Alternative Gift Exchange Ideas

With Thanksgiving over, many of us are searching for the perfect gifts to exchange with loved ones. If the increase in views of my Christmas in July: Alternative Gift Exchange Ideas post is any indication, then many of you are also looking for gift exchange ideas.

Looking for unique ways to exchange gifts with your family this Christmas? Consider these ideas for alternative gift exchanges.

That post is pretty brief, but I’ve identified several additional ideas because my family typically tries a new alternative each year. Here are some exchanges we’ve used in the past and some we may try in the future.

Alternative gift exchange ideas

  • A handmade gift or “regift” exchange. For these exchanges, family members exchange handmade gifts or items they currently own. Some families allow their members to give gifts that were handmade by someone else and purchased by a family member (such as handmade crafts that were purchased from local artisans). If you’d like some ideas for handmade gifts, check out OF THE HEARTH’s Pinterest page!
  • An activity or experience. Family members pool their money to purchase some sort of activity or experience (a weekend at the beach, a camping trip, a visit to an amusement park, etc.).
  • Thrift store gift exchange. Each family member draws the name of another family member out of a hat. The family members agree upon a price limit (such as $10 or $20) and head out to local thrift stores to purchase gifts. The object is to purchase the best gift you can for the family member whose name you drew. A variation is to utilize a dollar store when completing this exchange.
  • Recipe basket exchange. Each family member documents his or her favorite recipe on a recipe card and places this in a gift basket that also includes all of the ingredients needed to make the recipe. Draw names from a hat to choose who gets which basket.
  • Gift auction. Each family member brings a wrapped gift for the exchange. (It often works best to set a price limit for the gifts.) Place various amounts of play money in envelopes and seal them; give one envelope to each member of the family. One family member acts as an auctioneer while the other family members bid on each wrapped gift. The highest bidder wins the gift (each person may only win one gift).
  • Book exchange. Each member of the family brings a copy of his or her favorite book, or a book by his or her favorite author. Draw names from a hat to decide who gets which book. To make things even more special, ask each family member to write a note to the recipient explaining why the book is so important to him or her.
  • Stocking stuffer exchange. Family members exchange gifts that are small enough to fit in Christmas stockings. Example stocking stuffers include lip balms, candy, pieces of fruit, gloves, boxes of tea, socks, pens, and small tools. Need additional ideas? Click here for frugal, practical stocking stuffer ideas for adults and here for frugal, practical stocking stuffer ideas for kids.
  • A volunteer afternoon. Instead of exchanging gifts, family members spend a few hours together giving of their time. Serve at a homeless shelter, help build a Habitat for Humanity house, or whatever volunteer opportunity interests your family.
  • Secret Santa. Each family member’s name is put on a piece of paper and tossed into a hat. Each family member draws one name and purchases a gift for the person listed on the paper he or she drew. Many families set a price limit for gifts.
  • Games and puzzles exchange. Each family member purchases a board game or similar item (jigsaw puzzle, trivia book, etc.), wraps it, and brings it to the exchange. Family members play a simple game (musical chairs; rock, paper, scissors; etc.) and the winner gets to choose a gift first. This winner then sits out while the remaining family members play the game to determine the order in which they will get to choose gifts.
  • White elephant gift exchange or Yankee swap. Each family member brings one wrapped gift to be put in a central location. Family members then take turns selecting presents. The first person to go opens the gift he or she chooses, and the next person has the option to steal the previous person’s gift (in which case, that person would have to choose another gift) or to select a new one. White elephant gift exchanges often involve presents that are weird, funny, or unwanted, though families can choose to exchange nice gifts.
  • Ornament gift exchange. Each member of the family brings an ornament to the exchange. The ornaments can be left unwrapped and each family member can choose an ornament before he or she leaves the gathering or the ornaments can be exchanged in some other manner.
  • Time trade. Each member of the family purchases a voucher for a service—a pedicure, a car wash, a massage, carpet cleaning, etc. Draw names from a hat to choose who gets which voucher.

How does your family exchange gifts? What fun gift exchange ideas can you add to this list?

Shared on the following link-ups:

Motivation Monday, Making Your Home Sing, Creativity Unleashed, Thrifty Thursday, Works for Me Wednesday, Whatever Goes Wednesday, Titus 2 Tuesday, and Wrapping Up The Holidays.


  1. I love this list! I’m glad to see some ideas that go beyond a White Elephant gift exchange. These seem to be all to common to me.

  2. I absolutely love all of these ideas. I’ve got all these ideas swirling through my head now about how I can host a Christmas party and have one of these exchange! Merry Christmas!

  3. Barb @ A Life in Balance says:

    Thank you for posting to Motivation Monday!

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