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.

Leave A Comment

Comments are moderated and generally will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive.

 

COMMENTS: 78


  1. Shaun G says:

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

    https://spreadsheets.google.com/viewform?formkey=dEpfN0pIMkxndEliNmlwczE3TWstZmc6MQ

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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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  9. AR says:

    Giver: Mother-in-Law
    Gift: Mary Englebreit sewing kit
    Cost (estimated): $25
    Value (to me): $0; I donated it to goodwill the next month

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  10. Bo says:

    Giver: Grandmother
    Gift: Rent the Musical on DVD
    Cost (estimated): $15
    Value (to me): -$7.25 (minimum wage), because I had to spend an hour finding somebody who actually wanted it so that people wouldn’t make fun of me for having a musical

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  11. clairification says:

    Giver: Husband
    Gift: Jar of Baconnaise
    Cost (estimated): $5
    Value (to me): At least $20 – not only is it vegan, kosher bacon-flavoured goodness, but I get tons of mileage out of telling everyone what wacky gifts my husband gives!

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  12. Mark says:

    I realised I had started doing this to other people, so now I started using sites like yournextpresent and amazon to buy them a book or a dvd they will actually like rather than the random stuff I got before.

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  13. 164 says:

    Cash or gift cards = almost no DWL
    anything else almost all DWL

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  14. Nick says:

    Giver: Wife
    Gift: “Memento” VHS tape
    Cost (estimated): $3.50
    Value (to me): $0

    She thought she was getting a really good deal on a DVD when she bought the movie online. She was a little surprised when it arrived at our home. We don’t have a VHS player so had no way to watch it.

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  15. Jeremy says:

    Don’t you feel that by prefacing the question in the manner that you did, you will receive a skewed result? People know what you are looking for and therefore are looking for situations in which deadweight losses occur and most likely the most atrocious examples of deadweight loss. Is this your intention?

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  16. Diana says:

    Amazon has a “Wish List” feature, which anticipates your idea of registering for gifts. The giftee can set the list up so that they don’t know when an item has been purchased (but if someone else tries to purchase the same item, they will be alerted that it has already been bought).

    Amazon even allows you to add items from other retailers (using a “Universal Wish List” button), so you are not limited to items on their site.

    I use it for my gift list each year, and haven’t had to regift anything for ages!

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  17. Jimbino says:

    This is a good idea. How about extending the survey to include the deadweight losses in:

    Farm subsidies
    Public education
    Municipal parks
    National parks and forests

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  18. nat day says:

    Giver: Mom
    Gift: Kitchen Cart
    Cost: ~~75
    Value: 0 (stored in crawl space along with previous year’s knife set, and previous year’s toaster.

    Keep telling her not to buy anything, but she insists. Plus, she can’t afford it which drives me crazy.

    We have a household full of stuff and are moving toward family xmas vacations instead of presents. No more stuff!

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  19. Hunter Gardner says:

    Here’s something interesting: I can not remember one, not ONE, present I got for Christmas just last year. Well that’s a lie, I do remember one–it is the same present my sister has given me for the past few years: my favorite rum-flavored cake that my father’s neighbor use to make.

    Before she passed away, she left the recipe with my sister. It is delicious, but also has a large amount of value. A cake within itself shouldn’t have much value, I mean it is literally a one-shot, consumable good… I eat it and don’t get another one until next year. But what makes the cake special is that it reveals the true sentiment of gifting in the first place: it really is the thought that counts. Emotional value > Monetary Value.

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  20. CC says:

    Giver: Husband
    Gift: Book – Biography of a photographer I admire
    Cost (estimated): $25
    Value (to me): Either $0 since I like getting my books for free at the library, or, $100′s he paid attention to one small comment in October.

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  21. Tristan says:

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

    Ok, now what I want to know is why would reindeer or snowman need mufflers? Can I get them at Meinkee? And is Grandma running a racket, I doubt that both reindeers and snowmen would use the same model muffler, seems like she’s selling (or giving) cheap knock offs!

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  22. Tabby says:

    Giver: Sister-in-law
    Gift: Picture frame
    Cost (estimated): 30 – 50
    Value (to me): 0
    Our family finally did away with exchanging gifts by most adults. For 10 years we got $50.00 worth of useless gifts for the most part until 2008. I guess that was one good thing about the recession. For the kids, I give them visa gift cards so they can buy what they want. Why waste time and money getting gifts that no one likes.

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  23. Penelope says:

    Giver: best friend
    Gift: Magnetic notepad with chickens on it
    Value to giver: $7?
    Value to me: $52. It’s charming, sits on my fridge, is a cheery thing to see first thing in the morning. Worth at least a dollar for each week since Christmas.

    Plus: value of seeing it wrapped up in Christmas paper and getting to open it. $10.

    Plus: knowing that my friend saw this and thought of me (because of very old joke about chickens) and bought it for me. $15.

    Total value: $77.

    I’m a big fan of Christmas. Even when the first part of the arithmetic doesn’t work out, the second two elements — opening a present wrapped in paper, knowing I was thought of — always pan out.

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  24. Tristan says:

    Giver: Brother in Law
    Gift: Vintage cast iron skillets
    Cost (estimated): $30
    Value (to me): At least $80 (what they would cost to replace if bought on eBay, but I would gladly pay much more).

    I usually tell people not to get me anything, or to give a gift to charity in my name because I believe that most gifts are terribly wasteful due to the huge deadweight loss. But this gift from last year (one of the few physical gifts I got, and the only one I remember) was an excelent example of what makes a good gift:

    1. I wouldn’t have gotten them for myself. The cast iron pans appear to be basically identical to the new cast iron skillet I already owned, but once I used them I realized that they truly “don’t make them like they used to.” This is something that I get great value from (my value >> replacement cost), but I wouldn’t have known about unless someone gave them to me.

    2. He got a good deal on them, better then I could’ve gotten by searching online. Even if I had paid him back for what they cost, the discount he was able to get through family connections would’ve been a good gift.

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  25. AaronS says:

    Giver: Wife
    Gift: Louis L’Amour Short Stories
    Value to Giver: $24?
    Value to me: Priceless. Why? Because my wife is, without question, the BEST gift-giver in the world. She always finds that thing that I will cherish. And so, for the past several years, each Christmas I received a Louis L’Amour volume of short stories. I still have them. I still read them. I will pass them on to my son.

    Giver: My Son
    Gift: A card that says “I love you, Daddy.”
    Value to Giver: I’m sure he thinks it valuable.
    Value to Me: Again, utterly priceless. You can’t buy it. It’s worth zero to anyone else. The perfectly customized gift.

    I have found that when we limit our Christmas giving to a total of, say, $200 (which is about a tenth of many people’s budget), it forces us to buy more thoughtfully, etc. Or at least it does with my wife. For me–I just wait until the last minute, go find some jewelry, and blow the budget to pieces.

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  26. Snarkinator says:

    Giver: wife
    Gift: binoculars
    Cost: $230
    Value: -$30
    I spent numerous calls trying to get the vendor to exchange the binocs for a camera; they agreed to it on the first phone call but then it was “out of stock” or a higher price for three months, until I finally got a refund (minus restocking and shipping) instead and we bought the camera locally.

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  27. Tristan says:

    Giver: Brother, Friends, Family
    Gift: Used (read) books
    Cost (estimated): $12 on average
    Value (to me): $25 on average

    I was trying to think if there were any other gifts from any years that were “worthwhile” (there was no deadweight loss), and the one consistent answer was books, but only books that the giver had actually read. Here’s why:

    1. The only way to tell if a book is good is to read it, reviews may be a good guide, but I’ve hated some books that got 5 stars on Amazon. If someone gives me a book that they’ve read I’m benefitting from that sunk cost, they’ve already gone through the trouble of figuring out if a book is worth reading for me, and a good book is worth much more than an average book.

    2. They’re also saving me the cost in time/hassel of going to get the book, which unlike most presents is a sunk cost for them, they had to do it already so they could read it, they don’t need to re-buy it to give it to me.

    Looking at this example, and my previous one, it seems like all the best gifts I’ve gotten have involved a sunk cost and/or an information advantage. Granted, they could share the information advantage by just giving me a recomendation, but by making it a gift is a powerful signaling action and makes it much more likely I will make use of the information.

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  28. MA says:

    Giver: Uncle & Cousin
    Gift: lap desk (pbteen.com)
    Cost (estimated):$80
    Value (to me): >$200?
    Ever since I started college it has been a godsend and the best study tool! I don’t go anywhere without it. I hate studying in the library and this makes studying on the couch, in bed, etc. simply and comfy! I take it with me when I am gone on summer programs, exchange programs, everything–and now I give them as graduation gifts, too.

    Giver: Parents
    Gift: weird army-looking Life is Good messenger bag
    Cost (estimated): $40?
    Value (to me): 0
    It stayed in the trunk of my car for two years before I found someone who had a use for it.

    Giver: Brother
    Gift: Gray’s Anatomy anatomy textbook
    Cost (estimated): $25
    Value (to me): $40- it has been a very useful reference book and it was very thoughtful, considering I had not mentioned any want or need for it.

    Giver: Grandmother
    Gift: Necklace and earrings
    Cost (estimated): $40
    Value (to me): $5 – have worn the earrings maybe once..in front of her..her style not mine!

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  29. Navneet V says:

    What I want from Mom: A nook
    Cost:$149
    What Mom will probably give : $20 and a ” Even though we’ve been celebrating Christmas with you for 14 years we don’t celebrate christmas, were hindu,” speech
    Cost: $20 and 20 minutes of the day

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  30. Eric M. Jones says:

    Giver: Dad, who otherwise had his faults….
    Gift: Eight weeks of private self-defense lessons with Bruce Tegner (a famous self-defense teacher) when I was a physically-bullied skinny16 year-old nerd.
    Cost (estimated): $1600 in 1963 money. A huge amount!
    Value (to me): Infinite. I was never bullied again. Ever.

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  31. Brad says:

    Assuming non-poor, non-child gift receiver…. the ideal purpose of a gift is to give them something that they would not think to try to get for themselves. Something unexpected that they will end up loving. This is a high risk, but high reward proposition. At it’s best the reward expands your horizons and exposes you to something you wouldn’t have thought to get for yourslef

    It’s just that gamble that SHOULD be a gift (in my opinion). It requires actual thought, and it won’t always pay off… but once in a while it does. And that payoff is priceless.

    This is the same problem I have with TIVO. With TIVO my life is made much easier and I can choose to watch whatever I want whenever I want and never endure a commercial. But at the cost that I will never again stumble on to a great show by accident that I wouldn’t otherwise have known about or sought out myself.

    Our limitless, on-demand society limits us to what we can think of to demand.

    Stick that in your 10 key. :)

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  32. Emmi says:

    Giver: Sister
    Gift: Long winter coat (that was her size & colors)
    Value to Giver: At least $75
    Value to Me: Zero, since it was 2X too large and flamboyant colors like orange, pink and blue (I wear pastels, mostly greens, umber, plum and gray – and never together).

    My boyfriend has a good laugh every holiday, watching me feign happiness while my sister tries it on in front of us, twirling around and saying, “I’d certainly wear it”!

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  33. Michelle says:

    Giver: Half-Brother
    Gift: night lights and a candle
    Cost: $5 + shipping so up to $15
    Value (to me): les than one dolar

    Seriously, my brother gave me three night lights and a scented candle in a package. I got his kids a basketball and a Lakers jersey, but he sends me random crap. I don’t even dorming for college, so this was the worse gift ever. SOCKS would have been better!

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  34. Theresa M. says:

    Giver: Then-boyfriend
    Gift: Duran Duran board game from the 80s
    Cost (estimated): $10
    Value (to me): $1000 – I heart Duran Duran, he found the game at a specialty shop, and even though I have never found anyone that wanted to play it with me, I still love it.

    Giver: husband
    Gift: New wedding band with diamonds.
    Cost (estimated): $700
    Value (to me): $5000 – Because it’s beautiful and my husband noticed that my original ring was getting too small for my finger as I got older. He didn’t say that was the reason, which was even better. He just told me that he wanted me to have a prettier ring.

    Giver: friend
    Gift: clothes made from “organic cotton”
    Cost (estimated): $150
    Value (to me): $20 – Honestly, the clothes have no style and are awful. But I can never find a way to tell her to stop picking out clothes for me, so she sends me something from the same company EVERY YEAR.

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  35. Tony Pearson says:

    What I wanted from my Mom: I asked for a brick to hold my side door open. This is a spring loaded door for fire reasons, so everyone in my community has a brick to hold open when bringing in groceries from the car. Some are painted, others covered in knit “sweaters”. My mom paints ceramics and has her own kiln, so I thought this was a reasonable request.

    Cost (estimated): _$5__________________
    What my Mom gave me instead:
    She found an old burnt blackened red brick, the kind with three holes that had grey cement globs sticking out of each hole. It was not what I was hoping for, but does the job, and is certainly a conversation piece every time a friend or neighbor asks why I have such an ugly brick, I give them the story.
    ________________________
    Cost (estimated): __$0_________________

    I use Delicious to track things that I want for myself, and remove them when I buy them, so I found this a convenient way to send out my “wish list” to others for all occasions throughout the year:

    http://www.delicious.com/az990tony/to-buy

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  36. Laura says:

    My partner and I post gifts we would like to receive on http://www.wishpot.com/. We also share our wishpot list with family members. It significantly reduces unwanted gifts.

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  37. BigD says:

    Gift 1:
    Giver: Husband
    Gift: heated car seat cover
    Paid: ~$60
    Value: Initially: $0. Then it got cold, and my bum got warmed and the value went to at least $60

    Gift 2:
    Giver: Husband
    Gift: perfume
    Paid: $50
    Value: -$3.00 to pay for the Tylenol I needed to aid the headache it gave me

    Gift 3:
    Giver: Me
    Reciever: Sister
    Gift: Two grape vine reindeer lawn ornaments with white lights
    Paid: $10 at Yard sale
    Value: To me: $50 as I laughed my rear off at how tacky they would look in front of her new house;
    To Sis: $120 that she saved from buying them herself becacuse she didn’t get the joke
    To Me, Part 2: $30 after I realized I could’ve resold them on Craig’s List for a profit!

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  38. Jamie says:

    Giver: My Mom
    Gift: Ipod Classic
    Estimated Value: 200$?
    Value to Me: 20$ (this is what I would have paid for it, if I was going to buy one myself)

    Does you guys think the way this question is worded will influence readers only to write about the gifts they received that they didn’t value? I could have just as easily given you data that looked like this:

    Giver: My Mom
    Gift: my grandmother’s silver pendant
    Estimated Value: It would probably go for 40$ at a pawn shop (my opportunity cost for keeping it)
    Value to Me: 250$ (what I would pay to get it back, if I needed to)

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  39. BW says:

    I received two shirts last year:
    Giver: monther-in-law
    Gift: shirt
    Cost (estimated): $200
    Value (to me): >$200 (mom-in-law went shopping with wife; wife has excellent taste and knows my tastes, therefore I love the shirt and will likely wear it out)

    Giver: mom
    Gift: shirt
    Cost (estimated): $60
    Value (to me): $0 (I don’t like the shirt, but never returned it because of the hassle; will give to goodwill and perhaps get a small tax deduction, barely worth the hassle)

    This year:

    What I want from Mother-in-Law: Money
    What they would probably give me otherwise: shirts that I may or may not value
    Problem: I am unlikely to receive the cost of the shorts in cash. If I asked for cash, Mom-in-Law would likely give me a gift certificate instead, for alower amount, and I’d be forced to buy clothes. If i insisted on cash, I’d likely get an even lower amount (e.g. a $100 bill) and she would not feel good about it. There is a strong emotional component; she really will enjoy picking me out a shirt and it gives her an excuse to go shopping. So, if she gave me a gift certificate, she woudl feel bad, and I would feel bad, so we’d all lose on the emotional scale.

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  40. m3kw says:

    Giver: Sister and her husband
    Gift: Sweater from Tommy Hilflinger
    Estimated Cost: 40
    Value to me: 40
    Question:
    What do you mean value to me? If I estimated that it costs 40, it’s 40 to me. If I said it’s worth 0 to me, it doesn’t mean anything to you because I could be estimate that totally incorrectly based on my feelings, but not actual market value if I were to put it on a yard sale.

    What I want from Giver: Magazine subscription.
    What Giver would give me otherwise: Clothes
    Cost estimated:40

    Yes, they’d get me that because is easy and many sales.

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  41. robbie says:

    Giver: family friend
    Gift: 47 piece set of christmas china
    Cost (estimated): $150
    Value (to me): -$20

    Not only did my wife and I never take this out of the box, we moved it with us to 3 different houses, taking up valuable storage space before taking it to goodwill 4 years later.

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  42. Steph says:

    Giver: Friend living in Germany
    Gift: Keel’s Simple Diary
    Cost (estimated): $10 + shipping, so maybe $15-20 in total

    At first I thought it was a regular blank journal, then I started flipping through the pages and instantly fell in love with it. It’s disarming, playfully thought-provoking, and imagined by people whose streams of consciousness are just as random as mine are. Now that’s hard to find. Shouldn’t have expected less from my friend!

    Value (to me): $20 + hassle of going to the post office + standing in potentially ridiculous line at the post office + making me ponder my values on a regular basis = priceless… almost… but probably more like $150.

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  43. Jacib says:

    Giver: [it was in a Yankee Swap]
    Gift: Starbucks mug
    Cost (estimated): probably about 15 lira (about 10 dollars)
    Value (to me): It is something that I would never buy and was more useful to me than anything else in that Yankee Swap, and certainly more useful to me than the second-hand erotic novel that I bought had on the street and which I had donated to the Yankee swap. So even though I would not personally be willing to pay that much money for a Starbucks mug I would rarely use, it probably was worth the 3 or 4 lira spent on the novel. I have no idea how much value anyone extracted from the erotic novel.

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  44. Jeanne says:

    My husband and I celebrated our 30th anniversary this year, and from our very first Christmas together we made out our Christmas Lists to Santa, and we have always received the gifts we want (and depending on the year, sometimes they were the gifts we needed). When our daughter was old enough to express herself, she also composed her letter to Santa; she is now 25 and still prepares her letter to Santa. We do not necessarily receive everything that is on our list, but what we do receive is exactly what we want. We usually throw in a few small surprises, creating the best of both worlds. We would do the same thing with my mother when she was alive. This type of organization has always left us more time to enjoy the season, our friends and each other, as well as more time to deal with holiday issues that are more complicated.

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  45. DebP says:

    Giver: Sister
    GIft: Burt’s Bee’s bag of multiple lotions, lipbalm, nail file, scrubber, etc.
    Cost: $90
    Value: $15

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  46. Scott says:

    The benefit from receiving a gift isn’t the gift itself. The gift is merely a signal that the giver knows me well enough to approximate what I want. That is, it’s a signal on the value of the relationship. This is why many people consider gift cards inappropriate, because it sends the signal that the giver doesn’t know the receiver, and the relationship is poor.

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  47. Michelle says:

    A few years ago my in-laws came to visit us in London from France. My brother-in-law complained constantly about English weather, water, food, our home – everything!! He was particularly upset about the fact that we didn’t have a coffeemaker so he bought me a coffee press. I do not drink coffee so unfortunately the gift hasn’t been used in 2 years.

    Giver: My brother-in-law
    Gift: Coffee press
    Cost (estimated): ?30 – ?40 (approx)
    Value (to me): ?0

    What I want from GOD: children
    Cost (estimated): PRICELESS

    As parents, we’ve struggled to have children for several years and just hope and pray that God will bless us with two in the new year.

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  48. Francis Power says:

    Giver: My family
    Gift: Thanksgiving best wishes
    Cost (estimated): Nil
    Value (to me): Priceless

    I find christmas commercial, distasteful and crude, and I refuse to engage in it, give or accept presents.

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  49. AL says:

    I thought Freakonomics was sucking all the fun out of Christmas with this stupid survey. Having read some of the comments, I see people have been ruining Christmas for themselves. “I’d rather get cash or gift cards”!? Grinches…

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  50. Shannon says:

    Giver: Aunt
    Gift: Large smelly candle
    Cost (estimated): $25
    Value (to me): -$10.17

    This candle takes up 0.01% of my floor space so 0.0001 x $1190 x 12 months = $1.50

    I also look at it several times per week and regret having it, so 5 sec/look x 1hr/3600sec x 3 looks/wk x 52 weeks/year x $40/hr = $8.67

    $1.50 + $8.67 = $10.17 lost

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  51. Kel says:

    My family’s taken to maintaining online wish lists so that the cost and values on both ends are roughly equal. Really, it seems to me like this is the best route in a lot of cases. People nowdays tend to have pretty divergent hobbies–sure, I know that my brother wants stuff for his pet vehicle, my dad wants tools, and my mom wants cooking stuff and books. Knowing enough about those areas to know what to get them, let alone what they *need*, is difficult. My parents know that I like computer stuff, but if they tried buying me hardware, there’s a good chance it would be something I can’t use or already have. After a couple of years of gifts that were 80% misses, we started just using explicit wish lists. Cuts down on the deadweight handily, but also reduces the surprise a little.

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  52. Sherry Friend says:

    Here is a reverse dead weight gift (a “live” weight gift?)

    Giver: Friend
    Gift: Tiny calendar
    Value to giver: $.50
    Value to me: $5.00

    Gain to the economy $4.50.

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  53. gaw says:

    What a bunch of brats! I am so glad I don’t spend the holidays with you. A gift registry for Christmas? Oh please, y’all should be getting lumps of coal.

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  54. John Ruhe says:

    Giver: _Parents
    Gift: __new skateboard
    Cost (estimated): _$107
    Value (to me): Practically priceless.

    i had broken my previous board, and did not have enough money to buy a new one, and skateboarding is half my life. best gift ever

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  55. Kel says:

    @53
    When buying gifts for people who live halfway across the country and have interests that you don’t know the first thing about, a ‘gift registry for Christmas’ starts to make good sense.

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  56. I wonder says:

    Let me start with an anti-DWL example:

    Giver: World’s best sister
    Gift: Fishing out a spoon I’d dropped behind the stove
    Cost (estimated): $0, less than ten minutes
    Value (to me): $50 (cost of hiring someone to do this and/or trip to chiropractor if I moved it myself)

    (Yes, she wrapped it up as a present and put it under the tree!)

    Now for the DWL example:

    Giver: Non-profit organization
    Gift: Six-inch tall ceramic tchotke
    Cost (estimated): $20
    Value (to me): Plus $5 (symbolic value of being appreciated); minus $25 (hassle of dusting for the last ten years)

    What I want from anyone: More hooks that fit the utensil bar over the stove
    Cost (estimated): $5-10
    What would probably give me otherwise: Winter gloves or the wrong kind of books
    Cost (estimated): $20

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  57. Brandon Warner says:

    Hey – Why not use SimpleRegistry to avoid deadweight loss gifts? Worked well for us.

    http://www.simpleregistry.com

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  58. JBert says:

    The first year that I was alone in December I put aside anything I bought for myself in the last month or two before 12/24, wrapped it, and put it under the tree. I invited a friend for dinner and said to bring any presents people had given her. Turned out we each had 7 packages. At the end of the evening the room was full of paper, and I was fascinated to see how much fun it had been–a realization of my childhood memory/wish. I got a bunch of presents, all of which I liked very much (including the large tin of “Danish” butter cookies from my guest which I certainly didn’t need (being a Dane who bakes them from Grandma’s recipe)–I have the extra large beautiful tin to this day and use it every year to store the cookies I make and send to various.

    I’ve never repeated the event described above, but it was liberating to learn that I could meet my own needs–that it wasn’t necessary to con someone into reading my mind–and/but I also really really enjoyed the gift that was so beautifully well-intentioned but that I didn’t need.

    I continue to have a dinner party at my house on 12/24–it’s hard-wired in me to do that, although, being a vegetarian, there is no turkey. I follow Ann Thomas’s recipes for traditional Polish Christmas Eve in The Vegetarian Epicure. Although I’m now a Buddhist, there is a big (fake–same one each year) decorated tree, and Santa has sneaked little presents under it for each of the guests, which we open after dinner. We all seem to have a great time. Or maybe they are humoring me. Let’s say: I always have a great time.

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  59. Lance S says:

    Oddly enough…

    Giver: Mom
    Gift: The Bogleheads’ guide to investing
    Cost (from receipt found in book): $22
    Value to me: About $3

    (Derived by taking the raiot of pages that were new information/ useful vs. stuff that I already knew due to working in and studying finance for 10 years…and multiplying by price)

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  60. Michael C. says:

    No such thing as deadweight when the store from which it was purchased has a return/exchange policy and you can find a more favorable substitute.

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  61. Nathan Hodge says:

    Giver: Sister
    Gift: Go-Ape tickets (half-day outdoors assault course session)
    Cost (estimated): ?50 (approx $75)
    Value (to me): ?10 (approx $20)

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  62. old guy says:

    what I want:
    a divorce
    cost:
    $500.00, give or take
    what I’ll get:
    more grief
    Cost:
    possible abandonment

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  63. Kae G says:

    Giver: Every family member except hubby
    Gift: Clothes for my two kids
    Cost: $5-30
    Value to me: about 50% less

    I know clothes are the traditional “go to” holiday gift. But after back to school shopping in August and birthdays in October (for both of them), I have all I need til spring. Plus, both my kids grow like weeds, so if I do get warm weather clothes they may or may not fit when the time comes. And returning them to the store is a hassle as I’m usually past the 90-day point, if I get a gift receipt at all.

    What I want from everybody: CA$H
    Cost to giver: cost of a gift card minus the loading charge and driving to the store to get it
    What they would probably get me otherwise: gift cards to Bed Bath & Beyond (don’t really shop there), GAP (not there either), or AMEX gift cards that have like a $5 loading fee.
    Cost to giver: whatever dollar amount they put on plus loading fee and cost of driving to store

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  64. Rudolph says:

    Wishlist v. no gift giving and buying items for yourselves:

    If my brother and I exchange $20 items from our wishlists, even though we both get exactly what we wanted and spent the same amount, there is a deadweight loss because of the costs of looking at each other’s lists (time lost when compared to buying our own gifts for ourselves) and then somehow acquiring the items. But since people do it anyway, there must be some inherent value in the act of giving that increases the value of the gift received for each of us to >($20 + Cost in acquisition time). Otherwise we wouldn’t bother. I think this explains the wishlist thing, however, I still think thoughful gifts that show how well you know another person and how much you care about them are the best gives that increase utility for both parties. This is why an item you want that is bought for you gives you more satisfaction that one you buy yourself: the giver benefits from the act of giving and you benefit from the value of the item + the value of knowing someone cares about you.

    Giver: my brother
    Gift: A Man Without a Country, Collected Essays by Kurt Vonnegut
    Cost: $22
    Value to me: $10 (I would not have bought this particular title for myself, even though it is my favorite author. I probably couldn’t resell it for much more than that – I wouldn’t hurt his feelings by asking to return it) + about $500 in emotional benefit (sorry I don’t believe in ‘priceless’) because this was the first time my brother had EVER given me any kind of gift, and he knew enough to select a book by my favorite author
    = total value to me of $550

    So I made out like a bandit after receiving an item that I didn’t even want! It really is the thought that counts.

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  65. Anonymous says:

    Giver: brother & his girlfriend
    Gift: italian cookbook
    Cost (estimated): 30
    Value (to me): 0

    What I want from them: nothing, as they are broke.
    Cost (estimated): 0
    What they would probably give me otherwise: another useless cookbook, or some jewelry I will dislike.
    Cost (estimated): 30-40

    Every year I say “Let’s not do gifts this year!” and every year they say “okay!”… then a couple of weeks later, I hear “Let’s do gifts. Come on, it’s Christmas!” Then I get something I don’t want or need, and I give them a nice restaurant gift certificate which they either 1) lose or 2) is still hanging on their refrigerator by the next Christmas.

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  66. P says:

    I use Amazon’s wishlist as a personal registry, and I also use it to help suggest age-appropriate toys for my kids.

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  67. Steve says:

    Giver: my girlfriend
    Gift: Amazon kindle
    Value (estimated):?109 – no wireless
    Value to me: Through free amazon classics and torrents I probably have well over ?100 pounds worth of books on it. Add to this the ability to read pdf articles on the bus etc. It’s well over ?200.

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  68. BW says:

    I’m going to buy everyone Scroogenomics for Christmas.

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  69. Barbara says:

    Gift: Vitamix Blender
    Giver: Friend
    Cost $700+
    Value to me=$700+

    Giver: _Parents___________________
    Gift: ____Gym Membership_________________
    Cost (estimated): ___$70/month_________
    Value (to me): ____Priceless!_________

    WHAT I WANT:
    Help paying for education (TUITION!!!!), books, running shoes, grocery gift card, head phones, lap top, AMAZON or CHAPTERS gift card, or a Nikon/Canon camera! But mostly help with paying for University/School/Rent! If anyone would like to help donate it would be very much appreciated! :)

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  70. jacob lesch says:

    Giver: _Aunt___________________
    Gift: _gift card to barnes and noble____________________
    Cost (estimated): _25___________
    Value (to me): _5____________

    i can usually get books used for about 60-70% off, but in this case i had to buy full priced books and make sure i didn’t spend more than $26 or $27. plus i normally shop online at work, and this time i had to go to the store so $5 value of a $25 gift card is a high estimate.

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  71. Sarah says:

    Giver: Parentts
    Gift: car repair kit, specific to my car, extra head/tail lamps, tool kit, spark plugs…
    Cost (estimated): $100
    Value (to me): priceless, best gift i have ever recieved because they are looking out for me ( i do a lot of long road trips) and now i know i have the basics to fix any small problems when i’m away from home. plus it wasn’t a storebought version, my parents purchased everything thinking of my car and my needs… i love it!!

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  72. Lori says:

    I heard your interview tonight on NPR tonight and wanted to pass on a tip for letting those around you know what you’d really like for the holidays. Amazon has a wish list that you can make public. All you have to do is drop a few hints. I got my sister exactly what she wanted for her birthday instead of the usual make up kit. I never would have guess she wanted yellow towels and oven mitts for her kitchen. Not very exciting to me but was something she would never have bought on her own but really wanted/needed. No dead waste!

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  73. Liam says:

    Giver: Mum
    Gift: Sony ebook Reader
    Cost (estimated): $250
    Value (to me): $400 +, the amount of books available to free is astonishing and it has saved me money on many subsequent purchase. Didn’t know much about them before I got one but it ended up being a perfect gift.

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  74. jiyah says:

    can u guests what i got for xmas

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  75. Eva says:

    I don’t think that’s deadweight loss. DWL occurs in market transactions, whereas gifts are more likely transfers, i.e. no (additional) resources are expended. I guess you’re saying somehow the WTP of the recipient is what matters, but I disagree. They’re not the one making the choice. When I buy a gift, I only care that I spend just enough to let the other person know I care, so I choose gifts they can easily price. That way, they know exactly how much they’re worth to me. How much they value the gift itself is not my problem.

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  76. Camini says:

    Giver: Best Friend
    Gift: A Goal Planner
    Value to Giver: $9.99 (That’s what they paid for it)
    Value to Me: $500+ … this got me seriously thinking about my goals and I ended up buying them for a bunch of my friends who were freaking out about graduating college at the time.
    If you’re in the same boat, I’d recommend coughing up the 10 bucks and getting one from AGoalPlanner.com

    Very interesting to see how dead-weight loss applies to holiday gifts. I supposed in my condition the gift actually created a positive externality? Haven’t taken economics in a while but is this the correct term?

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  77. thee says:

    I’ve gone ahead and bookmarked http://freakonomics.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/11/30/what-did-you-get-for-christmas-last-year-introducing-the-freakonomics-personal-gift-registry/ at Digg.com so my pals is able to see it as well. I merely utilised
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