• Ina Kumar

Surviving The Holiday Season Without Breaking the Bank

Young, Not Broke Original™️

The holidays are fast approaching and you might be wondering how to get all your closest friends or family the best gifts without breaking the bank. Here are some fun ideas you and your friends or family can participate in socially distanced style or via Zoom 🖥 !

Going into the holiday season, everyone should have an idea of how much they intend to spend on gifts for the people in their lives. Remember that the holiday season is temporary, while debt is often a long-term consequence.

Next, make sure to set a budget for the gift exchange. This is the most important thing to remember for gift-exchanges. The most successful way to set a budget would be to set a range (or band) that isn't too big. For example, between $25-$30 is a more reasonable range than $25-$50. Having a smaller band of $5 vs. $25 avoids substantial differences in money spent on gifts. We also don't recommend only putting a minimum without a maximum number on spend!

Next, make sure everyone is comfortable with the budget. 2020 has been a tough year and if there's ever a year to be especially mindful of everything everyone has gone through financially whether in their personal life or career, this is the one. Be honest with yourself and your friends.

Consider ranges that you have used in past years and remember, it's the thought that counts 😉! The standard across the board for holiday gift exchanges is typically $20 (excluding shipping) so we advise using that as a starting point of discussion with your group. If you're an organizer, remind your friends that you have an open-door policy should they ever want to talk offline about the budget.

After that, consider choosing one of the holiday gift exchange ideas below! 👇🏻

White Elephant 🐘


Use a random name-drawing tool to choose the order each participant will go in.

Basic Rules

After choosing the order each participant will go in, the first player selects any gift they want! The following players have two options: pick a gift from the pile or steal a previous player's gift. If a player gets a present stolen, they can do the same: pick a gift from the pile or steal a previous player's gift. Note: a present can only be stolen once per turn!

Zoom Version

Choose gifts that are virtual only - e-gift cards, subscriptions, or online workout classes are all options.

Consider gifting a month-long subscription of meditation 🧘🏽‍♀️ through Headspace or Shine. Alternatively, consider a month-long subscription to Book of the Month appealing to the bookworms 🐛 or Birchbox for the beauty and makeup gurus 💄.

Have everyone say their presents out loud at the beginning of the gift exchange. Have the first person that chooses pick the present they want; the following players can steal or pick a different gift. Once the game is over, all gifts can be sent to their recipients virtually!

Socially Distanced Version

Designate a spot to put all the wrapped gifts in. Ideally, in the middle of a circle, with all members socially distanced (six feet apart) on the outside of the circle.

After all players have had their turn, the first player gets a chance to swap their gift for any gift. If your gift is stolen, you may steal from someone else, as long as that person has not been stolen from yet during this part of the game. This continues to go on until a participant decides not to steal a gift.

Secret Santa 🎅🏻


Use Elfster, a free and easy to use online tool to set up your Secret Santa.

Basic Rules

The organizer can write in all of the participants' names and contact information on Elfster. Elfster will automatically shuffle and assign a participant (secret santa) who is the gift-giver to another person in the group (giftee) and so-on for all the participants in the group. Participants can also include their wishlists. No giving away who has who 🙂!

Zoom Version

Make sure that gifts are shipped to your assigned giftee at least one week before the date of the exchange to allow enough time for shipping. Alternatively, you can do a porch drop off at the giftee's residence within one week of the event.

The day of the exchange have each person individually chat the organizer who they think their secret santa is before they open the present. Review at the end and if they correct, they win a small prize!

Open presents on camera together 📸

Socially Distanced Version

The day of the exchange have each person individually write down on a piece of paper who they think their secret santa is before the gift exchange begins. Have them keep the paper until the end. If they are correct, they win a small prize!

If you decide to get together with your group safely, give your present to your giftee following COVID-19 rules, including after you've sanitized your hands and are wearing a mask.

Trivia Swap 🎲


Consider picking a theme for trivia such as Christmas, pop culture, or movies.

Basic Rules

Pick a list of trivia questions to choose from in advance and how many you would like to complete; consider a theme and/or create your own list of questions and answers.

During the game, the organizer can ask the trivia questions, while one volunteer can keep track of how many points each person has.

For every question right, the person guessing wins one point and for every question wrong, the person guessing loses one point. The person with the most correct answers at the end gets to choose a gift (after the organizer, since they are handling logistics!). The second planner winner second, and so on until everyone has received a gift from the list. If there is a tie, have a lightning round ⚡ at the end.

Zoom Version

Similar to white elephant zoom-version, consider keeping all gifts virtual. All participants can announce their gifts at the beginning of the gift exchange; one volunteer can write them down on a Google Doc.

Once the game begins, after the organizer asks a question, participants can click the 'Raise Hand' button on Zoom as a makeshift buzzer.

After the game, presents should be sent virtually to all recipients as chosen.

Socially Distanced Version

Designate a spot to put all the (unwrapped) gifts in. Ideally, in the middle of a circle, with all members socially distanced (six feet apart) on the outside of the circle. Have a computer hooked up to a TV where the trivia questions can be projected.

Once the game begins, after the organizer asks a question, participants can raise their hand.

After the game, presents can be opened at the event.

Pick a Theme 🎁

Pick a Theme adds a unique twist to make your holiday gift exchange to make it more exciting and memorable! It also makes gift-giving more interesting for the participants because they have guidelines on what to shop for or create. Choose a White Elephant, Secret Santa, or Trivia Swap gift exchange and then choose your theme.

Examples of themes: all gifts have to be the color blue, a piece of clothing, non-perishable food basket, book, crafty items, virtual-only (subscription-based), or a board game.

Have everyone shop for or create a present that falls in line with the chosen theme. Make sure the theme is broad enough for everyone in the group!

Action Items

1. Gather a group of your closest friends or family interested in doing a holiday gift exchange this year.

2. Set a budget with a reasonable range that everyone in the group is comfortable with. Make sure to take into account everyone's opinion and be especially mindful of what your friends may have gone through this past year financially.

3. Choose a holiday gift exchange idea - White Elephant, Secret Santa, or Trivia Swap!

4. Consider putting a unique twist on your gift exchange idea with a theme.

5. Set a date, time, and sort out event details, including whether the event will be on zoom or socially distanced. Have fun!

Conclusion 🎄

On behalf of YNB, we wish you a very happy and safe holiday! We hope this article gave you some ideas that could work for gift giving this year without breaking the bank and that are both socially distanced and/or can be done via Zoom to best fit your needs. See you all in 2021! 👋🏻

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Disclaimer: The content on Young, Not Broke is for informational and educational purposes only and should not be construed as professional financial advice. Should you need such advice, consult a licensed financial or tax advisor.

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