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Secret Surprise Shopping, A Holiday Tradition

Updated on November 20, 2013

Last-Minute Gifts and Christmas Shopping Surprises

Christmas traditions are truly unique. They represent our heritage, our families, our individual circumstances and sometimes our sense of humor. Some are brought about by hardships while others are brought on by wealth--like Dickens' Christmas Carol. We relate to the first.

For us, traditions were shaped by small monetary resources, which many newly married couples can relate to. After eight years, our marriage and Christmas traditions are still going strong.

To fill in our stockings, my husband and I go to the store together at the last-minute and secretly shop while avoiding each other and hiding our gift-giving intents. We also stick to a strict budget and tight time limit to keep the game fair. Here's how to play.

*Intro Photo courtesy of Earl53 through a Morgue File Free Photo License.

How Our Christmas Gift Tradition Started

When two writers get married, they both wonder who's going to pay the bills. Like many folks, we married for love and worried about money later. Our first Christmas came only five days after our wedding, and as you might have guessed, we were on a tight, like Spandex tight, budget.

The good part about a lack of money is that you really do feel grateful for the small things, and traditions can make the small things even more special. Our Christmas budget for the first year was a generous $20 per person, although I'm pretty sure the guy with the wallet went a little bit over!

For many years, I was not a driver, so going to the store together was really the only option. So it's Christmas, we've been married for like four days, and we bundle up, grab our 20 bucks and head out the door to do our Christmas shopping. That's how it started.

How To Do Like Your Christmas Gifts?

Some people love surprises and others love to make Christmas lists. Which do you prefer?

The Rules For Surprise Christmas Shopping

If you're going to have several people in one car, from one house shopping in the same store, you need to have some rules. The budget is part of what makes the game fair. We do regular Christmas shopping now, but we still keep this tradition alive to pick up last-minute gifts. Today, we spend up to $50 instead of the original $20.

Time is also part of the game. Set a limit. We've found that 30 minutes is enough time to walk around a big-box store and browse for gifts or find things on a list. Big-box stores are usually the best places to shop because they have such a wide variety of items for everyone in the family.

Now, once you're done shopping, you need to make sure that you avoid the other person at the checkout counter, because you don't want them to see what they're getting! You may also run into some funny circumstances while trying to obscure the gifts or disguise them.

Last year, I bought a big bottle of expensive olive oil and some nice balsamic vinegar, the general theme was quickly revealed when the bottles clanged together.

Here are Things That We've Bought on Christmas Shopping Challenges

If you need ideas, here are a few Christmas gift ideas for him and her. Take advantage of sales and special offers as well as gift sets that are designed especially for the holidays.

Black Retractable Handle Padfolio by Bags For LessTM
Black Retractable Handle Padfolio by Bags For LessTM

Even on a budget, you can pick up one or two larger items and fill in with smaller gifts.

Creamy Caramel Tea Lights by Yankee Candle
Creamy Caramel Tea Lights by Yankee Candle

Incense, candles and other fragrant items are perfect for filling stockings, especially on a budget.

Burt's Bees Tips and Toes Kit
Burt's Bees Tips and Toes Kit

Small gift sets are great for holiday shopping challenges. Retailers make sure to stock plenty of gift sets for men and women during the holidays.

Cotton Kitchen Towel Set - Bamboo Print, Green (2-Pack)
Cotton Kitchen Towel Set - Bamboo Print, Green (2-Pack)

Towels, decor items and seasonal goodies, like fresh holiday cookies, are displayed all around the store. These little items are cute and usually pretty cheap.


How Much Do You Spend on Your Special Someone During the Holidays?

christmas stocking stuffers
christmas stocking stuffers

Are You a Serial Gift-Giver or a Budget-Minded Secret Santa? How much do you spend per person?

See results

Christmas Gift-Giving Challenges

If you want to be competitive as well as secretive, here are a few ways that you can change up the game. What did your $20 buy? Find the winner by comparing gifts by



Number of packages

Overall reaction

Although we started this tradition as a couple, I don't see why you couldn't do it with a friend or with your extended family. If your children like to buy you gifts with your money, why not make it fun? The more the merrier.

This tradition is perfect for shopping on a budget or being a little more extravagant.

What is Your Favoriate Christmas Tradition? - Would do do this Christmas shopping challenge with your family?

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