Creative Ways to Keep Christmas Gift Exchanges Thrifty…

How to Keep Christmas Gift Exchanges Thrifty - tips from

I received the following question from frugal friend Lea Ann on The Frugal Girls Facebook page.  Let’s help her out, and share some ideas!

“Do you exchange gifts with your extended family at Christmas time?? Do you have any thrifty gift exchange ideas that would keep us all from buying for each person?  We have drawn names in the past, but even that can add up when you have three kids.  Thanks for any ideas!”

Great question, Lea Ann!  As we near towards Christmas, be sure to check out these Thrifty Gift Ideas, Photo Freebies and Deals, and Thrifty Craft Projects for some inspiration on fun gifts that won’t break the bank!

How do you keep Christmas gift exchanges thrifty?

Do you have any tips… or thrifty gift ideas to share?

Leave a comment & share!

See Also:
Stocking Stuffers for Men


  1. Debbie says

    I give gifts to my children and grandchildren…my parents if I will see them as well. Other than that, if I will be seeing extended family, I keep it realy simple (and inexpensive). For the females: small candles, purse size hand lotion, sanitizers, lip balm, etc. (most of these you can get as samples, free with coupons or extremely inexpensive). Home baked items are wonderful for the men. Photo cards are another option. For other kids that may be there, think 99cent store! Stickers w/album, coloring books, hair bands, bubbles, you name it! I hope this gives you some starting ideas.

  2. Katrina says

    at back to school time i stock up on crayons, markers, colored pencils and other random back to school things. they make very good stocking stuffer’s or even a gift with a coloring book for a child. same as socks and underwear they are cheap and good thing to stock up on while they are on sale. yard sales as well, you’ll just never know what you will find even that hidden gift that is just perfect for the mother in law.. hope this helps someone

  3. Christa says

    The last few years my parents and sisters have decided reather than give gifts to each other we adopt a family with young kids and give gifts to them, complete with all the things for a holdiday meal. We just kind of came to the realiztion that we don’t need anymore candles and lotion and there all alot more needy families out there….especially in these tough economic times.

  4. becky whetten says

    Lea Ann,
    Christmas is for the kids right??
    We do a cousins gift exchange (pull names so if you have 3 kids then all you buy is 3 gifts).

    As for the adults we play a white elephant style game.

    Nothing is to be bought, you have to find something laying around the house that is not TRASH but something you just don’t want or use.
    You wrap it up in a bag or box as pretty as can be to make it more appealing to someone else =)
    All the adults are handed a card from a deck, then the dealer has a different deck to pull from. As your card is called you go look at all the pretty boxes and bags and pick what one you want (cant open this round). After all the cards have been called and all the boxes/bags have been taken you do another round, this is the “steal round”, you go trade someone your bag for their bag then you open it, show it off and put it back in the bag/box…after all cards are gone you do the last round where it gets FUN =)
    You have to remember what was in each bag/box and trade with someone if you want what they have, if you want to keep what you have then you just say “keep”. The object of the game in the last round is to be the last card called so you have the ultimate pick =)
    Good Luck!! Becky

  5. MamaNellie says

    I know what you mean! I’ve got 4 children. Before drawing names with cousins we agree on a price limit we can live with like $5-$10. Then we get creative with meaningful gifts such as homemade baking mixes (blank-in-a-jar), photo collages of great memories, supplies for a favorite hobby, books, diary, compilation CD’s et c. We’ve also had lean years where we’ve spread the gift over a year with an activity coupon book of special dates, one for each month-these can be a little more extravagant like a dinner at a restaurant, out to a movie, trip to a zoo… or they can be frugal like picnic in a park, game night, pizza and movie night, midnight drive with snacks to chat and look at the stars et c.

  6. Daniela Wogh says

    Get them a gift certificate when they’re 80% off. You’re giving a gift worth $25 but only paying 2 or 3 bucks. Sounds like a great deal in my book.

  7. Be says

    Library Sales for the literary-minded (Got a professor friend a 10 volume set of the OED for $10 at one. He’d been dying for one forever and the one volume with the magnifying glass edition can cost a couple hundred dollars in some places.).

    Hand crafts: has a lovely 4 hour baby sweater that only takes one skein of worsted weight (Red Heart is under $3/skein!) and is adorable. (They ask that you knit one for charity). Just an added plug here: if you’re at all into knitting or crocheting, check out – they have tons of free patterns for just about anyone’s needs.

    Cooking: Tins of cookies! If you can’t find the tins cheap or free, just get a bunch of tupperware containers and put a pretty bit of ribbon (or yarn) around. The same goes for jams/jellies. I’m both a big baker and a preserver – take the latter even further because I only make jams or jellies out of what I find when I forage (and don’t say “Ick!” Google Euell Gibbons!). There are a lot of peach trees, ornamental pears, wild grapes and crabapples in my neighborhood. By far, I think the crabapple jelly’s the best received because it’s considered nostalgic.

  8. Pam Roland says

    This year, I am doing candle jars. I work in a kitchen and am able to get plastic jalapeno jars and glass pickle jars for free. I am going to use a spray paint can of frost with stencils to decorate the jars. Then you put a little bit of playsand in the bottom, a battery operated tea light, wrap raffia around the top and voila!, a nice little gift for little money.

    I might even bake these cookies to put into the jars:
    These are simple and very easy!

  9. mandy says

    This year I am taking a bookshelf that we was going to get rid of and paint it and turn it into a barbie house for my daughter. All I need to do is buy some furniture and we are set to go!

  10. Kelly Stivers says

    We focus on the kids as much as possible… I do like to put a price limit on gifts though… usually only $10 and under… (this doesn’t apply to our children though).

    If we have money left over then we buy for the adults. In past years we’ve gotten family pictures done or pictures of the kids (I love those package coupons for $7.99 for JC Penny) the trick is that if you need more pictures than are offered in the package, chose another day and make another appointment. You can use another coupon at this appointment. If you don’t feel comfortable going back to the same place so soon… chose another location. Then we go to the dollar store and pick out frames. This is a particularry great gift for grandparents! They always love the pictures and this way all they have to do is hang it or set it out on a shelf.

    We’ve also done the drawing names thing…

  11. noreen says

    gift baskets are great fill with dollar stores items they have everything you need for under 10 bucks you have a great gift that looks like you paided more.. i am a artist myself so i can pretty much turn anything into something good with paint. but you can also get some paint and sponages and sponage a flower pot and put a plant in it. nice gift let the kids do it… add a dollar store clear wrap and a bow and it looks like it came from a florist..
    now any kind of wooden gift can be re-done with paint and if you are not a artist stamp or stencil or even decals add a special touch to a gift that matchs the reciever house.

    buy christmas balls from a yard sale buy some glue and feathers and some beads re do the ball in what style you want and you have a fancy expensive ball for little money that can look just like the fancy xmas shops..

    good luck and i have written way to much

  12. Connie Mrazek says

    Jar mixes are great gifts and not expensive to make. I have four books full of jar gift recipes, where you assemble a “mix” of cookies, soups, brownies, etc. in a jar and decorate the lid with material or ribbon. They are great for unexpected gifts. You can quickly grab them and give them to neighbors, etc.

  13. Connie Mrazek says

    One more thing, be careful of the coupons, as some have a minimum purchase, so you end up spending money you didn’t plan to! I went to one restaurant, and they were real sticklers about the $50 minimum, and I kept having to buy more and more.

  14. Jan says

    Last year my family decided to have a white elephant exchange with fun items bought at the local charity thrift store and donate whatever cash they felt they could afford to spend and choose a charity to donate to. Everyone had a great time and two charities benefited (the thrift store and the chosen charity).

  15. whitney says

    We buy birthday/ x-mas presents all year long. We look at yard sales for like new items, resale shops, clearance items. I have a closet full of presents for the kiddos so that means we dont have to spend anything for Christmas this year :)

    • Holly says

      We do this as well. We cannot afford to buy everyone in our families presents during just November and December, so we buy throughout the year and put them up. This way when the holiday season comes, we can see what we already have and just buy a couple of items to finish up. I also only shop end of season clearance, outlet stores, sales and never pay full price!

  16. says

    At Christmas we usually only see my side of the family and my sister and I have agreed to only buy for the children. She has 3 and we have 1 but when we were buying for everyone it ended up being 5 gifts that we purchased for just them on top of everything else. She was fine with just buying for the kids. We set a $10-$20 limit. I start this time of year looking at sales for toys for my youngest nephew (4) I can usually find a nice toy on sale that falls below our budget. As for my niece (11) and older nephew (12) it can get a little trickier. I know what stores my niece likes and look out for discounted gift cards. My nephew loves sports and hunting so I have been checking magazine discount sites to find sports illustrated for kids or a outdoor magazine subscription for him. When it comes to grandparents we will watch for sales on picture frames and have some of the best pictures from the year printed and then wrapped as gifts. We have also used Walgreens to create picture books for both sets of grandparents. I’ve seen in the Walgreens ads the past few weeks that those books are BOGO or buy one get one 50% off so those are great ways to get gifts for grandparents at a reasonable price. There will also be some ornament making projects in our home later this year. We plan to make cinnamon ornaments and some stick ornaments. Both will be inexpensive to make, fun for my son and the grandparents will love seeing handmade ornaments every year.

    In the past we have also done dollar store gifts with my husband’s side of the family. We buy 10 $1 gifts (one for each of the children at that time, now it would be 12!) at different age ranges and the kids take turns picking gifts from a basket. The adults were given a $10 limit and each adult brings a $10 gift and everyone draws a number. You choose a present in order by #’s and it’s basically the white elephant game and gifts can be stolen and so on. It was a lot of fun and interesting to see what everyone was able to find for $10.

    I think the ideas about baked goods and gifts in a jar are great too. I’ve found over the years that people tend to enjoy homemade sentimental gifts more than the expensive ones. I’m even going to try my hand at making homemade chocolate covered cherries for my mom because they are one of her favorite candies at the holidays.

  17. Sara says

    We have done a ‘family’ exchange, so instead of buying one gift for each member in a family, we buy one gift for the whole family to use. We’ve done board games, gift certificates to restaurants, family friendly movies, etc.

    It is helpful to only have to buy one gift and usually it is way cheaper than buying all of the individual gifts.

  18. Christy Goettel says

    The key is to keep Christmas in mind all year. When you see something that is a great deal and you know someone will love it – get it! Even if that means buying it in March. I have a Christmas Budget spreadsheet and I love totally how much under budget I am each year. :)

  19. Missy Asche says

    For our Christmas exchange, we play a game with the entire family (extended and immediate). We ask each family member to contribute one item per person if they are able. This one item can be store bought, an item they no longer use from home or even something from Goodwill/Salvation Army. The game is simple, fun…and everyone wins!
    How the game works:
    We place the gifts (wrapped of course) in one big pile in the middle of the floor. We pick numbers as to who goes first (for example, if there’s 25 people, then everyone picks a number out of a hat/bowl up until all 25 have a number). The first person to go simply picks a gift from the pile. They open it and place it in front of themselves so everyone can see what they got. The next person in line can either pick a gift from the pile or, if they like what the first person got, they can “steal” that gift! If they choose to steal the previous gift, the person that had the gift “stolen” from them now gets to pick another gift from the pile. They keep this gift (unless it is stolen from them again!) If a gift is stolen twice, that is the LAST time it can be taken. The person who is the second person to “steal” an item is the final owner of that gift. This continues until all gifts are taken and everyone has had a chance to play. You’re actually the lucky one if you’re the last to choose because you have the chance to see most, if not all, the gifts opened and you can decide if you want that last unopened gift or pick from the ones that are already opened and you know what you’re getting!
    We have had great success with this game and we usually even end up with so many gift items in the pile that we have to go around the room more than one time!
    We’ve had everything from family games to peanut butter to even toilet paper wrapped up for gifts for this game!! It is a lot of fun.

  20. Misha Williams says

    A neighbor that practices martial arts had boxes of pieces of plywood broken in half. I told him I’d love to take it for my firepit for those cold nights. But a better thought was to sand them down and handpaint them into personalized presents for the family. Now I have personalized plaques, for the garden, kitchen, home, anything specific to the friend or family member. And it was something that was going to be thrown away! I’m loving it! CRAFTING MY HEART OUT and LOVING IT!!!

  21. says

    We live in a major metropolitan area and that means we have a great selection of thrift stores (Goodwill, Salvation Army, independent stores). By trial and error, I have learned that in certain locations, you can find beautiful designer apparel for a song (e.g. impeccable Ralph Lauren sweaters for $2, like-new Anne Taylor dresses for $4). A spin in the washing machine erases all traces of “used.” My teenage daughter thinks there is nothing finer than a “surprise box” of eight or ten carefully selected thrift clothing items, some of them quirky vintage items she can use as costumes. I scout around for a couple months before Christmas, taking advantage of half-price sales. I like the idea of reusing, rather than buying retail. I have also learned (as a former Macy’s gift wrapper) that if you wrap something like this up beautifully, it has a lot of grandeur.

  22. Brittany says

    This year I got some candy jars and etched
    Initials on the jars and am going to fill with candy. 10
    For candy $1 a peice for the jars etching cream is $20 but with 40% off at hobby lobby $12 dollars( i have over half a Jar left for other projects ). And $1 stencils. Cost is about $2 a person with leftover etching cream!!!

  23. Jackie says

    We love to play cards with my son. Uno, go fish, etc. and he cant hold all his cards in his hand. So my husband made him a card holder. He took a scrap piece of wood (2X4) and put 3 slits all the way across. This way he can put all his cards in the slits. We thought this would make a great Christmas present for our niece and nephews with a deck of cards. You could even decorate the wood and make it more personable.

  24. says

    For the past couple of years, the adults in our family have exchanged homemade gifts. Some have included collage frames of family photos, Italian Night Gift Basket (homemade pasta and jar sauce given in a colander), a dish of cranberry scones with recipe, wax-dipped pine cones for firestarters, and homemade soaps with decorative hand towels. This gives the opportunity to put thought into the gifts, as well as spending time with your family making the gifts. (My kids and I had fun hunting for and making the dipped pinecones!)

  25. johann says

    yes I agree with debbie, It is good to keep it less expensive , doesn’t mean you love them any less, but yes and I agree with baked goods, think of things that people can really use. see what freebies you can get, and on sale items through the year, but christmas isn’t about the things you get, we don’t go crazy at Christmas time never have, it is a special time of love with family and friends and a $ amount shouldn’t determine its value. Have a great Thanksgiving & Christmas time.

  26. nellie b says

    i love all the ideas; we have exchanges with price limits for some years. however, it is a little more difficult for teens and if you are a fulltime worker….more ideas?

  27. Nicole Watson says

    I shop the day after Christmas clearance sale for gifts for the next year. I’m able to get all sorts of gifts for my Christmas shopping list and check off the names as I go. I keep the list on a document in my computer to update and change as needed each year so I don’t forget what I bought for who. Also, when a family member reaches adulthood or has their first child, they no longer get a gift.. their child does.

  28. Connie Wallace says

    Christy Goettel, I would love to hear more about your Christmas spreadsheet; the software you use(Excel?),how you set it up, and information you put in. And Heidi, I don’t recall if you’ve talked about this before but I would like to make a spreadsheet on the inventory I have accumulated since I’ve started stockpiling. I would really like to have something that would be helpful to me in keeping track of these things. I can start a spreadsheet, but I haven’t a lot of experience, and I just want it to be a really effective tool for me to use. I’m sorry I am asking for something that you have posted before, if you have, please direct me to that link.
    I really appreciate this website Heidi, and appreciate all the input by the readers. You all have a good weekend!

  29. Debra A Clarke says

    Every year the day after Thanksgiving I begin making cream filled chocolates and peanut butter cups to box or bag as inexpensive takes a little time, but the effort is worth every minute. If you can get friends or family to help, its a fun , yet sweet afternoon project that everyone on your Xmas List loves recieving! You can get imaginative with your packages too! If anyone would like the recipes, feel free to email me!

    • Chantelle says

      Debra, I would love the recipes. I am trying to figure out how to make cream filled chocolates for the first time this year. (this is the first year I ever got the idea) and then stumbled upon what you wrote while looking up something totally different. Anyway, I don’t know how to email you to find out the recipe, so I”m hoping you will see this :)

  30. Jenny Torres says

    My husband and I have a lot of people to buy for during the holidays and sometimes “a small leak can sink a great ship” really fast, so we try to make it a minimum. For the families, we are making a movie night baskets. There are so many great family movies at Target for $4.00 – $9.00… we buy a movie, box of popcorn, candy bars, place them in a red & white “popcorn” box and wrap them up with clear red/green wrapping and tie a bow at the top. The pop-corn, candy, popcorn box and wrapping can be found at The Dollar Tree. Also board games are fun too! Wal-Mart sells board games (Monopoly, Sorry, etc..) for at least $7-$10 if you want to stay around that price range and it’s great for a family present! You can probably add some candy with the game, etc… there is so much to do for gifts and the season is for giving, not “who bought the most expensive present” people will like your gift, I know we would! 😀 There are a lot of ways you can create without breaking your budget. Hope that helps :)

  31. Lauren G says

    When my kids got to be school-age and Christmas started getting very expensive having to buy for all the kid cousins, we started a new tradition. At Thanksgiving when all of us got together, the kids would draw a name from a basket and would have to buy or make that child a Christmas ornament. The kids loved this idea. They put a lot of thought into the ornament selection (or construction) and by the time they got to be college age they would have a nice collection to take with them to start their own homes.

  32. Lisa says

    We gave glass balls and put a ribbon bow with tag on top.We told everyone to put thier wish for the year on a piece of paper and roll it up and put it in the glass ornament. It was a hit! My wish came true.

  33. LeaAnn says

    Thanks for the great ideas everyone, we have decided for each adult and teen will bring something you already have that you don’t need any more, something nice, and play a game simular to the ones mentioned where you pick a present and then are able to steal one if you want, and for the children each person will bring a dollar store present for each child and then each child will have several things to open and each person can decide how much they can afford for each child. Thanks again for the great ideas!

  34. Pam Roland says

    I seen this cute idea at a craft show. Make a fleece scarf but add a extra piece of fabric at the bottom for hand warmers. It can be tied up like the popular blankets.

    Also, I am doing snowman tin can towers. The cans are free and get to be recycled! The only cost I have is the paint, some foam, and some flannel fabric for his scarf.

  35. Beth says

    I stumbled on quit a few years ago and since then Christmas has been overhauled. We have a Christmas party every year at my parents house and had been exchanging gifts with everyone. It got to be too much. Initially the problem was clutter. We’ve always lived in apartments and Christmas would bring an over abundance of stuff. Now it is a matter of financial strain and I am so glad that the ground work has already been laid and no one will be disappointed at a more meager Christmas this year.

    We will still have the Christmas party this year. Everyone brings food and beverages to share. I host the games. Every year we play as many rounds of Christmas bingo as I have scratch-offs to give as prizes. One year we played Christmas family feud. This year we will play a game where there are boxes within boxes and you have to roll doubles to get a chance to open the box. No one will know how many boxes there are so they won’t know if they will get the prize or another box. The prize is going to be a $5-$10 gift card. Last year one of my cousin even chipped in so we could have more scratch-offs. We laugh together more at the Christmas party then any other time of year.

    I was laid off last December due to cost cutting measures. Things are beginning to get difficult. I have been buying a present here and there since October and making sure my 7 year old daughter knows to keep her expectations low. “Santa” only brings three gifts because that’s how many gifts Jesus received and he fills the stockings. I have ten gifts for each of my two girls, wrapped and ready to go. This is more then I thought I would be able to provide this year and only was accomplished by shopping sales and clipping coupons. But I did not buy items because they were on sale. I watched carefully to see what they played with most often and though about what would encourage them in certain areas like fine motor skills. I replaced some items that had been thrown away in the past due to missing or broken pieces like Monopoly. Target had a deal if you bought 3 board games you got $5 off so I paid $5.33 a game. Micheal’s craft store often has coupons for 40-50% off one regularly priced item. They have craft kits, art supplies and even toys for kids.

    I called my mom and requested that instead of buying me a gift that she buy our Christmas tree this year. She talked to my dad and they decided that they would do that for me. My dad also said not to buy them gifts if I hadn’t already. I asked if there was something I could do for them for Christmas and we’ll be talking about that more in the next few days.

    All of this is to encourage you to talk to your loved ones if your current traditions aren’t working. Some ideas that might work would be to draw names but everyone has to get the same item like a Christmas ornament or slippers for the other person with the goal being to make it as personal as possible. Another idea is to have a stocking for each person and everyone buys the same item for each persons sock such as a special holiday candy, lip balm, hand sanitizer, ect. You could of course do toys and such for the kids. Have it so no one puts who it’s to or from, then no one feels like they have to impress. Talk to them this year about possible changes for next year just in case you have people who shop in January for the next Christmas, they will be more receptive to change if they don’t already have presents bought. The important thing is to enjoy the Christmas season and the time you get with your loved ones.

  36. kristin says

    My family has recently started drawing names. We set a low limit ($20) and have to get 3 items. One is to be practical, one is to be edible, and one is to be recycled (something from your own home or purchased at a thrift store). Even my grandparents have fun trying to get the best gifts they can with their $20.

  37. says

    In our families we just don’t do gift exchanges except for the parents. : )

    I’m an only child so it keeps things simple on my side; just buying for my parents and our four daughters and each other…But in my hub’s fam, he has 5 siblings and it goes on and on from there…Lot’s of peoples! : ) We decided years ago for the brothers, sisters & their children NOT to exchange gifts. We still buy for our parents though and they buy for us; they usually give money gifts to the older grandchildren (a house full!) and for the little ones, perhaps a clothing item, or money and a toy. It works and keeps things more simple.

    To me? I prefer the price for party gift exchanges to be of a $5.00 value. (emphasis on value!) : ) Or, in the case of my 25 year old daughter’s Bible study group she teaches, my 28 year old daughter had each young lady bring a donation of whatever the Lord led them to bring and they were able to buy chickens etc. for a poor family from Gospel for Asia. Then all the little girls made gingerbread houses from graham crackers and candy supplies they brought, after the Bible study lesson for their monthly skill. They love it! : )

  38. Shannon Sines says

    My siblings and I all have children that we like to buy for but over the years, the children keep multiplying. My family decided that we will buy a Christmas ornament $5.oo or less. If you have one child, you buy one ornament. Ornaments go on sale after Christmas and you can get a beautiful ornament so cheap! What a better way to start an ornament keepsake box for your children. When they move out, they will have plenty to decorate a tree. I figure they have school ornaments and other ornaments along the way. It is future frugal planning. When they are young and on their own, trimming a tree will not be a burden. You could also make an ornament if wish!

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