Gift registries used to be the exclusive domain of the newly engaged and newly pregnant – but now high school graduates are using registries at Bed Bath & Beyond to attempt to score expensive gifts as they head off to college.
Freshman year no longer has to mean borrowed sheets, faded towels or mismatched cutlery picked up at Goodwill. Today’s savvy – and slightly entitled – high school graduates head to Bed Bath & Beyond, to sign up for the College Gift Registry. Then they grab a wand and register for everything from espresso machines to fluffy towels to chip-bag clips.
Party (and Pay-out) Time
The last couple of weeks I’ve been invited to graduation parties for high school students. One student, who I’ll call Susie, is a hard-working Southern California resident from a well-to-do family, who will be studying in Northern California this fall. I’d planned to give her money and also bought her a couple of gorgeous coffee table books on San Francisco. And then I received an email stating that she had a college registry…which included a $299.99 Dyson table fan, a $3.99 two-pack of Gorilla super glue, and a $19.99 jewellery holder. As I headed to the party I felt uncomfortable and wondered if I what I was giving was extravagant enough? Yes I did buckle and pick a few items from her BBB wish list.
Does “entitled” come into your mind in a gigantic grey thundercloud of a thought bubble, like it did in mine. Seriously - this is happening?
Here’s a crazy thought: maybe registries bolster parents struggling with “Failure to Launch” syndrome – if the college dorm room looks sweet enough, students won’t be inclined to return, and mom and dad can convert the extra bedroom into a sewing room?
To Infinity…I meant, “To the Registry, and Beyond!”
MyRegistry.com also allows students to create a “universal” wish list as they pick college supplies from more affordably priced shops like Target, Kohl’s and Walmart. It reports that it’s seen a bump in grad gift registries.
At the site DormSmart.com, students have similar amount of freedom to create a universal gift registry, which allows them to select products from multiple online retailers. The registry links to Facebook so friends and family know what the student desires… instantly.
More Blessed To Give Than To Receive
I wonder what’s fueling this and what is the outcome of all this illustrious gift giving? I’ll rephrase – what is the outcome of this greedy gift asking? For answers I speak to Tim Kasser, author of The High Price of Materialism and Chair of the Psychology Department at Knox College in Illinois, who researches consumer culture and quality of life. Dozens of studies in multiple nations with lots of different age groups have shown that “the more people buy into messages of consumer culture and think that money, image, status are important, the less happy and satisfied they are with their lives. The more depressed and anxious they also are,” Prof. Kasser says.
“We live in a culture that is designed to make sure that people live their lives around consumption, for the profits of corporations and it's good for the economic growth of the nation,” he says. He adds that marketers have been reaching out to younger and younger individuals “in order to convince them that the way towards happiness and a meaningful life is through the path of consumption.” The graduate gift registry, Prof. Kasser says is an example how everything in our culture has become an opportunity to celebrate consumption. "There’s President’s Day sales, Valentine’s Day is about buying stuff and on and on and on.”
Obviously it’s important that one celebrates a child’s high school graduation. It’s a moment worthy of pause and of reflection, says Prof. Kasser, who has two sons aged 14 and 12. It’s a moment worthy of letting the child know how proud you are of what the child has accomplished. And obviously they need particular, practical items for college. “Does that mean the child therefore should receive a material gift? That’s unclear to me. My understanding as a psychologist of what children need is that they need love and they need guidance.” The registry, he says, is “a very clear message that the way to demonstrates one’s love is through consumption.”
So what kind of gifts does he recommend? Every year on their birthdays, Prof. Kasser gives his sons coupons for “a special day with Dad. It’s about me sharing my time with my kids as opposed to buying them something.” Friends and family can give a new graduate coupons that promises the student she’ll receive send homemade cookies once a month. Suddenly giving a ridiculous expensive gift seemed easier, less of a time investment. And there’s the rub. Maybe it is easier. Sad.
The Gift of Graduation
I recognize that graduation is absolutely a special time, a rite of passage (clichéd) and students will inevitably get a lot of gifts, but I chafe at being nudged towards investing in a particular item. “You have to remember it’s teenagers creating these registries,” says Christi Leslie, the plucky 46-year-old founder of DormSmart.com and mother of three girls. “Mom and dad should encourage their graduate to add a range of practical items at varying price-points. Because grandma and grandpa might want to buy you that DVD/TV combo, but you know what, your friend doesn’t!” She adds with a laugh, “I don’t even have a Dyson vacuum.”
Leslie worked as an recruitment and retention manager for CareerBuilder.com but shifted directions so she could raise her kids. As I talk to her on the phone she’s effusive about where the idea came from. Her youngest daughter was heading to university and Leslie was struggling to locate the dorm supplies. She reckoned other parents must have the same problem and the business was born in 2009. Today, she goes to different manufacturers, road tests products (they have 7,000 products and rising) – everything from dishes to trunks to rugs, and anything else you can think of related to student life – before stocking it on her virtual shelf.
Leslie’s products are all related to dorm life and selected to assist tremulous kids entering freshman year. There are different price-points of course. You can get a trunk for $400 (which comes with a cable anchor so it can’t stolen from your dorm-room) to a canvas shower bags for $21. All very practical. All very collegiate. Of all the sites I checked out this is probably the most pragmatic.
Let Your Fingers Do the Walking and Spending
So is this a trend? I can’t say right now. I don’t have the sales figures. And Bed, Bath & Beyond didn’t respond to repeated requests for an interview or information. Meanwhile, DormSmart.com’s Leslie says the gift registry itself does not account for the majority of her business. She has several thousand clients - the breakdown is 18-24 and another large portion is females, 45-54. They really like the one-stop shopping aspect. Her clients are “probably moms who have been to college and want to make sure they get their kids off to school comfortably.”
I’m relieved to hear the gift registry isn’t a roaring success…but the fact that kids have the option of walking around BBB stores selecting outrageously priced items is, blechhh, disturbing.
Oded Berkowitz, Founder and CEO of MyRegistry.com said: “Nobody likes to receive gifts that they don’t want, and graduating students are using our site to make sure that they get gifts that reflect their interests and lifestyle!
"MyRegistry.com gives members more freedom, not only to add items from any store in the world, but also to request and receive cash gifts."
Well, if that’s not the definition of ungrateful, bratty entitlement, I don’t know what is. And it might make a college-bound student happy in the short-term but what does it mean long-term? I’m not convinced.
What do you think? When your kids head to college will you have a gift registry for them and expect friends and family to fork over?