Judging net worth by candy bar size

Halloween was postponed from October 31 to November 4 around here, so we got the kids dressed up last night and took them trick or treating. Our house is on a semi-busy road. So — while we stopped by our immediate neighbors — we did the bulk of candy collecting in a subdivision that’s a 3-minute walk around the corner. My husband took the boys there last year too when I stayed home with my then 3-week old baby. It’s a rather ritzy subdivision and, as he noted (multiple times), some folks last year handed out real candy bars, rather than the snack sized ones.

I’ve been pondering that little mental connection. It seems entirely natural to think that rich people living in expensive houses hand out big candy bars. And yet the size of one’s Halloween offerings have absolutely nothing to do with one’s net worth. You can get bulk orders of candy bars for less than a dollar per bar. No one gets that many trick or treaters around here. Giving every child a real candy bar would cost less than what many people — who live in all sizes of houses — spend on decorative pumpkins for their front stoops.

Yet it seems Halloween candy bars fall into the category of visible displays of wealth. It is human nature to compare ourselves to others. It probably has something to do with how we evolved, living in tribes. We find it crucial to know where we land in the social heap. People overspend on items that are easily compared, which seems silly, except it works. In All the Money in the World, I wrote about an experiment by several Dutch researchers that found that people were more likely to stop and answer survey questions from a woman wearing designer labels in a mall than if she wore something more generic. The logos convey money and power. Clearly, she’s worth talking to. If that example seems contrived, know that they also tried the same approach with job applicants. Those wearing visible designer labels got higher ratings than those who weren’t.

So what are we to do with this? If we actually got any trick or treaters (which we don’t; see the semi-busy street problem, above) I think I’d hand out whole candy bars next year just to see how people reacted. The good news is that if you choose your visible displays of wealth wisely, you can do a lot more of them. You can afford a lot of full-size candy bars if you drive your high-end car one year longer. You can purchase quite a few designer handbags for the difference in buying a home at the top of the market, or at the bottom.

What sort of Halloween candy do you dish out?

Snickers photo courtesy flickr user sudeep1106



6 Responses to Judging net worth by candy bar size


  1. Nother Barb says:

    This year WE were the house with full-size bars. The reason? We have a Costco now!

    We are in an upscale neighborhood, next to a lower-economic-scale neighborhood. Just like my friends when we were kids, they figure they’ll get better candy trick-or-treating in our neighborhood. My kids have a different tack: they go to the neighborhoods where the houses are closer together, so they can “hit up more houses for more loot!”

    • Laura says:

      @Nother Barb – ah, always the quality vs. quantity dilemma. I’ve been talking with various folks about the whole candy bar phenomenon, and apparently it is memorable and rare enough that people can recount specific houses from childhood where they handed out such things (e.g. “the man who owned the department store.”) Who knew it was so easy to make an impression?

  2. ARC says:

    Fascinating :) We bought 2 bags of Reese’s PB cups (individual size) and got NO trick or treaters. Again. At this rate we could hand out the giant 1lb Hershey bars ;)

    I think our daughter was the only TorT’er at many of our neighbors’ houses. The ones who bothered to turn their lights on, anyway :)

  3. Jane D says:

    We live 3/4 of the way up a steep hill so we only got 5 kids coming to our house. My kids are still talking about the house where they gave out Twinkies. They sat and ate those on the stairs into her yard. We did not talk about rich, we talked about generous. The families with dogs are more generous in my neighborhood.

  4. We get very few trick-or-treaters. I give out Ghirardelli dark chocolate. Now that I think of it, it’s probably a bit ostentatious. But my reason is different. For me, having cheap candy in the house is about the same as a recovering addict cooking meth with the intention of selling it.

    I can handle good dark chocolate like a sane person. Sanity is worth the expense.

    • Emily says:

      I think I’ll come trick or treat at your house next year……yum!