5 tips on winter holiday decorating

NEW YORK (AP) ? Transforming your home into a festive wonderland for your family doesn’t have to be expensive.

Retailers from second-hand shops to dollar stores are both upgrading their assortments and offering low prices this fall.

“If shoppers want to decorate their home on a budget, they have many choices,” said C. Britt Beemer, chairman of America’s Research Group.

Here are five tips for dressing up your home for the holidays.

PLAN EARLY, AND MAKE A LIST. Come up with ideas well before the holidays begin of how you’d like your home to look and develop a plan. For inspiration, check magazines, home decorating shows on TV, stores catalogs and home design websites. Flatter your friends by copying their decorating ideas. Come up with a theme to help unify what you have and what you pick up this fall.

Jodi Furman, whose blog Live FabuLess promises “upscale life without the price,” suggests a website called Pinterest.com, an online “pin board” where shoppers can collect ideas from decorating photos and comments that other users post. Users can search for ideas from holiday tree decorating to table setting and easily store it on their page.

TAKE STOCK: Check around the house for items like bows, ribbons, throws, costumes and wreaths that can be repurposed or dressed up for the holidays. Get to know the decorating stock in a variety of stores and the rough price ranges for items you like.

GET CREATIVE: In the fall, collect and preserve pinecones and colorful leaves, which can be used in wreaths or table decorations. Collect branches and spray-paint them in festive colors. If you have the time, you can recreate the d?cor of your parents’ or grandparents’ childhoods, and thread popcorn and cranberries into Christmasy strands to hang on curtain rods, along bannisters and across door lintels, Furman suggests. If you’d like help getting the creative juices flowing, check out holiday d?cor classes at Michael’s or get ideas by checking out the website at home improvement chain Lowe’s Cos.

For lights, stick with white, which can be used all year round and easily found for just a few dollars per string. Just make sure you buy energy-efficient lights. Target Corp. and many other retailers now offer solar-powered strings for use outdoors, offering the extra advantage of skipping expensive extension cords and outdoor sockets. Check online.

AIM FOR SEASONLESS D?COR: If you stick with items that don’t scream about just one holiday (no plates with Santas and elves, for instance), you can reuse your d?cor in different ways at different holidays. A beautiful red bowl that celebrates Christmas when it’s full of glass ornaments can reappear to hold candy or cards at Valentine’s Day. Similarly, colorful candles can announce different seasons when used in different holders.

SHOP LOW-PRICE STORES: Shoppers can expect to see higher-quality decor this year at discounters like Wal-Mart Stores Inc., which is offering a six-and-a half-foot artificial tree for $39 and ornaments for 97 cents apiece. Family Dollar Inc. is expanding its assortment of holiday trees from last year, says spokesman Josh Braverman. Six-foot artificial trees are now $40, up from $30, but they’re fuller and sturdier than last year’s, he said. And that’s much less expensive that a natural tree.

Furman recommends investing in a sturdier tree so you really can keep using it year after year. Just be sure to you carefully compare prices and quality.

SECOND-HAND: Right now and again after the holidays, scout second-shops and thrift stores run by Goodwill or the Salvation Army for Christmas ornaments, says Beemer.

About 20 of Goodwill’s 2,600 stores now have special holiday shops. Goodwill spokeswoman Lauren Lawson recommends coming by on either a Monday or Tuesday, when new merchandise is brought out. Ornaments typically cost less than $1 and trees and nativity scenes less than $20.