A guide to holiday gifts for roommates

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It’s gift list time again! You’ve got your family and close friends covered, but what about your roommates? When you share an apartment with someone, does it mean that you need to give a gift to show your roomies some holiday love? And how should you do it? These situations can become fraught with peril if improperly managed, but they can be rewarding bonding experiences if done with finesse, following a few ground rules:

Talk about exchanging gifts with your roommates

The first question is whether you’re going to give your roommates a gift at all. Sometimes there’s just not the synergy between you and the people you share a home with; in such a case, it may be better to sit it out. Or, you and your roommates may be so busy this holiday season it would be a relief for everyone not to have another holiday event to worry about. Or, you may all feel it’s a worthwhile endeavor -- gift exchanges can be a lot of fun.

Regardless of your feelings beforehand, the first thing to do is talk about it. There’s nothing worse than one roommate giving a present, and the other being totally unprepared. Giving gifts to roommates is also a highly female-biased custom, so guys with female roommates are the ones most often taken by surprise. Bring up the topic casually and gauge the reaction. If it turns out that you and your roommates are interested, then go for it.

Set up the gifting ground rules

Are you going to do a Secret Santa exchange or direct gifts? If four or more people share your living space, a Secret Santa exchange is a good idea; it’ll save everyone time and money, but you’ll still have a roommate-centered holiday event.  In any case, whether you decide to do a direct gift exchange or a Secret Santa, be sure to discuss an expected price range. You don’t want to spend $50 on a nice sweater for your roommate, only to receive a $10 gift card in return.

Make the gift exchange into a little event

Remember that exchanging gifts with your roommates is about more than a simple transaction. Make an event out of it. After all, you’re giving gifts to celebrate the connection you have with the people you live with. If you’re doing a Secret Santa, make a little party of it. After the exchange open a bottle of wine, or pop some popcorn and watch a movie together. Or, better yet, set aside an evening where you and your roommates go out to dinner to celebrate, and exchange the gifts during dinner. This will make for a memorable, fun exchange that will strengthen the bonds you share with your roommates.

Chip in and make an apartment holiday gift

An alternative to roommate gifts is to gift something to the apartment. Maybe you’d all love to have a fast hot water kettle in your kitchen or a fancy coffee maker to save on your latte habits.

Just keep in mind that the holidays should be fun and relaxing, and sharing them with your roommates should be no different.


MyFirstApartment.com helps novice renters successfully navigate the first year of living on their own. The blog shares proven tips and tricks for everything from finding the perfect rental or roommate, to furnishing on a small budget or no budget, to dealing with landlords or roommate’s girlfriends.

Note: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of Zillow.

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