10 Ways to Decorate Your Christmas Tree for Under $30


When I moved into my first "grown-up" apartment after college (many moons ago, now), I wanted to do everything just right — including the holidays. But between travel expenses and a growing gift list, my holiday tree-trimming budget was tight.

Without years' worth of accumulated ornaments, I had to get creative and keep my spending in check. Here's how I did it — and here are 10 ideas to decorate your own Christmas tree for under $30.

1. Take a Walk in the Woods

Potential ornaments are all around us — even outside. Pine cones are classic holiday decorating fare. Even better, they're sustainable, biodegradable, and entirely free.

Add dimension to dried pine cones with flocking. Just dip the tips of the pinecone scales in glue and brush with white, silver, or gold flocking powder. Fresh out of flocking supplies? Leftover household or craft paint (applied very lightly) works too. When done, attach a twine or satin loop to the broadest end and hang!

2. Tie One On

Simple bows all in the same color add drama and elegance to a tree. Use them as ornaments in their own right or to fill in sparse areas between traditional ornaments. At this very moment, my local dollar store is selling a package of 18 small red "velvet-like" bows for $1.00.

3. Get Thrifty

You really can find anything at thrift stores — including Christmas tree ornaments. Oddly enough, many ornaments that find their way into secondhand stores are handmade (donated during estate liquidations or as part of a family's downsizing project, I suspect). Give these little one-of-a-kind treasures new life by making them part of your annual holiday tree. Most secondhand ornaments can be picked up for $. 25 to $. 50 apiece.

4. Pick Up Sticks

Have a yard full of leaves and twigs? Me too. Arrange five 3"– 4" long sticks into a rustic star shape, securing each of the five points with thin wire or twine. Use wire or twine to also reinforce the five areas where two sticks intersect/overlap. Nestle completed ornaments into the boughs of your tree or feature a large one as a tree-topper.

5. Frame It

Recycle tiny photo frames by turning them into unique ornaments. Insert vintage holiday scenes cut from old greeting cards or trim family snapshots down to size. Then, hot glue a loop of nylon ribbon on the back for easy hanging.

6. Fold It

Mastering basic origami forms like stars, hearts, cranes — and even Christmas trees — doesn't take much time, and it's an activity kids will gladly try with you. As I write this, there's a 1000-sheet set of origami paper for sale on eBay for $9.73 (shipping included). That's a lot of ornaments!

Nestle finished creations in the boughs of your tree, but remember, fresh-cut trees can dry out quickly and pose a fire hazard. Use extra caution when combining paper ornaments with natural branches and hot holiday lights.

7. Uncap It

Don't toss out those bottle caps. Instead, arrange three into a snowman shape (concave sides up) and connect by hot gluing a single strand of ribbon the back. Paint the concave sides white then add frosty facial details with permanent marker or paint.

8. Unlock It

Though they're quickly getting snatched up by jewelry designers and collectors, vintage skeleton keys can be still be found at garage and estate sales for a dollar or two apiece. Add a unique look to your tree by spray painting the keys a glossy white and hanging with a bright red satin ribbon.

9. Break Out of the Mold

Small vintage aluminum baking molds can be had for less than $. 50 in most thrift stores. Collect a dozen or so in classic heart, leaf, and star shapes. Turn them into quaint tree ornaments by simply hot-gluing a loop of ribbon to the back of each.

10. Throw a Party

Why not crowdsource your tree decorating duties? Host a potluck style ornament party where guests exchange ornaments with one another. Keep the vibe lighthearted by encouraging homemade, secondhand, and comical contributions.

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