Plan on treating your True Love to the livestock- and precious metal-rich gifts promised in “The Twelve Days of Christmas”? Well, you better be prepared to pony up some serious cash — not Lexus-in-the-driveway-with-a-bow-on-it- serious, but serious nonetheless.

Buying the twelve days worth of gifts will run you $24,263.18, according to PNC’s 28th annual Christmas Price Index. That cost is up 3.5 percent from last year’s price tag of $23,439.38. (This price, by the way, assumes that you only buy each gift once. The way the song is sung, each gift is repeated on each day after its first appearance, bringing the “true cost” of Christmas to a whopping $101,119.84). 

Interestingly, PNC notes that their Christmas index almost tracked the actual Consumer Price Index, which rose by 3.9 percent this year. PNC attributed the rising cost of some birds to the higher costs of feed, which has driven some food prices upwards this year. Most meat prices closely track changes in grain prices. And despite gold constantly trading up to record highs with so much uncertainty in the markets, consumer demand for the metal has been down, which dragged the price of “five gold rings” lower, counter-intuitively. See the full list below:

Item20102011% Change
Partrige in a Pear Tree$161.99$184.9914.2%
(Pear Tree)$149.99$169.9913.3%
Two Turtle Doves$100$12525%
Three French Hens$150$1500%
Four Calling Birds$599.96$519.96-13.3%
Five Gold Rings$649.95$645-0.8%
Six Geese-a-laying$150$1628%
Seven Swans-a-swimming$5,600$6,30012.5%
Eight Maids-a-milking$58$580%
Nine Ladies Dancing$6,294.03$6,294.030%
Ten Lords-a-leaping$4,766.70$4,766.700%
Eleven Pipers Piping$2,356.20$2,427.603%
Twelve Drummers Drumming$2,552.55$2,629.903%
Total Christmas Price Index$23,439.38$24,263.183.5%
Core Index$17,839.38$17,963.180.7%

Note that, aside from the “three French hens”, the only other stagnant costs were labor-related: the price for “eight maids-a-milking”, “nine ladies dancing”, and “ten lords-a-leaping” has not changed since last year. The milkmaids, for the purpose of the index, were considered unskilled labor and assigned only the federal minimum wage, $7.25 an hour. Keep in mind this is supposed to be playful — we’re taking it a bit more seriously than it’s meant to be taken.

PNC started the index back in 1984, so this gives us a good way of looking at how poor Americans’ spending power has stagnated over the last three decades. In 1984, the eight maids-a-milking cost $26.80 — the federal minimum was $3.35 an hour at that point, or roughly $7.30 adjusted for inflation. That number should sound familiar: it’s a nickel higher than our actual federal minimum wage.

If you look at the cost of the entire Twelve Days in 1984 ($12,673.56) and see what it would cost today, it might seem to suggest that a minimum wage earner’s spending power was lower in 1984 than it is today — $12,673 in 1984 dollars is $27,618.48 in 2011 dollars. But if you take a look at the core index, which leaves the insanely expensive and volatile “seven swans-a-swimming” out of the picture, the results are striking.

In 1984, the core index was $5,673.56, or $12,363 in today’s dollars. Today, the core index costs thousands more than that: $17,963.18, to be exact. But this is such a small basket of goods, that it’s really hard to draw any real conclusions from it.

This just might help people, like myself, put Black Friday mayhem in perspective before passing judgement. Those who earn the federal minimum haven’t seen any growth in buying power, despite all the dazzling new consumer goods that the high-tech revolution has bequeathed upon us, as American consumers. For the working poor, Black Friday provides numerous opportunities to actually see some increased buying power for a year of hard work — something the federal government hasn’t helped them with in three decades.

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