"Use natural products," says Peggy Johnson, owner of Redesign + More. "Right here in our backyard, we take pine cones and get creative." One idea: Johnson likes to combine pine and holly boughs with pine cones and artificial garland, then spray with aerosol "snow" to give her creation a unified look. When it's finished, no one will know that the display gracing your table or mantel didn't cost big bucks. Even if you're a city slicker, you can hang on to the boughs you lop off your tree to fit it into the stand, then use them to decorate another part of your house, like the mantel."Instead of buying centerpieces at Pottery Barn or Frontgate, I create my own," says Johnson. Don't be afraid to comb through your attic or even your china cabinet to unearth unused clear glass containers. These can be filled with holly berries, inexpensive round plastic ornaments or pine cones to create unique, low-cost centerpieces.
Professional party planners and decorators can't get enough of candles. They're cheap, don't require any DIY crafting skills and blend with any home's existing decor. Get a big bag of tealights, and set them out on a heatproof platter or tray for an effortless centerpiece. A small mirror or silver platter reflects the light, doubling the impact instantly. Even mason or jelly jars can be dressed up with a ribbon around the neck and a votive candle in the bottom. (Add a little water to the bottom to make clean up easier.)
"Purchasing decorative ribbons from a craft store and inexpensive Christmas lights can make a house look very festive for very little money," advises WalletPop's Christina M. Fierro. But don't limit yourself to conventional craft stores. Hit up places that sell to design professionals and web-only retailers -- they often have lower overhead and pass the savings on to you. Sites like Save-on-crafts.com have a wealth of decorating goodies all in one place. M&J Trimming is a favorite source of stylists and fashion magazine editors looking for the perfect flourish to finish an outfit. The wealth of ribbons, rhinestones and the like that you'll find there can just as easily dress up a home for the holidays.
Howard Givner, executive director of the Event Leadership Institute, offers this suggestion if you want to upgrade your flowers beyond the traditional poinsettia display (or if you have pets you're worried would try to nibble on the toxic leaves): "If you want to have more of an impact, pick one kind of flower rather than having a whole arrangement," he recommends. Stuck with the poinsettias because your church or your kid's school is selling them as a fundraiser? Give them some bling with spray glitter.
Givner also suggests this simple technique. "You can have one type of flower, and put it in a few different-sized vases, and then you have an architectural look that's got some depth to it. Because it's monochromatic, it's something people can replicate at home. If you do it well, it can look professionally designed," he promises. Another look decorating pros love is to take a single, big bloom, snip off nearly the entire stem, and rest the blossom in a small glass bowl - you can even use a teacup -- for maximum impact. Don't forget that live plants will weather a long stretch of parties, entertaining and display much better than cut flowers.
"You can find decorations at every garage and estate sale," points out WalletPop's Jennie Phipps. "No reason to buy new." And while garage sale season has come to a close in many parts of the country, there's always eBay. The auction site is practically overflowing with holiday paraphernalia. Just one note: Be careful if you're buying anything electrical, such as lights. You don't want to end up with an item that's burned out, corroded or has been recalled.
When it comes to your yard, you don't need an inflatable Santa or an army of animatronic reindeer to make it look festive. In fact, you don't need to spend very much at all, says Johnson. White, indoor-outdoor lights on shrubs flanking the doorway or front walk are classic. If you want those bushes to have some pop in the daytime, too, pick up an inexpensive roll of ribbon from a craft store and tie a scattering of small bows around the branches, she suggests. For an alternate look, pick up a container of super-cheap plastic balls and decorate shrubbery with those.
Want to read more about how to keep your holiday spending debt-free? Check out the articles in our debt-free holiday series about holiday meals and parties that don't break the bank.