Some people call me morbid. I call it a playful realism about human life expectancy. Either way, as soon as the local Halloween stores open, I'm in there checking out the inventory.
These days, many of the national retail Halloween shops -- like Spirit stores -- open in mid-August and year-round party stores such as Party City have all their costumes out for the season before school starts. Even my local pet store stocks dog and cat costumes.
In 2012, about 170 million folks took part in Halloween activities, according to the National Retail Federation.
"By the time Halloween rolls around each year, it's safe to say Americans have already spent two months preparing for one of the fastest-growing and most widely loved holidays of the year," Matthew Shay, the president of the National Retail Federation, said last year.
Costume costs can add up. Costumes in Halloween or party stores typically cost $20-$70 for children and $40-$100 for adults. Makeup runs $5-$20. Plus, those crucial accessories like hats, tights and gory latex accoutrements cost $7-$30.
In fact, in 2012, the average shopper spent nearly $80 on costumes, candy and decorations, an 11% increase over the previous year. In the United States, Halloween is an $8 billion industry, the National Retail Federation found.
While I'm one of the first shoppers in the Halloween stores, I spend very little money. What I look for is inspiration. As the National Retail Federation notes, folks who make their own costumes only spend $25-$30.
For example, this year, I was thinking of being a minion from the Despicable Me movie series. While Spirit sells an adult costume for $40-$45, I believe I can assemble a costume for less: A yellow long-sleeve shirt ($2-$5) and overalls ($15-$20) from the local thrift shop then add a pair of steampunk goggles ($5-$10) and there's a costume for $22-$35 which, aside from the goggles, has potential for future life.
It's just as easy to assemble costumes for the kids from thrift store finds and items around the house. In the past, I've turned plain black sweatshirts into a warm version of Batman's breast plate. (It's important to incorporate warm clothing into Halloween costumes because late October is often wet and cold.) In warmer climates, I've turned used thrift store vests into WWE wrestler attire.
Save the Halloween store for later. The best time to hit those high-end Halloween stores is Nov. 1, when most of the products get slashed by 50%. If you wait until Nov. 2-3, some stores offer 75% off prices. But, you risk having the most-coveted pieces of the inventory -- like costumes, intricate masks and the expensive life-size decorations -- picked over by shoppers who hit sales on the first day.
Have fun for Halloween, but don't feel the need to overspend ... because the next holiday season is just around the corner.