How to Beat the $7 Billion Halloween Spending Game

Getty Images Americans are spending a boatload of cash to celebrate Halloween this year.

Business intelligence firm IBISWorld projects about $7.5 billion in total spending on Halloween this year; the National Retail Federation is a bit more conservative, pegging Halloween spending at just under $7 billion. The NRF says that this means the average person celebrating the holiday will spend about $75 on decor, treats and costumes.

That’s not nearly as much as you’re going to spend on Christmas gifts, but it’s still a chunk of change. So what can you do to dial things back a bit? Let’s take things one at a time.

The Costume. Clearly, this is the big expense, accounting for $2.5 billion in spending, according to the NRF. (Included in that figure is $330 million spent on pet costumes, which we find delightful.)

As we explained earlier this week, the best way to save on your costume is to skip the costume store altogether. Go to a pop-up shop and you’re likely looking at spending $40 to $50 on a costume in a bag; make one from scratch with items from your closet and the thrift store, and you can conceivably keep it under $15. Whether that works for you depends a lot on what you (and you children and pets) want to dress up as.

The top two most popular costumes are “witches” and “Batman” characters, with vampires coming in third. A witch costume can come together with an old black dress, some green face paint and a ratty old broom; a vampire is likewise easy to pull of with face paint and dark clothing. Batman (or another member of the Bat-Family) is going to be a bit more tricky; if you don’t have the DIY skills to put together a convincing Batsuit, you might need to swallow your pride and hit the costume store for a proper cape and cowl.

The Candy. There are two big variables here: How much foot traffic you expect at your house, and how much you want to impress your trick-or-treaters. For the first consideration, you want to buy in bulk as much as possible without overdoing it; the last thing you want is to have to run to the drugstore at 8 p.m. because you’re running low on candy. On the other hand, you don’t want to overdo it and wind up with an excess of goodies destined to jump-start your winter over-consumption.

As for the latter concern, you can’t go wrong with basics like Reese’s and Snicker’s; cheaping out and getting a giant bag of Tootsie Rolls isn’t going to impress the neighborhood kids. As far as we’re concerned, you might as well spend a few bucks extra to get the good stuff — candy isn’t expensive. (Besides, you know you’re going to eat some of it yourself. Make it worth the calories.)

If you want to switch things up a bit on the candy front, you might consider hitting up your local Asian market and getting some of these strange foreign candies. They’re a bit pricier, and you might risk confusing some of your young visitors with offerings like “Matsuya Soft Milk Candy,” but hey, Halloween is supposed to be weird.

The Decorations. There’s really only one decoration you absolutely need, and that’s a decently carved Jack-o-Lantern. Last week, we looked at the dos and don’ts of buying a pumpkin, and found that you should be able to get a decent gourd from the supermarket for $10 or less. As for carving it, a jigsaw is ideal; if you don’t have one, spending an extra $5 for a decent pumpkin-carving kit might be better than relying on kitchen knives.

As for other decorations, you might find some good DIY ideas on sites like Pinterest. Just be warned — while it’s cheaper than buying ready-made decorations, getting too enthusiastic about the homemade spiders and scarecrows could lead you to spend more on decorations than you normally would.

“We’re projecting decoration expenditures to grow by 6.5%, and we attribute that to the continued prevalence of websites like Pinterest and home decoration blogs.”

So if you can resist going totally overboard on making your house haunted, the total savings add up: All told, you’re looking at around $10 for a pumpkin, $15 for a costume, and maybe another $10 to $15 for a decent-sized stash of candy to give out to trick-or-treaters. That’s about half of what the average reveler is going to spend on Halloween this year.

Matt Brownell is the consumer and retail reporter for DailyFinance. You can reach him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. , and follow him on Twitter at @Brownellorama.

We are showing you how to eat, drink and be scary this Halloween season.

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