Christmas Trees By The Numbers

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We used the extra time we had this weekend when our son was home from college to put up our Christmas tree.  We go all out when it comes to our Christmas tree and have a big collection of colorful, mercury glass ornaments.  Our ceilings are 12 foot high, so it takes a big tree to ‘fit’ the room and hold all the ornaments.

We cut our own fresh tree for the first 20 years that we were married.  It was a fun field trip every year that we did as a family (often with my parents, too), but when we moved into this house we switched to an artificial tree, because the ceiling was too high to easily find and transport a natural tree of that size.

This year we needed a new artificial tree and I thought I would compare the economics of the new tree we bought with a similar natural tree:

ARTIFICIAL – Our new artificial tree (from Sam’s Club) cost $370.  It is a 12-foot ‘Ellsworth Fir” – whatever that is – and came with almost 3,000 “Life Like” tips and 1,100 white LED lights.  It’s slimmer than many trees – which works well for our room – but we leave out one of the vertical sections so that it tops out at about 10.5 feet.

NATURAL – Looking at the Lowe’s ad this week, I see that a “fresh-cut” Frasier Fir of a comparable height (10-12 feet) costs $125.  I heard that Christmas Tree prices were up quite a bit this year, but you do pay a premium for a tree that tall.

PAYOUT – At a 3% discount rate for the cost of paying for our artificial tree upfront, it will break-even financially in about 3.5 years.  You could call it an even 3 years given our artificial has 1,100 LED lights wound into it that we would otherwise have to buy.

SAVINGS – Our last artificial tree lasted 8 years, so assuming comparable financials, we saved the cost of a whopping 5 natural  Christmas Trees on our last one.  That’s an amazing $600 – which pays for a lot of ornaments!

As favorable as this payout is, it isn’t half as quick of a payout as the average trees bought by Americans.  The National Christmas Tree Association (yes, there is such a thing!) reports that the average real tree costs $74 this year, while the average artificial tree is $99.  Based on those numbers, an artificial tree would be paid out by it’s second visit by the fat, red-suited elf .  There are other interesting statistics in THIS website that the Christmas Tree Association maintains.

While we really enjoyed the activity of cutting down our own tree, the smell of a fresh fir in the living room, and the natural beauty that comes with a real tree, there are a lot of non-financial reasons we like our artificial tree, too:  We can put the tree up early now, don’t have to worry about keeping it watered, and aren’t sweeping up needles into next June. 

Those reasons – and the financials – are a good reason to keep us enjoying our new “Ellsworth Fir”.  While I am suspicious of the name, I’m not suspicious of the savings we will enjoy!

Natural or artificial tree?  Is cost a factor at all for you?

Image Credit: (C) MrFireStation.com

15 thoughts on “Christmas Trees By The Numbers

  1. We just borrowed (or did we get it, can’t remember) an artificial tree from my in-laws. Nothing fancy, but the little Miss loves it (it’s decorated and all since last week). It’s probably not much more than 4ft high and free!
    However, Mrs CF still would like a real tree in the garden to put lights in once a year.

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    • We live on a woods, but we don’t have any evergreens in our backyard. I’d love to plant a few little pines back there and string them with white lights. It is so dark in MN through the winter it would be nice to have them light up the view!

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  2. We have an artificial tree that we purchased several years ago. It’s just the tree with no lights. For the last 4-5 years, we have gone with a natural tree from Costco. The cost has been under $30 each year. We avoid the tree lots which run at least $60 or higher. It’s nice to have the artificial tree as a backup.

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    • We have a new Costco opening this weekend. Sam’s Club doesn’t sell trees by us. Once you pay off / amortize your membership fee, you can benefit from the deals at warehouse clubs.

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  3. We tried a beautiful artificial tree one year. But the cats tried to eat the branches and we packed it away up in the rafters in our garage. Thanks for the reminder — one more thing to sell before we move!

    Just another note that may be considered financial depending on where you live –there’s the added hassle of disposing of a natural tree. Depending on your community, it’s possible you may only leave your tree outside for pickup on specific dates. If you miss them, you may need to take a ride to the nearest dump (ours is 40 minutes away) to get rid of it.

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    • I wonder what tempted the cats to nibble on an artificial tree? Not knowing, I would have guessed they would have been more likely to go after a live tree. Our city offers pick up of old natural trees, but like you said, you have to abide by their schedule. That can be a pain.

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  4. I swore I’d always have a natural tree…right up until we didn’t! Until I found out how much stinkin’ easier it is to put up, maintain, and take down an artificial tree! (Prelit? – Heaven! ) Oh yeah, and when the price of real trees went over 75 bucks. I just can’t throw away a perfectly good 75 dollar bill! ~ Lynn

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    • I was a bit of a quiet, natural tree snob. I couldn’t imagine having a fake tree, but they really do offer so many benefits.

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  5. I’m sticking with the natural a few more years.. despite the obvious benefits of artificial. One negative now – storage space. I’m needing to downsize my Christmas stuff in half this year with the downsized house space (Christmas stuff is currently overflowed out of its designated space! Decluttering while decorating this year… if I don’t love it and put in on the tree, it goes on the out pile.) Adding in an artificial tree to that space would be a challenge.

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    • How are you getting beyond the sentimental barrier to decluttering Christmas decorations. We probably could halve our decorations, but I can’t bring myself to get rid of anything! Even if it just stays in the box from year to year, I’m happy I have it.

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      • I do like to take pictures of old things before I get rid of them. Having the picture brings back almost the same nostalgia as having the actual ‘thing’.

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