Friday, December 3, 2010

Find budget-friendly holiday items in your own backyard

As I prepared to host Thanksgiving dinner for 20 guests this year, I contemplated buying a decorative porcelain turkey for my table. At $20, it wouldn’t have broken the bank, but it was an expense I hadn’t planned for. Plus, I would have had to find a place to store the colorful gobbler for the 11 months of the year that he wouldn’t be gracing my table.

So instead of bringing home the turkey, I sought inspiration in the grocery store and bought a half-pound of unshelled mixed nuts, a few pears, and as many red apples, which cost me less than $10 (and that have the added benefit of being consumable). Then I “shopped” my own home for items I could use to complete my display. I used brown craft paper to make a table runner and filled three glass hurricanes with my grocery store goodies. As a finishing touch, I wound gold ribbon through the hurricanes and scattered harvest-colored paper leaves down the center of the table.

Inspired by the idea of using what I have on hand, I plan to use creative, budget-friendly ways to decorate for the Christmas season, too. That effort started this weekend with some evergreen boughs leftover from a cut tree. I plan to use the boughs to make a wreath and a garland for the picket fence in front of my house. I’ll also make a garland from pinecones collected from our yard and repurpose a few unworn (and itchy) wool sweaters into handmade ornaments and stockings for our children.

The idea of using what you have on hand can be applied to budget-friendly gift giving, as well. With a little time and ingenuity, you can transform everyday items into special gifts. Using a book about drawing that I picked up in the discard box at my library, for instance, I plan to frame pictures of my 3-year-old son’s favorite cars.

I may even try drawing him a Volkswagen Beetle myself. I’ll also transfer one of my daughter’s drawings onto linen I have in my stash and embroider it to capture a piece of art she’s created. For my other son, who is so smitten with baseball that he draws and cuts out paper bats and balls, I could cover a pillow with a baseball jersey. Or, I might trace one of his drawings onto a favorite, outgrown shirt and sew it into a small stuffed toy.

As you decorate your home this year or look for gifts to delight your recipients, start by surveying what’s around you. For example, branches collected from your yard and tucked into a small vase make a perfect foil for hanging handmade or miniature ornaments; the end result could become a centerpiece or serve as a hostess gift. Store-bought paperwhite bulbs planted in an old wooden bowl or a thrifted pot—embellished with Spanish moss and a satin ribbon—make an elegant gift or mantle display.

Food items made with inexpensive ingredients and presented in creative ways also make memorable gifts. With a few simple ingredients, you can make hot fudge sauce and present it to a friend or a child’s teacher in a Mason jar with a handmade label. Or you can tuck loose tea and a jar of honey in a pretty vintage tin you’ve been saving.

D├ęcor and gifts that start with items in my home and yard give me a special sense of satisfaction. They require more imagination than money, and the results are uniquely personal and original. Look around your own home or yard this holiday season – you never know what wonderful ideas you’ll come up with.

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