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We're spending $700 million on pet costumes in the costliest Halloween ever

Charlie the superdog is the only member of the King family who got two Halloween outfits this year. His other costume is a doughnut.
Joelyne King
Charlie the superdog is the only member of the King family who got two Halloween outfits this year. His other costume is a doughnut.

Charlie does not want to sit still for the photo.

The Chihuahua-terrier mix in a Superman cape perches next to some pumpkins, swirls and sniffs the decor. Joelyne King, behind the phone camera, raises the pitch of her voice to remind him he's a good boy. Then, she lifts up a dollar bill, and its crinkle grabs his canine focus for exactly long enough.

"We figured Superman would be a good costume because he's just a great all-around dog," King says on a recent visit to a Maryland farm for a fall festival with her family. One of her two children is about to celebrate her first Halloween.

"Usually I have multiple costumes for the kids, but I think this year we just went with one for each of them. Charlie was the only one that got two," King says.

When Charlie is not a superhero, he'll be dressed as a doughnut.

This Halloween, American shoppers are expected to spend $700 million on pet costumes, according to the National Retail Federation. Altogether, Halloween spending in the U.S. will likely top $12 billion, a new record. A National Retail Federation survey estimated that an average shopper would spend $108 on candy, costumes and decorations.

Bailey the Shih Tzu does not love costumes but does her best to embody a tiger anyway.
Alina Selyukh / NPR
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Alina Selyukh
Bailey the Shih Tzu does not love costumes but does her best to embody a tiger anyway.

The survey found top pet outfit choices are pumpkin, hot dog, bat, bumblebee and spider.

The survey did not seem to ask the pets' opinions on the matter. Neither did Alyssa Peters and Mike Namaiandeh, dressed as Jasmine and Aladdin, leading Bailey, a cheerful Shih Tzu dressed as a tiger.

"When I pulled the costume out of the package, she kind of looked at me like, 'Do we really have to do this again?'" Peters says, laughing. "You've got to be a part of the team here."

Candy may be $500, but the thrills are priceless

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Halloween spending was actually on a decline in the United States. But the lockdowns got more people into decking out homes for the holidays, and we haven't stopped.

The Denchfield family expects 400 to 500 children to walk through the haunted maze that has made the family's house a top Halloween destination in Bethesda, Maryland.
Alina Selyukh / NPR
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Alina Selyukh
The Denchfield family expects 400 to 500 children to walk through the haunted maze that has made the family's house a top Halloween destination in Bethesda, Md.

"This is like a universal holiday that everyone can have fun with," says Kurt Denchfield, standing next to a crate of plastic gore: fake blood, loose severed limbs and bloody brains.

Every year, his family shape-shifts their front yard into a haunted maze that becomes a top Halloween destination in suburban Bethesda, in Maryland.

To get the treats here means to plod through fog and evade glowing skeletons, sparking electric tentacles, howling monsters — and at least one of six Denchfield children wielding a chainsaw.

Kurt and Heather Denchfield, with their son Jake, pose in their front yard, which is about to mutate into a haunted maze.
Alina Selyukh / NPR
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Alina Selyukh
Kurt and Heather Denchfield, with their son Jake, pose in their front yard, which is about to mutate into a haunted maze.

Heather Denchfield is the purchasing department for the operation. She confirms one of the reasons that holiday spending is up: Everything is more expensive. Pricier sugar, cotton and building supplies mean costlier sweets, costumes and decorations.

To keep costs down, the Denchfields reuse a spooky stash of supplies from year to year. They got cornstalks and pallets through Kurt's landscaping business. But there's one Halloween luxury they won't sacrifice: the full-size candy bars that await survivors of the maze.

"We do go from full-size to fun-size by the time that the night ends," Heather says.

"That's after the 400th candy bar," Kurt chimes in. They estimate they've shelled out $500 on all that chocolate.

Kurt Denchfield works on the haunted maze, which has been sprawling bigger every year.
Alina Selyukh / NPR
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Alina Selyukh
Kurt Denchfield works on the haunted maze, which has been sprawling bigger every year.

And the number of visitors to the haunted maze seems to grow by 50 children each year, Kurt adds, though he doesn't know whether it's the spreading word or hyper Halloween spirit.

"We'll need a bigger front yard soon if we're gonna keep expanding it," he says. "Maybe we can annex the neighbor's yard for one night."

Talk about growing Halloween expenses. Step 1: Get a bigger lawn.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Alina Selyukh is a business correspondent at NPR, where she follows the path of the retail and tech industries, tracking how America's biggest companies are influencing the way we spend our time, money, and energy.