Holiday planning on a budget

by Julie Snyder

Holiday planningTough economic times may have you questioning how you can pull off your holiday traditions with an already tight budget.

Rather than abandon those memory makers, give them a few tweaks. You'll find them "richer" and more joy-filled than ever!

Sift through our suggestions below, selecting and adapting those to suit your family.

We've covered decorating, holiday parties, gatherings and activities!

Holiday planning on a budget

Decorating -- inside and out

Don't spend hundreds sprucing up your home for the holidays. Instead, look to nature for inspiration. Take a family outing and gather:

✓ Bows of spruce, cedar or other evergreens
✓ Pine cones in all shapes and sizes
✓ Colorful holly or other winter berries

Tie these to form a garland strand or layer as a beautiful piece for the mantle, a centerpiece for the table, tucked strategically over a bathroom mirror, wrapped around the mailbox or woven into a wreath for the front door.

Those pine cones look perfect "as is" or you can spray paint them however you wish. Popular options are red, gold, silver, or white. Add a bit of sparkle by brushing on a light coating of glue and sprinkling with glitter. Combine the holly or winter berries with your other finds or allow them to stand alone for a grand touch.

Assemble a variety of nuts from your path -- walnuts, acorns, chestnuts, or pecans. Place these in a clear bowl with a raised candle centerpiece, glued onto the evergreens or simply scattered on a table as if awaiting a hungry squirrel to come scoop them up at any given moment.

Tall winter grasses can make a stunning statement when tied with a bright ribbon and placed in a vase. Even a small log can even become a part of the décor.

Hang individually wrapped candy canes from the dollar store on the tree to enhance other decorations; or give one to each of you at the end of the day for a tasty treat. You deserve it.

Have a party -- at home

While your family tradition may include a holiday get-together at a restaurant, why not reverse the trend and bring this festivity back home?

Invite everyone to contribute through a potluck approach so no one person feels overly burdened. Family members could take turns with hosting. If no one has a home large enough to house everyone, check the local church, rec or community center rates to rent a room for the afternoon and early evening.

Instead of a full course meal, you could also host a holiday cookie exchange. Each family bakes two dozen to share and take home.

Activities

This year, instead of going to see the latest holiday concert, opt to go caroling together or host a caroling time at home. Invite friends, family, and even strangers to join in your efforts. Add some hot cocoa with those yummy marshmallows and I'll come!

Want a worthwhile, "feel good" feeling? Pick a charity, push up your sleeves, and work together to make a difference. Look for "Room at the Inn" or other shelters to help the homeless come out of the cold. Visit soup kitchens or food or clothing banks and lend some extra hands. Offer your assistance at a crisis pregnancy shelter. See if a Habitat for Humanity project could use your help! Need even more ideas? Look up "charitable obligations" for your city and dive in!

Need another great activity? Host a holiday, classic movie night. Make popcorn and that hot cocoa again. Tuck in and relive those with your family! Game night could be another substitute.

Need gifts? What about hosting a craft party? Select a few simple crafts and then divvy up the list of items needed to lessen the impact on your wallet. Assembling these together can be both fun and practical as they pull double-duty!

Your take-away from all of this? You can have a blast this holiday season – all on a shoestring budget but with ideas that leave you feeling like a millionaire!

What are you doing this year to save money during the holidays?

Photo courtesy of iStockphoto.