Christmas doesn't have to be expensive to be memorable. "My greatest Christmas memories are of things that were homemade for pennies -- both gifts and decorations," says Bruce Littlefield, lifestyle expert and author of "Merry Christmas, America!"
And just because you may be a little low on cash this holiday season, it doesn't mean you can't make the holidays special. So before you turn into a big green Grinch, check out Littlefield's tips on decorating for Christmas for less money, but not less style.
--Adorn the tree with vintage family photos. Glue photos onto stiff cardboard; add frames with glitter to give them a little sparkle; and punch holes in the cardboard so you can hang them with ribbon. Or print photos on vellum, and insert them into clear glass ornaments (available at most dollar stores).
--Go all-natural. Go on an expedition to gather nuts, pine cones, leaves and other interesting ornaments of nature. Place them on sheets of plastic, and spray paint them silver. Your tree will shine with simplistic beauty.
--Themes make a tree fun and easy. Showcase your Barbie dolls, Matchbox cars or other collectibles by affixing them to the branches. Or create a theme of your own. Last year, I crafted peace symbols out of silver pipe cleaners. It was simple and thoughtfully gorgeous, and the entire "peace" tree was done for less than $5.
--Wrap your packages in brown craft paper or burlap. Glue wallpaper scraps and old Christmas cards to the outside for added punch.
--Unique ribbons and bows say "thoughtful." Tie a pretty scarf around Mom's present. Use a nice tie for Dad's gift and trendy shoelaces for the kids.
--For an extra-special wrapping, top the present with another little gift on the outside. However cheap, a little topper of something meaningful to the recipient goes a long way. Add a tape measure for Dad, a whisk for Mom or a dollar-store toy for a kid.
--The easiest yard decoration is also the answer to this: "Where to store your tomato cages?" Turn tomato cages upside down (so that the biggest circle is on the ground). Attach the end of a strand of lights to the spikes at the top, and wrap the strand around the cage to the bottom. Plug in with an extension cord. A grouping of these forms a beautifully lit forest.
--Using brown lunch bags, create luminaries to light your porch or walk. On one side of the bag, cut out the shape of a star, a tree or a random square. Glue colored tissue paper to the inside, covering the shape. Put a cup of sand in the bottom of the bag and a tea light. Light when guests are coming for an elegant welcome.
--Make a giant wreath for the outside of your house using a hula hoop as the base. Take the hoop and wrap it with cheap ribbon, tinsel and lights. Hang it on the side of your house or on the porch.
--Sugar cookies and gingerbread men make for great decorations, too. These can be hung on the tree or used as nice centerpieces.
--Chinese-food cartons filled with candy or cookies and decorated with pretty ribbon can be stacked in the center of a table as great centerpieces and little gifts for your guests to take away.
--Stringed popcorn, cranberries and nuts are elegant on the tree, on the mantel or elsewhere around the house. And after Christmas, these make nice presents for the hungry wildlife outside.
And lastly, Littlefield says don't forget to travel around and look at how other people have decorated their homes and yards. "It's free and creates a fun, cherished memory of a lifetime."
SIDEBAR: SHARON'S SUPER-SIMPLE TIPS ON HOLIDAY DECORATING
--Stack colorful ornaments in glass vases or cut-crystal bowls for easy flowerless centerpieces.
--Collect clear glass decanters in all different sizes, and fill them with holiday candies, nuts and fruits.
--Dress up your sofa pillows as "presents" with decorative velvet scarves tied around them.
--Perk up your "fake" door wreaths by adding fresh greenery gathered from your yard.
--Bring your smaller concrete garden ornaments and planters indoors. Fill them with fresh greens or seasonal fruits, and put them on tables.
--Decorate chandeliers with lightweight garlands sprinkled with holiday ornaments.