Consumer Corner: Fear of reality drives Halloween spending

Wall Street Protestors dressed as zombies last year. UPI/John Angelillo
Wall Street Protestors dressed as zombies last year. UPI/John Angelillo | License Photo

CHICAGO, Oct. 14 (UPI) -- Grim economic figures and the fear of unemployment are doing little to put a damper on Halloween celebrations this year, with a record 170 million people planning to spend as much as $8 billion to celebrate the ghoulish holiday, retailers say.

The National Retail Federation says 71.5 percent of Americans are in the Halloween mood this year, up from 68.6 percent last year and the most in the group's 10-year survey history.


The average person will spend $79.82 on decorations, costumes and candy, up from $72.31 last year, with total Halloween spending expected to reach $8 billion.

"By the time Halloween rolls around each year, it's safe to say Americans have already spent two months preparing for one of the fastest-growing and most widely loved holidays of the year," NRF President and Chief Executive Officer Matthew Shay said.


When it comes to planning their costumes, 35.7 percent of consumers say their biggest source of inspiration is what they see in a retail store or costume shop. Online searches are popular with with 33.3 percent of costume shoppers. Fifteen percent say they'll use Facebook and 7 percent say they look at Pinterest.

The average person will spend $28.65 on costumes this year, up slightly from $26.52 in 2011.

More than half of people who plan to celebrate Halloween say they will decorate their home or yard, and 45 percent say they plan to dress in costume.

More than a third of those surveyed said they plan to throw or attend a party and 33.2 percent will take children trick-or-treating. Fifteen percent say they plan to dress their pets in costumes too.

While more people are celebrating, 83.5 percent of consumers said they plan to spend less overall, with some saying they plan to make their own costumes and others planning to cut back on the amount of candy they purchase.

A survey of 2,400 U.S. adults by Harris Interactive suggests younger men and lower income families will spend the most on Halloween this year.

The survey, conducted for, found men age 18-34 are the ones who anticipate spending the most on Halloween, an average $200, significantly higher than any other age group.


Americans with an annual household income of less than $35,000 who said they plan to celebrate Halloween said they would likely spend an average $112, which was the highest reported of all income groups and more than twice as much as people with a household income between $50,000 to $75,000, who plan on spending about $52 .

Wake Forest University English professor Eric Wilson, author of "Everyone Loves a Good Train Wreck," says economic troubles may provide added incentive to delve into the ghoulish side of Halloween.

Humans have a natural fascination with the macabre, he said, and harder times increase the desire to escape.

"What is Halloween but a night we can pretend to be someone else, setting aside our worries or regrets," Wilson said in a statement. "But when we remove the mask the next day, reality shuffles back into our lives like a relentless zombie. That's true terror."

People sometimes take a perverse pleasure in celebrating death and destruction, Wilson suggests.

"There is a true joy to Halloween, the ecstasy of transforming into another creature," Wilson says. "But in a time of financial crisis, when many are forced to face their limitations and mortality in unpleasant ways, it makes sense that Americans would be enchanted by dressing up as dead things, zombies and vampires and such."


Wilson says the popularity of zombies and vampires in pop culture suggests Americans are more interested in the undead than ever.

"We can imagine the satisfaction of living without accountability, casting off humanity and turning into machines without morals," Wilson says. "Zombies overcome death, vampires rule time, ghosts vanquish space and vampires and other shape-shifters transcend a stable identity."

On a more basic level, "They are simply scary and we like to be scared. It's the ultimate thrill ride."

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