No doubt about it: the holidays can be pricey. While The Penny Hoarder has looked at ways to save money on holiday shopping and holiday travel, and even the chance to get paid for sharing your Christmas list, we’ve barely scratched the surface of ways to save and earn money during the holidays.
For those who celebrate Christmas, a tree is generally a non-negotiable part of the festive atmosphere, and an often-overlooked way to save money is to cut your own Christmas tree.
Now, I don’t mean going to a “cut your own Christmas tree” farm that will charge a hefty price for chopping, dragging and hauling your tree. It’s cheaper (and usually more fun!) to do it on your own, as long as you know what you’re doing. Here’s how to successfully find and cut your own Christmas tree.
Cut a Tree on Forest Service Land
Forest Service land often provides the opportunity to cut your own tree for a very low price. In the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forests in Wyoming, you can cut your own Christmas tree for $10.Each household can purchase up to five permits, for one tree each. (Click to tweet this idea.)
Certain areas are off-limits to tree cutting, so be sure to check the rules and guidelines and obtain permits from the necessary agency. An important note: you can’t cut off a great living-room sized portion of a tree and leave the rest in the forest. This practice, called “tree topping,” is strictly prohibited and you cannot leave more than six inches of stump. Make sure you know the rules that dictate the size of the tree you can take.
As soon as you cut your tree, you must tag it, and then transport it with the tag visible. A bit of work is involved, so bring some merry companions and be prepared to carry your newly-felled tree a fair distance, as all trees must be cut at least 100 feet from roads and trails.
Measure Twice, Cut Once
Remember that trees often look smaller in the forest. Be sure to measure your space at home and bring a tape measure out into the field with you. The last thing you want is to spend several sweaty, cold hours hauling a tree and then bring it home and find out that it’s too tall for your living room.
Be sure to be properly equipped with the right wood-cutting tools and knowledge. The Medicine Bow-Routt National Forests recommend bringing a minimum of sled, snowshoes, shovel, snow chains, gloves, warm clothes, water and a saw. Other forests also recommend taking a four-wheel drive vehicle with a full tank of gas, handsaw, axe, tarp, rope, tie downs, first aid kid, food, blanket and warm liquids.
Be sure to dress appropriately and know where you’re going. Always bring a map so you don’t get lost!
It’s safer and more fun to bring friends and family out in search of your Christmas tree. Bring others out into the forest to help locate, cut and haul your tree.
If you have multiple permits for your household, you can always do the heavy lifting and bring the trees home to friends and family, perhaps in exchange for gas (though selling the trees is prohibited). Or, make the tree your holiday gift to loved ones.
Once you have your tree safely home, keep it fresh by putting the base in a container of water. Make sure the tree is stable and far from any fire hazards, including heaters, radiators, fireplaces and appliances. Never use candles or flames near the tree and be sure that all electrical decorations, such as lights, are in good working order. Be sure to have a working smoke detector in your home and test it regularly.
Alternate Options for Saving on Trees
If trekking into the forest isn’t your thing, there are plenty of other ways to save on a Christmas tree.
Ask About a Work Exchange at a Christmas Tree Lot
Many Christmas tree lots and farms are seasonal enterprises. See if you can work a shift or two there in exchange for a free tree (and perhaps even some extra cash).
Deck the Halls
If cutting a full tree is overwhelming, consider gathering boughs to make wreaths and decorations. Your home can be beautiful and wonderfully scented without the hassle of cutting and hauling an entire tree.
Consider an Artificial Tree
While many stalwart Christmas lovers would never consider an artificial tree, there are many benefits to having a garage-dwelling arboreal replica. Artificial trees can last for years and fold up for easy storage. While they can be expensive up front, divide the cost by the number of years the tree will last to see your real cost savings.
A common argument against fake trees is that the smell of a fresh tree is half the fun of Christmas. Using fresh boughs and scented oils can bring that pine smell into your home, while saving the $50 to $200 per year that you would spend on a real tree from a local lot.
Your Turn: How will you save money on a Christmas tree? Will you cut your own, or do you prefer an artificial tree?
Kristen Pope is a freelance writer and editor in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.