It’s no secret that the holidays are expensive. In fact, between all the travel, gifts and food, the majority of Americans blow an entire paycheck on the “most wonderful time of the year.” But while most people are prepared to spend an arm and a leg on presents, there is one area that is often overlooked in a holiday budget: decorations.
The average consumer plans to spend $58 this year on Christmas decorations alone, according to the National Retail Federation. That’s a lot of money when you have other holiday expenses to cover. But savvy shoppers who follow these Christmas decor hacks can trim those costs significantly.
Wait Until After Christmas
It might be tempting to buy the latest, greatest holiday decorations early in the season, but some of the best deals happen after Christmas. Many stores put holiday items on sale Dec. 26, and as the days go on, the discounts often get even better. Big-box stores and chain-based drugstores, especially, need the floor space for incoming springtime home and garden items, so they’re willing to part with their winter decorations for far less. It’s up to you to take advantage of this seasonal shift.
Shop Black Friday and Cyber Monday Deals
Though the term “Black Friday” originally had a negative connotation — the Philadelphia Police Department coined it to describe the terrible traffic jams and chaos on the sidewalks occurring the day after Thanksgiving — it’s evolved into something quite positive. In fact, it’s become some people’s favorite unofficial holiday. This is because massive deals can be found on everything from holiday decorations to apparel, electronics and home decor.
To find the best bargains, subscribe to your favorite retailer’s email lists prior to the event or scour the paper for Black Friday ads so you can plan your shopping strategy. You’d be surprised at the deals you can find.
For those who don’t want to battle the crowds at the mall, Cyber Monday is the online shopping equivalent. It’s become increasingly popular since its inception, as consumers can shop from the privacy and comfort of their own homes. According to data from Adobe, 2017 saw a record $6.59 billion spent by consumers on Cyber Monday. This year, consumers are expected to spend $7.25 billion, according to the site Best Black Friday.
Explore Price Matching
If a holiday decor piece you like — such as an artificial tree — costs too much at your favorite store, price matching might be one of the easiest ways to save on holiday shopping. Many well-known stores such as Walmart, Target and Bed Bath & Beyond will price-match a competitor’s everyday price or sale price, saving you the hassle of extra stops on your shopping trip. Walmart even matches prices found at online retail sites like Amazon.
It’s important to note that Walmart will only match an online retailer’s price if both Walmart.com and the online seller have the item in stock and if the item is sold by an actual competitive retailer, not a third-party seller. The other catch is that price matching typically applies to a specific brand or model of a product, and it might be difficult to find the same brand in two unrelated stores. Walmart and other stores also limit customers to one of each item per day — in other words, you probably can’t pick up 10 strands of outdoor lights via price matching at one time. And, you might want to keep in mind that the store won’t do price matching from Thanksgiving through Cyber Monday.
All that said, price matching can offer significant savings when used on expensive items, such as holiday trees or outdoor light displays — especially when you can avoid shipping charges or driving great distances by picking up the items locally.
Swap Out Incandescent Lights for LEDs
Old-fashioned incandescent light bulbs use more electricity than newer LED lights, a fact that is particularly pertinent around Christmas. The savings can be significant if you switch from large C-9 incandescent light strands to their LED counterparts.
In fact, the Department of Energy estimates that a 6-foot Christmas tree lit 12 hours per day for 40 days with old-fashioned C-9 light strands uses, on average, $10 worth of electricity. A tree lit with C-9 LED light strands for the same amount of time uses only 27 cents worth of electricity.
Incandescent mini-bulbs cost $2.74 to operate, according to the same Department of Energy report, but running LED mini-bulbs for the same time costs just 82 cents. The figures are based on 50 C-9 bulbs or 200 mini lights per tree.
As a bonus, LED bulbs are safer than their incandescent counterparts because they do not get as hot when lit. Also, LED strands can be plugged into one another in the same wall outlet without overloading the circuit, since they draw relatively little power.
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Remember That Coupons Count
You might not find coupons specifically for seasonal decorations, but stores — such as chains like Michaels and Bed Bath & Beyond — offer weekly coupons ranging from 10 percent to 80 percent off any one item. The coupons are offered in print form on sales circulars and digitally via the company’s website.
Always read the fine print on weekly coupons. Some coupons are good even on sale items, though larger discounts are often valid only on non-sale items. Michaels also frequently offers coupons good for specific items, such as wreath forms, ribbons or picture frames. These deals are excellent ways to save on supplies for DIY Christmas decorations.
Coupons.com savings expert Jeanette Pavini recommends checking manufacturer and retail store websites to find additional holiday coupon deals. You should also check out their social media pages and visit Coupons.com for the latest offers.
“Look for coupons on Coupons.com for the stores you want and their competitors,” Pavini said. “You can always bring in a competitor’s ad to match the coupon offer.”
Buy in Bulk
Buying in bulk doesn’t just apply to your cereal and paper towels — it can be great for holiday items such as ornaments. If you’re trying to cover your Christmas tree, for example, consider buying a 50- or 100-count ornament set instead of collecting one specialty ornament at a time. Depending on the size of your tree, you might have some left over to display around the house. It’s not uncommon to find up to 100-piece sets on sites like Amazon or eBay or stores such as Michaels for around $15-20 bucks.
If you really want individual pieces to adorn your tree, ask for them as gifts. Your family and friends will have no shortage to choose from when they do their holiday shopping — ’tis the season — and you won’t have to spend a dime.
Learn to Make Your Own
Making your own Christmas decorations offers you the opportunity not only to save money but also to flex your creative muscles. If you aren’t sure what to make or where to begin, sign up for a free decoration-making workshop at your favorite local craft store. Michaels, for instance, hosts free classes on the Saturdays leading up to Christmas. Learn how to make festive ornaments, mini trees and other holiday decorations.
To participate in the Michaels classes, you might need to purchase the base of craft, such as a clear ornament or a wreath form. However, the store takes care of the add-on materials and everything else needed to complete the project.
Use Deal-Sharing Sites
Deal-sharing sites, such as Slickdeals.com and Savings.com, aggregate discounts, coupons and deals in real time, displaying offers for both online and brick-and-mortar stores. These sites come in especially handy in the weeks leading up to Christmas, as they can help you determine where to find the best deals on lights and artificial trees without searching through loads of flyers or store websites.
To find deals, enter a search term such as “Christmas” or “Christmas decorations” into the search box on either site. Click on any individual deal that shows up. Some results will be limited-time sale offers, though others will be coupon codes to use at checkout on a store’s website. Turning to deal-sharing sites is just one of many online shopping hacks that will save you money.
Pavini said you could even earn money as you are hunting for holiday decor deals. “If you find a code elsewhere that Coupons.com doesn’t have, submit to their Savings Guarantee, and they’ll pay you $25,” she said.
Go Thrift Shopping
Many of the best deals are not found in traditional big-box stores. Thrift stores often offer an abundance of holiday decorations and crafting supplies — especially if you shop months before the Christmas season. Consignment shops that carry home decor can also be good sources of Christmas items. Some independent resale shops will even offer cash or store credit when you trade in unwanted items, resulting in more money to spend on seasonal decor.
And a bonus? Popular thrift store chains like Goodwill and Savers also donate a portion of their proceeds to neighborhood nonprofits so you’re actually supporting the local community with your purchase. That’s a win-win.
Bring the Outdoors In
For super frugal decorations that aren’t short on charm, search outside your home. Bundles of wood, pine cones and even stones can transform your house into an Alpine retreat. You can get creative with them, too, with a little help from your craft supplies.
“A big trend is rustic decor,” Pavini said. “There’s a lot you can do by bringing the outside in. Find some pine cones or fallen branches, tie a ribbon [on] or spray paint [it] a festive color, and it’s a simple, on-trend decoration at a low cost.”
Shop the Dollar Store
Though you might be wary of the dollar store — the quality can be hit or miss — don’t turn up your nose. As with thrift shops, bargain stores often have hidden gems around the holidays and in the days afterward. They also tend to be a one-stop shop. You can snag your sugar cookie mix, wrapping paper, stemware for the holiday party and some great stocking stuffers, as well as decorations like ornaments, garlands, candles and more.
Also, you might be surprised to find that many big-name bargain stores offer in-store ads for discounts on your already budget-friendly purchase. In Dollar Tree’s case, you can sign up for the store’s newsletter for special deals and in-store events, or take things a step further and join their Value Seekers Club for decorating inspiration, exclusive contests and more.
Ready to Start? How to Shop at the Dollar Store
Craigslist is another treasure trove for finding local goods and services. The modern-day version of the classifieds, you can scour ads for everything from jobs to housing. Do a site-wide search for “holiday decorations” or “Christmas ornaments” to see what people are giving away or selling. A popular source for those moving or remodeling, cover all your bases by checking the free, barter and for sale sections, as you never know what people will part with cheaply.
Use Neighborhood Listing Apps
There are dozens of apps available to share, swap and sell stuff to people in your own neighborhood. The benefit of selling locally is alleviating the hefty shipping fees for buying and selling items online. A few suggested community marketplaces are Carousell, letgo, SocialSell, OfferUp and Nextdoor. All allow you to quickly snap a few photos of your items, create a listing and securely message between buyers and sellers.
“You can use sources like Nextdoor to find holiday decor that’s slightly used or even brand new from your neighbors who have over-purchased or are moving,” said Pavini.
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Properly Store Your Decorations for Reuse
Properly storing your Christmas lights and ornaments is both an art and a science. When the holiday is over, the lazy will simply toss everything into a box in the garage, but this risks breaking ornaments and bulbs and leaving light strands hopelessly tangled in knots. By taking a few extra minutes at the end of the season to properly store your Christmas cheer, you not only save yourself time next year, but also minimize the risk of needing to buy new decorations.
If you don’t want to invest in an ornament storage container, you can make one with a variety of items you find around the house. Good Housekeeping suggests using an egg carton or plastic apple containers to separate breakable ornaments. The goal is to find something to use as dividers so the glass ornaments don’t chip when they accidentally knock into each other.
There are a number of hacks to store Christmas lights, as well. Martha Stewart suggests wrapping light strands around flat cardboard or paper towel rolls. Cut slits in the cardboard and secure with zip ties. You can also recycle items like Pringles cans for storage and reuse tissue paper or bubble wrap for safekeeping.
Switch to an Artificial Tree
According to the American Christmas Tree Association’s annual survey conducted by Nielsen, nearly 95 million U.S. households displayed a Christmas tree last year. Of those households, 81 percent opted for an artificial tree over a real one. That’s a significant majority. But, why?
Artificial trees might cost more than a real tree up front, but in the long run, they are far more cost-effective. This is because faux trees are generally made out of green polyvinyl chloride, which is the same material used for hard-wearing PVC piping in houses, and can, therefore, last a significantly long time. As long as you store it properly and handle with care, a fake tree will hold up for many seasons and end up paying for itself.
Plus, there is the convenience factor. Real trees are a hassle to water, they leave behind a ring of pine needles and you have to haul them out to the curb (or worse, the dump) after each season. Because live trees wind up in landfills, by making the switch to artificial, you’re not only saving money and energy — you’re doing your part to save the planet.
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Plan an Ornament Swap
An ornament exchange is a fun way to keep your decor looking fresh without spending a dime. Invite your best friends and colleagues over and ask each to bring a wrapped ornament up to a specific dollar value. Upon arrival, each guest is randomly assigned a number. That number is the order in which they will choose their gift, white elephant style. When it’s their turn, they can either pick one of the wrapped presents or steal one that has already been chosen.
Raid the Pantry
Here’s an unconventional material for you: food. Think outside the box by going into the pantry for your holiday decor.
A vase filled with Red Delicious apples and limes is a gorgeous holiday table centerpiece (and can be turned into Sangria later). Similarly, red and green candies are cheap. Set them out in a bowl or tin and instantly make the room feel more festive.
Have some bags of popcorn? Well, good news, you now have a Christmas decoration. Make an old-time popcorn garland for your tree with just popped popcorn, a needle and thread. You can even alternate with cranberries if you want to add a little color.
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It might sound a little unorthodox, but borrowing decorations from a friend or family member can mean major savings. You just have to be a little strategic about it. If you know your friend is traveling for the holidays, for instance, and you plan to host a holiday feast during that period, ask if they have a tub of decorations stored away that you might dig into. Not only does this let you refresh your home’s holiday look, it means you don’t have to worry about storing the decorations afterward — just return them to your friend.
Dorethia Kelly, finance coach behind The Money Chat and Smart Money Squad member, said, “My family and I share decorations. Depending on who’s hosting what, the ‘family decoration tote’ full of goodies makes its rounds.”
More of Kelly’s Budget Party Tips: How I Host a Holiday Party Without Going Broke
Refresh Your Decorations
There’s something to be said for working with what you’ve got. Mega-successful Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos once said, “One of the only ways to get out of a tight box is to invent your way out,” and the same goes for tight budgets.
If you already have some tried-and-true decorations, but you’re thinking about buying more, first consider if there are ways to reinvent the ones you have. This could mean tying a tartan ribbon around a plain red candle, putting a coat of glittery red paint on a fading ceramic Santa or simply rearranging things in a way you’ve never thought about before. Finding unexpected ways to display your items can provide a whole new look.
With a little creativity, the same guests who attend your annual Christmas party year after year will be asking you where you got all the cute new stuff.
Take an Inventory
If you’re trying to limit your spending, one of the worst things you can do is buy something you already own. You don’t want to spring for the fancy holiday centerpiece at the store, only to come home later, pull your decorations out of storage and realize you have something similar. This is why it’s important to take stock of what you own. Make a list if it helps.
By combing through your personal inventory, you’ll not only avoid doubling up on decorations but identify the areas you might need more. It’s better to go into the store knowing that you need, say, one string of lights, instead of winging it and coming home with the whole holiday aisle.
Click through to read about 10 ways retailers trick you into spending more during the holidays.
More on Holiday Savings
- 30 Gift-Giving Ideas for Tight Budgets
- Tipping Etiquette You Don’t Know About — But Should — This Holiday
- Christmas Conundrum Cracked: The Gifts Americans Actually Want
- Watch: How to Get Free Stuff
Lauren Monitz contributed to the reporting of this article.
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