Christmas decorating on a budget

By the time you've finished buying and wrapping presents, preparing the mountains of festive food, stocking up on drinks and posting all those cards, Christmas can end up being an expensive few days. And on top of all that, there's the house to decorate.

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But if you're festive decorations are looking a tad tired and worn, don't rush out and splash out on expensive new baubles and miles of tinsel - decorating on a budget is easier than you might think.

Before you start, have a look at those decorations you do have - baubles that have lost their string can be put into a big glass bowl to add shine to any room while hanging all those Christmas cards on a ribbon makes a cheerful alternative to streamers.

Even old toys can add a touch of old world festive charm - an old teddy bear amongst some wrapped empty boxes or place a few old wooden toys tied with ribbons on bookshelves.

Of course, nature provides us with plenty of inspiration and the greenery and fruits of the winter season give any home that special seasonal atmosphere.

So before you find yourself buying a pricey wreath for the front door, head outside and you'll be surprised what you can make for free.

It doesn't come much more festive than holly and ivy and this year looks like it'll provide a bumper crop of red berries. Clearly, you can't go around clipping holly from the neighbour's bush without permission, but if you are surrounded by countryside there is almost certainly some nearby.

Coupled with some trailing ivy (collected a few days before Christmas) and draped over mantelpieces or sat atop picture and mirror frames, you'll be humming that famous carol in no time.

Similarly if you have fir trees either in the garden or in a nearby park, the smaller fronds can be easily manipulated into a table centrepiece, or woven together to surround a simple white candle. Investing in some fake snow spray, a coloured ribbon or a touch of gold or silver will add a little extra Christmasy touch.

Even bundles of twigs or small branches spray painted with gold and tied with a ribbon can add decoration.

Other excellent outdoor items are pinecones and acorns. Filling a wicker basket with dried out pinecones, perhaps with a few cones tumbling out makes an attractive addition to the hearth but even bowls and glasses can be filled with these natural winter goodies.

And obviously, you'll be needing some mistletoe... just in case.

Simplicity in your Xmas décor can look wonderful and candles can make a cheap but elegant festive feature. A single white candle amidst some greenery, or even sat amidst a bowl of cranberries looks beautiful on a side table or on a mantelpiece. Just be careful to keep anything flammable well away from the flame, and of course, never to leave unattended when lit.

Meanwhile, there are plenty of food items that make wonderful Christmas decorations. Baking gingerbread men or cookies will not only get the children involved but make excellent tree decorations when tied with a ribbon so invest in some shaped cookie cutters to add variation.

Oranges not only add colour but a gorgeous Christmas fragrance to the house - simply cut slices to a 1cm thickness and dry them in the oven on a very low temperature. Once dry they can be tied with ribbon to the tree.

Another great way to keep older kids entertained is to get them threading popcorn or nutshells onto a string to be hung around the house and easy-to-make sweets, such as peppermint creams, wrapped in colourful cellophane will also add some colour to the décor (provided they last long enough to see Christmas Day!).

So if you are struggling to find the cash for Christmas, save yourself some much-needed money by trying these decorating ideas - you may never buy tinsel again!