A couple of years ago the adults in my family started doing Secret Santa gift exchanges to lessen the financial burden. My family was growing too quickly for all of us to keep buying presents for each other! Originally, there were 6 kids to buy for—and now there are 15! We had to cut back somewhere and Secret Santa helped us do that. Here are some of the ways that Secret Santa can help you save this season:

  • By setting a maximum budget per gift, the pressure is off to over-spend.
  • The budget can help you decide if you can afford to participate.
  • You can calculate an exact budget number for what you need to spend on gifts for family, friends, officemates, and others.
  • You can save valuable time as well as money by moving the whole event online.
  • You can redirect group gift exchanges to a charity of your choice (even $1 gifts can help!).

Secret Santa gift exchanges can be a super-fun way to stretch your holiday budget, but if you’re someone who is super organized like me—Secret Santa exchanges can get messy! If you’re planning a fun group present exchange this year at work, within your family, or among friends, these 3 tools can help!

1. DrawNames.com

DrawNames is an online Secret Santa planning tool that offers U.S.A., U.K., and Dutch options.

What DrawNames does for you—for free:

  • Saves past years' exchange lists for your reuse.
  • Gives you an easy import tool (using Gmail or Outlook) as well as a manual name/email entry option.
  • Permits you to set price and other gift options.
  • Sends out the invitation to all participants to join and set up their wish lists.
  • Coordinates the drawing of names.
  • Facilitates an anonymous Q&A feature to help Secret Santas select the perfect gift.

2. Elfster.com

Elfster has experienced a dramatic rise in usage over the last several years (for more see The New York Times).

What Elfster does for you—for free:

  • Creates your group (you just input names and email addresses).
  • Helps you set dates, places, and price limits.
  • Does the name drawing and sends participants their assigned match.
  • Allows participants to generate anonymous shareable gift "wish lists."
  • Permits recipients to send anonymous “thank you” letters after the exchange.
  • Offers a list of trending gifts to help with gift selection.

3. SecretSanta.com

SecretSanta is another online-based tool to help you plan a number of different gift exchanges (White Elephant, Yankee Swap, etc.). Just choose the type of exchange you prefer and go!

Here is what SecretSanta does for you—for free:

  • Set your event time, date, and place.
  • Add a game theme (such as adding riddles or questions).
  • Set up gift exclusions (to prevent certain participants from being matched with certain others).
  • Conduct an online or in-person event.
  • Conduct future events without having the same people re-matched each year.
  • Randomize and assign matches to each participant.
  • Allow participants to set up wish lists and post comments on a group-wide message board.

3 Free Tools to Make Your Secret Santa Exchange Run Smoothly!