A living room with a christmas tree

A Mishmash of Christmas Ideas and Holiday Tips

As we face the crush of holiday prep, could you possibly use some help? Try these tips and ideas on for size—clever ways to do more while spending less.

Double up

When you cook, double your favorite meals and freeze the leftovers. Then, when you’re in a frenzy the few days before Christmas, you won’t have to fret about making dinner, too.

A living room with a christmas tree

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Electronic cards

You can save a lot of time and money when you send electronic Christmas ecards. There are lots of free sites—DaySpring.com and BlueMountain.com offer the best selections.

Shop from home

Shopping online can save a lot of time, frustration and gasoline. Finding free or reduced shipping makes online shopping even better. Dec. 14, 2019 is Free Shipping Day. Check FreeShipping.com for retailers who will be participating—and to grab hundreds of coupon codes, too.

READ: How to Shop with CASH at Amazon

Get cash back

If you’ll be shopping anyway, you might as well get some of your cash back. Rakuten is by far the easiest and most efficient way to do that. A Rakuten account is completely free, easy to set up. Then every time you shop online, make sure you have your Ebates account activated (it’s so easy—you’ll see once you have an account). And you can use your Rakuten account in-store, too!

If you’re curious why I’m such a Rakuten fan, a few weeks ago I got another Rakuten check in the mail—cash back for things I would have purchased anyway, including the rental car Harold and I used on our recent New England getaway. I didn’t expect it, but I’ll take it!

The hardest part about using Rakuten? Remembering to use it! Ha. However, they do make it pretty easy to add a Rakuten button on your computer’s toolbar or the Rakuten app for your mobile device. I believe I’ll stop forgetting, now that Rakuten is putting money back in my pocket.Perfect fit

Some people say giving money as a gift is tacky. It is not. Money always fits. It’s never the wrong color and it works in any store or bank account.

Unlike a Gift Card, the recipient can spend cash right to the very last penny. Sales of Hallmark greeting cards that are designed to hold cash have increased so dramatically in the past few years, they are now the company’s top seller—evidence that currency is still in vogue and quite acceptable.

Think consumables

Consumables are gifts that will be used up, not stashed in a closet for the next yard sale.

Example: Forget the Easy-Bake Oven, the pricey toy that promises to bake cookies using a single light bulb. Instead, bundle a few cookie cutters, a mini rolling pin and a box of sugar cookie mix together with a certificate for Cookie Lessons.

Magazine subscriptions, food, theater tickets, personal care items are all examples of consumables—items that are enjoyed while being used up.

Listen right here to Day 16 of our 40-Day Christmas Challenge … and if you’re behind, you can play catch up too! 


For the cook

Select a cookbook and choose a recipe from the book. Attach a card to the front that includes the recipe name and page number. Place the cookbook and dry ingredients for the recipe in a decorative basket.

READ:  Gift Baskets for the “Tremendous” Cooks on Your Gift List

Use your computer

Make a set of Thank-you notes or stationery, tie with a festive ribbon and place in an attractive tin for that one-of-a-kind gift. Don’t forget to include a colorful pen,  envelopes and perhaps even a supply of postage stamps.

Photos make great gifts

Whether printed traditionally or on your home computer, a well-chosen framed or mounted photo can be a terrific gift. Take family heirloom photos to a quick printer to be photocopied on a color machine, even if the original is black and white. The duplicate will be so close to the original you’ll have a difficult time deciphering.

Holiday flowers

Find amaryllis, paperwhites, poinsettias and English ivy this time of year at a nursery or home improvement center. Placed in an attractive decorative container, they make a great holiday gift.

Breakfast in a basket

A hardy holiday breakfast would really start the day off right. Give a package of specialty pancake mix (maybe you have your own recipe) and a bottle of fine maple syrup. Put them in a neat mixing bowl. Add other appropriate items.

Festive pillows

If you can sew a straight line you can make holiday-themed pillow covers for your throw pillows and bed pillows, too. With just a little effort you can add splashes of color and whimsy to any room. Use holiday theme fabric (now on sale in most fabric stores) and make closures with ties, buttons or hook and loop tape, so you can use these covers year after year.

Small tree

Instead of a huge tree this year, opt for a smaller more manageable one. Set it on a table to give the visual effect of a taller tree. It will cost half as much, you’ll decorate it in half the time, with half the decorations.

Wall art

Take down your pictures and wrap them as you would a gift, complete with ribbon and bow. Rehang. Grouping multiple pictures looks especially festive. You could do this throughout the house or just in the entry or living room.

Window art

Sponge stars or other seasonal shapes on your window with paint. Just add a teaspoon or so of liquid dish soap to acrylic craft paint. White and gold acrylic paint looks great. You will be able to wash it off with window cleaner. Use a non-scratching dish scrubber if you come across a stubborn spot.

Just wait

Instead of buying that pricey Christmas decorator item now, make a note of it and then be patient. Buy it right before or after Christmas when it will be 50% to 75% off. You’ll have it for next year.

What you have

Use what you already have to decorate your home. Example: Stack different glass bowls and dishes in a pyramid effect for a centerpiece, filling them with marbles or water and floating candles. Showcase your collections in holiday vignettes.

The Trifecta

Instead of trying to decorate every square inch of the house, focus on three simple things: a tree, your mantelpiece, and a wreath. Decorate them similarly.

Outdoors inside

Wherever you live, look to the natural world for a source of inexpensive decorations. Pile pine cones into bowls, thread dried apple slices into wreaths, string popcorn, pretzels or cranberries (or all three) to make stunning garlands. Wind twinkle lights into spray-painted tumbleweeds.

Look around for inspiration. Bring Mother Nature inside for the holidays. Her price is right!

First published: 11-18; Republished with updated info 11-30-19

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13 replies
  1. Linda Radosevich says:

    You know the popcorn tins that come out every Christmas with a variety of Christmas decor on the outside? When you’ve emptied the tin, put in a waste basket liner and use it in your guest bath as a Christmas decoration! Who else has a Christmas waste basket?!

  2. Kathy says:

    The photo idea is great but I would like to expand on it. Create a photo book with recent photos of your family and, if possible, add the name of each person in each photo. It makes a great gift for the great grandma who has dementia. Dementia patients love to have something to touch and look at. This helps with their cognition and is very inexpensive. And giving a new one each year is appreciated.

  3. Teresa says:

    For years now my husband and I have emailed our Christmas greeting. (We continue to send cards to older family and friends.) At the end of the email we advise which charity we have chosen to send an equal amount to the saved postage. We also explain what work the charity does, especially for those out of our city, whether it be in the U.S or Australia.

  4. Donna Bosink says:

    I am always drawn to the “Christmas” section of garage sales and thrift stores. I have a small Santa collection, a few nutcrackers, ornaments, some sparkly trees and reindeer – you get the idea. I only buy it if I really love it. And the price is always right! I have a great time rotating my small collections, creating centerpieces, etc. Bringing them out at Christmas is almost like opening a gift to myself because I’d forgotten what I bought during the summer.

  5. Pat Weiser says:

    Now that we are older, I would so love to downsize our (artificial) tree. However, everytime we travel, our go-to souvenir has been a Christmas ornament. We have dozens of them. If we used a smaller tree, they would just languish in the box. I so enjoy the memories they invoke when we pull them out.

    • Judi S says:

      I downsized to a 4 ft tree several years ago. I can get a lot of ornaments on there. Plus I also added a 2 ft tree which I call my memory tree. On there are ornaments the kids & grands made me, other special ones and photo ornaments with picture of my parents and in-laws who have passed on. I keep this in my bedroom. It’s cozy at night. You could also get an artificial wreath and tie on some special ornaments.

    • Don says:

      Ornaments don’t have to go on the tree. You can stack them on a tray or put them in clear bowls to display them as “sculptures” and centerpieces. You can glue them together, also. You can attach fishing line to the top, and hang them from door frames and ceilings, or from push pins in the wall. You can rotate them each year. You may even have enough to create decorating themes by color, or by the ornaments’ origination (where and who you got them from).

  6. Kay Jones says:

    Not free,but well worth the $14 a year. Check out Jacquie Lawson e cards. They have beautiful cards for all occasions and every year a wonderful advent calendar. I love the comments I get from the recipients of her cards. Check it out and see what you think.

    • Barb Ridge says:

      I’ve used those for several years now. I have a dear friend who has been battling some serious health issues, and whenever I think she can use a pick-me-up, I send one of the Jacquie Lawson cards. At $14/year, it’s quite a bargain.

  7. Betty Thomas says:

    I have a rustic planter on my front porch that I plant King Coleus in every Spring. After I pull the plant in the late summer I fill my planter with Pine Cones from my trees that I scent with cinammon oil. It is such a welcoming scent and the Pine Cones can be left natural, painted or sprinkled with glitter for a little more glam. Of course you can use any type of scent you love such as Nutmeg or Vanilla. The possibilities are endless. I get so many compliments in this simple welcome to my front door.

    • Deb Westmoreland says:

      Do you then leave it outside?? Just curious I live in Northern Illinois and didn’t know how the scent would work in the cold.

      Thank you…Deb

    • Luisa says:

      Betty, I love your idea. Here in Georgia on my heavily wooded lot, there are a lot of pine cones, lol. After reading this great post from Mary and your comment, I went outside and put pine cones in a rustic pot on a sort of rustic stand, all very dark green and black. My front porch area is tiny, but it fit beside the door. What kind of cinnamon oil do you use and where do you get it? Thank you


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