Buy Just One Present This Year: How to Host a Holiday Gift Swap

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gift exchangeSure, it’s the most wonderful time of the year, but it can also be one of the most expensive.

And stressing about selecting the right gift for people like your 12 cousins, co-workers or soon-to-be brother-in-law can sap the seasonal spirit right out of you.

Take a cue from financially-savvy families and friends with a holiday gift swap that streamlines the present purchasing to one.

The big (and seriously money-saving) idea? Rather than everyone buying gifts for everyone, each person gives and receives a single gift. That way, everyone walks away with one special something—not to mention a plumper piggy bank.

The trick to this gifting approach is all in the execution, says etiquette expert Lizzie Post, great-great-granddaughter of Emily Post and coauthor of “Emily Post’s Great Get-Togethers.” “Our family divides the gifting by generation, but it really depends on your family and how you like to operate,” she says.

Houston-based event planner Natalie Dawley of Two Be Wed agrees that having some guidelines will make the event more official—and more likely to be around next year.

Here’s how to do a holiday gift swap right:

1. Divvy Up Names (by Age Group)

Both experts agree it’s wise to organize by age groups—i.e., a separate gift exchange for kids and adults—since it’s likely not as fun for a teenager to shop for an adult (and the responsibility may ultimately fall on the parents). Dawley suggests changing it up by fishing out printed photos of each person instead of drawing names. “It’s another opportunity to set the tone of the gift exchange,” she says.

Keeping your pick a secret until the opening ceremony can also add to the excitement. “If all the pictures are the same size, it’s harder to guess who has who,” Dawley advises. Tip: Have everyone slip their names or photos into sealed blank envelopes of the same size—to be opened discreetly—for complete secrecy.