You've read the headlines. You've seen your 401(k) statement. You may not be in such a holly jolly mood. Still, holidays happen. Instead of just downsizing your celebrations, with a little creativity you can come up with plenty of ways to be festive without breaking the bank. Here's a start:

Recycled wrap: Grocery sacks or the comics can be dressed for the holidays, but for a more unexpected wrapup, use photos from old calendars, posters, excess elementary school art or enlarged digital photos printed on inexpensive typing paper. You also can make your own wrapping paper from a roll of plain kraft paper and paint it freehand, use premade stamps or make your own stamps from potatoes. (If you don't remember making potato prints in grade school, go to or

Skip the wrap: Instead of wrapping gifts, turn gift-giving into a scavenger hunt. Hide the presents around the house and place clues to their whereabouts in the stockings. If you want to get really clever, make a crossword puzzle and have the correct answers spell out the location of the presents.

An old-time tree: Make paper chains from newspapers or construction paper or string popcorn and cranberries. Hang pine cones, gingerbread cookies or slices of dried oranges as natural ornaments. If you want to get funky, deck your tree with trinkets, jewelry, even neckties. Have a collection of sea shells, napkin rings or tea cups? With a little bit of wire and creativity, they could make for a distinctive tree.

Skip the tree: Decorate a wreath instead. Buy an inexpensive wreath, then use seedpods or dried flowerheads from your garden to dress it up. (Make them dazzle with a touch of silver or gold spray paint.) One of your healthy houseplants could also stand in for o tannenbaum. Tie a few red ribbons on your Norfolk pine, ficus or dracena, then wrap the pot in a festive fabric and arrange ornaments on top of the soil.

Great giveaway: Has your sister-in-law admired the candlesticks you got at a flea market years ago? Wrap them up with a personal note. Passing on a few prized possessions -- a much-loved book (with a personalized inscription), a favorite recipe (with a funny anecdote) or an everyday heirloom -- can make for a heartfelt gift.

Skip the presents: Take the time to write a holiday love letter to your spouse, sweetheart, parent or child. (And, no, texting doesn't count.) Or make a coupon for services to be rendered: two hours of baby-sitting, a sewing lesson, a 15-minute shoulder rub. Little ones could offer mom or dad coupons for hugs, goodnight kisses or good behavior.

Share your tips

If you come from a thrifty family, you probably have all sorts of cost-conscious traditions. Please send us your tips for saving money at the holidays. We'll publish a handful of the best ideas every week from now until Dec. 24.

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