Image: Christmas tree lot
Fred Zwicky  /  AP
Buying a Christmas tree can be quite pricey on the local lot. Wholesale prices can be a quarter of what a tree will cost you at retail — so shop around for the best price.
updated 12/3/2010 8:29:53 PM ET 2010-12-04T01:29:53

You can't beat the fresh smell and look of a newly cut Christmas tree. But at up to $200 for a real tree, the cost can be too high.

The good news this Christmas is that tree prices are expected to stay the same as last year, at least according to vendors in Florida, where one tree farm sells trees for $16 to $200. The recession is still lingering, with customers still wanting trees, but at last year's prices.

Here are some of the ways to get a tree in your home without breaking your holiday spending budget:

From the lot
Tree lots are expensive, there's no getting around it. Wholesale prices can be a quarter of what a tree will cost you at retail, so shop around for the best price. And make sure you test the tree for freshness before buying. Prices vary by height, but $8 to $10 a foot is normal, so a 6-foot tree should cost $48 to $60, although it varies by geography.

This may be the year to haggle over the price of a freshly cut tree. Some retailers have a glut of trees, keeping prices at levels seen 20 years ago.

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A tree farm has a more personal feel than going to a lot where the trees are already cut, and gives the assurance of being fresh. As with a tree lot, prices vary by location. From my personal experience in California, I've found tree farms to be more expensive, although the fun of walking through a meadow of trees can't be beat. Tree farms in Connecticut, however, looked to have deals at $40 for a 7-foot tree.

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Planted tree
This is an environmentally friendly way to keep a Christmas tree. It can be replanted, if you keep it alive during a month in your warm home. We bought a small one a few years ago in an effort to keep our young daughter from pulling the ornaments off and tried to replant it in the front yard in January, but it quickly died and had to be recycled. Our mistake was probably keeping the tree in the house too long, since living Christmas trees are recommended to be in the home for seven to 10 days only.

A 6-foot planted tree costs about $40 and a pot is $10, so for about $50 you should be able to get one home.

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Delivered free
A fresh-cut, 6-foot tree costs $75 to deliver from a tree farm in Wisconsin, although the FedEx delivery prices may motivate you to plant your own tree seeds. For my ZIP code in California, delivery ranged from $56 for standard delivery to $345 for overnight delivery.

An online search of your area will find better prices, since the delivery charges won't wind up costing more than the tree. I found a service in my area with delivery starting at $75, which includes the tree. They even come pre-decorated, although that can drive the price of a 6-foot tree to $1,000 and seems more appropriate for an office than a home.

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The upfront cost can be high — up to $200 for a 6-foot tree — but it's a one-time cost for a tree that should last years. An after-Christmas sale might get you a better deal, but there are already deals on these "fake" trees.

If you want to go all out, a 6-foot pre-lit tree is about $600. You'll save the hassle of hanging Christmas tree lights on it, although if you can't get a camping tent folded back together neatly, putting an artificial tree back in a box may not be the most calming way to spend time after the holidays.

The main complaint against artificial trees is that they don't have the fresh smell of a real tree. There are ways to get around that and make it smell like a real tree, although to Christmas purists, that may be like leaving a beer out for Santa — it just doesn't seem right.

Aaron Crowe is a freelance journalist in the San Francisco Bay Area.

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