Frugal Christmas Decorating

I love Christmas decorations! The Christmas store at the mall draws me in and I gaze in awe at all the beautifully decorated trees. I also gaze in awe at the price tags on the ornaments. At those prices it would take a year's income just to decorate one tree! But don't despair. You too can have a beautiful tree by applying one or more of the following tips.

If you've never has a tree of your own before start with a small one. It takes a heck of a lot less ornaments to fill up a 2 foot tree than it does a ten foot tree. Buy one or two boxes of cheap ornaments and fill in with some homemade ones. Every year buy a few more things and when your tiny tree is overcrowded upgrade to a larger size. Look around your house and see what you have that would make a good decoration...big earrings look great on a small tree. So do strings of beads. Place the tree in a corner instead of a window and you don't have to decorate the back.

Or if you have your heart set on a tall Christmas tree, but can't afford one, try this tip sent by one of our readers: Buy a shorter tree and place it on a small, stable table (like a night stand or small coffee table). Then surround the tree with large empty boxes covered with wrapping paper or a pretty table cloth. You can add several feet to your tree, bring the entire tree up to eye level (so you can enjoy all the ornaments) and use the space below the tree as storage for empty ornament boxes. To add visual interest, use boxes in varying heights to give a "terraced" look."

When you're buying those boxes of ornaments try to do it at the after Christmas sales. The prices are slashed to sell out fast and make space for the next seasonal item.

Making decorations can be a lot of fun as well as economical. Felt is a very cheap material and makes great ornaments. Cut out shapes (use your cookie cutters for a pattern) like stars, bells and snowmen then layer on more felt in contrasting colors. Use ordinary white glue (like Elmer's) or tacky glue from a craft store. These will last almost forever if stored in a dry place...my brother still has a set I made for him close to 20 years ago and they look as good as new!

Cranberries and popcorn threaded on strings are a traditional make-it-yourself decoration. They won't last from year to year but they look very nice on the tree. Make paper chains out of construction paper or be unconventional and use colorful magazine pages, aluminum foil, leftover scraps of giftwrap, etc. Small pinecones with rolled in white glue and glitter are also traditional and fun for kids to make.

Darlene Bane tells us: "Also, I saw a note where popcorn string doesn't last from year to year. We strung popcorn the first year we were married & used the same strings for about 5 years on our Christmas tree. I stored it in an old popcorn tin."

We tend to think of eggs as an Easter decoration but hollowed out shells colored red and green with a bit of gold cord glued to the top for a hanger make great ornaments and are almost free (use the eggs that you blow out of the shells for baking or for scrambled eggs). Add some glitter if you like sparkle or, if you're good with a paintbrush, paint white shells with holly leaves and berries, santa faces, stars or whatever. I once painted a whole dozen in a Twelve days of Christmas theme (one for each day). For a nice shine spray with clear acrylic sealant or paint with clear nail polish. Store these in egg cartons.

Another egg idea from Rachel, 10/04: I've got a cheap Christmas decorating idea. First soak 6 raw eggs in vinegar for a day or so. This will eat the shell off but leave the rest intact. But you've gotta be careful when you handle these, they are VERY fragile! Then soak 2 in red colored water for & 2 in green colored water for a day. Soak more for a more vivid color. The last 2 add a nice goldish looking touch to the final piece. Then fill a large bowl with water (well, not TO large...) & place your eggs in the bowl. This makes a creative table centerpiece or living room decoration!

Tag sales (aka Yard or Garage Sales) are a good place to find decorations, not just for the tree. We've found candle holders, lights, creches and wreaths. My best find was a ceramic Christmas village complete with trees and kids throwing snowballs for $3.

A few years ago my Mom decided that she wanted to decorate her tree with a Victorian theme to match her newly redecorated living room. She loved the little lace fans and cornucopias full of flowers that were displayed on the tree at the store. Unfortunately they cost several dollars apiece and after buying a few boxes of green and burgundy ornaments she didn't have enough money left for more than four of them. Instead we bought two packages of white paper doilies, some narrow ribbon and some tiny dried flowers in the appropriate colors. For what it would have cost for 2 of the premade ornaments and about 2 hours work we were able to make enough for the whole tree (and it was a seven foot tree!).

From Darleen Goudreau in Alberta, Canada, 9/04: I really enjoyed your ideas on frugal decorating. Our kids and I made the construction paper chain last year but what we did was used it as an advent calender. Inside every link was a fun activity for example one day it may say toboganning or maybe ice skating, another day making a craft together or reading christmas stories with hot chocolate by the christmas tree. The chain is very colorful and festive and the kids look forward everyday to see what activity we will do that day. It's a great way to spend family time together and doesn't have to cost a cent!

From Annette Harris, 10/04: When we first married, we did not have many Christmas tree decorations. We bought some cheap little ornaments, and one special one for that year. We now have two children, and when we go on vacation, we always let them pick out their own ornament, and get one for us. Then, if it doesn't have the year on it, I write it on it somewhere with a gold or silver paint pen. Now, when we decorate the tree, everyone has so much fun remembering which vacation goes with which ornaments.

From Sandra Wilcox, 12/03: Something I have done for the last 30 years with old Christmas cards that I have never seen written anywhere, is to first put the date on the back. Then I store the cards in the Christmas boxes with the other decorations, and next year use loops of scotch tape to hang them like wallpaper all over the walls. After such a long time collecting them, it takes me a week or two to get them all up. It couId be done faster, but I take my time: listening to music, checking to see who sent them, remembering those who aren't here any longer or that I haven't seen for decades. I highly recommend this idea. For the price of a couple of rolls of tape I get a large Christmas display that everyone is blown away by and, most important to me, is time spent with old friends and relatives gone by. Well, thanks for listening. I hope you liked the idea.

A 2-in-1 idea from From Amie Vandiver in Alabama, 11/04: I had had a small Christmas tree for about 7 years and wanted a larger one,but they were to expensive. This past Christmas I was doing my 1/2 off after Christmas shopping as usual,and got a larger tree (usual price $60.00) for $15.00. This was at Wal-Mart. I also picked up lots of gift sets. Things like bubble bath,and scented lotions for little or nothing prices. I had all the ladies and girls covered for next year. It relieved alot of impulse buys for the following year, and the stress of battling other shoppers for last minute gifts. Hope this tip helps!

From Stacy Brown: "I wanted to send in a quick idea for some cute ornaments. My first year out of college, my housemates and I had very few ornaments collected between us. I went to the grocery store and bought a box of old-fashioned animal crackers. I went to Michael's and bought some spools of thin ribbon in bright colors. (I think they were less than $1 a spool.) I wrapped some ribbon harness-style around the middle of each animal, and tied a bow at the top. I stuck a metal ornament hook through each bow. Years later, when I have a big collection of ornaments collected, I think that little tree with the animal cracker ornaments is still one of my favorites."

From Mathew, 12/8/02: "Well, I was a bit upset that I might not be able to afford a tree this year, so I spoke with my mother. She and my father didn't have a lot of money, (as he was living on a gov't check), and couldn't afford a tree for their first year of marriage. She told me that their first "tree" was simply a couple of light strands in the corner. Much like those "light trees" they sell at the store, that have a pole and a few tent stakes for you to put outside, she had a starting point on the wall, and fanned out the lights. She made decorations out of cereal boxes, paper towel tubes, and paint, but I'm not entirely sure as to how she accomplished that... Still, I think with the right amount of imagination, it's an idea worth trying..."

From Phyllis Herschberger, 12/21/02: "I liked all the idea from others in your web site. Thought I'd share one also. I save my christmas cards each year that I recieve. So that the next following year I can use them for decorating my table. I take at least four of them, cut them in half, and use the picture side up.Take and hot glue the edges together or staple which ever.To make a four sided square. Then you can decorate the edges with left over ribbon or raffia to what ever colors you have on your table. Hot glue beads,flowers to corners, ect, on them to match your decor as simple or extravigant for the holiday season. And write who gave you the card on the back of each one.When that relative or friend shows up,point out it is the card they sent you last year. You'll be surprised at how they react."

From Jim, 12/8/04: Go on a nature walk and pick up pine cones, oak leaves, driy seed pods, dry brush, etc. Then take the items home and spray paint them with metallic gold, silver, white, green, red or glitter spray. You can hot glue a bow and insert an ornament hook or just stick the pieces among the Christmas tree branches or use them in garlands, and other decorations. I still have oak leaves that are 5 years old. Pine cones last practically forever. Store them in a shoe box lined with slightly crumpled tissue paper. You can also dry flowers from a funeral arrangement of a loved one. Red roses work well. I just let them dry naturally on a sheet of newspaper (not in the sun). Then take the dried rose petals and put them inside a clear plastic ornament (the 2 halves snap together just for the purpose putting something inside). Glue ribbon along the seam and a bow on the top and give them as gifts to family as a remembrance of the deceased. Someone did this for us when my mother-in-law died of cancer and we really appreciated it. We divided them up amongst the siblings and there were enough for all the grandkids as well. We have in turn made some of these ornaments for other families.

From Marcia Hultman, 2/05: Here is a tip for making frugal holiday garland. Go to the park or the neighbors or your own yard and collect all different sizes of pine cones. Spray paint them the color of your choice and then string them using twine or fishing line. These can be used for indoor or outdoor use and inexpensive strings of lights( little ones) can be added to create a festive garland for the tree and home. These look GREAT in gold and silver!!!!!!! Also can be used to make wreaths interspersed with inexpensive florals and ornaments. Makes great gifts.

As you can see, if you are creative and unconventional you can have great looking decorations and still have money to feed the family in January!