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How to Spend Wisely on Holiday Decor

By Rich Beattie

  • PUBLISHED December 04
  • |

Lights, wreaths, tinsel—it’s just not the holidays without them. But, as your neighbor down the street proves, it’s easy to go overboard. And that can get expensive.  

Start with the Christmas tree. Some 25–30 million live trees were sold in the U.S. last year, to the tune of $75 each, on average. At the same time, Americans bought another 21 million fake trees last year, at $107 a pop. And since no one wants a bare tree—or a plain front door or an empty front lawn, for that matter—the average American is planning to spend $58 on holiday decorations this year. Then tack on the electricity costs to power all those colored lights and animated reindeer—an additional $12–$58, according to some estimates.  

But spending less this holiday season doesn’t require forgoing holiday decorations; while you may not outdo your neighbor’s display, you can still cut costs and stay festive. Here’s how.  

Take Inventory

Brand-new decorations may be tempting, but they may not be necessary. See what you can reuse or repurpose (don’t forget to check the corners of the attic), and what you really need to buy. If your holiday décor feels tired, freshen it up—a gold ribbon on an ornament or a red cover on a sofa pillow can be just the thing to make them feel more festive.  

Time It Right

Many retailers begin to mark down outdoor decorations in early November, indoor ones in the middle of the month, and tree trimmings at the end of the month. You can expect to find the best bargains if you shop the sales around Thanksgiving. For trees, you may find deals on weekdays (when traffic is slow) or the week before Christmas (if you can wait that long).  

Shop Smart

To supplement your more expensive decor, browse your local thrift shops for lightly used decorations, or check out online auction sites for discount decorations. And for party goods or small items you may need a lot of, buy in bulk.  

Get Crafty

Basic craft supplies may not get you a life-size snow globe, but they’re perfect for smaller decorations to hang around the home. Bring some creativity to it, and just about anything works. For tree ornaments, spray paint pine cones you find in your yard, make a chain of paper, or tie some cinnamon sticks together with a ribbon. Instead of an expensive wreath for the front door, hang some ornaments and bells at the end of a colorful ribbon. Keep any boughs you cut from the Christmas tree to decorate the mantel. And don’t throw out those ribbon scraps or that leftover wrapping paper—make them into something festive.  

Cut Power Costs

Skipping the holiday light show could cut electricity costs, but there are ways to have festive lights without being a Grinch. Use decorative LED lights that are Energy Star-certified: They cost about the same as incandescent bulbs, but use only a quarter of the power. Other benefits: They last longer, shine brighter and are more eco-friendly. They’re also safer, since they don’t get as hot. Then set timers so the lights are only on when you can enjoy them—from when it gets dark to when you go to bed. And here’s another trick: Use tinsel and shiny ornaments to help reflect the lights you do use—you’ll get more bang for the buck.

Rich Beattie is a former Executive Digital Editor of Travel + Leisure, and has written for outlets such as The New York Times, Popular Science, New York Magazine, and Ski.

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