Cryptocurrency and the IRS

[NOTE: This is a piece I wrote for Linux Journal a few years back. It’s still very relevant, and still important information for anyone dabbling in crypto. This seems like a good time of year to repost it.]

One for you, one for me, and 0.15366BTC for Uncle Sam.

When people ask me about bitcoin, it’s usually because someone told them about my days as an early miner. I had thousands of bitcoin, and I sold them for around a dollar each. At the time, it was awesome, but looking back—well you can do the math. I’ve been mining and trading with cryptocurrency ever since it was invented, but it’s only over the past few years that I’ve been concerned about taxes.

In the beginning, no one knew how to handle the tax implications of bitcoin. In fact, that was one of the favorite aspects of the idea for most folks. It wasn’t “money”, so it couldn’t be taxed. We could start an entire societal revolution without government oversight! Those times have changed, and now the government (at least here in the US) very much does expect to get taxes on cryptocurrency gains. And you know what? It’s very, very complicated, and few tax professionals know how to handle it.

What Is Taxable?

Cryptocurrencies (bitcoin, litecoin, ethereum and any of the 10,000 other altcoins) are taxed based on the “gains” you make with them. (Often in this article I mention bitcoin specifically, but the rules are the same for all cryptocurrency.) Gains are considered income, and income is taxed. What sorts of things are considered gains? Tons. Here are a few examples:

  • Mining.
  • Selling bitcoin for cash.
  • Trading one crypto coin for another on an exchange.
  • Buying something directly with bitcoin.

The frustrating part about taxes and cryptocurrency is that every transaction must be calculated. See, with cash transactions, a dollar is always worth a dollar (according to the government, let’s not get into a discussion about fiat currency). But with cryptocurrency, at any given moment, the coin is worth a certain amount of dollars. Since we’re taxed on dollars, that variance must be tracked so we are sure to report how much “money” we had to spend.

It gets even more complicated, because we’re taxed on the same bitcoin over and over. It’s not “double dipping”, because the taxes are only on the gains and losses that occurred between transactions. It’s not unfair, but it’s insanely complex. Let’s look at the life of a bitcoin from the moment it’s mined. For simplicity’s sake, let’s say it took exactly one day to mine one bitcoin:

1) After 24 hours of mining, I receive 1BTC. The market price for bitcoin that day was $1,000 per BTC. It took me $100 worth of electricity that day to mine (yes, I need to track the electrical usage if I want to deduct it as a loss).

Taxable income for day 1: $900.

2) The next day, I trade the bitcoin for ethereum on an exchange. The cost of bitcoin on this day is $1,500. The cost of ethereum on this day is $150. Since the value of my 1 bitcoin has increased since I mined it, when I make the trade on the exchange, I have to claim the increase in price as income. I now own 10 ethereum, but because of the bitcoin value increase, I now have more income. There are no deductions for electricity, because I already had the bitcoin; I’m just paying the capital gains on the price increase.

Taxable income for day 2: $500.

3) The next day, the price of ethereum skyrockets to $300, and the price of bitcoin plummets to $1,000. I decide to trade my 10 ethereum for 3BTC. When I got my ethereum, they were worth $1,500, but when I just traded them for BTC, they were worth $3,000. So I made $1,500 worth of profit.

Taxable income for day 3: $1,500.

4) Finally, on the 4th day, even though the price is only $1,200, I decide to sell my bitcoin for cash. I have 3BTC, so I get $3,600 in cash. Looking back, when I got those 3BTC, they were worth $1,000 each, so that means I’ve made another $600 profit.

Taxable income for day 4: $600.

It might seem unfair to be taxed over and over on the same initial investment, but if you break down what’s happening, it’s clear we’re only getting taxed on price increases. If the price drops and then we sell, our taxable income is negative for that, and it’s a deduction. If you have to pay a lot in taxes on bitcoin, it means you’ve made a lot of money with bitcoin!

Exceptions?

There are a few exceptions to the rules—well, they’re not really exceptions, but more clarifications. Since we’re taxed only on gains, it’s important to think through the life of your bitcoin. For example:

  1. Employer paying in bitcoin: I work for a company that will pay me in bitcoin if I desire. Rather than a check going into my bank account, every two weeks a bitcoin deposit goes into my wallet. I need to track the initial cost of the bitcoin as I receive it, but usually employers will send you the “after taxes” amount. That means the bitcoin you receive already has been taxed. You still need to track what it’s worth on the day you receive it in order to determine gain/loss when you eventually spend it, but the initial total has most likely already been taxed. (Check with your employer to be sure though.)
  2. Moving bitcoin from one wallet to another: this is actually a tougher question and is something worth talking about with your tax professional. Let’s say you move your bitcoin from a BitPay wallet to your fancy new Trezor hardware wallet. Do you need to count the gains/losses since the time it was initially put into your BitPay wallet? Regardless of what you and your tax professional decide, you’re not going to “lose” either way. If you decide to report the gain/loss, your cost basis for that bitcoin changes to the current date and price. If you don’t count a gain/loss, you stick to the initial cost basis from the deposit into the BitPay wallet.

The moral of the story here is to find a tax professional comfortable with cryptocurrency.

Accounting Complications

If you’re a finance person, terms like FIFO and LIFO make perfect sense to you. (FIFO = First In First Out, and LIFO = Last In First Out.) Although it’s certainly easy to understand, it wasn’t something I’d considered before the world of bitcoin. Here’s an example of how they differ:

  • Day 1: buy 1BTC for $100.
  • Day 2: buy 1BTC for $500.
  • Day 3: buy 1BTC for $1,000.
  • Day 4: buy 1BTC for $10,000.
  • Day 5: sell 1BTC for $12,000.

If I use FIFO to determine my gains and losses, when I sell the 1BTC on day 5, I have to claim a capital gain of $11,900. That’s considered taxable income. However, if I use LIFO to determine the gains and losses, when I sell the 1BTC on day 5, I have to claim only $2,000 worth of capital gains. The question is basically “which BTC am I selling?”

There are other accounting methods too, but FIFO and LIFO are the most common, and they should be okay to use with the IRS. Please note, however, that you can’t mix and match FIFO/LIFO. You need to pick one and stick with it. In fact, if you change the method from year to year, you need to change the method officially with the IRS, which is another task for your tax professional.

The Long and Short of It

Another complication when it comes to calculating taxes doesn’t have to do with gains or losses, but rather the types of gains and losses. Specifically, if you have an asset (such as bitcoin) for longer than a year before you sell it, it’s considered a long-term gain. That income is taxed at a lower rate than if you sell it within the first year of ownership. With bitcoin, it can be complicated if you move the currency from wallet to wallet. But if you can show you’ve had the bitcoin for more than a year, it’s very much worth the effort, because the long-term gain tax is significantly lower.

This was a big factor in my decision on whether to cash in ethereum or bitcoin for a large purchase I made this year. I had the bitcoin in a wallet, but it didn’t “age” as bitcoin for a full year. The ethereum had just been sitting in my Coinbase account for 13 months. I ended up saving significant money by selling the ethereum instead of a comparable amount of bitcoin, even though the capital gain amount might have been similar. The difference in long-term and short-term tax rates are significant enough that it’s worth waiting to sell if you can.

Overwhelmed?

If you’ve made only a couple transactions during the past year, it almost can be fun to figure out your gains/losses. If you’re like me, however, and you try to purchase things with bitcoin at every possible opportunity, it can become overwhelming fast. The first thing I want to stress is that it’s important to talk to someone who is familiar with cryptocurrency and taxes. This article wasn’t intended to prepare you for handling the tax forms yourself, but rather to show why you might need professional help!

Unfortunately, if you live in a remote rural area like I do, finding a tax professional who is familiar with bitcoin can be tough—or potentially impossible. The good news is that the IRS is handling cryptocurrency like any other capital gain/loss, so with the proper help, any good tax person should be able to get through it. FIFO, LIFO, cost basis and terms like those aren’t specific to bitcoin. The parts that are specific to bitcoin can be complicated, but there is an incredible resource online that will help.

If you head over to BitcoinTaxes (Figure 1), you’ll find an incredible website designed for bitcoin and crypto enthusiasts. I think there is a free offering for folks with just a handful of transactions, but for $29, I was able to use the site to track every single cryptocurrency transaction I made throughout the year. BitcoinTaxes has some incredible features:

  • Automatically calculates rates based on historical market prices.
  • Tracks gains/losses including long-term/short-term ramifications.
  • Handles purchases made with bitcoin individually and determines gains/losses per transaction (Figure 2).
  • Supports multiple accounting methods (FIFO/LIFO).
  • Integrates with online exchanges/wallets to pull data.
  • Creates tax forms.

The last bullet point is really awesome. The intricacies of bitcoin and taxes are complicated, but the BitcoinTaxes site can fill out the forms for you. Once you’re entered all your information, you can print the tax forms so you can deliver them to your tax professional. The process for determining what goes on the forms might be unfamiliar to many tax preparers, but the forms you get from BitcoinTaxes are standard IRS tax forms, which the tax pro will fully understand.

Figure 1. The BitcoinTaxes site makes calculating tax burdens far less burdensome.

Figure 2. If you do the math, you can see the price of bitcoin was drastically different for each transaction.

Do you need to pay $29 in order to calculate all your cryptocurrency tax information properly? Certainly not. But for me, the site saved me so many hours of labor that it was well worth it. Plus, while I’m a pretty smart guy, the BitcoinTaxes site was designed with the sole purpose of calculating tax information. It’s nice to have that expertise on hand.

My parting advice is please take taxes seriously—especially this year. The IRS has been working hard to get information from companies like Coinbase regarding taxpayer’s gains/losses. In fact, Coinbase was required to give the IRS financial records on 14,355 of its users. Granted, those accounts are only people who have more than $20,000 worth of transactions, but it’s just the first step. Reporting things properly now will make life far less stressful down the road. And remember, if you have a ton of taxes to pay for your cryptocurrency, that means you made even more money in profit. It doesn’t make paying the IRS any more fun, but it helps make the sore spot in your wallet hurt a little less.

PoE, PoE+, and Passive PoE

If you’re befuddled by every Poe other than Edgar Allen, after this short blog post, you’ll be confused… nevermore.

I’ve been installing a lot of POE devices recently, and the different methods for providing power over Ethernet cables can be very confusing. There are a few standards in place, and then there’s a method that isn’t a standard, but is widely used.

802.3af or Active PoE:

This is the oldest standard for providing power over Ethernet cables. It allows a maximum of 15.4 watts of power to be transmitted, and the devices (switch and peripheral) negotiate the amount of power and the wires on which the power is transmitted. If a device says it is PoE-compliant, that compliance is usually referring to 802.3af.

802.3at or PoE+:

The main difference between PoE and PoE+ is the amount of power that can be transmitted. There is still negotiation to determine the amount of power and what wires it’s transmitted on, but PoE+ supports up to 25.5 watts of power. Often, access points with multiple radios or higher-powered antennas require more power than 802.3af can supply.

Passive PoE:

This provides power over the Ethernet lines, but it doesn’t negotiate the amount of power or the wires on which the power is sent. Many devices use Passive PoE (notably, the Ubiquiti line of network hardware often uses 24v Passive PoE) to provide power to remote devices. With Passive PoE, the proprietary nature of the power specifics means that it’s often wise to use only power injectors or switches specifically designed for the devices that require Passive PoE. The power is “always on”, so it’s possible to burn out devices if they’re not prepared for electrified Ethernet wires, or if the CAT5 cabling is wired incorrectly.

Figure 1. This AP requires a Passive PoE 24v supply. It can be confusing, because even though it says it’s PoE, it won’t power on using a standard 802.3af switch.

The best practice for using power over Ethernet is either to use equipment that adheres to the 802.3af/at standards or to use the power injectors or switches specifically designed for the hardware. Usually, the standard-based PoE devices are more expensive, but the ability to use any brand PoE switch and device often makes the extra expense worthwhile. That said, there’s nothing wrong with Passive PoE, as long as the correct power is given to the correct devices.

Finding the Joy in 2019

Nigel enjoyed 2019. Especially the fishy bits.
Nigel enjoyed 2019. Especially the fishy bits.

This won’t be a long, navel-gazing post about all the wisdom I’ve gathered over the past year. Rather, a quick list of things that stuck out to me. And honestly, it’ll probably largely be from the past couple months, because a year is a long time to remember. And I didn’t take notes. 🙂

  • Happiness is a funny thing. I realized this year that, for me at least, happiness isn’t the result of things done well. Rather, happiness tends to cause things to go well. If I focus first on being happy, content, and having fun — those things like work, family, and hobbies tend to be more successful. And how does one focus on being happy? Oddly enough, choosing to be happy.
  • Facebook isn’t a good source for news. But (un?)fortunately it’s a really good place to find out about people in your life. If you want to see who a person really is, look at what they post/share/like. Or don’t, because it’s often more heartbreaking than anything.
  • Proxmox is awesome. Sorry in advance to my non-nerdy friends, but Proxmox is a virtualization platform, and I’m sad to say I haven’t used it before this year. I’ve been so very foolish to wait. It’s incredible. Hopefully you’ll hear more about it from me in 2020, because holy cat biscuits am I a fan.
  • eBay is a great place to buy servers. If you can deal with last-generation hardware, buying use/reconditioned servers on eBay is so affordable, it feels criminal. Granted buying used equipment forces you to focus on redundancy and backups in case of failure — but shouldn’t you be focusing on those things anyway?!?!?
  • Losing weight is HARD. And it’s even harder for women than men. I lost over 50 pounds this year, and although I gained back 11-ish over the holidays, the past 6 months have been a big first step in a lifestyle change. I’m in my mid-40s now, and I need to eat far less, and exercise far more often than I did in decades past. I want to get really old someday, and keeping my body healthy and strong is an important part of that goal.
  • Point of view is critical. I’m a pretty sickly guy. From bad lungs, to bad kidneys, to heart concerns in my 20s — there’s a lot wrong with me. (Seriously, that’s just a tiny fraction of my issues, I don’t want to depress anyone with the entire list, especially myself!) I try daily to focus on how healthy I am in spite of all the things working against me. I’m not sickly, I’m impossible to kill!
  • Learning is awesome. Yeah, I know, I’m a trainer by profession so this sounds like a marketing tactic, but I mean for myself as much as anyone else. I absolutely love learning. This year alone I:
    • Built a hydroponic system in my basement
    • Learned this decade’s nuances with video and live-streaming
    • Installed lighting systems of multiple brands/kinds/styles all over my house and office
    • Learned a bit of a new programming language (python)
    • Read over a book a week
    • Left the country (this is a big deal for me, it’s a phobia)
    • Fixed a refrigerator
    • Installed a dishwasher
    • Bought/used/learned/installed/played_with more technology and gadgets than anyone has a right to
    • Finally pinned a tweet (sorry it took so long, Jake!)

I don’t know what 2020 has in store for me health-wise, work-wise, etc. — but I know that if I approach it purposely filled with joy first, it will be far better than if I try to create happiness by doing things. If I learned anything from 2019, it’s that joy is a choice. A decision. And it puts all the other things in place, regardless of what those things might be. Happy New Year, everyone. Let’s make it awesome together. 🙂

Grepping is Awesome. Just Don’t Glob it Up!

Greps and pipes and greps and pipes and greps and pipes…

This article covers some grep and regex basics.

There are generally two types of coffee drinkers. The first type buys a can of pre-ground beans and uses the included scoop to make their automatic drip coffee in the morning. The second type picks single-origin beans from various parts of the world, accepts only beans that have been roasted within the past week and grinds those beans with a conical burr grinder moments before brewing in any number of complicated methods. Text searching is a bit like that.

For most things on the command line, people think of *.* or *.txt and are happy to use file globbing to select the files they want. When it comes to grepping a log file, however, you need to get a little fancier. The confusing part is when the syntax of globbing and regex overlap. Thankfully, it’s not hard to figure out when to use which construct.

Globbing

The command shell uses globbing for filename completion. If you type something like ls *.txt, you’ll get a list of all the files that end in .txt in the current directory. If you do ls R*.txt, you’ll get all the files that start with capital R and have the .txt extension. The asterisk is a wild card that lets you quickly filter which files you mean.

You also can use a question mark in globbing if you want to specify a single character. So, typing ls read??.txt will list readme.txt, but not read.txt. That’s different from ls read*.txt, which will match both readme.txt and read.txt, because the asterisk means “zero or more characters” in the file glob.

Here’s the easy way to remember if you’re using globbing (which is very simple) vs. regular expressions: globbing is done to filenames by the shell, and regex is used for searching text. The only frustrating exception to this is that sometimes the shell is too smart and conveniently does globbing when you don’t want it to—for example:


grep file* README.TXT

In most cases, this will search the file README.TXT looking for the regular expression file*, which is what you normally want. But if there happens to be a file in the current folder that matches the file* glob (let’s say filename.txt), the shell will assume you meant to pass that to grep, and so grep actually will see:


grep filename.txt README.TXT

Gee, thank you so much Mr. Shell, but that’s not what I wanted to do. For that reason, I recommend always using quotation marks when using grep. 99% of the time you won’t get an accidental glob match, but that 1% can be infuriating. So when using grep, this is much safer:


grep "file*" README.TXT

Because even if there is a filename.txt, the shell won’t substitute it automatically.

So, globs are for filenames, and regex is for searching text. That’s the first thing to understand. The next thing is to realize that similar syntax means different things.

Glob and Regex Conflicts

I don’t want this article to become a super in-depth piece on regex; rather, I want you to understand simple regex, especially as it conflicts with blobbing. Table 1 shows a few of the most commonly confused symbols and what they mean in each case.

Table 1. Commonly Used Symbols

Special CharacterMeaning in GlobsMeaning in Regex
*zero or more characterszero or more of the character it follows
?single occurrence of any characterzero or one of the character it follows but not more than 1
.literal “.” characterany single character

To add insult to injury, you might be thinking about globs when you use grep, but just because you get the expected results doesn’t mean you got the results for the correct reason. Let me try to explain. Here is a text file called filename.doc:


The fast dog is fast.
The faster dogs are faster.
A sick dog should see a dogdoc.
This file is filename.doc

If you type:


grep "fast*" filename.doc

The first two lines will match. Whether you’re thinking globs or regex, that makes sense. But if you type:


grep "dogs*" filename.doc

The first three lines will match, but if you’re thinking in globs, that doesn’t make sense. Since grep uses regular expressions (regex) when searching files, the asterisk means “zero or more occurrences of the previous character”, so in the second example, it matches dog and dogs, because having zero “s” characters matches the regex.

And let’s say you typed this:


grep "*.doc" filename.doc

This will match the last two lines. The asterisk doesn’t actually do anything in this command, because it’s not following any character. The dot in regex means “any character”, so it will match the “.doc”, but it also will match “gdoc” in “dogdoc”, so both lines match.

The moral of the story is that grep never uses globbing. The only exception is when the shell does globbing before passing the command on to grep, which is why it’s always a good idea to use quotation marks around the regular expression you are trying to grep for.

Use fgrep to Avoid Regex

If you don’t want the power of regex, it can be very frustrating. This is especially true if you’re actually looking for some of the special characters in a bunch of text. You can use the fgrep command (or grep -F, which is the same thing) in order to skip any regex substitutions. Using fgrep, you’ll search for exactly what you type, even if they are special characters. Here is a text file called file.txt:


I really hate regex.
All those stupid $, {}, and \ stuff ticks me off.
Why can't text be text?

If you try to use regular grep like this:


grep "$," file.txt

you’ll get no results. That’s because the “$” is a special character (more on that in a bit). If you’d like to grep for special characters without escaping them, or knowing the regex code to get what you want, this will work fine:


grep -F "$," file.txt

And, grep will return the second line of the text file because it matches the literal characters. It’s possible to build a regex query to search for special characters, but it can become complicated quickly. Plus, fgrep is much, much faster on a large text file.

Some Simple, Useful Regex

Okay, now that you know when to use globbing and when to use regular expressions, let’s look at a bit of regex that can make grepping much more useful. I find myself using the caret and dollar sign symbols in regex fairly often. Caret means “at the beginning of the line”, and dollar sign means “at the end of the line”. I used to mix them up, so my silly method to remember is that a farmer has to plant carrots at the beginning of the season in order to sell them for dollars at the end of the season. It’s silly, but it works for me!

Here’s a sample text file named file.txt:


chickens eat corn
corn rarely eats chickens
people eat chickens and corn
chickens rarely eat people

If you were to type:


grep "chickens" file.txt

you will get all four lines returned, because “chickens” is in each line. But if you add some regex to the mix:


grep "^chickens" file.txt

you’ll get both the first and fourth line returned, because the word “chickens” is at the beginning of those lines. If you type:


grep "corn$" file.txt

you will see the first and third lines, because they both end with “corn”. However, if you type:


grep "^chickens.*corn$" file.txt

you will get only the first line, because it is the only one that begins with chickens and ends with corn. This example might look confusing, but there are three regular expressions that build the search. Let’s look at each of them.

First, ^chickens means the line must start with chickens.

Second, .* means zero or more of any character, because remember, the dot means any character, and the asterisk means zero or more of the previous character.

Third, corn$ means the line must end with corn.

When you’re building regular expressions, you just mush them all together like that in a long string. It can become confusing, but if you break down each piece, it makes sense. In order for the entire regular expression to match, all of the pieces must match. That’s why only the first line matches the example regex statement.

A handful of other common regex characters are useful when grepping text files. Remember just to mush them together to form the entire regular expression:

  • \ — the backslash negates the “special-ness” of special characters, which means you actually can search for them with regex. For example, \$ will search for the $ character, instead of looking for the end of a line.
  • \s — this construct means “whitespace”, which can be a space or spaces, tabs or newline characters. To find the word pickle surrounded by whitespace, you could search for \spickle\s, and that will find “pickle” but not “pickles”.
  • .* — this is really just a specific use of the asterisk, but it’s a very common combination, so I mention it here. It basically means “zero or more of any characters”, which is what was used in the corn/chicken example above.
  • | — this means “or” in regex. So hi|hello will match either “hi” or “hello”. It’s often used in parentheses to separate it from other parts of the regular expression. For example, (F|f)rankfurter will search for the word frankfurter, whether or not it’s capitalized.
  • [] — brackets are another way to specify “or” options, but they support ranges. So the regex [Ff]rankfurter is the same as the above example. Brackets support ranges though, so ^[A-Z] will match any line that starts with a capital letter. It also supports numbers, so [0-9]$ will match any line that ends in a digit.

Your Mission

You can do far more complicated things with regular expressions. These basic building blocks are usually enough to get the sort of text you need out of a log file. If you want to learn more, by all means, either do some googling on regex, or get a book explaining all the nitty-gritty goodness. If you want me to write more about it, drop a comment and let me know.

I really, really encourage you to practice using regex. The best way to learn is to do, so make a few text files and see if the regex statements you create give you the results you expect. Thankfully, grep highlights the “match” it finds in the line it returns. That means if you’re getting more results than you expect, you’ll see why the regex matched more than you expected, because grep will show you.

The most important thing to remember is that grep doesn’t do globbing—that wild-card stuff is for filenames on the shell only. Even if globbing with grep seems to work, it’s probably just coincidence (look back at the dog/dogs example here if you don’t know what I’m talking about). Have fun grepping!

The Powers Family Christmas Eve Scavenger Hunt

Every year, since our (now adult) girls were tiny, Donna and I have created a scavenger hunt for our kids on Christmas Eve. They follow clues, solve puzzles, and at the end, there’s a group gift/prize for them to enjoy together. It’s not our only family tradition, but it’s by far the biggest and most consistent one we have. Since we’ve started livestreaming the shenanigans every December 24th, we’ve gotten quite a few inquiries about how we do it.

This is the answer, in the form of recommendations if you want to do your own version.

Make it easy to set up, or it won’t be a tradition, it’ll be a single fun memory.

Donna and I don’t usually prepare weeks or even days in advance. Some years, we’ve created clues on the fly, while the girls are doing the hunt. We want it to be a tradition, not a burden. We used to have a tradition of making a Christmas Star together every year. But it turns out that can be difficult to do, and the tradition fizzled. We’ve NEVER missed a year with our scavenger hunt, because we never let it become a burden. It’s truly not about how clever your clues are, or how many people are involved. It’s about doing silly things together, and even the lamest years have been a ton of fun.

Remember WHY you’re doing it.

Our goal has always been for our girls to have fun with each other. We’re not trying to stump them. There aren’t teams competing. They aren’t competing against each other. They’re just having fun working together. The final clue/solution is always something we can do together as a family afterward. Some years it’s a video game. Some years it’s a board game. Some years it’s a movie. It’s impossible to “lose” at the scavenger hunt, and if a clue is too challenging, we’ll totally help and give more clues, because it’s not about challenging the girls. It’s about the girls having fun TOGETHER.

Include everyone.

This isn’t something we have to remind our girls of anymore. They know it’s about everyone having fun, so they go out of their way to include each other and anyone else that might be with them that year. But at the beginning, or especially if your group is varied in age — make a point to include everyone. Something too hard for little Johnny? Let him hold the video camera while Suzy climbs the fence, etc, etc.

Consider your participants’ ages.

Our girls are fairly close in age. When they were young, the scavenger hunt was an indoor event. When they got older, they’d have to go into the yard or on the Internet. (See a clue from 2010: https://youtu.be/KfCDJv7ZXds ) Some years there are friend and/or relatives that go with the girls, and we make sure to consider their ages and abilities while designing the clues.

Now? The girls are all adults, and clues will take them around town and even to other towns. They’ll drive a half hour one way to get a picture with a street sign. And they’ll laugh together the WHOLE time. It’s seriously magical, and allowing friends, etc, join in has never been a problem. We play the scavenger hunt fast and loose, and that means it’s very flexible and age inclusive.

Consider video streaming publicly or privately.

Now that video streaming technology is possible with mobile devices, it has made the entire experience more fun and inclusive. Perhaps you’ve seen the livestream. It’s silly, it’s fun, and holding the phone/camera is something someone can do. If you don’t want to livestream, consider facetime.

How we actually do it now:

We take full advantage of technology. The girls have a phone livestreaming the whole time, for our enjoyment at home (Donna and I stay home). The actual clue/solution goes something like this:

  1. We text them a clue. “I’m downtown, but my phone died, and I’m not wearing a watch. How will I know what time it is?!??!”
  2. They figure out what we’re hinting at, and pile into a car together and drive (safely!) downtown. They get to the clock on main street, and take a photo of themselves in front of the clock.
  3. They text the photo to our family group text, and if they’re correct, they get sent the next clue.
  4. If they happen to go to the waterfront and get a photo in front of THAT clock, we’ll respond with something like, “when I’m downtown, I can’t see that clock…” — and they’ll figure out what we actually meant, and drive to the clock downtown and try again.
  5. Or, we’ll decide their solution was better than what we meant anyway, and pretend we meant the clock by the waterfront after all, and send them the next clue. 🙂

Sometimes, we’ll think ahead enough to have some jigsaw puzzles, which we put into an envelope and send with them. In which case, one of the clues they’ll receive via text is, “Open Envelope #2” — then they’ll follow the instructions inside the envelope.

Some of the clues involve them doing things like, “Open envelope #3, and use the $15 inside to buy hot cocoa from the bookstore, and get a stranger to take your photo” — then they send the photo to us to get the next clue.

We usually make them do some (slightly) embarrassing things, like going into a store and having one (or more) of them sing a Christmas Carol out loud while recording. They send the video to us, and we send the next clue/challenge.

Since it’s Christmas Eve, there’s usually a “build a snowman” challenge, which they need to accomplish and then take a photo and send it to us.

We’ll call a family/friend and make sure they’re home, then have a clue that has them go to XXX’s house and sing them “we wish you a Merry Christmas” while recording it, and we have the person give them the next clue (which we tell them when we call them, sometimes in advance, sometimes just before sending the clue, because we don’t prepare well, LOL)

End with some group fun.

Every “Just Dance” video game we own was the result of a scavenger hunt. We’ve had the last clue lead to a bowling alley (I think… maybe not, perhaps that will be this year’s prize), we’ve ended with video games, DVDs, etc, etc.

My biggest advice is to keep it simple. My girls rarely remember the clues or even the prizes at the end. They remember the fun they had doing silly, simple things together. They remember singing together in the car at the top of their lungs between clues. They remember anticipating the scavenger hunt. They tell their friends how awesome the tradition is, even if when they explain it, it doesn’t sound amazing. It’s far more about doing silly things together than the silly things themselves. 🙂

Good luck, and I hope your version is as much fun for your family as ours is for us!!!