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?




Maybe I'm overly-independent, but I find it weird that these people in their 20's and 30's let their parents pay for their vacations. Would dad feel differently if he didn't have to foot the bill for a bunch of financially immature children?


Eh. When my dad's family gets together, they tend to do it someplace cool. If it is someplace more expensive than we would go for vacation independently, my parents tend to chip in. To say thank you I tend to do the harder stuff in their garden. But then, to say thank you my mom makes us baked goodies. We are probably a fairly interconnected family.

In the same way, my Grandparents chipped in for my parent's to do group vacations when they were young adults. If we have kids, I think we would pass on this semi-tradition. This isn't the situation in the article, but there are some situations where parents paying seems to work.


Why is someone in their 20s or 30s going on vacation with their parents? Grow up!


Perhaps those people actually like their parents and their families and enjoy spending time with them?

Whether or not the parents pay for the vacation is an entirely different issue that is dependent on the particulars of that family's situation.


So, in my opinion, the value of getting a present is:
1) knowing someone spent time thinking about you
2) the excitement of receiving a package
3)the value of the gift itself to the recipient

So I've been getting $100 cash from my parents for the past 10 years. Here's how it's worked out

When I was a teenager, they would ask me what I wanted, and I would be indecisive. They just started giving me the cash. I was happy.

When I was 14, I mentioned a sweater I liked in September, but by the time December rolled around, I wasn't interested and had to return it. My mother yelled at me as we returned it, but hey, teenagers are fickle.

When I was 25, they asked what I want, and I said 'socks, underwear, and pj pants' i picked them out online, mom bought them, and it was exciting to open the package, it was nice to get exactly what I wanted

This year, I got cash. No one asked me what I wanted. I pooled it with my other money to buy a drumset (which I really wanted). High value as a thing I wanted, low value as far as a present is concerned



Yep, it's all fun and games until you see what their last will and testament says.


'' if you had to buy T.K. a gift based on his note, what would you get him?''

Someone needs to get him a life.


The real issue to this (besides the author being a 'greedy ingrate') is whether presents are worth what people are willing were willing to pay for them. I used to think all non-money presents were silly economically - if I thought that present was worth the $25 they had spent on it I would have purchased it myself. But then I asked myself how much someone would need to offer me to induce me to sell some of the more meaningful gifts I had received, and that amount is often far higher than the literal price of the good.

A second consideration is that presents allow us to indulge each other when budgets don't allow us to feel good indulging ourselves. Quite often I receive a gift that is worth the sticker price to me but not the combined cost of the sticker price and the guilt together. My friend, in a way, has an advantage in being able to get the gift cheaper than I can (only the dollar cost), making it a great deal for us both



Oh, horrors! What an avaricious family.

I would give the poster a charitable gift to counterbalance his greed ;-)



'I asked for my “share” of the boyfriend/girlfriend pool.'

The parents should have replied "We're spending extra on inducements to provide us with grandchildren. If you want to benefit, get a girlfriend."


I feel sorry for TK's mom. Everyone else may be happier, but I'm sure she's not.


TK, you are a cheap 30 something! Mooching off from your parents all this time. No wonder you do not have a girlfriend.