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Fourteen frugal ways to decorate for Christmas

Holiday decorations don't have to be expensive if you buy off-season, go DIY, or hold a decoration swap with your friends and family. 

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    Chloe Kohler admires the Christmas Tree as seen through the reflection on a decorative sphere Saturday morning, Nov. 29, 2014, at the Land Title Plaza in downtown Walla Walla, Wash.
    Michael Lopez/Walla Walla Union-Bulletin/AP/File
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Let's face it: The holidays can be expensive. Along with spending money on gifts, food, and fun, you also need to worry about lights, decorations, wrapping essentials, and other items. Fortunately, we've found some smart ways to help you save big on your holiday decorations!

1. Set a Budget

First, figure out how much you're willing to spend. Set this amount aside and don't go over-budget. It might be easier for you to set it aside in cash. That way you're protected from overspending, and it's easier to keep track of how much is left.

2. Follow the Sales

There's no better time than the holidays to take advantage of things like price matching, coupons, and promo codes. Many stores, like Walmart, offer to match or beat any local competitors' prices, or will accept competitors' coupons, so you should know which stores near you offer these perks. Most large stores start offering discounts on outdoor decorations in early November, indoor decorations in mid-November, and tree decorations in early December. Follow the sales.

3. Buy Holiday Items Off-Season

Right after the gift-giving season, holiday decorations, lights, wrapping, and seasonal foods go on massive sale. You can save up to 75% on all of the holiday essentials. If your storage or garage has the extra space to store decorations for next year, this can save you big money.

4. Make DIY Decorations

Not only will you save money and get in touch with your creative side, but you can also get the kids involved for a fun family activity. There are thousands of free videos and tutorials online to help you create beautiful DIY decorations and ornaments for a fraction of the cost of new ones. (See also: 12 Ideas for Cheap, Festive, Fall Decor)

5. Use the Outdoors as Inspiration

Your yard might have some great natural pieces that you can use to decorate the interior and exterior of your home, like pinecones, dried leaves, twigs, branches, acorns, and other foliage. You can use pinecones as centerpieces, or you can even spray paint them gold or silver and add glitter for a DIY tree ornament.

6. Give Your Old Decorations a Makeover

Nearly anything looks better in a glass vase, so consider filling some with cranberries, old glass ornaments, or pinecones to create brand new, festive displays and centerpieces.

7. Get More Out of Your Tree

When purchasing your tree, remember that prices are usually lower during the week and higher on the weekends. You can also save big by buying your tree the week before Christmas, if you are okay with waiting. Save any bits that are lopped off your tree as it is being shaped. These pieces can be used to decorate the mantel or serve as a centerpiece.

8. Get More From Old Wrapping Paper

Keep small scraps of wrapping paper to make your own gift tags. Simply fold the scrap of wrapping paper in half, tape it to the gift, and write the "To" and "From" inside. You can also do the same with old holiday cards.

9. Focus on the Smells of the Holidays

Cinnamon sticks, cloves, oranges, clementines, cranberries, pumpkin spice, and vanilla are all staple holiday ingredients with discernible smells. Some other ways to focus on the scents of the holidays include:

  • Cook more with seasonal ingredients to naturally scent your home;
     
  • Buy holiday scented candles;
     
  • Make your own affordable holiday simmering potpourri, which is the perfect way to welcome someone into your home, and also doubles as a great gift;
     
  • Use candy canes and seasonal fruits to make a unique scented table display;
     
  • Hang bunches of cinnamon sticks from the tree or mantle.

10. Buy in Bulk

Some of the best holiday items to buy in bulk include wrapping paper, ornaments, candles, and serving dishes. If you buy too much, consider repurposing ornaments into DIY gifts or centerpieces.

11. Visit Dollar Stores and Thrift Stores

Dollar stores, discount stores, and craft stores have some beautiful decorations for a fraction of the cost. Craft stores also have large selections of branches and wreaths that are both affordable and unique. Along with holiday decorations, you can stock up on essentials like glitter and tinsel to complete your holiday decorating kit.

Don't forget about used! Many thrift stores also offer great deals on vintage decorations, holiday sets, and ornaments. You might also be able to find some great holiday finds at nearby garage or moving sales, all at prices that can't be beat.

12. Think Outside of the Box

There are countless ways to upcycle your unwanted items and old holiday decorations into unique pieces. For example, try one of the following ideas this year:

  • Turn old brown paper grocery bags or comic strips into DIY wrapping paper;
     
  • Make garlands out of popcorn;
     
  • Download a fireplace screensaver to your laptop, tablet, or mobile phone, which can light up the room with fake flames and even make the crackling sounds that we all associate with the holidays;
     
  • Purchase inexpensive plain tissue paper and decorate it yourself.

13. Save on Holiday Cards

You can usually find holiday cards for cheap at the dollar store or on sale at your local home goods store (they typically go on sale in December if you can wait). If you don't want to spend part of your budget on holiday cards, send a postcard, letter, or even holiday email instead.

14. Plan an Ornament Swap

Before you start decorating for the holidays, take inventory of what you have and what you want to use this year. Whatever is left over can be traded at an ornament swap with your friends, family, neighbors, and/or co-workers. Everyone will be able to clear out their holiday stash, and you'll have some "new" ornaments, wrapping essentials, or holiday decorations at the end. Bring some holiday snacks to make a pre-holiday party out of the swap.

This article first appeared in Wise Bread. 

The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of the best personal finance bloggers out there. Our guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. To contact us about a blogger, click here. To add or view a comment on a guest blog, please go to the blogger's own site by clicking on the link in the blog description box above.

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