How to Win at Office Secret Santa

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Office Secret Santa is one of those things that makes a lot of sense on paper, but doesn’t always work so well in real life. A fun, gift-giving game where people draw each other’s names at random can quickly devolve into desperately buying some random thing at the last minute for (checks paper) Jerry—who you couldn’t pick out of a lineup if your life depended on it.

We perfectly understand if Office Secret Santa makes you want to run as fast you can in the other direction. But here’s the thing: Don’t run from Office Secret Santa. Win Office Secret Santa. The stakes are low, and so are the budgets. Giving a thoughtful, on-budget gift is a fantastic way to distinguish yourself—all while making someone’s holiday season just a little bit brighter.

Here are some tips to help you become the best darn gift giver in your office.


1. Stick to the Budget

Please. Please do this.

Don’t be that person who spends way over the assigned budget. Nobody in the office likes that person. And making everyone in your office hate you is not the way to win at Secret Santa. In fact, it’s pretty much the best way to guarantee that you’ll lose.

When your co-workers set a budget—whether it’s $10, $20, or $50—please not do spend more than that amount.

Please. Jerry’s begging you.

2. Do Your Research

Sure, you can get someone a $20 gift card and call it good … but really it won’t be good. It will just be adequate. And if you’re trying to win at Secret Santa, you’ve gotta do better than “adequate.”

One of the best ways to stretch your budget is to make sure that your gift is something that the person actually wants. A person who loves coffee and gets a $20, travel-safe French press is going to be a lot happier than a person who hates cooking, but receives a $20 cutting board.

This means doing your research before selecting a gift. You can check out the person’s work station to look for any clues that might point to their interests. Do they have a little Zen sand garden on their desk? Is their laptop covered in, say, Disney stickers? Ask their work friends if they have any good ideas for gifts. You could hack into their work email account and [Editor’s Note: Definitely do not hack into anything ever for any reason, thank you.]

Or what about this? You could talk to the person you’re buying a gift for. After all, isn’t the point of Secret Santa to bring you and your officemates closer together? By the time New Year’s rolls around, you might have yourself a brand new work friend. That’s a gift for you!

3. Search Deal Sites

Once you’ve figured out the kind of gift you should be getting, it’s time to stretch that Secret Santa budget as far as it will go. And what’s a great way to do that? Deal Sites. Some, like DealNews.com (@DealNews) help you find great deals and promo codes that other online retailers are already offering. Other sites, like Groupon (@Groupon), offer you deals directly.

Here are 10 deal sites that we recommend:

  1. DealNews.com
  2. Groupon.com
  3. RetailMeNot.com
  4. SlickDeals.com
  5. BensBargains.com
  6. PriceGrabber.com
  7. CouponSherpa.com
  8. Woot.com
  9. Yipit.com
  10. CoolSavings.com

Also, don’t forget about shopping apps like Target’s Cartwheel—this lets you find deals for items while you’re shopping in the store. Oh, and also Amazon. Their prices are often unbeatable. Plus, with a Prime membership, the shipping is free.

Happy bargain-hunting!

4. Go Thrifting

Obviously, this isn’t going to work for every kind of gift. For instance: soap. Please do not buy anyone used soap. That is incredibly gross.

Still, there are a lot of things, especially books, movies, clothing, and fun tchotchkes, that you can find used. You can visit traditional thrift stores and outlets, as well as vintage shops and flea markets. One of the fun parts about thrifting—especially at flea markets—is that you can haggle over the price. If you find the perfect item and it’s just a hair over your budget, see what you can do to talk the price down.

(If you need help learning how to haggle, check out these great tips from LifeHacker.)

If the person you’re buying for is really into tv, movies or music, you should check out your local record store. Not only do most of them have very large used CD sections, but many of them will also have selections of used DVDs and Blu-Rays. In a world so dominated by on-demand streaming, DVDs are getting pretty ludicrously affordable. The entire 4th season of The Simpsons for $10? Woo-hoo!

5. Get Creative

There are certain people for whom this option is a non-starter, people whose arts and crafts projects all end up looking like victims from CSI: Hobby Lobby. We understand, and we feel your pain.

But for folks out there who are a bit crafty, this is a great way to make a fantastic gift on a meager budget. Doing your research is still important—you need to make sure that this gift is something your person actually wants and isn’t just something you know how to make. Look at ways that you can use your arts and craft skills to improve an otherwise cheap or basic gift and give it that charming, personal touch.

We probably don’t have to tell you this, but Pinterest is maybe the best place on the internet to find ideas for homemade gifts … just don’t let your ideas get ahead of your execution. Don’t bite off more than you can chew (Yay, Pinterest Fails!), and definitely don’t choose a project that takes 50+ hours to complete.

After all, winning at Secret Santa is great, but it’s not worth losing sleep over.

If you have any experience with Secret Santa successes—or failures—we definitely want to hear about them. You can tweet at us @OppLoans, or message us on Facebook.  

Happy Holidays!

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