Husband vs. Wife: Halloween Budget Nightmares

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Lori and Marek Fuchs have never fought in their 16 years of marriage—except over money. In this column, Mr. and Mrs. Fuchs, a real-life married couple with three kids (ages 12, 8 and 5), articulate their very different approaches to personal finance.

This round, she ticks off plans for Halloween while he says, you make me want to scream and run from the room.

Mrs. Fuchs: Only a few weeks until Halloween and do you know what that means around here (besides you and the children on sugar highs)?

Mr. Fuchs: Surprise me.

Mrs. Fuchs: You on the roof hanging up ghosts.  I’ve decided to go all out this year and decorate the house like I a Martha Stewart magazine spread. (Stock Quote: MSO) Do you have any black paint lying around?

Mr. Fuchs: Hold your headless horses. Turns out, Halloween is the holiday where Americans spend the second-largest sum of money.

According to the National Retail Federation’s 2009 Halloween Consumer Intentions and Actions Survey, conducted by BIGresearch, consumers are expected to spend nearly $5 billion this year. That’s any awful lot of candy corn. Here’s the problem, though. With Christmas, we all know it’s coming. Look how we’ve been planning since we were still sweltering in the heat of July. But Halloween sneaks up on you. And financial planners far and wide say that any surprise when it comes to family budgeting is no good. Our budget is enough of a horror show without a Jack-In-The-Box in the equation.

Mrs. Fuchs: Halloween is certainly being pushed, that’s for sure. The kids were poring over a Halloween catalog the other day, circling the costumes like I used to circle toys in the Christmas catalog. If we got each kid a store-bought costume...

Mr. Fuchs: Go no farther! I’m already horrified. What can we do to keep Halloween spending under control this year?

Mrs. Fuchs: Certainly not dole out that year-old candy you got at the dollar store last year – I’m still scrubbing eggs off the windows.

Mr. Fuchs: Hey, going hundreds over budget is no laughing matter. Can you stay on message here?

Mrs. Fuchs: Well, at risk of sounding like an old person lamenting the good old days here, why can’t our kids do it like we did it back when? Did you know anyone whose parents spent $30 or more on a costume to be worn once? We came up with a costume and put it together ourselves – some of dad’s old shirts, mom’s costume jewelry, some poster board and glitter – voila! – you had a perfectly decent costume.  These are some easy, homemade costumes that worked last year and might spark ideas for this year: these costumes or try these.

Mr. Fuchs: Perfectly decent sounds great. It’s that reach toward perfectionism that always costs money. A lot are in the same boat. Also, according to this week’s survey, people are planning to spend an average of $56.31 on Halloween, down from $66.54 last year, with about a third saying its the scary economy impacting their plans.

Almost half say they’ll buy less candy, with around a third planning to reuse decorations. About 16.8% say they’ll make their costume and 15.8% say they’ll get last year’s out of the closet, mothballs and all.

Speaking of the candy, though, what about less of it?  We live on a block where literally hundreds of goblins and goons amble by with outstretched palms. Can we tell them to get lost?

Mrs. Fuchs: Listen, it’ll cost more to get egg removed from windows. You’re just going to have to buy them candy. Start looking for sales and we can compare that cost with Costco (Stock Quote: COST), Target (Stock Quote: TGT) and Wal-Mart (Stock Quote: WMT).

Mr. Fuchs: Sounds good. Between the homemade costumes and discount candy, we’ll be fulfilling the mandate of financial planners, who are spooked by the concept of getting surprised.  Halloween is a big holiday, expense-wise. But we’ve planned beforehand, which means less regrets afterward.

Mrs. Fuchs: I’ll even scale back my house decorations – I won’t dust until Halloween and we’ll have genuine spiderwebs and dust covered furniture in no time.

Mrs. Fuchs: If it saves money, I’m all for it.  Let me dust, allergies be damned.

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