Going to a Yankee Swap? Check out these finds for under $20

The Yankee Swap is a great way to save money at Christmas time. Instead of bringing a bunch of cheap gifts for everyone, the better option is to spend a bit more and bring one really nice gift.

Who doesn't love a party? Or rather, the better question is, who doesn't love a Yankee Swap party??

The hubs and I have been married for seven years, and for the last five we have attended a swap party at his great uncle's house.

Although the rules vary depending on the group, we draw numbers from a hat, with one slip of paper going to each person participating. Number one draws first and then picks a gift from under the tree. Then number two draws. That person can either open a new gift and keep it OR take the gift from the person who went before him or her.

What's interesting is that the higher number you have, the larger the selection is of gifts from which you can choose. The game goes on until everyone has selected a gift, be it either by swapping or keeping the original gift he or she opened.

The Yankee Swap is a great way to save money at Christmas time. Instead of bringing a bunch of cheap gifts for everyone, the better option is to spend a bit more and bring one really nice gift. The game is said to have originated from the Civil War holiday tradition of trading prisoners of war with the enemy.

Our great uncle's annual party is memorable and tremendously fun. Not only do you have the potential to walk away with pretty cool swag to keep for yourself, but chances are if you score something truly interesting, you can use it at another swap party this season.

With that said, what follows is a list of gift items that are $20 or less that would be ideal for swapping at your next Yankee party:

Allergy-free earrings, $16-$19
Grader Jewelers
217 Boston Post Road, Waterford

I love little studs because they are the best gift for the little girls in your life. My three nieces have lost more earrings than I can count, so the best thing about these studs is that if one is lost, they're affordable to replace.

Manicure, $12
New Nails Spa
Clark Lane, Waterford

What woman (and many men these days) doesn't love a manicure? Consider picking up a gift certificate for a 30-minute session. It's almost a guarantee the claws will come out when this item is up for grabs.

Vera Bradley, $12-$19
Kay's Gift Boutique
665 Boston Post Road, Old Saybrook

I hit pay dirt and found not just one, but FOUR Vera Bradley items at this store in the Old Saybrook Shopping Center. The lanyard and zip identification case were $12, while the coin purse was $14, and the travel mug just made the cut at $19.

Candy, $11/pound, candy; $7/half pound, fudge
Gumdrops & Lollipops Candy Shoppe
334 Main St., Niantic

A family friend has a fourth-grade son who recently got his braces removed, so my purpose for stopping at this old-fashioned candy shop was two-fold: get him tons of sticky treats that he wasn't able to enjoy while he was wired up, and find some Mary Janes and Boston Baked Beans. Both tasks were accomplished.

Candles, 4 for $20
Yankee Candle Company
Mohegan Sun, 1 Mohegan Sun Blvd., Uncasville

Reusable bases? Up to four weeks of fragrance? A huge variety of scents? Enough said.

Wine, $11.99
variety of stores

Winter marks a pleasant time to return to the darker side of fermented grapes. Many local shops host tastings; some offer cigars, cheese snacks and spreads as well.

Books, Monte Cristo Bookshop
38 Green St., New London

There aren't enough words to explain how much I love books. Books are all over my house. They're on shelves, on the floor next to my bed. And my best friend laughs at me because I have "spare" books in the trunk of my car, just in case I get stuck somewhere with a few hours to waste. Anyway, it's great to find an independent book store that has prices comparable to, and often better than, those of chain stores. "Long Day's Journey Into Night" is a classic, while "Wonder" is a new release.

Kitchen shaker, $19.99
The Bowerbird
46 Halls Road, Old Lyme Marketplace, Old Lyme

The Kitchen Kings and Queens in your life will love this little gadget. The shaker crushes and mixes whole spices, herbs, and other culinary accoutrements to help add flavor to your best dishes. If you add liquids, such as olive oil, you can create dressings and marinades.

$4.95, magnet; $12.95, notebook
The Velvet Swan, Too, 13 W. Main St., Mystic

I felt very cosmopolitan as I thought of how I could best make use of this bonjour magnet and Les Papillons notebook. I imagined removing my grocery list from the fridge (held on by the magnet), strolling to the market for a croissant, and then sitting on a park bench as I jotted notes for the next great American, uh, French novel in my lined notebook. Okay, that's a bit much, but it was so fun imagining.

Coffee, $12-$17
Mystic Market East
63 Williams Ave., Mystic

From Sumatra Italian and Masons Island Blend to Nirvana and Sinful Delight, there are nearly a dozen blends to choose from the Mystic Coffee Roasters line. Take your pick.

Dance class, $12
The Dance Center of Old Lyme
19 Halls Road, Old Lyme

With "Dancing with the Stars" finishing its 17th season, there's certainly no shortage of people interested in stepping out on the parquet. Although we all can't do it on a national level, a test run with an established class might help you figure out if you've really got what it takes to permanently strap on your dancing shoes.

Ornaments, $14
Christina Ltd.
1 Railroad Ave., Westerly

Cool ornaments are a necessity when you're attending a holiday party and these items truly fit the description. They are hand-made of stuffed velvet and created by a cooperative that provides business ownership and employment opportunities by and for women.

Head lamp, $19.95
Eastern Mountain Sports
5 Dayton Place, Waterford

Camping has become a summer tradition in our family, and those long, dark walks to the bathroom could be a little less scary this year with the help of this gadget. I'm not sure if men are really into lime green, but this head lamp definitely fits into my color wheel.

Pie, $13.50-$15
Holmberg Ochards
12 Orchard Lane, Gales Ferry

What would a holiday party be without some pie? Apple, mince, blueberry crumble … better yet, maybe you should leave this gift at home and find something else to take to the swap.

Honey mustard, $18, for two 10 oz. jars
Cato Corner Farm, 178 Cato Corner Road, Colchester

By my thinking, anything with the word "chipotle" in it has to be good. Although I'm not a fan of spicy foods or garnishes, there may be a foodie among the group that could put this honey mustard to good use.

Grocery or gas card, $20
variety of stores

A very practical but appreciated gift, one that in this economy, will no doubt get put to use. You can dress up the packaging with ribbons and a pine cone for a more festive, personal feel.

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