Halloween Economics

James Joyner and I had a back-and-forth on Twitter about too-old trick-or-treaters. He commented that they were many, I commented that they have the benefit of getting rid of excess candy, and he agreed.

It got me thinking, though. After the Great Candy Scares, Halloween was never the same in my old neighborhood, nor in places I have lived since (this may be coincidentals). While that’s a post in and of itself, I’ll just make that observation to get to a greater point: With the paucity of houses offering candy, ToTing takes notably more time than it used to. I bought a bag of candy from the store for $8. If they ToT for over an hour, they are unlikely to get as much candy as I bought. At least that was the case in the old neighborhood. And even here, in a very child-centric town, there seems to be relatively few houses around.

It seems to me that if the older kids were to just work an hour, they’d end up further ahead than they are by ToTing. In other words, the “free is free” comment I made to Joyner has its limitations. Because it is, in effect, being paid to walk around and ask people for candy. Except that you’re getting paid in candy, which has non-transferable value.

Further, after Halloween, they practically give the stuff the away. So even if I’m wrong in my initial calculation, I am right insofar as you could, if you worked for an hour or two at some other job, buy the candy and have a little left over for, well, I don’t know what.

On the other hand, due to child labor laws, they often can’t go out and work. Or their options for work are limited. We do get kids stopping by asking to mow our lawn. There are also ads for baby sitters and bet sitters on the bulletin board at Safeway. So in a way, this is not something that they do in lieu of work, but rather is the best “work” they can find. It pays in candy, but it actually pays.

When I was a kid, I used to deliver the local newsletter. It was about $7 for doing something not much different that ToTing, except that I was dropping off rather than picking up. It took roughly two hours to earn the money, which was less than minimum wage. But it was a great deal because I was thirteen and there weren’t a whole lot of ways to make regular money. As delivery-boys would “retire” I took on additional routes. By the time I was 16, I was doing three a month for $21. Even though I was eligible to work at that point, it was still a good deal* because it was a way to make money without committing to a regular schedule. So ToTing has that benefit, too. You do it one night, make your money, and then don’t have to quit.

* – Not that I had a choice. My mother was the chief editor of said newsletter. Since she knew that I would deliver it, she didn’t want me to quit and I would have done it out of obligation anyway.

Will Truman

Will Truman is the Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. He is also on Twitter.


  1. “bet sitters”? Is that who you call when you’ve got a great hand in Hold’em but you really need to go to the bathroom?

    Re the actual point of the post, I’d make a small edit: “Because it is, in effect, being paid to walk around *with your friends and have some fun* and ask people for candy.” I was too sensitive to the raised eyebrows from the candy distributors to ToT as a teen, but it seems like a pretty good proposition for those who don’t care about that — get paid (in candy) to have fun.

    • A very good point. If you’re going to hang out and act stupid with your friends, you might as well get “paid” for it!

      I had a job last spring with the Census Bureau, theoretically shuttling documents from one trade-off point to another (though I had almost nothing to deliver). So I drive through, listening to audiobooks and watching the gorgeous mountainous countryside roll by. I’m getting paid all of $10/hr plus 50c a mile. But as I listen and drive on through, all I think is “They’re *paying me for this*?!”

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