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The Hoosierist has purchased and used nearly every form of firework known to man, from the tiniest firecracker to devices only slightly less powerful than the ones carried under the wings of Air Force drones. And he still has all of his fingers. Which qualifies him, sort of, to offer the following tips on how to get the most bang (and flash and fizz) for your Fourth of July buck.
First, let's establish right up front that letting small children handle fireworks is a bad idea. That includes sparklers. They burn at roughly 1,800 degrees, and when they're done they leave behind a very hot wire that, if carelessly discarded, could burn someone's foot or start a grass fire. Buy your preschoolers some glow sticks instead.
Next, make sure you purchase your grownup fireworks from a licensed dealer. Pro tip: You can assume that pretty much any permanent or temporary store is licensed because if they weren't the cops would close them in a hot minute. Things get dicey if you patronize, say, a van by the side of the road. But regardless of where you purchase them, all fireworks should bear the name and address of the manufacturer and the name of the particular product. Don't grab anything that isn't properly labeled—or, God forbid, homemade.
If you visit an actual fireworks store, try not to get swept off your feet by those "buy one, get five free" offers. Unless you're a hardcore pyro person with very specific ideas about what you want, you might be better served purchasing an "assortment package" at someplace like Sam's Club or Costco. They're generally cheaper than buying everything a la carte, and you can also pick up a contractor bucket–sized container of hummus while you're there.
If you're not very knowledgeable and also lazy and chicken, consider climbing one rung higher on the convenience ladder and purchasing an "aerial repeater." This is a squat, tubular device containing multiple aerial shells that fire off one after another. It's basically Fourth of July in a can. You light it once, then sit back. Or rather, light it once, run away, and then sit back.
Even if you do have some specific requests that only a fireworks shop can meet, you can still knock down the price by comparison shopping. Go to a fireworks stand, tell them what you want, and ask what they can provide for $100 (or $200 or whatever your sweet spot might be). Write down their quote, then do the same thing at a couple of other stands. The outfit with the lowball number wins. Just don't expect to pay with a credit card. Some places, mostly the year-round stores, may take your plastic. But if you're buying from a tent pitched in the parking lot of a Walmart, cash is probably king. So hit the ATM before you hit the stores.
Since the market for explode-y things drops off a cliff on July 5, it's tempting to apply the trusty "buy Christmas decorations on Dec. 26 for 50 percent off" tactic to pyrotechnics. But don't. Seriously, don't. Getting fireworks to last until next year's Fourth is pretty iffy, because even a small amount of moisture turns them into duds. You can always pack them in the proverbial cool, dry place and hope for the best, but then you've got a massive bomb squirreled away on your property. Which might cause some problems. Plus, who are you kidding? You don't have the willpower to wait a year. You'll probably shoot them off when you and your crew head up to the lake for Labor Day weekend.
And finally, please don't buy any black snakes. Not because they're dangerous or overpriced, but because they're they're stupid and boring. Seriously.
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