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Are must-have Christmas gifts getting more expensive?

It seems like the one constant around the holidays is people complaining about how spoiled kids are today, and how out-of-control holiday costs have become. But are the gifts we give kids really that much more expensive than the ones you’d find under the tree back in the “good old days”?

What got me wondering about this question was a really cool infographic, “50 years 50 toys,” created by Abby Ryan Design [3]¬†that’s been floating around the Web. While the infographic isn’t based on exact sales figures, etc., I think it gives a pretty good representation of what people were buying as their primary gift for kids throughout the years. So I set out to research the cost of all the toys that appear in the infographic in the year they were the hot toy to have.

At first glance, it definitely looks like each season’s “must-have” toy has gotten more expensive and elaborate, but I wanted to see if that was true if you take into account inflation. After all, you can say, “Man, cars have gotten so much more expensive since the ’60s,” but a lot of that increase can be chalked up to inflation. I feel like at some point it was possible to get an almost infinite amount of crap for $1 (as Louis C.K. jokes about in this pretty amazing¬†NSFW routine [4]).

But back to the toys, I scoured the Internet for historical prices, using primary resources wherever I could. It’s kind of an inexact science, since prices fluctuate so much and can very depending on where you are, and I wasn’t able to find reliable prices for everything. But after putting them into a giant spreadsheet, here’s what I found: It does appear that the “hot toy” of the holiday season has gotten pricier.


Price of must-have Christmas gifts, 1963-2012

| Infographics [5]

Before 1979, when the Atari 400 ushered in the age of the video game console, no hot holiday toy had come in at above the $200 mark in 2013 dollars. After that, we saw increasingly elaborate must-have Christmas gifts become the norm. As you can see in the chart below, it’s now unusual to have the highest profile holiday gift come in at less than $200.

You can definitely debate about whether the hot toys in a given holiday season are at all representative of what most people actually end up buying their kids. But I think it would be hard to argue that the norm of what’s marketed as a “hot Christmas gift for kids” is anywhere near what it was in the ’60s and most of the ’70s.

I think this is ultimately a negative trend. I don’t think you can say with any kind of certainty that the cash we’re pouring into video game systems and iPads for kids necessarily making them happier, and you could probably make a solid argument that it’s making them more fat. On the other hand, the U.S. savings rate has plummeted since that time, in part because of overspending by U.S. consumers.

What do you think? Have the gifts kids want for Christmas gotten more expensive since the “good old days”? Or should I leave Chistmas alooooooone?