Halloween's coming up -- a scary time of year for everyone, but especially for families who want to avoid the horror of debt. The cost of costumes for the little ones, candy for ghosts and goblins at the door, and elaborate decorating all add up.
Stores are stocking up on a huge variety of decorations these days, including pumpkin lights, scarecrows and animated characters for the front lawns. We've moved on from the days when tying white sheets in the trees seemed to be enough. Maybe, it's time to return to the imagination-rich time of white sheets and simple candles in pumpkins -- before Halloween horrors include the tally on our credit card bills.
In fact, Halloween is the perfect time to practice banishing the demons of debt. We can definitely enjoy a fun holiday event with our families, without putting ourselves into debt over $100-costumes and expensive treats, which will quickly take the fun out of Halloween.
Try sharing the following strategies with your kids, and actively involving them in discussions in an age-appropriate way, so that they're part of the solution.
1. Be prepared. First, decide how much your family budget can handle for Halloween. Then take a look at that budget, and decide how much will be split between candy, decorations and costumes. If it's tight, cut down on decorations first -- a couple of pumpkins can provide quality family time for carving (and then for cooking delicious pumpkin pies and muffins!) and a signal that you're celebrating the fun.
2. Be informed. Find out which stores have the best bargains, and remember that Halloween comes just once a year: items don't have to be the best quality. Double-check bulk candy prices, to make sure they're really less expensive than buying smaller quantities.
3. Be creative. If money is short, try non-traditional sources of costumes; used clothing stores, for example. You can even set up costume exchanges with local community or parents groups, since kids so often outgrow costumes from year to year.
4. Be yourself. Don't fall into the keeping-up-with-the-Addams-family trap. Just because many of the houses on your block are decorated doesn't mean that yours has to be. A stylish arrangement of pumpkins that the whole family has contributed to carving can be just as effective as expensive lights and props.
5. Be safe. Choose not to decorate or hand out candy at all. Maybe your community is opting for safer Halloween celebrations such as shopping center and community center events. Check local event calendars, and with your children's schools if applicable, to find out what your options are. If you're on your own, and find it difficult to escort your children as well as hand out candy, team-up with friends and neighbors to pool your resources.
Stanley J. Kershman is The Debt Doctor. A leading authority on solving financial disasters, he has been helping people get out of debt for more than 25 years. He's also the author of Put Your Debt on a Diet: A Step-by-Step Guide to Financial Fitness (Pepper Pike Press), a practical handbook that walks you through the process of improving your money management skills. For free copies of Stanley's handy budgeting worksheets, visit www.debtonadiet.com.