A Family of Gift-Maximizers

(Photo: Jimmie)

A reader/listener from Oregon named T.K. writes in, having heard us talk about holiday gift-giving in our “Have a Very Homo Economicus Christmas” podcast:

Guys, thought you might be interested in a couple of econ-related oddities from my family at Christmas time. The first occurred this year. I am single and my brother and step-sister are both in relationships. My parents bought gifts for the boyfriend and girlfriend, and once I found out that they were planning to do that, I asked for my “share” of the boyfriend/girlfriend pool. I just wanted to be sure my take was the same as what my brother and his girlfriend, and step-sister and her boyfriend were getting. My parents obliged, so even though I am single, a few more Christmas gifts under the tree for me:) Don’t know how other families handle this issue, but it’s working beautifully in my family.

The second oddity is that my stepdad is quite fond of “buyouts.” Over the last decade, we have tentatively planned eight vacations away from home and executed exactly two of them. Each year, my mom gets really excited about going someplace new — it was Belgium for a while; Hawaii; Bend, Or., just to name a few. The way it works is this: my mom finds a place, my stepdad decides he doesn’t want to go. To get my brother, stepsister, and me on board with not going, he offers us a lump-sum payment. He knows that whatever the vacation, it will cost him two to three times the actual lump sum after we’ve paid for lift tickets, beer, surfing, whatever we dream up to do. It’s hard for people in their 20s and 30s to turn down a lump-sum payment to not go on a vacation, and the buyouts are usually pretty healthy. My friends are extremely envious of the family buyouts, and I’m proud of my family for being economic realists. Cheers to another great year.

How would you like to be a member of T.K.’s family? Do you find his stepfather’s buyouts clever or repugnant? And finally: if you had to buy T.K. a gift based on his note, what would you get him?




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  1. Brian says:

    I would get him whatever his “share” was in coal! What a ridiculously selfish thing to say to your parents. It really isn’t surprising at all that he doesn’t have a girlfriend.

    As far as his stepdad goes, he should just forgo the payments and take his wife on a nice vacation without T.K., that should save some money. Greedy ingrate.

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    • nobody.really says:

      WAIT A MINUTE – don’t you see what’s going on here? Sure, someone’s being greedy – it’s mom and dad!

      Dad: Hey, honey – what do you say to a little vacation to Hawaii?

      Mom: Mmmm, sounds romantic – if only we could leave the kids at home.

      Dad: So let’s leave ’em.

      Mom: But wouldn’t they be hurt if we go off someplace fun and abandon them?

      Dad: I know – Let’s pretend that this trip was all YOUR idea, and that I hate it. I’ll get them to side with me, partly as a favor to me, and partly to get some small compensation. You pout, but give in. Then, later on, I say that you insisted on going — alone if you had to – and I capitulated just to keep you company. We’ll have the time of our lives, and all the while our bratty kids will be laughing about how they skunked us out of some pocket change. Everyone’s happy. Whatdaya say?

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      • Impossibly Stupid says:

        The part you, and apparently at least 9 other people, missed about leaving the kids at home is that they are “people in their 20s and 30s”.

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      • Enter your name... says:

        It doesn’t sound like the mom and stepdad are going, either. It sounds like the stepdad is buying off the kids as a means of preventing the trip entirely.

        After all, if he (or she) wanted a trip by themselves, all they have to do is not mention their plans to the kids until it’s over, or have the courage to say that they want a trip by themselves.

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  2. frankenduf says:

    it may take 2 to tango- even tho the stepdads behavior is reprehensible, there may be a reason why he doesnt gel with the family which may originate from the other members…

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  3. Jim says:

    He sounds like a greedy bas*ard to me. But the only difference between him and me is that he does something about it.

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  4. MikeM says:

    First of all, those aren’t “buyouts” – they’re bribes. I don’t necessarily consider them repugnant, but I don’t understand why his mom tolerates them. If nothing else, she should proffer bribes of her own to get the kids to commit to the vacations.

    I would not want to be part of this family. They seem to treat each other not as family, but as transactors. I grew up with some of this (I paid interest on loans from my dad) but most of it was to teach me to be just and responsible. This, on the other hand, seems to be a family that values corruption and the power of a strong lobbying position.

    I think T.K.’s ideal gift combo is (1) surveillance equipment, and (2) a book on the Watergate scandal so he’ll know how not to get caught by his parents or siblings.

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  5. nobody.really says:

    I’d get T.K a copy of the book, “101 Most Expensive Vacation Destinations!” with an author’s dedication written out to his mother.

    And then I’d ask for a share of the resulting proceeds.

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  6. Jeff says:

    I don’t get the argument for having a “share” equal to that of the other siblings. My parents buy gifts for both me and my boyfriend because they like him and consider him a member of the family, not because we come as a “set” and they’re obliged. He’s not getting something at the expense of me, it’s just an *additional* gift.

    And I value my vacations and travel way *more* than the cost of the trip! No way you could buy those experiences and time with loved ones from me for a bargain…

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    • Chris says:

      So people seem to disapprove of T.K, but as someone who is perpetually single, and poor, I have sometimes resented having to buy five presents for my brother, his wife, and their three kids, while they get away with buying me just the one. I’m not saying I feel I should receive more gifts, but it is one logical solution to the situation.
      (regarding my own situation, yes, ‘group’ presents are an option but leave me feeling like I’m cheating the kids out of what is really a holiday more for them than the grown-ups)

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      • Thalia says:

        I would have had no problem if TK had told his siblings that he was going to get them joint presents. But what he did is whine to his parents (an adult!) that he should get more presents from THEM. How does that compensate for anything?

        If one of my kids did this I would be appalled.

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      • Enter your name... says:

        So get a ‘group’ gift that is aimed at the kids rather than at the parents or the whole family. Consider a board game, for example, or a set of water pistols.

        Alternatively, you can get inexpensive presents. A water pistol, for example, is only going to set you back about $2 each, and I’ve never seen a boy who didn’t like them.

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  7. Kathy says:

    He’s a greedy little opportunist. I wouldn’t buy him anything.

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  8. Steve says:

    I decided to vote against you, mom, even though you were “super excited” about Belgium because the money meant more to me than your feelings.

    It just isn’t Christmas if I don’t receive the dollar equivalent of my siblings AND their plus ones. What a great Christmas carol that sentiment would be. I can’t wait to teach my kids to be this selfish.

    T.K. Keen, I pity you for feeling proud about this.

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