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The 15 Best Gift Exchange Ideas for Families

If you have a big family and are looking for a creative and cost-effective way to exchange gifts, I’ve got some great gift exchange ideas for you! Starting an extended family gift exchange will save everyone money, give the opportunity for better gifts, AND provide lots of fun for everyone. 

A NEW Resource for Gift Exchanges!

Little did I know, when I first wrote about Gift Exchanges that it would be one of my most popular posts. I LOVE that people enjoy learning about fun and creative ways to have a Gift Exchange. 

That’s why I created an eBook….The Ultimate Gift Exchange Guide! I expanded on this popular post, added TONS of new ideas, themes and will guide you step-by-step through planning and executing an amazing Gift Exchange for your friends, family or co-workers. I even created and included the printables for four EPIC Gift Exchange games! Click here to get more information and grab The Ultimate Gift Exchange Guide! 

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The Best Gift Exchange Ideas for Families

I can’t be the only one who gets a little panicky around the Holidays…things start adding up quickly! I am the youngest of four kids and my husband is the oldest of four. We have five children and they have ten cousins on one side and twelve on the other! Add in brothers, sisters, brothers-in-law, sisters-in-law and parents and holy cow that is a LOT of people to buy for! A few years ago it became apparent from the budget standpoint that something had to be done. I spoke with siblings on both sides and we decided to start a family gift exchange for Christmas.

What is a family gift exchange?

Basically, a family gift exchange sets up a system for rotating who you purchase gifts for. Instead of buying a gift for every person in the extended family,  you have an assigned individual or family to buy for. These gift exchange ideas are amazing for large families they also work great for Christmas parties. There are lots of ways to set up a system, I’ve searched for the best gift exchange ideas for you. First up, here are five great reasons your family should have a gift exchange. 

Gift Exchange Ideas, dollar sign in red circle signifying the savings you will have from hosting a family gift exchange.

5 Reasons your family needs to do a gift exchange for Christmas 2021

Reason #1: Decrease your holiday spending

This is kind of the obvious one, right? Instead of our family buying 18 individual gifts, we now buy one awesome family gift for my husband’s side of the family. Whenever the holidays come around things start really adding up…you have family gifts, gifts for friends, neighbor gifts, co-worker gifts, food for holiday baking and often need money for traveling. This is an easy (and fun!) way to cut down your extended family gift budget.

Reason #2: Better quality gifts

When your $150 budget is spread out among 18 people, the gifts are going to be, well, cheap! Use that same amount of money to buy a fun gift for a family (or fewer gifts) and you will be able to give great presents without feeling bad or breaking your budget! I have quite a few super unique and fun family gift ideas that you might want to use! What are good family gifts? Check out these unique family gift ideas (You can PIN them for later!)

Reason #3: You Get to focus on your giftee

I love spending the time each year to really focus on the family (or individuals) we are buying for. Instead of trying to brainstorm for dozens of gifts, I can spend a little more time looking at my giftee’s social media, or chatting with them to try and figure out an amazing gift. It’s fun to learn more about my nieces and nephews when it is my year to buy for them which is one reason I love these gift exchange ideas. 

Reason #4: Less stress on you

Less present buying+less money spent=a more relaxing Christmas! Am I right? One thing I’ve had to learn since having baby #5 is I need to lighten my own load for my own sanity! And you can bet that setting up a gift exchange with your family will help de-stress other members of your family too! Right now there might be someone worried about how to fit all the gift buying they need to do in their budget…make some calls to set up a gift exchange and help relieve their stress!

Reason #5: Family Gift Exchanges are fun!

My kids love to find out which families we are buying for each year. We make it a family project to brainstorm about what they might like to receive. And wait until you see the exchange ideas below! Some seriously fun stuff I found online!

How do I organize my Christmas Gift Exchange?

First, you need to decide what type of exchange you will have. You could have:

  • cousins exchange with cousins
  • aunts and uncles exchange with other aunts and uncles
  • family exchange (one family buys for another whole family)
  • siblings of each family exchange with each other (for example, I would exchange with my sisters. We did this for a while and my husband and brothers-in-law didn’t mind a bit!)
  • every person draws the name of another person (this would end up with adults exchanging gifts with kids and vice versa)

We have done almost every one of these options! The one that we enjoy the most is the FAMILY EXCHANGE. Several years ago, we decided this works best for our families on both sides so we just have a rotation going. In October or November, one of us reminds the rest who is buying for who this year. For example:

Year one:

Family 1 buys for Family 2

Family 2 buys for Family 3

Family 3 buys for Family 4

Family 4 buys for Family 1

Year Two:

Family 1 buys for Family 3

Family 2 buys for Family 4

Family 3 buys for Family 1

Family 4 buys for Family 2

Next, decide on a budget: This is important! You don’t want hurt feelings because one family spent $40 on each individual gift and another family spent $4.  To avoid anyone feeling badly if their budget is lower than another person’s, have everyone email their preferred budget amount to one person in the family that will be discreet. 🙂 Have that person pick a reasonable budget amount and then send out the decided amount to everyone. This could be a standing amount or something adjusted each year.

Families standing around gifts for family gift exchange ideas

What are some fun family gift exchange ideas?

  1. Theme gift exchange: I found this idea here and I have to tell you, I want to try it out! The Bibliophile At Home also has a big extended family and they do their exchange by picking a theme each year. Some of my favorite themes she wrote about are “As Seen on TV” (all gifts have to be bought with the As Seen on TV logo) and “Stripes” everything bought that year had to be striped! They do the gift exchange with individuals, although you could do it family style too!
  2. Christmas Eve breakfast exchange: You can make it a fun tradition to gather for a special breakfast on Christmas Eve and exchange gifts. This works great because usually that morning isn’t so busy, and letting the kids open one present that day will relieve a little bit of their excitement!
  3. Progressive Gift Exchange: One year we did a Christmas eve progressive dinner.Hors d’oeuvres at one house, soup at the next, salad at the next, main meal at the fourth house and dessert at the fifth. At each house, the hosts gave the presents to their recipients. It was fun to see each other’s holiday decorations and break up the gift-giving.
  4. Meet at the Mall Exchange: A friend of mine does this with her family. They meet at the mall and everyone has a crisp $20 bill. They draw names there and then have one hour to find and buy a gift. They exchange them right there at the mall. Fun and DONE!
  5. Right/Left Gift exchange: Using either the Frosty story found here or the Nativity story found here, have everyone in the group sit in a circle holding presents. Each time the word LEFT is used, you pass the present to the left, same with right. At the end of thestoryyou get to open whatever gift you are holding! If you did cousins buy for cousins and grown-ups buy for grown-ups, you could totally play this with each group sitting in a different circle.
  6. Auction exchange: Randomly put monopoly money amounts into envelopes (one for each person in the exchange). Hand out the envelopes when everyone arrives. Have everyone bring their gift for the exchange UNWRAPPED. Auction off the gifts one by one allowing people to trade or share money as they want to. This would also work with any of the exchanges 1-3, above.
  7. Dice Game: This game was listed as a comment on a blogpost by Lori, so I can’t link to it, haha! Here is how the game works. Everyone brings a gift and puts it on the table. Right before the game put a sticker on one of the gifts secretly. Everyone chooses a gift from the table and sits in a circle.Whoever has the gift with the sticker gets to start with the dice. Depending on the size of the group you can have each person roll once, twice or three times. If they roll a:

One- Everybody Pass the Gifts left

Two- Everybody Pass the Gifts right

Three- Open the gift in your hand

Four-Trade gifts with whomever you want.

Five-Make someone else un wrap their gift

Six-You get to keep the gift you have in your hand.

The only exception to 6 is if you have the gift you brought, in which case you would roll again.
Once everybody has had a turn rolling everyone should have a gift to keep.

8. Alphabet Exchange: I like this idea from Escaping Adulthood. When you draw names for the gift exchange have a second bowl with letters of the alphabet. Each person draws a name and a letter, then has to purchase a gift starting with that letter. This could result in some fun and creative gifts!

9. Pick a Gift, Any Gift: Britni from Play Party Plan made a super cute gift exchange with printable cards you can find here.  It’s kind of a variation of The Dice Game, but with cards you pick.

10. Virtual Party: I know not every family has the luxury of living close enough to do many of these exchange ideas in person. For those of you who live far away, you could send gifts ahead of time, then set a date and time to “virtually exchange” gifts. You could make this even more fun by coordinating what food you will eat at the time of the gift exchange, dressing up funny, or doing some long-distance caroling. Get creative!

Save money around the holidays, choose more thoughtful gifts, and have fun…I hope these gift exchange ideas are helpful for your families!

Have you done a fun exchange I didn’t list here? Are you going to try one out? I’d love to hear about it below.

Don’t forget to check out some of my most popular gift ideas while you are here! 

The Ultimate Grilling Gift Guide

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30 Absolutely Amazing Gifts for Aspiring Fashion Designers

Crazy Cool Unique Stocking Stuffers for Every Age

Useful Non-Toy Gift Ideas

36 of the Best Gift Ideas for Teen Boys: Basketball Edition

13 Great Gift Ideas for High Energy Kids

Happy Gifting!


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Dennis Sanchez

Tuesday 10th of September 2019

I thought it was interesting when you talked about how you like to focus on a particular individual when purchasing gifts so that you can spend time researching what they like. My brother has always liked these booklets that contain an inspirational quote, or something similar, for every day of the year. I think I will look into getting him a book that contains common-sense phrases for his birthday next month.

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