Half a billion on Halloween pet costumes is latest sign of America’s out-of-control consumerism

BU Experts
3 min readOct 28, 2019

By Jay Zagorsky for The Conversation

Pumpkins are a popular choice for pets. Reuters/Guadalupe Pardo

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 every person who plans to celebrate. That includes a half a billion dollars on costumes that Americans are buying for their pets, which is double the amount they spent a decade ago. Pumpkins and hot dogs are the favorites.

How did a holiday that began as a way to honor the dead morph into just another ritual of over-the-top American consumption? As a relatively frugal person who has reused the same Halloween costumes for years, I found the $86 figure shocking. But I’m hardly the first economist to moan about out-of-control consumerism.

Day of the decadent

Halloween started as a Celtic holiday honoring the dead.

It was then adopted by the Catholic Church as a time to remember saints. One research paper described Halloween as an “ evolving American consumption ritual,” but a better description might be an over-the-top spending ritual.

To put the $8.8 billion being spent on Halloween in context, the budget for the entire National Park Service is only $4 billion. The U.S. spends less than $2 billion on flu vaccines.

The $86 average may not give us an accurate look at per-person spending. Only about two-thirds of respondents to the National Retail Federation’s annual survey of Halloween spending said they were celebrating the holiday. And while some spend nothing, others go overboard.

As just one example, the Palo Alto neighborhood where Silicon Valley’s tech stars live is a sight to behold as local moguls try to outdo each other on Halloween decorations, candy and bands.

Why people spend like crazy

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