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A Cheaper Christmas Tree May Be Just Around The Corner

This is Back of the Envelope, FiveThirtyEight’s home for shorter, quicker posts.


For the past several years, I’ve bought my Christmas tree from a stand around the corner from my apartment in Brooklyn. It was always the same, simple price: $10 per foot, which seemed reasonable when I was buying a 5-foot tree for my tiny little walkup. This year, I moved to an apartment with a proper living room and decided to go big. I wanted a tree that was taller than I am. The stand in my new neighborhood charges less — $9 per foot — but I was going for a 6-footer, and something about crossing the $50 Rubicon didn’t sit well with me.

So I took to Twitter to try to gain some perspective.

Ultimately, I got about 150 responses from 29 states. Not the most comprehensive data set, but some interesting results. The cheapest tree, other than for those who cut their own, was in Corvallis, Oregon, for $3.10 per foot. That makes sense, because there are trees everywhere in Oregon.

The most expensive tree I heard about was $35.71 per foot in the Culver City area of Los Angeles. That also makes sense, because LA is ridiculous in every way.

Overall, the average price was $8.70 per foot. Here’s where I got responses from.

avirgan-tree-3a

Most interesting to me, though, was the variation in results within an area. Take a look at New York City, for instance. In Hell’s Kitchen, on the western side of Manhattan, you can buy a tree for $6.66 per foot. (It is Hell’s Kitchen after all.) But walk a few blocks south to Chelsea, and somebody’s charging $20 per foot. In a place like New York, where many people don’t have cars, vendors can set the price knowing that many people won’t be comparison shopping.

avirgan-tree-1

Here’s San Francisco, where you can see a similar phenomenon.

avirgan-tree-2

I guess it’s no surprise that different neighborhoods have different pricing. I spoke with several tree vendors here in New York who all confirmed that many of the trees come from the same supplier (they are shipped down from Canada). But the price is set according to what the hyper-local market will bear. Sure enough, I stopped by my old neighborhood, which is rapidly gentrifying, and they’d bumped up the price to $11 per foot this year.

The one thing I heard consistently, though: If you really want to negotiate for a good price, wait till Christmas Eve. It’s a buyer’s market.

Thanks to Twitter follower @justinwzig for helping compile the data and FiveThirtyEight’s Ella Koeze for helping with the graphics.

Jody Avirgan hosts and produces podcasts for FiveThirtyEight.

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