What Did You Get For Christmas Last Year? Introducing the Freakonomics Personal Gift Registry

We need your help for an upcoming Freakonomics Radio segment. It’s about deadweight loss — the economic inefficiency that comes about when, for instance, someone buys you a $50 gift that you value at, say $10. That’s a deadweight loss of $40. Especially in an economy like this one, who wants to spend lots of money on a gift that the recipient doesn’t value?*

Here’s where you come in. We want to gather some data for the radio show, and potentially interview some of you as well. The idea is simple: in the comments section below, please describe some of the past holiday gifts you have received, using the form below. (Feel free to give us data for as many gifts as you can recall.**)

Giver: ____________________
Gift: _____________________
Cost (estimated): ____________
Value (to me): _____________

But wait: we want to give you a gift as well. In order to avoid future deadweight loss, we’re proposing a new Freakonomics Personal Gift Registry. Why should newlyweds and expectant mothers have all the fun when it comes to registering for gifts? Shouldn’t all of us be allowed to let people know what we really want?

So, in addition to filling in your deadweight loss data in the comments section, go ahead and tell the world what you really want this year. List as many gifts as you want; again, here’s a form to cut and paste:

What I want from [GIVER X]: ________
Cost (estimated): ___________________
What [GIVER X] would probably give me otherwise: ________________________
Cost (estimated): ___________________

Now all you have to do is send Grandma this URL, and you’ll never get another reindeer-and-snowman muffler again.

Thanks in advance, and happy everything.

* Thanks to the economist Joel Waldfogel, the holiday season is always a fun time to think about deadweight loss. Waldfogel wrote the seminal 1993 paper “The Deadweight Loss of Christmas,” and last year he published the book Scroogenomics: Why You Shouldn’t Buy Presents for the Holidays. We also touched on the topic in a Times column about gift cards.

** I am sorry this blog doesn’t accommodate an easy fill-in form to handle these data but — well, it doesn’t. Do your best.

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  1. Shaun G says:

    You can use Google Docs to create a simple form. I’ve created one using the questions above:


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  2. Josh says:

    Giver: Best Friend
    Gift: Hockey Tickets
    Cost (estimated): $265 each (2 Tickets)
    Value (to me): $30

    I recieved “on the glass” seats for an NHL game. Unfortunately for the giver, they paid $265 for these tickets. I frequently attend games, and can scalp tickets for $15 each, and just move down to the exact same seats (unsold “on the glass”). Unknowningly they were trying to be extremely nice, but I could have replicated the gift for 1/20th of the cost.

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  3. EE says:

    Tell me about it (I will for obvious reasons stay anonymous):

    Giver: My girlfriend
    Gift: Girly-looking “man-purse”
    Cost (estimated): 150$+
    Value (to me): eh.. 20$

    As for the second part of the question;

    What I want from my girlfriend: NHL 11 videogame
    Cost (estimated): 40$
    What my girlfriend would probably give me otherwise: Something like a man-purse
    Cost (estimated): 150$+

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  4. Alex in Chicago says:

    Giver: Grandmother
    Gift: 3 Sweaters
    Cost (estimated): $150?+? They are wool.
    Value (to me): $0, perhaps negative value because they take up space?

    What I want from Anyone: Cash or Paying for a service I already am paying for
    Cost : Variable
    What Anyone would probably give me otherwise: Irrelevant
    Cost (estimated): More than $0

    I buy everything I need or want when I want or need it if I think its worth more than the money I’m paying for it. I also have cash on hand, thus there is nothing of small enough value that I could receive it as a gift that I value more than the money paid for it.

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  5. John Craig says:

    Giver: Father in Law
    Gift:Black and Decker Sander
    Cost (estimated): $50.00
    Value (to me) %0.00
    It’s been 5 years and I’ve never used it.

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  6. Andreas Moser says:

    That’s why I put up a wishlist of books that I would like to receive: http://andreasmoser.wordpress.com/books-my-wishlist/

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  7. Jacy Breil says:

    Giver: Mother in Law
    Gift: Jewelry (her taste, not mine)
    Cost (estimated): $50 – $75
    Value (to me): $2-3

    I’ve always wondered what the value is for Goodwill (where the bad presents are eventually donated).
    The in-laws could certainly save everyone some time, and donate a check to Goodwill straight away.

    Giver: Father in Law
    Gift: Team Sports Jersey for sport we don’t watch
    Cost (estimated): $50
    Value (to me): $20 – Makes a great Cleaning Rag!

    There’s a level of unintentional value there..

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  8. Clancy says:

    It’s only a deadweight loss if you assume the utility of the giver = the utility of the reciever. In this transation the reciever always comes out ahead, (unless it is a truly awful gift with negative value) How is the giver’s utility measured? is it dependent on the recievers utility? What if the reciever just lies and says they love it? If the giver buys something as a gift I have to assume that they value the act of giving that gift more that the price of the gift. So where’s the loss?

    Personally, I love to get gifts I value less than the price. There are lots of things I would love to have, but not enough to shell out the $150 to buy it. Most of my wedding registry was chosen with this principle in mind. If the value to me is greater than the price, I would have bought it already.
    I think Hammercher Schlemmer is also aware of this principle.

    The best gifts though, are the ones you didn’t realise you would enjoy so much until you got them.

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