Budget-friendly white elephant gift exchanges are perfect for students


By Elizabeth Dye

Buying gifts for friends and family can put a serious dent in someone’s funds, especially for a student financing four (or more) years of college. Thankfully, white elephant gift exchanges allow students to scrap together any left over spending money to share a few laughs with friends.

In a white elephant gift exchange, participants choose an anonymous gift and can steal gifts from one another before they are unwrapped. A gift can typically be stolen only twice, and then the gift must stay with whoever had it last. Gift choices are usually inexpensive and funny in some way.

“The best white elephants gifts are the ones that make everyone in the room burst out laughing,” said Kelly Randall, freshman in ACES. “The more hilarious or embarrassing a gift is, the better.”

Below are 13 affordable and hilarious gifts for any student’s white elephant gift exchange that are sure to put a smile on the receiver’s face:

1. A framed and autographed photo of yourself

Get The Daily Illini in your inbox!

  • Catch the latest on University of Illinois news, sports, and more. Delivered every weekday.
  • Stay up to date on all things Illini sports. Delivered every Monday.
This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.
Thank you for subscribing!

The more serious your expression is, the more hilarious it will be.

2. Or even better yet, a photo album of your friends’ funniest photos

Most friends have an abundance of unflattering or hilarious group photos that have never seen the light of day. Making a photo album of friends’ most embarrassing pictures can result in laughs and time to reminiscence about past escapades.

Angela Turner, freshman in Education, expressed her love for this type of present.

“The best white elephant gifts are the ones that make you question why you’re friends with your friends in the first place,” Turner said.

3. Batteries (not including gift)

This one is for all those times someone has gotten a gift requiring batteries, but did not receive the batteries for it. Ryan Gourley, freshman in Business, said this was his favorite gift he received in a gift exchange.

“All you need is a plastic bag, two working batteries and a note that says, ‘Gift not included,’” Gourley said.

4. Hideous, tasteless clothing

Thrift stores near campus are stocked with outdated apparel perfect for any white elephant gift.

Vince Mundo, sophomore in LAS, remembered when he received a patent leather pink purse and strappy leopard print heels one year.

“The fact that I will never use those items made it all the more hilarious,” Mundo said.

5. Quirky novelty items

Unique novelty items, such as bacon soap and unicorn meat, can be found on gag gift websites across the web and usually cost less than $20. Theodore Christian Nolte, senior in LAS, swore novelty items can bring a smile to anyone’s face.

“I got ‘stay in love forever’ breath spray one year, and it was honestly one of the funniest gifts I’ve ever gotten,” Nolte said. “It’s a gift that I’ll probably keep forever.”

6. DIY hunk calendar

For this gift idea, just take a cheap calendar from the dollar store and tape pictures of attractive celebrities over the originals, and voilà! The gift recipient will have 12 photos of attractive celebrities to stare at each month. Bonus funny points go to anyone who makes a calendar using well-known “crazy” celebs.

7. Old self-help tapes

1980s aerobics tapes work as well and can be found at any secondhand store.

8. Ridiculously large underwear

The larger the underwear, the better the gift. Students should feel free to personalize, decorate and bedazzle the underwear for added fun.

9. DIY trophy

Just buy a trophy from a secondhand store and write “unique” reasons why someone would get a trophy, such as “World’s Greatest Drinker” or “For Having a Face Only a Mother Could Love.”

10. Edward Cullen’s ashes

For all the Twilight Saga lovers out there, just take a jar filled with glitter and slap a label on it that says it contains the remains of Edward Cullen. 

11. Snookie’s autobiography

“If Snookie’s autobiography doesn’t get any laughs, than I don’t know what would,” Turner said.

12. DIY embarrassing T-shirt

Take a sharpie to a T-shirt and write any quirky statement. Getting whoever received the gift to wear the shirt after the gift exchange is even better.

Kaleb Damery, junior in LAS, appreciated the creativity in this idea.

“It’s funnier than any shirt you can buy in a store, and this way, you can put your own inside jokes on it,” Darnery said.

13. A Nickelback CD

“Because no one wants a Nickelback CD,” Randall said.

Elizabeth can be reached at [email protected]