In pursuit of financial independence and personal fulfillment

Fireworks: Because you have money to burn

I’m going to get all old man on you here. It’s probably going to end with me shaking a fist and protecting my lawn, and you’re going to walk away shaking your head.

Now that we’re on the same page with that, let me talk about fireworks.

According to the American Pyrotechnics Association, American consumers have been lighting their money on fire at much greater rates than ever before. What’s even more, while “display fireworks” — the massive shows put on by cities or ballparks — used to be about one-third of the total market just 17 years ago, today they are only one-tenth.

This chart shows U.S. fireworks purchased in millions of pounds of fireworks. In 2000, display fireworks put on by cities and the like accounted for 33 percent of the 150 million pounds of fireworks consumed. In 2016, they accounted for just 10 percent of the 268 million pounds consumed.

You know the expression “Money to burn”? That’s basically the story of America.

The increase in consumption is in part attributed to post-9/11 patriotism, terrorism-related laws that made transporting display fireworks more difficult, and heavy lobbying by the fireworks industry to legalize the kinds of things you worry about your dimwitted brother-in-law getting his hands on.

Basically, in a country where people have to check the couch cushions in order to rub two nickels together before payday, they’re turning $825 million into colorful confetti. (In my research, I looked at how this spending compared to IRA contributions for some context. I’m happy to report in 2013 — the latest data I could find — Americans contributed $10.8 billion to IRAs. That still means fireworks spending was 6% of total IRA contributions for that year.)

This chart shows the increase in U.S. fireworks sales from 2000-2016. Consumer fireworks growth has far outpaced public display spending.

I made this chart with shades of green, but when I typed “fireworks” into the title it just exploded into red, white, and blue. I know, crazy, right!?

It’s not just about the money

I didn’t used to have a problem with fireworks. I fondly recall watching the city display as a kid. It was a community event that brought tons of people together. Neighbors would light off the odd fountain and do sparklers as dusk fell before the main attraction. Times have changed.

Now, people in the neighborhood seem to compete for who can set off the loudest firework the latest into the night. And these aren’t whistling bottle rockets with a report. These are mortars. Lawn cannons.

I’m sure they picture themselves as patriotic Americans performing the final bars of the 1812 Overture.

I have a much different picture. Mostly because I’ve got a young child in the house asleep by 8:30 or 9 and I’m not that far from bed myself. When you decide 11:30 p.m. is a good time to break out the Mega Xplosion crackerFIRE D-Lux, you’re not just making a decision about how you’re going to spend the next 10 minutes. You’re making a decision on behalf of a couple dozen to a couple hundred neighbors, depending on where you live.

They have to listen to you light that same $80 on fire and celebrate its demise. Short of calling the police or trudging out in their pajamas to read you the riot act (which I’ve done at least twice), the best they can do is pull up the covers and try to drown out the sound.

Fireworks trigger unhappy memories for veterans

Speaking of cover, you know who else isn’t fond of mortar fireworks? Actual combat veterans and those who have served in theaters of war.

As a friend who worked on a base in Afghanistan recently told me, when he hears a loud boom like that his first instinct is a head swivel to see where the incoming enemy fire landed. It reminds him of when actual mortar rounds would come into the base and everyone would have to run to bunkers for cover. He doesn’t have PTSD, so imagine what it’s like for those who do. Needless to say, he isn’t a Fourth of July fan.

Fluffy and Fido aren’t cool with it either. We used to have a dog that would quiver and whimper anytime she heard fireworks. July was a hard month for her. If you have the same issue with your pets, here are some things you can do to help your animal.

A lot of this has to do with location

If you’ve made it this far into my rant, thanks I guess? Perhaps things aren’t as bad for you, and you think I’m being overly sensitive. Let me dig a little deeper into how my area, specifically, makes all of this even worse.

The Salt Lake valley is basically a fairly narrow chute of population density running north/south and bordered by mountain ranges on the east and west. It’s kind of shaped like a half-pipe skateboard ramp, so you can basically see most of the valley from many places. There also aren’t many trees. This is a desert, after all, so lush canopies are hard to come by on the valley floor. So I can see and hear neighborhood fireworks from two cities over. I can see public displays from half a dozen or more places.

Because of the mountains, we also get inversions, which trap air and pollutants between the mountains in the right conditions. So we can all breathe the crap we release into the air, and on occasion that means we actually have the worst air in the world. Nearly every July 5th, you wake up to a hazy morning filled with the remains of fireworks displays wafting through the air.

This isn’t something you want to do near the Wasatch Mountains on July 5:

Plus, like I said, we live in a desert. There’s a lot of dry vegetation that is really, really good at starting on fire. It’s not uncommon for us to have significant wildfires all summer long. Forgive me for looking askance at the 15-year-old shooting Roman candles toward the brush. I just don’t think he’s got a lot of experience on a Hotshot crew should it be necessary.

Finally, we have a state holiday in Utah called Pioneer Day. It’s July 24, and the locals tend to think of it as a bigger deal than July 4. Technically, people are permitted to blow their money up for three days before and three days after each holiday. That’s 14 days of legal fireworks in July, if you’re counting along. But of course that’s a joke. The entire month of July is one big, long boom.

Going out with a bang

In my perfect world, we would Make American Great Again by going back to the big kabooms being limited to public displays and neighborhood fireworks being small fountains and pinwheels rather than mortars and aerials.

The best sparklers. Absolutely HUGE fountains. The brightest fountains. The Chinese make great things. Great.

People would respect their neighbors and not blow stuff up at all hours of the night for days on end. It would be easy for those who are easily triggered by fireworks to plan for one solid evening of terror by either escaping somewhere or shutting themselves in the basement for a night of movies. It wouldn’t be an ongoing concern.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ll be outside with a garden hose watering my grass. I’d appreciate it if you stay off it.


  1. FullTimeFinance

    We were on the beach earlier this week when some Yahoo’s decided to set off some fireworks. In broad daylight essentially directly over the heads of beach goers. So not cool or legal. I don’t get it either. I’m not running out with my shotgun yelling slackers but I still don’t like it beyond public displays.

    • I Dream of FIRE

      I don’t usually go confront people until after 11, and usually more like 11:45 or midnight. That just blows my mind that people think it’s OK to do that stuff when they know most people are sleeping.

  2. Steveark

    You aren’t even 40 yet, you really need to let this go. There are plenty of real problems to worry about, this doesn’t even begin to barely slightly reach the level of the mildest known first world problem. It is just happy birthday ‘Merica. Just chill, it won’t last long.

  3. I Dream of FIRE

    I’ll just leave this here in case anyone in the future thinks I’m a lunatic.

    About 100 residents of a Midvale apartment complex remained homeless Wednesday and two homes in Cottonwood Heights were heavily damaged due to blazes believed sparked by overnight Independence Day fireworks.

    In all, fire department dispatchers reported nearly 70 fireworks-related calls Tuesday night through Wednesday morning in Salt Lake County.

    About 100 residents of a Midvale apartment complex remained homeless Wednesday and two homes in Cottonwood Heights were heavily damaged due to blazes believed sparked by overnight Independence Day fireworks. In all, fire department dispatchers reported nearly 70 fireworks-related calls Tuesday night through Wednesday morning in Salt Lake County.

  4. Ty Roberts

    I’ve got family in Utah and we were visiting them over the 4th of July one year. They happen to live on one of the benches that looks into both Salt Lake and Utah County – I could not believe the amount of aerial fireworks that we were seeing. It looked like an over-the-top movie scene and it went on like that for HOURS! It was actually pretty incredible to watch, but I can’t help but wonder how much money everyone spent just to put on such an amazing show for me ?

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