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Gift Card Exchange Ideas for Family Parties and Office Parties

Want a new twist on the traditional white elephant exchange? Try these gift gift card exchange games for a more positive holiday family party or office gift exchange.

company gift exchange

new happy holidays gift cards

Group Gift Exchanges Gone Wrong

Last holiday season, my family gathered around for a white elephant gift exchange. With only about 10 people in the circle, we finished exchanging gifts in about 10 minutes with very little frivolity. I think we were all so tired from holiday preparations that we didn’t have the energy to steal or use some of the other swapping strategies that make gift exchanges more exciting. And, as is always the risk of a white elephant exchange, some people walked away with decent gifts while more walked away with items that will likely end up in next year’s white elephant gift exchange. But that’s not the worst gift exchange I’ve ever experienced.

Worst Gift Exchange

One year, I gathered with a bunch of ladies that I didn’t know very well to enjoy a similar holiday get together. With about 25 women in the group (and a lot more energy), the game kicked off with several steals and “maximum swap” strategies. But the “gift disparity” was even greater. Some people received really nice gifts while others opened literal junk, including an “old maid” gift that apparently someone brings back to the annual party every year.

Being new to the group, I awkwardly tried to join in as much as I could but got completely embarrassed when I unknowingly opened a shock-factor, inappropriate gift. While many roared with laughter, I wanted to shrink and slink out of the restaurant immediately. (I’m a pretty conservative gal, if you haven’t figured that out by now.)

I think we can do better than this. Below you’ll find a list of other ways to organize a gift exchange for a family party, office holiday party, or other social gathering that would be fun for all and create some gift-exchange parity.

Fun and Exciting Gift Card Exchange Ideas

People sometimes prefer to give presents rather than gift cards because they feel gift cards are “boring.” But 60 percent of people say they prefer to receive gift cards (according to a CashStar survey). And why not? The recipient can choose anything from a favorite store. Try these exciting gift card exchange ideas to put a whole new twist on gift-card giving at office parties or gatherings of family and friends.

1. Target Practice Gift Card Exchange

fun game for gift card exchange

If you have a sporty group, consider setting up a gift card shooting gallery. Affix gift cards to a wooden board, bulletin board, or even a wall, shed, or garage door. You can play this game inside or out.

Each player, in turn, shoots a foam dart at the wall of gift cards and takes the one he or she hits. For a more challenging twist, use foam darts with suction cups on the end. If the dart doesn’t stick, the player doesn’t get to claim the prize. Players can always take another turn so no one goes home empty-handed.

This image and idea comes from The Pleated Poppy.

2. White Elephant Gift Card Exchange

opening presents at a white elephant gift exchange

“White elephant” gift exchanges, sometimes called “Yankee Swaps,” or “Dirty Santa” games, are a fun way to spice up your typical “grab bag” or “Secret Santa” gift exchange ideas. And they’re perfect for gift cards.

Ask guests to bring a gift card of any denomination that they’ve held onto forever but haven’t used. Maybe a die hard Android user received an iTunes gift card when they were hoping for Google Play. Or someone who prefers Dunkin’ Donuts received a Starbucks card. A white elephant exchange lets you trade in that card for something you will use.

The rules of white elephant games sometimes vary based on family traditions. In general, every person is given a number, and you go in order to pull a gift card (wrapped or otherwise concealed) from the pile. The next person who goes has the option to steal someone else’s gift card or take a new one from the pile. Everyone holds their gift cards until the end when you can open them. (Alternatively, players can open the gift cards as they go, revealing the type of card but not the amount.)

In a nicer version of the game (which Shelley prefers), you could set a price amount for the cards — $10 to $20 is usually fair. After all, who couldn’t find a way to spend $20 at Target?

3. “Better Than Goldfish” Game

gift card game

Have you ever hurried past that carnival goldfish game where you throw a ping pong ball into a bowl and can, potentially, take home a goldfish as a prize? If you’re like most of us, you’re hoping your kids won’t ask to play.

What if those goldfish bowls had gift cards in them, instead? Now that sounds like fun! Set up goldfish bowls on a ping-pong table or any flat surface, place gift cards inside, and let players throw the ping pong ball to claim their prize.

You can also use red plastic cups. Tape the gift cards beneath the cups or place cards into each cup. Lay the cups out on the table. When you land the ball in a cup, claim that gift card. Happy Dining and other restaurant gift cards fit perfectly with this beverage-inspired game.

4. “Pop” Goes the Gift Card

putting a custom gift card into a balloon

Place gift cards inside balloons and then blow up the balloons. Affix the balloons to a cork board. Throw a dart to see which gift card you get. To play this game with younger kids, let the children break the balloon by stomping or sitting on it.

Here is a tutorial on how to put a gift card into a balloon.

5. Ready to Pass?

left right passing game from backyard games

If you’d prefer to “pass” on all these other gift card exchange ideas, try a left-right passing game. Each player holds their own wrapped gift card to begin. The host or hostess of the party reads a story that uses the words right and left frequently. (Here’s a game version of “The Night Before Christmas” with “left” and “right” added.) You can even write your own story using the people in the party as characters.

When players hear the words “right” or “left,” they pass the gift card in that direction. When the story is over, everyone opens the gift card in their hands.

This printable and idea comes from Backyard Games.

6. Switch, Steal, Unwrap Gift Exchange Game

switch steal unwrap game from playpartyplan

This gift exchange game can easily be adapted to gift cards as well. Download the printable game play instructions before the party starts and pick up a pair of dice at the dollar store. Then get ready for a white elephant or new gift exchange that will get everybody involved. The hostess with the mostess on this website suggests you ask each person to bring more than one gift, but still within a reasonable dollar amount. Doing so will extend game play and keep the activity a little more interesting.

This image and idea comes from Play. Party. Plan.

7. Pass the Pizza? And Three Other Gift Exchange Ideas

pizza party

I’m a fan of Elfster, the app that makes it easy to organize Secret Santa gifts. I included it already in my list of gift card apps.

But they reached out to me with this post on silly gift exchange ideas, and I agreed–these are silly. Take a look and maybe you’ll see something your group will enjoy as much as the app itself.

Final Thoughts on Gift Exchanges

This post has me remembering why I started being the Gift Card Girlfriend in the first place. It sounds so simple and almost too obvious, but I just think people should feel good when they give and receive gifts. Whether it’s an individual gift exchange or a group gift exchange for a company party or a family gathering, save the tricks for Halloween. Instead, plan an activity that allows all of the participants to feel comfortable and have fun.

When you’re choosing the perfect gift card for any of these gift card exchange ideas, you want gift cards to popular stores that nearly anyone will appreciate. Stores like Crutchfield Electronics and Target offer something for everyone, though Happy Cards might be the most coveted gift cards in any game because you can use them in a variety of places.

If you need more gift card help or have other questions about gift cards, let me know in the comments below or reach out to me on Twitter (@GCGirlfriend) or Instagram (@Gift.Card.Girlfriend).

Happy Gift Carding!

~Shelley Hunter, Gift Card Girlfriend

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