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DIY Ideas for a Fun and Frugal Halloween

Save money this Halloween with some cost-savings tips!

Young kids in Halloween costumes, trick or treating at someone's door.
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What’s one of the spookiest things about Halloween? The costs. Halloween spending hit an all-time high in 2022 of $10.6 billion, according to the National Retail Foundation, with the average household spending $100.45. That’s up from the $10.1 billion spent in 2021 and a huge leap from the $8 billion spent in 2020. On the surface, costs may not seem daunting—but between costumes, decorations, greeting cards, and the bags of candy doled out to fairy princesses, superheroes and zombies, Halloween financial expenses can start to look a little scary. 

With just a few cost-cutting measures below and some effective budgeting techniques, avoid getting tricked into overspending and have a ghoulishly great time with your family this Halloween.

Swap Halloween costumes using the power of the internet.

Store-bought Halloween costumes can be pricey, and—let’s face it—oftentimes uninspired. There are plenty of alternatives (for kids and adults), and you don’t need to be an expert with the sewing machine, either.

Well before October 31, take to social media or your community’s Facebook page and post you’re looking to swap Halloween costumes. Like you, your friends and neighbors probably have a few years’ worth of costumes—worn once!—collecting dust in a closet, attic or basement. The firefighter costume that your friend’s son wore in 2020 hasn’t gone out of style, and it could be the perfect fit for your child.

If you don’t come up with a match in your community swap, Grandma probably has some great costume jewelry to transform your child into a rich lady, and Grandpa could have some fishing gear to turn you—or your little one—into an ace angler. Thrift shops also have great finds, such as a trench coat, hats and sunglasses.

And don’t sell yourself short when it comes to making your own inexpensive costume. Check out Pinterest, where we found endless ideas. One of our favorites for a group of friends going to a Halloween party: the gang from “The Big Bang Theory.” A Sheldon T-shirt, a Raj dickie or Bernadette glasses are low in cost and big in the wow factor as a group.

Craft your own Halloween decorations.

Those inflatable pumpkins and black cats on the front lawn are cute, but the price tags are also overinflated. Why buy expensive decorations when there are dozens of blogs and home improvement websites dedicated to giving you do-it-yourself ideas?

Visit your local thrift or discount store to find some inexpensive crafting materials (yarn, fabric, construction paper, popsicle sticks, etc.) or learn how to use everyday items from around the house to conjure up some spooky decorations for your home. One simple, inexpensive idea: use a marker to draw a ghost or jack-o-lantern face on the outside of a gallon-size milk jug filled with a small strand of lights or a candle. Or, craft a few creepy sets of glowing eyes to adorn your trees or bushes by cutting small holes in empty paper towel or toilet paper tubes and adding a glow stick to the center.

Or create your own haunted house!

Start at the front door: Take an old sheet or pillowcase, add some filling—old newspapers or even dryer lint are great (and free)—to make a head and draw on some spooky eyes; you have a ghost to greet your trick-or-treaters. Surround him with spider webbing from the party store and turn your potted plants into a graveyard. Cut up a white poster board and add creepy messages using your black marker, then stick your tombstones into your plants.

For easy DIY decor, paint mason jars with spooky designs and insert battery-powered tea lights for a bewitching glow. Line your walkway or porch with these lanterns to welcome trick-or-treaters.

Move the decorating inside, where you can cut bats out of black felt and hang them from a doorway or ceiling, paint your pumpkins with glow-in-the-dark paint (cut some of the leftover black felt into eyes and mouths, and attach them to the pumpkin with a glue gun), or cut orange construction paper into pumpkins and attach them onto a clothesline to make a pumpkin garland.

The best part about DIY decorating? You can do this with your family and turn it into a holiday tradition. When the kids are little, make a few each year to add to your collection. When they leave the nest, give them the collection to use in their own homes, especially if they start their own families.

Carve out some room in your budget for the great pumpkin.

Carving a pumpkin is a Halloween celebration essential. Try to avoid a trip to the local pumpkin patch, however; you’ll pay a premium on pumpkins, and most likely purchase additional treats, or an overpriced haunted hayride. Save some cash by waiting to pick up your pumpkin from your local grocery store a few days before Halloween when they are on sale. (Waiting just a few days before Halloween also avoids the temptation of carving your pumpkin too early and having it decompose on your front porch.) 

Explore alternatives to overpriced Halloween candy.

When it comes to Halloween, don’t feel that you must keep up with the Joneses. Just because the next-door neighbors give out full-sized candy bars, doesn’t mean you must. For kids, Halloween is more about the thrill of the hunt and the experience than it is the candy. Really.

To save money, opt for the less expensive lollipops. Or use portion control. Give every trick or treater just one—not a handful.

Or better yet, why not come up with a candy alternative? Your local dollar store typically has Halloween-themed pencils in a pack of eight or 10, or so, for a dollar. Other creative items: glow-in-the-dark bracelets and necklaces, stickers, stamps, pencils, bouncy balls, fruit snacks, juice boxes, loose change, and much more. 

Find free Halloween events in your local community.

Scan local flyers, newspapers and websites to locate cheap (sometimes free) Halloween-themed gatherings for your little goblins. Many local merchants and charities use this time of year as an opportunity to give back to local communities by offering events with free crafts, trick-or-treating, bouncy houses, face painting and costume contests. 

Don’t be afraid to budget for the holidays.

Budgeting is a fantastic way to keep your financial train on the tracks year-round but is also an essential tool to help you effectively plan for the holiday season. Start early and set some realistic parameters to help rein in spending. Set aside a specific dollar amount in your budget to cover decorations, costumes, treats, parties and more, and then stick to it.

Halloween is also a great opportunity to talk to your kids about the importance of saving money. Discussing budgeting early sets realistic expectations for the upcoming season of gift-giving. Get your kids in on the action and let them surprise you with unexpected creativity and resourcefulness.

Halloween should be a fun day without stress. With some planning, you can accomplish this, and at little cost. Now isn’t that a treat?

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Financial Education

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