Unconventional gift giving takes stress out of holidays

Kathy Petry of Springettsbury Township with Deb Moats of East Manchester Township (Photo by Kate Penn)

Kathy Petry of Springettsbury Township with Deb Moats of East Manchester Township (Photo by Kate Penn)

Ah, the holidays. ‘Tis the season for spending time with loved ones, enjoying eggnog and gingerbread cookies, caroling, decking the halls — and blowing your budget.

For many, overspending or shopping for tons of aunts, uncles and cousins adds stress instead of cheer to this time of year. Thankfully, there are ways to lessen your list and fatten your wallet while also bringing your family together in unique and fun ways.

Drawing a single family member’s name out of a hat, hosting a white-elephant exchange or chipping in for one large gift, can make gift-giving the enjoyable experience it’s meant to be.

Unconventional gift exchanges can bring families together and take away some of the anxiety surrounding this busy time of year. Make a party of it, break out the eggnog and enjoy the celebration!

Low-cost exchanges

Carrie Bryson of Newberry Township has done several different gift exchanges with her extended family. Her favorite is when they set a $5 limit and everyone assembles gift bags of Dollar Tree items, such as craft supplies for artistic types or candies for those with a sweet tooth.

“It’s cheap, and everyone gets a surprise,” said Bryson.

Bryson says this is a great option for those with large families and a fun way to get everyone together without busting budgets. “We all just can’t afford to be buying tons of gifts,” she said.

Bryson’s family has also drawn names for a gift exchange, setting a $25 limit. Each person lists three things they’d like, helping the buying find just the right gift.

The elephant in the room

Another fun ­— and sometimes rowdy — option is to host a white-elephant exchange. Each family member buys a gift within a set price limit or theme, and all gifts are placed in a pile in the center of the room. Family members draw numbers to determine the order in which they will choose a gift from the pile.

When it is a person’s turn, he can choose a gift from the pile or swap it with someone else’s gift. Some families choose to go through multiple selection rounds or keep all gifts wrapped until the end of the another selection round before allowing everyone to open their gifts.

In order for this type of exchange to be a success, rules should be agreed upon in advance. Some great theme ideas include bottles of wine, home-baked goods or items for certain rooms, such as the kitchen.

Too big to fit under the tree

Sometimes, the best gifts don’t come in packages. An experience such as tickets to a play or musical, season passes to an amusement park or even a special trip are memorable and make a great group gift idea.

Think of things to do instead of things to have. Determine a dollar amount everyone feels comfortable with and have all contributors sign an accompanying card. To make collecting funds for the gift easy and fair in big families, you can set up a crowd-funding website, such as at www.gofundme.com. This makes it easy to collect money and track who has contributed to the gift fund.

What makes group gifts especially thoughtful is that everyone comes together for the benefit of another.

How to have a white-elephant exchange

Here are the basic rules for a white-elephant exchange. They can be tailored, but all family members should agree to them before play begins.


    1. All guests bring a gift to the party; guidelines can be given in the party invitations.
    2. Gifts should be wrapped with no outside markings or tags, so no one knows who they are from.
    3. Place gifts in a pile.
    4. All participants draw a number.
    5. The person who draws No. 1 goes first and selects and unwraps a gift.
    6. The second player can either select a new gift or “steal” an unwrapped gift. If a gift is stolen, the person who was stolen from can either steal another unwrapped gift or select a new one.
    7. Once an unwrapped gift is open, it’s the next person’s turn.
    8. The game ends after all the gifts have been opened.


    1. Gifts cannot be stolen more than two times. Therefore, the second thief gets to keep the gift.
    2. A gift cannot be immediately stolen back from the person it was originally stolen from. Wait until another turn has passed so things do not turn into a grab-fest!
    3. Gifts must be kept in plain sight.

— Source: Yahoo Voices

Big-ticket gift ideas

If you and your family decide to pool your money for a large gift, here are some great ideas for a memorable big-ticket item:

    Hot-air balloon ride
    Tickets to a dinner theater
    Weekend at a bed and breakfast
    Dinner aboard a train or river cruise
    Tickets for a sporting event
    New entertainment system, such as a smart TV
    Amusement park season tickets

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1 Response

  1. Jessica says:

    Have you heard of Gifteng? It’s a site focused on its community members giving and receiving free stuff they/others don’t want. I really like it as another way of unconventional gift giving. It’s still in its beta version and you have to request an invite, but I have a good feeling about it. http://www.gifteng.com

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