Blogger note on Sept. 20, 2012: I’m leaving this up because it’s a great discussion, but the candy prices have jumped for 2012. We’ll talk about that later in the season.

How many trick-or-treat or trunk-or-treat visitors do you need to plan for?

I asked my readers on this blog, on my Facebook page, on The Monroe Evening News Facebook page, and in my recent coupon classes to tell me how many pieces they need to plan for.

The consensus among the candy hosts in Monroe, Mich., is 300 to 400 pieces. As it turns out, when I reviewed my notes from 2010, I realized my previous quota of 200 pieces ran out too fast and 300 should be my new candy budget.

So let’s say you need to have 300 pieces in your caldron, bag, bucket, bin, or car trunk when the visitors arrive. How do you count up the candy when you purchase it in bags?

candy bar label

Some Halloween candy bags or packages are clearly marked with the unit count. But not all of them are. If not, turn over the package and look at the nutrition label. Look at the serving size and serving per container. Now you know how many pieces are in the package.

For example, this bag of peanut butter Snickers has 12 pieces. That’s a detail to be aware of because bags of similar size and cost often have 14 to 24 pieces of candy. The cost was $2.50, which is the typical price for a bag of funsize candy bars in Monroe, Mich.

But because there are only 12 pieces inside, that’s 20 cents a piece.

Do the math on the candy rations that my local readers are telling me: 300 pieces divided by 12 is 25 bags. Times $2.50 a bag and you just spent $62.50 on Halloween candy.

Now, that’s scary.

Luckily, I don’t like peanut butter Snickers. I bought one bag for research purposes. When they’re gone, they’re gone.

Besides, there are plenty of cheaper alternatives. If you pick treats that cost 11 cents each, you’ll spend only $35.71 for 300 pieces. If you pick treats that cost only 8 cents each, you’ll spend $24 for 300 pieces.

Just so you know, Monroe candy hosts are are pretty generous with their candy allocations. The National Retail Federation estimates those who are buying Halloween candy for 2011 will spend an average of $21.05. That’s more along the lines of a 200-piece purchase.

Keep reading to see what I bought at four area stores this fall – and how I used both couponing and non-couponing tricks to manage the cost.

Exhibit A: The Dollar Tree non-candy purchase.

I bought this stuff Oct. 1 at Dollar Tree in Monroe. The packages were all $1 each plus tax. Therefore the bubbles were 25 cents each, the erasers were 8 cents each and the pencils were 8 cents each. This was a very good price for pencils by the way, because I saw a pack of 12 Halloween pencils at another store in Monroe priced at $2.49.

I’ll add these to the candy mix this year, but the bubbles are a bit pricey. Those who get bubbles will get one of those and no other treats. I’ll give two out of anything else.

Halloween pencils

Exhibit B: The Rite Aid candy purchase.

I purchased the Snickers bag and a bag of M&Ms at Rite Aid on Sept. 20. The sales flier that week, as you can see, states the out of pocket cost is two for $5.

Couponers will appreciate this trick: because I have a Wellness + card, I got $1 coupon at checkout for my next order. I did use that a few days later on another shopping errand.

The reason I made this specific purchase was to illustrate the typical rate for a bag of funsize candy bars in Monroe. That is $2.48 to $2.50.

You might, I say MIGHT for reason, get a rebate back or have a coupon that is applicable toward the cost. For example, there are Halloween candy coupons in circulation from recent Sunday newspapers that can be used on the typical $2.50 bags. However, some of those coupons have an Oct. 15 expiration date. The candy coupons also are typically $1 or $1.50 for multiple bag purchases. That’s well beyond the double coupon policies at our local stores, where coupons normally double only up to 50 cents. Therefore, the savings per bag with the help of the coupons is nice but not that spectacular.

The M&MS bag has 21 pieces. They cost 11 cents each. The Snickers bag has only 12 pieces. They cost 20 cents each. Why do you think I bought only one bag of Snickers?

By the way, my husband likes M&Ms.

Rite Aid candy bags

Exhibit C: CVS Pharmacy candy purchase.

Now, here is a transaction that my couponing readers will be proud of.

I went shopping Sept. 18 at CVS in Monroe with $11 in Extra Care Bucks coupons that I earned during a purchase the previous week of toilet paper and facial tissue. The candy I selected cost $14.99. The mega bags I bought were on sale for $7 each, the candy pumpkins were 99 cents. Therefore, my out of pocket cost was only $3.99.

But wait! There’s more! I received 99 cent Extra Care Bucks coupon back on the pumpkins during a three-day promotion that week; and $3 Extra Care Bucks coupon because of a promotion on Nestle candy that required at least $10 of eligible purchases. Yes, that’s $3.99 I was able to use at my next visit to CVS.

candy at CVS

If you want to calculate the cost of the CVS candy without my Extra Care Bucks coupon tricks, then here is how it breaks down:

99 cents for a small bag of mellocreme pumpkins is the going rate. I like them, but I can’t eat very many. They also are best eaten fresh. Therefore I buy one small bag each season and wait until I really, really want pumpkins. Then I open the bag!

The candy bar bags were $7 each. There are 3 bags inside each one, so that’s a cost of $2.33 each for a bag of candy that normally costs $2.50. That’s very good. Here’s the breakdown:

  • The Nestle Crunch bags have 24 bars so that’s 9 cents each.
  • The Butterfinger bags have 18 bars so that’s 12 cents each.
  • The Baby Ruth bags have 18 bars so that’s 12 cents each.

Butterfingers, by the way, are among my favorite candy bars. Have you ever eaten a Dairy Queen Blizzard with Butterfinger candy? Oooooh …

Exhibit D: The Gordon Food Service Marketplace purchase.

One of my Halloween shopping tricks in recent years has been to buy some of my candy at Gordon Food Service Marketplace in Monroe. The food items are generally sold by the case or bulk-quantity purchases like a warehouse club, and the available varieties can be limited. But the advantage at GFS is you don’t need a membership card to shop there.

On Sept. 15, I went to GFS and bought a bag of 130 pieces of assorted Hershey candy for $11.99. That’s 9 cents each.

candy bag

But I did apply a couponing trick to this as well. GFS was running a coupon in its ad that week for $5 off $50 purchase. I bought $51 worth of food and therefore used the coupon. The pro-rated value of that coupon puts the purchase of the candy bag at $10.79 or about 8 cents each.

By the way, there is a $5 off $50 purchase coupon in the GFS flier for Oct. 9-15.

The grand total.

So what did Paula spend out of pocket this year for Halloween candy, and what did she get for her efforts?

  • Dollar Tree: $3.18 for 26 items.
  • Rite Aid: $5 for 33 pieces. Yes, I got an Up reward coupon for a future purchase at checkout. I only count Up rewards as savings when I “spend” them.
  • CVS: $3.99 out of pocket for 120 pieces plus one bag of pumpkins. I used $11 in Extra Care Bucks coupons toward this purchase. Yes, I got more Extra Care Bucks at checkout. I only count Extra Care Bucks as savings when I “spend” them.
  • GFS Marketplace: $10.79 for 130 pieces, with the coupon pro-rated.

Therefore: I spent $22.96 out of pocket for in 2011 for 309 individual pieces of candy or treats and one bag of pumpkins. And I wouldn’t consider any of what I bought to be lame. It’s good stuff.

By the way, I spent about $15 in 2010 on 200 pieces of candy and handed out this mix:

Halloween candy

If you’d like to see price ranges of what else I saw across town – but didn’t buy – here’s my Halloween price guide for 2011. And feel free to add your brags or suggestions!

By the way, if your money-saving tip is “don’t buy treats,” that is always an option.

Candy math was the topic on a radio spot I gave that fall on WMIM 98.3 FM with morning host Mark Benson, as this was a project that I knew would play well to both audiences! The newspaper and radio station also co-produced a video on the same theme that got a lot of laughs.

Readers: I will have an updated version of the candy math piece with 2012 prices posted in early October.

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