How's this for a late-october shock: Americans are expected to spend a record $8 billion on Halloween-related products and activities this year, up 17% from 2011. (For reference, that's enough to buy almost 2 billion pumpkins, 3 billion bags of candy corn or the best Donald Trump costume ever.) What's driving that increase? Americans' expanding pocketbooks, for one. As the economy rebounds, big Halloween retailers are pumping up prices, hoping customers will be less stingy with their discretionary income. "It's this new sense of normal," says Kathy Grannis of the National Retail Federation. "People know that prices have increased for the last couple of years, and it's something they've built into their lives."
There's more at play here, though. In particular, the cost of an average pumpkin has risen to $4.79, thanks largely to this year's widespread drought. Spending on pet costumes--the ultimate in do-we-really-need-that extras--is projected to hit $370 million this season. And with the presidential election, the Olympics and the recent wave of viral-video stars, costume inspiration is remarkably high, says Babacar Dious, a manager at Ricky's, a New York City--based costume chain. "This year we started seeing people come in mid-October rather than waiting a few days before Halloween," he says, noting that shoppers are loading up on election-year masks, Psy-like outfits and a healthy dose of sexy garments.
Americans are also splurging on more-bizarre events as the holiday expands. What began as a one-night kiddie affair for trick-or-treating "has really morphed into a monthlong celebration of fall," says Grannis. In addition to the standard haunted houses, there are now Halloween-themed wine tours in California, Halloween dog parades in New York, zombie walks in numerous U.S. cities and even an Al Capone Estate Prohibition Halloween party in Florida--for upwards of $10,000 a ticket. Now that is scary.