How Being a Secret Santa Saved Me Over $1,000

Published on November 11, 2015 By Lauren

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  • This is Day 11 of the 30 Days to a Debt Free Christmas Challenge

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    Today’s post for families – How Doing a Secret Santa Saved Us Over $1,000

    This blog is a guest post from Michelle Argento at and

    I have a confession to make: even though I blog about personal finance, If I didn’t have a budget I would tend to go overboard on spending for gifts. There’s something I find incredibly fun about coming up with and then hunting down the perfect present for a loved one. So the holiday season is often my time to shine!

    Here’s my second confession I hate to admit to the world: I love gift giving so much that my holiday shopping list budget ballooned to right around $1500 (before having my own kids) for right around 20 people! And now that my family has been expanding by one every year with all the new babies, that price tag was only growing.

    The One Little Change Saved Us $1k on Christmas Gifts

    Last holiday season, my family dealt with the first year the Queen Bee of my family, my grandmother, was not physically present. It forced us to begin reanalyzing our gift giving habits. In previous years, I had a pretty simple system. Each non-parent adult would be budgeted $40. Parents and kids were allocated $50-70. But we couldn’t manage that anymore, and I suspected (correctly) that my other family members couldn’t either.

    Christmas was costing us all way too much money for such little pay off. Something had to change, something had to give. But none of us could say goodbye to gift giving just yet. We needed to attack the problem another way. If gift giving couldn’t go, there had to be a way to reduce our shopping list number down from 20.

    But then a little work inspiration took over. For years, I had worked in an office where we celebrated the holidays with a Secret Santa. Basically, everyone who wished to participate placed their names in a bowl and another person would select them and shop and give them a gift(s) at a certain budget. (You could also use the website which will organize this all for you.)

    If it kept employees in the holiday spirit while still allowing us to be creative in present giving, why couldn’t it work outside the office? Why couldn’t my family save hundreds, maybe even thousands by cutting our shopping list down from twenty to one?

    The idea of a Secret Santa was an instant hit. Every adult signed up, and over Thanksgiving we drew names and settled on a max and minimum budget that took into consideration everyone’s financial situation.

    Christmas Eve came, and we all gathered in the same spot to watch the kids rip open gifts with glee while the adults held on to their one or two gifts until the end. Everyone received exactly what they wanted. No one went broke in the process. And, for the first time in over twenty years, we could actually give thanks rather than scream it over the sounds of flying wrapping paper.

    How to Set Up a Secret Santa for Your Family

    Secret Santa requires at least three reliable people (or children with parent supervision) to work. And while it is typically thought of as an adult phenomenon, children can participate, too. Secret Santa is especially effective in large families with many children where there is a need to reduce the amount of sibling to sibling gifts.

    Ready to get started? Here are the basic steps:

    1. Pick a leader. This person should be dedicated, trustworthy, and okay with knowing who is buying them a gift. They should also be fairly organized and good at conflict mediation.
    2. Designate a picking day. Thanksgiving works great as it gives ample time for everyone to come up with a wish list while still giving the gift giver enough time to shop before the holiday madness. If you have early shoppers, go for Halloween.
    3. Set a budget. The budget should be right around what you would normally spend for an average person. For ours, $50 seemed fair considering we usually spent less on siblings, more on parents. When announcing the budget, make it clear that the amount spent should be around that amount, not significantly lower, to keep it fair for all.
    4. Dispense gift lists. This was the hardest part in my family. Tracking down everyone’s lists was a pain. The rule was that if you didn’t turn in your list on time, you got a gift card.
    5. Send reminders. Someone will forget. Give a call to your forgetful brother or your sister-in-law in college.
    6. Celebrate! As much as possible, opening gifts should be the main event, and everyone should be present to share in the joy. If a person goes AWOL, have them sort it out between their gift receiver. Consider having backup gifts or having everyone ship their gift to the party location in advance so no one is left out.

    In our first year of implementing Secret Santa, I cut down mine and my husband’s holiday spending from $1500 to $450! It was a complete success for my wallet and my mission to pay down debt despite it being the holidays. And, all the while, I was still able to spread love through playing my own version of budget-friendly Santa.

    Read more from Michelle Argento at and

    Michelle Argento is a 20-something new mom, dog lover, and freelance writer/solopreneur living in Chicago. She’s currently fighting back to get in the black while learning how to make great financial decisions for the future. You can find her personal debt story at and her site for parents wanting to raise money-smart children at







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