The Cost of Christmas 2015

Imagine you’re a family of four who just bought their first house, and you’re getting ready to celebrate your first Christmas in your new home. You’re planning to pick up a tree and decorations, shop for presents – and you want to host Christmas dinner, too.

Hopefully, you’ve got some money stashed away, because Christmas doesn’t come cheap these days.

Since you’re building your holiday from scratch, you should expect to spend an astounding $1,779 on a tree, gifts, and Christmas dinner for the 2015 holiday season. That estimate is based on data from the American Farm Bureau Federation, the National Retail Federation (NRF), and the National Christmas Tree Association. Here’s how it breaks down.

Feeding Your Family for the Holidays

The cost of your holiday meal will tip the scales at $50.11 this year according to the annual analysis from the American Farm Bureau Federation. Historically, this is the first time the meal has surged up over $50, and the new number represents a 70-cent increase over last year.

This figure includes a turkey dinner with some of the most popular side dishes, including cranberry sauce, stuffing, sweet potatoes, and pumpkin pie, and assumes you did all the cooking yourself.

While $50 is a steep price to pay for a holiday dinner, it still beats going out to eat. And since you’re cooking up a 16-lb. turkey here, you should have plenty of tasty leftovers to parlay into other meals. At least one would hope.

Paying for Holiday Gifts, Decorations, and More

According to the National Retail Federation, consumers planned to spend $805.65 each on gifts and decorations this year. For a family with two adults, that represents an unholy tab of $1,611.30 to be spent in the form of gifts for friends, family members, co-workers, pets, and babysitters, plus holiday decorations, greeting cards and postage, and food and alcohol.

This figure represents just a small bump in average holiday spending per person compared to last year’s average of $802.45.

“Despite the challenges that still exist in our economy, it looks as if consumers are eager to celebrate the holidays with friends and family this year,” said NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay in a press release. “We expect consumers will tackle their holiday shopping lists with a healthy dose of optimism, tempered by a hint of caution as they look for ways to find the perfect, practical gift.”

Investing in a Christmas Tree… or Not

Recent stats from the National Christmas Tree Association show that the difference between buying a real tree and a fake one was just $24.10 in 2014. A real one, they say, came in at around $39.50, while an artificial tree cost approximately $63.60.

While investing in a fake tree costs significantly more at first, it would obviously save you money in subsequent years. And since new trees require a sturdy tree stand for year one as well (around $20 on Amazon), the first-year cost of putting up the tree itself is about the same.

Throw in a starter pack of ornaments ($14 on, a basic tree skirt (around $20), and a large set of lights (around $20), and the cost of putting up a tree that first year surges to $117.60 if you chose the artificial route. If you buy a real tree, you can save the ornaments, lights, and tree stand, but you’ll still have to fork over that $40 year after year.

A picture-perfect Christmas will cost a typical family nearly $1,800 this year. Photo: Caitlin Regan

Saving on the 2015 Holiday Season

If the thought of spending nearly $1,800 on the holidays makes you want to scream, don’t despair. Savvy savers and thoughtful shoppers can spend just a fraction of that with some careful thought and a little planning.

We broke down each holiday spending category to show you how:

Save On Your Holiday Meal

If you live close to family or friends who may want to celebrate together, consider having a pitch-in dinner for your holiday meal. As Trent shared in 20 Simple Ways to Save this Holiday Season, a potluck dinner is one way to save money and cut down on food waste in one fell swoop. “Just request that each person bring a side dish,” he said. “If you want, you can give more specific assignments than that, but it’s really up to you.”

Trent also suggests making the bulk of the meal from scratch ahead of time and freezing individual components. When ingredients for your holiday meal are on sale, buying them and preparing what you can is a great way to save both money and time. Whether your assigned dish is a casserole, homemade croutons, or gravy, it can pay to work up a batch the week before Christmas and freeze it until the big day arrives.

Save on Holiday Gifts

Most frugal shoppers probably think spending an average of $805 each on the holidays is absolutely preposterous. If you’re willing to cut back at all, you can easily spend a small fraction of that amount and still give gifts to nearly everyone you know. Some strategies that can help you save include:

  • Create a holiday budget – and stick to it: If you’re determined to spend far less than average, it helps to have a plan to get you there. Write out a list of everyone you need to buy for and estimate how much you’ll spend on each. If the final number looks bigger than you hoped, start cutting and don’t stop until you whittle it down to a figure you’re comfortable with.
  • Opt out of holiday gift exchanges: While gift exchanges with family are important, don’t feel obligated to exchange gifts with everyone you know. “Such exchanges exhaust everyone, both in terms of their time and their wallet,” says Trent.
  • Give your time or free experience gifts: “If you have new parents in your family, give them a free night of babysitting. If you have nieces and nephews, give them a day of doing fun stuff with their favorite aunt,” says Trent. “If you have an elderly grandparent, give them five different afternoons of housecleaning and chores.” None of these gift ideas will cost you any money, but they will all be appreciated nonetheless.
  • Do a ‘white elephant’ gift exchange instead: Instead of a traditional gift exchange, set up a white elephant exchange where everyone brings a used gag gift from home instead. This process not only save money, but it can be a hoot as well.

Save on Trees and Holiday Décor

While artificial trees can save money in the long run, many people stay away from them due to the environmental hazard created by throwing one away. However, a recent study reported by the American Christmas Tree Association found that artificial trees cause less environmental disturbance during a 10-year “cradle-to-grave period” than annually buying a live, commercially-farmed tree would over the same timeframe.

According to the American Christmas Tree Association, the best way to cut down on the environmental impact of an artificial tree is to buy one and use it faithfully for 10 years or longer, only disposing of it when absolutely necessary.

Artificial trees and ornaments are commonly available on resale sites like Craigslist, too, and buying a used tree and ornaments will save you money without fueling additional production in the artificial tree industry.

If you’re intent on buying a live tree each year, you can potentially save money by buying from a small, local farm, getting a smaller tree, or snatching up a marked-down tree just a few days before the holidays.

The Bottom Line

During the 2015 holiday season, the average family celebrating the holidays could expect to spend as much as $1,779. However, there are plenty of ways to cut down on the overall cost of the holidays if you’re willing to try.

So, don’t be average. Instead of forking over so much money, look for ways to save that won’t diminish your enjoyment of the holiday season. Chances are, you’ll find you won’t miss whatever you cut, as long as you replace it with what really matters this time of year: love and family.

How much are you spending this holiday season? What are your favorite ways to save on the holidays?

Related Articles

Holly Johnson

Contributing Writer

Holly Johnson is a frugality expert and award-winning writer who is obsessed with personal finance and getting the most out of life. A lifelong resident of Indiana, she enjoys gardening, reading, and traveling the world with her husband and two children. In addition to The Simple Dollar, Holly writes for well-known publications such as U.S. News & World Report Travel, PolicyGenius, Travel Pulse, and Frugal Travel Guy. Holly also owns Club Thrifty.