Secret Santa Gift Exchange: Saving you Time, Money and Sanity

Like every kid, I absolutely loved getting gifts on Christmas. I was that sneaky, stealthy kid who would hunt for her gifts days before Christmas to see if my parents bought me what I had asked for.  If the presents were wrapped, I would carefully peel back the wrapping paper to have a peek. Of course, I still acted surprised and excited on Christmas Day.

My first couple of experiences participating in the Secret Santa gift exchange were in elementary school and high school.  Although the idea was great and there was the element of secrecy and surprise, I wound up with pretty crappy, useless gifts. I can’t remember exactly, but I think the limit was in the range of $10-$20. I know with a small limit like that, it can be quite difficult to find a small, decent gift.  However, you can never go wrong with Ferrero Rocher or Toblerone. Unless they have a nut allergy, which is quite common these days.

Secret Santa Gift Exchange

As I grew older, the whole idea of Christmas being associated with presents really didn’t matter to me so much as spending time with my family and friends. There are just some presents that you can’t unwrap or fit under a tree.  While I am not a huge fan of trying to figure out what to get people for Christmas or spending several hundred dollars on presents, (Does anyone know the exact time in history when Christmas became so commercialized?) I am a HUGE fan of Secret Santa/Kris Kringle/Secret Gift Exchange, etc.  Why?

Because it is efficient.

It saves you time, money and most of all sanity. It is like a godsend to non-shoppers like myself. You just have to shop for that one person.  I know nowadays you can do shopping online in your pajamas, but I still think it is necessary to go to the store in person to verify certain qualities of an item, depending on what it is. For example, I personally wouldn’t buy a laptop online, without actually going into the store and checking it out in person. Silly as this may sound, shopping is all about using your senses.


Thanks to the internet, Secret Santa has become even more efficient.  With everyone having different schedules and priorities, it can be hard to have a get together to randomly draw names out of a hat. Thanksgiving would probably be an ideal day to do it, if you are doing a gift exchange with your family. What if not everyone is able to attend during that time?

Another issue is actually holding on to that scrap piece of paper with your recipient’s name on it and not losing it. Yes, it can happen. We drew names after Thanksgiving dinner. My partner actually lost his paper.  Although he still has an idea of whose name he drew.

Gift Exchange Resources

There are many free websites online, such as Elfster that coordinate the gift exchange for you.  One person, the organizer, sets the gift limit, date, time and place for the gift exchange and sends an evite to those who are to participate. Once people have responded, Elfster pairs you up with someone.  No scrap piece of paper to lose. All you have to do is create an account to login.

One of the hardest things with a secret gift exchange is not knowing what to get your person.  There is an option in Elfster to create a wish list of things you would like. You can post links to items you want and add notes, such as specifying the size for a certain article of clothing. You can anonymously ask your recipient questions about what they would like or what’s on their wish list and vice versa.

This makes it so much easier for your Secret Santa because they know what to get you and you won’t be getting a possible regift. To still keep that element of surprise, I would suggest having at least five items on your wish list. That way, you don’t know exactly what you’re getting, but you’ll still be getting something you actually want. If you’re like me, someone who doesn’t really want or need anything (except time, sleep and money), you can always ask them to make an online donation to a charity of your choice.


What are your thoughts on Secret Santa Gift Exchanges or White Elephant Gift Exchanges?

29 thoughts on “Secret Santa Gift Exchange: Saving you Time, Money and Sanity

  1. Great post. Does your family do Secret Santa exchanges? I think that would be a great way to do exchanges for a large family. I try to avoid Secret Santa exchanges at work because they are never as well organized as Elfster so you never know what to get someone (often someone that you barely know!) and you wind up getting useless crap. But for a large family I think Elfster sounds like an awesome idea.

    • This will be the 2nd year my immediate family and my cousins will be doing a Secret Santa exchange. These are two separate exchanges though. I’ve never done a Secret Santa exchange at work. I feel like it would be too awkward.

    • We’re doing Secret Santa on my side of the family but not my bf’s. Not sure why. Only the siblings decided to do a gift exchange on that side. I think his family really likes giving presents. lol.

  2. I’ve played a version of Secret Santa at Christmas parties, but it was more along the lines of the White Elephant gift, where everyone purchases a gift under $20 and then can “steal” a gift from someone else instead of opening a wrapped one. It livened up the parties I attended.

    However, I really like the idea of drawing one name for a family member and focusing on that person. Our family is quite large and the past two years we’ve really cut back on the gifts, instead donating to a local charity. I’ll have to check Elfster out, it could be a solution to our very large family!

    • We’re actually going to be doing the White Elephant gift at a post Christmas family party. It’ll actually be my first time doing that.

      I like the idea of donating to a local charity. I actually put a couple of charities on my Elfster wish list.

  3. I love doing gift exchanges with the family. My family drew names and focused on that one person for buying gifts. I also searched out my gifts as a kid. After the first few years of finding them, my parents became creative in their hiding spots and I could never find them again. Now the tables are turned as I’m the one doing the hiding from my own kids.

  4. I really like the way gift exchanges can keep things simple and you can focus on one nice gift instead of many okay gifts. Luckily for me, both my brothers and myself aren’t the type to get overly extravagent gifts for each other. Some may look at us and call us cheap but I like the exchange of a simple, useful item, that doesn’t cost a bundle.

    • I wouldn’t call you guys cheap. More like sensible and practical. I never understood why people thought the bigger or the more expensive the gift, the better.

  5. Gift exchanges can be a really fun way to do Christmas, and it certainly is less stressful on everyone involved. It’s a big financial help to when you have a large group of people, when you only have to swap gifts with one person instead of something like 10 people!

    • I have a large group of gifts to buy for one side and I usually leave it to last minute, which I know is bad. It’s just the idea of shopping for that many people stresses me and my wallet out, thus I procrastinate.

  6. We do a white elephant one every year with my wife’s family. Her family is pretty competitive, which makes for some really fun times. The “strategy” talk every year is pretty interesting… as is watching people “steal” presents from a 90 year old…

  7. If I get you for a secret Santa, you’re getting a picture frame. My wife bought a ton of nice frames anytime she had a little money and a lot of coupons. This all happened about 10 years ago, and we’re slowly gifting them out. Sorry to be lame [….]

    • Hahaha. It’s all good. To be honest, I could use a picture frame or two in the house. We have nothing on our walls. We’re quite lazy when it comes to decorating.

  8. I never search for my gifts. I like to be surprised. Once when I was a kid I came across a list that my dad had written out, so I knew everything that I was getting. It was fun to see that but it made Christmas morning a whole lot less fun, so ever since then I’ve held no desire to know what is coming my way.

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