What's the price of throwing a good scare into your neighbors?
For Jon Gear of St. Charles, it's $50 to $75.
Gear won the "high scare -- low budget" category of the St. Charles Park District's annual "Gallery of Ghoulish Homes Tour" contest this month for decorations in his and a gracious neighbor's townhouse yards.
"The only thing I really buy is screws, paints and nails," he said. Plus replacement strobe lights. Occasionally another fake skeleton.
And fog juice.
Gear's spending may be a little higher than that of the average American shopper, judging by a survey from the National Retail Federation.
The retail trade association's annual "Halloween Consumer Intentions and Actions Surveys" showed the average consumer planned to spend about $19.80 cents on decor. Overall, shoppers intended to spend $72.31 on decor, costumes and candy, according to the surveys. The survey of 9,374 consumers was conducted the first full week of September.
And despite the poor economy, the federation says spending on Halloween continues to rise. In 2005, consumers said they intended to spend an average of $45.05 altogether on Halloween. That grew through 2008 to $66.06, then dropped in the 2009 survey to $56.31, as respondents said fears about the economy would cause them to curtail spending. But plans to spend picked up last year.
Those who decorate may be spending it at ubiquitous popup stores, such as Spencer Gifts' Spirit Halloween, that show up in September in spaces where big-box retailers like Circuit City used to be. The fake brain on a patio grill in Gear's display will set you back $6.95. You can buy a $45 fog machine, or a $149 animatronic full-size zombie.
Gear, who moved to his home on Cumberland Green Drive four years ago, is a thrifty guy, but that doesn't mean his display is the same every year. It is his third year in the contest.
For example, he got free lumber via Craigslist. A guy who had torn out a deck was looking to give the lumber away, as long as the recipient came and took it.
Gear has long loved Halloween. He used to work at Hades Haunted House in Villa Park when he was a teenager. His wife "is tolerant of my obsession," he said, even participating as an actor. (She won't this year, having given birth to their second son two weeks ago.)
Jeff Greenwald, who runs the St. Charles Park District contest, said the number of entrants this year, 26, is about on par with previous years.
But driving around on judging night, "I've probably seen a decrease in residential decorating across the board," he said. Greenwald believes that is true of Christmas decorating as well.
Greenwald -- a self-described "home haunter" -- started the contest 13 years ago. He wanted a Halloween activity that didn't cost much and that people could attend at their convenience.
"It is pretty amazing what some of them do," he said. One home this year uses a hydraulic system to shake patrons up in an elevator. "There is always a surprise house," he said. "I never know what I am getting into."
The park district also has a Christmas decorating contest, but Gear won't enter that.
"I don't go all out like I do for Halloween," he said. "If you do too much it doesn't look great."
"Halloween -- the more you do, the better it looks."