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Real vs. Fake: Weighing the Cost of Christmas Trees

cost of Christmas trees

Most U.S. households celebrate Christmas with a Christmas tree, but, more often, those evergreens never actually grew in a forest.

According to the eighth annual Christmas tree survey from the American Christmas Tree Association, 77% of U.S. households celebrated Christmas last year with a tree. Of those, just 18% percent decorated a real tree. The rest decked the halls with a fake one.

The growing popularity of artificial trees won’t shock anybody trying to celebrate Christmas on a budget. The cost of Christmas trees can add up. Unlike real trees, you don’t have to spend any money a fake one after the first year. And if you already have one on hand, tucked away in the attic, they can be much more convenient than a real one. For busy families with multiple jobs and responsibilities, it can be difficult to line up a time to get to a tree lot.

But it’s not all pros and no cons when you get a fake tree. Here’s what to consider as you contemplate plunking down your hard-earned cash on an artificial tree.

The Cost of Christmas Trees -- Which is Better?

Which Christmas tree costs more?

The cost of real Christmas trees are on the rise while the price for fake ones is dropping, according to a consumer survey conducted by the National Christmas Tree Association. The trade group found that Americans purchased nearly 33 million real trees in 2018, and the average price increased by 4% when compared to 2017. When it comes to fake trees, U.S. consumers purchased 23.6 million new ones in 2018 for a price that was 3% less than the year before.

How does that translate into dollars?

A real tree, on average, set people back $78, according to the survey. Fake trees cost Christmas revelers an average of $104 per tree.

In other words, a fake tree costs about 33% more than a real one. But, once you buy it, you should be able to recover your cost in the second year.

How long does a fake tree last?

The answer depends on a variety of factors, including the quality of the tree when you first purchased it, whether you have kids or pets who might wreak havoc on it and how it’s stored when it’s not twinkling with lights in your home.

Consumer Reports makes some recommendations for how to choose a high-quality fake tree, such as looking for hinged branches, choosing a sturdy base and getting a tree with lights that have “burn-out protection.”

According to the National Christmas Tree Association, the average family will put up a fake tree for about six to nine years before tossing it and getting a new one.

So, if you purchase an artificial tree for about $100 and use it for eight years instead of getting a real tree for $78 each year, you’d cut your costs by about $520, a pretty hefty savings.

What about the environment?

Critics of fake trees raise concerns about how they’re manufactured and what products are used to make them. Most fake trees come from China, according to a Los Angeles Times article, with materials that can include PVC plastic and lead, which can be harmful to children. Once they’re tossed, they can take years to decompose in a landfill.

A real Christmas tree, however, typically comes from local farms and can be quickly turned into mulch once the holidays are over.

But the environmental advantages and disadvantages between the two choices are not so clear cut. A study from the American Christmas Tree Association found that the impacts of one tree versus another is a wash. In some cases, researchers found, buying an artificial tree is the more environmentally friendly option, especially if consumers keep a fake tree for at least six to nine years and donate it once they’re done with it.

Should I get a real Christmas tree or a fake Christmas tree?

The answer is, of course, personal to each of us. If you grew up chopping down a real tree with your family and smelling the scent of fresh pine throughout the Christmas season, there may be no substitute. But, if you’re only considering the cost of Christmas trees and are willing to use it for more than a few years, a fake tree may just be the right decision for you.

Consumer Education Services, Inc. (CESI) is a non-profit committed to empowering and inspiring consumers nationwide to make wise financial decisions and live debt free. Speak with a certified counselor for a free debt analysis today.

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