Halloween's Biggest Spenders? Not Who You Think

No Trick: It's Adult Revelers Who Drive Halloween Spending
No Trick: It's Adult Revelers Who Drive Halloween Spending

Halloween can get ghoulishly expensive, especially in the 'burbs. I live on a leafy street of 90-year-old homes that's long and flat with minimal traffic -- enticing dozens of families to come trick-or-treating. This inspires some over-the-top decorating among the neighbors and requires at least nine pounds of candy. Throw in a pumpkin-picking trip and three costumes for my own goblins, and our holiday outlay is more than $150.

But many of the biggest spenders on Halloween don't even have kids, according to a new survey by American Express (AXP). Young professionals -- defined as college-educated workers 30 or younger earning $50,000 or more -- spend the most, averaging $87. Three-quarters say they'll buy costumes -- compared to just 35% for the general population.

"It's interesting to watch the evolution of Halloween to a full-blown holiday for people of all ages, especially adults," says American Express spokeswoman Melanie Backs. "The people spending the most money are spending for Halloween parties. It's a trend we are seeing overall in a lot of surveys -- people really focusing on experiential spending."

Overall, about seven in 10 Americans will open their wallets to celebrate Halloween this year, up slightly from last year, according to surveys by American Express and the National Retail Federation. Total spending is expected to reach $6.86 billion, the NRF found, or $72 per person. A poll by American Express estimates an average layout of $53.

"Over time, Halloween has really evolved from a one-night event focused on children trick-or-treating to something much larger," says Backs. "The season keeps extending -- retailers are doing what they can to stretch the window."

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Back-to-school shoppers who hit a big box store on Labor Day (guilty as charged) found the aisles cleared and prepped for Halloween. Meanwhile, temporary pop-up stores have proliferated in recent years, catering as much to adults as pint-sized revelers.

In fact, Americans will spend more on adult costumes ($1.21 billion) than on kids' disguises ($1 billion). They need them for the dozens of grown-up events that have emerged in recent years. While New York City's Halloween parade has been a celebrated spectacle for nearly four decades, of late, adult parties have proliferated in big cities nationwide. The website HalloweenParties.com promotes and sells tickets to dozens of events, include the "FangBanger's Ball" in Los Angeles, the "Halloweekend Pub Crawl" in San Francisco and the "Heaven, Hell and Purgatory" party at the aptly named Club Worship in Atlantic City.

The travel industry is also getting a piece of the action. "Due the fact that Halloween is on a Monday, it's a full weekend event," says Backs.

While for the most part people are staying home, American Express Travel saw a 50% spike over last year in bookings to Las Vegas, where Heidi Klum is hosting her 11th annual party at The Venetian, featuring a $10,000 costume contest. The Girls Next Door reality show star Bridget Marquardt is sponsoring a competing bash at Planet Hollywood to celebrate the release of her Halloween costume line, Bridget by Roma. (It includes, to no one's surprise, a pink Playboy Bunny outfit, clearly modified to avoid a trademark battle.) New York and San Francisco are two other cities seeing a jump in travel.

As for the more traditional experiential spending, about half of respondents will decorate their homes or yards, and carve pumpkins; more than one-third will throw parties; about a quarter will visit haunted houses; and one-third will take kids trick-or-treating, the NRF found. Finally there are the 15% who will put their pets through the humiliation of wearing a costume (again, guilty as charged). Spending on Halloween pet-wear is estimated at $310 million.

Finally, the classic pumpkin-picking trip has been altered a bit this year, particularly on the East Coast, where Hurricane Irene and tropical storm Lee wreaked havoc on the crop. Talk of higher prices abounds, though the Department of Agriculture won't have officials numbers until the end of the year. But there was clearly a shortage in New Jersey: At our favorite farm, the owners had a smaller-than-usual supply of pumpkins in the field -- all of which had been trucked in from Michigan.

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