Sticking to a holiday budget can be difficult, especially if there are many people to think about. A holiday gift exchange can be a festive way to keep your finances in check.

You may be familiar with the gift-giving game Secret Santa, but there are many other kinds of gift exchanges. We turned to the Consumer Reports community on Facebook to find out what our readers recommend. Here are some of the best holiday gift exchange ideas we got.


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White Elephant Gift Exchange
It's great for an office party. Everyone brings a wrapped present and places it in the center of the room. Each person then draws a number, which determines the order for the game. The first person picks a gift and unwraps it, and then the second person has the option to do the same or steal the unwrapped present. It continues this way until everyone has had a turn to choose and all the gifts have been distributed.

When playing with coworkers, select a theme ahead of time. Books make a safe bet, as do coffee mugs or desk decorations. Maryanne Parker, founder and president of the company Manor of Manners, recommends steering clear of humorous gifts because something that is funny to one person may not be funny to another.

Cookie Swap or Meal Gift Basket Exchange
Each is perfect for your neighborhood block party. Put together a few small packages of cookies and a recipe card with each one. That way, the gift recipient can enjoy the cookies long after the original batch is gone. Or if cooking is more your thing, create a meal gift basket that has a recipe and all of the ingredients needed. You can exchange the baskets by simply pulling names out of a hat. Or you can exchange them by playing Secret Santa or using the White Elephant Exchange.

Shared Heritage Gift Exchange
This works for your extended family. If your grandparents or great-grandparents came from the "old" country, make it a requirement that everyone bring a gift that represents its traditions. Then sit in a circle and pass around wrapped gifts while music plays in the background. When the music stops, the gift you have is yours to keep. Everyone takes turns opening a gift while the gift giver explains its meaning. “Picking a theme that is meaningful to your family is a great place to start,” says Elaine Swann, a lifestyle and etiquette expert.

The Want, Need, Wear, Read Exchange
A holiday gift exchange idea that works well with immediate family is to limit presents to a total of four: something wanted, something needed, something to wear, and something to read. Draw names, like in Secret Santa, or assign a category to one person to shop for all of the others. Help guide the gift selection process by asking everyone to create an Amazon wish list with a few ideas for each type of gift.

Joint Gift Exchange
Make gift giving with your significant other budget friendly by setting a low price limit—$10 to $20—and setting a challenge to see who can stretch the amount the furthest. Or turn your annual holiday shopping trip into a fun day out together by heading to the stores and buying your gifts together. You’ll lose the element of surprise but you’ll save on time, stress, and wrapping paper. Finish the day with dinner at your favorite restaurant and your annual holiday gift exchange will become something you look forward to each year.

Tips for a Successful Holiday Gift Exchange

Once you’ve decided on the type of gift exchange you want, follow these suggestions to make sure it goes off without a hitch.

Communicate. Before introducing one of these holiday gift exchange ideas, consider the dynamics of the group. Will young children participate or recent college graduates who might be tight on funds? Consider a reasonable price limit, and start a conversation through group email or text, or even Facebook messenger. People are more likely to speak honestly over social media than in person, says Elaine Swann, a lifestyle and etiquette expert. “Tell them what you’re proposing, and get everybody that’s connected involved in the conversation,” she says. Be open to feedback, so that everyone feels invested in the idea. The more excited everyone is, the better the holiday gift exchange will be.

Clarify the rules ahead of time. As a group, set guidelines and make sure everyone is on the same page. Decide whether regifting or gag gifts are encouraged. Commit to a price limit, and make sure everyone is comfortable with the amount. “Wealthier family members may want to be big-hearted and give big gifts, but then the other members of the family may feel uncomfortable,” says Maryanne Parker, founder and president of the company Manor of Manners.

The retail price should be the agreed upon value. It's important for all of the gifts to be approximately the same value, so that each gift is equitable. Buying your gift on sale is fine, but make sure the retail price reflects the agreed upon price limit. “The reason those limitations are set is so that everyone feels like they got something that is the same value,” Swann says. “It levels the playing field as far as the gift giving is concerned, so people don’t feel cheated.”

Have backup gifts on hand, just in case. Gift exchanges can occasionally end in disappointment for some, especially if one person decides to go rogue and disregard the group guidelines. It helps to have a few extra wrapped gifts on hand, just in case backup options are needed.