The fake vs real Christmas tree debate has been simmering on for years. Traditionalists and romantics point to the festive smell and that sense of bringing the natural world into your home. Pragmatists point to the practicality (and environmental benefits) of reusing the same tree year after year.
But, depending on your choice, you could be saving money every year. We take a look at the pros and cons of the great tree debate.
Fake trees: considerations
Reusable. This is pretty obvious. You can reuse a fake Christmas tree every year. If you’re on a budget and don't want to splurge every year, this is your best bet. You're helping the environment with that reuse (if you ignore the small factor that the tree is made of plastic). Plus, most fake trees come in sections, meaning they can be easily stored, ready to come out the next year.
No maintenance or mess. As your tree is fake, there’s no watering, sweeping of needles, or trimming. Most real Christmas trees involve some kind of daily maintenance to keep them alive, just like a houseplant. You don’t have to struggle to put the lights on every year. Most fake trees already have lights on them. There are even some ingenious pop-up versions, that store away in their own carry case! And the best part — you won’t have to squash the tree into your car or drag it along your driveway every year.
Customization. Instead of searching through a tree farm or the stand at your local Home Depot, you can choose what size, color, and lights you want on your tree. Some fake trees come with apps that allow you to change the light colors and sequences.
Cost. Artificial Christmas trees can range from about $85 to $1,000 or more. “According to our 2023 survey, 52% of artificial Christmas tree owners purchased their tree for under $200, and 27% paid $200 to $400,” says Jami Warner, executive director of the American Christmas Tree Association.
Real trees: considerations
Non-reusable. Like cut flowers, Christmas trees will eventually die (of course, if you have a big enough garden — and patience — you can buy a potted tree and plant it in your garden after the holidays, then dig it up every year). A typical Christmas tree will last about 4 weeks with adequate watering and care (keep it away from heaters).
Maintenance and mess. All real Christmas trees (whether pines, firs, or spruce trees) will shed their needles to some extent. (Despite what those "non-drop" claims on the labels may say.) Maintenance is much higher with a real tree — including trimming branches to get the right shape, regular watering, and sweeping up needles and sap. You’ll also have to always attach your lights to the tree which can be one of the most annoying festive chores.
Adds a natural scent. Most people look forward to this part the most — the fresh smell of pine spreading throughout your house. You can keep an evergreen candle lit near your fake tree but nothing can truly substitute for the festive smell of a real Christmas tree.
Cost. On average 25-30 million Christmas trees are sold in the U.S. every year. In 2022, 22.34 million real Christmas trees were purchased and sold a median price of $80, according to the National Christmas Tree Association. This year, the price of trees is rising by 10% to around $85-110 and some will cost more, depending on the size you go for. That's a lot to pay out every year...
Of course, it mostly comes down to personal preference — what you want in your house, the maintenance you are (or are not) willing to put in, decor styles, and how much of a premium you put on what people love the most — the smell.
But when it comes to saving money, you’ll want to go with the fake tree. A well-made fake tree might have a high initial cost but, in the long run, you’ll end up paying more for a real tree every year.
Quincy is the digital producer at Kiplinger. He joined Kiplinger in May 2021. Before, he worked at Agora Financial - Paradigm Press and was a contributing writer for several other online media publications.
In his current role at Kiplinger, Quincy produces several newsletters, including Kiplinger Today, Investing Weekly, Tax Tips, Kiplinger’s Special Report, and Closing Bell. At the same time, he writes numerous articles every month.
When he’s not working, he’s taking his dogs for a walk or fishing.
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