IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Don’t be haunted by debt this Halloween

Everyone knows that the Christmas season leaves millions of people grappling with relentless credit-card debt – but who knew Halloween could pack such a wallop? Consumers spent an estimated $5 billion on Halloween last year. By Laura T. Coffey.

Everyone knows that the Christmas season leaves millions of people grappling with relentless credit-card debt – but who knew Halloween could pack such a wallop?

According to the National Retail Federation, consumers spent an estimated $5 billion on Halloween last year. About $1.5 billion of that amount went toward Halloween candy. Costumes accounted for another $1.8 billion.

Do such frightening numbers make your hair stand on end? If so, read on. The following tips can help you avoid feeling the consequences of this holiday in your credit-card bills for months to come.

1. Make wise candy purchases. If you want to hand out candy, you can’t really cut costs by making your own sweets at home since that won’t fly with most parents. Instead, consider buying wrapped candies in bulk or purchasing generic – but still delicious! – brands in order to save money.

2. Consolidate your giving efforts. Do you live on a cul-de-sac or a nice, quiet street? Maybe you can team up with some of your neighbors, sit outside on lawn chairs and hand out candy together from the same spot. Everyone can save by divvying up all the candy costs.

3. Decorate your own way. Decorating your home and yard can really get expensive – especially if you plan to do it again in just a few weeks at Christmastime. Consider forgoing fancy, store-bought decorations and making your own using construction paper, poster board, old sheets, old costumes and cotton balls. (They make great spider webs!)

4. Make your own costumes. Sure, it’s tempting to rush out and buy costumes featuring characters from blockbuster movies and TV shows, but stop and think: Haven’t some of the funniest costumes you’ve ever seen been dreamed up by creative friends of yours? Why not try the same tactic this year? You also can borrow used costumes or arrange a costume swap between your kids’ friends.

5. Watch those admission costs. It can cost a pretty penny to visit some elaborate haunted houses and other Halloween attractions. Look for low-cost – or better yet, free – alternative activities by scanning calendar listings in the newspaper, staying alert for coupons and discounts, and visiting the Web sites of your city’s or county’s recreation departments.

6. Stay safe. Considering how costly an unexpected trip to the emergency room can be, remember to supervise young children when trick-or-treating or carving pumpkins, and also to eyeball all candy before letting your kids devour it.

7. Remember where you are in the stream of time. The holiday shopping season is coming right up, so now is the time to be disciplined about spending and plan ahead for other big holiday-related expenses. Try to anticipate what you’ll spend between now and the end of the year and stick to a budget.

8. Devise a plan for tackling credit-card bills. If you always pay your balance off in full, then you’re doing fine. But if you can’t pay your balance off completely when you receive your post-Halloween bill, take great pains to pay more than the minimum monthly payment due, and never be late with a payment. Otherwise, interest and finance charges and late fees may overwhelm you.

9. Seek out help with number-crunching. Call your credit-card company and ask the person who answers the phone to calculate how much you must pay each month to eliminate your balance within six months, based on your current interest rate. The company must share this information with you.

10. Pursue a lower rate if necessary. If your current interest rate is too high, ask for a better deal. Be sure to mention the offers you’ve received from multiple competitors promising lower rates.