Even though the smell of crisp leaves and pumpkin spice hangs in the air, Christmas is coming quickly. It’s the season for friends and family, good tidings, and busted budgets. If you usually buy gifts for everyone in your family, numerous friends, teacher gifts, work gift exchanges, or more, you’re likely spending hundreds, if not thousands of dollars on presents. If you want to cut back on Christmas gifts this year, here are some gift exchange ideas that will still be fun and thoughtful!

Four-Gift Rule

Instead of mindlessly spending money on random items for someone, stick to four Christmas gifts.

  • Something they want
  • Something the need
  • Something they wear
  • Something they read

This could also be a great way to buy gifts for children too. Kids can become overwhelmed and overstimulated very quickly, especially at Christmas. Opening gift after gift makes none of the gifts special. When there are so many presents, kids don’t know what to focus on.

The 4-gift rule for Christmas can help keep your holiday season from turning into a materialistic frenzy of more, more, more. It also forces you to stick to a reasonable budget. If you have more than one child, it also cuts out any bickering over who got more gifts. You don’t have to explain to Tommy that his gifts actually cost more than his sister’s, which is why he technically got fewer presents. Kids don’t understand value vs quantity, so giving each child four gifts eliminates the potential squabbling.

White Elephant/Yankee Swap/Steal-a-Gift

Whatever you may call it, this gift-swapping game usually provides lots of laughs. It’s great for bigger groups or office parties. If you don’t already know, here’s how it’s played:

1. Each person brings one wrapped gift.

It’s ideal to set a dollar limit. That way, everyone spends the same amount and leaves with a gift of similar value. You can even pick a theme! For example, every gift has to be food related, seasonal, for the home, a re-gift, etc. This could help some people narrow down what they’re looking for. Put all the gifts in one spot where everyone will be able to see them.

2. Everyone who brought a gift draws a number to determine the order.

You could also pick names from a hat, or start with the person who has the closest birthday and go on from there. Be creative!

3. Sit in a circle so everyone can see the gift pile.

To make it easier to remember who goes when, sit in the order in which you’ll choose a gift.

4. The player going first picks a gift from the pile.

Being number one means they have to pick from the pile in order to kick things off. When that person opens the gift, make sure everyone can see what they opened.

5. The people who go next can either:

  1. Steal a gift that’s already been opened
  2. Open a gift from the pile

As the game goes on, people usually begin plotting what they’ll steal. It can get very competitive, in a fun way! There are some ways to keep the game moving though, since it has to end at some point.

  • Gifts can only be stolen three times – the gift, and the person who steals it the third time, are out of the game
  • If a gift is stolen, it cannot be immediately stolen back – so, when the person loses their gift to a steal, they either have to steal a different one, or pick one from the pile

6. After all the gifts have been opened, the person who went first can either swap with someone else or keep what they have

This gives that person a chance to participate on the rare chance that no one stole that first gift. For this last turn, the three-swaps rule doesn’t apply. The person who gets their gift stolen has the chance to swap with someone else, then that person can swap, and so on. The game ends when the swapping stops or there are no more eligible people to steal from (they’re holding a gift that has been stolen three times already)

There are many variations to this game, so get creative!

The Gift of Experience

Start a tradition of doing something as a family instead of buying presents. You can keep it local and simple to save money and stick to a budget, or you can spend a little more in place of buying gifts.

Here are some ideas to get you thinking:


  • Host a game night combined with a cookie exchange
  • Pie day – everyone bring a recipe and make pies for Christmas dinner
  • Find a holiday craft show to visit
  • Coordinate a spa day at home
  • Do a local scavenger hunt and rotate who organizes it every year
  • Pick a Christmas craft and do it together – choose a new one every year


If budget isn’t your concern, pool your money and do something bigger. If your group is mostly adults, it can be better than trying to come up with gift ideas for those who likely already have everything they need. Even if you’re trying to plan with kids, an experience is something they will remember forever. A toy is something they’ll play with for a while then donate.

  • Rent an Airbnb for the weekend
  • Reserve an overnight at an indoor water park
  • Book an animal experience at a zoo or conservation park
  • Get tickets to a local musical or play
  • Plan a trip to somewhere new every year – you can even have people make presentations on their suggestion for the following year. Everyone presents their case, then, everyone votes. The destination that gets the most votes is the trip for next year!

Creating memorable experiences allows you to forge moments that no one will forget. A lot of people regret not doing more in their lives. They don’t regret not buying that coffee mug or t-shirt as a gift for someone.

DIY Only

Everyone still exchanges gifts, but they can only be homemade. “But I’m not crafty!” It’s ok. You don’t have to be Martha Stewart to DIY something.

Here are some simple ideas:

  • It can be food! Bake your favorite cookies, hand pies, or breads – look for small ceramic or glass dishes to bake in that can be part of the gift
  • Search for a simple Christmas ornament to make
  • Find pictures on the internet or magazine of everyone’s favorite things or funny quotes – print them out and grab some cheap frames for some awesome wall art
  • Google recipes for “cookies in a jar” – pick up a cute spatula, a glass jar with a lid, and some ribbon – dump all the ingredients into the jar, attach the directions, and slap a Christmas ribbon on it
  • Buy a cute, seasonal mug and a succulent plant or two – transplant the succulents into the mug with some dirt to fill it in – it makes a great addition to anyone’s desk

If you’re feeling up to the challenge, the internet is filled with DIY ideas for Christmas gifts that involve a little more time, glue, and patience.

Draw Names

This one is easy, and probably what a lot of larger families already do. Instead of buying gifts for all of your family members or friends, consider drawing names and purchasing one gift instead. It’s important to remember that everyone’s financial situation is different. While you might be able to afford gifts for everyone, suggesting drawing names could help out others who have less to spend. It could also produce more thoughtful gifts since you’re focused on just one person. Remember to set a budget so no one overspends.

We’re Here to Help

For many people, Christmas becomes so busy and frantic with shopping, parties, and traveling, they don’t have any time to enjoy it. If cutting back on buying presents can give you more time and money, then it’s the perfect gift.

If you’re still having trouble sticking to a budget at Christmas, we’re here to help! Instead of putting everything on credit cards, look at a Christmas loan. It’s a fixed interest rate, set amount, with regular monthly payments. The loan has to be paid off in 12 months, so you won’t carry credit card debt that snowballs out of control.

Our team is here to help M-F, 9am-4pm ET. Call, text, chat, or stop in! (315) 671-4000.