How Much for 10 Lords-a-Leaping?

Hoverboards and do-it-all smartphones may top the holiday wish lists of today’s tech-obsessed “true love.” Rebekah McCahan’s shopping list, however, features classic items like gold rings, turtle doves and pipers piping. And the world wants to know how much she spent.

PHILADELPHIA – Believe it or not, Rebekah McCahan is actually encouraged to shop during her work day at PNC Wealth Management.

As an investment strategist, her primary responsibilities include research and reporting on stock market trends to inform PNC advisors and clients. Since 1986, she also has been True Love's personal shopper, calculating the cost of the items in the classic carol “The Twelve Days of Christmas.”

The result is the PNC Christmas Price Index. This whimsical economic analysis creates the holiday CPI for comparison to the U.S. government’s Consumer Price Index.

The 32nd annual index, which typically uncovers some distinctive economic trends and provides a lesson plan for students to learn about the U.S. economy, was announced Nov. 30. McCahan shared insights about her annual holiday assignment:

POV: Why did PNC start tabulating the Christmas Price Index?

McCahan: It all started in 1984 as a way to engage clients of PNC’s predecessor, Provident Bank in Philadelphia, during the traditionally light holiday weeks. It’s a distinctive way for us to not only reach clients, but consumers, educators and students around the world.

POV: Where do you do True Love's shopping?

McCahan: The National Aviary in Pittsburgh provides the cost of the doves and swans. The partridge price came from a national game bird supplier; the hen price, from a hatchery; and the cost of geese from a waterfowl farm. A national pet chain provides the price of the calling birds, or canaries. The pear tree price comes from a nursery in New Jersey. A national jewelry chain provided the cost of five 14-carat gold rings, and PHILADANCO, a modern dance company in Philadelphia, provides the price of the ladies dancing.

The Pennsylvania Ballet gives the price of the lords a-leaping. Prices for the musicians in the song — the drummers and pipers — are provided by a Pennsylvania musicians union. Lastly, maids a-milking are the only unskilled laborers in the Index, and as such, they reflect the minimum wage. Year after year, the sources for the prices remain the same for the most part for consistency, but they have changed on occasion because of changes in the market or business landscape.

POV: What has changed since 1984?

McCahan: Many things. First, the Internet. Today, it’s easier for us to find the goods and services listed in the song online. This convenience comes at a price, however: goods and services from the survey that are purchased online tend to be more expensive than those purchased in a more traditional transaction, mainly due to added shipping and handling costs of the specialty items.

Over the last 32 years, the price of services in general also has increased, while the price of goods has slowed. In 1984, goods were by far the more expensive component of the index—today it’s services.

Also related to services, in 2007, federal laws increased the minimum wage and gave the maids-a-milking their first raise since 1997. Wages increased again in both 2008 and 2009, and are now holding at $7.25 per hour.

POV: In which year could a shopper afford to be a Scrooge?

McCahan: The cheapest cost of Christmas in dollars occurred in 1995, when the True Cost of Christmas (the cumulative cost of all the gifts, counting each repetition in the song) was $15,600.

For 2015, True Loves would spend $34,140 to purchase all 12 gifts from the song. Since 1984, our index  has increased 84 percent.That makes 1995 a true holiday bargain.

Rebekah McCahan has been the
“true love” shopper since 1986

Behind the Music

“The Twelve Days of Christmas” was published in 1780 in England without music as a rhyme, potentially from a children’s memory game. English composer Frederic Austin added the melody in 1909 and changed some of the words to fit as a song.

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