Don’t bother with the hoverboards, scarves, and iTunes gift cards, Mr. President. All Sasha and Malia Obama want for Christmas is cold, crisp American dollar bills, proving once again that they’re two of the smartest kids in the country and will probably be co-presidents someday.
Michelle Obama revealed the teens’ abbreviated holiday wish list at a Christmas celebration for Washington, D.C.’s Children’s National hospital on Monday. "They don't want me to waste my energy picking out stuff they don't want,” the First Lady said. “So they'd rather just have the money."
The Obama sisters are on to something. Many experts agree that money is a better bet than gifts for the holidays, primarily because people are more likely to buy things they’ll actually need and use with their own money. When someone spends $100 on herself, she usually gets $100 worth of satisfaction out of that item, argues University of Minnesota economics professor Joel Waldfogel. When someone else picks out the item for her, it’s almost always going to give her less value in return.
A poll of 1,000 parents by Halifax, a U.K. bank, found that one-third of adults with children under 18 believed their kids would rather get money than a gift for Christmas, suggesting that children have received plenty of gifts of questionable personal utility from mum and dad. Putting that money in a savings account, mutual fund, or the like can be a good lesson about responsible spending and why having student loans in your 20s sucks more than not having sick headphones in your teens.
There are plenty of other reasons why money trumps other goods in the race to the bottom of the Christmas tree. Sasha and Malia are probably not short on storage room, but I can tell you that most of the rest of us D.C. residents don’t have closet space to spare for sweaters that are just a little too preppy for our tastes or candleholders that clutter up our three square feet of kitchen counter. People are always yammering on about how it’s the thought that counts—so why shouldn’t Barack and Michelle make the girls a sweet card to share their love, then give them an icy-in-comparison gift they will unequivocally love: cash?
Malia’s time on her parents’ dime is running out; she’ll head to college next fall, and Sasha’s only a few years behind. They’ve already developed a taste for the finer things—eating out at buzzy restaurants, hitting designer-clothing shops in international centers of fashion—so a pointed lesson in financial planning could be in order this holiday season. Signs are already pointing to the dawn of a sensible, self-sufficient future for the Obama girls: This Thanksgiving, they showed up to their dad’s Rose Garden turkey pardon in American Apparel.