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. 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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  2. 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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  3. jiyah says:

    can u guests what i got for xmas

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  4. 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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  5. 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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  6. thee says:

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