'Tis the season to save on Christmas cheer

The holiday that began in a lowly manger somehow turned into a spending bonanza. But you can save some cash this season without skimping on the Christmas cheer. Here's how.

Decorations

Cover a cork board with holiday wrapping paper and tack up all the cards you receive for an instant piece of art.

• Drape a few strands of beaded garland on a chandelier and hang ornaments from the beading.

• For a surprisingly elegant centerpiece, fill a glass bowl with apples, oranges, baby artichokes, walnuts or monochromatic ornaments. To deck out a bookshelf or coffee table, fill martini glasses about half-full with cranberries — about $3 a pack. Add a cinnamon stick, arranged as you would a pick of martini olives.

•Turn last year's leftover cards into a homemade wreath. Use the card fronts to cut out different-size circles. Glue them to the front of a cardboard or foam ring. You can also display a collection of wine corks, bottle caps or fabric scraps this way.

Gifts

• Keep your eyes open for things to add to people's collections. If you find a rare shot glass to add to your girlfriend's vintage glassware collection, then she won't care that it came from a thrift store.

Scour a used book store or record shop for frame-worthy book or album covers.

• Find a used field book of flowers or birds, rip out a few choice photos and stick them in Dollar Store frames to make an instant "art collection" for that friend with bare walls.

• Parents, get together sans kids and hold a clothing or toy swap. Bring something your children have outgrown or no long play with, and leave with a gently used item for under the tree.

• Hit a price club for bulk gifts you can give away throughout the season, like coffees, infused olive oils or blank CDs to create a homemade holiday play list.

• Crafty types can sew old sweaters into pillow cases, gloves and more. Use a sweater you seldom wear, or find a funky one at a thrift store.

• At restaurant.com you can buy discounted gift certificates for thousands of eateries nationwide. Get a $10 gift card for $3, a $25 card for $10, a $50 card for $20, a $75 card for $30 or a $100 card for a cool $40. Some restrictions apply.

Stay away from gift cards. With stores like Circuit City and Linens 'N Things filing for bankruptcy, who knows if they'll be usable? Plus to get a $50 gift certificate, you must spend $50. But with coupons and markdowns, you can likely find a $50 sweater or video game for much less.

Instead of buying wrapping paper, use old maps, wall paper, fabric scraps or your kids' artwork — with permission, of course.

• Cut up old cards to make your own gift tags.

• Open a cereal box along the seams and cover it with wrapping paper for a free gift box.

General merriment

• This may sound harsh, but ixnay on the Christmas cards. Custom greetings can cost more than $1 each, and let's not forget 42-cent stamps.

• To keep the kiddos amused during the holiday break, skip the movie theater and get a stack of DVDs for free at the public library or sign up for a free 30-day NetFlix trial. For more free fun, take an evening walk around the neighborhood to look at all the holiday lights.

Invest in LED Christmas lights. They use up to 90 percent less energy than traditional lights.

Contributing: Letitia Stein. Sources: betterbudgeting.com, cheapskatemonthly.com, dominomag.com, frugalliving.about.com, ivillage.com, oprah.com, realsimple.com,

'Tis the season to save on Christmas cheer 12/05/08 [Last modified: Friday, December 5, 2008 9:44am]

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