5 Best White Elephant Gift Ideas for Less Than $20

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Families across the country are putting their holiday budgets on a diet this year, and one way to rein in spending is with a fun and affordable White Elephant gift-giving party, which might also be called a Yankee Swap or Dirty Santa. If you’re not familiar, the game involves a group of revelers taking turns giving, choosing and stealing gifts from each other — gifts that are funny, strange, outrageous and cheap.

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It’s an enduring and beloved tradition because it lets people participate in the holiday spirit with a low cover charge — just a single inexpensive gift buys you entry. Each group agrees to its own price range, but White Elephant Rules says $20 is the typical maximum spend. No matter who makes up your group, the point is always the same — to buy the gift that everyone tries to steal.

Novelty Appliances

Appliances that do only one random thing are commonplace at White Elephant parties — and they’re easy to get for a low price. For example, Amazon has a gingerbread man waffle maker, a Star Wars Mandalorian waffle maker and a smiling sun with shades waffle maker, all for less than $20. You can also get a mini doughnut maker within budget, as well as a rapid egg cooker and a miniature mixer.

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If your group’s maximum is a little higher at $30 or even $25, you can get zanier with things like a mini popcorn maker or a toaster made only for hot dogs and buns.

Adult Games

There is now an endless variety of grown-up card games, board games, trivia games and party games, many of which can be yours for inside of $20 — and they perfectly match the atmosphere of a traditional White Elephant party.

They run the gamut from drinking games to word games to personal-question games to dare games to racier adult-themed games. They range from fun to outrageous to intentionally offensive, so take your pick depending on the makeup of your group. No matter who you’re trading gifts with, a quick Amazon or Google Shopping search along the lines of “adult games” will leave you with no shortage of options.

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Cocktail Kits

If you have drinkers in your group, or even just people who love to host, cocktail kits fall into the fun but practical category — unlike most White Elephant gifts, this one might actually get some use. Here, too, a quick search on Google Shopping or Amazon will turn up a long and varied sub-$20 selection.

You can opt for a just-add-booze kit made for mixing specific cocktails — old fashioneds, mojitos, margaritas, Moscow mules, etc. Or you can gift the lucky winner a bartending kit that can be used for party after party, complete with tools like a mixing cup, shaker, a bartender’s spoon, Hawthorne strainer, tongs and a jigger.

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Novelty Books

The current year’s “Guinness World Records” book is always a winner at White Elephant parties, and you can get the authentic hardcover version for less than $16 — but that’s hardly the only novelty book that fits the occasion. Timeless childhood classics like “Where the Sidewalk Ends” spark nostalgia and are sure to be the target of many attempted White Elephant thefts — the hardcover in that case costs less than $12.

The novelty book category doesn’t have defined parameters but might include books of jokes, biographies of peculiar people or collections of strange facts or pictures.

Desktop Games

In January 2023, workers will return to their jobs across America and proudly plant their newly acquired desktop games in their cubicles or at-home desk — many will have been snagged at White Elephant parties over the holidays. Mini cornhole, bowling, skeeball, tetherball, ping pong, curling, shuffleboard, football, mini-golf, horseshoes, soccer and Twister are all on Amazon for half the price of the $20 maximum gift budget or less — many have single-digit price tags.

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About the Author

Andrew Lisa has been writing professionally since 2001. An award-winning writer, Andrew was formerly one of the youngest nationally distributed columnists for the largest newspaper syndicate in the country, the Gannett News Service. He worked as the business section editor for amNewYork, the most widely distributed newspaper in Manhattan, and worked as a copy editor for TheStreet.com, a financial publication in the heart of Wall Street's investment community in New York City.
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