Frugal Friday: Festive Fun on a Budget

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This year, I’m feeling festive. Last year, my pain was too high to really engage with much christmas jollity but this year, the crisp weather is kinder than the damp dankness of last December.

As a result, I’ve been getting into the Christmas spirit. I don’t have much spare cash and am not planning on buying many gifts (I’m making them instead to save money). However, with the help of nature and crafting, I’ve still managed to get ready for festive fun.

I’ve included the time things take, as well as items required, in case time is as short for you as money. Almost everything I use is recycled or collected on nature walks.

Make Decorations

So far, I’ve made paper snowflakes (2 minutes per snowflake, using recycled gift wrap/scrap paper), two Christmas wreaths (1 hour each, including time to collect the branches) and a Christmas angel for the tree (2 pipecleaners, wool and fabric scraps, and no more than 20 minutes).

To make a christmas wreath, just stretch a coat hanger into a circle then tie branches and any other decorations (old baubles, dried orange slices, cinnamon sticks or even old small toys) to your base. It’s incredibly easy. Just make sure you do it on a cloth to avoid getting needles in the carpet.

I’m planning on making paper chains and perhaps a foliage table decoration or Christmas tableau. It depends on the nature finds that I can collect.

Consider Eco Gift Wrap Options

I plan to decoupage veggie boxes to create Christmas hampers (using old magazines and white glue. It is time consuming as you have to build up layers and let them dry, but looks lovely if you have a few hours to spare).

I also have gift bags I’ve saved, fabric for fabric-wrapping and sparkly net for wrapping small items and packaging home made toiletries.

The latter was the only expense, at £3 for four two foot or so square pieces. I use it for wrapping soap, making bath balm and making fairies/angels for the Christmas tree (see below). It makes home made presents look more luxurious and can be reused rather than thrown away.

Opt for an Eco Tree

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I love the smell of pine but can’t justify buying a tree. Hiring one is an option but too pricey for me. Instead, I bought a tiny tree for the table (7 inches high and £3) and decorated it with jewellery. I potted it on first, so it can keep on growing and be reused next year.

I also decorated my house plants with old decorations to provide a more (pleasantly) imposing festive presence.

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I have solar powered fairy lights that I charge in the window by day and turn on automatically when it gets dark. The one non-eco choice was a tiny set of battery powered fairy lights for my tiny tree (rechargeable batteries keep battery replacement costs down). I’ve had these for ages so didn’t have to buy them.

Candied Peel

A tiny tub often costs more than a bag of sugar and another of satsumas, which will make far more peel. You can also use leftover  citrus peel, reducing waste.

Making your own candied peel is easy, takes under an hour, and adds christmas flavour to mince pies, mulled wine and panetonne (or even muesli).

It also makes a great gift if you keep it chunky and dip it in dark chocolate. Better yet, cooking it makes the kitchen smell amazing.

Mulled Wine/Juice

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I also love the smell of mulled wine. While it’s not cheap, a good mulled wine doubles as a christmas air freshener, and way to make your home smell welcoming. It makes wine go further too, as you can add water and orange juice without ruining the flavour. You don’t need great wine as its flavour is masked by spice – just avoid anything too sweet.

Take a light hand with cloves as they can easily become too medicinal and overpowering. Cinnamon stick bundles can be used for flavour then reused as decorations, tied with dried orange slices, once they’ve lost their aroma.

I add a spoon of black treacle and use muscovado sugar if I can afford it: the caramel adds extra depth without being too sickly. A vanilla pod adds warmth and can also be reused if you wash it. Citrus slices help cut through sweetness. Err on the side of undersweetening: people can always add more sugar to taste but sickly mulled wine is vile.

Mulled apple juice or pear juice offer cheaper, non-alcoholic alternatives, with honey in place of treacle. Elderberry cordial or port is also delicious mulled (and almost free if you forage for it, though you’re likely to be too late for this year unless you live somewhere warm).

Hot Toddies

A packet of frozen crushed ginger is great for an instant warming winter drink. Put one in a mug, add boiling water, add lemon to taste (bottled is cheapest and easy when you feel ill). Add honey to sweeten (bargain honey is fine). Brandy and whisky turn this into a warm winter cocktail – great when welcoming guests in from the cold. Orange juice is nice in this too.

Getting creative has helped cut costs hugely, without feeling I’m missing out on festive fun. Next year, I aim to collect sweet chestnuts when they’re in season to save money on roast chestnuts too. Spending time making festive treats is a great way to get into the holiday spirit

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