Beyond the Gift Card: How to Be a Better Secret Santa

Young businesswoman unpacking gift-box in office

When I still worked in an office, I dreaded the yearly Secret Santa exchange. I’m not the Grinch or Mr. Scrooge, I just could never think of great gift ideas. So each year, I would stress over what to do and inevitably end up giving my person yet another Amazon gift card.

And I’m sure I’m not alone. You may get a coworker you don’t know very well, the price limit is tight, and having another gift to buy can be stressful. But thankfully, you can be a better Secret Santa without going broke. Here are some ideas to impress your coworkers with this year:

Do some spy work

If you don’t know the coworker you drew very well, do some reconnaissance. Talk to his teammates and work friends to find out what interests him. And walk by his desk when he’s in a meeting or at lunch. Pictures and tchotckes can give you important clues. If he has a framed photo of his dog or proudly displays a tennis trophy, that can give you hints about what kind of gifts he’ll value.

Spread out the Christmas cheer

In addition to buying a gift for the exchange, do several small acts of kindness for your Secret Santa. You don’t have to spend much money. Just leave some candy, a silly drawing, a great meme, or a nice note some random mornings for the recipient. Coming in each day to a little surprise will make your Secret Santa feel special.

Give to a charity

One of my best Secret Santas knew I loved horses, so they donated in my name to a local horse rescue. Each month, the organization would send me photos and updates about one of the rescue horses. It was a gift that kept giving all year round and meant a lot to me.

When you have a limit of $10 or $20, finding a perfect gift can be tricky. But if you know that your recipient is passionate about a certain issue, such as animal welfare or the arts, you can make a donation in their name to a charity that matches their interests.

Most charities will give you a lovely acknowledgement card or even a trinket, and your donation will go much further helping others than if you spent it on yet another cheap gift basket.

Be quirky

When you’re on a budget, quirky and even odd gifts can give you the most bang for your buck. ThinkGeek is a great place to find out-of-the-box gift ideas for every interest. Whether your Secret Santa is a “Star Wars” fanatic or wishes he went to Hogwarts, you can find the perfect gift, including a cauldron mug or a R2-D2 power station for less than $20.

Being a great Secret Santa

While it may be tempting to go the gift card route, try to be more personal and deliberate with your gift this year. By spending just a few minutes learning about your co-worker, you can tap into his or her interests and get a fantastic gift they’ll enjoy. And besides your teammate becoming the envy of the office, it’s a great way to connect with coworkers you do not normally work alongside and improve company morale. By putting a little more intention behind the gift, you’re sure to be remembered as a fantastic Secret Santa.