I was walking, walking down the street...and spied something nice on the ground--a lovely winterberry branch--which I promptly took home to stick in a vase.
[Cost=zero, or the cost of picking up the branch off of the ground.] Also free for the snipping, boughs of (evergreen) holly which I have in the yard. Both the wintergreen and other hollies will keep about a week or so indoors.
It doesn't hurt to retrieve a few free finds left over from the year before (or the year before that), such as:
[Cost=zero. However, my chances of finding the above (hickory?) nuts this season would also be zero, because they have been AWOL in this part of Maryland this year!] (Neither have I seen the usually plentiful acorns.)
A live tree for a small house--the solution--a small tree! You get the pine aroma throughout the house, but in a size where you can get the tree in the house. (And have a choice as to where in the house to place it.)
When the holiday season is over, this little pine will be broken into small pieces and scattered over the ground to decompose.
[Cost=$10, at Whole Foods. Because I had my own decorations, I was able to stay away from Whole Paycheck's obvious sucker bait, such as the bags of cinnamon-scented pine cones.] However, I wish the store had the little rosemary trees, which appear fuller.
The tiny decorations were purchased last year, from Dollar Tree, which is cheaper than too-chinchy-to-pay-for-security Walmart. (Also, while both chains sell scads of made-in-China trinkets, Dollar Tree has a larger selection of Christmas decorations). Go figure.
All other decorations were saved from the year before--purchased at Target the day after Christmas, at a massive discount, so I spent no more than $6.