October is chock-full of obscure holidays and commemorations. October 3 is National Boyfriend Day. October 15 — the real personal tax filing deadline — is National Grouch Day. (Coincidence? We think not.) October 19 serves up National Seafood Bisque Day (which sounds a lot tastier than October 25, National Greasy Food Day). Then there’s October 21, National Clean Your Virtual Desktop Day, which sounds like it was cooked up by the same HR funsters who think “trust falling” into a co-worker’s arms is somehow an appropriate thing to do at work. We swear we’re not making any of this up.
But none of those can compare to the big orange ball of fun waiting towards the end of the month. We’re talking about October 26: National Pumpkin Day. Believe it or not, pumpkins are more than just everyone’s favorite gourd — they’re responsible for generating millions of tax dollars for government everywhere.
For starters, check out actual pumpkin sales. Americans are expected to spend $377 million on cucurbita pepos to carve into jack o’lanterns in 2019. That means the IRS and state tax departments will harvest millions in income taxes from the farmers who grow them, then millions more in sales taxes from the families who buy them. No wonder all those pumpkins are smiling!
Next up, pumpkin pie: in 2015, Costco alone sold 5.3 million of them at $5.99 each. For those of you who weren’t math majors, that’s $31.7 million worth of creamy goodness. The high fat content in the crust, along with the egg-based custard filling, make them ideal for freezing until Christmas. So pick up two or three, and consider the extra sales tax a small price to pay for the taste of nostalgia.
And next, there’s canned pumpkin pie filling. A couple of years ago, a vicious rumor started making the rounds that the glop you whip into your pie is actually just butternut squash. But Libby’s, the Nestle subsidiary that sells $130 million of canned pumpkin filling every year, reports that they’re just using a different strain of pumpkin that makes a richer, sweeter puree than regular carving pumpkins. Governments collecting sales on the pies can sigh in relief that they’re not abetting a scam.
But while we’re on the topic of “Things That Aren’t Really Pumpkin for $200, Alex,” pies are just the warmup for the real action. Love it or hate it (and there’s not a lot of in-between), it’s pumpkin spice season. It started as a twee Starbucks gimmick. But today’s Pumpkin Spice Industrial Complex has inched its creepy tentacles into everything from candles to kale chips, and donuts to dog treats. Head to your doctor to get a flu shot, and the nurse will probably ask if you want pumpkin spice with that.
Here’s the thing. Pumpkin spice — a blend of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cloves, and allspice — started out as something called “pumpkin pie spice” to amp up the sometimes-bland pies. But lazy Americans quickly dropped the “pie” part. And ever since 2004, when Starbucks rolled out their flavored lattes nationwide, pumpkin spice has become a symbol for all things autumn. Americans will gobble $600 million worth of the stuff this fall, putting millions more in tax collectors’ pockets.
Now, this whole discussion may sound like a silly exercise. (Ok, it is.) But there’s an important lesson lurking under the filling and the whipped cream. Every financial decision you make has at least some tax consequence, even if it’s just a trip to the bakery aisle. That’s why it’s so important to keep us involved before big financial choices, and avoid expensive tax mistakes