A few weeks ago, I received a flyer from a fireworks store that made me shake my head. “Spend $400 in one purchase and earn 40% off for the rest of the season,” it read.
“What a bargain,” I thought as I flung it toward the recycling bin. I mean, does anyone really spend $400 at the fireworks store?
Then I remembered that, yes, many people do. Not only are most of my neighbors fireworks fanatics, but dozens of people I know do it every year, including people in my own family.
My uncle, for example, has been known to buy thousands of dollars in fireworks and put on a show for my entire extended family. The kids swim in the pool, we cook out, and he lights up the sky to the delight and giggles of all the little ones.
Most local towns in our area do the same, which means that anyone who pays local taxes is likely chipping in. In my old hometown even, they set off the biggest, brightest fireworks I've ever seen in the high school football field, and thousands of people gather nearby to watch.
Fireworks — the stats
And I know this isn't just a local thing. In fact, a little research I uncovered shows that spending a boatload on fireworks is actually quite common. For more context on how much Americans spend overall, consider these facts from the American Pyrotechnics Association (APA):
In 2014, consumers spent $695 million total on fireworks for their own homes.
Overall firework spending doubled from $425 million in 1998 to more than $1 billion dollars in 2014, if you consider both consumer and retail spending on fireworks.
The largest fireworks displays to take place annually in the United States include shows in Seattle, San Francisco, Lake Tahoe, Addison, Texas, Washington D.C., Philadelphia, Atlantic City, New York City, and Boston.
What should the priorities be?
I have to admit, part of me just doesn't get it. Sure, I've been known to buy a few sparklers or those black wormy things, but I simply cannot imagine spending hundreds or thousands of dollars on something that provides such a small return.
And although I try not to judge the people who do, I suppose there's a part of me that thinks Americans have their priorities jacked up. With the average savings rate in the U.S. sitting at about than 5 percent, average household credit card debt now over $15,000, and the average retirement account severely lacking, part of me thinks it's strange that we, as Americans, would spend so much on something that will be ultimately set on fire.
On the other hand, there's something to be said for traditions, and fireworks on the 4th of July is as American as apple pie, Major League baseball, and the national anthem.
Either way, I'm going to do the same thing this year as I have done in years past. I'll spend around $20 for a few sparklers and fireworks small enough to light in our driveway. Then we'll head over to my uncle's or the local high school to watch the kind of fireworks that explode in the sky for miles around.
I don't dislike fireworks, and I don't mind it when people light them off. I just happen to enjoy them a lot more when someone else is footing the bill.
How much do you spend on average for fireworks, if you do? Do you think Americans spend too much or too little? Are you ready for Independence Day?
Author: Holly Johnson
Holly Johnson is a credit card expert, award-winning writer, and mother of two who is obsessed with frugality, budgeting, and travel. In addition to serving as contributing editor for The Simple Dollar and writing for publications such as Bankrate, U.S. News and World Report Travel, and Travel Pulse, Johnson owns Club Thrifty and is the co-author of Zero Down Your Debt: Reclaim Your Income and Build a Life You’ll Love.