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6 Ways to Save Money during the Holidays

Clinton Kelly's DIY holiday decorationsThe weeks of December are spinning by like a snowflake on the wind, and here we are with a few lame, online sale purchases under our collective belts. There is no tree, no tinsel, and certainly nothing but a closet full of LBDs (in need of some dry cleaning) for any festive event.

Now it’s time to get real about holiday decorating, party prepping, and shopping, stat. There may or may not be another paycheck between you and the big opening-of-presents, so this is also a factor. Remember all those lessons you learned from little Cindy Lou Who and The Grinch, from A Christmas Story, and yes, of course Jimmy Stewart and his endlessly sobbing family and sad-sack townfolk. IT IS THE THOUGHT THAT COUNTS. The gift that is made with love is far, far more important than a two-bit purple suede belt from Nordstrom Rack.

With that in mind, here is a mini, multi-pronged attack to make you instantly feel a whole lot better about your holiday season, without damaging your bank account, your close friendships, or your relationship with your favorite festive beverage.

1. Put up some decorations already. But first, turn on some non-crappy holiday tunes on Spotify, or find the Yule Log channel (now in HD!). Nothing gets you in a crafting or decorating mood more than music and a glass of I dunno, mulled cider? Sam Adams Winter Ale? Hot chocolate? The world is your marshmallow-topped oyster.

But here’s where most of us go horribly, terribly wrong: We spend our gift budget on the decorations. Decorations get thrown away and at best, they live 11 months of the year in a cramped, suffocating Container Store plastic bin. STOP. That brown paper bag from Trader Joe’s is your best friend! Rubber stamp it, golden Sharpie it, twine it, and cut it into cute star shapes. Make it into a table runner and sprinkle it with cute cutouts from holiday stories in the news. 2013 is all about DIY. If it looks sleek and storebought, it’s not your decorating friend. Think of things you made in third grade. Perforated scissors, construction paper chain links, cranberry-popcorn tree garlands… there you go.

Here are a couple of great DIY decorations from our favorite holiday books, Freakin’ Fabulous on a Budget and Bake It, Don’t Fake It:
Clinton Kelly’s Glitzy Cones and Snazzy Nuts
Clinton Kelly DIY holiday decorations

Clinton Kelly’s DIY Gift Idea: Terrariums

DIY Gift Idea: Chocolate-Caramel Hot Cocoa Mix

DIY Gift Idea: Peanut Brittle

2. Skip the tree. Unless you live near an affordable, cut-your-own tree farm, many urban Christmas tree lots start at $40, and that’s without the tree stand, skirt, and decorations. Instead find some tree debris at the local tree lot (often they will sell you trimmings for cheap, or you can scoot over before closing and offer to help them clean up that stuff on the ground) and take it home for a seasonal scent. Spread it around your flat-screen TV, on that brown paper table runner, and tie it to your gifts. It smells good. It feels like the holidays.

If you MUST have a tree, get a little guy. Or a wreath. Just please don’t go fake. Please. It’s like riding one of those electric bulls in a bar. Why would you do that?

Look at this cute tiny tree kit! No watering required.
Tiny Tree Kit from Etsy Decoylab

3. For holiday gifts, go the handmade or recycled vintage route—if not by you, then by someone else who’s actually trying to make an honest living with their hands. Search Pinterest, Etsy, and eBay. Your local holiday bazaar or flea market is teeming with affordable finds.

Here’s our Give Good Gift board to get you started.

You can even make your own candles! They’re easy. Just be careful. Hot wax only belongs in certain places.
candle making kit

4. Adopt an endangered animal. No, a giant manatee does not have to live in your bathtub. But you can choose the wild animal that means the most to your loved one, and the gift comes with an adoption certificate and cute little kit. Wolf adoptions start at just $15 (my personal favorite cause, and one not well represented on the final season of Eastbound & Down); there are also other worthy adoptions such as sea turtles, penguins, arctic foxes, and prairie dogs (!).

Defenders of Wildlife animal adoption for holidays

5. Skip the old-fashioned holiday cards. Now before you go calling me a Grinch (I’m Cindy Lou, remember?), I just want to bring up a few points: We’re short on time AND money. Stamps cost money, and going to the USPS during December could make Clint Eastwood cry. Try getting cute, chic e-cards and holiday party invites from Paperless Post or (the gift of laughter, all hail the chief). You can control your message AND your medium for a fraction of the cost and heartache. Plus, you don’t have to imagine all your hard work going into someone’s trash bin at the end of the month.


6. Even the best intentions can be undermined by regifting. A thoughtful item that truly means something to your loved one is key. A pass to your BFF’s favorite yoga class can be had for less than a bottle of good wine, and she’ll remember it long after the corpse pose.

From Social Q’s author Philip Galanes:
Make Your Gift an Experience
Two tickets to Lady Gaga or the New York Rangers. A passel of movie passes or pre-paid restaurant certificates. A series of tennis lessons or yoga classes or cooking seminars. These are the gifts my readers love. (And I do, too, in case you were wondering.)

They don’t take up any space. They enrich our lives. And they’re 30 times more fun than yet-another cable-knit sweater. Plus, if you play your cards right, those second tickets may have your name written all over them—not that you should expect them to.)


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