Cast-Offs for Christmas – Inexpensive Holiday Gifts and Decor from Discards

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Making the Holidays Beautiful with Your Excess or Left-Overs

A sprig of green holly with red berries
A sprig of green holly with red berries

The holidays are here and if you’re running low on funds or ideas, here are 6 quick and inexpensive holiday gifts or decorations.

We’ve even included Annette’s fabulous Christmas Pumpkin Bread recipe, an inexpensive meal idea for feeding 10 to 12 people, and a family favorite pineapple gravy recipe.

1) Plastic Grocery Bag Wreath

Plastic grocery bag wreath on an oak door.

This is a great way
to turn a simple plastic grocery sack into a beautiful piece of holiday decor.


  • 1 metal hanger
  • 30 to 50 white plastic grocery bags

Directions for Grocery Bag Wreath:

  • With a wire cutter, cut off the hook of a cast-off metal hanger leaving about 1” of twisted metal.
  • Shape the hanger into a circle.
  • Take your plastic bags and trim the bottom seam, handles, and any logos or printed information from the bags.
  • Cut remaining “clean” plastic sheets into 4” by 8” strips. You can stack several sheets and cut them on a cutting mat with a mat knife and ruler to speed up the process.
  • You’ll have a lot of leftover plastic, so put it into another bag and recycle it at your local grocery store.
  • Take 4” by 8” strips and tie them (with a simple square knot) onto the hanger. Pull the knot tight. Squeeze as many pieces as possible onto the hanger. The more you put on the fuller the wreath will be.
  • Use a thin piece of wire to hang the wreath on a hook.
  • Decorate with a bow, spray paint or other holiday picks.

2) Shoe Bags

Brown Desert Camo shoe bags with black shoes in them

A great way to use fabric remnants and help those who regularly travel to keep their clothes neat and clean. You can adjust the size to fit men’s, women’s, or children’s shoes.


The dimensions below are good for men’s shoes; make them smaller for other sizes.

  • Four rectangles of material – 10 inches x 18 inches (or two larger pieces if you have them.
  • Thread
  • Ribbon or old shoelaces for the drawstring 

Directions for Shoe Bags:

Take two pieces of fabric, right sides facing each other, and sew around three edges, leaving 1 1/2 inches on the top side to hem under and make a casing. Fold the top edge down 1/4 inch to the inside and sew.

Now fold this same part over 1 inch to the inside to make a packet (casing for a ribbon to be used as a draw-string) and sew it around. Use a safety pin to pull the ribbon through the casing and then tie a pretty bow. Turn inside out and wrap for the holidays.

3 Pinecone Fire-starters

Decorative pinecone basket with green and red wax pinecone firestarters in it.

A perfect gift for friends with fireplaces or as a pretty holiday decoration. We have several pine trees on our property and collect the pine cones to make homemade fire-starters. We also have a tin in our storage area where we store old candle wax and unusable crayons.

You could also get wax from thrift stores—ask for their un-sellable candles, and you’ll get them for a song. Add essential oils for a beautiful scent. You can also add food coloring or old crayons to enhance the color of the wax.


Melt old wax candle stubs and crayons in a large #10 tin can over very low heat on the stove. Add a couple of drops of essential oil to give it a great scent. Turn off the flame once all the wax is melted. Using tongs, dip a pinecone into the wax. You’ll know the wax is the right temperature if it coats the pinecone. If your wax is too hot, barely any will remain on the pinecone. Just wait a few minutes and dip again.

Place dipped pinecones on a cookie sheet covered with waxed paper to cool. When dry, place them in a decorator tin or basket and wrap for gift-giving.

Watch this video of how we do it.

4) Annette’s Christmas Pumpkin Bread

Many loaves of Christmas pumpkin bread wrapped in silver aluminum foil, stacked on a kitchen table.

This is a family tradition at the Economides home. Every year Annette takes Halloween pumpkins (picked up for free after Halloween), cooks and processes the flesh, then freezes it to be used in December baking. She bakes close to 100 loaves of pumpkin bread (in various sizes) to be distributed to teachers, coaches, mechanics and even the mailman and garbage truck driver. The loaves are inexpensive (about $1 for a large loaf and about 25 cents for a small one). She wraps them in aluminum foil and finishes it off with a simple red or green ribbon.

Pumpkin Bread Ingredients:

  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup salad oil – not olive oil!
  • 3 cups of sugar
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp nutmeg
  • 1 (29-oz. can) pumpkin or 3 1/2 cups fresh pumpkin
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 3 1/2 cups flour
  • 3/4 cup water
  • Optional – 1/2 to 1 cup each of chopped walnuts, raisins, or chocolate chips.


Mix all ingredients in one bowl and beat at medium speed. Grease 3 large loaf pans. Bake for 1 hour at 325 degrees F.

5) Dough Ornaments

These are extremely easy to make and a great craft for younger kids to help with.

Ingredients for Holiday Dough Ornaments:

  • 4 cups flour
  • 1 cup salt
  • 1 tsp powdered Alum
  • 1 ½ cups water 


Mix ingredients in a large bowl. Roll out dough to 1/4” thick on a pastry sheet with a rolling pin. Use cookie cutters to cut holiday shapes.

Poke a hole in the top of each ornament with a pencil or nut pick.

Bake on an ungreased cookie sheet for 60 minutes at 250 degrees. Turn and bake for an additional 60 minutes until hard and dry.

Let cool. Sand lightly and decorate with paint, marker or crayons. Once the paint is dry, spray with a clear coat or shellac. Insert ribbon through the hole and hang it on your tree.

6) Homemade wrapping paper

Brown paper wrapping paper stamped with red stars and green Christmas trees.

We use an old roll of kraft paper we bought about 25 years ago. We’ve used it for making banners, tracing outlines of the kids when they were little, and every Christmas we sponge-paint different holiday shapes on the paper and blank gift bags to make wrapping paper.

It’s a fun and inexpensive activity for the kids and makes beautiful packages for pennies. Trace a cookie cutter shape onto an inexpensive sponge, cut with a matt knife, and hot glue to a scrap piece of wood. Use tempera paints or old latex house paints colored with food coloring and you’re set to go.

7) An Inexpensive Christmas Meal

shank ham

This meal can feed a crowd of 10 to 12 people for less than $2 per person.


  • Shank Ham (on sale for $.99 or less per pound)
  • Garlic Mashed Potatoes (one 10-pound bag on sale for $1.99 or less)
  • Dinner Rolls or Biscuits (homemade cost less than $1 for two dozen)
  • Cranberry Sauce (canned/jellied—fresh could be less expensive)
  • Green Beans (2 pounds frozen)

Any basic cookbook can give you the details for cooking the foods mentioned above. We particularly like the Good Housekeeping Illustrated Cookbook

Pineapple Ham Gravy Recipe

This is Annette’s super delicious recipe and a great way to top off a scrumptious ham dinner.


  • 2 cups chicken broth (can be made from 2 cups of water and 2 cubes of Chicken bouillon)
  • 2 cups pineapple juice (can be saved from canned pineapple)
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup yellow mustard
  • 1 tsp ground cloves
  • Mix all ingredients in a pot on your stove. Bring to a boil, then thicken with cornstarch.

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Search the rest of our website for more ways to trim your holiday budget without trimming your holiday fun. 

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You can find loads of money, time and sanity-saving ideas in our two books. Read more details through the links below.

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Cut Your Grocery Bill in Half with
America’s Cheapest Family


America’s Cheapest Family Gets You
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The MoneySmart Family System
Teaching Financial Independence to
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