The holiday season: now synonymous with stress, anxiety, frustration, budget concerns and a host of other not-so-nice connotations. Savvy revelers, however, know it doesn't have to be this way. By taking advantage of all the materials around you, it's easy and affordable to go from dreary to holiday-cheery. With your home inspection out of the way and holiday parties here to stay (until January), use these tips to spruce up your holiday celebration.

The tree: Real or plastic?

Perhaps one of the biggest days of the Christmas season, besides the big day itself, is when the tree finally goes up in the living room. If your family is still waiting on that milestone, you might be wondering if it's better to go for an artificial tree, or seek out a forest (or parking lot) for the real deal. offered some advice on this classic predicament, and concluded the jury is still out on which is better for the environment, the economy and your wallet. To the surprise of some artificial tree aficionados, a study from consulting firm Elipsos concluded that the fake trees actually have a more detrimental impact on the environment than their real counterparts. That's because of the slightly higher electricity needs of most artificial trees, as well as the fact that many contain potentially harmful plastic chemicals. At the same time, finding a real tree means more driving, which could negate these effects. In the end, there isn't much of a difference, so don't feel too bad when you find that perfect Douglas fir in your local grocery store lot.

You can also rest easy when buying a real tree that you are doing some good for the economy. Most lots where Christmas trees are grown employ hundreds of thousands per year, and save a good portion of land that may otherwise be used for development. A real tree may cost a bit more from a year over year perspective, but many simply enjoy the experience of finding one and the pleasant aroma it brings to their home. Essentially, it's not worth fretting over: Get the tree that works best for you.

DIY decorations

After you've finished making your list and checking it as many times as you deem necessary, you need something to wrap them all in. As noted, traditional gift wrap may be easy on the eyes, but not so much on your budget. Fortunately, it's not difficult to make your own gift decorations with items you have lying around the house. Newspaper is the classic DIY gift wrap option, since it's plentiful and expendable. For an extra pop of color, magazines can be used too, and allow you to create more visually creative wrapping. Extra pieces of fabric work well, and can be bought in bulk at thrift stores. Brown paper bags or shopping bags are great for simple yet effective present decorations. If you're artistically inclined, you could even add your own artwork to these plain brown bags to spice things up a bit.

Why stop at gift wrap? You can use household items and things that would normally get thrown out to create tree ornaments and wall decorations too. Popcorn or cranberries are both classic Christmas tree accoutrements, and of course are incredibly inexpensive - just don't let the dog have at them. You could even get the kids involved and make salt dough cookies, which are tough pastries perfect for hanging on branches. According to, just mix 2 cups of flour, a cup of salt and a cup of water, and punch shapes out with cookie cutters. Bake at 325 degrees F until they dry, typically about two hours. You won't want to eat these cookies, but they are tough enough to withstand being strung up on the tree. Scraps of extra gift wrap can be repurposed into quick and easy holiday decorations too. if you need a centerpiece to tie your dining room table together, gather some twigs or sprigs of pine needles from the lawn and douse them in some glitter. Placed in a vase, this will work well to add charm to your holiday feast.