I’ve admitted it here before: I’m a dedicated DIYer. Pinterest is a huge playground for me, and I scout craft shows for ideas I can try at home. Like most Martha Stewart wanna bes, I leave a lot of projects undone. It can turn out to be an expensive past time.

After years of this back-and-forth, I’ve realized one important few thing: sometimes DIY is more expensive — in money and time. That’s why I included the following in my book, Math for Grownups. Yes, the example is based on my own, personal experience, except that the ending turned out differently. (The obscure character? Luna of Harry Potter fame.) Had I really thought it through before heading to Joann’s Fabric, I would have saved myself some cash and a lot of time.

Rita loves Halloweʼen, and she loves making her kidsʼ costumes. This year, her 10-year-old daughter has requested a velvet-like cape and gown so that she can dress as some obscure character from her favorite novel about magical kids.

The pattern Rita is using calls for 7 yards of fabric, 2 fancy fasteners, and 3 yards of fringe. Looking at the Sunday circular for the local fabric store, she sees that crushed panne velvet is on sale for $2.99 per yard and the fringe is priced at $4 per yard. Rita guesses that the fasteners are about $5 each. To estimate her costs, she adds everything together:

(7 • $2.99) + (3 • $4) + (2 • $5)

(In case you lost track, that’s 7 yards of fabric at $2.99 per yard, 3 yards of fringe at $4 per yard, and 2 frog clasps at $5 each.)

$20.93 + $12 + $10 = $42.93

A terrifying price!

Rita is starting to think that a trip to a thrift shop might be a better investment of her time and money. Sometimes doing it yourself just isn’t worth it.

Do you have any scary costume stories? How have you learned to save money while DIY and celebrating Halloween?

For many folks along the East Coast, Halloween will (at the very least) be postponed, thanks to the very real terror of Super Storm Sandy. I know all of us keep these folks in their thoughts.

And the rest of us? For the most part, tonight marks a very strange annual tradition here in the U.S.: going door to door in costume, asking for free candy. To mark the occasion, I’ve collected some scary statistics about the night of tricks and treats. Read at your own risk! Bwa-ha-ha-ha! (Um… that’s my attempt at an evil laugh.)

170 million: The number of people who plan to celebrate Halloween in the U.S. (National Retail Federation)

$79.82: The average spent on costumes, decorations and candy this year. (National Retail Federation)

$113 million: The total value of pumpkin crops in the three top pumpkin-producing states (Agricultural Marketing Resource Center)

1,818: Number of pounds weighed by the largest pumpkin on record. (Guinness World Records)

15.2: The percent of costume ideas that come from Facebook. (National Retail Federation)

15.1: The percent of people that will dress their pet in a costume. (National Retail Federation)

0: The percent of pets that enjoy this tradition. (Just a guess)

6: Number of times I went trick-or-treating as a “hobo,” because I was too lazy to do much else. (Personal data)

268: The population of Skull Creek, Nebraska — named for “A LOT” of buffalo skulls and bones found in a nearby creek. (U.S. Census)

1690: The number of pieces of candy that will fill an average-sized pillow case. (www.myscienceproject.org)

41: The percent of adults who admit eating candy from their own candy bowl between trick-or-treaters. (National Candy Association)

90: The percent of parents who admit stealing from their kids’ trick-or-treat stash. (National Candy Association)

99.9: The percent of parents who actually steal candy from their kids’ trick-or-treat stash. (Just a guess)

30: The percent of kids who sort their candy before digging in. (National Candy Association)

0: Number of kids who would rather get a toothbrush than candy, while trick or treating. (Just a guess)

Happy Halloween, everyone! Just one last word of warning: Watch out for the zombies. (Here’s how math can help you plan during a zombie apocalypse.)

What are your Halloween plans?

Ronn Wade talks with a student during University of Maryland’s Mini-Med School for Kids at a summer camp in West Baltimore. (Photo courtesy of University of Maryland.)

At first glance, you might find Ronald Wade’s job a bit gruesome, but he plays a pretty important role.  As the State Anatomy Board director for Maryland, Wade is responsible for the bodies that are donated to science in Maryland.  Each year, about 1,500 cadavers are available to Maryland research facilities.  

“Anatomy is not just dissecting bodies,” he says. “Yes, a large part of what we do is to implement anatomical preparations and provide surgical areas and research equipment. But we also assist students to enhance and improve learning, and assist clinical staff to develop skills and expertise, all for the sake of the patient.” 

In our interview, he explains how he uses math in his work.

Can you explain what you do for a living?

I administer the state’s Body Donation Program, which means I carry out the disposition (cremation and burial) of Maryland’s unclaimed decedent bodies. I also provide for the transport, preparation and medical study use of those bodies to advance medical and health science through education, training and research. And I provide anatomical facilities and prepare cadavers and specimens for medical school study and for clinical use by physicians, surgeons and allied health occupations (i.e. surgical residence, trauma, paramedic & EMT training). Since I manage a public program, I provide aid and assistance to the citizens of Maryland and advance anatomical understanding and knowledge.

When do you use basic math in your job?

Because I work for the state, I manage four budgets, which requires that I calculate and forecast state appropriations revenue and expenses. Then there’s the accounting, which includes data entry for detailed ledgers and updating accounts, and managing inventories and controls. I also need to use chemical formulations to compound dilutions.

Do you use any technology to help with this math?

I do use calculators, computers.  In particular, I depend on spreadsheets and databases to perform math functions.

How do you think math helps you do your job better?
In my job, being able to perform arithmetic and math calculations with current technology is basic to minimal acceptable performance.

How comfortable with math do you feel?
It’s a matter of repetitive use and progression. Increased familiarity raises the comfort level and skill.

What kind of math did you take in high school?
I took basic math, binary systems (“new” math), algebra, calculus and accounting. I never liked math — it seemed detached to my life at the time — and was pleased just to get a passing grade.  However, I think it was because it was presented in the abstract and not so much as problem-based learning.  We should learn and teach math in such a way that takes the mystery of finding the answer but is more challenging for students!

Did you have to learn new skills in order to do the math you use in your job?
I had a basic foundation from school, which I use in my job today.

Happy Halloween everyone!  Come back on Wednesday, when we’ll start our month of nesting–with tips on home winterizing and settling in for the colder months (at least for many of us), filled with special family time.