If you're like most people, the bulk of your holiday budget is spent on food and gifts. Decorating can take a back seat, but it doesn't have to.
"Anyone can create beautiful holiday decorations on a budget," says Kathy Wilson, owner of TheBudgetDecorator.com.
Natural materials, abundant in Southern Oregon, are wonderful for holiday decorating, agree Medford designers Kate Crow and Cheryl Von Tress.
"Cut branches, like cedar, magnolia and fir, can last a week or two without any water," says Crow. "The mantle is a natural place for these types of arrangements. Add pinecones, acorns and fruits, such as persimmons, red pears and pomegranates, for contrasting texture and color."
Pinecones and acorns can be left as-is or sprayed with gold, silver or glitter paint, says Von Tress.
Candles are another easy decorating tool, the designers say.
"A glass or cut-crystal bowl becomes an instant centerpiece with water and floating candles or tea lights," says Von Tress.
For even more sparkle, Crow suggests setting candle arrangements on top of a mirror.
When it comes to Christmas trees, Wilson says "synthetic trees are a better value over the long term; most can last for 10 years or more." She admits, however, that the fresh scent of pine means Christmas to many people.
"If you decide to buy a fresh tree, make a day of it and go into your local tree farms and cut your own. It's a priceless family memory," she explains.
For lots of impact, "wrap tree branches with the lights rather than placing them all at the outer edge. The tree will look fuller, and your ornaments will sparkle more," Von Tress says.
The local designers suggest using everyday items in new ways.
"Put a Christmas-themed family picture in every frame throughout the house," says Crow. "Tuck a holiday print behind each everyday picture," she says. "Switching them seasonally is easy."
On Wilson's tree, "baby booties, favorite toy cars and even my grandmother's antique cookie cutters" are standard. "I love ornaments made from family memories," she says.
Von Tress, who loves creating themed trees, recommends "wooden utensils and vintage flatware hung with ribbon and tied to tree branches. All of these can be spray-painted to any palette you choose. Add puffs of decorative napkins gathered in the middle with craft wire and tie them to the tree — just don't let them touch the lights."
Creating your own decorations is easy and fun, Crow says.
"Get a length of plaid or tartan fabric from the craft store," she says, "and use it as a tree skirt. You don't even have to finish the edges; just drape it artfully around the base of the tree." Spray-paint a bare branch white, silver or gold, anchor it in a vase with sand or pebbles and use ribbon or tiny metallic clothespins to attach Christmas cards to the miniature "tree."
"One year, I purchased large frosted balls and painted the names of family members onto them," remembers Von Tress. She also likes to hang framed color copies of children's artwork. "Or remove the brass hanger and pour thinned acrylic paint into the inside of a glass ball." This creates an interesting swirled effect.
Another quick way to decorate is to wrap empty boxes and stack them on tables, says Crow. Von Tress even likes to wrap a giant bow around the front door.
If you'd rather buy your decorations than make them, check discount stores and even yard sales. And plan ahead. The best deals can be found "after the holidays for next year," says Wilson.