Cost of Christmas: Are Live Trees or Artificial the Better Deal? Christmas is just a couple weeks away, and consumers are heading out to snap up Christmas trees so Santa knows where to put the gifts. So, what'll it be? Live or artificial?

It's not just a matter of aesthetic preference or family tradition: Cost is certainly a factor during these tough economic times.

Industry trade groups have provided plenty of fodder for consumers to consider when weighing the costs of a live versus an artificial tree.

The American Christmas Tree Association says artificial trees cost an average of $100 and can save consumers 70% over a 10-year period, the average life span of an artificial tree.


Source: American Christmas Tree Association

But the National Christmas Tree Association, which represents only the live Christmas tree industry, says bah humbug to such figures.

In its list of the 10 Biggest Myths About Christmas Trees, the organization cites two in particular that pertain to the live vs. faux debate:
MYTH #4: It's better to use a fake tree because you can reuse it each year.
BUSTED: That's a very short-sighted perspective. According to research, most fake trees are only used 6 to 9 years before they're disposed. Even if you would use one for 20 years or more, it will eventually be thrown away and end up in a landfill. And unlike Real Trees, which are biodegradable and recyclable, fake trees are always a burden to the environment.

MYTH #6: Real Trees cost too much.
BUSTED: Like anything else, you can find a wide range of prices, and spend what you want to spend. It all depends on what you're looking for in a tree. Prices vary by many variables including: location of retail lot, where the tree was harvested, species, size, grade, who's selling it and even sometimes day of the week. The bottom line is, you can spend $15 to over $200 on a tree in many places.

My favorite part is when fake tree people try to use this as a selling point. "You can get your investment in a fake tree back in as little as three years...blah, blah." That's called "funny math" where I'm from. If I spend $20 on a Christmas tree from a farm each year and you spend $300 on a fake tree, you'd have to use it for 15 years (way past the average) before I will have spent the same amount as you.
Holiday Math

Perhaps the best step to take on pricing an artificial tree versus a live tree is to take an ultra-conservative approach.
Start with the estimated six-year life span of an artificial tree, based on the low end of the range given by the National Christmas Tree Association. Multiply that by a range of $20 to $50 to purchase a live tree. Over a six-year period, a live tree would cost $120 to $300, similar to a price of a relatively decent artificial tree.

In other words, it's pretty much a wash, financially.

Of course, the cold hard numbers don't make the decision any easier for some. "I don't know if Christmas tree buying is that rational. It can be irrational. It's more about the special time with the family and the emotional fabric of getting together and feeling good," says Stew Leonard Jr., owner of the Stew Leonard's grocery chain, one of the nation's largest Christmas tree retailers.

Other Costs to Consider

A couple considerations Christmas tree consumers may take into account is whether they already have sunk an investment in lights and a stand for a live tree, or whether they're willing to bear additional costs to switch out of an artificial tree.

Some artificial trees come with lights already attached and all have a stand, while live trees require the purchase of lights and a stand. On average, it costs $5 per foot to decorate a tree in lights, according to Leonard, while tree stands can go from as low as $7 to as high as $100 or so.

Trendiness is another consideration. Artificial tree owners can choose from a wide selection of colors outside of traditional Christmas tree green, like the popular pink, white or silver, Jami Warner, executive director of the American Christmas Tree Association, said in an email interview. Buyers, however, would likely be locked into that color for at least several years given the typical lifespan of an artificial tree.

So where will Santa put your gifts this year? Weigh in below on the artificial vs. real tree debate.

Motley Fool contributor Dawn Kawamoto does not own stock in any live or artificial Christmas tree grower, manufacturer, or retailer. She is, however, heavily invested in the spirit of Christmas.

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28 Comments

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cpink1172

Why argue over a real or fake tree buy what makes you happy end of story

December 01 2013 at 6:14 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
rini1946

I use to have a live tree but one year I found a bunch of ants in the house with a line going to the tree. And I read somewhere that the ant live in the trees and they go dormant for the winter and when you put them in your house they think its spring and come out. So it an artifical one for me

December 17 2011 at 10:31 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Robert & Lisa

Christmas is of PAGAN ORIGINS. Being a Christian means you follow what Christ did. He had nothing to do with pagan traditions and actively taught against them. If he wanted us to celebrate his birthday, he would have said so. What he did say to do was to if anything, celebrate his death. Hmmmm... Think Satan is having a good time with all of the confusion? How is telling your kids about Santa Clauss, a lie, helping them? Teaching your kids fairy tales about Easter and bunnies laying eggs is developing what kind of trust and confidence in what you say? Don't buy a tree. Don't make the greatest deceiver of all time, no not Barack Obama although he is definately a big one, but Satan happy.

December 15 2011 at 6:50 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Robert & Lisa's comment
Kathy

Dear Robert and Lisa- Stop trying to save all the happy people of the world and save yourself. JERK

November 10 2012 at 8:05 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
leroymart

One aspect they are not looking at, my family has bought live trees for over 55 years, they provide something a fake tree can't, they produce oxygen, habitat for wild life and later on if you want timber for sale, let's see what that adds up to, clean air, the beauty of wildlife and future timber considerations, can't beat that.

December 14 2011 at 6:10 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
oma5opa

If you want to save money than forgo Christmas. One acre of Christmas trees provide oxigen for 18 people daley. What do you say?

December 13 2011 at 1:44 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to oma5opa's comment
Kathy

Christmas Tree farms are a business. The trees are planted for that purpose, so you would just be putting people out of business and for what? Who is going to "forgo Christmas"? Ridiculous.

November 10 2012 at 8:08 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
cafeluna

I like the smell of a real tree, and seeing my daughter's face picking a tree. It's real for me.

December 13 2011 at 1:34 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
kastmaster2105

UHhhhmmmmmm Hanaka Bush.....Allah Plant.....Holiday Tree.......!!!! ain't this bitch!!

December 12 2011 at 2:41 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
shawn

Real Christmas trees that you buy is a crop. Cut down then replanted. All of them are grown for profit. They are not just picked out of the forest and cut down, but grown in an open field and replanted when cut. For some it is like pulling teeth to do anything, but others they are traditions and a joy doing. At least this government hasn't outlawed Christmas trees. Don't complain about what I do for Christmas and I won't complain abouut your smoking, drinking, drugs or just being lazy.

December 12 2011 at 1:53 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
JDCochran

I don't celebrate Christmas, never have, never will. However, that makes me objective in this assessment. I also own a few tree farms. We don't sell Christmas trees but could if we wanted to. My decision would be ARTIFICIAL. First, the cost of the tree appears to be a wash between live and artificial. But, the intangible costs are the difference: Trips to get a live tree, the hassle of locading and unloading the live tree, the hassle of trimming the branches, the hassle of changing the water to keep the tree alive, the trip to the landfill, the ENORMOUS fire hazard of having a dried out tree with electric lights on it, and the chance that the live tree will bring with it mites and other allergens into the home. The artifical tree wins on all counts. As for the "biodegradability" purported by the live tree industry, that is an outright lie. Yes, compared to plastic trees, live trees are more biodegradable. But, live trees, once dead, do not decompose completely for almost 50 years!!!! Kinda like a newspaper, but you don't think of newspapers as biodegradeable do you? Lastly, on the subject of cost, if you bought an artificial tree in January, you would get a great deal, maybe $50 for a $300 tree. There you have it: Artificial wins the OBJECTIVE argument.

December 12 2011 at 8:51 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to JDCochran's comment
Tom

Gowing ,pruning,shearing mowing are as much as a intangible cost as owning a few tree farms and actually doing the work.

December 12 2011 at 4:03 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Tgymmonkey23

"As for the "biodegradability" purported by the live tree industry, that is an outright lie. Yes, compared to plastic trees, live trees are more biodegradable. But, live trees, once dead, do not decompose completely for almost 50 years!!!!"
This statement doesn't even make sense..... It takes time for any matter to decompose, the difference is that the live tree is organic and would take "50 years" and the artificial tree would take at least 450 years to decompose...
Second of all, artificial trees are made out of chemicals which, when they are manufactured, release toxic emissions into the air. This damages the ozone layer and creates health problems for living things that surround the area. Also, where do you think that the artificial trees are made? In most cases Asia, so the fuel used to ship them to America would be far greater than the trivial amount used on driving to a local tree farm.
I'm aware that this is an objective argument, but I just wanted to put my two cents in.

December 12 2011 at 11:09 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
ilm9p

I bought a live tree for years and years at the same lot. Then this one year the owner took a hard line on prices and then the lousy shitheel tried to short change me. We argued about it but then he called me a liar. I told him I was taking wreaths to make up the difference and if he didn't like it to call the Cops. I've been plastic ever since.

December 12 2011 at 7:38 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply