How to Decorate for the Holidays on a Budget

My first Christmas as a functioning adult — meaning I had a job and my own shoebox-sized apartment — was going to be on the sparse side. Between rent and student loan payments, my entry-level salary didn’t leave much left over for gifts, let alone decorations for my home.

But rather than resigning myself to a bland holiday, I got creative and did some thrifty digging. I spent a lot of time perusing Craigslist’s “free” section. When I saw a listing for a Christmas item pop up, I would zoom out and pick it up from the curb. I was able to scour a pre-lit Christmas tree (slightly beaten up, but it looked fine with decorations), old ornaments, and even stockings.

That first Christmas wasn’t fancy or Pinterest-worthy, but I still was able to get into the holiday spirit and decorate without spending a dime.

If you’re short on cash, holiday decor is probably low on your list of priorities. But not decorating can make you feel like you’re missing out. Thankfully, you can use these five strategies to decorate for the holidays without going broke:

1. Ask friends and family

You might feel awkward asking friends and family for help, but chances are, some of your loved ones may be looking to get rid of old but usable decorations to clear some space for new purchases. Or they might have collected more Christmas decorations over the years and only use a portion of them.

If you’re not picky about colors, you could pick up ornaments, garlands, wreaths, and more. Reusing items from friends and family can also make those decorations more meaningful, since they came from people you love.

2. Look for free stuff

As I found out, people throw out perfectly usable decorations every year. They might upgrade to a new tree or toss out cheap ornaments from the big-box stores to make room for higher-end versions. Many people don’t want to spend the time reselling them, so they’ll just give them away.

You can find free decorations by looking at sites like Craigslist or Freecycle. On Craigslist, look for the free section under the “For Sale” category. Use search terms like “Christmas,” “holiday,” or “decorations” to find items you can use. Most Craigslist items are placed on the curb and it’s first come, first serve, so it’s a good idea to check back often and pick up items you like quickly (and then give them a good clean!).

Freecycle allows you to search for items available for free, just like Craigslist. Even better, you can post a listing requesting items you need. If you’re specifically looking for a used Christmas tree, you can post a request and other Freecycle users will reach out to you if they have what you need.

3. Shop secondhand

Secondhand stores and thrift shops can be holiday decor gold mines. Some people donate their old Christmas items to places like Goodwill and Salvation Army.

It’s common to find artificial trees, ornaments, lights, or even the perfect ugly Christmas sweater for your upcoming parties. You’ll pay just a fraction of what the item cost new; it’s not uncommon to score dozens of ornaments for just $5.

4. Do-it-yourself projects

Thanks to YouTube and Pinterest, you can find easy tutorials to make some decorations out of materials you already own. Often, you can reuse household items laying around and add some glue and glitter to create festive decor.

For example, this site has 20 easy decorations you can make for under $5. And this video shows how to turn old hand towels and t-shirts into a beautiful Christmas garland. Some tutorials can be complicated, but many are easy to follow and don’t require much in the way of supplies.

5. Check out dollar stores

Dollar stores can be a treasure trove of holiday decorations. At places like Dollar Tree, you can get stockings, wreaths, garlands, and holiday knickknacks for a buck. You can also get bags of ribbons and wrapping paper for a fraction of what you’d pay elsewhere.

If you’re crafty, you can also use dollar store items to create gorgeous decorations that look far more expensive than they are. Dollar Tree even has a blog where they showcase easy projects you can do to make beautiful arrangements using $1 items.

The holidays can be tough when money is tight. But with a little extra work and some careful searching, you can fill your home with beautiful decorations to brighten your day and get you in the holiday spirit.