Now that Thanksgiving is over, the Christmas shopping season is firing on all cylinders. According to a November Gallup poll, Americans expect to spend $714 on holiday gifts this year. Like everyone, I want to give great gifts to all of my friends. But I also don't want to break the budget.
So, here is a not-so-secret method for getting through the holidays without going over budget: the Secret Santa exchange.
If you have a large family, an office with a gift-giving culture, or a group of friends who are also friends with each other, a Secret Santa exchange is a lifesaver. It helps you bond with loved ones while sparing you the horror of thinking up appropriate and original gifts for relatives you only see once a year and an ever-bulging gift budget. Who doesn't want to enjoy the gifting process without buying individual gifts for each person on the list?
Even if you only have 20 people on your Christmas list, and a reasonable budget of $30 per person, that budget adds up to $600! No wonder holiday gift-giving takes up such a big chunk of our holiday budget. By drastically decreasing the number of gifts you'd have to shop for and buy, a Secret Santa gift exchange saves both time and money. After all, shouldn't the gift-giving process be a source of fun, not stress?
Follow these steps to make sure you have a smooth Secret Santa gift exchange:
1. Send out an email to a group of friends / relatives and see who would be interested in participating in a Secret Santa exchange. One person would have to organize the exchange and do the giver-recipient match-up. For best results, give a firm deadline for response -- you don't want to have a few stragglers ruin the exchange for everyone else.
2. Determine a level of spending that everyone would be comfortable with. Be thoughtful about the amount, if someone in the family is unemployed, or a friend just had her hours cut back at work, consider instituting lower caps. While in college, my friends and I capped the amount at $20. Now that we are young professionals, we might increase the amount to $30 or $40.
3. Pair up the Secret Santa givers and recipients. Every giver should have a different recipient.
4. Have everyone write down 3-4 gift categories that they'd like: makeup, earrings, DVDs, electronic accessories, books, etc. Circulate this email among the group. This is optional, but I always thought that a rule of "no-gift-cards" encourages people to be more creative.
5. Select a time and place for brunch or drinks, when everyone can find out the identity of their Secret Santas and exchange gifts! Snap lots of pictures for an online album.
6. And because this is a personal finance column... take the money you would've spent on individual gifts and earmark it towards Roth IRA. Remember, you have until April 15, 2011 to make contributions for 2010.
More from living