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updated: 12/22/2011 2:31 PM

Have a festive, frugal Christmas

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Christmas is almost here. This week, I've compiled reader tips that will help you hide gifts, have frugal holiday fun, make a couple of gifts for kids and pets and chase away winter chills with seasonal hot drinks you can mix yourself.

Hide Christmas gifts: When the kids were little, I hid everything in the artificial tree box. Everyone assumed it was empty!

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PDFC, Pennsylvania

Pet pillow: I love Pillow Pets and they make adorable and comfy pet beds. War Hammer, our Yorkie, has taken over my daughter's Pillow Pet, a lion.

Neeley, Alabama

If you can't afford a Christmas tree: Watch the local trash days. People often buy new, fancier trees and get rid of their old fake ones. Buy a mini tree at the dollar store and decorate with homemade items. Craft stores often publish coupons for small trees. Set up a barter with a tree seller (a few hours work in exchange for a tree). You can also inquire about a tree on Freecycle. Let your friends know your issue. They may know of a tree going unused, or they may find a way to help you have one in the spirit of the holiday season.

Debbie, New Jersey

Homemade plant pet: You can fill a knee-high stocking with potting soil and sprinkle grass seed (winter rye works well) and tie off the end to make a homemade plant pet. Use hot glue to attach wiggly eyes, a pom-pom nose, and a felt or pipe cleaner mouth. These homemade pets are super cute and look like chubby little worms when they grow! Make it a cute gift by putting it together with a little watering can, an "adoption certificate" with cute clip art, and even some scissors for "haircuts."

Melody, Arkansas

Homemade gift for kids: Make a snow-paint kit. Fill squeeze bottles or spray bottles with water. Add a few drops of food coloring to each one. Shake until well mixed. You can add more food coloring to darken your colors, if desired. Screw the lids back onto the bottles and send the kids outside for some snow-painting fun.

Polly, Pennsylvania

Free and fun for Christmas: We do our own kind of Advent to count down the days until Christmas. We watch a DVD of a Christmas special, one each night as we count down. Each member of the family has their own favorite. We make it an occasion: I put out cookies or special cakes, along with homemade egg nog or hot chocolate. It's a lot of fun!

Polly, Pennsylvania

Note from Sara: With Netflix, our DVR and the various channels that run Christmas movie marathons, we watch many Christmas shows without buying, renting or borrowing them.

If you're looking for a Christmas movie list to help you prepare, visit budgetchristmas.com/Christmas-movie-list.html. It's not all-inclusive (lacks more recent holiday movies), but it will get you started.

• Sara Noel owns Frugal Village, frugalvillage.com, a website that offers practical, money-saving strategies for everyday living. Send tips, comments or questions to Sara Noel, c/o Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO, 64106, or sara@frugalvillage.com.

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