Anna Hamill, aged 37, from Belfast, Northern Ireland, hasn’t turned in to a Scrooge though - instead she’s decided to take part in two Secret Santas with each side of her family, meaning that every adult gets a present but everyone can cut down on their festive spending.
Anna has been doing a Secret Santa with her family since 2019 and says she was “relieved” when her mother-in-law suggested doing one for her husband, Iain’s side of the family too this year.
She said: “I’ve wanted to for a couple of years because it has been so good on my side of the family. I think it has been hugely beneficial as we’ve been able to afford to give each other better, more meaningful gifts.
“This way instead of buying gifts for 13 people, we are only buying for four. It is a great way to shop intentionally for Christmas, looking for lovely unique gifts they will love without breaking the bank. We have a spending limit so, while we are spending a little more on each person, we are all saving significantly.”
“I love thinking of gifts for others - but it got stressful”
Anna, who runs a small business designing and making stationery and homeware called And Hope Designs, said she lost some of the happiness she felt when buying gifts for others prior to starting the Secret Santa due to the escalating cost of buying them.
She said: “I love thinking of gifts for others, but having to think of something for 13 family members without breaking the bank is impossible or extortionate, or both. Even with a list of what we wanted to get each person and ticking them off as we went it got stressful and took some of the joy out of giving.
“Having a larger budget for fewer people is such a good way around this, as it means everyone is much more likely to get something they’ll love rather than something okay that was within a smaller budget.”
When assigning a Secret Santa to each person in her family, which includes her mum and dad, her brother Nathan and his wife, her brother Ben and his fiancée, her mother and father-in-law, her sister-in-law and her husband, her brother-in-law and his wife and her other brother-in-law, Anna does have some help.
She uses a free website called Elfster, which allows her to enter all the names of the people taking part and set a restriction so that spouses will not get each other, meaning that everyone is buying for another member of the family. The website then sends an email to each participant with the name of the person they are buying for too, so it’s even kept a secret - even from her as organiser.
“People drop strong hints about what they would like”
Once the Secret Santa recipients have been assigned, the next thing to consider of course is what to buy, and crucially how much to spend. Luckily, both sides of Anna’s family have agreed on a budget which means that there’s no concern that one person may have spent more than another - and that means that Anna now saves at least £200 a year on presents.
She said: “The budget for the secret Santa on my side of the family is £35 and the budget for Iain’s family is £30 plus a book - so it’s fairly equal. In doing it this way, we have bought a gift for someone on his side from him and someone else from me and the same thing on my side of the family. Previously, I’d spend between £200 and £300, depending on the year, and if I’d found ‘the perfect gift’ I’d spend a bit more. So I have saved around £200 on average.”
“A lot of us have wish lists on Amazon we have shared with the whole family, and some mention in our family WhatsApp group if there’s something specific they’d like, dropping strong hints. This is the case for both sides of the family and I think is working well for both Secret Santas.
“We have no rules on the number of presents - last year, I received one gift equaling the total budget. This year, someone requested a specific board game which was very close to the maximum budget so I got that for him and a bag of sweets. For the others, their main requests were nowhere near the budget total, so we have bought a few gifts to make up the total budget.”
“Christmas has become too commercialised”
For Anna, spending less money on the adults within her family means she has the money to spend on children instead.
She said: “We have four nieces and nephews to buy for, as well as our own children - and this will no doubt increase in coming years with 2 sets of newlyweds and an engaged couple in our families. We want to be able to afford to get each of them something nice as well.”
She added that she believes there is too much pressure on people to buy lots of expensive gifts for others - but actually adults rarely want much and are happy to receive a small amount of things that they really want.
“In our family, we have everything we need and judging by the wish lists, there’s not much we want even. My wishlist this year includes things like new thick socks, a casserole dish and a cherry tree to plant in the garden. I think Christmas has become too commercial and expectations can be prone to becoming bigger and bigger each year. We are just filling our homes with things.
“I love only buying for four people, two each for my husband and me, and I also love not having a massive mountain of gifts to open. Something from my husband, and something from someone on each side of the family is perfectly fine for me. I’d highly recommend considering secret Santa if you find Christmas and Christmas shopping overwhelming.”