Great White Elephant Gift Ideas For Students on Budget

Shopping for gifts on a student budget is tough.

We addressed this in our holiday shopping post, and one of our favorite suggestions was to hold a “white elephant gift exchange.” You may know it as a Yankee swap.

Whatever you call it, students can save a lot of money doing a gift exchange. You might even start a new tradition for you and your friends or even with your family members!

They’re super fun and kind of competitive.

What is a white elephant gift exchange?

The rules are simple. Get your group of friends who are participating in the gift exchange to agree to a dollar limit. When everyone’s bought and wrapped their present, put them in a pile. Then the fun really begins:

  1. Each person picks a number out of a hat. That number assigns them their order in the pick.
  2. The person who got number one is the first to pick their choice of gift.
  3. Then the second person picks a gift. They can swap with the first person if they think they’ll like that one better.
  4. This goes on down the line, with each person getting the opportunity to steal a gift.

These are the basic rules. To make the exchange even more fun, you can switch them up.

Different rules you can play by

Here are a few added rules you might want to include in your Yankee swap:

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The No. 1 rule

The person who picks number one and goes first gets to swap their gift — after everyone has opened theirs. It makes going first the best position, because you get to choose whatever gift you want.

The 3 strike rule

If a person gets stolen from three times, that’s it. No one can swap with them, and they’re stuck with their gift. Another version of this rule is to apply it to the present itself: once a gift is swapped three times, it’s off limits for the rest of the game.

Great gifts for under $30, under $20, and under $10

Students can’t afford expensive gifts. Instead of setting a price limit, you might want to make this a re-gift only white elephant gift exchange. That means anything you’ve received as a gift and never used can be re-gifted. These can be anything from books to gag gifts and from somewhat useless presents to practical (and boring) ones. If you want to make it really tough, add the requirement that the gifts be a specific color.

If your group has decided to buy for each other, we’ve got some great ideas for gifts under $30, gifts under $20 and gifts under $10.

Gifts under $30

1. “What Do You Meme?”

Doesn’t everyone talk in memes these days?

I swear the only conversations I have with my friends are either with memes or about memes and TBH there’s no shame. Everyone needs a good laugh and for me, it’s basically every hour on the hour with my group of friends, and I wouldn’t have it any other way!

This is definitely one of my favorite games. It can get really inappropriate real quick and that’s the beauty of it!

2. Fire TV streaming device

Get ready to wow your friends + family. The Fire Stick makes any TV a smart TV, and the only way to watch shows or movies online is right on your TV just like old times.

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Even better, it makes you the winner of the gift swap!

3. “The Bucket List”

There’s something so satisfying about having a coffee table book. Even if you don’t have a coffee table.

When I’m sick of studying and don’t want to read a book of my own, picking up a coffee table book is the best.

Also, this one is epic!

There are tons of ideas you might have never thought of and you can actually benefit from getting some out of the box ideas to add to your own bucket list.

And maybe you don’t have a bucket list…and if that’s the case, this book is for you!

4. Portable Bluetooth speaker

These days I can’t go a few hours without listening to music, who’s with me?

What’s worse than getting together with a few friends and having to use your phone as a speaker? Sure it works, but an actual speaker is so much better.

The quality on this one is great, the acoustics are strong, and it has a 100 ft wireless range which is practically unheard of!

5. Tile Mate 

This is the most practical gift for anyone.

We have ALL been there where we lose our keys, our phone, our minds….(sorry you can’t connect it to that last one.)

But anyone can utilize this small tile and stop wasting time looking for things that are lost.

Gifts under $20

1. Sophisticated adult coloring book

They say that coloring is a huge stress reliever.

It makes sense. You’re focusing on coloring within the lines and it actually becomes pretty meditative, which is really good for your busy brain that’s always focused on academics.

So why not give the gift of calm?

Coloring is also a pretty universal way to pass some time.

Think long flights home, in between studying, you get the drill.

2. The iconic letterboard

You’ve seen these everywhere, and they’re actually perfect for everyone.

Whether you’re super sentimental and want to write a motivating quote or you’re punny and just want a good laugh.

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You can find a use for this board.

3. Brita reusable filtered waterbottle

The best part about this water bottle, it filters all water.

This is essential on campus, especially when you’re in a bind and need water but all you have is a sink you can’t entirely trust.

Filtered water on demand?

Best gift ever.

4. The coziest blanket

Ever been in your dorm, shivering, but you don’t have control over the heat? Yup, the worst.

Luckily if you have a cozy blanket it doesn’t matter if it’s cold, you can bundle up anywhere from your bed to your desk (even if that’s only 10 sq ft total).

Never get cold studying again!

This blanket is so cozy you’ll wonder how you survived without it.

5. Travel coffee mug

Okay, let’s be honest, you all drink coffee, and everyone needs a mug that they can take to and from class.

And even if you have one, coffee stains cups so it doesn’t hurt to upgrade once in a while.

This one’s great because it’s insulated and not as expensive as some of the other ones on the market.

Gifts under $10

1. “The Hungover Cookbook”

Do we even need to say more?

This book isn’t just recipes. There are graphic tests for analyzing your state of mind, and quizzes for tracking your progress.

2. Cat pens

These are so cute.

Even if you don’t like cats, c’mon you need these pens!

I’m such a sucker for good pens and these ones take the cake, cats or not.

Also, these will make you look and feel like the most epic gift giver ever.

3. Poo-Pourri

Whether this is a gag gift or not is up for debate.

I will have you know that this stuff is a godsend and I actually keep it on me at all times.

Spritz the bowl before-you-go

and no one else will ever know

4. Reusable straws

Save the turtles!

But really, reusable straws are better for the environment than plastic straws. Plus, paper straws are gross. Soggy and straw are two words I don’t love to use together. A straw shouldn’t be soggy, period.

I don’t know about you, but sipping iced coffee just isn’t the same without a straw. Smh.

5. Anti-soggy cereal bowl

The best part of eating cereal is that first couple of bites when the cereal isn’t yet soggy but has a nice coating of (almond) milk.

This bowl gives you exactly that and so much more, and I guarantee people will be fighting over it!

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