Simple Christmas Gift Exchange Ideas for the Whole Family

This post may contain affiliate links. Read our disclosure policy here.

It seems that each year, Christmas gets more and more complicated. More and more things. More and more decor. More and more everything. Bring simple back to Christmas this year with these simple Christmas gift exchange ideas that are perfect for the whole family.

It seems that each year, Christmas gets more and more complicated. More and more things. More and more decor. More and more everything. Bring simple back to Christmas this year with these simple Christmas gift exchange ideas that are perfect for the whole family. #christmasgiftexchangeideas #christmasideas #giftexchange #simpleliving #simplechristmas

Simple Christmas Gift Exchange Ideas

A few years ago, I’ll admit that when I started to think about Christmas I was stressing out a little. Since we were living in an RV and 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.

And things just got harder….

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’ve been 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 anyway! 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.

What really mattered is that we would be a family, we would be together,  and we would be celebrating the true meaning of the season.

Christmas Gift Exchange Ideas

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 gift exchange ideas if you aren’t sure where to start. This can even be a good rule to use for Christmas gift exchange ideas for big families. We started this tradition that winter when I had a little one-and-a-half-year-old and now that we have three little ones, it’s something we’ve continued and plan on continuing into the future.

Each person in our family gets 4 gifts.

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

Hubby will buy my gifts, I will buy his, (we usually do not buy 4 for each other, maybe two) and we buy the kids gifts together.

Simple. No more, no less. 

Advent & The Christmas Eve Box

We also had a few ideas to make the week of Christmas extra special without much-added cost. We use a fabric Advent Calendar with a nativity scene that gets added to each day. (I couldn’t find our exact one but it’s similar to this one.) We only fill it with the little figures it comes with, not with added candy or toys which we really don’t need. If you do fill your advent calendar with extra things, there are plenty of Frugal or Free Gifts out there that are perfect for filling up an advent calendar like this.

We celebrate Advent in our home for the 4 weeks leading up to Christmas and we’ve been working on building up a special Christmas book collection so we have a Christmas story to read each night for storytime before bed. (I use Thriftbooks to find new books at a discount!) Soon we will start reading these stories for Advent by Arnold Ytreeide that I read when I was growing up.

And for Christmas Eve we’ve been doing what has turned into a fun little tradition. The kids 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 earlier in the year and will make the treats myself. When the kids get 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.

Extended Family Gift Exchange Ideas for Christmas

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 do a $50 limit on the gifts so the gift giver has enough to buy something worthwhile and everyone that is participating makes a list of what they want. Yes, that may take away some of the surprise element but personally, I’d rather get things I want or need than things I will never use.

If you aren’t doing a “secret santa” type of exchange, Homemade Gift Baskets can be a great gift for individuals or even entire families. You can do something like this Pasta Night Family Gift Basket for a whole family.

Homemade Gifts are always a great option too!

Remember, if thinking about giving and getting gifts from friends and family is a source of stress for you, there are some very simple ways to talk to them about gifts.

Some Other Family Christmas Ideas

Our family always gets so excited for Christmas. Because even though the gift exchanging part is fun, we are just looking forward to being together as a little family most of all.

Find more on Keeping Christmas Simple here.

Are you a minimalist or just don’t need to add any more toy/gift clutter to your home? Here are some great Gift Ideas and Experiences to consider!

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


Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Support Little House Living by Sharing This

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


  1. 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. 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.

  3. 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!!!!

  4. 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!

  5. 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.

  6. 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. 😀

  7. 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 🙂

  8. 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! 🙂

  9. 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!

  10. 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.

  11. 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!

  12. 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

    1. put all names in a stocking or pumpkin at thanksgiving. everyone draws only 1 name. I am thinking about this as well, so my thought was use the Gary Chapman book, I printed the 5 love languages.. on the card of the name have person write what they need, what they want, what they can use; something to cherrish/remember; and also what they think their love language is. so if it is gifts of service; ALL home-made gifts btw, for supplies nothing can be spent over 20-25$ free supplies is even better. Home-made. so if gifts of service.. my kids each have little ones, so a coupon book for date night babysitting, or cooking a meal when they get home from work; helping fix a car, making a keepsake, … nothing can be mean.. however, funny/humorous ok. then as I was reading this, I also saw the dice and grab gift so one could be for the name and the other the night of the get together for the dice pile, and it must be home made. Any ideas to add?? fb message me… CallMelRealtor

  13. 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. 🙂 Thanks for sharing!

  14. 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.

  15. 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.

    1. 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.

      1. 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.

  16. 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.

  17. 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

    1. 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.

  18. 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!

  19. 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.

  20. 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!

  21. 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!

  22. 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.

  23. 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.

  24. 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.

  25. 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.

  26. 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.

  27. 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.

  28. 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.

  29. Joy is our theme for our Christmas gift giving beginning this year. J is for Jesus, a gift to lead you closer to Him. O is for others, a gift to share. Y is for you, a gift for yourself. We will be buying 3 gifts for each family member this year. I loved the suggestions posted.