genuinely can't afford your work but are willing to do something in return. But only offer this if it's something you really need or want. Don't feel bad turning down trade offers for things you're not interested in -- believe me, you will get a lot of them in your life and soon you are bogged down with weird knick-knacks and IOUs for services you'll never use.

Oh, and what if it's not your career? You can use a few different lines:

I'd be happy to make that for you, but I'll need at least $50 for the supplies. Mohair yarn is just so expensive!


I'm sorry, sewing is what I do to relax after work. If I started taking custom orders it would feel too much like a second job.


I'm afraid I don't have time to fix your computer this weekend, but here's the e-mail address of my friend who does that on the side. He's really reliable and his prices are fair.

Don't get guilt-tripped. There is not a single relationship that requires you to make an Irish lace wedding dress to maintain it, and if the other party feels that way, you're probably better off without them. Only take on the projects that make you happy, thus enriching the friendship for both parties.

Are you looking for the right words for a difficult situation? E-mail me at and I'll help!

PS: Due to low letter volume, I will be temporarily switching back to a once a week schedule until at least mid-February. I will continue to update on Wednesdays.


  1. It's especially bad when you say you're a photographer... Suddenly EVERYONE wants you to "take pictures of them" for free. And then there's the whole "Well, will you still charge me if it's on my camera?" Yes, yes I will charge you, because you aren't paying for the *camera*, you're paying for the *person* behind the camera.

    Oh, and the "Hey, can you edit this for me real quick? It'll only take a moment!" They describe a 30 second edit (which, for most friends I'm more than happy to do), but what they actually send you is a 3 hour project with a LIST of demands and alterations.

    The worst was Monday night at a scout meeting when I mentioned to our scoutmaster that I was looking for private tutoring jobs and asked him, if he heard of anyone needing help, if he would direct them toward me. Another assistant scoutmaster overheard and interjected "My kids need help with their math. But, I assume you're expecting to get paid for that?" I replied with, "Yea. I'll cut a break for people I know, but yea." His response, "Yea, well, I can't afford to pay someone for it." Sorry, but just because I'm in your troop and willing to help kids with their homework during/after meetings doesn't mean I'm willing to TEACH them on my own time for FREE. (And especially when you're enough of a jerk to suggest I work with them for free on top of normally being a chauvinistic pig toward me.)

    We're a culture of "what can *I* get for nothing."

    1. Your last line really sums it up! Any skill that you have, someone is going to want you to provide it for free. Bad enough when it's a one-off like a photo edit, but to expect recurring math tutoring for free? Ridiculous.