smart spending

Frugal gift-wrapping secrets from holiday pros

Top it off

Kegans suggests taking colorful paper cupcake liners and turning them into a pouf or flower to stand in for a bow. (Directions on how to do this can be found on the Internet.) To mimic candy canes, snip red-and-white diner straws and affix them to the top of the gift, she says. Or, for a personalized monogram, use a stencil and patterned scrapbooking paper or leftover gift wrap.

"We love shopping the dollar aisle and party and office supply stores for inexpensive, nonholiday items that can be made into package toppers," she says.

Nature is also full of pretty and free gift trimmings, says Souder. Leaves, tree twigs and pine cones are all great toppers. Sprinkle white glitter on them for a snowy look. Or keep clippings from your Christmas tree or snip your poinsettia for additional accents.

When tying your packages tight, skip spending $3 to $5 on three yards of ribbon. Instead, stock up on cheaper alternatives like yarn or baker's twine, Souder says. Wrap them around gifts four or five times for emphasis. Then tie in a bow at the top or use extra yarn to make pompoms. Mann also steals some plastic wrap from the kitchen and ties it tightly around a package and then into a big bow.

Signing off

If you want to add more pizazz to your wrapping and topper, add a unique gift tag for an extra punch of holiday spirit.

Mann likes to spray old cereal boxes with glitter paint -- she recommends Krylon Glitter Blast -- and cut the cardboard into shapes, such as stars or ornaments, to make gift tags. Use cookie cutters to trace the outline of shapes.

"Glitter spray paint is your friend," Mann says. "It gives good coverage, and the glitter doesn't flake off. So you won't find glitter in your house a year later."

Another one of Mann's tricks is to shrink clear plastic from salad bar or deli containers into shapes to use as gift tags. Look for No. 6 plastic containers, cut into shapes that are three times bigger than what you want, decorate with permanent markers and bake on foil for five minutes at 325 F. The tags can double as Christmas ornaments the next year.

Claro likes to get her kids involved with tagging. One of their best ideas is to make a gift tag out of letters clipped from magazines. Not only is it fun and personal, but it's educational, too, because younger children can learn their ABCs and spelling.

"It's really cool when you have all those ransom-note gift tags next to each other under the tree," Claro says. "It's playful."

The key to thrifty wrapping is choosing one or two design elements and staying consistent throughout, says Souder. Maybe this year is focused on a metallic theme or a kitschy red-and-white look or even a modern feel.

"If you have a theme," Souder says, "it makes frugal appear purposeful rather than cheap."

What creative ways do you use to save on gift-wrapping expenses? Email us!

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