I'm a pro at tackling one problem at a time, so I decided to ignore the appearance issue until I have time to make them pretty, and get right down to the challenge of making them work as pots.
rule #6: do not inconvenience or annoy non-gardeners in the house. My husband puts up with a lot, but he's not the DIY type, and soup cans bleeding dirty water would not make him a happy camper. So, self-contained had to be the way to go.
Fortunately, I found a solution in the cans themselves: the lids. bent appropriately, they made nifty little air pockets at the bottoms of the cans to allow water to drain. They would still need less watering than their more drain friendly peers, but they'd do nicely. Now I just need to spend some time deciding how to make them look pretty to everyone else and stay within my $5 budget.
Step 1: Eat the contents of the cans and wash them. Don't lose the lids!
Step 2: Peel off the labels, and soak or use Goo-Gone to remove any remaining residue.Step 3: Fold the lids as shown. Basically, the goal is to make a tent-like shape.
Step 5: Fill with dirt and plant whatever you want to plant according to directions. Enjoy as your plants grow and take root.