For all the excitement, joy and nostalgia the holidays can bring, they also can bring something far less desirable: a serious hit to your bank account. With a little planning, you can have the celebration you want well within your budget. In fact, frugal-living guide Erin Huffstetler  has made such a lifestyle of “saving money while living well” that she typically spends under $100 every year during the holidays, and last year, as a personal challenge, she succeeded in having a completely free Christmas. We caught up with the budget-minded master to get her tips for saving money this holiday season.

GIFTS
Trim your list.
Odds are it isn’t necessary to buy a gift for everyone on your initial list, so edit it down before you start shopping.

Buy for the whole family. Instead of individual gifts, think about getting a board game the whole family can play together or movie tickets for everyone — you’re giving the gift of family time!


DÉCOR
Shop secondhand.
After Thanksgiving, thrift shops are inundated with decorations as people buy and clear out their collections. You’ll be amazed at what you can find, including exact trends that are in regular stores for a fraction of the price.

Use nature. Much of the décor you’ll find in stores and catalogs is nature-inspired, so go for a walk and gather your own holly branches, magnolia leaves and pinecones.


PARTIES
Pick a theme. Theme parties are a great way to have fun and interact with your guests without spending much on food. Throw a cookie-decorating party, and you only have to buy cookie supplies. Have a soup party, and ask everyone to bring a pot of their favorite homemade soup.

Have an open house. By having a drop-in party, you not only make things easier on everyone else’s crazy holiday schedules, you also cut down on the food expense of a full meal.

Just desserts. You can have a very elegant party by serving a variety of elaborate desserts or do a chocolate-and-wine tasting. It will be a gorgeous party but still isn’t as expensive as a full dinner.