For one night of the year, kids get to be whatever their imagination can conjure up. The magic and bewitching undertones of the evening add to the fun and the thrill. Unfortunately, though, those fairy wings, tiaras, swords and fake fangs come at a cost. Each year, parents hunt down that perfect Halloween ensemble—which somehow always seems to be created from a cheap flimsy fabric—and pay outrageous prices for a costume that their children may never wear again.
Fortune reports that “the average American spends $74” on Halloween, but many parents likely spend much more considering that costumes typically cost at least $15 at major retailers. By the time you purchase candy for treats, pumpkins for carving, decorations and, yes, even accessories for that costume, the bill has become beyond crazy. For parents on a budget, tossing away $15 for each child to have a brand-new costume isn’t feasible. Money is a precious commodity for those who struggle, and given the choice between buying a new shirt, food or gas versus a costume, that flimsy wear-for-a-day design isn’t going to win.
Yet, Halloween is a night for fun and a celebration that many kids enjoy, and parents don’t want their child to miss out on the festivities, the fright or the experience of a full trick-or-treat bag. Parents whose budget is extra slim can take a ghoulish comfort in knowing that Halloween doesn’t need to elicit a bloody scream at checkout.
Those overpriced costumes? They aren’t the only option! You can do Halloween on a budget, because this is the holiday when creativity counts. From scary parties to DIY costumes, here are all the ways to embrace a budget-friendly All Hallow’s Eve. Here are some DIY Halloween costumes you and your family could try.
Budget-weary parents are not stuck with store costumes or even options offered online. Halloween used to involve making your own costume. Sometimes mom or dad was creative with a needle and thread. Or the parents kept old clothes from the 60s or 70s to be worn as authentic—and vintage—hippie threads.
Today’s parents likely didn’t come of age during the Summer of Love, although some old clothes from the 90s could inspire punk, goth or Riot Grrl looks. If your closet is bare, though, and your kids really want a throwback costume, your cheapest option is to head to Goodwill or any other thrift store. You may have to hunt through the racks, but these stores are filled with old 70s shirts, kitschy dresses and other amazing accessories that allow you to create unique costumes. Some thrift stores even offer discount Halloween costumes from local retailers (they often donate unsold merchandise). Thrifting allows you to save money and score big deals. If you’re tight on cash, investigate half-off days at the store to save even more!
Here are a few tips to scoring that dream costume on a thrift hunt:
- Set a budget. Thrift stores are known for their thriftiness, but not everything is bargain priced. Some name-brand clothing may be marked up–avoid these items, and always check the inside of an item for a price. For most items, you shouldn’t spend more than $3. Many cities have Goodwill Outlets, and these stores often price items by the pound.
- Expect to spend time looking. Most thrift stores are organized on a very basic level. Men’s, women’s and children’s clothes are separated. You’ll also find separate sections for blazers/jackets, pants, dresses, etc. But each area is a mix of sizes, colors, style and quality. Prepare to dig.
- Look for potential, not perfection. You may find a wedding dress that works perfectly for a zombie bride costume. But it may be stained or ripped. Who cares! Toss some fake blood on it, rip it some more, and make it your own. You need to find a piece that has potential, but you can’t expect perfection—especially when the goal is just a costume!
- Don’t forget accessories! Hit up the jewelry section to find unique items to accessorize your costume. Thrift stores often have wacky shoes, scarves, ties and more. Just remember to wash everything before you wear it. Yes, wash dry clean only items, too (on cold, and don’t dry them). Remember, this is a costume, so don’t freak out about cleaning issues.
- Donate back. When the night is over, be sure to donate your items back to the store so someone else can use them and enjoy them! Thrifting is the ultimate example of reduce, reuse and recycle.
Not a fan of thrift? DIY!
Thrifty costumes don’t have to come from the thrift store. Instead, make your own costume using a few inexpensive materials. Foam core boards can be used as the basis to create easy sign costumes or even electronic gadgets. You can score foam core boards at a local craft store; for serious budget savings, you also can opt for plain poster board. If you’re artistic, you can paint these boards to recreate cell phone screens, street signs or even an app button (yes, you can dress up as the Snapchat ghost). Tie stings to the corners of the boards (you’ll need a board for the front and back), and you’re good to go.
One easy costume idea from Pinterest uses balloons and a clear garbage bag or massive gift bag (shop for these at the dollar store). You’ll need to cut holes in the bottom (for your legs) and on the side for your arms. Stuff the bag with balloons, make a cut-out sign that says “jelly beans” and go as a bag of jelly beans! This costume should cost you less than $10 (if you shop for items at the dollar store!).
Don’t Forget to Shop Your Closets!
You may not even need to set one foot in a thrift or craft store, because, often, we have our own treasures hiding in our closets. The best part? These costumes cost nothing! Check out items that you own—and perhaps don’t wear—and see if they have costume potential. Blazers and ties can be a basis for a clown costume. Old black dresses can be worn for vampire or witch costumes. And don’t forget about the bridesmaid dresses of weddings past! These can be worn for Beauty Pageant costumes, princess attire or even to create a Zombie Prom Queen.
Look for these Costume Basics in Your Closet:
- Old blazers (for clowns, businessmen, hobos)
- Plain black dresses (vampires, witches, goth characters)
- Bridesmaid dresses/formals (beauty pageant contestant, princesses, zombie prom queen)
- Plain monochromatic shorter dresses (perfect for fairy costumes, just add wings!)
Parties on a Budget
Many schools have transitioned from holiday themed parties to fall festivals to more inclusive celebrations. However, many parents are asked to contribute to the event, and this may put a squeeze on the budget. You can’t bake cupcakes, and treats must be packaged with the label, and, typically, all crafts and games must be unrelated to a holiday.
So if you’re in charge of hosting the school party—or even if you want to host your own—there are a few ways to keep the fun alive and the costs low. Pumpkins are a neutral decoration that can be used for many easy crafts. And you can find tiny pumpkins at low prices during peak pumpkin season. Small pumpkins can be used for a painting craft or you can have kids decorate them with funny faces using markers, googly eyes, pipe cleaners and other inexpensive craft materials.
Providing food to any party is typically the most costly aspect of the event—especially for school functions. If you’re the head room parent, this cost shouldn’t be all your responsibility. Most teachers can and will send out emails asking parents to provide donations of food or other supplies for class parties. The school nurse often will have to approve all food items, however.
What about goody bags or prizes for party games? Opt for items that are low-cost in bulk and classroom friendly. Think pencils, funny erasers, and stickers. For games, create your own! Trace a pumpkin shape on orange poster board, create a separate set of cut-out funny faces and play “Place the Face on the Pumpkin.” You also can print out bingo games online for free!
Budget Party Basics
- Mini Pumpkins
- Poster board in various hues
- Craft Materials (markers, glue, pipe cleaners, googly eyes, sticky foam shapes)
- Printable bingo cards
- Pencils, erasers, and stickers (for game prizes)
Budget Treats for Halloween Tricks
Picking the costume and planning the school party are only part of the Halloween prep. If your neighborhood is filled with school-age kids, you probably hand out treats each year. And, yes, that candy cost is insane! Don’t feel obligated to keep your light on all night or provide a never-ending supply of candy. Budget those treats! And don’t feel skimpy for selecting less expensive options. Dum Dum lollipops are always a popular treat, and a big bag costs only a few dollars. Give out a few lollipops to each kid and call it a night when the last one is gone. You also can opt for non-branded candy to save a few dollars. Remember, though, never ever hand out fruit or anything that isn’t from the store and wrapped—you don’t want to be THAT neighbor.
Although Halloween is considered a minor holiday, the cost for celebrating this day of candy and fright continues to rise. Don’t get caught up in the web of hype by overextending your budget and using those hard-earned pennies to purchase overpriced costumes. Get creative when hunting for costumes and head to your local thrift store or shop in your own closets. If you’re the lead parent in charge of planning school parties, don’t be afraid to ask for donations from other parents—it’s their kids’ party, too. And save money by making your own games and opting for inexpensive prizes and crafts.
Halloween is not a day of gifts, and it’s not a day that should break your bank account. Halloween began as Samhain which was a Pagan harvest festival, and a time when the link between the living world and the afterlife was at its thinnest; the holiday was not intended to be a day of mass production or overspending. Celebrate Halloween with candy, fun, revelry and a few scares, but just make sure those scares aren’t the result of the final number at a Halloween store cash register.