20 Affordable Gift Ideas For A White Elephant Exchange

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Almost all holiday traditions that we practice today have their roots deeply embedded in rich history and cultures from around the globe, and one such tradition involves the legend of a snide high king and a white elephant. According to historical myth, when a royal subject was to be punished in ancient Siam (now Thailand), they were not tortured or killed, per The New York Times. Instead, the subject was gifted a treasured and sacred animal — a white elephant. As lovely as this bequeathing may sound, it was actually a fate sealed in doom; white elephants required an outrageously high cost of upkeep and because of their sacred status, they were not allowed to be put to work. The royal subject — who likely did not even have the room to house such an animal — was left with a beautiful and pointless gift that would surely leave them in financial ruin.

Over time, the term "white elephant" evolved as a way to refer to a gift that was considered useless and burdensome (via Oxford Dictionaries). Nowadays, we gather 'round the fireplace each year for what is known as the White Elephant — or Dirty Santa or Yankee Swap depending on the region you hail from — gift exchange. If you're not familiar with the game, each person attending the get together will bring a wrapped gift to be placed under the tree. After drawing numbers out of a hat, person number one will select a gift from the pile to be opened. Person number two can decide to either unwrap a gift of their own or steal the gift of person number one. This continues all the way down the line of numbers. But exactly what gifts should you be bringing to this thing? Sure enough, we've got you covered.

How we selected the gifts

Each and every White Elephant exchange will have its own rules and regularities. Some people like to opt for a trendier version of the game and choose to bring gifts that are more desirable — kind of like stocking stuffers. Others choose to keep the game as traditional as possible by bringing totally off-the-wall and humorous gifts in the spirit and fun of the game. Most of the time, though, you'll probably see a fair mix of both nice and gag gifts at the party, which makes the game even more hilarious and entertaining. As a general rule of thumb, most white elephant exchanges have somewhere around a $25 spending limit.

For this list, we tried to choose a mixture of affordable White Elephant gifts that are somewhat useful, with a sprinkling of quirkiness for some added humor. Ultimately, you know your fellow party-goers best and what they will and won't find funny and appreciate (we all know there are just certain gifts that are not office-appropriate). But this is a year all about being bold, enjoying ourselves, and taking risks after a rough last couple of years, so try to have as much fun with it as possible. To make things as smooth sailing as possible, you won't find any items on the list over $25 or have a rating below 4 out of 5 stars.

Best cat-themed gift

Whether you're watching a Youtube video of a cat playing piano or are currently snapping the 67th photo of your fur baby today, cats just seem to bring a sense of joy to everyday life, and their depictions on items and objects make us laugh — turning even the worst day around. We can guarantee that any cat lovers at your party will be gift-stealing this set of cat coasters that are from The Metropolitan Museum of Art Store over and over again.

Purchase the MET Store Cats Coasters from The MET Store for $15.95.

Best silly scarf

Tacky or artsy? This has been a time-old question asked when speaking of certain scarves, and a White Elephant exchange is the perfect place to bring any scarves that are on a fine line between the two. We're not quite sure which end a CVS receipt scarf falls on, but we'll let you be the judge of that. "I bought this for a White Elephant Christmas gift and was so surprised at the exceptional quality of this scarf," a reviewer shares. "The words are very clear, it's a nice length, and so soft."

Purchase the CVS Receipt Scarf from Amazon for $23.95.

Best texting gloves

Have you ever tried texting with gloves on? Long story short: It's a nightmare. However, running out and buying ourselves a pair of touchscreen gloves is often not at the top of most of our lists during the busy holiday season. As insignificant as a pair of gloves may seem initially, any giftee receiving them will be thanking you for years to come after a couple of text messages sent with these beauties.

Purchase the RainCaper Fine Art Women's Texting Gloves from Amazon for $24.95.

Best gadget

White Elephant exchanges are the ultimate destination of where many of us got the most random and unexplainable objects we own. Did you ever think that an adorable little mushroom that absorbs refrigerator odor is exactly what your kitchen needs? Probably not. But thanks to you, one lucky recipient at the gathering could be in for a surprise — something they never knew they needed. Made with baking soda in its belly to suck in odor, all those nasty fridge scents will be gone in a breeze.

Purchase the OTOTO Fun Guy Fridge Deodorizer from Amazon for $16.95.

Best socks

Ah yes, the dreaded receiving of socks on Christmas out of all of the possible gift ideas on the planet. But while bold colors and prints are at the 2022 fashion forefront, these poppy socks are technically super in style and trendy right now. Although socks are often listed as an undesirable item, these fun head-turners will actually have the game players wanting to head home with a brand new and unique pair of comfy cozies.

Purchase the Sockologie Bold Poppies from Sockologie for $14.

Best cooking tool

There might just be a little spark of genius in a garlic-crushing tool in the design of a vampire, and any White Elephant gamer who can appreciate this bit of irony will be thrilled to get such a gift. Beyond its humor and cuteness, it's actually a great tool to have around. "This is one of the best purchases I have ever made!" raves one reviewer. "This little buddy handles about 3-5 cloves at a time (depending on size) and is the easiest garlic processing item to clean in the history of ever!"

Purchase the OTOTO Gracula Garlic Crusher from Amazon for $24.95.

Best wine glass

Wine glasses are usually thought of as elegant and luxurious pieces of glassware. Gifting something sophisticated would be suited for a Secret Santa, but for a White Elephant exchange, try to go for something a bit more light-hearted. A wine glass with cute little figurines attached to the bottom are a great way to give someone a seasonal and festive gift without going too over the top with luxury — it's both adorable and functional.

Purchase the HeguSun 3D Drinking Glass Cup from Amazon for $24.99.

Best phone case

A phone case may not seem like the best option for a White Elephant exchange because not everyone will need the same size for their phone model, but if you opt for the latest iPhone model case, there's sure to be at least a few iPhone wielding party-goers who will steal their way to this present. In the free-spirited nature of the game, there couldn't be a better design than a tomato attending therapy.

Purchase the Therapy With A Tomato Phone Case from Redbubble for $17.

Best sunglasses

Don't be shy about buying a gift that someone will have absolutely no idea what to do with — that's all part of the fun! So while it may seem like a pair of sunglasses adorned with miniature donuts around the frames isn't the most fashion-forward option out there, someone may really appreciate the unique and different look — or they may get a good laugh out of it if they have an affinity for donuts.

Purchase the Emblem Eyewear Donut Round Women's Sunglasses from Amazon for $18.

Best jigsaw puzzle

Creating a White Elephant gift idea list without a touch of pop culture may just be a crime. Plus, Lizzo is an absolute queen — we all know that. So, who wouldn't want to sit down and put together 500 pieces of various photos of Lizzo? Certainly not us. If one of the people playing the game is a huge Lizzo fan, watching them go out of their way to try and steal this puzzle will prove to be an absolute riot for all in attendance.

Purchase the Always Fits Legendary Lizzo 500-Piece Jigsaw Puzzle from Always Fits for $16.95.

Best mug

Funny, serious, artistic, plain, bold, colorful, or black and white — no matter the style, people love mugs. There's just something so refreshing about starting our day with a delicious cup of coffee inside a mug of our choosing, and oftentimes the art and images depicted can bring a smile to our tired and unenthused morning expressions. Matsumoto Hoji was a late 17th-century Japanese painter who, although living centuries before us, seemed to capture our Monday morning faces quite poignantly — we think most anyone can relate.

Purchase the Unimpressed Frog (1814) – Vintage Art Coffee Mug from Etsy for $15.

Best gift for the bathroom

Okay, so a nightlight for your toilet bowl might sound absolutely ridiculous, but hear us out: Anyone who has tried to go to the bathroom during the middle of the night knows the utter agony and dread of this dark adventure. Helping someone out in this department with a motion detector light for the toilet may leave you in a saintly category among whoever wins it at the exchange.

Ionic Shower Head Backlight For Toilet Bowl from Ionic Shower Head for $14.99.

Best candy item

Who says adults can't set aside the pricey box of holiday chocolates and reach for something a little more fun and nostalgic? And better yet, something that your giftee can have a blast making themself. The Bob Ross Make Your Own Gummy Kit is your passport to the serene and relaxing world of Bob Ross — with a sweet twist. Allowing one to make their own happy little gummy squirrels and trees, this kit is worth it alone for the smiles it's sure to bring folks at the gathering.

Purchase the Bob Ross Make Your Own Gummy Kit from Amazon for $14.99.

Best Y2K gift

This option is likely geared mostly towards the millennials out there, but anyone who was around for the late '90s and early 2000s could appreciate and savor a gift that brings us back to those special times. Britney Spears was at the peak of her career during the Y2K days, and believe it or not, this was (admittedly) an actual ornament you may have seen on every teen's Christmas tree back in 2000.

Purchase the Cody Foster & Co. Britney Spears Ornament from Rue La La for $19.99.

Best gift for the beer-loving group

We all have those subgroups in our friendship circles, and more often than not, there's typically a beer-drinking subgroup. No matter the occasion or time, these are the friends who will indulge in a beer before any other drink option on the menu — or hey, maybe this is your whole friend group, and that's even better for this gift option. The Swag Brewery Beer Soap 3-Pack is a nice little set of soaps made from real beer, and according to reviewers, they actually smell fantastic.

Purchase the Swag Brewery Beer Soap 3-Pack from Amazon for $23.99.

Best quirky hair accessory

Hair accessories are typically more of a stocking stuffer gift, but if the White Elephant exchange budget is between $10 and $15, they can be a fantastic option. The Natural Life Pompom Claw Multi clip is both cute and unique enough for a fun gift exchange — obviously, just be sure most of the other game players don't have short to minimal hair. "All the stars! I love my quirky little pompom hair clip," a reviewer wrote.

Purchase the Natural Life Pompom Claw Multi from Natural Life for $10.

Best gift for lighthearted humor

Some days, reading comics is exactly what we need to pull us out of a funk or bring us that little internal warmth we may be lacking. The "Dinosaur Therapy" comic may seem like your basic and average silly gag gift at first, but the number of readers these comics have helped goes to show that this book goes much deeper than this. "This is the first time I've felt an author actually understands depression and anxiety," a reviewer states. "He manages to shine dark humor on the subject and personally, it made me feel less alone and perhaps that I was just as normal as millions of others."

Purchase "Dinosaur Therapy" from Amazon for $11.

Best gift for anyone

Sometimes, we just have to play it safe. Maybe your White Elephant exchange is at the office or with people you don't quite know well enough yet to gauge their sense of humor. In these cases, going with a general crowd-pleaser is your best bet. Almost anyone at any age can find use in a YETI tumbler. With a wide variety of colors to choose from, the 10 oz. Rambler Tumbler is the perfect choice for just about anybody.

Purchase the YETI Rambler 10 oz Tumbler from Amazon for $20.

Best fun chopsticks

Whether you're playing with a group of older folks or teenagers, there's sure to be a few "Star Wars" fans in the clan. In fact, even if no one is an avid follower of the saga, these chopsticks are just plain fun and cool. Help your giftee make eating a good time with these LED-powered utensils that can be switched on and off with battery power. "They're just the right touch of nerdy and useful," as one reviewer described the foodware.

Purchase the Lightsaber Chopsticks from Amazon for $14.

Best pun-intended gift

If you're anything like us, the first time you heard "White Elephant exchange," you pictured a literal white elephant figurine of some sort. Why not play around with this idea a little bit and show up with just that — a white elephant? The Fred Oliver Ceramic Elephant Tidbit Bowl is a useful and decorative bowl that serves foods with pits and shells, such as cherries or olives. After the food is eaten and you're left with the seed, simply dispose of it in the elephant's trunk — the perfect option for party-goers.

Purchase the Fred Oliver Ceramic Elephant Tidbit Bowl from Amazon for $24.