Halloween spending is out of control.
Americans are expected to spend US$8.8 billion on candy, costumes and decorations this year, or $86 for each person who plans to celebrate. That includes half a billion dollars in costumes that Americans buy for their pets, double the amount they spent a decade ago. Pumpkins and hot dogs are favorites.
How did a holiday that started as a way to honor the dead turn into just another ritual of over-the-top American drinking? As a relatively frugal person who has repurposed the same Halloween costumes for years, I found the $86 figure shocking. But I’m not the first economist to complain about uncontrollable consumerism.
day of the decadent
Halloween began as a Celtic holiday honoring the dead.
It was later adopted by the Catholic Church as a time to remember saints. A research paper described Halloween as an “evolving American spending ritual,” but a better description might be an over-the-top spending ritual.
To put the $8.8 billion spent on Halloween in context, the budget for the entire National Park Service is only $4 billion. The United States spends less than $2 billion on flu vaccines.
The $86 average may not give us an accurate picture of spending per person. Only about two-thirds of respondents to the National Retail Federation’s annual Halloween spending survey said they celebrate the holiday. And while some spend nothing, others go too far.
For example, the neighborhood of Palo Alto where Silicon Valley tech stars live is a sight to behold as local moguls try to outdo each other when it comes to Halloween decorations, candy, and bands.
Why people spend like crazy
In the late 1890s, an economist named Thorstein Veblen looked into spending in society and wrote an influential book called “The Class Theory of Leisure”, which explained why people spend . He stated the idea that certain goods and services are purchased simply for conspicuous consumption.
Conspicuous consumption is designed to show others that you are rich, smart, or important. In Veblen’s mind, conspicuous consumption was spending more money on items than they were really worth. Veblen pointed out that people buy houses with rarely used rooms, just to show off the owner’s wealth.
If Veblen was writing about the world today, he probably wouldn’t be focusing on real estate. Instead, he could use examples of people trying to get attention on Instagram by dressing up their pets in expensive costumes.
Understanding how much people spend on holidays like Halloween and other activities is important because it shows what society values. And apparently, we enjoy what others can see us consuming.
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