1. "We carefully picked your neighborhood."
The average $21 or so the National Retail Federation estimates most Americans will spend on Halloween candy this year might only buy Susan Stroga enough to last through an hour of trick-or-treaters. Parents for miles around like the closed subdivision in Barrington, Ill. where Stroga lives for its safety and walkability, while kids know it for having the best goodies. "We've developed a reputation for having a lot of candy," she admits. Stroga plans for a whopping 1,000-plus visitors and spends $100 on value bags of candy at Costco to save cash -- and only once in her 10 years in the neighborhood has she had any left over. The first year, and in most years thereafter, she's had to send her husband out to the store for more. "I was shocked," she recalls. "I was thinking, where did all these kids come from?" Now she routinely alerts new neighbors to stock up.
Where you live plays a big role in the number of trick-or-treaters you get and how much you may have to spend. Not surprisingly, the best neighborhoods tend to be those with both high home values and dense populations, which in Halloween-speak translates to lots of good candy from wealthy folks whose homes are close enough together that you can walk around quickly, says Amy Bohutinsky, chief marketing officer of real-estate site Zillow.com, which annually ranks the best neighborhoods in major cities for trick-or-treating. To keep your candy costs in budget, hand out the candy rather than offering kids the bowl, which encourages them to take more, says Erin Gifford, spokeswoman for grocery list site ZipList.com. It also helps to open candy bags only as needed, so you can return unopened ones if your neighborhood proves (happily) less popular.
2. "I won't eat half of this."
When Spiderman and Captain America are done trick-or-treating in Evanston, Wyo., this year, their alter-egos -- Jaden, age 7, and Simon, age 3 -- will head to the nearby Evanston Regional Hospital with mom Mysti Reutlinger for a free X-ray screening of their candy. "We've never found anything, but I want to be cautious," says Reutlinger. She then screens the candy for other damage: "We have found some candy pieces that are open or that have little punctures, and we throw those out." Stories of razorblades in apples and poisoned Halloween candy are largely urban legend, but it's still a smart idea for parents to toss anything opened, homemade, or that looks like it might have been lingering in the pantry since last Halloween, says Moira Donahue, director of Safe Kids USA's "Walk This Way" program.
Indeed, the money you spend on Halloween candy might go to waste as more parents nix options that don't fit with allergies, food sensitivities or other dietary criteria. Monica Sanchez, founder of Eco-Friendly Party in La Habra, Calif., says she plans to host an event helping parents avoid candy with too many preservatives and artificial ingredients. And young trick-or-treaters may not get any candy at all, since it's a choking hazard. Two-year-old Orion has been practicing his "meow" in anticipation for his foray as a cat to trick-or-treat among the brownstones in New York City's Harlem neighborhood. But he hasn't had candy before, and mom Imani Powell-Razat hopes to keep it that way. "I'll probably cave and give him a Twix or something," she says. It's her 13-year-old stepson Djai who will get most of Orion's loot.
3. "I'm breaking the law."
Late-night knocks and older trick-or-treaters have spooked enough residents of Belleville, Ill., that Mayor Mark Eckert pushed for new regulations in 2008 that prohibit anyone 13 and older from going door-to-door and setting a Halloween night curfew of 8:30 p.m. Violators must pay a $25 fine. (Eckert did not respond to requests for comment.) Rehoboth Beach, Del., has had an ordinance on the books since 1977 that restricts trick-or-treating to kids age 14 and younger. It also limits their treat-collecting time to between the hours of 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. If Halloween falls on a Sunday, as it did last year, celebrants must trick-or-treat on Oct. 30 instead, says Rehoboth Beach police chief Keith W. Banks. Violators don't face a set civil fine, like a traffic ticket, but must appear in court to answer a criminal charge and face a punishment chosen by the judge.
Not that it's ever happened. Although such laws are on the books, they're not an enforcement priority on a night when more serious crimes may occur (see No. 5). "You're hard pressed to look at someone and say, are you 15 or 14?" Banks says. "I can't remember us ever doing anything." And if they were to, he says, the punishment would likely be a nominal $5 fine.
4. "We're great for vets, and orthodontists."
A pile of Halloween candy can be a big risk if you're a pet owner: insurer PetPlan says claims for candy-related pet emergencies increase 284% during the week after Halloween. Chocolate ingredient theobromine is toxic to cats and dogs, toffee and peanuts can trigger pancreatitis and candy wrappers might block the intestines, says Dr. Jules Benson, the president of veterinary services at PetPlan. Even healthy-for-kids raisin boxes can cause kidney failure in dogs. A lone candy bar might not do much damage, but Halloween tends to be more dangerous because pets have access to quantity. "When you have a bowl of 50 fun-size Snickers, that's going to cause a problem," says Benson. The average candy-triggered bill: $500, although serious cases requiring emergency surgery or hospitalization can cost as much as $3,000.
Of course, candy triggers its share of people emergencies, too. Dr. John Graham of Graham Orthodontics in Phoenix, Ariz., says he, like many orthodontists, sees a spike in emergency visits for fixing the brackets and wires on braces after Halloween. The office doesn't charge for the fix unless the sufferer is a repeat offender who ignores the off-limits food list, which includes caramels, taffy and hard candies. In that case, the bill runs $25 per bracket. But the bigger cost is time: one break could add two to four months to your time in braces, especially if you don't notice immediately, says Dr. Stuart Frost of Frost Orthodontics in Mesa, Ariz.
5. "I'll be back later with toilet paper and eggs -- or worse."
It's not a bad idea to reassess your homeowners insurance policy and move the car in the garage before Halloween. On that night and Oct. 30 -- known as Devil's Night or Mischief Night -- police commonly report pranks like pumpkin smashing and covering trees in toilet paper, as well as more damaging vandalism like fires, spray painting property and rocks thrown through house and car windows. "Too many parents have bought into this idea that it's a fun night, and it's OK to do mischief," says Wyckoff, N.J., police chief Benjamin C. Fox. "But that's not a prank." After an uptick in calls and more serious incidents like rock throwing in 2009, he sent a letter to parents in the school district last year urging them to keep their kids at home on Mischief Night, and get them home early on Halloween. The department got fewer calls as a result, he says, and is repeating the effort this year.
Although insurance policies typically cover vandalism, in many cases, homeowners are still on the hook. "Most people have a $500 or $1,000 deductible, so the expense would have to be more than that for it to make sense filing a claim," says Jeanne Salvatore, a spokeswoman for the Insurance Information Institute. The same holds true for auto damage. Parents may also be on the hook if their child is the one making mischief. Fox says teens caught on Mischief Night aren't offered any leniency, and may face criminal charges. Even seemingly harmless pranks may carry steep fines. Since 2004, Los Angeles has levied a $1,000 fine for using or possessing Silly String in Hollywood on Halloween because the dried fibers can be tough to clean off homes and cars.
6. "Me, again."
After a few hours of opening the door, odds are good you've seen multiple zombies, princesses and tigers. But if they start to look a little familiar, well, it might be because that same trick-or-treater has already knocked at your door. "If you have good candy or larger sizes, the word gets out, and there are definitely kids that come back," says ZipList's Gifford, a mom of four who lives in Ashburn, Va. Ditto if you have something their parents don't often let them have, like the juice-filled fruit snacks Lisa Joy Rosner's kids covet. "My kids will make a second or third trip and tell their friends to go," she says. Kids hope, of course, that you won't recognize them as the same vampire or Lady Gaga who came by a few hours ago.
While you may not want to be the house handing out toothbrushes, it's easier to keep your candy bill to a minimum if you avoid being that house with the must-have goods. This year, that's likely to be M&Ms, Skittles and other bite-sized goods, says Rosner, who's also chief marketing officer for consulting firm NetBase. The firm trolled social media sites for candy mentions, measuring frequency and excitement. Your best bet for satisfied, but no-repeat visitors: candy corn. "It's in a spot that I call no-man's land," says Rosner. "They don't love it, they don't hate it. It's just kind of there."
7. "This will scar me for life."
"Pat's house is like a monster," enthuses five-year-old Rayden Garcia. The brave ninja swears he isn't scared to walk through the haunted house his neighbor constructs each year, complete with spooky soundtracks and masked actors lurking around every corner. Rayden, along with co-ninjas (and brothers) Reefe, age 7, and Remy, age 8, look forward to their walk-through every year. "It's a scary haunted house for little kids," says mom Staci Garcia of Boca Raton, Fla., who goes with the boys. "But he [Pat] takes off the mask and shows them it's him so they won't be afraid." Plus, "Pat has the best candy," says Remy.
Garcia and her neighbor have the right idea in alleviating the kids' fears. A 2005 Penn State study found that Halloween is often scarier for kids than they let on, and that trick-or-treating scares can linger through adulthood. Child psychologist Theresa Kruczek, the director of the counseling clinic at Ball State University in Muncie, Ind., says masks or makeup that distorts the face can be frightening to toddlers, while older kids have trouble separating reality from fantasy. "Realistic, gruesome gore can be scarier to them," she says. "They understand that the hatchet in somebody's head is a bad thing." The fright might not be enough to warrant therapy, but scared kids may regress to bed-wetting or have lingering nightmares. Parents might consider limiting trick-or-treating to daylight hours, and showing kids that a scary costume is just that -- fake.
8. "I shouldn't be out alone."
A scary statistic: a 2006 National Highway Traffic Safety Administration study found that pedestrian fatalities between 4 p.m. and 10 p.m. on Halloween are double what they are during that period on any other night of the year. In a survey released this month, 5% of parents told Safe Kids USA that their child had been injured on Halloween, although only 1% reported injuries severe enough to require medical attention, says spokeswoman Donahue.
To be safe, parents should make sure that kids have some light-colored or reflective component to their costume so drivers can see them, that they carry a flash-light or glow-stick to illuminate their path and that they don't wear vision-restricting masks while walking from house to house. "Remind them to stay out of street, and cross at crosswalks after looking both ways," she says. It's also a good idea to escort kids younger than 12. PetPlan's Benson says pet injuries on Halloween aren't uncommon either, as some pets sneak outside when kids come to the door. His suggestion: keep pets inside, and away from the door. "Treat it like you would a thunderstorm," he says. "It's great fun for us to take the pets out, but they might not be having as much fun."
If a trick-or-treater is injured on your property, homeowners insurance typically covers the cost of his or her medical care, says III spokeswoman Salvatore. Liability coverage kicks in if the parents of the injured youngster decide to sue. But many policies also include "no-fault medical." "That really is useful for everyday mishap so that if a trick-or-treater say, fell in their excitement to get to the door, and they need stitches," she says. "The family can simply file a claim under your homeowner's policy."
9. "I prefer cash."
Homeowners may want to have cash and canned goods on hand for trick-or-treaters, along with all that candy. Experts say it's becoming more common for kids to collect donations for nonprofits, and many town-sponsored trick-or-treating events or Halloween parties require a nonperishable food donation for admission. UNICEF, which began its trick-or-treating collection program in 1950, expects to raise $4.5 million this year, up slightly from last year, says Caryl Stern, president and chief executive of the U.S. Fund for UNICEF. Homeowners may not even need to have cash on hand. This year, the nonprofit's iconic orange collection boxes have a Microsoft Tag which allows people to donate using their smartphones, as well as instructions for donating via text message.
Of course, some kids are better organized, and will alert neighbors in advance that they're collecting for a cause. Most of Taylor and Devin Alward's Halloween haul this year won't be in candy. The 11- and 10-year-olds sent fliers to their Sherman, Conn., neighbors asking them to prepare pet food, toys and cash donations for the local animal shelter instead of treats. "We love animals," says Devin, who will dress as a "mad businessman" and carry a briefcase for some of the donated loot. "Our dog was rescued," chimes in Taylor, who will dress as a football fan, "and we want to make sure dogs like her have food and shelter." Their mom, town fire marshal Karen Alward, says the response has been overwhelming. "We've gotten emails saying, 'Be sure to bring your car, because we'll have a lot to donate,'" she says. (Some neighbors plan to give the well-meaning kids candy, too.)
10. "My costume cost a fortune."
The National Retail Federation expects spending on children's costumes to top $1 billion this year. Despite the tough economy, just 18.9% of families say they plan to make a costume instead of buying one, and only 16.6% plan to re-use one from last year. Children's costumes can easily run $30 or more, and even though kids probably won't wear the costume next year, parents tend to justify the cost as the number of Halloween events expands, says NRF spokeswoman Kathy Grannis. Between parades, parties, school events and trick-or-treating on Halloween, kids have plenty of opportunities to wear their garb. But adult and child costumes alike are increasingly carrying a hidden cost, she says -- accessories. For example, to get the look pictured with a $30 "child monster bride" costume available at several sites online, you'd spend another $44 on leg warmers, boot covers, tights, gloves and a bag.
Parents looking to cut costs might look for a costume swap through a local school or group, or via online swap sites like SwapMamas.com or ThredUp.com. Trendy trick-or-treaters will find it easier to pull together a cheap costume this year, with DIY-friendly personas including zombies and princesses topping the most-wanted costumes list. Such disguises are easily sourced from a secondhand store, where the bill might be just a few dollars, says Michelle Madhok, founder of sale-tracking site SheFinds.com. Bill Oakley, the chief executive of Goodwill Industries of Central Florida, says stores typically sell new and used costumes, too.
An earlier version of this article misspelled the last name of Caryl Stern, CEO of the U.S. Fund for UNICEF, as Stone.
Also, this article misspelled the last name of Lisa Joy Rosner, chief marketing officer of NetBase, as Rosener.