Holiday Decorating on a Budget
December 20, 2017 |

Growing up, I distinctly remember these family traditions my family had around the holidays. The fact that we grew up in a predominantly Hindu household didn’t serve as an impediment when it came to celebrating Christmas; we still had our quaint plastic Christmas tree lit up, there was a present exchange with the neighbours and my mom would always bake her amazing pound cake for us to munch on as we played with our new toys.

Over the years, we lost a lot of the friends we made in different cities, and our parties reduced to small family gatherings. My grandad would buy a Christmas plum cake - or as we know it, Christmas cake - and I’d nibble at the bits without dried fruit on the my mother’s insistence that I finish my serving. We’d watch the newly released movies on the cable network, and then go out for a drive around the city to see all the lights. Christmas may not have been a huge holiday in India, but the important part about the holidays was always spending time with family.

Things changed a little as I moved out on my own to live in Canada. When you’re living in a city like Montreal, it’s hard not to want to decorate your home for the holidays - particularly because the season is a rough one with all the snow and freezing temperatures. And so last year, with not more than $75 to buy a Christmas tree, ornaments and lights, I set about the difficult task of decorating my house.

This year we set a budget of $100 to decorate the entire house, and while that seems like a lot of money, believe me, some things are just so expensive at the store! I couldn’t find unique ornaments for under $3 and the ones that I did find looked tacky and cheap. I’m happy to admit though, that I successfully managed to keep well within the budget - heck, I managed to save quite a bit of money!

This post is divided roughly into two parts - Setting a budget for decor, decorating on a budget:

Decor Budget

The first step in holiday decorating is limiting yourself to a strict budget. Now, this is extremely difficult, especially if you've eyed a few decor items at the stores, or if you've checked out a few decor pins on Pinterest you want to try out at home. Wanting something to add to your decor is always going to be a challenge, but you can tackle this in a few ways:

  1. Set aside a portion of your overall budget for the holiday products you know you'll buy. Make sure you factor in taxes, delivery charges and other additional costs.
  2. Set aside a percentage of your holiday budget for things you know you'll want to buy later on - not things you've already added to your shopping cart.
  3. Max out the current budget on your holiday decor, but find sales to save up on a little extra for those irresistible buys.
  4. The only other way to really push through your desire to go overboard with decorating is to remember that there will always be another holiday to plan out with these decor ideas, or another Christmas where it may be more fitting with the theme.

Christmas Budgeting by Saraswathi

Once you've set up your budget and you've accounted for the temptations at the stores:

a. Decide on which rooms you want to decorate:

Not everyone decorates all their rooms during the holidays, and that's absolutely fine - choosing to decorate each one of your rooms is an expensive affair. Start off with your living room, consider your dining area and then move on to the less frequented areas of your dwelling.

b. Pick a theme for each room:

Decide on the colours and textures you'd like to use for each room. I decided on decorating my Christmas tree based a wintery, rustic glam theme, but I wanted to retain the classy Christmas reds, greens and golden for the dining area and living room. Based on this information, I could move on to the next steps.

c. Set up focal points for each room you plan on decorating:

Assuming that you'll be decorating your living room, your major focal point will be the Christmas tree. Similarly, your dining table decor will be the focal point in your dining area.

d. Divide your budget based on your focal points:

My Christmas tree took around %60 of my overall decor budget, and the remaining 40% was divided between the rest of the living room decor, dining table centrepiece and kitchen decor.

e. Keep aside anywhere between 0-50% of your budget for accessory decorations:

If you want to go beyond just setting up focal points, consider setting aside a little bit of your budget for accessory decorations like garlands, candles, ornaments, vases or wreaths. Your budget percent for this step would depend on how much you'll need to spend on your tree and other focal points.

f. List requirements in each division:

I like to list my overall requirements as needs and wants. This way, if I have some money to spare, I can focus on spending a little on products on my "wants" list, and not feel one bit guilty about overspending. See the section below for more details on how exactly I went about deciding on the particulars for my decorating list.

g. Do some quick research on approximate pricing for each item:

I could potentially shift this point all the way to the top and then base my budget off of actual prices in stores, but I realized that I would only add more items on my list and then have a growing budget. Instead, I recommend that you continuously evaluate the need for certain pieces if they are a little too expensive. Again, more on that down below!

h. Scout locations with deals for your products and get shopping!

How I decorated my house based on my budget

A. Christas Tree

Of all the decorating, the least expensive (and most time consuming) bit for me was decorating the Christmas tree. I’ve got a separate post on how I got my ornaments to cost not more than $30 in total, and still look super original!

5 of 65 ornaments on this tree were store bought this year, including the topper

My Christmas tree stands proudly at 5ft tall, and comes with its very own storage bag wherein you can place separate the parts of the tree with leaves that fold flat against the trunk. You can get your own at an Ikea near you! The only downside to our tree is wide gaps between the branches that makes it look a little dull and minimal for my taste. To make the tree look a little fuller, I bought garlands from the dollar store, snipped it into smaller “branches” and twisted them on the trunk. The fact that they're not a part of the original tree is hardly noticeable, especially with all the lights and ornaments we’ve loaded on this tree - and they don’t cost more than $3!

If you look closely enough, you'll noticed a slight difference in the texture and colour of the branch I'm holding compared to the one diagonally above my hand

The tree usually takes up the most real estate in terms of holiday decorating, but the percentage you set aside for the tree depends on how much you need to buy. If you have a pre-lit tree, or if you already have your lights from the previous years, you will only need to add ornaments to your budget. Basically, prepare to set aside anywhere between 30-75% of your budget for the tree- including your ornaments, accessories and trims

Dining table

Next, you’ll want to think about decorating your table. Now this year, I’ll be hosting a small Christmas lunch with a “Friendstizer” party to follow. Get it? Friends-itizer (appetizer)? Yeah, it sounds pretty lame, I know.

Moving on…

I’ve seen a lot of people decorating their tables with huge centrepieces and too many table settings - and the worst part is, it just look a tad much. Spare your table for what really matters - food - and settle for a single centrepiece, with tea-light candles that run through the centre of the table. A great example for this would be Kerryanne’s project at Shabby Art Boutique. I am still uncertain whether this project was completed using paint or craft paper on her website, but I used craft paper and painstakingly cut out a town scene using a craft knife. I still like the end result, but I think Kerryanne’s way is the way to go if you’ve got an artist’s hand. Plus she’s got a great template for this project that you can use. You can also google some silhouettes of Christmas towns and get inspired! Ensure your centrepiece doesn’t cover faces; the holidays need to be all about sharing stories at the dinner table, and the last thing you want is to reach over awkwardly to make eye contact!

I've kept my dining table centrepiece fairly simple, but I decided to use this 16 year old dining table linen to add some interest in the dining area.

A couple pieces I plan on using this year are these gorgeous cottage mason jars that I decorated with some fake snow, a miniature fir tree, and some pinecones I picked up from the dollar store. I used these images for inspiration, but since I found painted pinecones at the dollarstore, my task was fairly easy to complete. If you already have a bag of fake snow lying around, this project will hardly set you back $5-$7. For my dining table, I just used old ornaments, a garland and tree trimmings along with battery operated string lights along the centre of the table.

Once you’ve sorted out the table and the tree, you’re pretty much good to go. But I like taking things to new levels, so that's not all for this post

Diy Projects

I just used some classic greens,reds and golds for this Christmas garland - no fireplace, so the next best spot is in front of my TV, and my Google Home still works just fine!

A Christmas garland is a wonderful way to use up some of those old Christmas ornaments you don’t plan on using this year. Simply grab a string - I used yarn - and weave your way through some ornaments, making sure to push down the ornaments so they bunch up. If you don’t mind spending around $5-$7, pick up some extra ornaments from the dollar store - they work well for this project. This garland looks extra fancy because of the different textures used here - shiny, semi-matte and glittery. I picked up the bows with twist ties from the dollar store and attached them to the garland once I finished weaving the ornaments on the yarn.

For the kitchen, I decided to use string lights on the window panes, since I don't have much counter space to spare. I also decided to add the star garland in the last minute. I made these stars unintentionally (you can read the gist of the story here), so I had plenty to work with. All you need to do is string some salt dough ornaments on individual thread before weaving them one by one on a long yarn. This project is very simple, and the lengths and distance between the stars are completely arbitrary. I find that by stringing your ornaments individually first makes them hang more naturally and makes the string less taut.

I just used some classic greens,reds and golds for this Christmas garland - no fireplace, so the next best spot is in front of my TV, and my Google Home still works just fine!

You could also use a few extra ornaments to brighten up an old vase. Just grab some string lights (I used these battery operated lights from the dollar store) and a few ornaments (mix up the sizes, or stick to one size) and alternatively fill the vase with your string lights and ornaments till you reach the brim.

Getting your house to smell like Christmas

I’ve been using Air Wick’s Life Scents Air Freshners out of necessity. Turns out my apartment doesnt have the best ventilation system, and I often get the awful smells my neighbours are trying to get rid off with their oven hoods. I started off with the life scents - Mom’s Baking Desserts, and then moved onto Summer Delights and boy oh boy, does my house smell good. There’s something about having a house that smells like vanilla and fresh flowers, or cinnamon. It makes you feel like there’s no place like home. Air Wick’s Life Scents comes as a two pack for $8 and each bottle lasts you around 2 months on the lowest setting. Believe me, low is pretty strong, especially with the Summer Delights scent! You can check Air Wick's Air Freshners out on Amazon

You can also use oil warmers or scented candles to create a warm atmosphere. If you want to go the traditional route, bake some all spice cookies or gingerbread cookies and your house will smell like a bakery! Not a baker? Not to worry! Let a pot of water simmer on the stove - add some cinnamon sticks, cloves, orange peels and other spices to the pot.WARNING: Don't leave the pot unattended!

Here you can see the star garland hung up against the window, as well as the lights on either side of the window pane, and finally the vase with ornaments and lights in the lefthand corner.

And finally, my last two suggestions for making your home a little more cozy well within a tight budget? Lights! Always opt for some battery operated string lights, as they won’t shoot up your electricity bills. There are a bunch of lights to choose from, but my favourite for the living room is warm white, and white for the kitchen window. Alternatively, opt for some candles from the dollar store - they’ll work wonderfully with some mason jars and your new diy projects!

What are some of the ways you’ve saved this holiday season?

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