Tuesday, December 22, 2009

White Elephant gift exchange rules – Plus 3 BONUS Tips!!

We recently held a White Elephant gift exchange at my work. We have a very diverse workforce since most of the workers are contractors and many of them are from other countries. I couldn’t help but hear all the different explanations of the game and the different names (like Yankee Swap) that it’s know by. I came up with some very good bonus variants for the game and would like to detail them below, but first I will talk a bit about the actual game and how it is played. The best part about a few of these ideas is that they play well given the current economic environment.

Wikipedia has a very good explanation of the game and a few of the variants. The basic idea of the game is that everyone who wishes to participate will purchase a gift (usually there is a max budget amount that is set when planning the game). This gift can be serious, funny (a “gag” gift), thoughtful, used, or a re-gifted item – as long as it doesn’t go above the budget.
On “game day” everyone will draw a number (1 to n) and this will determine the order that the players will take their turn. Player one will draw a gift from the pile and open it. Player two has the option of stealing player one’s gift or opening any of the other unopened gifts on the table (or in the middle of the circle). This continues with each subsequent turn. If a player has their gift “stolen” they cannot immediately take the gift back and they have the option of either drawing a new gift from the pile or taking one from someone else. Then that person has the same options. This continues until all gifts are drawn and there is no more “swapping” going on. Usually a “max out” or max trade rule is established whereby a gift becomes “dead” after x number of trades.
I would like to tell you some of the cool observations I have had in the several years that this has been played. In addition you will get some great bonus tips that will ensure you have a great white elephant game:

• The best gifts are ones that have some sort of nostalgic value or other value (see tip #2). Some of the gifts that always max out are: Starbuck’s gift cards, other dining gift cards, playing cards, Nerf guns, wireless weather stations, and other card/board games.

• Bonus tip #1 – “The Twofer” – I call this the twofer because it accomplishes a few things a once. I’ve done this one a few times over the years and I am always pleased with the results. First I would go to the store and purchase something that I would like to have. Then as the gift rotations begin I stealthily watch until I can either a) grab my gift on the “max out” turn or b) get my gift from someone and try and hide it until the end. This is really nice since you buy the gift, play the game, and still get to take it home and use it. The only downside is that there might be an even cooler gift in play at which point you would take the cooler gift and stick someone else with your crappy junk.  This year I added to the twofer by not only getting my gift back but I also took it back to the store. This accomplished 3 things – I brought a gift, played the game, and got my money back at the end (it’s one of the few times you can “have your cake and eat it too!!)! I thought that was a classic moment in work politics and personal financial frugality. The financial bloggers would be jealous!

• Bonus tip #2 – “The Giver” – the second idea I had was one I like to call the giver. This is a cool gift because it can come back to you 10, 100, or 1000+ fold. Last year one of the guys brought in a bar of chocolate (50 cents or something) and all the rest of the gift was a combination of 9 scratch lotto tickets and powerball tickets (our max was $10). Then, with the remaining 50 cents he got a card and in the card he wrote that the stipulation of the gift was that all proceeds over $10 had to be split with him. To which the recipient agreed (who wouldn’t in a large group setting like that – you don’t want to be know as the jackass that wouldn’t share the money right!). I think one of the scratch tickets got a $20 so he basically cruised for free as well.

• Bonus tip #3 – “Light?” – Finally, and as a personal plug, I’ve tried giving away gift cards for my own services. Basically everyone I work with knows that I run my own “side hustle” so I gave a $10 gift card for one of my headlight restorations ($75 value) which resulted in a job. I made money on that gift, not too shabby!

Hopefully these were some ideas you could implement at your next gift exchange whether it’s a Yankee Swap or a White Elephant. Thanks for visiting!

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