10 Budget-friendly holiday decor tips from a Hollywood set decorator

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While the holidays are inherently joyful, there’s no denying that walking into a space that has been decorated accordingly contributes to those festive vibes we all feel this time of year. ‘Tis the season to deck the halls, after all!

However, cultivating a very merry holiday decor style doesn’t always come cheap. To help uncover a few tips for doing so without blowing our whole holiday spending allotment, we tapped someone who’s used to creating the quintessential holiday atmosphere on a budget: a Hollywood set decorator.

For the better part of the last year, Missy Ricker has been working on a new show for Netflix called Outer Banks (it’s slated to drop in the spring). Before that, she was responsible for the sets you saw on Jamie Lee Curtis’s 2018 film Halloween. Some of her other sets over the years have included The Sinner, Eastbound & Down, Army Wives and The Strangers.

In short, Ricker knows her stuff when it comes to creating spaces that evoke emotion. They need to elicit a certain response — and around the holidays, that includes using decor to imbue homes (read: sets) with the warmth of the season.

christmas wreath flat lay
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She does so while following a specific budget for each production, which means she’s picked up quite a few tricks along the way. So, we asked her to share some of her frugal holiday decorating knowledge with us. Here are a few of her favorite tips.

1. Go right after the holidays

Yep, Ricker’s a fan of that most classic of holiday shopping hacks: hitting up the stores right after the holidays. “All of the holiday decor and ornaments go on sale so, if you can make your purchases after the fact, you’ll often score 50 percent off decor. Then you just have to have the patience to save it for displaying until the next year,” Ricker shared.

MORE: How to find the best holiday deals (Spoiler: Start now!)

2. Or during other seasonal sales

In Ricker’s career — and very specifically her career related to holiday set decorating — timing her buying right has proved imperative. “I’ve worked on quite a few TV shows, movies and commercials where we’ve done holidays. And the interesting thing to note is that almost every production I’ve worked on where we’ve done Christmas in the script has been filmed in August in Georgia or North Carolina or Virginia or somewhere quite Southern and tropical. So, when people are watching their Hallmark holiday movies this year, they can kind of imagine that the snow on the ground may be special effects snow and it may very well have been shot in the Carolinas or some other warm climate.”

A few years ago, in fact, Ricker worked on Belk Christmas commercials — in Savannah, Georgia, in the 100-degree August heat! Thankfully, the internet makes holiday shopping year-round a little easier now. However, Ricker says you’ll often get the best deals if you take advantage of emerging holiday shopping sale trends, such as “Christmas in July.”

3. Clip and save coupons

Prepare to have your mind blown, holiday shoppers — Ricker relies on coupons to keep a lot of her shopping in check, with Bed Bath & Beyond as one of her go-to retailers for coupons. Why? Bed Bath & Beyond coupons have expiration dates printed on them, yes, but the store typically overlooks them (Grateful has reached out to Bed Bath & Beyond for an official comment on this practice).

“Throughout the year, I save all of my Bed Bath & Beyond coupons, and many of them are 20 percent off. So, when I go shopping, I take 10 coupons with me,” Ricker shared. “There’s no limit on the number of coupons you can use and they never expire. I have a pile of them in my car right now.”

4. Don’t overlook online coupons either

The moral of this story? Yes, coupons are still a thing you can (and should!) utilize. Ricker’s a strong believer in taking advantage of this classic option. She says she’ll pull up online coupons while standing in line at the checkout.

“One store that does that is Michael’s. They practically always have a coupon online, and many times it’s like 40 percent off of one item — which is obviously a really great deal. Another store that offers online coupons and has really cute holiday decor is World Market. So, if you’re heading out to shop, always do a quick Google search. Put in the name of the store and see if there’s a coupon, because they can just scan it right off your phone.”

5. Hit up your local Dollar Tree

No joke — the sets you see on your favorite movies and TV shows might just be full of Dollar Tree finds. “The Dollar Tree is one of my favorites — I’m always amazed by what you can buy there,” Ricker gushed, pointing out that the discount store also makes a great gift stop. “There are all kinds of YouTube channels devoted to creating Dollar Tree gift baskets. It’s like a thing! They’ll have a gorgeous gift basket they put together for under $10.”

6. Make the most of ambiance

If money is tight and you want to get a lot of bang for your buck where holiday spirit is concerned, Ricker recommends reaching for something you may already have on hand. “If you’re trying to kind of make it feel cozy for the holidays, I love candles. Even if you’re not burning the candles. If you get some nice scented candles, they’re so fragrant that they can make the whole room feel cozy with the holiday scents that are out this time of year,” she shared.

7. Stock up on seasonal accessories

“Another trick I use is throw pillows and afghans,” Ricker said, explaining this is an easy and affordable way to switch things up. “Around the holidays, you can play up some of the holiday colors — like, for example, red and green for Christmas, blue and silver for Hanukkah, or black, red and green for Kwanzaa. You can buy some inexpensive throw pillows and change out the ones you usually have out during the year.”

8. Save your tree sprigs

holiday decor sprig wrapping presents
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One of Ricker’s personal favorite holiday hacks revolves around the Christmas tree. “If we get a live tree, we’ll usually have to trim some of the branches off the bottom to put it in the tree stand. I always save those branches, because I use them to make front-door decor,” Ricker said. To do so, she makes a spray and then hits up — you guessed it! — the Dollar Tree to find things like ornaments or themed toys she can tie to the tree spray. “Sometimes I even tie jingle bells on and, that way, every time someone opens the door you get a little door jingle.”

9. Personalize presents

Guess what? The gifts you wrap and put under the tree can also do double duty as holiday decor. Ricker likes to give presents a special touch by going beyond basic wrapping paper. “Another thing I love to do with Dollar Tree finds is use them to decorate my presents. It’s really fun to tie jingle bells onto the ribbons on your presents. Or if you tie on a fun ornament — let’s say I find a cute snowman ornament at the Dollar Tree — I’ll tie that on with ribbon on top of the present, and then that’s also a little additional gift that the person can keep and use on their tree next year.”

Sometimes she’ll also use sheet music, the Sunday comics or even aluminum foil (“Go for the bling!”) to save money on wrapping paper, but then spend some of the money she saved on cute accessories. The end result? Gifts that both look good under the tree and make the gift recipient feel special.

MORE: I asked 7 CEOs how they manage holiday stress & this is what they said

10. Make smart — and affordable — investments

Sometimes, says Ricker, it’s best to think long-term when it comes to holiday decor and how it affects your budget. One facet of seasonal decorating where you can trim (pun intended) a little money is the tree. To that end, Ricker suggests picking up a potted Norfolk Pine. “It’ll stay about 4 feet tall, so they’re really nice as house plants,” she explained, continuing, “and then at the holidays, you can adorn them.”

If you’re looking for more cozy holiday vibes, check out our recipe for a healthier pumpkin spice latte below.