The economy sure is frightful right now, but get this: Consumers are expected to spend more money than ever on Halloween this year. • The National Retail Federation predicts that total Halloween spending across the United States will reach a whopping $5.77-billion, or an average of $66.54 a person. Young adults between the ages of 18 and 24 are expected to spend the most money of all: $86.59 a person. • Granted, we all could use a little bit of stress relief and escapism right now. But spending more than we might be able to afford could do more long-term harm than good — especially if we'll be haunted by credit card debt for months to come. Consider these tips for spending less. 1Avoid spending top dollar on candy. You can't save money by making your own sweets at home since parents won't tolerate that. Instead, buy wrapped candies in bulk or purchase generic — but still delicious! — brands to save money. If you shop in bulk, you may be able to save even more by divvying up candy costs with one or more of your neighbors.
2Don't break the bank decorating. Decorating your home and yard can be one of the most expensive aspects of this holiday. You can forgo fancy, store-bought decorations and make your own using old sheets, old costumes, construction paper, poster board and cotton balls, which can be transformed into spider webs pretty easily.
3Save big bucks on costumes. Try making your own funny and original costumes using stuff you already have at home, or buy gently used costumes for pennies on the dollar from garage sales, thrift stores, eBay (www.ebay.com) and the classified ads in this section of the newspaper or online at Craigslist (tampa.craigslist.org).
4Or, spend nothing at all on costumes. You also could borrow used costumes or arrange a costume swap between your kids' friends.
5Stay on the lookout for fun, low-cost events. Some haunted houses and other Halloween attractions charge hefty admission fees. Look for low-cost — or better yet, free — alternative activities by checking the calendar listings in the newspaper and the Web sites of your city's or county's recreation departments.
6Prevent avoidable nightmares. Considering how costly a trip to the emergency room can be, supervise young children when trick-or-treating or carving pumpkins, and examine all candy before letting your kids devour it.
7Review your calendar now — and shudder. Reflect on the fact that the winter holiday shopping season is right around the corner. This is a good time to be disciplined about spending and plan ahead for other big holiday-related expenses. Try to anticipate what you'll spend between now and the end of the year and stick to a budget.
8Figure out what to do about those credit card bills. Try hard to pay your entire balance in full and on time. But if you can't do that when you receive your post-Halloween bill, pay more than the minimum monthly payment due, and never be late with a payment. Otherwise, interest and finance charges and late fees may overwhelm you.
9Do the math. Call your credit card company and ask the person who answers the phone to calculate how much you must pay each month to eliminate your balance within six months, based on your current interest rate. If your current interest rate is too high, ask for a better deal. Be sure to mention the offers you've received from multiple competitors promising lower rates.
10Plan ahead for next year. Starting Nov. 1, stores will be slashing prices on their Halloween inventories. By stocking up then, you'll be all set for 2009. Don't buy children's costumes this year, though. Your kids' tastes, and sizes, are likely to change drastically in the course of one calendar year.
Laura T. Coffey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sources: National Retail Federation (www.nrf.com); Bankrate.com (www.bankrate.com); About.com: Kids and Money (kidmoney.about.com)