Getting the Most "Boo!" For Your Buck: BBB Halloween Tips

September 30, 2010
Halloween is around the corner, folks. Department stores have giant economy-sized bags of candy stocked to the ceiling. Rubber rats cram the shelves. Costumes - everything from pirates to princesses, fairies to cowboys, vampires to vixens - hang in neat racks. Orange and black streamers string between the aisles. Economically, the holiday has evolved to much more than it was in the 60's and 70's when I was growing up. What used to be a "child-centric" event has crossed age borders and, in doing so, has become quite an earner for retailers. The average person will spend nearly $200 on costumes, candy, cards, and decorations. The National Retail Federation says the holiday should net stores about $6 billion. That's a lot of plastic pumpkins.

Big spenders can pick up a lifesize animatronic Michael Myers, complete with knife-slashing action and a blaring snippet of the "Halloween" theme for about $300 online. More budget-conscious frighteners can scoop up a plastic knife and a cheap rubber mask for under $10. No matter what you plan on spending, though, it's important to keep a few basic safety tips in mind, not only to protect the trick-or-treaters haunting your lawn, but to guard your homeowner's policy.

Haunted Lawn Tip #1: If the tag says "Indoor Use Only," keep it inside. Maybe more than any other holiday, Halloween lends itself to electronic products that leap into action when someone crosses a motion detector's beam. (Makes sense. Santa and his elves shouldn't pop out of the bushes when the mailman passes. Halloween characters seem more appropriate for this technology.) Thing is, many of these more modern "scare in a box" items suck up a healthy dose of electricity, are controlled by fairly delicate electronics, and aren't cheap. It hardly makes sense to expose your couple hundred dollars' worth of hardware to the elements, muchless run the risk of shocking a curious eight year old who happens to poke or prod the boogeyman on your wet porch. Even if you make every effort to duct tape the connections and ground the plugs, your liability is huge if you ignore such a simple direction. (The same goes for lighting kits and other electrical decorations.)

Haunted Lawn Tip #2: Make your yard a No Tripping Zone. Kids lugging around buckets of candy in ill-fitting costumes, often peeking through eyeholes in masks that give them the focal powers of a bleary groundhog, are notoriously clumsy. Even if you have a major lawn display this Halloween, you should have a clear path in and out of the candy distribution area. No power cords. No tie-lines for inflatable props. Keep the path clear.

Haunted Lawn Tip #3: Keep the good stuff out of reach. Besides being notoriously clumsy, kids are also insatiably curious. They're going to wonder if that $500 fog-spewing, bigger-than-life, fully-lit, dancing Grim Reaper is a robot or just you in a suit, and there's nothing that spoils a circuit board faster than a steep fall off a couple of hay bails onto your neighbor's driveway or the front stoop of your house. Much the same can be said of party-goers who have sampled your witches' brew punch a time or two. Rule of Thumb: The more expensive and/or delicate the item, the farther it should be out of reach and the more protected it should be. You can display your best Halloween toys and still protect them. A hacked-together cemetery fence will cost you no more than some screws and PVC pipe, can add to the general spookiness, and can help keep your precious ghouls out of the reach of guests most prone to fumbling.

What about those clumsy costumes? An ounce of prevention goes a long way toward minimizing skinned knees, spilled candy, and other Trick-or-Treater calamities.

Costume Tip #1: Make sure it fits. The day to decide that Jango Fett's pants are too long isn't October 31st. Do a Halloween Runway Show with your kids - or even yourself - to make sure the costume offers full mobility and trim as needed. Also, make sure junior isn't overloaded. Part and parcel of some characters may be the wand, lightsaber, batarangs or baseball bat he or she carries, but add in a candy carrying receptacle and see how well your kid maneuvers around the living room. If they can circumnavigate the house without bowling over a lamp or smashing the big screen, they can probably make it along the sidewalk in safety.

Costume Tip #2: "Seeing" works both ways. While we're on the subject of fitting the costume, consider how well the child can see inside the mask. Sometimes, a couple snips can clear out a big range of vision. Likewise, consider how well your child can be seen at night in their costume. A lot of them in recent years - I'm talking to you, Darth Vader and Batman - are pretty darn black. No rules are broken, you won't get any less candy if you blow another five or ten bucks on a flashlight or other costume-appropriate device to make sure your goblin can be seen by motorists, haunted house owners, and other Trick-or-Treaters after dark.

Costume Tip #3: Consider the footwear. Many a princess has been forced to turn back for home with far less than the annual candy quota because her glass slippers were something short of magical. The same can be said of the cowpoke who isn't used to wearing boots. Needless to say, your average Frankenstein's monster hasn't a prayer of negotiating a high curb in full platform shoes. Sometimes, practicality counts more than having the perfect costume footwear. I can't tell you the number of Trick-or-Treaters who have gone splat in the middle of even the most level sidewalk because they've tripped over their own feet. Selecting the proper footwear can avoid a Halloween mis-step.

Precautions, smart shopping, and a little planning can go a long way toward stretching your consumer dollar this Halloween and make sure the thing that goes bump in the night isn't your little ghost or ballerina.