• Tue, Dec 17 - 10:00 am ET

I Think White Elephant May Be The Answer To Greedy Holiday Gifting

giftIf babies have started popping up in your extended family, then you’re probably strapped for cash this holiday season. As Maria already lamented, kids make you broke as a joke. You may not have enough extra money to buy your kids the gift at the top of their Christmas list, not to mention gifts for parents, siblings, BFFs, lovahs, and more.

When I was a kid, my parents were always on a budget. I did get some pretty cool gifts, but I don’t ever remember a holiday that was wildly over-the-top. Everyone in our house knew that we had a Christmas budget, and we had to stick to it. My husband also grew up with parents that pinched pennies on the holidays.

Fast forward a few decades later, and our families still aren’t that gung-ho about lavish holiday giving. Now we have two kids and two nieces. On my husband’s side of the family tree, the adults quickly decided that personal gift giving was a totally stupid idea since there were so many babies sapping everyone’s Christmas funds.

Ever since I joined my husband’s holiday celebrations, the adults had a regular gift drawing (Secret Santa) and a White Elephant gift drawing, each with a set amount. For a few years, the White Elephant gift was supposed to be silly and random—just as the game intended. Some gifts that made the lineup were a fistful of scratch-offs from yours truly, as well as Christmas Story pint glasses and a Superman snuggie.

Since everyone is going broke buying baby gifts these days, we transformed the White Elephant into a semi-nice gift drawing with a $50 limit. It seems like the perfect solution to curb holiday excess and help everyone stick to their budgets. I’d also like to add that we really don’t care who gives our kids what, if anything at all, but it’s bound to happen. Money will be wasted on the children, and the adults will have the White Elephant as a consolation prize.

I don’t know how other families do their holidays or when it’s appropriate to stop giving grown-ups gifts, but the White Elephant totally works for our side of the family tree. If your family holidays are making you broke and no one seems to be enjoying it anymore, just stop giving people stupid gifts that they probably aren’t going to use anyway. I know the White Elephant concept is hardly new and has been a favorite of church potlucks for years, but it just might be the antidote to the stress—and expense—of unnecessary gifting.

(photo: Getty Images)

You can reach this post's author, Bethany Ramos, on twitter.
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  • http://www.twitter.com/ohladyjayne allisonjayne

    I have been trying to get my family to do something different re: gift giving for years….it seems like every other family does a secret santa/steal the gifts/white elephant/whatever game for the adults and it makes so much more sense than the stress we all go through trying to buy gifts for each other. we’re all adults…if we want something, we buy it ourselves, and if we can’t afford it, then it’s probably more than anyone would ever buy for us anyway!

    • Bethany Ramos

      It does make it more fun and less awkward, especially with in-laws! Braggy, brag brag, I am very proud of my White Elephant this year – finally. I got some bomb Egyptian Cotton robes on deep discount from Living Social. :)

    • Lal

      Agreed! I’d like to do same thing but in laws don’t seem into it. I hate the whole gift card giving/receiving. I always prefer to just give cash over cards but just seems silly to buy these things for each other when you can afford stuff yourself!

    • http://www.twitter.com/ohladyjayne allisonjayne

      Right? My wife and her brother mail each other gift cards every year (they don’t normally come down for the holidays). For the same amount. They send us one for a department store or whatever, we send them one for an electronics store or something. It’s bloody ridiculous.

      I’m so glad my sisters and I finally agreed a few years ago that we won’t buy for each other anymore. We all have kids (some of us more than others, but whatever), we just buy for the kids.

      Now if only I could get the rest of the fam on the plan…..

  • Amanda Rene Slinger

    We do stockings in my immediate family to eliminate this problem. I enjoy scouring clearance racks for awesome, random, practical but tiny gifts for everyone. The only people who get big presents are the munchkins.

  • keelhaulrose

    We do this with my dad’s family, everyone brings a $25 limit gift and we draw cards to see who picks first (staffing allowed, 3 times max per gift). We try to get goofy stuff, too. Last year the big one was a stuffed horse head.

    • pineapplegrasss

      Like a taxidermy real horse? I have to admit that I get a little sore looserish feeling when I get a crappy gift and I put in thought and effort and money and bought a good gift. One year my hubby took me to one of his friends white elephant parties that he has been going to for years, and I got plastic dog poop. I didn’t find it funny. Hubby gave me his Obama Chia Head tho. Needless to say, I let him attend that holiday party by himself the next year.

    • keelhaulrose

      No, it was a stuffed-animal horse head. It got passed around a bit, people kept trying to pull a Godfather on each other.

    • pineapplegrasss

      on a stick you could ride it around lol that would be funny for drunken adults, I can just picture it.. there goes creepy drunk Uncle Chester bouncing around on a stick horse in a crooked santa beard slapping his own ass oh hahaha

  • Lisa

    We do this too! Grandma still gets “real” gifts from the whole family, and we do the whole gift exchange within the immediate families, but for the whole group of us? White elephant all the way.

    To make it slightly more interesting/complicated, each year we have a theme (always under $25): alcohol based on your personality/where you are in life, survival supplies for the end of the world 2012 edition (I ended up with a bottle of deer urine, a fake rifle, and red stag whiskey. We’re a classy bunch.), and this year it’s as-seen-on-tv.

    • Bethany Ramos

      The theme idea is sooooo great, and I may steal. :)

    • Lisa

      Go for it! It definitely kicks things up a notch.

      Fair warning-some themes actually make shopping a teensy bit harder (what kind of survival supplies for under $25!? there was a lot of duck tape, alcohol, nerf guns and chocolate that year), but it’s totally worth it.

    • Bethany Ramos

      Ha! Someone I know did a serial killer kit as a White Elephant at a party – rope, latex gloves, duct tape. It was even more shocking because she is seriously so, so, so quiet.

    • http://twitter.com/mariaguido Maria Guido

      That sounds like soooo much fun!

  • Rachel Sea

    In my family a White Elephant would just justify the lame efforts of the crappy gifters (lookin at you aunt who one year gifted us little dog bandannas – and we didn’t have little dogs), and would mean that there would always be a few people who got something great, and a few people who got something that would go to a Goodwill donation bin on the way home.

    I’m happy to either buy, make, or cook a gift so that I know the recipient will be happy to have what they receive. Thankfully the people in my family who are hardest to shop for all have Amazon wishlists.

  • Fuzzy ‘n Broken Mirror

    re: Snuggies giffy


    Is “raise the roof” the biggest and most successful revenge by Black people against White people?

    No White person has ever not looked like a tard doing it.

  • Moliss

    We put an even cheaper twist on the White Elephant a couple years ago – find something from your house and re-gift it for a White Elephant! It has turned out to be very funny and entertaining, after all, who doesn’t have a ton of crap in their house they want to get rid of? Last year I ended up with a 10 year old food dehydrator, and my sister regifted these AWFUL tassled hand towels she got for her wedding that have been getting regifted for 3 years now! Always turns out hilarious and fun, and costs nothing.

    • Natasha B

      That is awesome :)

  • Jordana

    This is a great idea! Kids really do rob you blind during the holidays lol…and the little ones deserve the most spoiling because they get the most excited anyway. Not to mention that it gets harder to buy for other adults as you get older cause they can mostly get whatever they want for themselves at any time anyway. Great article!

  • TheGiantPeach

    I’ve been trying to eliminate the adult gift exchange on my husband’s side of the family with no success. I did finally get them to agree to draw names instead of buying for everyone, which is a small victory. This year I suggested we all donate the amount we would spend on the person whose name we drew to a charity. No dice. I also suggested that we use that money to buy Christmas for kids in need/Toys for Tots/what have you. I even offered to do all of the shopping and present receipts to prove I used the money as intended. No one was interested. The kicker is that most of these people don’t even like to buy gifts for each other, but they refuse to stop doing it! I don’t see the point of all of us adults exchanging gifts. We’re all doing ok, none of us are rich but the bills are paid, and if we want something we can usually buy it ourselves. There is just no holiday spirit in exchanging my $30 Applebee’s gift card for a $30 Outback gift card.

  • Shelly Lloyd

    My husband’s family has a Christmas party every year. Adults are not expected to buy presents for each other, but we are all expected to buy presents for the children who attend. And it isn’t like each child gets one secret Santa. Each family is expected to buy a present for each child. For most of his family this isn’t a problem because most of his family is very well-to-do. His cousin is a bank president. They have 3 kids and they are religious and are very strict on what they allow for presents. So they send out a list each year with suggestions on what would be a good ideal for their children. And of course they are not cheap. It is so frustrating spending 70$ or more on them when that is $70 less I can spend on my own 2 children. They are very well off and $70 to them is nothing. But $70 is 1/3 of my budget for my own children. I hate feeling like a Scrooge over it, but I dread that party every year.

    • Bethany Ramos

      Holy nightmare. I would be dreading that party too!

    • pineapplegrasss

      We are up to 14 kids between me and my 3 sisters and we started drawing names for them all. We do it on Thanksgiving. Each kid draws a name and then they get a gift for that cousin. We now call it the ‘cousin drawing’ It has worked out so well and the kids love it.

    • havronsm

      That’s a good idea. I have four sisters who all have children (with my first on the way). I already eliminated buying for my sisters when they had kids but now there are almost 10 kids to buy for and it is crazy even when I limit the presents to $15 max!

      Maybe I can convince them to do a cousin drawing of some sort. (We would have to change it up somehow though because one family has four kids where the rest have just one or two. I’m afraid the four kids might get each other.)

      It would make my life so much easier to do something like this.

    • pineapplegrasss

      sometimes we rig it for them, they are kids…lol. to avoid getting your own siblings

    • Christine

      We do the cousin gift exchange too, so I buy 3 gifts, since I have 3 kids and my sil buys 2 since she has 2 kids, etc. We do rig it so siblings don’t get each other. Though that might make it easier than some of those cousins!

    • pineapplegrasss

      So true, but mine have to give to their siblings anyways. Santa secret workshop at school is great for children to experience the whole xmas shopping and giving. My 8yo sons list was $48 this year lol

  • pineapplegrasss

    My sisters and I started new traditions as we became adults, bc honestly, xmas kinda sucks. We do a women’s only (18+,no kids-not even nursing babies, don’t even ask!, no men) white elephant party and buy $5, $10, & $20 gifts and then all bring a dish or two and wine of course. Lots of wine. We mix up how we do the exchange to keep it fun. And everybody can participate in whichever exchange they want based on what is economically comfortable for them. We actually just had ours last Friday and it was a lot of fun. We steal and trade and laugh and fight. One of the $5′s was a little white wooden fox and we all started singing ‘what does the fox say’ and making up stupid shit to go with it. On the $20 we did all the rigamorole of picking the gift we wanted based off clues on the outside after drawing numbers etc then sitting in a circle, and surprise! pass your gift to the person on the right. Now our daughters are getting old enough to get an invite the past few years and that changes the party somewhat, but not in a bad way, just keeps it fresh. It’s one of the only holiday parties or xmas themed shit we have to do that I truly enjoy.

    • Bethany Ramos

      That really sounds like an awesome tradition, and I’m jealous. ;) Too bad there are so few women in my extended family!

    • pineapplegrasss

      We invite non relative honorary family too, like BFF’s and such. We’ve had years where the party was really small and this year it was really big like 20 women.