8 Creative Family Gift Exchanges That Won't Blow Your Holiday Budget

by Rachel Garlinghouse
Originally Published: 
Mom hugging her daughter during the holiday gift exchange
Helena Lopes/500px/Getty

It’s normal to be panic about money during the holidays — between buying for your own family and everyone else in your circle the gift add up. With the holidays fast approaching, it’s time to think about how can you save money while not being a Scrooge. After all, buying gifts for every member of your extended family can be a LOT.

Of course, your family holiday can still be merry and bright without breaking the bank. It’s important that you address your family as whole, getting their input — while also being honest about why you want to scale back this year. It’s likely that other family members feel the same as you do. Put these creative gift exchange ideas out there and see which one your extended crew likes best.

Draw names.

This can work in a number of ways. The kids can draw names between them, and the adults can do the same. Or everyone can throw their names in and draw with adults and kids mixed. Another option, draw another family and buy a family gift instead of individual gifts. This works well if your extended family is large. Ask family members what price range they’re comfortable with.

Set a small, firm budget.

If your family insists on everyone buying for everyone else, agree on a budget. You don’t have to “go big or go home” to have a holly jolly Christmas. A small budget allows you to get creative. Even just $5 per person is enough room to give a great gift such as a gift card to a favorite store, ear buds, or hot chocolate fixings.

Play holiday gift BINGO.

Two years ago, I bought an old-fashioned BINGO set. At Christmas, we hosted extended family. Every person was told to bring BINGO prizes — our suggestion was two per person. We had funny magnets, candy, gift cards, mini bottles of alcohol, winter accessories, LEGO sets, and so much more. The game was a huge hit! You can play BINGO with prizes in lieu of any type of gift exchange.

Have a theme.

Nearly a decade ago, my husband’s aunt and uncle bought each family a highly rated ice cream scoop; we still use it. Theme ideas include buying each person a book, a gift card, or accessories (think tech gloves, for example). Make sure the item is useable but also fun. Take turns choosing the theme each year, or draw an idea from a pool of suggestions.

Opt for a white elephant exchange.

You can split the white elephant exchange between kids and adults, and of course, set a budget. Make it clear if the gift should be useable or funny. One year, a cousin put in eco-friendly cleaning supplies, which ended up being the most coveted gift item among the grown-ups.

Exchange what you already have.

If your family is the earth-friendly type, exchange gently used items or items you received as a gift that simply weren’t your vibe. As long as everyone is on board with this and won’t be offended by re-gifting, why not? You can go with a theme, such as a book swap, or make it a free-for-all. (Just make sure you aren’t putting in a gift that someone who will be present at the family gathering gave you last year. Talk about awkward.)

Arrange a Secret Santa gift exchange.

Secret Santa allows for some mystery without requiring you to buy for every single person. Again, you can separate kids and adults, or you can mix it up. Each person can provide a wish list of items they love to help the giver choose a fantastic present. Don’t forget to set a budget that works for everyone. Of course, one (reliable) person needs to be in charge of this to keep the secrets organized.

Fill the stockings.

Another fun gift-giving option is for each family member to have a stocking. As family members arrive, they place a chosen item into each person’s stocking, based on their budget or a pre-determined gift budget. Opening stockings can be more fun than gifts when you consider how great smaller options are, such as scratch-off lottery tickets, favorite candy bars, gift cards, or tech accessories.

Changing up your holiday gift-giving M.O. can not only be better for every person’s wallet, but also create some excitement. Remember, variety is the spice of life! Your family can still have a festive holiday — without regretting purchases when the bills arrive in January.

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