Leah Ingram spent a grand total of $0 for this year's holiday decorations. OK, she shelled out $5 for a box of clementines, but that counts as part of her grocery bill.
"My daughter will eat those after Christmas," Ingram says, referring to a hurricane glass filled with the clementines, to which she added pinecones found during one of said daughter's soccer games.
The wreath on the door of their New Hope home was a centerpiece from Ingram's wedding 16 years ago, dressed up with holly leaves and berries. Their Christmas tree is artificial, left over from yules past.
And you can bet the gift wrap and bows she'll be using are made from recycled paper or taking a second shift adorning boxes.
Ingram is immersed in the green-decorating movement in both senses of the word: money-saving and planet-saving. She's sticking to the three R's - reuse, reduce, recycle.
"There's two reasons I do this," she says. "The first is so I don't feel guilty about making choices that add to trash. Second, everyone thinks it's expensive to go green, but when you make certain choices, you can save money."
The economic climate we find ourselves in this season may be largely out of our control, but decorating frugally and responsibly is all about the decisions we make.
"There are so many things that we buy at the holidays that require additional waste," says Jodi Helmer, author of The Green Year: 365 Small Things You Can Do to Make a Big Difference (Alpha, $16.95).
According to the Use Less Stuff report, a bimonthly newsletter about conservation, Americans produce 25 percent more trash between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day than at any other time of year. That's 25 million more tons of batteries, disposable plates and cups, wrapping paper and decorations being thrown into a landfill.
All stuff that cost us money we may no longer have.
For Ingram, 42, the author of 12 books, this is the second lean, green Christmas for her and her family of four.
They began living the frugal life when they moved to a bigger but more expensive home. While researching ways to spend less, Ingram found that by going green, she could save money and help the environment at the same time. She started blogging about the experience at www.suddenlyfrugal.blogspot.com, and has since written about eco-friendly topics for All You, Continental and Figure magazines.
The easiest way to decorate in a frugal and eco-friendly way is to bring the outdoors indoors, Ingram says. (If you have pets, be sure to check which berries and plants might be hazardous at www.aspca.org; click on "Animal Poison Control" at the left of the home page.)
Her mantel is decked with evergreen branches from a tree in her yard - she tied them together with a twist tie from a package, then added holiday ornaments.
In a trifle bowl she placed chestnuts and more ornaments. For yet another display, she mixed pinecones with candles.
Ingram found ribbon at www.freecycle.org, an online forum where members can post what they're getting rid of, and what they're looking for.
"A woman whose father owned a florist [shop] responded to my post. She had a 400-square-foot warehouse of ribbon," Ingram says. She brought home shoeboxes of it, and is using it any way she can.
Shiny red ribbon tied through the middle of a CD makes a reflective tree ornament. Thin silver ribbon tied with berries found outside dresses up napkins for the table. And she uses ribbon to tie together wrapped gifts, which for the family are enclosed in pillowcases; those outside the family get the Sunday comics on their presents.
Christmas trees are always a matter of green controversy. Because the Ingrams already had a faux evergreen, they continue to use it, which saves money since they don't have to replace it every year.
Helmer agrees: If you already have that fake tree, keep it. But if the real-vs.-fake debate is going on in your household, go real, she says - unless someone's giving you an artificial tree or you can buy one secondhand.
Fake trees have a sizable carbon footprint because they're manufactured overseas and heavily packaged.
"For the most part, live trees are born on Christmas-tree farms where the stock is replenished every year, so you're not cutting from a forest," says Helmer, adding that live trees also are coming from closer to home.
Just make sure you recycle the tree. If your town doesn't do Christmas-tree recycling, have it chipped so you can add it to your compost, or donate it to a charity that recycles trees. (For information, go to www.earth911.com.)
If you hang lights, be sure to put them on timers, Helmer says. If you're buying new, go for LED lights because they last longer and are 90 percent more energy-efficient than traditional lights.
"If you need new stuff, this is a great time to go to a secondhand store," she says. "They bring out their holiday items especially for this time of year."
For example, Helmer says, she is hosting Christmas dinner for the first time this year, so she picked up a holiday-themed serving platter at a thrift shop.
While you're getting your penny-pinching act together for this Christmas, it pays to keep this bit of advice in mind: The best time to start working on the next frugal holiday is right after this one.
Last year, Ingram saved the cards her family received and trimmed them with pinking shears - for use this year as gift tags. She bought the cards she'll be sending (made with recycled content, which is usually more expensive) after last Christmas, at up to 80 percent off the price. She also shreds paper and uses it to line shoeboxes for ornament storage.
If someone sends you fresh citrus, Ingram says, you can reuse those boxes - and the foam inside, which has cutouts for the fruit - to store ornaments as well.
Nothing will go to waste. And it will all be free.