$88 for a Christmas tree? 5 ways to save money on your holiday tree.

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If you’re shopping for a Christmas tree — a real, live tree, that is — you should be prepared to pay more to spruce up your home this year.

The median retail price paid for a Christmas tree across the country was $80 last year, according to the National Christmas Tree Association. And those in the tree business say you can expect that figure to rise by at least a few more dollars in 2023.

Jennifer Greene, executive director of the North Carolina Christmas Tree Association, told MarketWatch that tree pricing is generally up by 10% this year, which would mean that $80 tree now runs $88 — or even more in pricier markets like New York City. Inflation and rising labor costs are some of the key reasons for the bump, say industry professionals.

So if you’re looking to get more bough for your buck this year, MarketWatch is here to help. We consulted a variety of experts from Christmas tree trade groups to get some tips to pick out the perfect tree this holiday season — while still saving a little green.

Sourcing your tree is key

There’s no shortage of folks selling trees. Options range from independent tree lots to garden centers, plus there are also tree-sale drives by local non-profit groups. And you can always visit a tree farm and cut down your own tree — or even opt to buy a tree online and have it delivered to your doorstep. All that said, industry professionals note the best pricing is often found at big-box stores, such as Home Depot
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and Lowe’s
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— obviously, these retailers are all about volume, so they can afford to lower prices. Still, the usual advice to shop around applies — you never know where you might score a deal.

‘If you save $10 and all the needles fall off [the tree] by December 15, did you really save?’

But at the same time, it’s not just about pricing: Quality counts, as well. Some smaller merchants might have a better grade of trees, experts note. And regardless of where you buy, it’s worth asking when the trees arrived — you want a tree that’s been cut down recently and hasn’t had time to dry out, which could eventually result in needle loss. And give your tree the “needle test” — gently run your hand over a branch, or have the tree picked up by the trunk and lightly bounce it on the ground, to see how many needles come off. A fresh tree should lose only a few; a dry tree will be brittle and shed a lot. Also, you ideally want the seller to keep its trees stored in a shadier area — lots of exposure to sunlight can also dry out a tree.

The bottom line, says Mac Harman, an officer with the American Christmas Tree Association: “If you save $10 and all the needles fall off by December 15, did you really save?”

Know your firs and your pines

Not all Christmas trees are equal — and the prized varieties like shapely Frasiers and fragrant balsam firs can cost more. In basic terms, firs and spruces will be more expensive than pine and other trees, explains Jill Sidebottom, spokeswoman for the National Christmas Tree Association. So if you’re looking to save money, consider the pines. (You’ll be covering the tree with lights and decorations anyway — more on that below.) It’s also worth noting that the Douglas fir, a popular variety, is technically not a true fir.

Of course, sizing also factors into pricing — the taller the tree, the higher the cost, with tree sellers often charging by the foot. So scaling down the size of your tree this year could also save some cash. Speaking of which: Make sure you measure the space where you plan to put the Christmas tree, so you purchase one that’s an appropriate size (and don’t forget to factor your tree stand and tree topper into the sizing equation).

Play the waiting game

Here’s one time when it pays to wait. If you put off buying a tree until closer to Christmas, there’s a good chance you’ll find a tree that’s been discounted, since sellers will be eager to unload their stock before the holiday. But it’s also a bit of a risky bet, experts warn, since the tree merchant could end up being out of stock — or they may not have as great a selection of trees left. (In some years, there have been tree shortages, but industry professionals say that’s less of an issue in 2023.)

Buy the “Charlie Brown tree” — and haggle

Looks aren’t everything. Remember the scraggly tree in “A Charlie Brown Christmas” that was transformed into a holiday marvel? It’s an approach you can embrace, with the idea that some merchants might be willing to lower the price for a less-than-desirable looking tree. And pros say you can indeed find ways to make that tree look great by filling in bare patches with lights, ornaments and garland, or simply positioning the tree so that any rough spots face a wall (and thus are out of sight).  

Make your tree investment last

You can spend oodles on the tree of your dreams, but it won’t mean a thing if it doesn’t hold up through Christmas. The key to keeping a Christmas tree healthy is water — and plenty of it. Jennifer Greene with the North Carolina Christmas Tree Association says that the first few days the tree is in your home are critical in terms of hydration. “It’s going to take up a lot of water,” she says. Make sure your tree stand can hold at least a gallon of water. And it’s also best for the tree’s health if it’s not exposed to too much sunlight, and is kept in an area that’s not too warm. So keep that in mind before putting up your tree in a south-facing window, or near a radiator or other heat source that could not only dry it out, but also cause a fire hazard.

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