The official holiday season—that five weeks or so between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day—is often just one big blur: shopping, buying, wrapping, more shopping, and partying. It’s also one big blow to your bank account—one that, if you’re like many, you probably can’t afford.

But being frugal doesn’t mean you have to skip the festivities and fun. Beyond the usual advice (make a budget and stick to it), the secret to getting through the expensive hustle and bustle season is to keep things simple. Whether it’s decorating, entertaining, or gift-giving that’s got your paycheck panicked, here’s your path to budget-friendly, stress-free holidays.

Decorating

Whether you're glamming up your home or your office, skip the expensive crafts store and consider these options:

Use Boughs of (Real) Holly

Look outside your door—Mother Nature offers a bounty of ideas and free supplies to deck your halls. You may have to take a long walk, but you'll end up with an armful of pine cones, red and gold leaves, twigs carrying small, muted-red berries, and tiny, shiny, green leaves off bushy evergreen plants—all the decor you need to bring the festive season indoors.

DIY Garland

Stringing fishing line with alternating pieces of popped popcorn and fresh ruby-red cranberries isn't just a tree-trimming party activity, it can also bring a little Martha Stewart into your home for a fraction of the cost of those mass-manufactured, pre-strung varieties. And don't just reserve it for the tree—a handmade garland can quickly holiday-up any bookcase, large glass vase, or potted plant.

Let There Be Light

Hit your local Dollar Tree and grab as many thick, off-white candles as you can afford. Then place them all around your home and let them glow. Lighting up the colors of nature in winter—white, beige, red, gold, and green—will give your home a warm yet elegant feel.

Entertaining

Home for the Holidays isn't just a song title, it's a great idea. You'll save in many ways this season if you forego $12 martinis and expensive dinners out and concentrate on staying put. You don’t have to skip the fun or the socializing, though—try these three festive fêtes you can host at home.

Tree-Trimming Party

Pop some corn, line up the hot chocolate and peppermint schnapps, put on White Christmas, and have a cozy night in. In exchange for tasty treats and a fun holiday atmosphere, ask each guest to bring a tree ornament they no longer want to help you trim your tree. Years from now, when you get your box of ornaments out of the closet, you'll look back fondly on a special evening with good friends.

Trading Gifts for Games

Instead of spending money you don't have on gifts for several good friends, invite a group over, ask everyone to bring one inexpensive, funny gift, and host a gift exchange. Or, hold a game competition, where winners of Scrabble, Twister, and Monopoly take home the $5 treasures.

New Year's Eve

Skip the $100 you’ll spend at a party, and host your own. Ask everyone to dress like they're off to the Oscars—it will go a long way toward glamming up your surroundings (which means you don't have to spend a lot to decorate!). Save even more money and start the party at 10 PM, serving decadent desserts, champagne and liqueurs, and richly-flavored coffees rather than a sit-down dinner. What's classier than champagne and dark chocolate?

Gift-Giving

The giving season is much more than a package from the mall with a gift receipt. So get creative and try one of these affordable ways to let your loved ones know you appreciate them.

Shop Small

In these tough times, small businesses are hit hard by the mega-ads luring shoppers to the malls this time of year, and many offer fabulous deals to get you to walk through their doors. Take advantage of it. Do a little research online, or stop by some specialty stores in your neighborhood. And don't be shy—ask if they're offering any special deals, such as two-for-one ornaments, free engraving, framing, wrapping, whatever. You’ll pick up one-of-a-kind gifts that won't cost you an arm and a leg.

Regift Without Regret

Repeat after me: There is no shame in regifting something you never really liked or used. Think of it as a way of paying it forward, while doing something nice for your wallet. Have a DVD, candle, cookbook, or purse you're just not interested in? Wrap it up and recycle it. Remember, it's the thought that counts—not the price tag.

Get Crafty

Use your culinary talents, not your credit card, to surprise your family and friends this year. A quick Google search is all it will take to learn how to make flavored cooking oils, vanilla sugar for baking, or limoncello liqueur. Or, wrap up a loaf of zucchini bread with dried cranberries and toasted walnuts in tinfoil, festively adorned with a ribbon. Attach a decorative name tag with a handwritten coupon for one more loaf at the recipient's request. Now that's a gift that keeps on giving!

Make a (Small) Donation

If you normally spend somewhere around $25 each on gifts for friends—but don't have that kind of money this year—instead make a donation of, say, $10 in their names to their favorite charities. Most charities will send a recognition card to the recipient—without the donation amount on it. The recipient will appreciate the thought you put into her gift, and you’ll save a bundle.

When all is said and done, the joyous holiday season isn't about the money spent on holiday parties, decorations, or expensive gifts. It's about the special moments of laughter and love with family and friends that will warm your heart for years to come. And you can't put a price on that.

Photo courtesy of Dinner Series.