You're putting a lot of faith into a person during a secret Santa. You have to hope they'll take the assignment seriously and then actually go through with buying the gift. And some people really fail somewhere along the way...
Here were some of the answers.
I did a secret Santa with a club at my school. The budget was around $35. For my person, I went all out and basically got them a bunch of items they wanted and listed down on their paper. The person who had me gave me a takeout box filled with broken cookies. Worst part, those cookies were leftovers that she took back home from our Thanksgiving party we had a few weeks ago...
I went to a high school church gift exchange, and this kid who considered himself a poet scribbled a poem on the back of a Walgreens receipt. To add insult to injury, he "wrapped" it in another Walgreens receipt. Nobody realized it was a gift until the end, when one poor girl thought she got left out. Imho, she would have been better getting left out.
When she opened it, the guy kept telling the whole crowd how he had been working on the poem in his head for a while, and how lucky the girl who opened it was. He made her read it to the whole room, and the cringe was tangible. He had opened a Nerf gun earlier, and would shout when people tried to steal it from him (perfectly within the rules). His dad was the preacher, so nobody felt like they could do anything.
We never had another gift exchange.
Why Do I Try?
I found a lego christmas set, still in box, from the year the giftee was born. They collected lego, and mentioned that sometimes they just collect them in box and keep them MIB, so I thought it would be a fun gift. Miraculously managed to stay under budget, except for shipping.
They also managed to get me, and didn't get me anything. It would have been forgettable, except they kept bringing it up every week or so, until they finally 'bought me lunch' by bringing in an energy drink and a bag of chips.
At one of the schools I used to work at, it was basically tradition that you participated in Secret Santa, both staff and students. But the main thing was that this school apparently "transcended the boundaries" or some deep quote shit, because you could be matched with anyone. Teachers with students, students with students, students with the janitor, anything. So, for 3 years I got students I didn't even know, and got them stuff based on asking around.
One year, I got matched with a student in one of my 11th grade classes. Score, the kid was a known HUGE Pokémon fan. After a week of prodding around, listening in on conversations in class and walking by during breaks, I finally heard him telling a friend that he really wanted a ditto plushie. Boom, it was within our set budget (30$) so I got it.
The kid was ecstatic. I got a bottle of "Liquid *ss Fart Spray".
Should Be BannedGiphy
I have a friend who is terrible at gift giving. He is so absent minded and last minute about things like this, and also refuses to care about 'materialistic things'. Which good for him, but if you're participating in a SS you are supposed to be thoughtful to your giftee. It's not about you.
The first time we run SS, he gifts his giftee a full boiled egg. The worst part is he passed it to her prior to be gift exchange so she ate it (while waiting for dinner) and only found out later that was her "gift".
The second year he gave his giftee a book in a language she doesn't read. It was most certainly a book he plucked off his shelf.
The third year, he gave her a coffee tasting experience (his friend owns a cafe). She doesn't drink coffee.
This year.... we'll see. We've all warned him to put effort etc.
Serving Tray Disappears
Place where I used to work did one of those gift giving games where you either got to pick a new present or steal one from someone else. It was a hideous idea, but all the presents were just goofy little things.
I had the last number, so basically my pick of any gift. Right from the early stages, I joked that I'd be taking the "dogs playing poker" serving tray. People kept stealing it back and forth, it became a running joke throughout the whole game.
When it got to the end, I did exactly as I said and went and took the box that had the serving tray in it. That person got up and picked whatever the last remaining gift was, seemed satisfied.
Later, after they'd left the party, I went to open the box with the serving tray in it and found our they'd only given me the empty box, had hidden the tray in their coat, and taken two presents.
Even the next workday after the party, that person was all like, "hahaha! got you! you got an empty box, dumb*ss!"
The Late Gift
In high school we did secret santas. One year the quirky boy in the group had me. He didnt have the gifts on hand the day we exchanged, so I was literally sitting there at lunch giftless while everyone opened theirs. He brought mine in a week later and it was basically an assortment of Christmas home decor: a santa ornament, some weird crucifix, and I forget what else. It occurred to me years later that he probably couldn't afford an actual gift.
It Just Needed To Be Pens
It was a $20 CAD budget and my recipient asked for earrings. I spent the day in my downtown area looking at shops before settling on a pair I was cut a good deal on. It cost me $19.99 before tax.
I asked for a set of pens. Nothing fancy, just a set of pens I needed for school. I got a $2 Daiso turkey Christmas hat I wouldn't be caught dead in and a package of toilet paper my secret Santa probably just straight got from her bathroom cupboard.
Probably over ten years ago now, in middle school, I coordinated a secret Santa in my friend group. So of course I went hard af and got my secret santa a great gift (within the budget limit- around $15 iirc) The time comes to swap gifts, and one girl announces she got everyone a small something- I can't remember exactly what but I think it was like a small pencil and notepad (probably about $1 each.) I thought that was sweet.
Turns out she had me for secret Santa, and didn't get me anything bedsides what she also gave to everyone else, so essentially I got nothing. I don't actually care, I'm just floored at how clueless some people can be. Never coordinated a SS again though.
It's Only Been Half A DecadeGiphy
We had a gift exchange several years ago between my wife's cousins and all of their significant others. The guy I was gifting for is a lot like me and is into board games and beer (among other things). I was able to find a game that normally ran for $75+ dollars on sale for $50 ($50 limit for our exchange). In addition, I made him a double growler carrier using my woodworking tools and spare lumber in my garage, so practically free aside from my time investment of about 8 hours or so. It turned out pretty nice and professional looking and I was really proud of the overall gifts.
The person who was supposed to bring a gift for me ended up not showing up to the Xmas celebration and promised to send me a gift. After 5 years, I am beginning to think I won't be seeing that gift.