Gift Guide 1

Today, I'm figuring out Christmas. I'm making a list of what everybody needs and passing subtle notes to Grandparents. I've got to search for things for the kids, aunts and uncles, cousins, grandparents, and the bus driver to takes Ian to his school. We've also got to keep to a very strict budget. We're driving on fumes until Steve's bonus shows up in February.

I went to the mall yesterday and was completely overwhelmed. I haven't shopped in a few months, so I'm out of practice. Everything looks the same. I'm going to spend a few hours today pre-shopping online. I'll post highlights. I'll be adding lots of links to products on Amazon. If you have to buy something on Amazon, please do it through one of my links. I'll get a small kickback. Thanks!

Iphone-3g-bla Jonah reeeeeally wants a cell phone for Christmas. He's feeling left out from the volley of witty texts that his friends send to each other. "FART LOL LOL" "xljfdsajf asdfj adsjfa sdlfj a" "yur ugly."  But this is what he wants more than anything, so I think we're caving in. The phone will also help me track him down on snowy days, when I'm also dealing with Ian's school bus. It would be nice to tell him to wait under the tree in front of the school and I'll be there in three minutes.

The other kids at school have the Alias2. It's surprisingly expensive. I think we're going with the $99 iPhone for him and the $199 model for me. I would like to be Twittering at ShopRite and watching TED talks, while waiting for Ian to get out of his social skill class. Steve thinks I'm insane, but he loves me anyway.

There are cool $5 and under add-ons that will make great stocking stuffers, including this Case-Mate Screen Protector.

40 thoughts on “Gift Guide 1

  1. Do you pay for separate monthly contracts for each iPhone, or just one flat fee? (Good lord, apparently I’m too lazy to try to figure this out myself, even when it only involves opening another browser window.)

  2. Always interesting to see what other people’s “norms” are for holiday shopping. We are not “driving on fumes” for once this year, with no major income changes, final payments made on both cars in 2009, and one child moving from (expensive) daycare to (free) public school.
    We asked the Raggirls to make a list of eight things they wanted for Hannukah, farmed out a few choice items to the grandparents, and supplemented as needed. Not seeing anything outrageous on the lists, we just bought everything else on their lists without any imposed budgetary constraints, and did not spend $99 per child — the total outlay on our part was a little under $250 combined for the three of them.
    I also know that they will be getting $50 gifts from relatives distant enough that if MY kids are getting $50 each, there’s got to be at least twenty other children getting than much or more.
    I get the sense that there are huge discrepancies in what different families — even from the same socioeconomic categories — view as a “normal” amount to spend for the holidays.

  3. Yeah, I was going to ask Laura how much the family plan cost, and then decided that I should look it up myself🙂.
    We’re starting to think about mobile phones for our daughter (turning 9 soon), in order to keep track of her but I don’t think she could really use an iphone (she kind of wants one, but not really really, only more of a statusy thing).
    You will indeed use your iPhone while waiting for kids to get out of classes. I’ve had one for a long time now (an early adapter), and having it makes waiting in the sideline to pick them up bearable, ’cause you can always read something, look at something, watch something. I get very irritated when the phone doesn’t have a signal (and I have the old version, so my signal isn’t as good).

  4. The athletic girls down the street have their cell phones tucked into arm bands. I believe one of the girls walked into a pool and wrecked a cell phone, but it seems like generally a good idea for active children (and adults, actually).
    We gave one grandma a list and are probably going to get cash from the others. We are giving individual presents to kids in the extended family, but are making digitally-edited photobooks from Walgreen for the adults.
    Here’s what we’re getting for the four of us:
    –Bee and Flower soaps for me
    –a Tolkien book for husband
    –a hand-me-down camera for son (the kids are starting to contribute their work to our photo albums)
    –Life of Birds DVDs for daughter (both kids will like it)
    For our family Christmas in Texas, I’ll buy some stuff I don’t usually get: fruit cake (from a nationally famous bakery), smoked salmon, Aplets and Cotlets, and some Czech pastries. We’ll make a ferociously expensive trip to the West Coast after Christmas and the kids will get to participate in my extended family’s traditional ski trip, C for only the second time, D for his first time. I’m not going to ski (too expensive with clothes, rentals, lift ticket and it’s been so long since I’ve skied that I’d be afraid to hurt myself without doing lessons), but I plan to divide my free time during the day (while the kids are in ski school, etc.) between the hotel gym and some local hot chocolate provider. Believe it or not, a 5 or 6-hour-long Greyhound ride is part of the cost-cutting plan. We’ll do that between grandma’s and the ski area, and then do it again to get from the ski area to grandma’s. Crazy? I suppose so.

  5. I feel extravagant now. Though my son (14) has a cheap pay as you go cell phone. And my daughter (10) doesn’t have one at all. My son’s friends have nice phones, mostly. And a few of my daughter’s friends have phones, but most of them don’t. But she has already suggested she needs one by next year to keep up with her friends. Sigh.
    But generally, we do a fair amount for Christmas. This is, in part, because Mr. Geeky’s family went completely overboard (despite being solidly working class). And my family was fairly modest, with a few grandiose holidays where we got things like a piano. So we’ve converged on something between the two. We probably spend over $100 and often over $200 on each kid. Last year we got the computer I’m currently working on, a new iMac. So the rest of the stuff was little. This year will probably be less extravagant than others, both because our income is less and because no one’s asked for anything expensive.

  6. We don’t do Christmas, though we do get Hanukkah gifts for the kids. The 8 day format means that more little things get bought, and no one big thing. We don’t do adult gifting (either within the family or with others), but this year I’m considering getting Donors Choose cards (i.e. gift giving to designated projects for schools) for the grownups & further away relatives.
    What do you guys think? Would this be annoying? just one more thing that you’d need to do over the holidays? Too pointed a giving towards one charity (when you might prefer others?
    Or, a way to give a gift that you can give to others who might need it?
    A possible benefit is that some of the families might be able to get the money to their own schools directly, by having teachers post projects.

  7. I’m considering getting Donors Choose cards (i.e. gift giving to designated projects for schools) for the grownups & further away relatives.
    I’d just make a donation in their name to the Human Fund.

  8. You mean the arts charity for kids in Cleveland? Why?🙂
    Seriously, though, I like Donors Choose because it actually offers me an opportunity to shop, but for someone else who doesn’t already have way too much stuff. And, the thank you notes are a real spirit lifter, when they arrive.
    Some of the notes I’ve gotten recently, from older kids, actually seem to get that positive energy I hope the money is creating, by giving to strangers — you know, that someone, somewhere out there, who doesn’t know you, cares that your band has a trumpet.

  9. We don’t do Christmas either but some of the girl’s peers (she will be four on Sunday) don’t just receive small gifts for 8 days like she does. It’s instead 8 LARGE gifts. A bit out of control. But then these are the same families who are hiring live bands and spending tens of thousands on bar and bat mitzvah parties…
    For her birthday in addition to her receiving gifts, we have asked her friends to bring gently used clothing that the girl and I will donate to a teenage pregnancy shelter. Good for her to see some up front giving along with receiving…

  10. You mean the arts charity for kids in Cleveland? Why?
    Huh. Never heard of that one. Sort of a mirror image of the time I started my own American Cancer Society based on my astrological sign.

  11. “I feel extravagant now.”
    I wouldn’t, since family sizes vary immensely, holiday decorating standards vary, travel distances vary, entertaining, holiday bonuses, festive outings, gifts for teachers, charity, costumes for performances, etc. It may be that if you take the whole picture, we’re all spending roughly the same, just cutting the pie up differently. Our big ski trip is going to involve just three days of skiing/snow for the kids (plus lots of family socializing), but it makes my eyes water to think how much each day will cost. However, my grandpa who is 88 really, really wanted us to come, so I think we ought to, since we can and have been saving up all year for the trip. We can’t do this thing every year, but I feel like we ought to try while my grandparents are healthy and can travel.

  12. I am spending … more than $99 per kid. *sigh* It’s the damned Legos.
    I’m going to see how long I can go without getting my kids phones. This is one of my irrational things where I’m going to seem rude and judgmental, but I roll my eyes every time I see a tween girl with one.

  13. “I am spending … more than $99 per kid. *sigh* It’s the damned Legos.”
    You probably are buying whole sets, but if you need particular pieces (windows, doors, axles, steering wheels, base plates, etc.), you can get them pretty cheap used on ebay.

  14. Oooo, Lego, I know that.
    Before you ever buy anything on eBay, check their replacement-order service at http://www.Lego.com — I was shocked to discover that even the missing Darth Vader helmet only cost $0.26, and the shipping was negligible. (We did have to still have the instruction booklets for the Star Wars sets, to give them special codes, but I strongly suspect you could find those codes if you googled, and it’s only the licensed stuff that has this requirement.)
    As far as I can see, you’d never want to buy replacement parts on eBay without checking first to see if Lego still stocks it direct.

  15. Pick-a-Brick is the site for the various random pieces:
    http://shop.lego.com/pab/
    It looks like a window or door with frame and insert might set you back 50 cents.
    If you’re looking for specific pieces, you use the replacement-part service at http://us.service.lego.com/en-US/replacementparts/default.aspx
    There are lots of different Lego Wikis that list all the different themes by set number (you need to set number to pull up the visual catalog of replacement pieces — an online version of the listing they have at the back of their instruction books).
    I’ve become a rabid evangelist for Lego customer service because of their replacement offerings. I paid way too much once to someone on eBay to replace a few missing hands, when I could have gotten entire body sections (hands attached) for a quarter.

  16. So, I’ve got this Donor’s Choose rant . . .
    It’s tied in with the fact that I live in New Jersey, which is a “high tax” state, and we use our high property taxes to pay for our schools, and we use our high state taxes to pay for the schools in poor districts, and as a result, school funding is relatively even throughout the state, which I generally approve of (though not always).
    Anyway . . . I get these Donor’s Choose cards for the girls, and I’m looking through the various programs they have set up, and almost all of them are from California. California is a “low tax” state where the poorer districts get less money because of the stupid Prop 13 (or whatever the number is) that keeps them from raising property taxes. Anyway, this means that the public schools in California tend to be relatively crappy compared to comparable New Jersey schools.
    And, hence, my rant. I’m paying lots of taxes for my great schools (big yey!), and for the schools of poor districts in New Jersey (smaller yey!), and now you want me to contribute to poor schools in California so that well-off Californians can pay lower property taxes? Yuck.

  17. In our house it’s Playmobil; different from Lego but equally bankrupting.
    And I’m also feeling extravagant. We typically use Christmas to restock the kids’ clothes, meaning they each get one big toy, one small toy, and at least one box of clothes (often with more than one outfit in it). The clothes alone were $100/kid.

  18. …now you want me to contribute to poor schools in California so that well-off Californians can pay lower property taxes? Yuck.
    That’s pretty much my feeling when it comes to bailing out the state of California as a whole.

  19. I like to hear rants, ’cause it forces me to consider issues I hadn’t considered. But, Donors Choose has 242 projects in New Jersey. You’ve seen the feature where you can sort by state, right? So, I don’t understand why the “most of the projects in CA” would be a worry for your cards — just don’t donate to those projects in CA.
    I think you are pointing out a moral hazard of this kind of donation — that private donation can undercut the commitment of a locality to fully fund the services that it wants. But that’s an issue with all charity (unless you think that nothing you’d fund with charity should be supported by government, but that would eliminate practically everything, including medical research)
    There are fewer NJ projects than CA projects (even after correcting for their public school populations 1.38 v 6.2M), but that could also be because of regulations on the permissibility of directed private donations in the localities and teacher culture (rather than just the levels of funding).

  20. from a nationally famous bakery
    Nationally famous doesn’t help when you’re a kid who doesn’t like fruit or nuts. I always roll my eyes when we drive through Corsicana, remembering fruitcakes of Christmases past.

  21. Ben,
    You guessed it–we’re getting a fruitcake from the Collin Street Bakery. I have much happier childhood memories of those fruitcakes than you–my great-grandma in Washington State used to get one every year, and when we moved to Texas it was rather Proustian to discover where all those wonderful fruitcakes had come from. I totally agree about the horribleness of grocery store fruitcake (what the heck are those gummy green things?), but I think fruit and nuts in the right hands are glorious, hence my feelings about Aplets and Cotlets.
    Speaking of Texas eating, one of these days, we’re going to do the Blue Bell tour.

  22. I find gifts of charity a bit coercive somehow even with the choice built in.
    We don’t have any enormous gifts planned but the small gifts for Chanukah will add up. The in-laws (who do Christmas) are also small-scale gifters. Nevertheless we seem to have two million toys. I am pondering a raid on the toy boxes where 40% of the small crappy toys disappear mysteriously overnight.

  23. BJ,
    The numbers you show have California with about twice as many projects at New Jersey proportionally, and about 9 times as many in absolute numbers (because CA is 4 or 5 times bigger). That is probably pretty consistent with what we found trying to find projects in mid-2008, although it is possible the breakdown was different then. The result was, when the girls picked a category they wanted, there were gobs of California projects and only one or two New Jersey ones — which didn’t look nearly as interesting because CA had a lower funding base and therefore needed more important-sounding stuff.
    In terms of “moral hazard,” I think there’s a big difference between giving to a charity that is funded by your own taxes (locally or nationally), and those funded by someone else’s taxes. It’s comparable to the fact that New Jerseyans get 61 cents in federal benefits for each dollar in federal taxes paid, while low tax “red states” tend to more than break even.
    http://www.taxfoundation.org/research/show/266.html
    I have no problem helping the poor by living in a high tax/ high benefits state, but I have a big problem subsidizing your decision to live in a low tax/ low benefits state by providing you some benefits to ease your burden.

  24. I am pondering a raid on the toy boxes where 40% of the small crappy toys disappear mysteriously overnight.
    I am hard-core about this. I regularly take a trash bag and fill it up with toys that I don’t think the girls will miss. Then, I put it in the storage closet for three months. Sometimes, there’s a “Where is the . . ?” or “Didn’t we used to have. . ?” and then I say, “I think I saw that somewhere,” and covertly dig it out of the bag when they are asleep. After three months, it’s trash or charity.

  25. We, too, have done Stealth Purge, Toy Purgatory, and the Final Dump. Toy Purgatory is especially important for stuffed animals as a test for true love.

  26. “I find gifts of charity a bit coercive somehow even with the choice built in.”
    Yeah, I get this — and the donors choose cards require effort to use on your part. You have to actually go to the web site and donate your money. I have a significant issue with animal charities (even shelters, which are seen as mostly non-political) and am pretty picky about the international and environmental charities I want to support. So, I understand where you’re coming from. Perhaps I’ll go slow and impose it on my closest family first, who will be willing to tell me about their annoyance.
    Why am I thinking about it anyway? ’cause I’ve been really loving DonorsChoose. I’ve found it to be a great way to direct giving with my children. It’s very concrete for them. They understand what they’re giving and they identifiy with the recipient. It teaches them that charitable giving is “sharing.”
    And I personally find the thank you notes delightful, something that gives me joy, and in giving the cards, I imagine that my recipient might get that same joy (at least more than they’d get from the candle or tchotke they might otherwise be given).

  27. “I have no problem helping the poor by living in a high tax/ high benefits state, but I have a big problem subsidizing your decision to live in a low tax/ low benefits state by providing you some benefits to ease your burden.”
    But that’s not CA, no? CA is not very far from NJ, and is in fact a high tax state (and, frankly, a high service state, though the way those services are provided and seen is being skewed by the current crisis in CA). CA does spend less on its schools, so I understand your concern. But it’s not really a low tax/low service state. Utah, Texas, Nevada, Arizona, all lower on the per pupil funding, perhaps, would be a better example of that.
    And, CA doesn’t do particularly well on the federal bounty, either, does it? I’ve never found that graph very enlightening ’cause it seems to reflect too many different variables (but I am wondering why Nevada does so poorly in getting back its tax dollars. Is there a federal tax on gambling?)
    (It does make me wonder what the Californian’s are spending their high taxes on)

  28. “I’ve found it to be a great way to direct giving with my children. It’s very concrete for them.”
    We’ve been working on this, and the concreteness does seem to be very important for children. My kids (after some wrangling) are saving up for some chicks from heifer.org. I’m not sure that concreteness is quite as important for adults.

  29. Those Alias phones are actually free, or close to it, with the Verizon plan. I’m not totally anti-cell phone for kids (though they can be highly problematic at school), but I do think it’s important to remember that most kids are likely to lose and/or break a few, so consider the investment. Oh, and when he accidentally drops it in the toilet (as every cell-phone-owning boy I know has done)–dry it off with a dishtowel, remove the battery, and bury the phone in uncooked rice for a day.

  30. ” My kids (after some wrangling) are saving up for some chicks from heifer.org. I’m not sure that concreteness is quite as important for adults. ”
    Yes, we’ve done the Heifer thing, but, they don’t really buy chicks. It’s an marketing gimmick for Heifer (I don’t object; I think they do good). But, DonorsChoose really buys the things the teacher requested, and you get to see pictures of real children using them, and real people send you thank you notes.
    The concrete actually works for me, but, that’s because I want the non-concrete to be paid for by my high tax/high service model.

  31. “Yes, we’ve done the Heifer thing, but, they don’t really buy chicks. It’s an marketing gimmick for Heifer (I don’t object; I think they do good).”
    Now that you mention it, I haven’t gotten around to explaining that to the kids.
    I’ve also offered C the chance to buy book for her school (it’s only five years old, so they don’t have a lot), a gift for a Christmas toy drive, or to buy food for local families. The summer school supply drives are another concrete option.
    “The concrete actually works for me, but, that’s because I want the non-concrete to be paid for by my high tax/high service model.”
    That won’t work as well with giving directed at poor foreign countries.

  32. Yes, the concrete doesn’t work as well for international donation, nor for charity where a critical need (food, medicine) is being provided. I could sign up to send malaria tablets (or milk), but it could be that they really need salt tablets (or orange juice), and the money should come with that flexibility.
    Marketplace Money just did a segment on “Donor Illusion” about the marketing tactics used by Chistian Children’s Fund (which has changed its mind) and Kiva (Heifer is the same) where they talk about how powerful the “donor connection” is in bringing in donations, and the difficulties it imposes on the aid organization. Most solve the problem by having the connection be an illusion.
    Donors Choose is different, but they can be, because the model is different — the requests aren’t for life-saving needs. They’re not providing teachers, or aides, or buildings, or heat. By definition, everything asked for is an “extra”. So, they really can fulfill the orders based on donors interests and not the greatest need.

  33. So, they really can fulfill the orders based on donors interests and not the greatest need.
    I donation has been made in your name to the Peripheral Importance Fund.

  34. Are you being mean to me MH? I’m trying to be earnest here. Do we need to go through the iCare rules?
    (and, saxaphones and trumpets and violins are only peripheral in a world without music)
    Christian Children’s Fund has changed its name — to ChildFund International, and not its mind.

  35. I should strive harder to avoid typos when taunting, but I wouldn’t call it “mean.” I’m all for sending trumpets and saxophones to foreign countries. The ratio of those in existence to the number of people who can play them well is way too high.

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