In the Battle of Real vs. Artificial Christmas Trees, Which is More Frugal?

I used to be a die-hard real Christmas tree fan. Growing up in California, my family would head to the Christmas tree lot every year and pick out a wonderful, pine-y smelling Christmas tree. It was a tradition we looked forward to each year.

When I grew up and got married, my husband, children, and I would either go to the Christmas tree farm or the woods and cut down our own Christmas tree. I couldn’t imagine Christmas any other way.

Christmas Tree

Then we had a chaotic year where my husband broke his finger right before Christmas and needed surgery. Between the medical appointments and the cast on his arm, cutting down our own tree wasn’t feasible. That’s when I did the unthinkable. I bought a fake Christmas tree.

I thought I’d hate it, but I’ve grown to love that big, fake tree. My daughter loves to decorate the house right after Thanksgiving, and I love not having to worry about a real tree drying out before Christmas! I also don’t miss pine needles all over my floor!

But which is the more frugal option? That’s a tough question to answer.

The Case for a Real Tree

If you live in the right place, you can find a real tree for very little money. In Oregon, a permit for cutting down a Christmas tree is only $5. That’s a pretty frugal option!

You also can’t really put a price on the whole tree hunting experience. If that’s been a part of your family tradition for years, it might not be worth it to buy a fake tree.

Finally, Christmas trees can be mulched down and are completely biodegradable. Real trees are more environmentally friendly than their artificial counterparts, which last for years in a landfill.

The Case for an Artificial Tree

For around $100 you can get a real-looking artificial tree. In some areas of the country, it’s almost that much for a real Christmas tree, making the fake tree the obvious frugal choice.

Artificial trees can last 10 years or more, so even though they cost more upfront, most of the time they’ll cost less in the long run.

There’s less of a fire hazard with an artificial tree, especially if you tend to put your Christmas tree up early.

In the end, there’s really no right or wrong choice. Real trees and artificial trees both have their advantages and disadvantages. It all comes down to personal preference. So which do you prefer?

Photo by CJeppson.



Author

By , on Dec 6, 2010
Lynnae McCoy I'm Lynnae, wife of one and stay-at-home mom of two. I'm committed to getting out of debt by being frugal with my choices in life.

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{31 Comments}

  1. K:

    hands down artificial, no mess, no fuss they store great and are reusable year after year. Plus, they do not cause landfill issues, and for every year they’re used, you save a tree and dollars. I paid $10 for mine 5 years ago, and I still use it. Wouldn’t trade it for anything.

  2. I’ve never had a tree before, so when I finally decide to get one some year, definitely real.

  3. My wife and I have just recently married and moved into a brand new house. This will be the first time we’ve spent Christmas together as a family, and well we’ve been deciding on how we wanted to start our life long family holiday traditions and went back and forth if we wanted to go to a farm and get a live tree or get an artificial tree.

    Given that we both have allergies, and are so busy with our careers we decided that we wouldn’t have the time to go out in the cold and drive to a farm to get a Christmas tree, then bring it back, and deal with the watering and cleaning up the fallen pine needles. Although my wife was a little disappointed, the whole idea of going to pick a tree was kind of romantic to her.

    So I’m happy to say we’re going to start our family traditions with decorating an artificial Christmas, and since my wife was a little disappointed that shopping for a live tree wouldn’t be part of that tradition, I made a deal with her that we would go out and by the most beautiful and real life looking artificial Christmas tree.

    So we went to a local shop and found this beautiful prelit artificial Christmas tree by Santa’s Own. By the looks of it, I could tell it was the one in my wife’s eyes. The tree was a beautiful dark green and it was thick and full just like a real one. A salesman at the store mentioned that it was voted one of the strongest and sturdiest trees out in the market by Good Housekeeping magazine and we noticed it came with a good warranty too.

    It was a little bit more expensive than other trees, but you really do pay for what you get. Other trees that we saw at the store were very fragile and didn’t look full.

    When we brought the tree home, we went online to register the warranty. Needless to say, something caught my eye and I noticed that the company, Santa’s Own, sold these scented rings to give our artificial Christmas the smell of a live tree. I gave their customer service a call they were very helpful to direct me to a local store that sold them. The next day I surprised my wife, and she just has been estatic about them and very please that we decided to have an artificial Christmas tree as part of our family traditions.

  4. I live in Maine and have had only two real trees my entire 32 years of life! I grew up with a father who was a fireman. He was completely against a real tree. After my first year of being married, I was in Target, and I found a beautfiul and huge artificial tree for 75% or more off. It ended up costing $35! It came with a huge package of replacement bulbs because ours is also prelit. It is in three pieces, I bought a huge tree bag, and within minutes, we have a fully assembled tree. We put it up and take a day or so to fluff it up- everytime we see a balb spot, we work on it. And then we decorate. Real smell of a tree is nice, but honestly, you can burn a pine scented candle! :-)

  5. Linda:

    We go with real trees (husband and kids insist) which run about $30-$40 here (need a small tree for a small house). I used to push for an artificial tree until the day DD was helping set up the trees at her school, and the dust on the artificial trees set off her allergies big time (none of us have allergies to pine, but our old house gets very dusty if not constantly dealt with, so you can imagine how dust would build up over the years on a fake tree). That settled it for us.

  6. In my neck of the woods, an artificial tree is definitely the more frugal option! And I did an artificial tree for years until I had children…

    My husband and I decided to try a real tree when my son was 16 months old, and it was wonderful! My son is not 10 and we have a daughter that is now 7, and they both love the experience!

    Family Traditions… priceless!

    After we are empty nesters, some day in the (hopefully, far off) future, then we will go back to our old artificial tree…

  7. I agree that it depends on where you live. You can’t cut down a real tree in the middle of the desert :) Real trees go for $75 and up.

    We have a beautiful artifical tree that retails around $325, that we got for $86 4 years ago (it was the store display tree). It’s beautiful, and we have the tree stand screwed into a low table that we use just for Christmas (this keeps it off the ground and makes it harder for the toddlers to reach it).

    I’m allergic to real ones. In addition, since we bought that tree, we’ve had handmade Christmases. If we didn’t already HAVE a tree, we would not have been able to afford a tree the last several years. It’s nice knowing that we’ll have a tree each year, no matter what.

  8. I’m admiring my friend’s Christmas tree, one of the realest-looking fakes I’ve ever seen. She paid $6 for it at a yard sale two years ago.
    It doesn’t owe her a thing.
    I say go with what works for you.

  9. sandy:

    My husband and I bought an artificial tree our first year of marriage when he was stationed in southern Spain. That was 33 years ago and we are still using the same tree. I think we have really gotten our money’s worth.

  10. The crummy little artificial tree my Mom passed down to us is about 30 years old and still looks fine. I think it likely cost about $20 (at most) in 1980.
    One thing not mentioned here is re-forestation effects on the earth where the tree farms reside. Over time, like any fake forest, the earth will lose its ability to reproduce – anything. Keep that in mind when evaluating real vs fake.

  11. Janet:

    I have a real tree. Though I didn’t chop it down myself, I did get more “bang for the buck” by sawing off the bottom branches so the tree would fit in the stand … and so I could make a wreath out of those branches! It looks really good, and I feel like you can justify the cost when you’re getting 2 decorations for the price of 1.

  12. I have an artificial tree that a relative who worked at Target got for me for about $30 post-Christmas about 5 years ago. It’s pre-lit and requires no water. My kids put it together; I fluff the branches; and we all decorate. We have a woodstove so artificial is safer but I do miss the sweet, woodsy smell of a real tree.
    For each of my kids, though, we bought a real, “balled” tree for their first Christmases. We planted them outside after Christmas and we now have two nice large pine trees in the yard…..

  13. Christine:

    Around here, cutting down our own tree is $30-$40, and we did that for many years (when they were $20-$25). Since we’re away a lot during the week after Christmas, we bought an artificial tree on sale after Christmas last year for 75% off that cost about $50. Definitely more frugal in the long run!

  14. real trees aggravate my allergies, so we had our first fake for 20+ years before giving it to our daughter last year & buying a smaller, tree pre-strung with lights. yes, that lazy!

  15. marci357:

    Love the smell of the fresh tree, but as I get older, hate the hassle and the pine needle mess.
    Have a wood stove now, so fresh is NOT a good option as it dries out too fast.
    It’s $5 for the permit here, and about $2 for the gas…. Got the artificial one at a garage sale for $10 and the grandkids put it up for me. So for me, artificial is more frugal, but I actually do a compromise….

    My compromise? – my artificial tree, and under it some fresh pine boughs from someone else’s trimmings off their tree – get the fresh pine smell without too much hassle or mess :)

  16. Tony:

    Well in a perfect world I would love to have a perfect real Christmas tree, but in the meantime an artificial tree will have to do. Large real trees around here can easily go for $50 (if you get a Fraiser fur), so even a fancy prelit artificial tree quickly becomes more economical. Also the environmental impact of growing all the trees only to cut them and transport them halfway across the country is something. They do recycle the real trees around here as mulch or to drop into ponds and lakes for fish beds.

    For myself, I have such heavy ornaments and so many that only a tree with very strong branches will work. An artificial tree works much better for me (and I don’t have to worry as much about it falling over in the base).

  17. Kari:

    My husband and I live in a valley between mountain ranges, so we only pay $10 for a permit, and we can get our tree within a 5-10 mile drive. Every once in a while we get tired of all the commercialism and opt for an aluminum Festivus pole. Seriously. My husband is a photographer, and the pole is part of his lighting equipment. After all, Christmas is about Jesus, not the tree.

  18. Brittney:

    Last year after Christmas I went on the hunt for ornaments, lights etc.. and found an 8-foot tree for 75% off! Being the discount diva that I am I scooped that tree up in a heart beat and put it away for this year. I love real trees but where I’m from trees cost $70 and up. I walked away with a killer deal and I now have something beautiful that will last me for years to come.

  19. sam:

    I prefer real. When I was 19 I bought an artificial one a few days after Christmas @ 90% off or so – I don’t remember the dollar amount, I just remember it was a high end one we couldn’t afford @ full price & my son’s Dad was amazed I scored it.

    After many cats/dogs climbing it over the years (when they were young ) and my son going through the toddler thing… the tree is a bit sorry however, because of my interior decorating addiction(I have three times the amount of ornaments I need but they are all soooo pretty & were bought for a dollar or less), once everything is on you can’t tell the tree is in poor shape. My friends said last year I could have a bunch of sticks under there & it’d still look good :)

    When the artificial one dies, I think I might switch to real… we’ll see. I’ve also been thinking of finding a spot on my small plot of land to plant a pine tree so I have some cones/peices to clip & bring in.

  20. Meghan:

    My parents got a fake tree about 25 years ago because of my brother’s allergies. It still looks great. So do remember in your environmental impact calculations that it’ll only ‘sit in a landfill’ if you throw it away :)

  21. Paula:

    I like both, but for the last 9 years, we have put up an artificial tree since we love to decorate our home the day after Thanksgiving. However, we do buy a real evergreen wreath to hang on our front door. I usually wait for them to go on sale. Since the weather is alot cooler here in the Pacific NW, it stays fresh through January. :)
    My family and I go for walks on our favorite trail, so I like to collect evergreen branches and pinecones to decorate our fireplace mantle, so we have a little bit of that Christmasy pine aroma to our home… :)

  22. I don’t think the money makes such a huge difference. I grew up in CA always having a real tree. It was part of our Christmas tradition to go and pick out our tree and decide flocked or no? My husband is from OR and so we both agree that real is the way to go. I love the smell. I love picking out the tree. I even love watering it every day. I just consider the $20-40 cost each year part of our holiday budget.

  23. AngelSong:

    I like real trees well enough…but my husband and I have allergies, so we have an artificial tree. A friend gave us a used one just after we were married, and we kept it until it was literally falling apart before we got our current one. I think it is just as pretty as a real one, and much more do-able for our situation.

  24. stacey:

    we’ve been using a gorgeous artificial tree since we got married that we got at an after christmas sale for 75% off. we love it and it’s beautiful… but we really miss the fresh pine smell of real trees. once our kids are old enough to enjoy it, we’d like to head up to the mountains and get a small real tree to add to our house, both for the tradition and for the smell!

  25. I prefer a real tree, but I also prefer just being able to wake up one morning and decide I want the Christmas tree up and you don’t get that kind of flexibility when you have a real one!

    A few years ago, we bought an artificial tree. It was $70 and considering a real tree will go for at least $20 where I live, this year is our break even year. One year my husband tossed around the idea of driving up to the mountains to cut down our own, but factoring in the permit cost, the drive there, and the fact that we’d probably have to purchase a saw to get the job done, it just wasn’t a very frugal choice for our family.

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