Smart Shopping: Holiday Gifting & Saving

Courtney Takabayashi
December 11, 2017

It’s easy to get carried away and go over budget during the holidays, especially when you’re shopping for presents. But there’s a secret weapon for saving money: the anonymous holiday gift exchange.

Anonymous gift exchanges go by different names, like Secret Santa or Gift Swap, but the concept is the same: in a group of people, you’re responsible for getting a gift for just one person. Here are some tips to help you be creative, have fun, and save money:

Set a reasonable price limit. Having a $500 limit defeats the purpose of saving money. Be sure all the participants are in agreement with the maximum spending amount. For example, my husband and his friends all play video games so their gift exchange maximum was the price of a brand new video game.

Get creative. Instead of buying gifts for your recipient, make a card, write a poem, or bake a dessert. Or if you’re at work, get into the holiday spirit and decorate your recipient’s desk.  

Use a wish list. The best way to spend your money wisely and give a present someone actually wants is to use a wish list. Wish lists are handy and can be easily be created for free on various online shopping sites. There will often be links to buy the product, making shopping stress-free.

Go free. Having a $0 limit means going free. It may seem stressful to find a meaningful gift for free but here are some ideas:

  • Re-gift. Giving someone a gift you received but never used may seem like a bad idea, but with a little thought, it can work out for everyone. On my birthday a few years back, someone gave me a mini-pie maker. Since I’m a terrible baker, I re-gifted it to a friend who loves baking. It didn’t cost me anything and my baking friend was delighted to have a new toy.
  • Freebie fun. Someone will appreciate the toaster oven you won as a door prize or the avocado-shaped stress ball you got for free at the health fair. You might be surprised by the amount of free, fun, and practical items you’ve accumulated over the years.
  • Bought but never used. I once bought two sets of silk sheets when they were on sale. However, I didn’t like sleeping on the slippery, cold silk. During a holiday gift exchange, I casually asked my recipient what size her bed was. Since we had the same size bed, I gave her the second set of unused sheets. She was delighted by the seemingly luxurious gift and I hadn’t spent any extra money.

Incorporate a game. Here are some games to keep participants on their toes:

  • Guess who. After each person opens their gift, they guess who their anonymous gift-giver is. It’s amusing to play detective by examining gift tag handwriting, the quality of wrapping, and even the date and location on gift receipts.
  • White elephant. Instead of drawing names, each person brings a general wrapped gift. Then, each participant pulls a number from a hat and one-by-one, everyone selects a gift in numerical order. A person can steal the previous gift or choose a new one.

The best presents don’t have to cost a fortune. With an anonymous holiday gift exchange you and your friends can have fun, save money, and make memories for years to come.


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