Budget-friendly secret Santa gift ideas

When you’re a youngster, December is a marvelous month, when snowflakes first tumble down from the sky and colorful presents begin appearing beneath shimmering Christmas trees.

When you’re an adult, the holidays can be a decidedly less magical time, when roads ice over, shopping malls crowd and your office runs a Secret Santa gift exchange.

Though designed to be lighthearted and uplifting, gift exchanges can be a source of awkwardness, stress and outright panic. As a participant, you may face the daunting task of hunting down an impressive, but not-too-expensive gift for a randomly selected person. Depending on your luck, you could be shopping for your best friend, your boss or the standoffish engineer you’ve never spoken to.

But you don’t have to be a Scrooge and skip Secret Santa this year. Here’s a guide that can help you navigate your next holiday gift exchange with the skill and effortlessness of Santa himself. After drawing the name of your lucky recipient, check out this list of wonderful and wallet-friendly Secret Santa gifts.

[See: Prepare Your Finances for the Holidays.]

Subscription gifts. There’s a famous scene in “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” in which Clark Griswold opens an envelope that he believes to contain a bonus check, only to discover a jelly-of-the-month club subscription. But gift clubs have come a long way since 1989, and today you can find some pretty cool subscription gifts for nearly every interest imaginable.

Did you draw the name of the office foodie? Hook your recipient up with a monthly RawSpiceBar box, which includes three, freshly ground artisanal spices (about $8 per month from RawSpiceBar). Got a fitness buff? Consider signing your recipient up for a Bulu Box, which contains four to five samples of nutritious snacks and fitness goodies ($10 per month from Bulu Box). And you can make just about any Secret Santa subject smile with a subscription for Say it with a Sock, which surprises recipients with a new pair of fun socks every month ($11.99 per month from Say It with a Sock).

Experience gifts. Gadgets will break, scarves will go out of style and fruitcakes will stale, but memories last forever. Award your recipient the gift of experience — think tickets to a concert, comedy show, opera, play or movie. You can often find solid deals on tickets for shows, games and other events on sites like Ticketmaster and StubHub.

Membership gifts. Treat your Secret Santa recipient to an annual membership for a local museum, zoo, botanical garden, aquarium or arts organization. If you’re shopping for a mom or dad, look into memberships and annual passes at discovery centers, theme parks and other family attractions. Depending on the type, memberships can range from $20 to $200 per year.

[See: 14 Important Personal Finance Dates to Mark on Your Calendar.]

National park pass gifts. An annual pass from the National Park Service is surprisingly affordable, at $80 for a family with guests. The America the Beautiful pass grants entrance to more than 2,000 national parks and federal recreation lands. The pass covers park entrance, amenity fees and day-use fees for a driver and all passengers in a personal vehicle for pay-per-vehicle sites, or up to four adults in pay-per-person sites (kids under 15 are admitted free).

Digital gifts. Deep in the digital age, you can buy gifts without shopping malls and shipping, minutes before your Secret Santa deadline. For example, eGift cards for Amazon, iTunes and Google Play can make for a much-appreciated last-minute gift. There are also media-streaming services, such as Spotify ($10 per month), Pandora ($36 per year), Netflix ($7.99 and up per month) and Audible ($45 for three months with one audio book per month).

[See: Your Ultimate Holiday Tipping Guide.]

Food and drink gifts. Restaurant, bar and dessert shop gift cards are fun. Grocery and coffee gift certificates are useful. Chocolates, sweets and gourmet nibbles are usually met with delight. Make-your-own gingerbread houses, sushi and hot sauce kits combine food with entertainment.

Donation gifts. Celebrate the season of giving by bestowing your Secret Santa recipient with a philanthropic gift. When you buy a charity gift card from a site, such as TisBest.org or JustGive.org, your recipient gets to allocate the money to a choice from hundreds of charities with hundreds of different causes. Alternatively, you can shop accessories, bath and body products and other goodies that give back to charitable causes or international communities.

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Budget-Friendly Secret Santa Gift Ideas originally appeared on usnews.com

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