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Halloween on a Budget: 10 tips to save on trick-or-treat candy

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Over the next few days, I'll be offering up tips on how to celebrate Halloween on a budget. From candy to costumes to jack-o-lanterns, I'll be posting tips, price comparisons and my frugal thoughts on how to get the most Halloween fun for the least amount of money.

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 nearly as 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. You're paying extra for that mix of two or three different bars. (Just another reason to bring the calculator.)

Not all candy is created equal. Different flavors of the very same candy can cost you more. New flavors will likely have fewer bars in the bag.

Use coupons. Right now, candy coupons are plentiful.

Shop the sales. Don't assume the mega-stores have the best prices. Check the sales circulars, including those for the drug stores. Right now, most stores are selling the standard-size 10-11 oz. bags of chocolate candy for $2.50.But the drugstores often have better deals with their rewards programs.

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.

A $2 package of Dum Dums, for instance, contains 48 miniature lollipops. That's 4 cents each. A $2 bag of Smarties will stretch even further. Each bag contains 67 rolls at just under 3 cents each.

The absolute best deal I found was a $2 bag of 80 mini Tootsie Rolls pops, which you could argue has some chocolate. That's just 2.5 cents apiece.

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.

If the candy runs out. When your bowl of treats is empty, don't sweat it. Turn out your porch lights and consider Halloween over.

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Last updated: Sunday, Oct. 6. | How to read this | View full page