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Halloween on a Budget

Money-saving tips for costumes, candy and decorations.The spookiest holiday is just around the corner, and despite the fact that American households collectively drop billions of dollars each year on costumes, treats and decorations, spending on a budget doesn’t have to scare up a fright. Freak out with these tips for serious Halloween savings without compromising the ghoulish fun.


Raid the Closet

Remember that Army thrift store jacket you bought in 2008 but haven’t worn since? Pair it with a white T-shirt, a cheap pair of gas station aviators, and—presto!—you’re Robert De Niro in “Taxi Driver” (bonus points if you shave a mohawk). While the deep recesses of your closet might prove embarrassing 364 days a year, on Halloween they are a treasure trove of TV and Hollywood costume potential—and they’re free. If your parents or grandparents live nearby, don’t pass up the opportunity to hunt through the dusty corners of their wardrobes, where you’re bound to find ’70s disco gold, Mr. Rogers-style cardigans, and gowns even the “Golden Girls” would covet.

Everyday Props

If you don’t have an extensive, outdated wardrobe (good for you), your house or apartment likely is already outfitted with enough props to pull off a fun, easy costume. Grab a putter from the golf bag or a soccer ball from the garage, and you are transformed into the pro athlete of your choice. Or tie on your cleanest baking apron, slap on a pair of safety goggles, and buy a cheap rubber knife to become “Dexter” without busting the budget.


According to a survey from the National Retail Federation, U.S. households will spend a collective $7.4 billion on Halloween in 2014—that seems a bit crazy. Save a few bucks this year by swapping old costumes with friends. Keep in mind that one person’s work uniform is another person’s costume. Got a friend who is a nurse or dental assistant? Get your hands on an old pair of orange scrubs for a simple “Orange is the New Black” look.

Hit the Thrift Stores

Charity thrift stores such as Goodwill are hubs for Halloween shopping; props and vintage clothing abound in these one-stop shops for inspired dress up (some stores even section off areas for scary ensembles come Halloween season). Not too creative when it comes to putting together a costume? Goodwill even provides an annual Halloween shopping guide complete with costume ideas, making it insanely easy to outfit yourself for the night—and the proceeds help people in need.

Go Abstract

All Jim from “The Office” had to do was write the word “book” on his forehead to become Facebook. Sure, it’s not the most elaborate costume, but it beats showing up at a party wearing normal clothes and convincing people you’re “regular guy” for Halloween. Put more effort into out-of-the-box thinking than into strolling the costume aisles, and you’re bound to stumble upon an abstract, inexpensive idea that will convince everyone you’re the cleverest in the room.

YouTube Makeup Ideas

Everything you need to know about applying homemade makeup for Halloween—fake blood, zombie face, brains, ghostly hues—is on YouTube. Just search for whatever freaky face you’re aiming for, and there’s bound to be someone with an answer and an in-depth video on how to do it quickly, easily, and cheaply.


Buy in Bulk

Not in the mood for a party, but still want in on the ghoulish festivities? Plan a night with your friends at your place. Ask everyone to pitch in on a big bag of bulk candy (the best deal), stream a few horror movies on Netflix, and take turns answering the door to dole out sugar to the costumed neighborhood kids.

Stock Up Early

Standard chocolate Halloween candy can keep up to a year, especially when frozen. You don’t have to suffer the use-it-or-lose-it pressure from leftover candy. Freeze leftover goodies, or anything you stocked up on sale during the year, and break it out come Halloween for quality treats on a shoestring budget.

Bake Creatively

Every Halloween partygoer loves Frankenstein sugar cookies and vampire cupcakes. If you’re heading to a party and feel compelled to contribute, bring home-baked goods or seasoned popcorn; they can be time intensive, but they’re inexpensive alternatives to buying marked-up items at grocery stores.


Do It Yourself

There’s no need to buy prepackaged, cookie-cutter Halloween decorations when you can find millions of crafty people posting creative, easy DIY ideas on crowdsourced project websites like Pinterest. Just type “Halloween” in the search bar, and explore frightening, cheap ideas like lawn ghosts, freaky trash-bag bodies, and spooky alternatives for homemade spider webs.

Discount Stores

Still need the trimmings to bring your apartment or home into full-on Halloween fright mode? Swing by your local dollar store, where you can scoop up streamers and simple decorations without shelling out big bucks.

Reuse, Recycle

After Halloween, pack your decorations in a box, and shelve it away in a closet for resurrection the following year. Bonus: Stock up on discount decorations Nov. 1, and pack those away, too.

[Any reference to a specific company, commercial product, process, or service does not constitute or imply an endorsement or recommendation by the National Endowment for Financial Education.]


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