Whether it’s for a work function, a family get-together, or just some fun amongst friends, there’s always a chance each holiday season that you have to come up with a decent gift for a white elephant-type exchange. Or play Secret Santa (which is similar, but usually in that case, you’ll know who your recipient is). Or partake in a gift grab.
Whatever you want to call it, we want to help you brainstorm some solid gift ideas. Because although some white elephants are for the sole purpose of exchanging tacky, useless gag gifts, most are not. And it’s safe to say you don’t want to be the person who shows up with the lame banana slicer (which is really a thing. Why? Is it hard to slice a banana? Someone send help). So let’s err on the side of caution and come up with some timeless presents anyone would want to receive -- no matter your budget.
How about …
-- A cool/atypical bottle opener or corkscrew
You could even pair this with a six-pack of local beers (the mix-and-match kind are fun to assemble!) or a bottle of wine. If you add drinks to the gift, you might be running just past the “around $20” mark, but you can probably get thrifty here! Don’t splurge for the fancy pack of IPA, or pick a bottle that breaks the bank, and be sure to check Amazon for openers. I just found one that can sit in your wallet next to your credit cards, and it’s only $1.50.*
*Assuming you and your white elephant counterparts are of legal drinking age, of course.
-- A fun travel mug (or thermos!)
Even if the recipient of this gift isn’t a coffee person, travel mugs are still just as great for filling to the top with hot chocolate or tea. One mug I spotted online even has a tea infuser (for $23). Another has a miniature clock mounted on the front (for $18). If you’re stumped on style, just keep in mind that stainless steel matches everything, and is gender-neutral. ... Who knew mugs had so many cool features these days?
-- Cute salt and pepper shakers
Because every table needs s&p! Go for the quirky ones -- this is definitely a gift that would get “stolen” at a gift exchange.
--Similarly, a cool oven mitt, or perhaps a set of mitts
You could even pair this gift with some sort of baked good, if you’re crafty like that. Anyway, if you don’t know where to start, just Google “cool oven mitt” and you’ll be laughing in no time at all your options. Bear paws? Check. Skeleton hands? You bet. Or, go for functionality over aesthetics. A high-quality oven mitt is a great thing to have.
-- A game
For a younger (or older. Or more appropriate in general) crowd, perhaps Apples to Apples? For a raunchier group, Cards Against Humanity? (Warning: Your grandma will NOT want this as a gift. Might be awkward for your boss, too). You’ve been warned! Scattergories is always a classic, and ideal for playing in groups. Games will typically run you right around $20, some slightly more, but depending on the event, something to consider.
-- Better-than-the-standard smartphone chargers
Because EVERYONE could probably use an extra charger (or seven). You can buy those really long ones almost anywhere -- Target, Walmart, all those big box-type stores, and you’d be surprised how many retailers carry fun colors and cool designs, as well.
When in doubt, look online. That was easy!
-- A quality candle (or several)
What’s better than a clean house and a candle burning? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. Also, this time of year means the best kinds of candles are all available: gingerbread, vanilla frosting, Christmas cookie, cranberry, peppermint, candy cane, balsam, cedar … the list goes on and on. So many options!
-- Lottery tickets
This one’s a classic for a reason. No explanation needed.
You can get some really unique coasters these days. Obviously I don’t mean the flimsy kind you’re seated with at a restaurant; I mean like, thick, substantial ones that will hold up to a big, frosty beer mug. Look for themed coasters, or perhaps some featuring pretty artwork. For around $20, you probably can’t afford to buy too many, but just a few will still make for a quality present.
-- Your favorite hot sauce or salsa (or both!)
Again, another area where you can buy local, and perhaps introduce the recipient to something delicious (s)he’s never tried before. Many Mexican restaurants will sell theirs up front or as a carry-out item, so if you have a favorite kind when you go out to eat, that might be a good place to start! Otherwise, check around at a specialty grocery store or the farmers market (if yours is still open this time of year). Throwing in some chips is never a bad idea, either.
-- Similarly, your favorite dessert
Think oversized candy bars, an item from your local bakery, or even something homemade. A bakery near my house sells ginormous packs of freshly made cinnamon rolls -- and they’re some of the best ever. 'Tis the season for a little indulgence! Spread the joy with a sweet treat.
-- An umbrella
Because unless you live in California (thanks a lot, drought) -- you probably need an umbrella. It’s just a good staple for most of us. Restoration Hardware used to sell one that changed color (!!), which appears to be no longer available online, but I’ll bet you can find some kind of dupe. Or just something substantial, or maybe one with a fun pattern.
-- A coloring book for adults
You could even throw in some nice colored pencils, or some fine-tipped markers with this gift. Believe me, 2016 was the year of the adult coloring book, and these books aren’t going away any time soon. Coloring is relaxing, you can find out how GREAT you are at it (which wasn’t always the case for me growing up), and the pages look really neat when you finish! Your kid’s drawings shouldn’t be the only things making it to the fridge.
I’ll admit: This one’s kind of a challenge since your gift might get drawn by someone with exceptionally large or small feet. How could you know? But I’m willing to bet if you bought a gender-neutral pair in an average size, they’d be a “steal-me”-type present. Or, what about slipper socks? Those really are one-size-fit-most -- and super cozy this season.
-- Mugs and coffee
What could be better than a set of mugs with a nice bag of coffee beans? You can definitely customize this gift. Or get a new flavor of coffee you’ve never tried. Or scrap the coffee and go the hot cocoa route! (Or stick with the java but throw in a tiny bottle of Bailey’s -- again, if the people at your shindig will be of age). The options are truly endless.
A good gift shop will sell fun magnets with funny movie quotes, atypical designs and charming pieces of wisdom. Just be sure to steer clear of anything political or religious, which can be polarizing topics, and you don’t want to make the person who receives your gift feel awkward. Unless of course, you’re buying for a specific Secret Santa who you are very certain would love a set of “Make America Great Again” magnets.
-- A soft blanket
You should be able to find an affordable, cozy throw blanket ideal for slinging over the side of a couch almost anywhere. Check Target/Home Goods-type stores. Even if it’s NOT freezing where you live (lucky), a soft blanket would probably get some use anywhere.
-- A planner or desk calendar
Perfect for any organized coworker or compulsive list-maker! With 2017 just around the corner, now is just the right time for stocking yourself or someone else with a new planner or calendar.
-- Pens that write really well
So. Satisfying. We can’t type EVERYTHING all the time, you know? Let's kick it old school with some quality pens.
-- A scarf
You have lots of options for around and under the $20 mark. Go with a classic plaid to keep it gender-neutral, or look for the comfiest fabric you can find. Either way, who could be mad at a new scarf?
And there you have it. Certainly we don't expect every idea on the list to work for your holiday exchange, but you really only need one or two. Good luck out there, and happy gifting!
Let us know in the comments what you end up buying.