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. 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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  2. 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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  3. 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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  4. 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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  5. 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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  6. 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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  7. 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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  8. 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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