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Scaring up sales: Halloween spending expected to reach $5 billion, lots of it on costumes

Heather Alonzo, with children Ava and Aidan, checks out Halloween merchandise at Target in Midvale recently.
Heather Alonzo, with children Ava and Aidan, checks out Halloween merchandise at Target in Midvale recently.
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret Morning News

Olivia Christensen celebrated her first Halloween as a dragon, a costume nearly half a million American children will don this year for their trick or treating adventures.

Of course, none will be as adorable as the then-1-year-old Cottonwood Heights girl was, said her mom, Andrea.

"She was the cutest little dragon you ever did see," Christensen said of her daughter, who turns 2 just days before Halloween this year.

On a recent trip to the Fort Union Target store, Christensen shopped for Olivia's 2007 ensemble, eyeing the angel costumes for the little girl. Meantime, 2-month-old Calvin slept soundly in his carrier, knowing his tiger costume was already purchased and waiting for him at home.

Halloween spending is estimated to reach $5.07 billion this year, compared to $4.96 billion in 2006. At $1.8 billion, costumes for adults, children and pets make up the bulk of spending, according to the National Retail Federation.

With two small children, Christensen knows how expensive Halloween can become and is trying to avoid spending too much by keeping each costume under $15.

And though she doesn't go overboard with decorations, the Christensens do splurge a little when it comes to treating their trick or treaters.

"We give out full-sized candy bars just so we're 'that' house in the neighborhood," Christensen said.

The average person is expected to spend just under $65 on Halloween this year, according to the National Retail Federation survey. One-third of that — about $23 per person — will be spent on costumes and almost $20 will go toward Halloween candy.

That sounds about right, said Jackie Smith who spent last Saturday evening Halloween shopping with her three children. Luckily, her 9-year-old son has chosen to be the Grim Reaper for the second year in a row, with his only costume request being the addition of a $5 "Death's Dagger."

Still, the costs add up quickly, Smith said. "I like to keep it under $20 (for each child), but this year, it's just 'Wow."'

Rounding out the Halloween-themed items in Smith's shopping cart was a Superman costume and a witch's hat for the Layton woman's 7-year-old son and 11-year-old daughter. There was nothing, however, for her 13-year-old son at home.

"He's on his own this year," Smith said.

And Halloween is not just costumes and candy, either. According to the National Retail Federation, Americans will spend a whopping $1.4 billion on decorations this Halloween.

The average person will shell out $17.73 — enough for a couple of pumpkins and some fake spider webs, but they'll have to come up with more to cover Modern Display's "screeching, crawling spider" that sells for $26.95 or the more friendly plush witch available for $23.95, or $49.95 for a larger version.

For retailers, Halloween spending offers a welcome boost in sales heading into the fourth quarter, which also includes the Christmas shopping season.

"This is the time of year that retailers are at their best, stocking the shelves with new and innovative product to help consumers celebrate in style," National Retail Federation president and CEO Tracy Mullin said in a statement.

And celebrate they will. The trade association's survey found that 59 percent of the nearly 9,000 people polled plan to participate in Halloween activities this year. At 73 percent, the most popular activity will be staying home and handing out treats, while almost half the respondents will decorate their home and yard.

"Halloween is often a time for consumers to set aside their real concerns to focus on the imaginary," said Phil Rist, vice president of strategy for BIGresearch, which conducted the survey for the National Retail Federation.

"As news about the economy floods the airwaves, many Americans want to take a break from reality to have a bit of fun."