Should people exchange gifts at all at traditional gift giving holidays such as Birthdays or Christmas?: A deliberately controversial post

I know we just had a deliberately controversial post, but Mel’s comment got us thinking.  Specifically the parts where she writes:

I guess I don’t really see the point of gifts for adults. Either you have the money to buy yourself something when you want it (or the ability to save to get it), or you don’t but there is the expectation that someone else should spend their money on you for something you want.

Later she adds this about kids:

Our kids are saving all of their money for a big trip when they’re in high school, as Josh and I did when we were starting high school. I want them to have that experience of travel, so I feel okay purchasing toys and such now. Again, I rarely do it on their birthday. It’s more that they express that they want X, and if I think it’s a sound purchase, I get them X. In that way, they are never disappointed.

So that’s actually two potentially deliberately controversial statements there if we add them up.

First:  Should we give gifts to adults at all?

This one is a hard one.  Over the years the number of adults we exchange gifts with has gotten smaller.  We have stuff.  They have stuff.  We’ve moved, they’ve moved, we’ve met a lot of other people with whom we are at the same level of intimacy and we couldn’t possibly give gifts to all of them.  And so on.

DH and I don’t really exchange gifts, but #2 and her DH do.  This partly matches our different financial situations — DH and I share finances and #2 and her DH have more separate finances.  Except DH will often do something for me for Christmas and my birthday– like he’ll do some icky chore we’ve both been putting off, or he’ll buy me something I’ve been wanting out of his allowance (often sleepwear), or he’ll do something that makes me cry like turning my name into a poem to hang on the wall.  I suck at reciprocating.  We also bake cakes for each other on our birthdays.  And it is true that we could do these things at any point during the year, but it really does take one of these standard gift deadlines to, for example, clean out the shower grout.

I would be perfectly fine stopping gift exchanging with DH’s family, though I would have to come up with some other way of delaying purchases given that they have pretty well learned just to buy things off my Amazon list (though DH’s brother always ends up getting me duplicates because he doesn’t buy them directly off my wishlist, and my SIL is especially good at picking things off my list that say “lowest” priority or, the one time nothing is labeled “lowest,” giving me a generic item that isn’t on the list and gets given directly to charity*).  I would also be fine stopping gift exchanging with my sister who refuses to use my amazon wishlist because it is too impersonal and then demands to know what I want instead.

#2 and I have exchanged gifts for many years.  There are three reasons for the gift exchange over the years.  1.  Back when we started we were both poor and I, at least, had a guilt thing about buying myself stuff I really wanted.  So near the end of the holiday season, we would both sweep in and buy books on each other’s wishlists that said “highest”– maxing at just enough to get free shipping.  2.  At other points one or the other of us will be making real money while the other is still in school/unemployed/on leave/etc.  In those cases, the rich one would sweep through the amazon list and the poor one would send thoughtfully curated used books (like Ex Libris or a biography of Dorothy L. Sayers).  3.  Imposing our preferences on the other person.  You will own this book because I say you will.  Mwahahaha.

I like giving gifts.  I like giving gifts that make people happy.  Mainly though, if I’m being honest, I like imposing my preferences on the people I love (or at least who I like).  Gift giving is a time that I can indulge in that whim in a socially appropriate way.  There’s also a small element of charity with some of our gift giving– holidays are a time that we can write a check to badly off family members and they can give us something nominal in exchange (like fudge).

Receiving gifts is a bit bittersweet.  I love getting stuff off my amazon list from #2 or from my family or DH’s parents.  I love getting thoughtful stuff from DH and the kids.  But… we’re doing a lot better off financially than DH’s siblings and I’d rather they kept their money, especially if we can’t give more than we receive in terms of dollar amount.  I just do not understand the large amount of gift-giving that their family does each year.

So I guess bottom-line here is that I don’t know.  Among people who know each other and can afford it, these special times work as a nice way to be nudged into thinking about doing some gift giving.  Some people prefer no gifts at all or prefer to give “whenever” gifts.  But “whenever” gifts can be uncomfortable if they’re extravagant because the reciprocity aspect can be confusing.  So who knows.  With adults, you do you and be gracious about others doing what they do.

#2 says, for me it’s really just fun to give and get gifts.  I have money to buy my own books, but it’s a nice treat when someone buys them for me.  I like finding a gift that fits the person I’m giving it to, something I think they’ll enjoy that they haven’t thought of.  I also find it sweet and wonderful when people donate to charity in my name, particularly charities I support such as kitty ones or child’s play.


Should we batch up children’s gifts for standard gift-giving holidays (birthdays etc.) or should we give them throughout the year when requested by the child?

This probably depends on the family, but I like batching up the gifts so they’re only given at Christmas, birthdays, and to a small extent Easter.  (Though my MIL does send small presents somewhat randomly throughout the year.)   In the same way that my amazon wishlist keeps me from spending throughout the year, the hope is that getting presents later at specified times will teach them patience and give them the ability to delay their wants when they are older as well.  Anything that they want sooner, they will need to use their allowances on, possibly saving up to buy.

I realize this is an empirical question and I have read precisely zero research on the topic, so who knows.

So there, that’s our second deliberately controversial post about gifts.

*Every year I fight the suspicion that my SIL doesn’t like me and convince myself that it’s just that we have really different tastes.  Every year it is a fight.

What do you think?  Should we get rid of adult gift giving entirely?  Should children get gifts throughout the year or only at specified times?

How to do a powerpoint presentation (social sciences, economics)

I LOVE me some powerpoints.

Think about what you want your audience to take away.  Use the rule of 3 to emphasize those points (say what you’re going to say, say it, then tell people that you said it).  Depending on how much time you have you won’t be able to get through every point in the paper, so think about what subset you want to present, what slides you want to keep in case of questions but not actually present, and so on.

Use the powerpoint as a guide to remind you what to talk about, so brief bullets/phrases instead of full sentences.  Do not read off the slides.

Some people will only want to read your slides, some people will only want to listen to what you say.  Make sure that people who do one or the other will still get the gist of your presentation.

Make sure your fontsize is big enough that the people in the back can see it if they’re wearing glasses.   My heuristic is to not go below 28 point Calibri if it’s something I want them to read.  (Table notes can go smaller)

Graphs are often more compelling than regression output.  (But keep the regression output as a backup)

Don’t use fancy wipes/fade-outs/etc.  Anything that distracts without a purpose is useless.

Development economists, behavioral economists, psychologists, antrhopologists, etc. use a lot of photos/pictures/drawings and occasionally movies.  Do that if it is common in your field.  If it isn’t, then only sex it up like that if it helps improve understanding.

DO NOT USE PREZI.  Or if you do, use it like you would Powerpoint or Beemer.  You do not want to give members of your audience migraines.

I have often found it helpful to have different versions of the same information in the powerpoint that I can skip over depending on how pressed for time I am.  So I will have a pretty chart, regression output, and summary bullets (or two out of the three) and I will use combinations of one or two of these depending on how much time I have left.  It is also helpful to know which sections can be skipped without losing the main themes of the presentation.

Practice your talk.  Know how the talk is going to differ if questions are allowed vs. no questions being allowed.

It is better to go a little under than a little over.  It is better to skip parts than to talk so quickly nobody can understand you.

Join us next Tuesday for:  How to write a powerpoint discussion(!)

Academic readers– is this about right?  What things are the same or different in your discipline?  Any other tips?

Savings, sacrifice, and the “why” question

Here’s another post pulled from drafts.  Don’t you hate it when you leave notes to yourself assuming you’re going to know what you’re talking about and then months pass and you’re like, you know, you could have just left a link.

This post was initially inspired by a number of other posts happening around the same time period.

The SHUbox had a post, ClubThrifty had a post, and retireby40 had a post, and I really should find them and link to them.  We will see if I am successful.  Spoiler:  I wasn’t.

In any case, my commentary:

Saving for early retirement if you don’t want to retire early and are unlikely to need to retire early is ridiculous.  If you’re worried about being unable to work, then get disability insurance.  Still, worry about job loss because of age discrimination, working in a failing industry, or being forced into management (and thus wanting to quit) is a bit harder, and is a valid reason to save for at least partial early retirement– enough to fund a career change.

The fact that there are early retirement posts about how to handle (early) retirement if you’re not enjoying it and how to emotionally prepare for not going to a job so you’re not unhappy suggests not that there’s something wrong with people in that situation, but that perhaps early retirement was not the right option for them.  One suspects that rather than trying to come up with ways to make retirement less soul destroying, it might be easier to just stay in one’s job.  (A related recent post from Leightpf.)

But early retirement is not the only reason to save.  I really liked Rosa’s comment on this post (here I did myself the favor and actually linked).

we asked people who did save to write down why.. Most people gave the same set of answers – for unexpected expenses, for my kids, for retirement.

A number of people were unable to answer because the idea of not having savings horrified them. Why save? Why breathe?

But one woman gave the very best answer. “For myself.” That’s all. You might not know what your future self will want to do with the money, but the money will be there for whatever it turns out to be.

We save so our future selves aren’t in dire straights in an emergency.  So we have time to focus the time after a job loss on finding a good job rather than the first job that will pay a paycheck.  So that we can quit a miserable work situation without having another lined up.  So that we can focus on a medical emergency and not the cost of said emergency.  So that a car crash doesn’t make us unable to get to work because we can’t afford alternate routes.  Or a slow reimbursement or delayed paycheck doesn’t max out our credit cards pushing us into forced credit counseling or bankruptcy.  Or to get into the fancy nursing home.

We save for opportunity.  So we can take a year off or invest in something or someone important to us without hurting our future selves.

It’s ok to find the early retirement community demotivating.  It’s even ok to find paying off student loans unmotivating.

You don’t actually have to be motivated to save, you just need to save first, and enough that you will be living a reasonable lifestyle in the event of an emergency or job-loss.  Auto-deductions can help you take care of your future self.  So that way your future self will have money when you need it, and maybe even some when you really really want it.

Do you save?  Why or why not?

Little late link love

So… one of us was up late last night reading Lord of Scoundrels, which, though in many ways not perfect, was definitely a page-turner (It’s a bit of a guilty pleasure book with lots of shout-outs to Heyer’s Alistair Saga– she even takes a couple details from Devil’s Cub), and just completely forgot there was a blog or link love or that she should mention to #2 she wasn’t going to make it to the computer.  So… let’s see what’s in the old chat log.

Even famous female economists get no respect.  Which we knew.  I have definitely heard people giving Betsy Stevenson, the author of this piece’s wife and an amazing economist herself, no respect because she’s published (top) papers with her husband.  It really is no fair how even now that wives who coauthor actually get their names on the papers (whereas in the past, it would only show up in the acknowledgements) they are still not counted as full coauthors.

Jailbreak the Patriarchy for Chrome

I just can’t even.

Delagar is again on point.

Daria:  Still Awesome.

Why do so many incompetent men become leaders?

Interesting thought exercise.

Another great comic from Xykademiqz.

Conservative thought has been in the toilet since the 1940s.  (warning:  bathroom humor, racist and homophobic ideas of sexuality)

Interesting anecdote about scamming thieves.

How to make the perfect chana masala.

Fun images with the Starbucks cup thing.

Who gets into gifted and talented education programs?  And how do we increase minority enrollment?  (Hint:  not relying on teacher and parent identification)

Stata graph examples

ooh.   related

Whitehouse as veep



I would so see a full feature film of the movie Tubman:

Ask the grumpies: MLMs and facebook parties

Rented life asks:

What are your thoughts on MLMs and the abundance of facebook “parties”? My husband thinks the MLMs are being pushed on women/moms who makes less than me and the “freedom” sounds appealing to them even though it looks like more work than my 2 jobs!

They suck and your husband is on point.

We got iphones, now what?

[Scroll down to the bottom for ask the readers question in bold and italics]

DH finally got DC1 signed up for piano, so the next thing on his list was  smart phones.  He presented me with a bunch of choices and after some discussion and a lot more waiting I chose the following somewhat randomly:

Carrier:  Ting* using the Sprint network.

Phone:  Iphone 6.  (Not 6s, not 6 plus, not 6s plus).   Purchased, not rented.

Memory:  64 mb.

Protection:  iPhone 6 Case, Spigen [HEAVY DUTY] Tough Armor Case for iPhone 6 (4.7-Inch) – Gunmetal (SGP11022)

iPhone 6s Screen Protector, JETech® 2-Pack Premium Tempered Glass Screen Protector Film for Apple iPhone 6 and iPhone 6s Newest Model 4.7

24 month applecare plan

If you want more deets on the decision-process, here’s what DH presented me with:

Summary: Ting could be $53/month on the 3rd/4th-best network. Or Verizon could be $70-$85/month for the best network.  Plus taxes on each.  Each iPhone 6s (not the Plus-size) will cost $650 (+ $100 for 64Gb) .  Still to consider: cases and insurance.

Current network performance:

In general, Verizon is best, followed by AT&T.  Sprint and T-Mobile are 3rd/4th, with Sprint having more coverage and with better calls, and T-Mobile being faster.

I’m only looking at carriers that take the iPhone, so Republic Wireless is out.

These prices do not include taxes and fees.  Ordered by
Verizon is $70/month for 2 lines with 1GB shared, $85/month with 3GB shared, or $100/month with 6GB shared.

T-Mobile: 2 lines are $80/month with 1GB each, $100/month with 3GB each, $120/month 5GB each, or $140/month for “unlimited” data each.

Sprint: $105/month for 2 lines with 2GB shared, $120/month with 4GB shared.!/

AT&T: $80/month for 2 lines with 2GB shared, $100/month with 5GB shared.

Cricket Wireless: $70/month (taxes and fees included) for 2 lines with 2.5GB each.  Uses AT&T’s network.

Ting: $53/month for 2 lines with 2GB shared, $83 for 2 lines with 4GB shared.  Ting uses either of the T-Mobile or Sprint networks, depending on the phone.

Consumer Cellular: $70/month for 2 lines with 4GB shared, up to 750 minutes of talk. Uses AT&T’s network.

Boost Mobile: $60/month for 2 lines with 2GB each.  I can’t figure out if this also has a per-line charge.  Uses Sprint’s network.

MetroPCS does not support iPhones.

Average data usage is 1.8GB per month, mostly video, according to

Looking at IPhone models,
We have to get at least a 4S for iOS 9, and a 5+ will be significantly faster. The more recent the model, the more data bands it can use, so the better data signal it will get. More recent models also get better wifi connectability. Also, the more recent the base model (4/5/6), the larger the phone.
The 6 has a better camera, and the 6S is better yet again.le’s 24-month plan because it includes accidental damage insurance.
We can get (assuming minimum Gb): a refurbished 5 or 5c from Ting for $277;
5S from Apple for $500, or refurbished from Ting for $383;
6 from Apple for $550;
6 Plus (almost 1″ longer diagonal) from Apple for $650;
6s from Apple for $650;
6s Plus (almost 1″ longer diagonal) from Apple for $750.

*This link is a referral code.  I can’t actually recommend Ting yet because I haven’t really used it, but, “Refer a friend to Ting by offering $25 off a device or $25 in Ting credit. You get $50 for your first successful referral and $25 for each one after that,” means that if you were going to get Ting anyway, here’s $25 off for you (and money for us too).  I will say their customer service has been good so far.

Now what? What apps should I get (if any?)? What should I avoid? What’s been life-saving? What’s been horrific?

Book Review: Petunia, The Girl Who Was Not a Princess

Wow, this review has been a long time coming.

We received this book free from Wandering Scientist in exchange for, um, her being awesome, I guess?  (If it was in exchange for an unbiased review, we really should have gotten this post out the door a LOT sooner.)

Petunia, The Girl Who Was Not a Princess is a fun book with great illustrations.  It’s about a girl who isn’t into the princess thing and doesn’t, to paraphrase John Green, understand princess-loving girls complexly.  A princess-lover moves in next door, and it turns out that the new girl is just as complex as Petunia is herself, as are all the other neighborhood princesses (and princes) and they are able to have a lot of fun together.

Books in this genre of girls’ books come in two flavors.  There’s the type that tries really hard to be a feminist book and completely and totally fails because they shame a subset of women (ex. princesses) or provide the message that misogyny is normal in a way that shouldn’t yet be crossing a toddler’s mind.  Petunia is the other type– the kind that doesn’t shame even the youngest of choice feminists.  Especially terrific are Holly Liminton’s illustrations, which take great care to include a diverse cast of characters doing fun things.

Of course, this book isn’t for mommy– it’s for DC2.  So what is really important is the toddler test:  Does DC2 enjoy it?  Does zie request it?  Yes and yes.  Zie also gets really excited whenever I’m looking at Wandering Scientist’s webpage and zie sees the cover on the page, “I have that book!” (Usually followed by the sound of pounding feet to get said book, and then a demand to have it read.)  That’s still true after a year of ownership.

So if you’re holiday shopping take a look at this one.  Additionally, you cannot go wrong with Nelson’s other children’s book, The Zebra said Shhh.


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