12 Frugal Tips for the Holiday Season

Celebrate the joys of the holiday season on a budget—without feeling like Scrooge.

Celebrating the holiday season on a limited budget can occasionally feel like working for Mr. Scrooge! But take heart: the true joys of the season are there to be enjoyed no matter what your budget.

Here, 12 tips to inspire a frugal holiday.

Decorate on a budget

Use the decorations you have, but in new ways. A large glass bowl filled with glass ball ornaments—all the same colour or mix them up—is a trendy look this year. Group similar ornaments to create displays. Place nutcracker ornaments in one area, Santas in another.

Bread dough ornaments: mix 2 parts flour, 1 part water, and 1 part salt into a dough. Colour with food colouring if desired. Roll out with cookie cutters or use like clay to shape into ornaments. Pierce with a hole for hanger (if hanging) before baking. Bake at 300 degrees Fahrenheit for one hour. Cool and paint or use permanent markers to decorate. A coating of acrylic shellac will preserve colour.

Spray pine cones, whole walnuts and branches with gold or silver spray paint and scatter them around your house for a touch of shine.

For an inexpensive and stunning centrpiece (caution: will only last a few hours): Line a large plastic or metal bowl with cedar or other evergreen branches and a ring of cranberries around the bottom. Carefully fill 1/3 full of water; place smaller bowl inside and fill with stones or other freezable weights until water is almost at lip of large bowl. Freeze overnight. Remove from freezer and remove first small bowl and then larger, using warm water to warm bowls if necessary. Place ice bowl on tea-towel lined platter (platter must have a lip) and fill with fruit.

Boil cinnamon sticks with cloves on the stove to give your home that holiday scent—purchase spices for this purpose from discount stores.

Wrap it up

Start with inexpensive brown butcher’s paper, paper bags, newsprint, tissue paper from purchases, or even newspaper. Use stencils (available at dollar stores) and poster paints to decorate the surface.

Or for a more sophisticated look, use brown paper and then glue the front of an old Christmas card, or layer different-sized Christmas cutouts (from the same stencils, or go freehand) onto the middle of the gift.

Rubber stamps are also in again and sometimes can be found at dollar stores—but beware: these can also be a premium item you think will save you money, but will actually cost you more than inexpensive wrapping from a dollar or discount store.

Gifts galore

Gifts from your kitchen provide holiday warmth to friends and loved ones. Choose recipes that are heavier on time than on expensive ingredients—sugar cookies are a great example. Use tins purchased from thrift stores or dollar stores, or recycled from purchases last year, or baskets found at thrift stores or garage sales. Other presentation ideas: wrap in inexpensive tea towels from dollar stores, or fill mugs from the same with small cookies and candies.

Give the gift of time. We’ve all heard of the babysitting or handyman time gift coupons. (Other ideas include housekeeping, cooking, and gardening.) One of the secrets to making this work is to make the certificate really beautiful—use gold or silver gel pens and markers or your computer and tasteful clip art and print on heavy paper. But another secret is to actually take the initiative to call after giving the certificate and set up a time to come and make the gift happen. Put a note in your calendar to give recipients a call in January or February to set the date (or spring, in the case of gardening gifts!)

The gift of memories is a large one: create a photo CD or scrapbook; write family stories and create a book, or make a recipe book of family favourites.

For children you can also give the gift of time and create memories. Give a small gift under the tree and link it to a special time with them—for example, you can give an inexpensive magic wand and then host a “fairy tea” at your house; give a small fire engine and take a grandchild to the local fire station (call in advance), or give art supplies and then visit a local museum and gallery. Parents may well also appreciate the babysitting! (Check with them in advance to set up the time, as kids will need a concrete date to look forward to.)

Most of all, take the time out to enjoy the company of each other this season. All the best!