Christmas Trees to Fit Your Budget

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Homemade Christmas Tree

image: Vicky Brock

It’s time for that annual dilemma about a Christmas tree. Live? Cut? Fake? New? Second hand? Homemade? Upcycled? Recycled? None? Just like buying cereal, there are too many choices!

While I started to look into this for my own knowledge and to write a seasonal piece, I came across this post at inhabitat, 14 Eco-Friendly Christmas Tree Alternatives to Green Your Holidays. Eco-friendly, maybe, but way too expensive to be considered part of a simple lifestyle. I would not pay between $100 and $550 for a Christmas tree. Yes, I would support an American family business making wooden trees, but not with $500!

I love the less expensive options in this article – recycled cardboard, a rosemary plant, and a Norfolk Island Pine (I’ve actually had one that I decorated for the holidays – beautiful and no cost if you already own it!) between $8 and $30. Those are prices for the frugally minded!

What else can you do?

Shop second hand. Thrift stores and yard sales always have artificial trees this time of year.

Buy a live tree that comes in a pot or in a burlap ball around its roots. Bring it in for a week for the celebrations, and then take it back out to where it’s cold. The tree will start to put on new growth if it warms up inside for too long. That will shock it and could kill it once it’s taken back outside. Think of a live tree as doing double duty – you decorate it for the holidays, then you plant it in your yard in spring. You do not have a dead tree to dispose of, and if you make this a tradition, you will have a series of trees and lots of memories in your yard.

Think ahead to next year, and buy a new artificial tree after the holidays. Everything goes on sale before year-end inventory, and prices are slashed. I am not a fan of buying new plastic anything, but if that’s what you want and you’re on a budget, it’s a good idea.

A tree doesn’t have to be a tree

Get creative and upcycle objects around the house into a triangular shape. A series of festively painted and decorated boxes can be stacked, largest to smallest, on the floor or an end table, depending on how big it is. Different lengths of driftwood or scrap lumber can be fastened to a wall or a frame for a table top.

A large piece of green and red fabric can be cut in a triangle, then backed and stitched in quilt-like fashion. It can be decorated with buttons and sequins, or if the fabric is festive enough, it can stand on its own.

You can imitate the $500 wooden trees mentioned above attaching a large tree limb vertically to a stable base and adding smaller branches to it horizontally. This can be as simple or complex as your DIY skills allow.

On a piece of foam-filled poster board (or something just as sturdy), glue small beads, buttons, toys and ornaments in a triangle shape for an abstract tree.

Trees I’ve had

One year, I lived in a tiny apartment in New York. I cut a few sprigs of the evergreen outside the building and placed them in a wine carafe. A red ribbon tied around the neck gave it a holiday feel. Alternatively, you could use bare tree branches that have interesting lines.

Another year, I cut a very small tree (maybe 12” tall) from my own property and put it in a decorative bowl and stabilized it with pretty rocks. The colors of the rocks were strong when they were wet.

When my kids were little, I cut three large triangles of green felt, sewed them together with a slight overlap of the tip. The trunk was a piece of brown felt. We decorated it simply with red rick-rack and white buttons of all sizes. It attached directly to the wall since it was so lightweight.

So don’t buy a $500 tree. No matter how many times you use it, it won’t pay for itself, and the cutting of the wood and the transportation will never be offset. Those kinds of expenditures are not part of a simple, thoughtful lifestyle.

See my Christmas Pinterest board for more ideas on trees and decorating! Happy Holidays!

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Nan Fischer

Nan Fischer has been living and building green for over 35 years. Nan’s emphasis on the BuildDirect blog is about how to make your dollar stretch further, while also moving toward a more sustainable lifestyle, as well as upcoming and existing technology to help us live in an ecologically-friendly way. Nan also authors posts on the website of her seed business, sweetly seeds.