Halloween can be scary on the wallet

Char Telkamp

Char Telkamp

It’s the time of year for ghosts and goblins, chills and thrills, tricks and treats – which means it’s also time for spending some serious bucks on costumes and decorations.

Decorating for Halloween has become as common as decorating for the Christmas holiday. Some households keep it simple with a jack-o-lantern or two, but many homeowners go all out, decking the front lawn with special lighting, coffins, tombstones, life-size mannequins and other scary stuff.

Halloween is the second-most decorated holiday next to Christmas, and spending on decorations and costumes has risen steadily over the years, industry figures show. Americans will spend more than $580 million on Halloween home decorating alone in 2003, according to industry estimates.

This year, spending will be a little less – an average of $41.77 for each of the 56 percent of consumers who plan to buy for Halloween – compared with last year’s $44.20, according to a National Retail Federation survey conducted last month.

“Halloween continues to be important for retailers because it represents the beginning of a new season, not just one holiday,” says Tracy Mullin, president of the retail federation, which tracks consumer spending.

Such devotion is usually reserved for some type of religious rite, which for most people, Halloween isn’t.

But those who spend the time and money to super-size their Halloween say they do it because the holiday has a particular value that other special occasions don’t.

While Christmas is generally a family occasion, Halloween, more than any other holiday, is a time when the community interacts.

Childhood nostalgia pushes Halloween spending to $7 billion. It used to be the most scandalous thing adults did on Halloween was steal candy from their kids’ sacks. Now, they’re stealing the whole holiday.

Halloween ranks first in candy sales, beating out Easter and Valentine’s Day. Besides Christmas, it is the biggest reason people decorate their homes. And it is the third-largest party day behind New Year’s Eve and Super Bowl Sunday.

If Halloween were a gift-giving event, it probably would rank even higher, said Ellen Tolley, spokeswoman for the National Retail Federation, an industry trade group in Washington, D.C.

“People have always loved decorating for Halloween. But instead of just looking at it as just one day, consumers are looking at it as a season,” Tolley said.

“People can justify spending more because they have (their decorations) up for a whole month.”

Lynch said she remembers a time when the Halloween rush started one day before the big event. These days, the season starts in September with corn stalks, hay bales and scarecrows. Then the pumpkins show up. Soon enough, neighborhoods are full of fog machines and life-size skeletons.