Though the holiday season in December is generally the costliest time of the year for many families, the expenses of Halloween can be surprisingly immense. Buying Halloween costumes, candy, special accessories, decorations, and treats for school events can seriously bust your bank account.
The biggest problem is that many people don’t budget for Halloween as they would for Christmas or Easter. Instead, Halloween purchases are often unexpected and made at the last minute.
So, what’s a savvy parent to do when Halloween rolls around? Celebrate on the cheap, of course. By finding more affordable ways to decorate, dress, snack, and party, Halloween doesn’t have to be a budget-busting night. In fact, you might find that a little DIY spirit actually makes it a lot more fun.
Cheap Halloween Tips to Save Money
What’s Halloween without an appropriately scary house? If you purchase decor at a big box store, you can expect to spend upward of $100 on wall hangings, inflatables, spooky spiderwebs, and all the fixings. Or, you can find more cost-friendly ways to dress up your house for Halloween.
- Make DIY Glowing Eyes. Every family has a few empty toilet paper rolls lying around. Make them into spooky decorations by cutting two slits (for the “eyes”) lengthwise into each tube, and then slide in a colored glow stick. Position the eyes in your garden or front yard so it looks like creepy creatures are peering through the plants at unsuspecting trick-or-treaters. Just remember that glow sticks only last one night.
- Buy Cheap Pumpkins. If I skipped jack-o’-lantern carving altogether, my kids would stage a revolt. However, while I still carve pumpkins, I buy them at the grocery store for better pricing. There are a number of pumpkin farms nearby, which require entrance fees and hayride tickets in addition to the cost of the pumpkin. By grabbing mine at the grocery store, I usually pay a lower price and nix all the extras.
- Make a Bat Cave. If you have a pair of scissors and some black construction paper, turn a room in your house into a “bat cave.” Start by printing out a few bat shapes from your computer, then cut them out to use as templates. Trace the shapes onto black construction paper and cut those out, too. You can then tape a whole bevy of bats to the walls in your home.
- Monster-ify Your Front Door. Another construction paper craft involves using colorful strips to turn your front door into a spooky (or silly) monster. Your kids can help out, cutting out hair, eyes, a nose, and a mouth to tape onto your front door. Not only should this impress trick-or-treaters, you treat yourself to easy cleanup.
- Swap Out Light Bulbs. A cost-effective way to set the tone at your home or Halloween party is to purchase a few colored light bulbs. Look for blue, red, yellow, or green bulbs at your local hardware or big box store, and then screw them into your usual light fixtures to create a wash of creepy color. Just make sure to store them carefully when you’re done. You can use them year after year.
Costumes can be the priciest part of any Halloween, thanks to markup from stores. To save on outfits and accessories, skip the mad rush on October 30th and get creative with your kids.
- Use Items You Already Own. For the best DIY costumes, use what you already have. From articles of clothing, to makeup, to cardboard pieces, to props, there’s a chance you already have the makings of a great costume around the house. Take a look in your kids’ closets and also your own – you never know what castoffs you might have that would make the perfect funky costume.
- Swap With Friends. One of the reasons buying Halloween costumes is so painful is because kids only wear them once or twice. Chances are, you know parents who feel the same way and would be happy to swap and lend costumes accordingly. Remember that if you borrow a costume, make sure to keep it in good condition. After a night of running around outside and eating candy, it may need a good washing before you return it.
- Buy “Dress Up” Instead of a “Costume.” Don’t want to spend $50 on a deluxe princess dress? Try this little secret: Leave the costume section of the store and head to the toy section. There, you often find “dress-up” costumes not branded for Halloween that are much cheaper than the seasonal versions. A princess dress in the dress-up section usually runs around $20. There may be some minor differences, but the $30 savings is worth a little shopping around.
- Skip the Masks. Not only are masks a pricey part of a costume, they can be dangerous. In fact, Safe Kids Worldwide warns that masks obstruct both vision and breathing in kids, and should be avoided. Skip the cost and the risk and opt for face paint instead. It’s safer and cheaper, especially when you use products that you already own. Eyeliner is especially great for drawing on mustaches.
Throwing a Halloween party? The cost of food quickly adds up, especially when you’re serving up spooky specialties.
Keep your budget in check by going for more basic, cheaper fare. After all, candy is the main attraction on Halloween, for kids and adults alike. Instead of going all-out on a meal, stick to finger foods with a little freaky flair.
- Make Mummy Dogs. Simple and cheap, mummy dogs are prefect for little fingers. Start by rolling out a can of crescent roll dough and cutting it into thin strips with a pizza cutter. Then, use those strips to wrap hot dogs up like mummies with two to three strips per hot dog. Pop them in the oven at 350 degrees and bake them for 12 to 15 minutes, or until golden brown. You can even wrap the mummy dogs ahead of time and keep them covered in your fridge until you’re ready to bake.
- Have a Donut-Eating Contest. One of my favorite cheap ways to entertain kids at Halloween parties is with a donut-eating contest. Grab a dozen donuts at your grocery store bakery and attach each to a long dowel with a piece of string. Instruct the kids to try and eat the hanging donut without hands while two adults hold the dowel horizontally. It’s a fun game to fill little bellies and pass the time until trick-or-treating.
- Dress-Up Suckers. In charge of bringing treats for school? Try this cheap trick: Buy a large bag of inexpensive lollipops and a box of facial tissues. Place a tissue over the sucker, tie it with a ribbon, and then use a marker to draw a simple ghost face.
- Float “Eyeballs.” Frozen fruit is a great alternative to ice cubes in punch: It keeps drinks cold and won’t dilute the flavor. The night before your party, throw a bag of green grapes into your freezer. Then, whip up a bowl of your favorite red punch. Just before guests arrive, pour in the frozen grapes, which look like creepy floating eyeballs. The best part? No need to buy and replenish ice.
Finally, after all the festivities, it’s time to head out and start trick-or-treating. Whether you’re going house-to-house or you prefer to stay home and hand out candy, there are ways to reduce the cost of the age-old trick-or-treating tradition.
- Use Candy Alternatives. Handing out treats this year? Candy can be seriously expensive. Consider non-candy treats instead. It’s much cheaper to purchase a roll of stickers and hand out one perforated square per child, or grab a huge bucket of plastic bugs at the dollar store. After all, kids get a ton of chocolate, chewy candy, suckers, and gum each Halloween, so getting a little prize, toy, or pencil seems like a novelty.
- Buy Glowsticks. Children are twice as likely to be involved in pedestrian accidents on Halloween than other nights, so you need to make sure your little monster is as visible to cars as possible. You can purchase any number of lighted accessories to make sure that your child is easy to see, but my favorite solution is to buy cheap glowsticks from the dollar store. They come with joining fasteners, which can be used to make circles around ankles, necks, and wrists. Children are much more likely to want to wear glowsticks than a reflective vest that covers their costume. Since glowstick brands vary, buy some extra and test them out before Halloween to see how long yours last.
- Get Creative With Containers. You don’t need the perfect plastic pumpkin for your little one to trick-or-treat. Get creative with your carrying containers: Pillow cases, reusable grocery bags, baskets, decorated gift bags, and even sand buckets work perfectly for treats.