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17 Tips to Save Money on Cheap Halloween Candy for Trick-or-Treating

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The price of candy for trick-or-treating is enough to scare off any Halloween shopper. The National Retail Federation estimates Americans will spend $2.4 billion on candy in 2020 based on its annual survey of shoppers. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Halloween candy is the second-biggest expenditure for the holiday after Halloween costumes. After all, those big bags of fun-size trick-or-treat candies typically sell for $20 each.

As if that weren’t enough, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic will change how we do many things, including Halloween, this year and perhaps for years to come. Although all things with the pandemic are subject to change at any moment, most sources don’t believe trick-or-treating will be canceled. Yet sources are mixed on how many families will actually brave it this year.

For example, a Harris Poll survey about how the new coronavirus is affecting plans for fall 2020 found that only 27% of respondents plan to take their kids trick-or-treating. Yet an Insight to Action survey found as many as 46% will trick-or-treat in 2020. And another 22% plan to trunk-or-treat (a tradition involving decking out the trunks of cars in a parking lot and handing out candy from them).

Yet whether or not families plan to trick-or-treat, candy remains at the center of Halloween. Another Harris Poll, this one undertaken on behalf of the National Confectioners Association (NCA) in August 2020, found 80% of the general public and 90% of millennial moms and young parents can’t imagine Halloween without candy. And 75% of Americans and 91% of millennial moms and young parents feel chocolate and candy are an essential part of the holiday.

Fortunately, the pandemic hasn’t slowed the candy industry. According to a 2020 NCA market analysis that coincided with the NCA-backed Harris report, candy sales are up 4.5% since the middle of March (when many states began shelter-in-place orders). And this growth is unlikely to slow during Halloween since — as John Downs, president and CEO of the NCA points out — candy can lighten people’s moods. And candymakers are responding to Americans’ need for candy, including unveiling new Halloween flavors, like vampire-themed Hershey’s Kisses and Witch’s Brew Kit Kats.

So, in the words of the NCA, Halloween is still on this year. All that remains is to decide how to celebrate it with your family and afford all those sweets and treats.

Tips to Save Money on Halloween Candy

We all want to be generous with every adorable princess, superhero, witch, and vampire that comes to our door. But we also don’t want to break the bank. And when you’re buying for the whole neighborhood — plus a little extra for yourself — the cost of trick-or-treat candy can add up fast. So try a few tricks this year to save on all your Halloween treats.

1. Determine How Much Candy You Need

One of the trickiest aspects of buying Halloween candy is knowing how much you need. And while a little extra means you get to sneak some for yourself, it also means you spent more than you had to.

While it’s excessively difficult to calculate amounts exactly, the first step is to gauge your needs based on the previous year. Although 2020 might be a little different from the norm, generally, you’ll get the same average number of trick-or-treaters every year.

If you’re new to the neighborhood, talk with your neighbors about the expected turnout. And if you live in a nicer neighborhood, you’re likely to get kids from other areas. Parents often bring their kids to trick-or-treat in communities they deem safer, though some kids are there just to score bigger and better candy bars.

But underestimating is better for your wallet. And if you run out of candy, you don’t have to forage through your cabinets for granola bars. It’s OK to turn out your lights or hang out a sign that tells trick-or-treaters you’re all out.

2. Set a Budget

Once you figure out how much you need — and before you head to the store — make a budget. Decide on a reasonable amount to spend, and don’t waver from it no matter how tempting those giant bags of candy seem.

As fun as it is to participate in the holidays, none of it’s a necessary expense when it comes to your budget, and you don’t have to buy any candy at all. If you’re living paycheck-to-paycheck and struggling to get by, turn off your porch lights so trick-or-treaters know to move on. And especially this year, no one’s likely to find it odd if you’d rather stay behind closed doors — especially if you’re in a high-risk category for complications for COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus.

3. Clip Coupons & Use Rewards Points

You don’t need magic spells to conjure substantial savings on candy. Just look out for candy coupons in September and October, when they’ll arrive in abundance. Check coupon websites and mobile coupon apps like Coupons.com and Flipp. Flipp allows you to peruse the circulars for all the stores in your area so you can easily compare sale prices across stores. The app also features the ability to “clip” coupons from the circulars and use them electronically in-store.

Also, keep an eye on the unsolicited coupon circulars that arrive weekly in your mailbox. If you prefer digital methods, the same circulars are typically available on the store’s website. You may even score some coupons at the store — from tear pads in the candy aisle to the peel-off kind on the candy bags themselves. And check all your store loyalty accounts, which feature their own online and in-store coupons and rewards points.

Because competition among candymakers and retailers is at its peak in October, coupons aren’t hard to find. And you can rack up even steeper savings by pairing manufacturer’s coupons with store coupons. That’s typically allowable even at stores that don’t allow coupon doubling since they come from different sources.

4. Use Rebate Apps & Browser Extensions

You can use rebate apps and web browser extensions, depending on whether you’re shopping in-store or online, to save cash too. Rebates are like coupons in reverse. Even though they don’t help you save money upfront, they return money to you after your purchase. And depending on how early you shop, you can use your cash back toward buying your Halloween costumes or decorations. Or help out your holiday budget and add it to your Christmas savings, which comes only two short months after Halloween.

Useful apps for in-store shopping include Ibotta, Checkout 51, and Fetch Rewards. For online shopping, try Rakuten, Capital One Shopping, or Honey. And don’t forget you can sometimes stack your rebates across apps. For example, I search Ibotta for rebates on food before I go shopping. And once I have the receipt, I scan it into Fetch Rewards.

5. Shop the Sales

Don’t rush to the store the moment you spot the first sign Halloween is coming. And, yes, that could actually be a Halloween candy display in August. But in the months leading up to the holiday, stores often have multiple sales — including buy-one-get-one, one-day doorbusters, and routine supermarket price drops. So shop smart by waiting for them. Be conscious of the typical prices, and snatch some candy when it’s offered at anywhere from 25% to 50% off. And to easily compare prices across sales at different stores, use an app like Flipp.

According to Krazy Coupon Lady (KCL), the best prices for candy have historically come at the end of September and early October. So that’s the time to look out for the best sales. Specifically, KCL advises waiting until the back-to-school sales settle, at which point the Halloween deals start rolling out.

6. Wait Until the Last Minute

The absolute best sales typically come the day before or day of Halloween, when retailers anxious to move holiday-branded packaging off the shelves start deeply slashing prices. That’s especially good advice if you know you’ll be tempted to eat the candy yourself before Halloween gets here. If you eat it while waiting for Halloween, you’ll have to head back to the store anyway — potentially doubling your costs.

And don’t worry that this tactic is too risky. It’s not. Unlike Halloween costumes, stores will not run out of candy in the last days before the big event.

7. Match Coupons With Sales & Rebates

To get the absolute best deals on candy, stack everything together — coupons, sales, rebates, and store rewards points. This common strategy of extreme couponing can even result in scoring free candy to pass out at Halloween.

If you’re a novice at extreme couponing, all it really takes is some planning. Starting in September, when the candy coupons begin appearing, clip and save them. And scan your apps for rebates that match up with your coupons. And keep checking back since apps update frequently. Once you spot a sale on candy, head to the store armed with your coupons and rebates. And if you’ve managed to rack up any store rewards points in the meantime, don’t forget to apply those at checkout.

Alternatively, keep an eye on a coupon-watching site like KCL. Their team watches all the coupons, rebate apps, and store sales for you and lets you know when everything matches up for an extraordinarily low-cost or even free deal.

8. Stock Up Post-Halloween

Even better than waiting until the last minute, the clearance prices on post-Halloween candy are unbeatable. So mark your calendar for Nov. 1 to cash in on discounts up to 75% off. Just don’t wait too long, as with such low prices, other shoppers will scoop it up fast.

And don’t worry that it will spoil before Halloween next year. Most candy stays fresh for about a year. Just check the expiration dates and store it in a cool, dry place. For more tips on candy storage and how long certain types last, visit the NCA’s website, AlwaysATreat.com.

Alternatively, you can use some types of steeply discounted Halloween candy to save on your Christmas baking. For example, no one will know the difference if the Hershey’s Kisses in your peanut butter blossom cookies came in Halloween wrappers or Christmas ones.

Pumpkin Pail Halloween Candy Skeleton

9. Save Candy Throughout the Year

Some candy won’t make it a year. In that case, you can still take advantage of after-holiday sales by stocking up at other times of year. Candy is central to most holidays, including Valentine’s Day, Easter, the Fourth of July, and Christmas. Once a holiday is over, stores need to get rid of all the leftover candy on the shelves to make room for whatever holiday is coming next. So clearance sales on candy aren’t exclusive to Halloween. And kids don’t generally care if candy is shaped like a bunny, heart, Christmas tree, or pumpkin. They only care that it’s delicious.

10. Purchase in Multiples

Every retailer wants you to buy as much candy as they can talk you into, and one way they do that is to offer incentives to buy more than one bag at a time. In general, this is a shopping trap, as it’s a common retail tactic to get you to buy more. But if you’re planning to buy more anyway, it’s a win-win. Plus, you can cut down on overbuying by teaming up with another household and splitting the cost and the candy.

But even if this strategy causes you to overbuy, you can always save the extra for next year since candy doesn’t expire quickly — if you can resist eating it in the meantime.

11. Buy in Bulk

If you’re expecting a lot of trick-or-treaters, buy the big bag of candy instead of several smaller ones. Groceries are almost always cheaper when you buy in bulk — and candy’s no exception. Most of the time, a 100-piece bag of Halloween candy is a better deal than buying five 20-piece bags. Occasionally, there are exceptions, as when smaller bags go on sale. So price-check and look for sales. But generally, you’ll save money buying in larger quantities. To find those giant-size bags, visit your favorite big-box store like Walmart or Target. Or check out the offerings at a warehouse club like Costco, Sam’s Club, or BJ’s.

12. Team Up With Friends

To cut down on the total amount of candy you buy, pool your resources. Every year, a friend and I take our kids trick-or-treating together while our husbands sit in the driveway and pass out candy. Since it’s a joint effort, each of us buys half the candy we would have if we’d gone it alone. Plus, it’s an excellent excuse to get together for a social evening — we get to chat while our kids get a sugar rush.

13. Avoid Chocolate

Candy expenses vary significantly depending on the type you buy. For example, a mixed bag of 85 fun-size chocolate candies (Halloween-themed Hershey’s milk chocolate and cookies-and-cream candy, York peppermint patties, and Reese’s) costs around $18 through Amazon Fresh. But a bag of 170 fruity candies (Starbursts, Skittles, and Lifesavers Gummies) is only around $15. That’s twice as many pieces for almost half the cost. And you’ll save even more if you opt for lollipops. You can get a bag of 44 Dum-Dums for around $2.50. So if you spend the same amount on lollipops you did on chocolate, you get more than 300 pieces instead of 85 chocolate candies. In fact, old-school Halloween favorites like Tootsie Rolls, Sweetarts, and Smarties are some of the cheapest candies you can buy in bulk for a crowd.

Plus, even if you decide to give more than one piece to each trick-or-treater, ounce for ounce, hard candy beats out chocolate every time. For example, you can give out two fun-size chocolate candies to each trick-or-treater or a double-handful of 20 Jolly Ranchers for the same price. That means you can give a few more pieces, save some money, and the kids will still be thrilled they’re getting multiple pieces of candy — especially since it might give them an advantage in post trick-or-treat candy trading. According to A Cup of Joe, one fun-size Snickers is worth eight Jolly Ranchers. So kids who prefer fruity candy can get more for their trade.

If you’re worried about seeming like the cheap house, don’t. Most trick-or-treaters won’t remember what kind of candy you gave out — unless it was unusual, like a full-size candy bar. So don’t sweat the type of candy. Kids love anything made of sugar.

14. Buy Whatever Is Cheapest

Since the type of candy doesn’t really matter, go ahead and buy whatever’s cheapest — even if that’s a bag of Smarties and not the Snickers. It’s OK. No one’s going to care — or remember — that you bought the cheapest candy on the block. Kids are just going to be excited to get all that candy. And candy is candy — they’re going to eat them all the same.

15. Give Non-Candy Treats

Even cheaper than a handful of Jolly Ranchers is a small plastic toy. Online retailers like Oriental Trading sell Halloween toys in bulk. They sell things like plastic spider rings, tiny plush characters, squishies, slime, slinkies, and rubber balls. And the prices can be as low as 12 cents per toy. The bigger an assortment you buy, the more you can save per piece. So this tactic works best for neighborhoods that get a lot of trick-or-treaters.

You can also buy similar small plastic toys at dollar stores. If you look in the seasonal or party supply aisles, you can find small toys meant as favors for goody bags. But they work equally well for trick-or-treat. Plus, they come several to a pack, so you can get anywhere from 5 to 10 toys per $1 bag, making them $0.10 to $0.20 per toy.

Other suitable non-candy goodies to consider are pencils, sheets of stickers, glow-in-the-dark bracelets, and erasers.

And these are an excellent option for trick-or-treaters who have allergies to common candy ingredients like peanuts, chocolate, and wheat. But if you go this route, don’t forget to put out a teal pumpkin, which signals to trick-or-treaters that you have allergy-friendly treats. It’s called the Teal Pumpkin Project, an initiative of Food Allergy Research & Education. You can buy a teal foam pumpkin or light-up jack-o’-lantern to reuse every year. Or buy a fresh pumpkin from Walmart or another grocery store and paint it teal using basic craft paint from Walmart or the dollar store. Although a fresh pumpkin isn’t reusable, it comes with the lowest upfront cost.

16. Don’t Buy Candy You Like

Phil Stanley, Hershey’s global chief sales officer, told CNN Business that more than 55% of Halloween candy is purchased for personal consumption and not for trick-or-treaters. And Rob Dickerson, an analyst with the financial services company Jefferies, tells Fortune that Halloween isn’t a single day for the candy industry, but a 10-week treat-buying fest. Self-consumption has always been a part of the holiday. As Dickerson claims, Halloween is basically an excuse to buy candy. In fact, candymakers are counting on the personal buys this year to make up for potential losses in trick-or-treat sales.

If loading up on candy for your own consumption makes you happy, go for it. But if saving money is your aim, skip buying candy for yourself. If you stock up on bags of your favorites, they’re not likely to last until Halloween. And that means you’ll have to run back to the store for more to keep the neighborhood ghosts and goblins happy.

So buy a type that’s not your favorite for the trick-or-treaters. Then wait for the after-Halloween clearance and go load up on candy for yourself at 75% off.

17. Skip It This Year

If you enjoy participating in annual trick-or-treating, then buying candy for the neighborhood kids is a treat in itself. But if it feels more like an obligation and you’d rather not participate, save your cash. No rule says you have to pass out candy. It’s OK to spend the evening doing something else, including curling up with a good book or movie or avoiding the whole thing and going out for the night. Just remember to turn off your porch lights so families know to pass you by.

Even if you have kids you take trick-or-treating, it’s still OK to skip passing out candy — especially if you decide to trick-or-treat somewhere else, like the neighborhood of a friend or relative.

Alternatively, check out any community Halloween events that feature trick-or-treating. For example, many communities sponsor events during which kids can trick-or-treat from business to business in a major business district. And these events are always free.

Or try a trunk-or-treat event. These are typically sponsored by community centers and are also generally free. Those who volunteer to pass out candy decorate their cars with fun themes and displays. And the events are typically held in blocked-off parking lots, in the open air, and during the day, making them fun and safe for kids.


Tips for Trick-or-Treating During the COVID-19 Pandemic

If you decide to pass out candy, this year presents particular challenges due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

But while trick-or-treating typically involves interacting with strangers en masse and dozens of kids sticking their hands into candy bowls, it doesn’t have to be a germy nightmare. After all, trick-or-treating is an outdoor event during which it’s not unusual to wear a mask.

In fact, Gary Reschak, a pediatrician at Northwestern Medicine Huntley Hospital, tells the Daily Meal that if everyone stays outside, wears a mask, and practices good hand hygiene, both trick-or-treaters and adults handing out candy can safely manage Halloween.

A few best practices can help keep everyone safe this Halloween.

  • Wear an Appropriate Mask. Whether or not you like to dress up to pass out candy, wearing a face mask is essential, as you’ll be interacting with a large number of children and parents. If you do dress up, Reschak advises you to avoid plastic and rubber Halloween masks. They aren’t designed to protect against  the new coronavirus, which is spread through respiratory droplets. Instead, wear a surgical or cloth mask. But no worries they’ll ruin your costume. You can easily incorporate protective face masks into many costumes, like health care worker and mummy costumes. You can even buy a cloth face mask with costume-specific faces like animal faces, scary clown faces, and even superhero or villain faces.
  • Stay Outside. Avoid passing out candy at an indoor event or if you live in an enclosed apartment complex. It’s also best to avoid continually opening and shutting your door. If you’re not in a high-risk group for complications from COVID-19, consider sitting outside while maintaining an appropriate 6 feet of distance from the trick-or-treaters. According to the Mayo Clinic, there’s less risk of contracting the coronavirus if you’re outdoors than indoors. However, you should still take safety precautions like mask-wearing, hand-sanitizing, and social-distancing. And if you are in a high-risk group but still want to participate, set your candy outside and greet the ghouls from behind the safety of a glass door.
  • Use Plastic Zip-Close Bags to Package Candy. Amaya Husain, a physician in pediatric emergency medicine at John Hopkins who specializes in disaster preparedness for pediatrics, tells the Daily Meal that adults planning to pass out candy should prepackage it in small plastic zip-close bags. That way, the candy itself is protected from germy hands digging through the candy bowl.
  • Only Pass Out Wrapped Candies. It’s long been standard practice already, but only hand out wrapped, store-bought candy — even if you plan to further package the candy in plastic bags. According to Husain, any store-bought wrapped candy should be safe.
  • Use Hand Sanitizer Frequently. Hopefully, trick-or-treaters are carrying hand sanitizer and using it after every stop. But if you want to help encourage the practice, set a pump bottle of sanitizer out for trick-or-treaters to use. While you’re passing out candy, you shouldn’t be touching it or getting close to the trick-or-treaters anyway, but regularly sanitizing your own hands is never a bad idea either.

For more information on how to celebrate Halloween safely during the COVID-19 pandemic, including trick-or-treating, refer to the guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.


Final Word

Whatever your budget, celebrating holidays is fun. And we need some of that in 2020 more than ever. The Insight to Action survey found that 70% of moms will celebrate Halloween with their kids in some way this year and plan to make it “one to remember.” And 74% of millennial moms and young parents in the NCA survey said Halloween is more important than ever. John Downs of the NCA concludes from the survey that individuals are viewing Halloween 2020 as an opportunity to add some normalcy and joy into their lives during an uncertain time.

And saving on candy can ensure you have enough money left over for something even more special, such as hosting a Halloween party with only your family or pandemic pod or cooking a special dinner complete with Halloween-themed foods before watching Halloween movies until the kids are up way past their bedtimes.

Are you handing out candy or taking your kids trick-or-treating this year? What tips would you add?

Sarah Graves
Sarah Graves, Ph.D. is a freelance writer specializing in personal finance, parenting, education, and creative entrepreneurship. She's also a college instructor of English and humanities. When not busy writing or teaching her students the proper use of a semicolon, you can find her hanging out with her awesome husband and adorable son watching way too many superhero movies.

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