The Halloween Parent Tax

I was asked on Twitter about the Halloween Parent Tax. And with Halloween coming up, it seemed like it needed a post. So here you are:

Design Considerations

You’ve got a couple options here. Are you going to create an income tax? A consumption tax? A head tax? Each is slightly different, in certain relevant ways:

Income Tax: This is probably what you think of when you think of the Halloween Parent Tax. Essentially, children are required to give their parents some percentage of the candy they get. (My wife’s parents imposed a 15-percent Halloween Parent Tax when she was growing up.) There are some design complications here—for example, are you taking a percentage of the number of pieces of candy the kids get? Or do different kinds of candy have different values? And do you take size into account in calculating candy?[fn1]

Challoween-candy1onsumption Tax: Like the income tax, a consumption tax will require children to give their parents some percentage of their candy. Unlike the income tax, though, the Halloween Parent (Consumption) Tax doesn’t take it upfront. Rather, it applies when the child eats candy. If it’s a 10-percent tax, that means that for every ten pieces of candy the child eats, she has to give her parents one piece. In real life, this probably encourages saving, because you don’t pay taxes on interest or investment returns unless and until you spend them. Candy doesn’t really provide investment returns. Still, if your child is patient, she can defer the Halloween Parent Tax as long as she wants, which means you don’t get your candy until later.

Head Tax: Although you probably intuitively thought of an income tax, this is probably what you (or, if you’re a child, your parents) actually impose as the Halloween Parent Tax. A head tax is a tax on the person. That is, you take the same amount of candy from each child, irrespective of how much candy they collect. Example: “Each Child shall pay the Parents 5 Snickers, 2 Butterfingers, and 6 bags of M&Ms (Peanut or Plain).” Note that a head tax is really easy to administer, but is extremely regressive.


If you have more than one child, fairness matters, too. Tax fairness encompasses a couple considerations:

Horizontal Equity: Horizontal equity requires that similarly situated taxpayers pay similar amounts in tax. If you have three kids, then, and each of them collects about the same amount of candy, each of them should owe about the same amount of Halloween Parent Tax.

Vertical Equity: Vertical equity says that taxpayers with higher income (or higher wealth, but see footnote 1) should pay more taxes than a taxpayer with lower income. That might mean we have a proportionate tax, or it might mean we apply progressive rates (that is, the more candy your kids get, the higher percentage of candy they have to turn over), but either way, on fairness grounds, we pretty much preclude the head tax.

Predictability: With a fair tax, your kids will be able to figure out how much they owe you (assuming, of course, that they’re old enough to do simple arithmetic). I mean, you can always impose a stealth Halloween Parent Tax; your kids, after all, go to bed before you do, and you know where they keep their candy. And there’s something to be said for this kind of stealth tax—for one thing, it’s not terribly salient, so it won’t distort their behavior,[fn2] but it’s not fair. And it’s not really a tax, or at least not the kind of tax that a country (er, family) devoted to the rule of law would apply. That looks more like a kleptocracy.[fn3]

A “Tax”

I’m seeing a bunch of sites that suggest that the Halloween Parent Tax is what your kids pay you to take them trick-or-treating. It most definitely is not—that would be some kind of Halloween Parent Fee. A fee is something you pay in exchange for goods or services that the government (or, in this case, your parents) provide you. A tax is an amount you pay the government/parents, not for particular goods or services, but to support it/them in governing. So please don’t tell your kids they have to pay the Halloween Parent Tax because you spent your time accompanying them when they got their candy; they owe you the Halloween Parent Tax as a civic duty, and they owe it whether you went out with them, they went out with friends’ parents, or you let them go on their own.


Look, you only have a couple day left until Halloween. Honestly, if you haven’t drafted your Halloween Parent Tax yet, well, you’re not out of time yet, but I’d recommend getting on it, stat. You have important decisions to make, including rate structures and the value of different candies. But these principles will at least guide you in designing a fair, comprehensive Halloween Parent Tax.

[Cross-posted at The Surly Subgroup.]

[fn1] There’s a fourth option: a wealth tax. I’m assuming, though, that most kids don’t carry over candy from previous holidays (especially since there’s a holiday candy drought that lasts roughly from Easter until Halloween). If that’s right, there’s essentially no difference between a Halloween Parent (Income) Tax and a Halloween Parent (Wealth) Tax.

[fn2] Much, at least. If they realize you’re doing it, they might try to hide their candy better.

[fn3] Which, I suppose, your family might be. In which case, go right ahead.


  1. Finally some practical advice around here!

  2. Am I a Halloween treat socialist? I let the kids take out a portion of their own (about 10 favorites), then everything else goes into a communal bucket to be used in treats and such throughout the holiday season.

  3. Mormon Soprano says:

    Mr. Mo and I always took an open ended approach, enacting a straight head tax with a stealth tax option. 🎃

  4. It’s eminent domain in my family but without any compensation. My wife confiscates it all and throws it away as a pernicious health-damaging evil to be eradicated immediately. One more reason my kids wish they were born to a different family.

  5. So because I accompany my kids, I can insist on both a fee and a tax? Sweet.

  6. I’d say that my wife and I apply socialism in our house, but really it’s just Satan’s plan. First, we send the kids to a section of the neighborhood that takes them 20 minutes to canvass. When they finish, we take that collection and send them to canvas the rest of the neighborhood. The kids think that we’re storing their candy for them, but we just give it away to other kids that come by our house (except for the good pieces). After the night ends, each kid gets to pick 10 pieces and the rest goes into the school lunch distribution bag.

    As for the OP, I recommend adding a progressive tax element to an income/consumption tax based on the child’s age. So a 5 year-old may be taxed at 5%, at 10 year-old at 15%, and a 15 year-old at 50%.

  7. How about a tithe? Is the bishop’s storehouse ready for Halloween? Does tithing come off the top? A charitable deduction (so my take as a parent is reduced by the tithe)? Any credit for gifts over to siblings (as incredible as it may seem, shouldn’t we be encouraging such behavior)? How about income splitting? Do we tax the children as a family group? Or as individuals?
    The questions go on and on . . .
    My view: parental fiat without rationale is the only way to go.

  8. Personally, I am opposed to the “socialist” plans that certain heathens are advocating in these comments. Unless divinely appointed, capitalism is the rule, and woe be unto those who are too timid to follow the Lord’s commands and follow this pattern, even in their homes!

  9. So perfect. Thank you

  10. Pshh, Halloween Tax? I do the year-round Mom Tax. I gave birth to you so give me some of your tots, candy, ice cream, etc. It works for the rest of their lives (maniacal laugh)!

  11. A Happy Hubby says:

    I “liberally” tax since in my house we have free universal care. All of my kids are covered in my (company provided/subsidized) dental plan and I cover all deductibles. That is how I rationalize it.

  12. A Turtle Named Mack says:

    I would be interested in how you would classify the tax system my wife employs. She simply takes every single peanut butter cup and all peanut m&m’s. Perhaps this is not actually a tax, but a mere ban on their consumption of those items. The despair on their faces when they receIve these at the door is clear. They know they aren’t getting it.

  13. A Happy Hubby says:

    Maybe “tax” is the wrong word. What about “import tariff”? Maybe Turtle’s wife is imposing a 100% import tariff – or would that be an embargo? My mom told me parenting would be hard..

    Hint to Mr Mack – buy your wife lots of PB/Chocolate. Maybe you can get on her good side. Try bringing home a PB cup every day and after a few weeks see if she licks your face when you come home like a Pavlovian dog. he he he

  14. EmJen – Go back to Russia!

  15. Maybe I can swipe some of my grandchildren’s candy–I don’t expect that it’ll get hit by a generation-skipping transfer tax.

  16. Where’s the “love” button when you need it?!!

  17. I think I’ve been robbed in tithes. I am certainly not getting the first fruits, nor the firstlings of the flock. Basically, I beg for a Twix or Twizzler, and instead I get the rejected Almond Joys (fine), Peanut Chews & Bit-O-Honeys (where on earth have these kids even been?) and taffy (vile). But, steering into the skid, now I just buy the candy I want, and at some point I just turn off the porch light and keep the rest. I think I have become a candy libertarian, so obsessed with self-reliance that I’ve turned into a backwoods hermit candy hoarder.

  18. Sooooo excited to be a parent.

  19. It’s possible only Steve and Happy Hubby will get this (I’m trying to remember other BCC regulars with a Canadian connection), but I insist my children give me all the Coffee Crisps. Because I’m helping them avoid temptation. Yeah, that’s it.

  20. If you’ve got a pile of brand name Halloween candy, you didn’t build that. Somebody else made it possible for you.

    For what man among you having twelve sons, and is no respecter of them, and they trick or treat obediently, and he saith unto the one: Be thou filled with Reeses, Butterfingers and Peanut M&Ms; and to the other: Be thou filled with those weird orange and black taffy things or Bit-o-honey—and looketh upon his sons and saith I am just?

  21. Senalishia says:

    In our house, the rule is, If parents have to pick up your candy after it’s been dumped all over the floor, it goes into the communal bucket and is fair game for everyone, including mom and dad. So a kind of opt-out socialism, I guess? (My kids, despite being school age, have never yet disappointed me by hiding all their candy away somewhere where I can’t find it).

  22. In our house, when we come back from trick-or-treating, we all eat a healthy squash soup dinner, then dump all of our candy into one huge pile in the middle of the table, turn on our Halloween playlist, and absolutely gorge ourselves no all the candy we want. Anything not eaten on Halloween night goes into a big bowl for maybe a day or two and then into the garbage. It’s a fun tradition, nobody feels shafted (they all get absolutely all the candy they can eat, after all), and we don’t have kids begging for candy for the next six months because (i) after eating that much candy, nobody wants anymore, and (ii) we threw it away anyway.

  23. That’s what we call a theology of abundance.

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