The Do’s and Don’ts of Office Secret Santa

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Secret Santa is one of the most popular gift-exchange games played in the workplace. Each participant draws a confidential name and is responsible for buying gifts and delivering them in secret to the person whose name they drew. Just like all games, Secret Santa has plenty of room for error. That’s why there are general rules or etiquette that participants are expected to follow. Here are some do’s and don’ts to help you successfully navigate this fun holiday tradition.  

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What To Consider If You’re Organizing an Office Secret Santa

If you’re in charge of organizing the office Secret Santa activity, here are some helpful tips to consider from Jacqui DiNardo, owner of Mommy Maker Teacher.

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“A good Secret Santa host should give you some guidelines to follow — the spending limit, how and when gifts will be exchanged and whether gift cards are allowed or not,” DiNardo said.”A great Secret Santa host might also survey the participants to pick a gift limit and ask participants for their hobbies or interests (to give the gift-givers some ideas for presents).”

How Much Should Participants Spend on Secret Santa Gifts?

“Usually the company indicates what are the limits, $20.00, $30.00 $50.00 … ” said Maryanne Parker, founder of Manor of Manners

If a gift limit is not specified, ask around to get a feel for what other participants plan on spending in general, or ask the organizer for some guidance. Elena Brouwer, founder and CEO of International Etiquette Centre, said that a spending limit of $20-$25 is reasonable. 

Is It OK To Spend More or Less Than the Spending Limit?

“When specific spending limits are given, always aim to be as close to the gift-giving limit as possible,” DiNardo recommended. “By underspending, you might make someone feel undervalued. By overspending, you might make someone feel uncomfortable that they weren’t able to spend as much money on their Secret Santa as you were. Sticking to the spending limit is the top etiquette rule you should follow for Secret Santa.”

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Is It OK To Give Gift Cards for Secret Santa?

“Gift cards are also great,” Parker said. “We always can bring a personal touch with a card and express our wishes for the new year. As a matter of fact, if we know that our co-worker loves Starbucks, a $20.00 gift card could be a great gift. If they are pet lovers and we get them a gift card from Petco, this will show that we really paid attention to their personal life apart from the office.”

DiNardo also offered a way to make giving a gift card a bit more personal. “Generally, unless someone specifically asks for a gift card, I would not make it the whole present. For example, if your person loves coffee, perhaps a pound of specialty coffee and a gift card to their favorite coffee shop would be appropriate. By giving the actual coffee you show that you put in some effort. If you only give a gift card (especially to a generic store or chain) it comes off like you didn’t put any thought into the gift for that person.”

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Keep Your Secret Santa Identity a Secret 

“Don’t give away who you are buying for — especially to that person,” DiNardo said. “It takes the fun and festiveness out of the activity for the whole group. In some cases, the Secret Santa is never revealed (it’s always a secret), so make sure you know the rules for the one you are participating in.”

What If You Can’t Afford To Participate in Secret Santa?

If you have a limited holiday budget, it may make it difficult to participate in extras like Secret Santa this year, and that’s OK. Here’s how to handle it. 

“If you can’t participate, make sure to withdraw your name from the activity,” said Melanie Pitman, personal finance expert and content specialist at creditcardGenius. “You don’t want to be in a situation where someone gives you a gift but you have nothing to contribute. Instead, get involved in some other way, like helping with the hosting or decorating. By taking part in the more administrative parts of the exchange, you can still enjoy the festive atmosphere and social aspect of the event without spending amounts you can’t afford. And it’s likely others involved won’t even notice you didn’t participate in the actual exchange of gifts.”

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About the Author

Cynthia Measom is a personal finance writer and editor with over 15 years of collective experience. Her articles have been featured in MSN, AOL, Yahoo Finance, INSIDER, Houston Chronicle and The Seattle Times. She attended the University of Texas at Austin and earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in English.
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