As temperatures drop and the economy sputters along, many Americans aren't exactly in the mood to get their ghoul on this Halloween.
Anna Harris of St. Paul, Minn., is among those cutting back this Halloween. "Because I have less money," she explained.
Still, Harris plans on celebrating by dressing up as Catwoman for two parties. At the St. Paul Walmart store last week, she debated between a black-satin sequined cat mask and a leopard-festooned mask (with matching kitty tail). Both bore a price tag of about $5, and she plans on spending another $5 on makeup to complete her feline party look.
For retailers, Halloween is an important revenue bridge between the crucial back-to-school and Christmas buying seasons. And, despite early indications of shopper gloominess, 158 million consumers plan to celebrate Halloween in some manner this year — the most popular activity, of course, will be doling out candy.
"Halloween is one of the most popular holidays of the year, and while we are expecting people to cut back on their spending a bit this Halloween, there's no sense it will be a bust," said Kathy Grannis, a spokeswoman for the National Retail Federation.
"It's a muddy picture," said George John, associate dean and marketing professor at the University of Minnesota's Carlson School of Management. In terms of retail sales, "We're trucking along. We're not falling off a cliff, but we're not surging upward, either," John added.
A survey distributed recently by the NRF indicates that nearly 9 in 10 people plan to spend less on candy, costumes and decorations this Halloween season compared with last year. Total spending on the holiday is expected to reach the $6.9 billion mark nationwide this year — that's about $75.03 a person, on average, down from $79.82 last year.
About a quarter of the 5,200-plus consumers surveyed cited the economy as the main reason for the decline.
"Unemployment has improved, but not at a solid rate that we would normally see when a recession ends. Consumer confidence has trended downward, so it's a slow improvement," John said. "Sales for big retailers year-over-year are negative or marginally positive."
Some Halloween enthusiasts plan on cutting back by buying "a la carte" — that is, investing in a piece or two, such as faux facial hair or just a mask, instead of a full-fledged costume.
Target Corp. capitalized on that trend by partnering with fashion and costume designer Chris March for a series of striking wigs that serve as the cornerstone of the retailer's Halloween collection. March, a former "Project Runway" contestant, designed eight styles: Geisha, Greaser, Starlet, Witch, Medusa, Monster Bride, Mohawk and Afro. Each sells for $20 or less.
Not all retailers are reporting Halloween-spending skittishness among their customers. Consumers nationwide are expected to spend a little over $1 billion on children's costumes and $1.2 billion on adult costumes, according to the NRF-sponsored survey.
"We're definitely not seeing people spending less," said Roberta Bonoff, CEO and president of the Minneapolis-based children's store Creative Kidstuff. "People are still buying. Kids are kids, and they celebrate Halloween. No matter what goes on in the world, people will spend on their kids."
Top sellers at the six-store chain include police, firefighter, vampire and magician costumes. Plus, smaller pleasures, including spider-web earrings and people paints, are hot this season.
Another area where consumers are less likely to cut back: pet costumes.
About 13.8 percent of those surveyed for NRF say they will take extra time to find the "perfect costume" for their pet. All told, consumers are expected to spend $330 million on costumes for their four-legged companions.
Popular doggy costumes trending on Google Shopping include hot dog, Wonder Woman, Ewok and matador get-ups.