The Index of Economic Activity
in Tompkins County

  Department of Economics
  at Ithaca College



Front Page Historical Data Outlook Archives Methodology

The Cost of Christmas in Tompkins County
            Retailers have done an excellent job making holidays such as Halloween and Valentine’s Day major spending occasions. Nevertheless, November and December are the make-or-break months for people who sell merchandise for a living. The holiday shopping season is viewed as a bell-weather for the mood of consumers and the health of the economy. Holiday retail sales across the country are closely monitored and analyzed.

The National Retail Federation estimates that 147 million shoppers came out on Black Friday weekend. That is up 4.8 percent over last year. But those shoppers did not spend as freely and the total take of retailers was down 3.5 percent. For the entire holiday season, which is typically considered to be November and December, retail sales are expected to be 4 percent higher than last year.

Here in Tompkins County, holiday retail sales are predicted to be $275.4 million, or 5 percent higher than last year. This forecast is based on the fact that retail sales are running 5 percent ahead of last year’s pace through October. Shoppers are looking for bargains and a quick check of prices at local retail establishments shows that there are some goods buys out there.

            Every year since 1993, we have checked the prices on twenty typical holiday items in Tompkins County. Every effort is made to purchase the exact same item in the same store each year. When this is not possible, a similar item or a different store is substituted. This year the twenty items, ranging from quarter carat diamond earrings to postage stamps, cost $483.81, down from $533.90 last year.  This amounts to a decrease of $50.09, or 9.4 percent.

            Almost all of the decline is explained by a $51.00 drop in the price of diamond earrings. Buying diamonds can be a tricky proposition since so much of their price is determined by quality. We do what we can to ensure that quality remains constant from year to year, short of breaking out a jeweler’s loupe in the store.

            Other items on our list that declined in price were white wine, down $3.00 to $4.99, and two quarts of eggnog, down 38 cents to $5.20. The sales tax on our bundle decreased by $3.98 to $29.61.

            Nine items on our list increased in price. The five pound ham went from $8.99 to $9.95; the bag of flour went up 70 cents to $1.99; Champagne was up a dollar to $10.99; liqueur up $2.70 to $36.99; aspirin up 84 cents to $7.40; twenty postage stamps cost 40 cents more than last year at $8.20; the electricity to run your decorations is estimated to have gone up $1.14 to $12.37; and finally, two 9-volt batteries cost 35 cents more at $5.54 and two D-batteries cost $2.77, 18 cents more than last year.

            The remaining eight items held steady: replacement bulbs ($1.98), gift wrap ($4.49), garland ($8.97), Christmas balls ($2.39), Christmas tree ($35.00), ice cream ($3.99), red wine ($11.99), and perfume ($80.00).

            The prices of two special items we keep our eye on remained unchanged. Peace and joy are both still free if you know where to find them.
  The Index of Economic Activity in Tompkins County is a public service of Ithaca College.

Maintained by Elia Kacapyr (
Last updated 12/14/07