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. 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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  2. 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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  3. 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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  4. 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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  5. 164 says:

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

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  6. 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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  7. 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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  8. 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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