How To Make Christmas On The Cheap
You could call her Mother Christmas. Born on Christmas Day, named Holly Christine in its honor, Holly Oswald keeps the holiday on her mind all year long. That's because she is a bargain hunter extraordinaire. Always on the lookout for freebies, contests, flea markets and thrift store deals, she is a master of the homemade and handcrafted. "My husband used to think I was insane, until I won him three hunting trips," she says.With Steve Oswald set to retire as a St. Petersburg firefighter in February, the Oswalds have it made. They don't use credit cards, and are just shy of paying off the mortgage for the home they've lived in for 30 years. Holly Oswald crunches peppermint sticks, explaining how she'll break up the resulting bark into dollar store gift bags for a party. Her cost: $6 for 3 pounds. Same product, ordered from Williams-Sonoma: $75, sans gift bags and shipping. "We have changed the focus from getting stuff to doing things," she says. Oswald brings classiness to bargain-basement chic. She wasn't born poor, she says. "Country club all the way." 1. Homemade wonders. Oswald stocks up on assorted bags and containers from dollar stores, then fills them with easy, homemade treats such as peppermint bark and white chocolate Chex mix. 2. Stocking stuffers. All year long, she checks www.walletpop.com for free samples that will appeal to family, and tosses them in a big bucket for storage. 3. Contests galore. The Oswald extended family will head to Universal Studios this year, courtesy of free tickets she won in one of the local radio and television contests she enters. Other wins: Tickets to Lowry Park's Christmas event, a free stay at the Gaylord Palms in Orlando with tickets to "Ice!" attraction, movies, shows and concerts. 4. Free cards. Oswald and a friend exchange their leftover Christmas cards so they will have something new to send family and friends. 5. Happy pets. She found a pet treat recipe and dog bone molds at a flea market for $2, and from the Internet printed a funny poem about a puppy's Christmas she will attach with a ribbon for her "fur children and fur grandchildren." 6. Classes pay off. Oswald takes $15 classes in sewing, picture matting, upholstery, cake decorating. She creates cakes that look like Christmas presents using a cutting tool and holiday plates from a thrift store. Similar cake in Williams-Sonoma catalog: $89.95. 7. Keeping it live. She places clippings from her plants in water, then plants them in thrift store pots as gifts. 8. Bargain meats and veggies. She shops the Tampa Wholesale Produce Market and Sanwa International Wholesale Foods in Tampa for deals. For elderly friends, she prepares holiday meals of smoked chickens, orange juice from her trees and produce from her garden. 9. Giveaways. Oswald is the moderator for her local Freecycle organization ( www.freecycle.org), where members give and take as needed. She offered up some Christmas decorations: "Thirty years ago, I though Tweety Bird was cute. Today, not so much." She received a free freezer for storing meat and cakes. 10. Free fun. She and her husband enjoy holiday light displays, boat parades, and the Manatee Viewing Center in Apollo Beach, taking their own hot cider and homemade snacks. 11. The real thing. Pine cones from her yard are stored in a plastic bag with cinnamon oil, whole cloves and rosemary for three days, producing aromatic centerpieces and decorations. 12. No waste. She uses up all her wrapping paper and ribbons from years past before buying new.