ON THE MONEY: Tasty Halloween Tidbits

  • Posted: Sunday, October 28, 2012 11:18 a.m.
    UPDATED: Sunday, October 28, 2012 11:55 a.m.

The average American family spends $24 on Halloween candy. The National Retail Federation projects that spending on children’s Halloween costumes will exceed $1.1 billion this year. More than two-thirds of parents will purchase a new costume for their children, and the average cost of such garb can easily exceed $30 per child.

Where you live plays a big role in the number of trick-or-treaters that will come to your door. If you live in a densely populated upscale area, you should expect a large number of Halloween visitors from outside your neighborhood.

It might be a good idea to throw out any treats that your kids bring home that have been opened, are homemade or if they appear to be stale or simply not fresh. Some parents in a Chicago suburb have gone so far to stop on the way home at a local hospital that offers free X-ray screening of treats. The days of poisoned candy are probably over, but when I was a kid in Aiken, there was a guy in our neighborhood who actually tried to give out pennies that had been heated in the oven. Needless to say, he was arrested for his cruelty; small wonder he was not thrashed by irate parents.

The fallout from Halloween can be expensive if you have pets. The average vet bill for a candy-related incident is around $500. If your pooch is like one of mine, he might just try to eat the whole bag or bowl of candy if it is accessible. An ingredient in chocolate, theobromine, is toxic to cats and dogs. Peanuts and toffee can cause pancreatitis in pets, and even candy wrappers can do some damage if pets ingest them, since wrappers might block the intestines. Boxes of raisins can be healthy for kids but potentially lethal for doggies, since raisins can bring on kidney failure. The fact that a pet gobbles down one candy bar will not necessarily be cataclysmic, but if your pet has access to a large quantity of candy, big medical problems can ensue if the pet eats the whole load.

It might not be a bad idea to move your vehicle into your garage on Halloween, since vandalism can still occur. Then, too, you may want to review your homeowners’ insurance policy before Halloween itself, since a high deductible will mean that you will be responsible for any minor damage to your property. In some parts of the country, Oct. 30 – “Devil’s night” – is the date that young ghouls do their damage. Halloween-related vandalism can include spray painting your house, rock throwing or “keying” your car (scratching the finish with a key). Don’t forget that any injury that a Halloween visitor suffers while on your property is your problem, but most modern homeowner policies will cover medical expenses. If you are sued, you hopefully have a personal liability policy that protects you over and above your homeowners’ coverage.

If you pass out special treats or otherwise attract a high number of visitors, watch out for kids who return for a second turn at the plate.

Sometimes being frightened is not a good thing. Penn State University conducted a study several years ago that showed that Halloween scares are real to children and can extend beyond the teen years. Theresa Kruczek, a child psychologist in Indiana, believes that toddlers often are frightened by distorted Halloween masks and older kids may have subsequent difficulty in separating reality from fantasy. “Realistic, gruesome gore can be scarier to them,” she said. “They understand that the hatchet in somebody’s head is a bad thing.” Therapy is rarely called for, but some kids could resort to bed-wetting or have ongoing nightmares from Halloween incidents. Taking kids home before darkness sets in may be a wise move, and child experts agree that it will make sense to show young children that masks are indeed fakes and not the real thing.

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. As a result, if your child is going to be out after dark, it makes good sense to ensure that kids have some light-colored or reflective component to their costume so drivers can easily see them. Children should also carry a flashlight or other device to illuminate their path, that they should not wear masks that limit their visions. The time-honored admonition to stay out of the street and look both ways before crossing is especially true at Halloween. Finally, depending on the age of your children, you may want to accompany them on their forays into candy-land.

The idea for this column emanated from an excellent article by Kelli Grant on smartmoney.com.

Got a financial planning question for Greg? You may email him at greg@lifesolutionsonline.net.

Greg Roberts is a certified financial planner with 35 years of financial and estate planning experience.

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