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Here's what Christmas tree lights should really cost you

Stay merry, bright, and on budget

Illustration of Christmas lights in the shape of a dollar sign Credit: Reviewed / Tara Jacoby

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Neatly lined up in boxes, Christmas lights are generally indistinguishable on the shelf. Sure there are the basic differences in color and length, but at first glance it’s hard to tell the difference between why one set of lights costs so much more than another set.

This Christmastime tradition shouldn’t be a headache from the start. There are key things to know going into buying Christmas lights.

Price differences among string lights can be attributed to a variety of factors. Lance Allen, a decorative holiday merchant at The Home Depot, lends his expertise on what to consider before you approach the holiday lights aisle.

“With these different options, it’s best to consider the usage you’re intending for your lights,” he says. “Is it for indoor decorative purposes? Or is it for outdoor ambient lighting? What size bulbs would you like—mini bulbs or C9 bulbs?”

No matter what style of lights you’re looking for, the first question you’ll need to answer is the most important: Incandescent, or LED?

The great debate: Incandescent versus LED

Christmas lights hanging from gutter of a home.
Credit: Getty Images / ArtBoyMB

Regardless of if you’re going for mini or C9 bulbs, basic string lights to fancy icicle style lights, you’ll always encounter the breakdown between incandescent and LED lighting.

Regardless of if you’re going for mini or C9 bulbs, basic string lights to fancy icicle style lights, you’ll always encounter the breakdown between incandescent and LED lighting. These two styles of lighting feature major differences in pricing. Deciding which to purchase is similar to purchasing light bulbs.

Incandescents are the old-school lighting choice that are typically cheaper by the foot. According to Allen, pricing for incandescent string lights starts at around $.13 per foot.

Meanwhile, LED lights are more expensive on the shelf, but they last longer and with save you loads of money on your energy bill. LED string lights have a more expensive outright cost per foot—around $.24 per foot to start. “[LEDs] provide up to 25,000 hours of use to last through multiple seasons of joy, while the multiple length and style options can easily cover bushes, patios, or front porches,” Allen says.

It’s important to think long-term

It may be tempting to reach for the incandescent lights while you’re standing in the Christmas lights aisle, since they traditionally have a cheaper price tag, be wary that they could cost you more later on, on your energy bill.

Incandescents are nowhere near as energy efficient as LEDs. According to the United States Energy Department, LEDs typically last 30 times longer than incandescents and are 75% more efficient than incandescents. This means if you take care of your lights year to year by storing them properly, you won’t need to re-purchase them as often.

Choosing between LEDs and incandescents can be summed up between whether or not you want to pay less upfront. Incandescents will be cheaper at checkout, but LEDs will make your electric bill happier.

The cost of adding flair

Beyond the breakdown between the type of bulb you’ll be using, it becomes more difficult to quantify the difference across different types of strong lights such as C9 bulbs and icicle lights. In general, you’ll find that as you get into more decorative light designs, the more expensive lights will be.

For these more decorative styles, expect incandescent bulbs to start at around $.16 per foot and LEDs to start at approximately $.50 per foot.

If you’re worried about spending too much on Christmas lights, go into your purchase with a general idea of the footage you need to cover your space. This will help you purchase just the right amount of lights so you can stay on budget this holiday season.

Christmas lights to buy

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Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.