Costume and Image

10 Ways to Do Halloween on a Budget this Year

Hear that sound? It’s the first of the major shopping holidays knocking on the door! Halloween is the fourth most popular holiday that gets consumers to open up their wallets—the kick-off to a lot of shopping before the end of the year. Here are some statistics that should scare you to death, brought to us by the folks at The National Retail Federation:  Americans plan to spend upwards of $8.8 billion just on Halloween this year. Mindboggling, right?

Costume and Image

According to the survey, this is how that will break down: candy $2.6 billion; decorations 2.7 billion; costumes $3.2 billion. I don’t know about you but those numbers are more than frightening.

There’s no denying that we love Halloween. What other night do we get to eat, drink, and be scary? The problem is we’ve come to love it a little too much. Sadly, much of that spending will translate to new credit-card debt and what a terrible way to start out the new year.

I know we can do so much better than that this year if we’ll simply stop, think, and then find ways to do it cheaper!


Even if your neighborhood attracts busloads of kids, that doesn’t mean it’s up to you to fill their bags with gourmet chocolate. Between our sons and now our grandsons, I’ve been on the receiving end of trick-or-treat bags for many years. Here’s the cold, hard, sugary truth: Most of it ends up in the trash. It’s the fun of getting treats and guessing the final weight of a kids’ haul that matters—not the quality of its contents.

So think of that before you drop the big bucks on candy. Buy what you can pay with cash, period. The dollar store is rife with knock-off lollipops and non-descript candy. And do not worry about running out. Adopt a guilt-free attitude that when it’s gone, it’s gone. That’s it. Shut the door and turn off the porch light.


Look, Halloween is a really big deal for many folks and I get it. There’s one house in a community near me where the owners start months ahead getting their front lawn display ready. It’s massive in both size and effort. I cannot even imagine the time and money required to put on their annual spooky show.

If you find yourself somewhere between that and my two-pumpkins-on-the-front-porch choice of decor, be careful. Halloween decor can quickly rip the heart out of a budget. Check the dollar store where you can stretch your decoration dollars until they scream!

Pro-tip: Once the holiday is past, look for items at garage sales—all the stuff folks will buy this year, then decide they can’t be bothered storing for next. You’ll be able to pick up that blow-up mechanical Frankenstein for pennies on the dollar. Of course, now you’ll be the one trying to figure out where to store him.


My kids say this is the best part of Halloween, and not just for the little ones. These days, people dress their pets, newborns, kids, and themselves, too. And this is where the budget can quickly fall apart. I blame a lot of this on Pinterest and Instagram. It can be compelling to see what everyone else is doing! But here’s the problem: We wait too long—much longer than needed to make elaborate costumes ourselves, leaving the only option to buy them. Yikes!

If you can’t get started making costumes in time this year, change your plans. Go cheap using stuff you have already to make costumes that take minutes, not hours. Protecting your budget is far more important than winning First Place in the costume this year. Remember, there’s always next year.

To get your creative juices flowing, here are a few ideas for cheap Halloween costumes:

Bag of candy

Get a big, clear garbage bag. Cut two holes in the bottom for your legs, and two arm holes near the opening of the bag. Fill it with multicolored blown-up balloons for jellybeans. For M&Ms, take multi-color round balloons and choose ones that match M&M colors. Blow them up to about 80 percent (less likely to break), and write “M” on each of them with a black marker. Fill the bag only half full so you can move easily and with any luck, sit down.

Chia pet

Get a shower cap or swim cap and a plastic plant that has tons of small leaves. Staple enough plant material to cover the cap. Wear brown clothes so you’ll look like a terra cotta pot. Carry a watering can to hold your treats. So funny!


Paint your whole face with white greasepaint. With black eyeliner, draw numbers on your face including appropriately located clock hands that start from your hose. Go ahead and gel up your hair and slick it back. Silly, right? And that’s what will make you so unique.

Mr. Potato Head

You can probably figure this one out on your own, but just in case you need help, here are quick instructions. Get a really big burlap bag (you might have to make it from burlap you can buy in a fabric store) you will wear upside down, so your head is covered. Cut small eye holes so you can see out, and armholes near the top of the bag, in a place that will make it comfortable to wear. Get some felt in Mr. Potato Head colors to cut out eyes, nose, ears, and mouth. Attach Velcro to the backs of these items and the bag so they can be applied and pulled off easily. Wear black sweat pants or leotards for legs. When you’re in the bag, fill it with old shirts or rags to fill out the potato shape. Wear a black hat, then let people change your “face” around all night. This is my personal favorite. Just so funny!


Gather the black clothes that you don’t wear anymore for a very funny, albeit gross, costume. Paint a white dotted line down the middle of the clothes (think: road). Attach a stuffed animal or rubber chicken from the party store to the shirt. Fling some red paint on the animal. Gross as this costume might be, I think it’s a winner.

American tourist

Guys: A loud Hawaiian shirt, shorts, a large straw hat. Gals: A bright, loud dress; flats; big sun hat; straw bag. Don’t forget to have a camera and maps hanging out, and the expression of being lost. Guys can use a travel agent-issued tourist bag and gals can use the straw bag for their treats. Hilarious!

Static cling

Wear anything that is a solid color. Use safety pins to attach socks, underwear and dryer sheets to yourself. Spray your hair so it stands straight up in the air.

Well, now wasn’t that fun? And it will be more fun if you and the kids carry through with any one of these harmless gags come Halloween night. I’d love to see your pictures.

A person holding a sign



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6 replies
  1. Jeannie says:

    Mary…I Have loved your column for years and have used many of your tips…but please check your figures on this one!!!!! The National Retail Federation is dead wrong…we do NOT spend BILLIONS on the holiday of Halloween. Are you kidding? You are quoting the likes of our national debt.
    NOT what we as a nation spend on this holiday.

  2. Ruth Cox says:

    my funnest costume was going as the door prize….two pieces of cardboard, wrapped and then taped at the shoulder. Ribbons & a big bow finished off the look!

  3. cheryl shanks says:

    I have several. I already owned a jean skirt,& green tights, so I bought a green (ivy colored)top and about $20.00 worth of ivy from the store…I took safety pins sterilized them, and pulled two leaves off to make earrings, then I made a wreath of some of the ivy for my head, then I put strips of that ivy down the front of shirt, and sides of sleeves, I also made an ivy belt, then I pulled 2 more leaves off, and pinned them to they black mary jane Chinese style shoes (no arch support =bad idea on my part but only for the night.) I got a piece of cardboard and had a friend take highlighter and make me a skull and crossbones sign, that I carried all night. I was poison ivy….thank you goes to the Coasters!! I was trying to think of what to wear when I heard that song! I have also dressed all in grey, put on a little fluffy tail (you can use a powder puff for this) and bunny ears, get a foam #1 finger or a tiny trophy, and tell everyone you are the 1st grey hare!!!! Another is to dress all in green, cut out a cardboard P make it like a necklace around your neck, black around one eye, and tada!!! now you are a blackeyed pea, (not of the singing group though. They get paid to sing, I don’t and shouldn’t anyway!!!) I love Halloween, and coming up with cheap costumes, though I did splurge once….I bought a Tigger costume from the Disney store, and after Halloween I used it to visit nursing homes, and daycares. It was a “HOOT” You can also get those orange trash bags you are supposed to fill with leaves, cut out the head , and arm holes, wear either black pants or orange tights, put /make a green felt stem/leaf w/ pipe cleaner wrap around a hair barrette or pony tail, and tada you are a pumpkin. I have also been Chinese takeout, and did the 60’s go go girl and the statue of liberty. (green sheets anyone?) :o)

  4. Lydia Warden says:

    Another fun one that doesn’t take a lot of work is going as a “cereal” killer. Grab an empty cereal box, shove a plastic knife through the box and keep it with you.


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