7 unexpected holiday bills to bring out your inner Grinch

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The gifts are wrapped and the stockings are hung — but if you think your holiday budget is squared away, think again.

The typical shopper expects to spend $935 during the holiday season this year, according to the National Retail Federation. That includes expected items like gifts, holiday meals, decorations and greeting cards.

But what about those unexpected expenses? These seven bills could make for a financially strained start to 2017.

— By CNBC's Kelli B. Grant
Posted 23 Dec. 2016

Electric bills

A Christmas lights display and costumed mannequin recreates a scene from the film 'Christmas Vacation' with Clark Griswold, as portrayed by Chevy Chase in the starring cinematic role, December 17, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
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Don't be surprised if your electric bill arriving in January is a little high.

Keeping the incandescent lights on your Christmas tree on for five hours a day for a month costs an estimated $132, while a festive outdoor display could add $355, according to Energy Focus.

To be sure, the company has incentive to have a Grinch-like outlook — it sells LED lighting products. If you're using LED lights, expect to spend $17 and $46 on energy costs instead.

Veterinary emergencies

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Gift ribbons. Tinsel. Christmas ornaments. You think "festive," but your pet wonders, "Tasty?"

"We definitely see a lot of foreign body ingestion [claims] during the holidays," said Elyse Donnarumma, veterinary medical manager for insurer Petplan.

Every case is a little bit different, she said, but bills for treatment could easily run to four figures if there's surgery or an emergency vet visit involved. The average, according to Petplan's data, is $1,755.

Other common holiday emergencies involve accidental poisonings from say, boxed chocolates left under the tree, raisins in fruitcake dug out from the trash, or poinsettias and mistletoe decorating the house. Depending on the item and quantity ingested, consequences could range from the mild (vomiting, diarrhea) to the severe (organ failure), Donnarumma said.

"If you feel like something is off with your pet, it's always best to go to the vet," she said. "Don't waste any time."

Medical emergencies

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It's not just Fido who might make an unexpected visit to the doctor during the holidays. The Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates that in November and December 2015, holiday decorations caused 14,000 injuries treated in hospital emergency rooms — as well as six fatalities.

Depending on your health coverage, that can be a hefty bill. The average copayment for a hospital visit is $282, while the average coinsurance rate for hospital admissions is 19 percent, according to a 2016 report from the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Worse, 1 in 5 ER patients who go to an in-network hospital still end up with a surprise bill from being treated by an out-of-network doctor, according to a study from the Yale School of Public Health and the Yale School of Management. The average charge, they found, was $622.

Caregiving costs

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All those holiday celebrations are helping your babysitter and dog walker rake in the dough. estimates that in some cities, college students picking up such gigs could earn $1,500 in their four-week winter breaks.

That's great for them, but what about you? Just two nights out — say, the office holiday party and a New Year's celebration — could easily set you back more than $100 for babysitting alone.

More data from found that in the priciest cities, a babysitter for a holiday party costs as much as $20 per hour, while a New Year's Eve sitter costs up to $16.65 per hour. Assuming the party means you'll miss Fido's evening walks, a dog walker can cost up to $18.30 per hour, according to

Stolen gifts

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Santa isn't the only one casing your house this year.

In a recent "holiday hazards" survey of 1,000 adults, 21 percent of respondents said they have had gifts or belongings stolen from their home. One in 10 said they have had a delivered package stolen from their home before they got a chance to open it.

Depending on your homeowners insurance deductible, you could be on the hook for $500 or more before your insurance kicks in.

For gifts and stolen packages, check to see if your credit card issuer offers so-called purchase protection, which reimburses you for lost or stolen goods, said Matt Schulz, senior industry analyst for Don't count on it, though — there's often fine print excluding certain kinds of purchases (like tickets), capping claims in others (say, jewelry) and setting limits (no purchases older than a month or two).

"Depending on where the package was stolen from, that can have an impact as well," he said. Policies often require the cardholder to have taken reasonable care and precautions to safeguard the purchased item.


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If an insurance-policy review is one of your New Year's resolutions this year, better work on that one sooner rather than later.

Christmas trees are the first item ignited in an average 210 house fires each year, based on 2010-2014 records from the National Fire Protection Association. Other holiday decorations are the first item ignited in an estimated average 860 home fires each year, according to 2009-2013 data.

Those aren't the only holiday fire risks: Christmas Day and Christmas Eve rank second and third, respectively, behind Thanksgiving, for the most home cooking fires, notes the NFPA. Plus, 10 percent of fireworks fires occur in the days before and after New Year's.

Fire claims are relatively rare. But fire is the most expensive cause of home damage, accounting for 23 percent of total claim costs from 2009 to 2015, according to Travelers. The average claim for fire and lightning damage: $39,791, according to acording to insurance risk assessment firm Verisk Analytics.

Credit card fraud

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Don't let your holiday bill shock blind you to unauthorized charges on your credit or debit card.

While you're unwrapping gifts, scammers may be buying new ones using your info. Fraud rates jumped 200 percent over Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, according to a 2015 Forter report.

Under the Fair Credit Billing Act, your liability for unauthorized use of your credit card is at most $50. But the Electronic Fund Transfer Act determines liability for debit cards, and that varies based on how quickly you report the fraud.

Even if you spot a problem quickly, that money will be missing from your checking account until the bank completes its investigation, Beth Givens, executive director of Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, a consumer advocacy group, told CNBC earlier this year.

"If you're a victim of fraud, you could have to wait some time before your funds are replenished," she said. The wait can trigger overdraft fees and budget constraints.