Buttoned Up: Cheap and fun gift-exchange party ideas

Sarah Welch and Alicia Rockmore

When you are on a budget, the holiday gift-giving season can be a seriously stressful time of year, especially if you are the type of person who loves getting together with others to swap gifts.

Don't despair. If your wallet is feeling the pinch this year, there are wonderful ways to organize gift-giving gatherings that cost next to nothing, are loads of fun and create lasting memories for all involved.

Don't believe us? We've got more than just a few ideas for you below — and there are many other inexpensive ways to throw a holiday gift exchange. All it takes is a little creativity.

All of the gifts brought to the various exchanges below can be handed out via Secret Santa draws, or by playing a game such as Dirty Santa (http://dirtysantarules.blogspot.com/) or bingo or even a variation on musical chairs.

1. The dollar gift exchange. This is perfect for the office, where everyone feels obligated to buy a gift for colleagues, but most have no idea where to start and can't afford anything big. Invite everyone to a gift-giving event but specify on the invitation that no one is allowed to bring a gift costing more than a dollar. Tell everyone to visit a thrift store or dollar store and find a fun gag or useful gift. Place all the gifts on a table and, at a certain time, have everyone grab a gift (not their own) from the pile and open it. The resulting laughter and conversation are often legendary.

2. The home wrap-up. Ask participants to bring something fun from home. They can make a music mix, gently used DVDs, a pack of light bulbs, crafts or just about anything they already own or made at home. The only requirement is that it be something people want.

3. The beverage exchange. Invite participants to bring their favorite alcoholic or other beverage to trade. When you play Dirty Santa or Bingo with this gift, people will get a variety of options — beer, wine, peppermint schnapps, tequila, scotch, hot chocolate mix and more.

4. The re-gift giving. This is a great activity to have just after Christmas. Everyone gets gifts they won't use or don't need, so this is the perfect time to repackage those gifts up and give them to someone else.

5. The ugly-sweater exchange. Ask everyone to bring an ugly Christmas sweater they already have in their closet (most people own at least one). Play Dirty Santa and trade the sweaters between all participants. Put them on and then take a great picture of all the participants. Frame the photo and it will bring lasting memories to everyone.

6. Edible exchange. Invite everyone to bring a yummy edible gift to the party. They can make these themselves or buy something. It can be sweet or savory. After exchanging gifts, everyone can share in their goodies.

7. The book exchange. Who doesn't like to read? Who wouldn't love to swap a book they've already read for a new one? Book-exchange parties are a perennial favorite, although as people shift their libraries to digital versions, this type of party may become obsolete. So host one before it's too late! You could even choose a special theme and ask participants to bring books related to the theme.

8. The crafty gift. Hold a gift-giving party where the participants actually roll up their sleeves and make something each attendee would want to give as a gift to someone not at the party. You can make interesting Christmas-tree ornaments, figurines or other decorative items. Just be sure to have the materials on hand and a printout of the assembly instructions.

These are just a few fun gift-giving events you can hold with friends, kids or family. All of them are a wonderful reminder that the holidays are all about sharing your time, not your wallet.

Have you ever had a creative gift exchange? What did you do?

The writers are co-founders of Buttoned Up, a company dedicated to helping stressed women get organized. Send ideas and questions to yourlife@getbuttonedup.com. Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service, www.shns.com