TIME U.K.

Here Are The Most Surprising Gifts the British Royal Family Received Last Year

Duke And Duchess Of Cambridge And Prince Harry Visit Tower Of London's Ceramic Poppy Field
From Left: Prince Harry, Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge and Prince William, Duke of Cambridge visit The Tower Of London's Ceramic Poppy installation 'Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red' by artist Paul Cummins, commemorating the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of First World War on Aug. 5, 2014 in London. Samir Hussein—WireImage

Buckingham Palace has revealed all the official gifts given to to royal family in 2014

Over the course of a year, Britain’s royal family are presented with hundreds of gifts as they go about their official duties. On Wednesday Buckingham Palace and Clarence House released lists of the official gifts the royal family received in 2014. Among the expected assortment of commemorative coins, bottles of wine or whisky, plaques, framed paintings, jewels and cultural tokens, are a few surprises.

The most surprising gifts included:

  • a miniature throne from the Game of Thrones series (given to Queen Elizabeth)
  • a PhD thesis (given to Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall)
  • an automatic rifle, decommissioned (given to — who else? — Prince Harry)
  • 12 boxes of mangos (given to Prince Andrew)
  • an Arctic Monkey’s CD (given to Prince Andrew)
  • Hillary Clinton’s Hard Choices (given to Prince Andrew)

The names of most gift givers is not noted so there is no way of knowing if Hillary Clinton gave her own book to Prince Andrew.

Though Prince William and wife Kate received numerous gifts, as well as many gifts for Prince George, nothing unusual stands out in their the official gift listing. Then again, the royal couple gave the vaguest descriptions of their gifts — jotting down “book” or “selection of condiments” — so perhaps there were some surprises in the mix as well.

Last year’s collection of gifts aren’t among the most unusual the royal family, namely Queen Elizabeth, has ever received. The most bizarre gifts the Queen has been given over the years include live animals; several horses, a canary from Germany, jaguars and sloths from Brazil, two black beavers from Canada, two young giant turtles from the Seychelles and an elephant called Jumbo from the Cameroon. (The more exotic animals are cared for by the London Zoo.)

MONEY money etiquette

Help! Should I Accept Money From a Neighbor I Barely Know?

Here's your chance to give advice in the pages of MONEY magazine.

In MONEY’s “Readers to the Rescue” department, we publish questions from readers seeking help with sticky financial situations, along with advice from other readers on how to solve those problems. Here’s our latest reader question:

I’m a new mom. A neighbor, who we don’t know well, gave my husband $50 to put toward diapers. Should we accept the money?

What advice would you give? Fill out the form below and tell us about it. We’ll publish selected reader advice in an upcoming issue. (Your answer may be edited for length and clarity.)

Please include your contact information so we can get in touch; if we use your advice in the magazine, we’d like to check with you first, and possibly run your picture as well.

Thank you!

To submit your own question for “Readers to the Rescue,” send an email to social@moneymail.com.

To be notified of future “Readers to the Rescue” questions and answers, find MONEY on Facebook or follow MONEY on Twitter.

TIME Know Right Now

Know Right Now: Christmas By the Numbers

Everything you didn't know you needed to know about Christmas

Christmas was Thursday, but do you know how many Christmas trees were sold this year and how many of them were real? Do you know how much the average American spent on gifts this year? How about the most downloaded Christmas song? Hint: The answer to that one is featured at the end of Love Actually.

If you’re still in the Christmas spirit (or even if you aren’t), watch Friday’s installment of Know Right Now to learn some yuletide facts about this year’s X-Mas.

TIME technology

12 Things to Know If You Got a Drone for Christmas

The FAA releases FAQs for UAVs

Today’s distinguished youths have Christmas present palates far too refined to enjoy infantilizing Frozen paraphernalia.

“It’s that time of year when kids of all ages will receive presents for the holidays,” begins an FAA PSA released Monday. “Many will be excited when they unwrap the box and find an unmanned aircraft.”

Ah, drones. The gift for the kid who has almost everything.

There have been numerous reports that drones are the it-gift of the season. And so the FAA released an educational video as part of its Know Before You Fly campaign that, as TechCrunch very accurately puts it, is “the least interesting drone video you’ll ever see.”

“Make sure you stay off the naughty list,” the FAA preaches as half-hearted animations explain proper flying rules — stay under 400 ft. and away from airports and people’s faces, for instance.

While drones have done many good things this year (like that time they delivered bottle service to good samaritans at Las Vegas poolside clubs), they have also proven a wee bit dangerous (like that time a mistletoe carrying drone accidentally chopped off the tip of someone’s nose at a TGI Friday’s in Brooklyn.)

Merry Christmas, everyone.

MONEY Shopping

Walmart Will Trade You for Other Merchants’ Gift Cards

Don't like the gift card you got for Christmas? Walmart feels your pain.

Don’t worry if you don’t like some of the gift cards you receive this Christmas. The AP reports that Walmart will trade store credit for gift cards from more than 200 different retailers, restaurants, and airlines.

Beginning on Christmas day, shoppers can trade in any eligible gift card for a Walmart gift card of similar value. How much you get depends on what kind of card you’re trading in. An Amazon card will fetch 95% of its value, a Gap card will be worth 85%, and some cards will be matched with just 70% of their original value. The exchange program is being done in partnership with CardCash, the largest platform for buying and selling gift cards. Walmart says this exchange is a test but could be made permanent if there is heavy demand.

To exchange their gift cards, shoppers don’t even need to leave the house. Walmart’s card exchange website, Walmart.CardCash.com, lets users input their gift card’s information, and a Walmart gift card will be emailed to them once the original card’s balance is verified.

The motivation for Walmart’s gift exchange is probably to increase store traffic, but there are many reasons retailers love getting their gift cards into the hands of shoppers. As MONEY’s Kara Brandeisky points out, shoppers are likely to overspend when given what seems like fake money. In addition, researchers have found that consumers buy items they don’t need when they use a stored-value certificate; the CEB TowerGroup consultancy has found that 65% of gift card users spend 38% more than the face value of the card.

The CEB also reported that customers tend to forget about their gift cards and don’t spend the full balance, resulting in more than $1 billion in unused store credit this year alone. But that appears to be less true in the case of Walmart: A company spokesperson told the AP that 95% of Walmart holiday gift cards are usually redeemed by February.

Who do you side with in the Great Gift Card Debate?
Why gift cards are the only present that makes sense
Why gift cards are a crime against Christmas

MONEY Holidays

8 Things People Are Hating on During the Holidays

People dressed as Santa Claus and Mrs. Claus celebrate in Times Square as they gather for the annual Santacon festivities on Dec. 13, 2014 in New York.
People dressed as Santa Claus and Mrs. Claus celebrate in Times Square as they gather for the annual Santacon festivities on Dec. 13, 2014 in New York. Don Emmert—AFP/Getty Images

It's the most wonderful time of the year. But that's not stopping people from bashing everything they hate about the season, including Christmas trees, rampant consumerism, Santa photos, and religion.

What do some people wish would be forever banned, or at least toned down, during holiday seasons in the future? Let’s start with these.

SantaCon
Who could hate an event that pulls together thousands of merrymakers dressed up in Santa Claus gear, and that also raises money for charity? Lots of people. That’s because SantaCon, an annual bar crawl that takes place on a Saturday in December in New York City and San Francisco, is known to devolve into a drunken, sometimes violent mess that annoys the police and horrifies families that happen to stumble into the scrum. Building up to this year’s Con, the San Francisco Chronicle urged participants to try hard to not be the mischievous elf who “makes children cry or gets so drunk in public that Santa gets on the naughty list for public urination.” SantaCon was actually banned in several neighborhoods in New York City to keep partiers at bay. At least one very Bad Santa was on the loose, however: One man dressed as Santa robbed a bank in San Francisco and then disappeared into the pack of red-and-white revelers on the streets.

Secret Santa Gift Exchanges
Are popular office secret Santa gift exchanges the “worst idea ever”? Chicago Tribune columnist Rex Huppke says so, largely because, well-intentioned or not, in the exchange “the odds of a recipient actually liking, needing, or not being mildly offended by the gift are slim.” No one can argue with the other kind of secret Santa that has been popping up during the season, however: One mysterious “Santa” has been visiting fast-food restaurants and handing out $100 tips to workers, while other are anonymously spending tens of thousands of to pay off the layaway accounts of total strangers.

Santa Photo Ops
Santa imagery is used to sell all sorts of things around the holidays. The Dillards department store, for instance, posted a sign in the young girls’ section that was supposed to be a letter to Santa Claus, asking for “a big fat bank account and a slim body,” before people complained and it was removed. Then there are the different permutations of photo ops—Santa on a Harley-Davidson, Santa with pets, mall Santa photo packages that start at $30 and go higher. Perhaps unsurprisingly, some are critics of Santa’s overexposure, especially the Georgia gun range that welcomed children for a Santa photo op, which some called “irresponsible,” or worse.

Christmas Trees—Real and Fake
You’d think Christmas tree sellers would be pretty jolly. But the debate about whether natural or fake trees are best has pushed opposing sides to do some nasty trash talking. The artificial tree is little more than “a giant green toilet bowl brush,” Rick Dungey, a spokesman for the National Christmas Tree Association, told the Los Angeles Times. “A real Christmas tree starts as a seed. It comes from nature. Fake ones end in a landfill, and they won’t decompose like a plant will.” Critics of real trees, meanwhile, point out that because states such as California are suffering from serious droughts, and because it thousands of gallons of water are needed to raise a Christmas tree, the all-natural option isn’t entirely environmentally friendly either.

Gift Cards
The gift card may very well be the most requested present year in, year out, but it’s nonetheless a lazy, thoughtless “crime against Christmas,” my colleague Kara Brandeisky argued recently. What message is sent when we give gift cards? “I couldn’t be bothered to think of you this holiday season; help yourself to exactly $25 worth of crap from Target.”

Supposedly Thoughtful Gifts
The best counterargument to the exchanging of “thoughtful” handpicked gifts is the one Jacob Davidson, another MONEY colleague, makes by showing that the vast majority of people wind up not liking their gifts. “You’re statistically likely to buy an unwanted, meaningless present, so don’t get gray hairs over choosing the right one.” Just buy a gift card.

Consumerism
Even though Black Friday at the mall flopped, with foot traffic and sales down substantially on what’s traditionally one of the year’s biggest shopping days, consumerism is undeniably alive—and so are the critics tired of shopping encroaching on family time during the holidays. By far what agitated the masses the most was how stores insisted on being open on Thanksgiving, starting as early as 6 a.m. Protesters launched campaigns to boycott stores open on the holiday, but it’s unclear what, if any, effect they’ve had.

Religion
An atheist group based in New Jersey decided that the holiday season was the perfect time to take pot shots at religion, in the form of roadside billboards in the heartland featuring a girl in a Santa hat and the words on a mock letter, “Dear Santa, All I want for Christmas is to skip church! I’m too old for fairy tales.” Some Christian groups are also viewing Tom Ford’s provocative new piece of jewelry—a cross penis pendant, available in gold and silver, in sizes small and medium (no large)—as an intentional insult to their religious beliefs.

TIME Bizarre

See the Exciting Life of Santa Claus, AKA the Most Interesting Man in the World

I don't always deliver presents on my sleigh, but when I do, I just might drop straight from the sky

Whether riding his hog on the city streets or shredding some serious waves, these Kris Kringles do a whole lot more than laugh like a bowl of jelly.

MONEY holiday shopping

3 Last-Minute Gifts You Definitely Shouldn’t Buy—And What to Get Instead

141219_EM_LastMinuteGifts
Paul Linse—Corbis

Behind on your holiday shopping? Here's how not to screw up

It’s that time of year, everyone. There are three shopping days left before Christmas, and as of a few days ago, 73% of you hadn’t bought all of your gifts yet. Retailers are so used to procrastinators now that some are specifically preparing for an influx of last-minute buyers.

I’d ask why we all can’t just learn to plan ahead, but there’s no time for that kind of self-reflection. There’s no time for anything but shopping. But before you rush down to your favorite store or schedule a lot of overnight shipping on Amazon, remember this: The key to a good last-minute gift is the recipient can’t know you bought it in the last five minutes. With that in mind, here are three presents that are absolutely guaranteed to blow your cover, and what you should get instead.

Soap and Lotions

“Everyone loves soap! I’ll just hit up the Bath & Body Works, grab a few gift boxes, and still have time to pick up drinks for the Christmas party!”

These are the words of holiday shopping failure.

It’s true that everyone needs soap. That’s why it’s a bad gift. Soap is probably the most generic present on the planet. By purchasing soap for your loved ones, friends, or even acquaintances, you are saying that you know that person showers now and then—or that they don’t shower enough. Neither is good.

What to get instead: Booze. It’s the one completely generic, readily available gift (even in airports) that no one will be disappointed to receive.

Starbucks Gift Card

I’m on the record as a big supporter of gift cards. Lot’s of people want them and they guarantee your recipient will get something they like. That’s more than you can say about almost any other present.

But Starbucks gift cards are an exception. They’re kind of like soap in the sense that, because everyone drinks coffee, this gift shows you don’t know much about the person you’re giving it to. And, in a way, it’s worse than soap because there is no product more readily available than something from Starbucks, making it clear you probably picked it up on Christmas morning.

But the problems are deeper than that. The great thing about gift cards is they allow you to splurge on something without feeling bad. Who cares if you don’t really need a Kindle? You’re playing with house money! What is anyone going to splurge on at Starbucks? A bigger latte? Wow, what a magical Christmas.

What to get instead: Amazon gift card. Whenever I recommend gift cards, people always ask, “Well why don’t you just get them actual money then?!” Because giving someone a wad of cash makes Christmas feel like a drug deal. An Amazon gift card is pretty much the same as cash, but more gifty.

Sports Apparel

There are two rules that govern the gift giving of clothing: Don’t get someone something they already have, and don’t get them something they might be embarrassed to wear. Getting your friend or loved one sports clothing violates both of these rules.

If someone is a big [insert sports team] fan, they undoubtedly have an [insert sports team] hat, shirt, or jersey. Maybe they don’t have all three, but you won’t know which part of their [insert sports team] wardrobe is lacking until you see the disappointed look on your friend’s face as they unwrap their third Twins cap.

Some attempt to avoid this outcome by buying non-standard sports gear: Some [insert sports team] sweatpants, or a super-cool [insert sports team] beanie! But unless they’re some kind of [insert sports team] fanatic, they probably don’t actually want a bunch of random items baring their team insignia and your gift will end up in the back of the closet.

What to get instead: Tickets to a game. That’s a can’t-miss present for any sports fan, and it shows you really value your relationship because you’re willing to spend a few hours together at the arena. Plus, experiences make people happier than things.

MONEY Odd Spending

5 Weird Holiday Gifts You’d Never Guess Would Be Ultra Hot Sellers

You're not going to find Elsa, Elmo, or any toys whatsoever on this oddball list of bizarrely hot holiday buys.

We’ve come to expect that certain kinds of gifts will be hot sellers during the holiday season. Remember Zhu Zhu Pets? Or Tickle Me Elmo or Bratz? Or any number of other gifts that somehow or another dominated the December discussions in schoolyards all over America and caused parents to go out of their minds—and sometimes drop thousands of dollars—to get that year’s sold-out, must-have toy?

This year, “Frozen” items and certain Lego sets are among the gifts that are sold out or hard to find because supply has been unable to keep up with demand. Yet by and large, because today our interests are so varied, kids increasingly want tech more than traditional toys, retailers are better at anticipating sales, and online marketplaces make it possible to find even sold out items in seconds, it’s much rarer for there to be a single must-have toy in any holiday season.

That doesn’t mean that the holidays are bereft of sales surprises. In fact, a handful of oddball items have seemingly come out of nowhere to surge ahead of the pack as bizarrely hot-selling holiday purchases. Perhaps most surprising of all, none of them are toys, nor—one would hope—are they intended as gifts for children.

Here are five of the season’s strangest hot sellers, several of which it’s nearly impossible to buy now, assuming you might actually want to buy them.

  • Beard Baubles

    141222_EM_WeirdGifts_5
    AP Images

    Good luck getting your hands on this totally absurd gift for the bearded hipster in your life. Beard Baubles, which are tiny ornaments meant to adorn one’s facial hair as if the beard were a Christmas tree, have been sold out for weeks. The idea was reportedly cooked up by an ad agency in London, with the profits going to charity. If you’re truly desperate for a set of beard ornaments, some are being sold on eBay in the UK. Alternately, as one observer suggested, you could just go to a crafts store and make your own.

  • L.L. Bean Duck Boots

    141222_EM_WeirdGifts_1
    Courtesy of LL Bean

    Though far more practical than beard ornaments, the idea that many styles of classic L.L. Bean boots are out of stock, sold out, or otherwise hard to buy is still a head-scratcher, especially considering the winter is only getting started and a retailer such as L.L. Bean banks on big sales every holiday season. What happened? Apparently, L.L. Bean boots became extremely popular with teens and millennials recently, and because the boots are hand-crafted and stitched, the manufacturer hasn’t been able to churn out new pairs fast enough to keep up with the surge in demand. The hot boots phenomenon is reminiscent of last season, when $89 Giant hoodies were deemed the “it” piece of apparel and were backordered for months.

  • iPod Classic

    141222_EM_WeirdGifts_2
    Alamy

    The iconic iPod Classic was discontinued last fall, which wasn’t all that surprising because, what with so many other options for storing and listening to music, fewer people were buying the descendant of the original iPod. Apple also said that it was becoming increasing more difficult and expensive to find parts needed to make the iPod Classic. Now that the gadget isn’t sold in stores, however, the killed-off iPod Classic is being appreciated anew by consumers eager to get their hands on one. On eBay, auctions for new iPod Classics are starting in the high $300s, and some sellers are asking “Buy It Now” prices of upwards of $499. The Guardian reported that some sellers in the UK have been listing iPod Classics for up to £670 (roughly $1,050). The last time the gadget was sold in Apple Stores, mind you, the retail price was $249.

  • Ugly Christmas Suit

    141222_EM_WeirdGifts_3
    Courtesy of Shinesty

    The traditional ugly Christmas sweater would make the perfect complement to a beard decorated in ornaments, but this year, hipsters were given another ironic fashion option in the form of three different Ugly Christmas Sweater Suits from a company called Shinesty, based in Boulder, Colo. The suits, which came with a jacket, tie, and pants, each featuring bold colors and loud matching prints (Christmas trees, snowflakes, snowman), all sold out on Cyber Monday, though they’re available for 2015 preorder right now.

  • Poop

    141222_EM_WeirdGifts_4
    Courtesy of Cards Against Humanity

    As you may have heard, Cards Against Humanity, the “party game for horrible people,” somehow convinced 30,000 customers to pay $6 apiece for a box of bull feces. How did the company pull this off? Simple. On Black Friday, it posted on its website that it was plainly selling “Bull****” and thousands of people jumped on the offer. The gag gift—which buyers may or may not have actually known was a gag—isn’t anywhere near being one of the season’s hottest sellers. But considering the steaming pile of “merchandise” in question, any sales whatsoever would seem like a shock. Perhaps less surprising: Bull poop boxes are being posted on eBay, and they’ve been selling for three or four times the original ridiculous retail price.

MONEY

5 Ways Scammers are Targeting Last-Minute Holiday Shoppers

The baddies perpetrating these crimes ought to get coal in their stockings. But if you're not careful, they might get your money instead.

In the final days before Christmas, holiday scams are haunting shoppers once again. As you finish buying the last of your presents, watch out for these Scrooge-like schemes:

1. Feast of the phishers

Email scams in particular have been making headlines this season. They even earned a spot on the Better Business Bureau’s list of holiday scams to avoid.

“Phishing emails are a common way for hackers to get at your personal information or break into your computer,” the BBB warns. “Around the holidays, beware of e-cards and messages pretending to be from companies like UPS, Federal Express or major retailers with links to package tracking information.”

Also, be wary of any communications received from charities to which you’ve never given money.

To outwit these scammers, don’t open any emails from senders you don’t recognize, and definitely don’t click on any links or download any attachments in these messages.

And if you get an email from a particular retailer and you haven’t recently made a purchase (or signed up for the mailing list), assume that it’s a phishing attempt and don’t click through just in case.

2. $0 gift cards

Gift cards may seem like the perfect gift, but they can also be the perfect scam.

Sometimes, cards that are sold online from sites other than those of major retailers can turn out to contain little or no money.

But gift card scams abound in stores as well. Sophisticated criminals copy gift card information right off cards on the rack, wait for a shopper to activate the card and then swoop in and steal the funds.

For the safest possible purchase, buy gift cards directly from the source. And when buying in-store, remember to check that the scratch-off activation code on the back is untouched before purchase if the card was openly on display.

3. The doggie double-cross

You may be shopping for more than clothes and electronics this season. If you’re hoping to add a four-legged family member, you’ll need to be careful here as well.

In the so-called puppy scam, unknowing prospective pet owners locate a supposed breeder online and wire money for a dog they hope to adopt, but are ultimately left without a furry friend.

The Humane Society of the United States recommends avoiding such scams by adopting Christmas puppies from a shelter, animal rescue group or breeder to whom you’ve been referred by someone you trust.

4. Package pilfering

Ordering some of your gifts online?

The downside of convenience is that the pile of packages that arrives on your doorstep may be tempting to some unsavory sorts. Already people across the country—from Texas to New Jersey—have reported boxes being stolen.

To prevent becoming a victim of box burglars, you could require signature on delivery for anything you order for yourself and ask anyone you expect to be sending you things to do the same. You can ask the shipper to hold your goods at its local outpost, where you can then pick it up.

5. The wallet grab

Criminals may be getting savvier with their online schemes, but the traditional pickpocketing and smash-and-grab techniques still exist.

Crowded malls filled with frantic, distracted eleventh hour shoppers are a pickpocket’s dream come true.

So, as obvious as it may sound, make sure you take precautionary measures, such as holding your purse and/or wallet close to the front of your body, keeping all bags zipped and removing any purchases from plain sight in your car.

Courtney Jespersen writes for NerdWallet DealFinder, a website that helps shoppers find the best deals on popular products.

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