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Decorating the Christmas tree on a budget

You can still have a beautiful Christmas tree and leftover money to purchase the presents under it. Gardening expert P. Allen Smith shares several ornaments that can be made at home with things you already have.
/ Source: TODAY

In this economy everyone is looking to save money, even at Christmas, but you can still have a beautiful Christmas tree and leftover money to purchase the presents to place under it. Several of the ornaments can be made at home with things you already have — just get the kids ready some festive arts ’n’ crafts projects!

Getting the kids involved

Paper chain
Cut up construction paper, old Christmas cards or even used ribbon and tape together links in a chain.

String popcorn
Here’s an old-time favorite: Pop up a bowl of popcorn, thread a needle with fishing line and string the kernels on the fishing line to make an easy and inexpensive garland for your tree. To add some color, intersperse the popcorn with whole cranberries. After the holidays, hang the garland outdoors for the birds.

Tree topper
Crown your tree with this fun topper: Just ball up aluminum foil and weave silver ribbon in and out of the foil.

Paper snow cone cups
Recycle those paper sacks and make snow cone cups. Add a ball of aluminum to each to make it look like a snow cone and attach it to the tree with a ribbon. Reuse the cones next Christmas, or fill them with candy and use them as party favors at your child’s next birthday party.

Decorating your tree — on all budgets

$75 tree theme: Silver, white and hydrangea green Another way to get more “Kringle” for less jingle is by using elegant homemade ornaments that add charm to purchased decorations:

Tree topper and stars
Recycle those cardboard shirt boxes and use them to make cut-out stars or snowflakes, then brighten with glued-on glitter.

Twist two silver pipe cleaners together for this simple decoration.

Dried hydrangea blooms
Dried flowers or dried seed heads from any garden plant can be spray-painted and tucked inside the tree as colorful accents.

$150 tree theme: Hot pink, purple and chartreuse Mix and match for an appealing result. Consider a combination of purchased and homemade holiday decorations:

Salt dough ornaments
Simple ingredients from your kitchen turn flour, salt and water into adorable ornaments. Use a cookie cutter or make them into any shape you want, then bake, cool and paint them. Stored in plastic containers, you can reuse them next year, and even repaint them if you want to change the color theme. 

When I was growing up our family Christmas tree was dressed in mainly homemade decorations, but I loved the way it looked, knowing it was the only one of its kind. I think my mother knew that the best way to occupy little hands and minds in the weeks leading up to Christmas was with a project. There were the usual items, such as kindergarten pictures glued to glitter-covered cardboard, construction-paper stars and my favorite, salt dough ornaments. Ingredients:

  • 4 cups of flour
  • 1 cup of salt
  • 1 1/2 cups of hot water
  • Rolling pin
  • Cookie cutters or cardboard templates
  • Ribbon or raffia
  • Clear acrylic varnish
  • Acrylic paints (optional)
  • Small brushes
  • Toothpick, pencil or straw for creating hole in top of ornament

Directions:Combine the water and salt in a bowl. Stir to dissolve some of the salt. Add the flour. Knead to form a dough. Roll the dough out to about ¼-inch thickness on a lightly floured surface. Cut out the shapes using cookie cutters or by tracing around a cardboard template with a knife. Pierce a hole in the top for threading with ribbon later. Place the ornaments on an ungreased cookie sheet and bake in a preheated 300-degree F oven until dry. This will take about 50 minutes to an hour. The thicker the ornament, the longer it will take. Remove the ornaments from the oven and cool. Once cool they can be painted if desired. Varnish the ornament to help keep out moisture so the piece will last longer. Thread a piece of ribbon through the hole and hang! Makes about 70 3-inch ornaments.

Mittens with candy canes
If your children have outgrown their mittens or one is lost, use them as holiday ornaments on the tree. You can even purchase inexpensive mittens in different colors. Fill them with Christmas candy or put wrapped stocking stuffers inside as a fun way to decorate your tree. When the holiday is over, consider donating the new mittens to a shelter for the homeless or others in need.

P. Allen Smith is the CEO of Hortus Ltd., a media production company responsible for two nationally syndicated half-hour television programs, numerous magazine columns, a popular Web site, a best-selling series of garden-design-lifestyle books, lecture series and news reports that air on stations around the country as well as on The Weather Channel.