Published November 26, 2012
No matter where you buy the gifts from "The Twelve Days of Christmas," you're going to pay more, but whatever you do, don't buy them in Chicago. Or Los Angeles. Or New York.
The cost of buying all 364 items repeated throughout the timeless holiday carol has gone up 6.1 percent since last year, according to the annual Christmas Price Index compiled by PNC Wealth Management. And the new retail cost of $107,300 really hurts in the biggest U.S. cities, where state and local sales tax adds on as much as 9.5 percent.
The financial services company tracks the items - including gold rings (up big), swans (more expensive than you think) and maids a-milking (at minimum wage) as part of its Christmas price index. But it does not include sales tax.
"No, the prices are just the retail cost," said PNC spokesman Alan Aldinger. "So depending on where you buy, you might pay quite a bit more, or quite a bit less."
So buying in the most tax-hungry locales could cost you an extra $10,000 or so. Forty-five states have sales tax, and in many, municipal and county levies add to the price at the cash register. But five states - Alaska, Delaware, Montana, New Hampshire and Oregon - don't charge sales tax at all. And you might save a few bucks buying online, although time could be running out on that deal. There is growing bipartisan support in Congress for national enforcement of sales taxes, which would put the burden of collecting on online retailers, who would turn the revenue over to the state where the buyer resides.
Chicago shoppers now pay 9.5 percent on sales-taxable items. Los Angeles' sales tax jumps to 9 percent from the current 8.75 percent in January, and there's a proposal to match Chicago's rate. In New York City, the combines sales tax is 8.875 percent.
Prices on the items are going up even faster than taxes, which left PNC's economists surprised.
"The rise is larger than expected considering the modest economic growth we've had," said Jim Dunigan, managing executive of investments for PNC. He noted the government's Consumer Price Index has risen just 2 percent in the United States in the 12 months before September.
Thrifty shoppers may find some reasons for cheer. Six items mentioned in the song haven't gone up in price: maids-a-milking, ladies dancing, lords-a-leaping, calling birds, turtle doves and the partridge. The eight maids-a-milking still cost just $58.
Twelve drummers drumming ($2,775.50) and eleven pipers piping ($2,562) might also be considered relative bargains compared to seven swans, which will set you back $7,000. Nine ladies dancing will cost you $6,294.03.
Dunigan said the 2011 drought caused the prices of some birds to soar, partly because of corn and other feed costs.
"The geese were up 29.6 percent, and swans were up 11 percent," Dunigan said, adding that none of the gifts in the song went down in price this year.
The price of a pear tree is $189.99, an 11.8 percent jump from last year's $169.99. Five gold rings jumped 16.3 percent this year, to $750, and three French hens are now $165, instead of $150.
The $15 partridge is the cheapest item, and swans the most expensive, at $1,000 each.
Last-minute shoppers who turn to the Internet, possibly in a bid to dodge sales tax, will pay a bit more for the gifts. Buying one set of the core items in each verse costs $24,431 in traditional stores this year, but $40,440 online. Part of that difference is the extra expense of shipping live birds, Dunigan said, adding that Internet costs rose 1.5 percent compared to last year.
Sales tax is no small matter in the U.S. According to The Tax Foundation, Americans paid 9.9 percent of their income on state and local taxes in 2010. That equates to about $4,100 for the average shopper..
The Associated Press contributed to this report.