Americans opening their wallets for Halloween

Skulls are among a wide selection of items sold for Halloween at the Halloween Club store in Montebello, California, on October 16, 2014, ahead of the annual end of the month tradition on October 31.

FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images

Americans are getting into the spirit of Halloween this year, buying record numbers of costumes as the annual fall tradition continues to broaden its appeal with consumers.

More than two-thirds of Americans celebrating Halloween will buy costumes this year, a record for the annual Halloween spending survey conducted for the National Retail Federation. The average person is expected to spend $77.52 on costumes, candies and decorations, more than the $75.03 spent last year.

But don't view all those costumed zombies, Elsas and Captain Americas as an economic indicator. The increased interest might say more about Halloween itself than the state of the economy, Kathy Grannis, a spokeswoman for the federation, told CBS MoneyWatch.

"I think the slight increase in Halloween spending is more attributable to the fact that the holiday has grown in popularity so much over the past few years than the fact that we're on the fast track to a healthy economy," Grannis added. "Monthly retail sales are the better gauge for consumer sentiment, and right now we are seeing some evidence that consumers are feeling better about the chances for a strong economy, but there are still pockets of America that are struggling with their finances."

Halloween falls on a Friday this year, which tends to get more adults interested in parties, haunted houses and other events related to the holiday. In fact, consumers this year are spending $1.4 billion on adult costumes compared to $1.1 billion for children's costumes.

This year's holiday also reflects another retail trend playing out in America: The increased spending on pets. Owners are expected to spend $350 million on pet costumes, the survey found.

Most adults are buying traditional Halloween costumes, with the most popular being witches, animals, pirates, zombies and characters from the "Batman" comic book and movie franchise. For children, the most popular costumes are princesses, animals, superheroes and characters from the movie "Frozen."

Americans are also planning on spending $2.2 billion on candy this year and $2 billion on Halloween decorations. And about a third of them said they planned to start Halloween shopping before October even began.

The recent drop in gas prices is likely to pave the way for stronger consumer spending in the fourth quarter, according to economist Chris Christopher Jr. He estimates that Halloween candy prices are expected to increase just 0.2 percent from last year, but the amount Americans spend on candy is expected to rise by nearly 3 percent. Candy price inflation has slowed dramatically in recent years, mostly due to lower prices for raw sugar and refined sugar beets.

Many Americans are not able to spend freely on Halloween this year, the survey found. Nearly 19 percent of respondents say their spending will be affected by the state of the U.S. economy. Of that group, about two in five are planning to make their own costumes instead of buying new ones.

"There's no question the recovery is bifurcated, as much of the spending strength overall is coming from the top half," Grannis said.

  • Kim Peterson

    Kim Peterson is a financial journalist covering business and the economy. She has written for several online and print publications, including MSN Money and The Seattle Times.