When you’re hosting a gift exchange, there are a few key pieces of information you need to communicate to your invitees. But the one everyone wants to know right off the bat – in other words, the White Elephant in the room – is how much? For that reason, it’s worth spending 15 minutes or so (about the time it takes to read this article) thinking about price range.
It’s fair to say that $20 is standard, which is why I chose that figure for my list of gift ideas. But of course, every group is different, and what might seem like an acceptable price for one group could be unaffordable to another. Here are some rough guidelines on appropriate prices for different types of gatherings.
Office Party: $10 (-ish)
The tricky thing about an office gift exchange is that there are usually people who resent having to participate. It’s also common for people – often the same people I just mentioned – to have hard feelings about walking away with an undesirable gift. While it’s true that you can’t make everyone happy, you can head off some of the negativity by keeping the monetary commitment at a negligible level.
Family Gathering: $20 (or Higher)
Most gift swaps involve an additional expense for the participants, but family gift exchanges are different. As with holiday name-drawing, a family White Elephant gift exchange replaces gift-giving that would already be happening. Therefore, it’s safe to set a higher price range (just as long as everyone can afford it). In fact, the whole point is often to buy one nice gift, rather than a token gift for each member of the family.
As a rule, the more tight-knit the group, the higher you can go with the price target. Another way to look at it is to again ask whether the exchange is meant to replace individual gift-giving. If so, you can set a higher price.
Other Groups: Up to $10
If you’re hosting a diverse group of people, or one you simply don’t know very well, it’s best to keep the monetary commitment as low as possible. So set a price limit (rather than a range or target), and keep it low. That will encourage everyone to participate, even if they can’t afford much. This advice is particularly apropos for churches and other groups where the focus should really be on community-building.
What About $0?
Finally, regardless of what type of group it is, you can also pick a gift exchange theme that costs your guests nothing at all. For example, one traditional version of White Elephant calls for people to re-gift an item they already have lying around the house. Another option is to have people bring homemade gifts (of course, this involves some expense because they need supplies).
If you’re still unsure, I have one final tip.
Gift exchanges were invented, and remain popular, largely because most people simply can’t afford to buy for everyone in their life. It’s good to keep those frugal origins in mind when deciding on a price range, and err on the side of a lower dollar figure. Remember that the point isn’t to walk away with a nice gift, but to walk away with a nice feeling after having a merry time with others.