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Secret Santa and Yankee Swap Rules

We’ve been having some conversations here at Talking Cents headquarters about ways to save money around the holidays (which is especially useful if you’re in debt management). The topic turned to  gift-giving, so we talked about Yankee Swaps and Secret Santa.  I’ve written about Yankee Swaps before, but a few of my colleagues are still unclear on exactly how these gift-giving methods are done.  Let’s go over it one more time.

American Consumer Credit Counseling wishes you happy holidays!

American Consumer Credit Counseling wishes you happy holidays!

Keep in mind that rules may vary slightly from household to household, and small differences can exist.  I’ll do my best to stick to somewhat “standard” rules for any Secret Santa or Yankee Swap gift exchanges you participate in.


  1. Gather up a group of friends and/or family and find out if they want to do a Yankee Swap. It’s a great way to give gifts while on a budget.
  2. Determine the price limit/range for each person to spend.  This ensures that everyone spends and receives the same value.
  3. Each person will buy 1 gift, wrap it, and bring it to the party (do not tell anyone what the gift is, or label it in any way).
  4. Once you are all gathered, place all the gifts in one area where everyone can see them (in a pile, under a tree, whatever).
  5. Put numbers in a hat for the number of people that are participating (ex: 10 people = Numbers 1-10).
  6. Everyone takes turns drawing a number until everybody has one.  This determines the order of gift selection.
  7. #1 picks a wrapped gift from the pile and opens it.
  8. #2 has the option to A) take the opened gift from #1  or B) Pick a gift from the pile for themselves.
  9. If #2 takes the gift from #1, then #1 picks again.
  10. #3 has the option to A) take either of the previously opened gifts or B) Pick a new gift from the pile.
  11. Whoever gets a gift taken from them must pick a new one, but does not have the option to swap.
  12. This carries on down the line.  Everyone has the option to take any gift that has already been opened, or take a chance on a new gift.
  13. Here’s the kicker… Once all the gifts are opened, #1 has the option to swap with anyone else.  Essentially getting to choose any gift he/she wants.

Here are a few extra rules on Yankee Swap etiquette:

  1. Once you open a gift, you have to keep it where everyone can see it.  No trying to hide that sweet snow cone maker.
  2. Once you touch a gift from the pile, that’s the one you get.  No shaking and weighing the gifts… you’re not picking out a cantaloupe.
  3. If you take too long to pick a gift, the group can elect to count down your time limit (which is up to the mob).  If time runs out, you get the gift closest to you… and someone will probably throw it at you.


  1. Gather up your friends and/or family who want to participate, and set a price range/limit for spending on a gift.
  2. Everyone writes their name on a piece of paper and puts in a hat.
  3. Everyone takes turns drawing from the hat.  If you draw your own name, put it back in a draw again (you could buy a gift for yourself, but where’s the suspense?)
  4. Who’s ever name you draw, that’s who you have to buy a gift for.  You are their Secret Santa.
  5. The group can decide whether or not everyone keeps their recipient a secret. (this makes it more suspenseful, not knowing where the gift is coming from, then all of a sudden… BAM! Bernard got you a Papa Gino’s giftcard)
  6. Once you’re all gathered, you can take turns giving a gift to your assigned recipient.

If you’re struggling to pay off debt, ACCC can help. Schedule a free credit counseling session with us today. 


Andi is a Marketing Assistant at ACCC. He is passionate about supporting financial literacy efforts and helping to educate people on the Talking Cents blog!

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