smart spending

12 ways to create holiday magic for less than $15

Holiday decorating, megasales, plays and recitals, concerts, parties and charitable events -- it's easy to let the chaos of the holiday season snowball your spirit of peace and frugality.

It seems as if a new theory of motion gets set: The faster you move, the more places you go; the more places you go, the more you spend. Christmas morning catches you breathless and relieved that the season is nearly over. You sink exhausted into the sofa to unwind, refusing to face what you spent this season. That's for next month.

Whoa, Dasher and Dancer! You can keep the holiday magic in your home and schedule without breaking Santa's bank and zapping the reindeers' strength. Just concentrate on "season" -- as in, you don't have to get everything done in one day for one day.

Go ahead, grab your calendar and pen. Write in those "must-do" events, then sit back and read.

1. First gifts of the season

Trimming the tree together is already a cherished family tradition in most homes. After the lights and garland is strung, everyone eagerly unwraps their favorite ornaments, homemade and purchased, to hang on the tree.

This year, when you are replacing or adding to your ornament collection, make it a special occasion. Buy or make an ornament especially for each family member and present them as the first gifts of the season -- all decked out in gift wrap and bows.

2. Party in a box

Winter brings snowstorms, and snowstorms bring families together in confined spaces, aka -- cabin fever. So along with your other snowstorm preparations, create a Christmas party in a box. Wrap up a large box with a lid in seasonal paper, add a bow, and fill it full with craft supplies to make an assortment of Christmas decorations. Think coloring books, construction paper, stamps, stickers, glitter, glue and scissors. Consider clipping craft ideas from magazines or store catalogs or printing online ideas for things they can make independently.

The Oriental Trading Co. is the perfect online stop for buying inexpensive holiday craft kits just right for kids. Do you remember cutting and pasting red and green construction paper strips into paper chains? The Oriental Trading Co. even sells pre-cut and gummed paper strips ready to form paper chains for only $4.99.

3. Secret Santas on the loose

Santas are not just on the street corners with this activity. Everyone is a Santa and works on cheerful giving and thoughtfulness. Family names go into a drawing with each person picking a name -- and keeping it a secret. During the month, everyone is a secret Santa, doing kind things for the other without getting caught.

On Christmas morning, the secret Santas will be revealed.


Or, if you have a large family and plan on getting together for the holidays, organize a gift exchange. Parents save money because they only have to purchase one gift, which should fall within a pre-determined price range. After hours of swapping, everyone will have a gift to take home.

4. Special thank-you notes

For some families, putting up Christmas lights is a tradition that begins on Thanksgiving weekend. It's labor-intensive, but the brilliant displays lighting up the neighborhood skies are worth the effort.


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