Santa might have an army of elves busily employed in his workshop, but he still has to balance the books. Over the years the elves have become more productive; they have adapted new technologies which produce more and better toys, clothing, and electronic gadgets, but the kids’ expectations just keep growing. It can be hard for Santa to keep up.

I grew up in a solid middle class family. For Christmas one year Santa brought a BB gun. I never shot my eye out, though I came close a couple times. Another year Santa brought walkie-talkies. Those were my primary gifts those years. Santa might have also brought some clothing, but who the heck cared about clothing. I was mad at Santa for bringing clothes.

As I got older my list for Santa got a little longer. It put more pressure on the elves to produce. I got a nice bike, skis, and clothes became more acceptable over the years.

Still, growing up in the 70s and 80s, it seems that kids' expectations were different then than they are today. No one I knew ever had more than one pair of high-end tennis shoes at a time. We all shared the team’s batting helmets, and maybe one or two kids on the team had bats of their own which we all used. If Santa brought a bat or basketball back then, then you knew you were going to show it around the neighborhood in the days after Christmas to make the other kids envious.

Now I have 6 kids of my own. Santa has brought several bats, baseball gloves, basketballs, walkie-talkies, and even bb guns over the years. My kids have generally looked at them like I used to look at clothes … what the heck, every kid has this stuff, “where’s my iPhone X?”

It’s not easy being Santa.

Based upon official rates of inflation, an iPhone X which costs $1,000 today would have cost $336.62 in 1980. I’m pretty sure Santa and elves never paid $336.62 for a basketball, baseball glove, or even a nice bike in 1980. Kids’ expectations have grown.

One thing that Santa and the elves have on their side is productivity. While cell phones, gaming consoles, and other stuff on the top of kids’ lists are expensive, a lot of the stuff kids yawn at on Christmas morning is relatively cheap compared to years past.

Clothing is remarkably cheap. I’m pretty sure walkie-talkies cost less today than they did 30 or 40 years ago. The elves can deliver a pretty nice basketball or football for less than $20. And, I couldn’t even imagine having my own television as a kid, let alone a nice flat screen to hook up to my Atari or Intellivision. At least Santa has that going for him.

If I were the real Santa, I’d be more than a little bit worried about Amazon.com and other online retailers. Or maybe it’s the elves and reindeer that ought to be worried. Who needs elves and reindeer with Amazon Prime.

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Maybe this is all why people are more and more looking for “experiences” more than material possessions. A lot of the material possessions which used to require a year’s worth of good behavior are so easily available and everywhere. Almost every kid in my kids’ school classes has more than one pair of tennis shoes and some version of the iPhone.

There’s an investment idea for Santa. Maybe the future is not so much in material goods as companies that can provide entertainment and experience.

At our home this year Santa is bringing ski passes to a couple Montana resorts which we’ve never been to. It’s going to be about new experiences. My guess is that we’re not the only ones thinking that way.

In conclusion, it’s probably never been easy for Santa, but December is still a great time of year for parents, kids, and retailers alike. Santa always went all-out at my house growing up, and still does. It might not be as easy as it used to be to surprise and delight a kid on Christmas morning, but it’s still worth the try.

Barry Nielsen has worked in capital markets for over 20 years with a focus on fixed income portfolio and risk management. He has an MBA from George Mason University and holds the Chartered Financial Analyst designation. He currently works for Opportunity Bank of Montana.

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