Everything I Know About Economics, I Learned From Halloween


Everything I learned about economics and finance, I learned on Halloween night. That was the night that my younger brother Jim and I, exhausted from trick-or-treating at every house to which our little legs could carry us, would hunker down on the living room floor and “set up shop.”

But let me begin at the beginning.

The excitement would start, really, the minute the teacher changed the big class calendar on the bulletin board from September to October. There, stapled to October 31, would be an orange construction paper pumpkin. That pumpkin would haunt us all the long days of October. How could we be expected to concentrate on the exports of South America (or whatever the teacher was talking about) with that pumpkin smack in front of us?

No, the importance of coffee and soybeans could not hold a candle to the importance of our discussions on what we were going to dress as for Halloween. There were 31 days in the month and 31 changings of the mind. Commercially produced costumes were a new idea and not something my parents were going to waste money on, that’s for sure. Not with my mom being the great seamstress she was. And one year, Jim raided the rag bag and emerged from his room as the coolest mummy ever.

So, costumes were Job 1.

Job 2 was convincing my mother that we weren’t hungry, didn’t need dinner, had to be excused from the table to get ready and — ding-dong — oh my gosh! Other kids were already out there! We were missing everything!

Job 3 was trying to ditch my little sister who was a full six years younger than me and, therefore, needed supervision. “She’ll never be able to keep up!” I frantically announced as Jim headed for the door. My parents were finally convinced of this, and I sprinted off, now forever in Jim’s wake.

When you’re trick-or-treating in Wisconsin, you get a lot of apples in your bag. The smart kids dumped them out on the side of the road, but Jim and I had been taught not to waste food, so we ended up lugging bags full of candy, as well as a dozen apples. They were heavy!

After going to every house within the border of three highways (and that was a lot), we’d drag our tired little selves and our produce back to the house, where mom, thank goodness, would relieve us of the apples, and we’d get down to business.

We’d empty our bags onto the floor, sort everything out (keeping a close eye on the coveted chocolate bars) and begin trading. I loved candy corn, and Jim quickly figured out how many of the little cellophane packs it would take to get a chocolate bar for it. We also graciously and magnanimously asked our parents if they’d like something. It was a good feeling, being the providers for once. Mom had a weakness for Heath bars, and we loved being able to give her some, even if they were “fun size.”

Today I own a couple of antiques shops, and I just know that the bartering that goes on therein had its roots in Halloween candy trading. In fact, if you want a really sweet deal, come in with cash — and a bag of candy corn.

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