I used to have the best Halloween parties. One year, my husband and I dressed up as Little Red Riding Hood and the wolf. He was the wolf, of course. The theme that year was children’s story characters. Another year, everyone came as his or her favorite science fiction character. The parties stopped because, well, life, three children and work got in the way. I miss the parties. But I don’t miss the spending.

As frugal as I am, I would spend more than I intended buying decorations for the party and costumes for the family. A wolf head ain’t cheap.

No longer are many parents simply buying inexpensive, plastic Halloween masks for their kids. Nope. Halloween has become a big deal, “a sort of dress rehearsal for the mass-spending hysteria” that follows with the Christmas holiday, writes Janice D’Arcy in the On Parenting blog for The Washington Post.

“This year I purchased [Halloween] decorations for the first time,” D’Arcy said. “I am not a holiday decoration kind of gal, but something about my daughters’ enthusiasm (or marketers’ persuasion) has convinced me to pay good money for a garland of paper spiders and googly-eye stickers for pumpkins. Judging from national trends, I am not alone here.”

A National Retail Federation survey found that consumers will spend more than $8 billion on Halloween celebrations. The average person will spend $79.82 on decorations, costumes and candy, up from $72.31 last year.

The NRF survey found that more than 70 percent of Americans, the most it has ever recorded in its 10 years of tracking such things, will celebrate Halloween in some capacity this year, D’Arcy reports.

Just on pets, consumers are expected to spend $370 million on costumes this Halloween, reports Time magazine, $70 million more than last year.

“Expect to see dogs dressed as tacos, skunks, crayons, dinosaurs, chefs, princesses, leprechauns, flowers, and even as Gumby…. if you can imagine it, there’s a costume. Last year’s top-selling costumes were pumpkins, devils, and hot dogs,” writes the Times’ Kit Yarrow.

“By the time Halloween rolls around each year it’s safe to say Americans have already spent two months preparing for one of the fastest-growing and most widely-loved holidays of the year,” said NRF president and chief executive Matthew Shay.

Chat With Me Today

Join me today at noon ET for my online discussion with Jim Moorhead, author of “The Instant Survivor: Right Ways to Respond When Things Go Wrong,” the Color of Money Book Club selection for October.

Be sure to send your comment in early or read the archives later.

Graduating to a Pay Gap

One year after graduation, women were making only 82percent of what their male colleagues were paid, reports Jenna Johnson of The Washington Post, according to a new report by the American Association of University Women released on Wednesday.

The gender pay gap has been a debatable statistic. Amanda Hess writes in Slate’s Double X blog that Cornell labor economist Francine Blau sets the current wage gap at 77 cents on the man’s dollar. She reports that when comparing fulltime working men and women, the Bureau of Labor Statistics has found that women make 81 percent of what men make. The gap is highest for women at the top—among lowest-paid workers, women make 90 percent what men do.

“Those numbers are evocative, but the ‘wage gap’ is a deceptively simple term for the complex differences that persist between male and female workers in our big, gendered economy,” Hess wrote. “The figure is really a snapshot of how women are undervalued across the workforce: It speaks to an occupational segregation gap, a negotiation gap, a promotion gap, a self-promotion gap, a mentorship gap, a parenting gap, a STEM gap, a political representation gap, and an overt discrimination gap. And still: Part of the wage gap remains unexplained. We do not know exactly why women are paid less.”

Often the gap is attributed to men picking careers with higher salaries, women slowing their careers after having children and differences in work experience, Johnson writes.

But AAUW researchers decided to look at workers when they are most similar — freshly done with their undergraduate studies, lacking vast experience and unlikely to have spouses or children. They focused on graduates during the 2007-08 school year and zeroed in on full-time workers to research what they earned in 2009, one year after graduation.

The women made only 82 percent of what the men were paid, with the average woman making $35,296 while men were paid an average of $42,918, Johnson writes.

And before you argue that maybe men went into higher-paying fields consider this, as Johnson points out: “The overall gap — the 18-percentage-point disparity — could be explained by career choices; men are more likely to enter high-paying fields such as engineering and computer science. The researchers controlled for that, along with other variables, but an ‘unexplained’ 6.6-percentage-point gap remained.”

“This pay gap is not merely the result of women’s choices,” researchers Christianne Corbett and Catherine Hill wrote in their report, “Graduating to a Pay Gap.” “Lower earnings have an immediate effect after college, setting into motion a chain of disparities that will follow women throughout their careers.”

So the Color of Money Question of the Week: What do you think of the long-standing pay gap between men and women? Send your responses to colorofmoney@washpost.com. Put “Graduating to a Pay Gap” in the subject line and include your full name, city and state.

Binders Full of Women

During the second debate, President Obama and Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney talked about women in the workplace.

So, for last week’s Color of Money Question, I asked: “How well did the candidates answer the question about unequal pay in the workplace?”

Here’s what some of you had to say:

“Romney’s comments on gender and pay inequality sounded to me like a cop out,” wrote Jennifer C. of Brooklyn. “From what I heard from him, he will leave employers in the position to create their own pay scales and schedules for women. This means that he trusts businesses to make this sea change themselves, without encouragement. If he believes that most companies will elect to pay women more without the force of regulation, then I believe he is very wrong. Businesses both small and large do not typically take it upon themselves to give more than is required of them by law, whether that is in the form of increased salary or better workplace flexibility for women. Obama’s [signing of the] Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act shows that he’s already been working on and making some progress on these issues, and, as a voter, I place great value on that.”

“I do not believe Gov Romney’s comments were meant to (nor did they) imply that making dinner and doing homework are only women’s jobs,” wrote Sue Scott of Exton, Pa. “ What I do believe his comments reflected are the reality of the world we still do live in. The reality is that even in 2012 it is still largely the women who are regulating these family oriented tasks.”

“Neither candidate answered the question that was asked,” wrote Peggy Gavan of Warwick, N.Y.

Bad Bosses

If you had a choice, would you like a better boss or a bigger paycheck?

Workplace psychology specialist Michelle McQuaid found that 65 percent of workers say a better boss would make them happy while 35 percent choose a pay raise, according to the Montreal Gazette.

What’s your take on this survey? Would you prefer a better boss to higher pay? Send your comments to colorofmoney@washpost.com. Put “Bad Bosses” in the subject line and include your full name, city and state.

Upcoming Events

-- On Saturday, Oct. 27, I’ll be speaking in Detroit at Triumph Church. My keynote is part of a day of free financial workshops open to the public. The theme for the event, scheduled from 8 a.m. to noon, is “If Money Is The Key, Why Am I Still Locked Out?” The church is located at 2670 E. Grand Blvd., Detroit, Mich., 48211. The workshops will include information on budgeting, credit management, retirement, saving and investing. There will also be a special youth track for teens ages 14 to 17. For information and to register, visit the church’s Web site or call (313) 871-0300 or (313) 874-3724.

This is an annual event presented by Triumph’s Financial Empowerment Ministry.

-- On Tuesday, Oct. 30, at 6:30 p.m., I will be speaking at the “Learn to Earn” seminar series for college students and young professionals in Rockville. The event is sponsored by Mid-Atlantic Federal Credit Union in partnership with the Universities at Shady Grove and the Gazette newspaper group. The seminar will take place at The Universities at Shady Grove, Building 1 (9640 Gudelsky Drive Rockville, Md., 20850). The even is open to the public, but registration is encouraged. Here is the link.

Tia Lewis contributed to this report.

You are welcome to e-mail comments and questions to colorofmoney@washpost.com. Please include your name and hometown; your comments may be used in a future column or newsletter unless otherwise requested.