This year my mom proposed nixing one Christmas gift exchange. We cancelled another one last year. My husband and I will be out of town for the first of two potential white elephant exchange. I haven’t decided yet whether to join the second one, if it happens. Frankly, I’m relieved to be sitting them out. So when do you say yes or no to a Christmas gift exchange?

Reasons to Say Yes to a Christmas Gift Exchange
You have room for the gift in your budget.
You enjoy shopping for something anyone will enjoy.
You enjoy the suspense of wondering what you’ll get.
You don’t want to upset a long-standing tradition.
Not participating will cause tension in your office.
Not participating will cause tension with your family.

Reasons to Say No to a Christmas Exchange
You can’t afford it this year.
You always re-gift whatever you get the next year.
You don’t particularly enjoy gift exchanges.
Several people in your office routinely sit it out.
It’s not a long-standing tradition, so no offense will be taken.
You’re trying to reduce the amount of stuff you own.

How to Say No to a Gift Exchange
When you decide not to participate in a Christmas gift exchange, you run the risk of offending someone. Some people might call you a Scrooge. Others might accuse you of being cheap. And others will just think you’re weird. Use these strategies to deflect the tension when you say no.

Explain that you’re committed to reducing your debt this year, and every penny counts. Most people can appreciate that you have a larger goal and will want to support you in that.

Explain that you’ve decided to give more to charity this year and will be using your normal exchange allotment for that purpose. How can anyone accuse you of being a Scrooge when you’re helping others? (You can use this excuse even if you can’t afford to give to charity.)

Explain that you’re trying to reduce the amount of stuff you acquire in order to reduce your environmental impact. Again, it’s tough for someone to make you feel guilty for that.

Explain that you’ve already committed to two exchanges and that’s the limit in your budget this year.

Explain that you’ve hated Christmas since you were five because your dad left, your dog died, and your house burned down all on Christmas Day.

If it’s someone you’re close to, be honest. If finances are tight for everyone who participates, that first no might be enough to get everyone to reconsider.

If you can’t say no, then weasel out of it later. This only works with a one-day exchange, not a secret Santa, but you have three options:

  • Claim you forgot to bring it, then hide in your office.
  • Schedule a client meeting for the time of the exchange.
  • Claim you have to take the dog to the vet, attend a school recital, or visit the doctor.

As a worst case scenario, call in sick that day. You can’t participate if you’re not in the office. True, you might miss the holiday lunch, but with all the junk you’ll be eating this holiday season, do you really need more cookies, cake, and pie?

Some Christmas gift exchanges are fun. If you want to participate, here are some ideas for affordable gifts.

  • Dig into the closet for something unused but useful.
  • Visit a craft store to make your own gift basket out of candles and ornaments that are on sale.
  • Visit Target or Wal-Mart to make your own candy basket with discounted candy.
  • Visit Target or Wal-Mart to make a spa basket with discount bath salts and soaps.
  • Visit the markdown endcaps to find close-out deals and super discounts.
  • Check the newspaper for Bed, Bath, and Beyond coupons. You’ll find great, affordable gifts there.

When deciding about a Christmas gift exchange, the most important factor to consider is your budget. If you can’t afford it, just say no. If you really need to save money, check out my holiday savings e-book for more tips.


12 Responses to “When to Say Yes or No to a Christmas Gift Exchange”

  1. Mary@SimplyForties on November 20th, 2008 6:20 pm

    I really dislike gift exchanges with co-workers or club people, anyone except people who would be on my gift list anyway. I also don’t want to get odd gifts from those people so I’m with you on this one. I do want to point out, though, that saying you’ll do it and then bailing out is pretty bad. Whomever you were supposed to be buying a gift for will end up standing there empty-handed at the big reveal. That’s pretty tacky. If you’re not going to do it, man (or woman) up and say no!

  2. Cadelle on December 3rd, 2008 8:37 pm

    So… how do you bow out of a gift exchange if you’re in the military? My command is doing a mandatory secret santa, revealed to us a week after payday and the gift is due before the next pay period. I don’t have it. I just don’t. Living on an e2′s basic pay in Los Angeles is pretty rough and paying off serious debt and repairing a car that is just short of a lemon for the third time this quarter… I got nothing. Any suggestions? Anyone?

  3. Rich on December 4th, 2008 12:01 pm

    Just make the move! If this isn’t the year then when? We are facing an very bleak 2009. Do we want to start the year with a Christmas credit card bill?! Check out You can register for free and build your profile stating your gift exchange preference. It can vary from a set spending limit to an Opt Out preference completetly! Send your profile to your exchange list in the form of an invitation or “buzz” and await their acceptance. Then sit back and enjoy a stress free special occasion the way it was meant to be! It’s a rapidly growing sentiment especially in these tough economic times. This will pay dividends for years to come. Wall street can’t even claim that now. Good luck.

  4. Aryn on December 4th, 2008 12:34 pm

    Wow, Cadelle, that puts you in a tough spot. I’m sure they think they’re doing it for morale, but I don’t see how forcing people to spend money improves morale! I don’t know much about the military, but maybe you could complain higher up the chain?

  5. Estate Taxes on November 18th, 2009 8:50 pm

    Exchanging gifts during Christmas with the persons you get along with for a long time isn’t bad at all. Actually it’s one of the delightful moments especially if you celebrate it with your family and friends. Sometimes it’s hard to pick the right present for a particular person if you don’t have enough budget. So why don’t you save your money months before Christmas to avoid such instance right?

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