Simple Christmas: Family Gift Exchange Ideas

by Merissa on November 11, 2013

in Uncategorized

Simple Christmas: Family Gift Exchange Ideas - Little House Living

Simple Christmas Gifts

I'll admit that when I started to think about Christmas this year way back a few months ago I was stressing out a little. We didn't have the space for fun gifts or really the money to buy them so I wasn't sure how we would make Christmas special for our little guy. (Technically this is our first Christmas together as a "legal" family!)

Then once we found out we were going to lose so much money on the sale of our house and have to live off very little for a while. I started to feel a bit desperate. How were we going to give our sweet, innocent little boy a nice day? We know the gifts don't really matter and he's so young he wouldn't notice, but we were still determined to have the best Christmas we could, on the budget we can afford.

It took my almost-2-year-old little boy to tell me how this Christmas should be done. As I watch him grow I'm fascinated with the pure joy he shows in playing with a ball, or playing in the dirt, or even playing with something silly like an empty bathroom tissue tube. You can tell his little imagination runs wild and he doesn't care what the item is, as long as he can play with it. He doesn't care how many things he has, he just plays with one at a time anyways! He doesn't matter how shiny the toy car is, it still makes "noise" and can make tracks through the dirt. In other words, he doesn't care how perfect, or how expensive, or how shiny anything is and that's something I needed to be reminded of as we considered the gifts we'd be able to purchase this holiday season.

Our Christmas Gift Giving Rule

I heard a saying a long time ago and I've loved it ever since. It's a "rule" for Christmas gift giving and can provide a good Christmas family gift exchange ideas. Here's the idea we plan on going with this year for our Christmas gift giving.

Each person in our family will get 4 gifts.

Something they want.
Something they need.
Something to wear.
Something to read.

Hubby will buy my gifts, I will buy his, and we will buy Farmer Boy's gifts together. Simple. No more, no less.Β 

Advent & The Christmas Eve Box

We also had a few ideas to make the week extra special without much added cost. My mom gave us my old advent calendar she made a long time ago when I was little to use. I'm using small things that can be picked up at the dollar store or the thrift store for little gifts to fill it. And for Christmas Eve we are going to start a fun little tradition that I've seen going around. Farmer Boy will get to open one present that night; a box that I've filled with some treats, a new pair of warm pjs, and a fun Christmas movie. (We went with the newest Veggie Tales Christmas movie for this year.)

The Christmas Eve Box cost me just over $10 since I found the movie and pjs on sale and will make the treats myself. When Farmer Boy gets older I think we will probably turn this into family game night instead like my family did growing up. That was always so much fun after we came home from Christmas Eve church service and played games in the light of the tree! Plus it doesn't cost a dime as long as you already have the games or can borrow them from friends.

For our extended family each year we always do a name drawing gift exchange so each of us only has one person to buy for. That makes it very simple and we never stress about having to buy so many gifts for a big family!

We are so excited to spend our first official Christmas together and to spend it in our new little farmhouse! Because even though the gift exchanging part is fun, we are just looking forward to being together as our little family most of all.

What are some of your Christmas family gift exchange ideas that are frugal and stress free?


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5:30 am

{ 40 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Jen November 11, 2013 at 9:06 am

We also do something similar. We decided a couple years ago that if 3 gifts were good enough for our Lord than that is good enough for our family. We do however give the Christmas eve box too. We love following this and it has made the holiday much less stressful and put the focus where it needed to be. Thank you for sharing I love the saying you posted.


2 Brenda November 11, 2013 at 9:07 am

I love the easy peasy for a stress free Christmas!
Thanks for sharing!


3 Stephanie Jones November 11, 2013 at 9:08 am

Thank you for sharing this idea! My husband and I don’t have children and don’t plan on exchanging gifts this year but I do have several nieces and nephews and I think this is a great guideline to go by!

I also wanted to let you know that I LOVE your website. I have printed off a LOT of your recipes and I come back often to browse.


4 Susan November 11, 2013 at 9:12 am

I love this post! We do something kind of similar… three gifts each and a family gift. We give something they want, something to share, and something to promote/encourage their spiritual growth. The family gift is anything fun/shared by the whole family. LOVE your blog!!!!


5 Merissa November 11, 2013 at 9:18 am

A family gift is a great idea! We may have to do that next year, this year I think our family gift is the house we just bought πŸ™‚


6 Elise November 11, 2013 at 9:19 am

I love that rule! My husband and I do our best to find ways to make occasions special without getting overly materialistic, so even four gifts is a little much for us, but that’s a great guidline!


7 Tejas Prairie Hen November 11, 2013 at 9:34 am

This year we find ourselves extremely strapped, due to many unexpected expenses–health and car. It’s currently all we can do to make it day to day, much less buy gifts. We have never been “average” holiday spenders, always spending way less than many or most people.
This year we are slashing our usual Christmas budget by 90%. We have five children (one still in high school) and three grandkids. Each of our kids will get two inexpensive gifts, plus some that I’m making: Tote bags for the girls and laundry bags for the boys, using fabric I already have or purchased at the thrift store for next to nothing. Two small gifts for each grandkid.
For extended family, teachers, employers, etc. I will make organic food mixes (from our stockpile) and dried organic herbs from my garden. I will be spending next to nothing on those, and hopefully, people may appreciate that they are organic. I do not personally know another person outside our family who is into organic products, but since it’s becoming more popular these days, I’m hoping they’ll think these gifts are special.
We have always stressed the true meaning of Christmas over gifts, so I think everyone will not be too disappointed that we are cutting back so drastically this year. It’s fun to give and even more fun to give something of yourself.


8 The Smelly Lady November 11, 2013 at 9:49 am

We have done a Family gift for the past 6 years. Our boys never wanted anything when we asked, so they got something they needed, which was cheap, then we spend the bulk of Christmas money on the family gift, something we all could enjoy. It’s so much easier than trying to figure out what to get them and then they never playing with or using the gifts. πŸ˜€


9 Michele McGlothlin November 11, 2013 at 10:01 am

Thanks for the beautiful post. Think I shall try that box idea too…. This yr I bought our 2 lil boys (ages 2 and 4) five gifts each….all were useful serving a need, and sale or clearance. @ Marshalls or Ross, toy may be last yr fad but u save often more than 50%! we saved 70% on a new book set for the baby. we have amazing kid resales here in Houston, TX…Maybe I will find cheap like new (non faded, stained, or torn) Christmas jammies πŸ™‚


10 LS November 11, 2013 at 10:06 am

We do 3 gifts to each child to honor the gifts known to have been presented to the Christ child.


11 Michelle November 11, 2013 at 10:30 am

Thank you! I had just been talking to a friend about how we needed new ideas for Christmas gifts. I can always count on you to have just what I’m looking for! πŸ™‚


12 Camille November 11, 2013 at 11:01 am

Very cute ideas! I love the little saying and I think it really works well for gift giving. I always loved getting books for Christmas – the more the better!


13 Johannah November 11, 2013 at 11:36 am

I think that’s a wonderful way to conquer the holiday’s…. good for you.


14 Clare November 11, 2013 at 11:55 am

It is just my daughter, 20 and I for Christmas this year. We decided months ago we would only do a stocking for each other. If we need or want anything and it is in the budget we normally just pick it up. We have Chinese food on Christmas eve purchased at a grocery store. Christmas day is usually all kinds of junk food because we would go to my Bil’s on Boxing day for a full turkey dinner. Also on Christmas the TV and computer were never turned on we spent it playing card games and board games. We have had to change since leaving an abusive husband and his family is all on his “side” so we are no longer part of the family ;{ We still have the Chinese food Christmas eve. Christmas day I am cooking a small turkey breast dinner for noon. Our “supper” will be junk food. Boxing Day will be leftovers. We bought the set of Die Hard movies last Christmas so watched that Christmas Day. This year I bought my Daughter the Rocky series so we will watch that for Christmas. I do Christmas shopping year round so just have 3 more gifts to get and I am all done. My sister came up in September and we had our Christmas with her back them. It was nice financially to split up the dinners as well. We have decided to keep that tradition because of winter weather etc.


15 Faith November 11, 2013 at 12:00 pm

We are taking a family vacation this year instead of exchanging gifts. We have been saving for it for almost a year. We leave Christmas day! We have never been on a family vacation and our kids are 12 and 8! Can’t wait!


16 Susan Gill November 11, 2013 at 12:01 pm

I enjoy your blog very much and I have also been thinking how to create a gift exchange . Here is my predicament and maybe you can help. I have three adult children, one with a wife and the other two with significant others. I also have a sister and a brother in law with a family of two children , one with a husband and the other with a significant other. My sister is feeling the stress of buying gifts for everyone and wanted a gift exchange for the entire family. I do not overspend as a rule but was willing to do something to ease her burden without making her feel badly. However, if we pulled a name out of hat, that would give me five or six possibilities for a gift recipient and would give her 7 recipients potentially. What could I do to even it out? Or is there another way to handle this? Any suggestions would be welcomed. Thanks. Susan


17 Priscilla @ November 11, 2013 at 12:05 pm

Our six kiddos draw each other’s names for gift-giving — we love the memories it’s helped them create and the excitement of guessing who gave to whom!

I love the 4-gift idea and am thinking we’ll start that as one of our new traditions. πŸ™‚ Thanks for sharing!


18 Mrs. Laura Lane November 11, 2013 at 12:08 pm

Well done!


19 Penny November 11, 2013 at 1:31 pm

There is an extended version of the gift poem. Some people apply it to the stocking contents instead of gifts.

Something to eat.
Something to read.
Something to play with.
Something you need!

Something in red.
Something in gold.
Something to treasure,
As you grow old.

A pen and some “thank you’s!”
Stockings to wear.
Brushes to use,
On your teeth & your hair.

And last, but not least,
A collectible thing
To each of our family
Will Santa Claus bring.


20 Michaelann Dahlman November 11, 2013 at 2:37 pm

I like your Christmas eve idea, it really reduces the stress & make sleeping easier. My 2nd has European ancestry & their family celebrate on Christmas eve, rather than on the 25th. We incorporated that into our holidays, by letting the kids open 1 present on Christmas eve. Much easier

After the divorce, holidays were much easier as we didn’t celebrate on the exact same day, sharing was easier & less stressful for everyone.


21 michelle November 11, 2013 at 7:16 pm

Do you incorporate Santa into this? If so, are the four gifts from Santa or Mom and Dad?


22 Merissa November 11, 2013 at 7:28 pm

We are not planning on it. I went back and forth since my parents did Santa when I was young and it was fun but ultimately we decided together we were not going to do Santa in our home.


23 Glue Girl November 6, 2015 at 3:50 pm

We don’t do santa either. it lets kids realize that gifts are not from some magic being but from a person and to learn to be thankful for that person. we do a five gift rule there are only 3 of us. one has to be home made(we get to pick which one). one is something they want(fluff/toys) and four have to be useful, like clothing, or a new blanket, maybe a bag for their gym cloths. things like that. i love that you incorporated fun and need into your gift list too.


24 GiantsPrincess November 11, 2013 at 7:27 pm

My husband is the youngest of 6. Toss in spouses and grown kids and that’s lots of presents. So, we also do a name draw. Our Christmas Eve is always PJ’s and a book.


25 Nicole Vlachyanni November 12, 2013 at 12:21 am

Dear Merissa,
I loved the little poem you wrote on gifts making:

Something they want.
Something they need.
Something to wear.
Something to read.

Although, for my pocket four gifts is already too much. But that doesn’t matter. I, usually, can give only one of them. And every year I choose a different one, either something they want, the next year something they need, and so on. And even for the advent calender, I cannot give something for every day, because I have three children. So I give to every child every Sunday a small advent gift. I believe, this is better than nothing. However, I try to teach my children that happiness isn’t to find in how much we buy, get or consume, but on how much love we give and take. I try to teach them to live a sustainable and fulfilled life without too much stuff around us. To much stuff makes too much litter anyway and this in not good for anyone!
I am very happy for you, that GOD granted you to adopt your son. I read your story and it is very touching.
God bless your little family. I hope HE will give you so many children you can handle.
Love from Greece, Nicole


26 JanetC November 16, 2013 at 11:08 pm

I too have always thought the advent calender was a cute idea I would like to do but it is expensive if you have more than one child and I also could never figure out how to make it work for more than one child {do they each have one?} again costly. I saw this posted a few days ago and thought it was a lovely idea we might try this year. It has an activity for each day instead of a gift, this keeps cost down and also removes the child’s focus from getting to doing or giving depending on the activity for that day.


27 Joyce November 12, 2013 at 1:08 am

We have always done this. This has been the exact poem we have used in the 30 years we have been married. It’s worked out perfect!


28 Cynthia L November 12, 2013 at 9:08 am

What a great idea. We have a tradition in which we all draw a names, take $5.00 to the Dollar Tree and buy gifts for that person. We all go on the same evening so that part of the fun is trying to shop without the other person seeing us. The gifts are all fun and usually well thought out! We call it our Secret Santa. Of course we purchase other gifts for each other, but this is our favorite tradition.


29 Andrea November 12, 2013 at 8:50 pm

I absolutely love that concept! It can be stressful trying to figure out how much to spend on each person, and it becomes easy to lose sight of the meaning of Christmas. I think we will employ this idea, and see how it goes!


30 Stephanie November 16, 2013 at 7:40 am

Our family too has decided to do things much differently this year for Christmas. We all have way more than we need from our grown/nearly grown children all the way down to the littlest of us… so this year about the experience of Christmas as a family. My husband and I are building a new theme for our offspring that will focus on what the season means and not what we’re going to get. My husband and I are truly excited for the first time in years!


31 Marcy November 16, 2013 at 9:17 am

I think your idea for Christmas is perfect! We raised a large family, and the kids always had nice Christmas’. I never felt that they needed huge gifts to be happy. We also had the kids pick out a gift for Toys for Tots since three of the boys received from them before we adopted them. They are adults now and I have not heard any complaints.


32 Christine November 16, 2013 at 5:04 pm

In our home we celebrate Hanukkah & Christmas. With two holidays things can not only get stressful but also expensive. To make thing easier on myself I started buying my children gift cards from their favorite stores. Then after the holidays I take them for a day of shopping for things they didn’t get from the grandparents and we have lunch and enjoy ourselves.


33 Hope November 27, 2013 at 10:40 am

We often do gift exchanges with my mom’s side of the family (about 30 people – all staying at my parent’s). Normally we do under $10 or sometimes $20.We’re doing a dvd exchange this year.
I like Fireplace For Your Home dvds. They would make great stocking stuffers too.


34 Ksenija December 6, 2013 at 7:03 am

Great rules, but how do you know what they want? πŸ™‚ My daughter (4,5 y.o.) loves handmade dolls (like the ones here, on the first picture I’ve bought one of these for her friend of the same age and she didn’t like it all… The doll ended up in her mother’s collection πŸ™‚


35 Stephanie December 12, 2013 at 7:21 pm

I love that way of gift giving. We have always done three gifts. It was good enough for Jesus, it is is good enough for us. And they have never known any different. It has kept the feeling of needing to buy more stuff from happening.


36 Lori Futcher December 13, 2013 at 7:04 pm

We put nots to each other in our stockings. I’ve blogged about it here:


37 Merissa December 13, 2013 at 7:05 pm

That is such a cute idea! I’m going to have to remember it when our son is a little older.


38 Raye W December 4, 2014 at 6:05 am

When our extended family started growing, with nieces, nephews, grandchildren, etc, the cost was just out of hand. We all decided we’d only buy for the kids and grandkids. Instead of exchanging gifts with adults, we play a game with everyone, where we roll dice. (7, 11, or doubles get to pick a gift from the game pile). We pick up things at thrift stores, yard sales, dollar stores, or make gifts for this game all year. Then we haggle with one another and trade those around. It’s pretty fun when the big men get princess wands or the little kids get home made bread, the trading gets quite competitive lol.


39 Angela @ Setting My Intention November 27, 2016 at 9:21 pm

We too use that method of 4 gifts and giving pjs on Xmas Eve. My boys know that is the gift, but they still enjoy it! We try to keep gifts experience based as well, we’re still transitioning but the boys are adapting really well.


40 Deanna December 2, 2016 at 1:29 pm

I’m thinking this year we’re going to buy our little grandson and his momma (our daughter) a one year membership to the zoo. My mother-in-law and 2 brother-in-laws are going to help pay for it. That way we can all contribute to the gift without it being a huge expense for all of us and the house won’t be bombarded with excessive toys. My grandson has so many toys. I know my daughter will be excited as well as our grandson.


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