O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree, How Pricey Are Thy Branches

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If you plan to buy a fresh Christmas tree this holiday season, you might want to leave a bit more wiggle room in your budget.  

The National Christmas Tree Association, which represents more than 700 member farms, estimates that the prices for U.S.-grown Christmas trees will rise 5 to 10 percent this year because supply is tighter than usual. The tree species impacted will be farm-grown Noble and  Fraser firs, which are most popular around the holidays. 

The good news is that although prices are increasing, finding a tree isn’t expected to be a big problem.  

“We are optimistic that everybody who buys real Christmas trees will still be able to find a real Christmas tree this year of their liking,” Doug Hundley, a spokesman for the association, told MagnifyMoney.  

Local tree sellers are already seeing evidence of pricier trees this season. Popi Costa, a sales rep at U S Evergreens, a wholesale florist based in New York City’s Flower District, says the store is still awaiting its shipment of Christmas trees, but other decorative Christmas evergreen items, such as the branches used to make wreaths, have already arrived and are 5 percent more expensive than usual.  

U S Evergreens sources all of its Christmas evergreens from farms in Oregon, the biggest Christmas tree producer in the nation.   

“We haven’t received the price list yet, but we think it will be a little bit more than it was before,” Costa says.  

What’s behind the price uptick? 

The price increase of Christmas trees is actually one of the far-reaching consequences of the Great Recession. For a few years following the financial crisis, Christmas trees prices fell as cash-strapped consumers bought fewer trees than were available on the market. 

As a result, the revenue stream that growers would typically use to fund following year’s harvest was depleted, leading farms to plant fewer new trees. Another reason is that there have been fewer seedlings — young plants grown from seeds that are later sold to farms — available for farms that rely on them to jumpstart their planting.  

Now, consider the seven to 10 years it takes to produce a mature tree of six or seven feet. No wonder we’ve ended up with a supply issue of holiday-ready trees. And as the demand catches up during the economic recovery, the price go up. 

Although there are fewer trees available, Hundley says there should be more than enough evergreens available to meet demand.  

However, if you prefer a specific type of Christmas tree, he encourages you to purchase as early as possible — he suggests shopping no later than the week after Thanksgiving. A typical fresh Christmas trees lasts for about a month if properly cared for. 

America’s love for Christmas trees: By the numbers 

According to the tree association, some 350 million Christmas trees are currently growing on thousands of family farms across the country to meet the demand for a decade to come. The top three Christmas tree-producing states are Oregon, North Carolina and Michigan. 

Hundley, who has been in the industry for more than three decades, says when the economy is improving, people often buy bigger Christmas trees. He said growers are expecting the same demand for the coming sales season, if not larger, with Americans in general feeling better about the economy. 

Consumer confidence has risen to its highest level in almost 17 years, according to data released last week through The Conference Board, a global, independent business membership and research association. 

Another tree trend to watch: Americans are slowly swapping out the real thing for fake trees, data show.  

The number of real Christmas trees purchased in 2016 was 27.4 million, down from a recent peak of 33 million in 2013, according to the National Christmas Tree Association. 

Meanwhile, Americans purchased 18.6 million artificial Christmas trees in 2016, up nearly 59 percent from 2009.  

Fake trees are generally more expensive than real trees. A 6- or 7-foot Fraser at U S Evergreens cost $75 last year, while artificial trees are priced at from $90 to $150 online. 

The post O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree, How Pricey Are Thy Branches appeared first on MagnifyMoney.

You Have Just 100 Days to Plan for Holiday Scams

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Whether you are hoping we can “Make America Great Again,” working tirelessly for those who say that we are “Stronger Together,” or simply trying to make it through another day, it is highly likely that Christmas is the furthest thing from your thoughts right now.

But with only 54 days ‘till Election Day, I can already tell you what’s going to happen, and it’s not going to be pretty. I’m not talking about the continuing controversies over hacked email accounts or electronic voting systems. I’m not even talking about all the sore losers and obnoxious winners there will be no matter who wins.

You Better Not Cry

On November 9, America will wake up to a new leader of the free world. And with all the feelings (elation, dread, boredom) to which that gives rise, I still want to point out another horror show waiting on the other side of the election. There will be just 46 days until Christmas.

If you didn’t have insomnia leading up to Election Day, the night after might be your unlucky day.

Not worried? Consider for a moment that while you were thinking about politics, football and maybe Thanksgiving, the economic juggernaut that is Christmas has been rolling since January. All the people who make the holiday profitable have already spent tons of time thinking specifically about you.

That said, there are a lot of not-so-nice guys out there (also known as scam artists, criminals, swindlers and crooks), who have also spent a great deal of time thinking about you, and have been sharpening their proverbial knives in anticipation of a very merry Christmas. With all this in mind, here are some of the things you should look out for in the 100 days until Christmas.

1. Charity Scams

‘Tis the season to give until it hurts both emotionally (oh, those family get-togethers) and financially. But if you’re not careful, the emotional and financial will intersect when you are scammed by a fake charity.

I know, pretty harsh, right? Well, if only the likes of the Grinch can steal the entirety of Christmas (and as you’ll recall he actually couldn’t) there are plenty of grungy cranks out there who are perfectly happy to steal your donation of $10, $20, $100 or more (and they can). They do it with phishing scams: an email or text designed to look like it’s from a charity. Or that strategically placed dinnertime call when your impulse to be a good neighbor collides with your desire to get off the phone and back to the table.

How to avoid this: Always give directly to a charity. This goes for your cyber giving and real-time charity. Not all bell-ringing Santas are working for the Salvation Army, but if you go to the right site (that you have independently confirmed), with the right security (HTTPS and the little lock), you can be sure your money gets to the right people.

2. Fake Jobs

With the holiday rush, companies hire. This is a boon for everyone, potentially, but it also opens the door to identity-related scams. Be on the lookout for job applications that require detailed personal information just to qualify, and if you are applying online, make sure the site and the company are the real deal by making phone calls, searching online and relentlessly checking consumer reviews. If you believe you’ve been the victim of a scam, it’s a good idea to check your credit to see if your scores have fallen. (You can view two of your free credit scores on Credit.com.)

3. Holiday E-Cards

Holiday cards are fun. You get to see how kids have grown and check out your friend’s new car (I’m amazed at how many family portraits include the family car). But be careful because there are plenty of fake cards sent using your hacked or otherwise compromised address book or one that belongs to someone you know. The result: a holiday card that doesn’t seem odd, but open the wrong one, and you’ve just been phished.

Solution: There’s no silver bullet here, but always look at the URL and make sure that it is spelled correctly, because many of these scams operate spoof sites that require sharp powers of observation to detect, such as words spe1led slightly differently. (Did you catch that?)

4. Unsafe Online Shopping

No matter how pressed for time you are, no matter how forgetful-so-you-better-get-it-done-while-you’re-thinking-about-it (like me) you might be, try to avoid using public Wi-Fi to do your holiday shopping and never, ever use public Wi-Fi and your credit card at same time. There are often hackers sitting nearby either manning fake public Wi-Fi or ready to grab your information with a man-in-the-middle attack.

Tip: Rather than familiarizing yourself with every scam out there, just avoid public Wi-Fi for anything other than browsing the Internet.

5. Unlocked Devices

Doubtless you noticed several mentions of phishing scams above. This final suggestion is wildly popular with parents: Get your child their own tablet or smartphone.

It is impossible to police a child’s every click, and if that kid is on a family-wide device that also contains cookies and bookmarks and the like associated with bank accounts and other information housed by financial institutions, putting that device in a child’s hand is courting disaster.

There, I said it.

The Takeaway

The takeaway should be not to get taken (or carried away) this holiday season. Never let your Fear of Looking Like a Grinch (FOLLAG) trump your Fear of Getting Ripped Off (FOGRO).

In addition to all those manufacturers and retailers and marketing wizards hoping for a robust Black Friday and magnificent Cyber Monday, there will lurk all stripes of holiday exploiters as we wend our way toward the holidays. While ‘tis the season for commerce and acquisition ecstasy, there is an army of potential holiday wreckers out there, so be careful.

This story is an Op/Ed contribution to Credit.com and does not necessarily represent the views of the company or its partners.

Image: kzenon

The post You Have Just 100 Days to Plan for Holiday Scams appeared first on Credit.com.