) -- Trees, presents and decorations add up, but the hidden costs of Christmas are what make
receipts longer than Santa's list.
Just as tacks, hooks, tape cutters, extension cords, fuses and bottles of tree preservative make their way into shopping carts and behind the scenes of
displays each year, there are other forgotten expenses that add to the Christmas tally.
Here are five seemingly minor costs that will lighten wallets Grinch-style this season:
We don't care if
are having wicked awesome sales on lights this year: The juice to power them isn't included in the price tag. Direct Energy, a Texas-based energy provider and
subsidiary, estimates that Americans will spend $43 million to keep their strands of little lights lit this month.
holiday lighting calculator
indicates that as few as three strings of mini lights lit for four hours a day add $2 a month to your electric bill. Add a couple of 25-bulb strings of five-watt bulbs and a pair of spotlights, and your bill will be $10 heavier. LED bulbs, which use a 10th of the power of their mini-bulb contemporaries, are one possible solution.
Credit card bills
According to the National Retail Federation, the average U.S. consumer plans to spend $682.74 on holiday items this year. With 70% of Americans carrying at least one credit card at an average interest rate of 13.7%, analyst Ben Woolsey at CreditCards.com says that balance could cost a consumer an extra $7.80 a month in finance charges. Months after the tree hits the curb, consumers will be paying simply for making purchases.
Call them family if you must, but if they're not bringing a dish to Christmas dinner, they're just likeable freeloaders. Fortunately, the cost of feeding them has dropped 2.8% from last year, according to the Consumer Price Index's food-at-home numbers. With meat, poultry and fish down 4.8% from the same time last year and dairy down a whopping 8.2%, there's no need to be skimpy with the ham or eggnog. However, the price of an average turkey dinner for 10 has dropped only $1.70 to $42.91 from last year (a figure that jumps more than 50 cents a pound when you replace turkey with ham), according to the American Farm Bureau. It wouldn't kill someone to bring their own yams to Christmas for once.
A 44-cent snowman stamp may seem harmless, but postage costs snowball as people send cards to far-flung relatives and ship personal newsletters detailing the year's marriages, layoffs, first teeth, parole board victories, etc. The U.S. Postal Service expects to handle 3 billion cards and letters alone this holiday season. Americans will pay more than $1.3 billion to make sure that dog portrait reaches their loved ones' mailboxes on time. Fortunately, many retailers are picking up the cost of shipping gift purchases this year.
Full stomachs and presents aren't the only thing Americans take away from the holidays. Work, money and family issues brought on by the season can take a psychological and financial toll. A recent survey by the American Psychological Association found that money is a significant source of stress for 71% of Americans around this time of year, with 69% stressed out by work and 55% troubled by family issues.
If the holiday blues linger, psychotherapy might be in order at an average cost of $150 a hour. With 12 sessions and medication, you're looking at more than $2,000 just to fix the holiday damage.
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-- Reported by Jason Notte in Boston.
Jason Notte is a reporter for TheStreet.com. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Huffington Post, Esquire.com, Time Out New York, The Boston Herald, The Boston Phoenix, Metro newspaper and the Colorado Springs Independent.