"Fun Size" and "Mini" candies can take a huge bite out of the grocery budget. That's scary.
Buying trick-or-treat candy can be, well, tricky.
If you're like me, you want to be generous to the kids who ring your bell. But you don't want your generosity to cost you a quarter of your weekly grocery budget either.
As a general rule, I try not to spend more than a nickel a treat, which translates to about $1 for a standard-size bag of "Fun Size" chocolate candy bars. One 11-oz. bag typically holds about 20 small bars.
In a bind, I've paid up to 10 cents a treat. Any more than that and you're simply paying too much.
Here are a few money-saving tricks for buying Halloween treats:
--Do a crowd estimate. Before you hit the stores, try to recall how many trick-or-treaters you had last year to judge how much candy you'll need this year. If you're new to the area, ask your neighbors. If the houses are far apart or you have a steep driveway, chances are you won't need all that much candy.
--Do the math. Bring a calculator and a small notebook to the store to assist in your calculations. The price per piece of candy is your best comparison. To figure out how many pieces of candy are in a bag, look at the nutritional guide on the back of the package. Multiply the serving size by the number of servings. Divide that number into the price to get your price per piece of candy.
--Bigger is not necessarily better. Some of the giant-size variety bags of candy will actually cost you more. At Target, for instance, 50-piece bags of Hershey's candies were recently selling for $6.99, or 14 cents each. The 10- to 11-oz. bags of the same candy were $2.50 the week I compared, which works out to 12.5 cents apiece. (Just another reason to bring the calculator.)
Remember that not all candy is created equal. Different flavors of the same candy can cost you more. For instance, a $2.49 bag of regular Skittles contains 20 packages of candy. A $2.49 bag of sour Skittles contains just 16 packages.
--Use coupons. Right now, candy coupons are plentiful in newspapers. Also, check coupons.com for printable coupons available on Nestle and Wonka brand candies.
There also are printable coupons available at Target.com, which are good on Mars, Nestle and Hershey's brands. And remember, the Target coupons can be used in conjunction with the manufacturer's coupons to save even more.
--Shop the sales. Don't assume the mega-stores have the best prices. Check the sales circulars, including those for the drugstores. In recent weeks, stores have sold the standard-size 10- to 11-oz. bags of chocolate candy for $2.50.
--Chocolate vs. lollipops? If you don't have the time for coupons and money is tight, consider forgoing chocolate in favor of a cheaper treat like lollipops or Smarties. Remember, you're giving away candy to the masses. Don't go into debt to give chocolate to total strangers.
--Buy candy you don't like. That way you won't be tempted to eat it before the big day, necessitating another shopping trip.
--Save your receipts. Open your bags of candy as you need them and return any unopened bags the next day for a full refund with your receipt. Without a receipt, you'll only get 50 percent because Halloween merchandise typically goes 50 percent off Nov. 1.
When your bowl of treats is empty, don't sweat it. Turn out your porch lights and consider Halloween over.