Have a Jolly, Thrifty Christmas

Piggy bank with Santa Claus hat and money on white background Piggy bank with Santa Claus hat and money on white background

If you haven’t quite finished shopping for this year’s holidays and have three truly tough names on your list that you absolutely have to get something for, you may also be thinking THERE’S GOT TO BE A BETTER WAY.

We’ve rounded up some imaginative ideas for you and created a simple checklist for next year. Consider tucking it in your wallet, “magneting” it to your fridge, or copying onto your smart phone. 

Shop the sales.
REALTOR ® Byrd Abbott, an associate broker with Roy Wheeler Realty Co., confides that she has nearly three dozen people on her Christmas shopping list. “By the end of February I’m already keeping my eyes open for sales,” she declares. She explains that she keeps a list in her head to work on all year, then around Thanksgiving she goes through it to see where she’s lacking. “And then,” she adds, “there are stocking stuffers to think about for six to eight stockings.”

Be prepared.
Whenever you’re with someone on your list and you hear a mention of “What I’d really love to have is (fill in the blank)” don’t trust your memory.  Write it down! It could be a Fourth-of-July wish for an American-flag motif scarf, a hankering for extra pairs of SmartWool socks, or a manicure (get a gift certificate). You think you’ll never forget, but when it’s time to shop it can be hard to recall.

Be alert for that special gift.
Whether you’re shopping a sale at your favorite store, browsing in a shop while on vacation, or wandering through an antique mall, keep in mind the people on your holiday list. Does your mother-in-law collect cookie cutters? Does your sister adore silly earrings? Does your child’s music teacher love special pots for her African violets?

Recycle things.
“Every year I save gift boxes, pretty ribbons, bows, and beautiful wrapping paper,” says Abbott. “Often paper can be trimmed and used for a smaller package the next time.”

If you have youngsters in your life, recruit them to make holiday cards.  Provide construction paper, glue sticks, scissors, and colored felt pens plus a supply of ribbons, old holiday cards, or do-dads from a thrift shop. These are guaranteed to bring a much bigger smile from the recipient than a store-bought card.

Be a DIY Santa.
“In this very commercial era, when we’re all so busy, I think people really appreciate a home-made gift,” observes REALTOR ® Sabina Martin, Associate Broker with Charlottesville’s Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate III. And, she points out, it’s usually less expensive than buying something.

“I have a bunch of close friends, colleagues, and neighbors around town that I like to give something to,” she says, “and I always make something myself.”  One year, for example, she collected clear glass jars and planted paperwhite  narcissus bulbs on rocks. “I put a pretty red bow around the rim, and they were blooming just after I delivered them.” (Generally these narcissus bulbs take 3-6 weeks to bloom. Find instructions online.)

Another year Martin enlisted her children to help her make chocolate truffles and chocolate-dipped dried fruit, then layered them on wax paper in pretty boxes and tins she had saved all year.

We hope we’re not giving away Martin’s secret for next year when we say she told us, “I have a plan to make scented bath oils to give which are so easy. You can google a recipe, but I like to use an oil base that’s good for your skin.  Put 8 ounces of almond, coconut, or olive oil in a pretty bottle, then add 8-10 drops of an essential oil—available at health food stores—in a scent that’s wonderful like lavender, jasmine, rose, or peppermint. Shake it, then add a pretty ribbon to the bottle.” 

Googling “thrifty Christmas ideas” will take you to many places such as Pinterest with literally hundreds of inspirations. A quick visit garnered ideas for making “stained glass” candle jars (using colored tissue paper), molding quick candles, creating clever holiday décor from Popsicle sticks, and a variety of festive paper crafts.

*Plan ahead for next year’s decorating.
Plan ahead for next year by keeping the metal frame from this year’s wreaths. Settle on a special theme such as small children’s toys, or statuettes of birds, trains or fire engines. Then keep an eye out when you’re shopping in thrift shops or yard sales. Set up a plastic bin to store your found items until it’s time to create your wreaths and garlands next year.

Again, browsing the Internet yields many clever ideas ranging from quick and cute to pretty darn classy. Example: Fill clear glass wine glasses with colored water then float little candles in each one. An alternative: Place a festive item such as a snowman figurine or tiny Christmas tree under an inverted wine glass and secure a fat candle to the bottom of the glass which is now, of course, the top. Look for wine glasses and other pretty glass containers in Charlottesville thrift shops for 50 cents or a dollar each.

Planning ahead for 2017 will make the holidays more relaxed and joyful.


When Marilyn Pribus and her husband moved to Charlottesville nine years ago, they were caught flat-footed when neighbors suddenly appeared at the door with home-baked holiday treats and little gifts. This year she is prepared with cuttings from her Christmas cactus, well established in holiday mugs.