smart spending

12 ways to create holiday magic for less than $15

Take the time to thank the families that put up lights. Engage your children to create handmade holiday postcards from blank index cards or use a computer printing program to generate seasonal postcards. Whenever you're out enjoying the lights and decorations in your community, take along a pen and paper to note the addresses of your favorite displays. When you get home, add a personal "thank you" for the beautiful lights to the postcards, address and pop them in the mail.

5. Throw a film festival

Plump up the pillows and snuggle in to watch a holiday movie together. Whether you choose a favorite from your childhood, a classic or a new program, just make sure you serve some movie-theater treats. You might even string together a traditional popcorn garland for the tree at the same time. For a festive twist, add in cranberries (or red pompoms) for color.

You could rent your favorite movie from a video store and pay around $4.95 per rental. While you're looking, check to see if the store has the same movie for sale -- if it's an old movie, you may find a pre-viewed copy available to buy for the same price as renting. Then you don't have to waste gas and potential late fees driving the movie back, and you have something to watch on future holidays. Or, simply switch on the television, which offers plenty of holiday fare as Christmas approaches. You can check out what's showing tonight, or schedule in a movie night for this coming week.

6. Sticky, gooey edible fun

What is more inviting than the sugary aroma of gingerbread? Playing with it, of course! This year create a delectable gingerbread house as a clan, then arrange your masterpiece as a table centerpiece.

For a recipe from scratch, go to Before you begin, gather an array of decorating supplies, such as candy canes, candies, nonpareils, wafers and pretzels. Yummy -- nibbling is half the fun!

Try creating a new building design every year. Just in case there's no Michelangelo in the bunch to come up with a new floor plan, check out Paige Gilchrist's book "Making Great Gingerbread Houses: Delicious Designs from Cabins to Castles, from Lighthouses to Tree Houses."

If you'd love to get your hands sticky but just lack time, don't sweat it. The cookie and baking gurus at Wilton Industries have pre-baked and assembled kits. These $10 kits can be purchased online.

7. Bountiful basket of reading

Gather all your favorite holiday books together in a basket tucked into a living room nook. In the evening, light candles, turn on Christmas tree lights and -- read. It's so simple.

You don't even need to buy new books, you can head over to the library to round out your selection. Try the classic, "A Christmas Carol," by Charles Dickens.


Or, go online to, where you'll find Christmas stories, music, legends and traditions. Have your kids ever wondered why we hang up stockings, decorate trees, place poinsettias by the hearth or invite Santa to come down our chimneys? Print out these legends, roll them up like scrolls tied with red or green ribbon, and place them in your basket.


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