An inflatable Grim Reaper on a pumpkin wagon pulled by a horse. A 10-foot tall blowup dragon with an orange belly. A wooden witch's cottage belching fog. Kurt Harvey’s front yard is everything a trick-or-treater could want.
And there’s more: full-size Snickers bars, Skittles bags and other top-shelf candy — about $300 worth — that Harvey and his wife, Marcia, hand out to the hundreds of kids who show up at their house in Nevada, Iowa, each Halloween.
“Every year, it just keeps getting bigger and bigger,” said Harvey, who bought enough treats for 500 kids this year.
Not everyone is so open-handed about the holiday. For the second straight year, Americans’ Halloween spending is projected to drop slightly, according to the National Retail Federation’s annual survey conducted by Prosper Insights & Analytics.
With an estimated $8.8 billion spent on candy, costumes, decorations and greeting cards, it’s still expected to be the third-highest figure in the survey’s 15-year history, just off the peak of $9.1 billion in 2017 and last year’s $9 billion. The survey shows the average shopper plans to spend $86.27 this year, down 52 cents from last year’s projection.
The decline is “not significant,” said Kathrine Cullen, a spokesperson for the retail federation who added that the overall trend of greater spending on the holiday was holding true.
“Back in 2009, it was less than $5 billion in planned spending, and it’s close to $9 billion this year,” she said, adding that she believes the final Halloween spending numbers will exceed projections.
That’s because Halloween offers as many ways to celebrate as it does different types of candy to fill a trick-or-treater’s bag — whether that’s dressing up, getting spooked at haunted houses or delighting every kid in the neighborhood.
“We actually have more family members show up than we will for Thanksgiving and Christmas,” said Harvey, the 49-year-old tech engineer for the Iowa Department of Transportation.
Harvey said he will celebrate Halloween with up to 30 family members — plus those hundreds of kids.
None will go away empty-handed on his watch. And for those with peanut allergies or an aversion to sweets, the Harveys have prepared coloring books.
“These young kids today go through so much at school and at home,” he said. “For one night, a young kid can just be a kid for a couple of hours. It's worth it. That's why we do it.”
While coloring books may suffice for little ghosts with allergies — or an upcoming dental appointment — candy is still the season’s champ.
Last year, candy and chocolate manufacturers reached $4.5 billion in retail sales for the six weeks leading up to Halloween, compared with $4.2 billion for the Christmas season and $3 billion for Valentine’s Day, according to Christopher Gindlesperger, vice president of public affairs and communications at the National Confectioners Association.
“It’s our Super Bowl,” Gindlesperger said.
If that’s the case, Skittles must be the New England Patriots, at least if you go by the past decade’s sales data from bulk candy seller Candystore.com, which ranked Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups next, followed by M&M’s.
And like football teams, every region seems to have a favorite sweet, so CandyStore.com released a map showing each state’s top pick. In Ohio, M&M's was the most popular candy, having sold 166,398 pounds. Ranking second and third are Starburst and Blow Pops.
While the average consumer is expected to spend around $25 on Halloween candy, the average parent spends $10 more, according to a survey by Bid-On-Equipment, an online shop that sells industrial equipment including machines for making candy.
“It makes a lot of sense to me, because we always had extra candy for me and my siblings when I was young,” said Matt Zajechowski, a spokesperson for Bid-On-Equipment. “And as soon as my parents bought candy from the store, I wanted to get into it before Halloween.”
Another major purchase for the season includes costumes — and not just for people.
Claudia Arnold, owner of a 5-year-old schnauzer and a 5-year-old pug in Amarillo, Texas, adores cute outfits displayed in pet stores and started to dress her dogs four years ago. This year’s costumes will be Olaf, the snowman in Frozen, and a unicorn.
“My dogs hate it, but I still do it anyway,” Arnold said with a laugh.
Spending on pet costumes is projected to reach $490 million this year, more than double what was spent in 2010, according to the National Retail Federation.
David Lummis, pet market analyst for market research publisher Packaged Facts, attributes the increasing pet-related sales to “humanization” — when people treat their pets as members of the family. For instance, taking pets on a family trip or to work or dressing them up like babies to celebrate holidays.
“Almost any trend in the human market now is being carried over into the pet market,” Lummis said.
As for humans, the National Retail Federation projects spending for costumes at $3.2 billion. They can run the gamut from inexpensive homemade projects to the elaborate cosplaying typical at a comic book convention.
Budgeting $40 on costumes for her family, Christina Williams, a mom of two girls ages 11 and 5, plans to be a scary Barbie this year in the garage she converted into a haunted house.
“Kids will hide inside the garage and try to scare people,” said Williams, who lives in Onsted, Michigan. “Over time, it's turned into a party.”
At the more ambitious extreme, Shaohua Xu spends around $200 for each year’s Halloween costumes. The 28-year-old landscape designer living in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, brainstorms his costume at least a month before Halloween and enjoys acting as characters from TV shows.
To embody Myrtle Snow, a witch from American Horror Story, Xu watched makeup tutorials on YouTube and practiced at least five times putting the glue and silicone masks on.
All the trouble was worth it, though, after Xu delighted his friends with his costume.
“You’re being yourself for 365 days. And for one night, I could be someone I want to be and experience that person’s life,” Xu said. “This is just fun and amazing.”