I was struck by the news earlier this week that Americans on average will be spending nearly $70 each on Halloween. In light of the recession, if one multiplies that amount by a family of four, the price tag will be pretty high for things like costumes, candy, house decorations and workplace chotchkes.

But why not? We all need something to look forward to and Halloween is one of those special kinds of days and nights when we can wear masks and costumes and escape into a world of spooks and spirits.

While we don't spend anywhere near that $60-plus figure, we do invest in candy for the kids in our neighborhood and those who come from nearby neighborhoods. Despite having no grandkids of my own just yet, I have to admit that I'm a sucker for the little ones who come to the door chirping, "Trick or Treat!" and hoping we'll fill their baskets with candy or bags of peanuts and other treasures.

In the past few years, I've invested a few shekels in a bizarre mask at one of those huge clearance sales three hours before Halloween evening -- God bless Walmart, CVS or Walgreens. I accessorize the mask with a blanket or sheet that becomes my cape and I'm ready to greet the kids.

Our dogs are an anvil chorus each time the bell rings and I jokingly reassure kids and parents that these neurotics are perfectly harmless.

Just across the street from us and down the block off Brooklawn Avenue, one of our neighbors spends well beyond $70 to create a spook town environment that draws from towns well beyond Stratford. The guy's lawn is a wonderland of rubberized spirits and eerie props but the little kids love it and the guy seems to do it just for the spirit of the holiday.

Years ago when our kids were teenagers, over in what locals affectionately refer to as the Indian Village near Lake Mohegan, one family adorned the roof of their home with blowup gargoyles and evil looking creatures. We figured that they must have spent close to a thousand dollars on this display. Sadly, their neighbors didn't like the attention the display created and in the true spirit of Halloween, they forced these folks to take down the exhibit.

Soon after that ill-fated pre-Halloween witch hunt, we learned that the gargoyle folks had sold their home and moved away.

A few years ago, I found a wonderful singing witch and brought her to work about two weeks before Halloween. She was unobtrusive enough that I kept her inside the credenza above my desk, but every now and then, I'd discreetly open the credenza and press the little button on the witch's foot. Our office was small enough that everyone, including the CEO had a few laughs.

After I lost that job, I sold the little witch at a tag sale to get rid of bad memories. It's so close to Halloween, I doubt if I'll find a replacement, but may check out CVS just to see if there's an inexpensive little spook or spirit.

Over the years I've been amazed at how much the Halloween frenzy has exploded and how early it begins. By late August, while I'm still sweating from sticky summer days, Halloween merchandise fills supermarket and drug store shelves. I'm just amazed at the transformation. Ahh, the wonders of retail.

And we've barely turned our calendar to October when witches on broomsticks start appearing on trees and front doors; zombie-like spirits with white flowing hair begin hanging from tree branches and pumpkins, carved within plenty of time for Halloween, adorn front porches and stoops.

Then this week, we hit heavy-duty pre-Halloween with displays of eerie lights, more spirits and goblins, a few vampires inside fake coffins and other exotic goodies.

Some of our Fairfield neighbors are very creative with their displays and, I'm convinced, they build their own private graveyards, complete with stones and other props.

I learned when I worked with Lake Compounce, which has its amazing Haunted Graveyard, that the designer actually built the prototype for the exhibit on his front lawn in northern Connecticut as a treat for his daughter, who suffered from juvenile diabetes and obviously couldn't enjoy the candy from trick or treating.

Each year, the exhibit grew until it finally outgrew the front lawn and its creator moved it to larger and larger facilities. The Lake Compounce exhibit, which costs nearly $20 a person and is open for the month before Halloween, has become almost a million dollar investment and visitors spend easily an hour or more wandering through the dark caverns, shrieking when spirits and ghosts emerge or leap from the darkness. Believe me, I was shivering when I left.

But it just wouldn't be Halloween if we didn't get into the proper spirit and spend a little money to have a great time. I actually received a Walmart gift card from the work I did judging for a writing contest and I intend to spend shamelessly tonight or tomorrow and get ready to make this a truly fright-filled, memorable night.

Steve Gaynes can be reached at steven.gaynes@yahoo.com