28 Ways to Have Cheap Halloween Fun

Photo: Carrie Kirby

Halloween can be costly, especially for parents: House decorations, candy for trick-or-treaters, trips to the pumpkin farm or other creepy attractions, and especially the costumes can easily add up to hundreds of dollars.

And yet you don't have to spend a lot to have a lot of fun. The amount people pay for new Halloween costumes is especially mind-blowing — hit any temporary Halloween shop to see some of the hugest mark-ups for the lowest-quality junk you'll ever encounter. There are higher quality kids' costumes available for order online — and many are already marked down now — and yet there are so many used-once costumes in circulation you can pick pretty much anything you want if you just look around a little and practice a little flexibility. (I couldn't believe it when I read this post about how the "hot" costumes get sold out early and the prices get jacked up 400% — really, parents, it's just Halloween!)

Here are 28 ways to have a spooktacular Halloween without heading into the holiday season broke. Some of these ideas require planning ahead as long as a year, but there is still time to do many others this year. (In fact, waiting until the last minute is frugal idea #19.)

1. Grow your own pumpkins. Pumpkins are not all that expensive — this week they're $2 at Aldi and $3 at Whole Foods. But a packet of seeds costs $1.95 and (although some fanatics go to great lengths to baby their pumpkins) in my dad's garden the pumpkin plants get no care and still manage to produce two or three fruits each year. How fun would it be for your kids to monitor their jack-o-lanterns all summer?

2. Save the seeds and grow your own pumpkins next year for free.

3. Make the most of the jack-o-lantern by scooping out and cooking the pumpkin's meat before you put it on display. Although small "pie pumpkins" make the best pies (of all places Menards usually has a great price on these), we made some perfectly delicious soups and breads out of large pumpkins last year that I got for free outside Dominick's the day before Halloween.

4. Make roasting and eating the seeds part of your pumpkin carving tradition.

5. Watch the drugstore and discount store sales to get candy for the trick-or-treaters for next to nothing, especially with coupon matchups. I got more than enough this year for FREE by buying coupons to use at Kmart Super Doubles. (CVS will be offering $5 ExtraBucks when you spend $20 on candy through 10/24, for example, and adding coupons can bring your expenditure down to $5 or $10.)

6. Making Halloween treats at home for special kids or parties is a fun activity and a lot cheaper (and better) than buying holiday cupcakes at the grocery store. Pillsbury has lots of ideas using those ever-versatile and ever-bad-for-you cans of dough. If you have a Jewel-Osco in your area, you can pick up eight cans this week for a net profit after Catalina coupons and make all the hot dog mummies or witch finger sandwiches your little ghouls desire.

7. Beware of the costs you'll rack up at the pumpkin farm! Try to find out the prices before you go to one of these places — some are all inclusive while some will charge you separately for each attraction. Go for the fun, but you might not want to purchase a pumpkin there — see above.

8. Look for haunted houses run by schools or other amateur organizations instead of the big commercial attractions.

9. But if you do want to go to a big bang attraction, Fright Fest at Six Flags is a pretty good deal if you buy your season pass for next year now — you can use it for the rest of this year and not only go to the haunted house and other spooky stuff but also enjoy the regular rides. If your region isn't freezing cold already, that is.

10. A simple, free Halloween activity my daughter loves every year: Go for walks or drives to check out neighbors' Halloween displays.

11. Make your own Halloween decorations with these ideas from Family Fun magazine. When I was growing up, the creepiest, best decoration we had was a thermal coverall stuffed and topped with a jack-o-lantern head, sitting in a rocker on the front porch. So easy, yet — at least to my young eyes — so effective. This year, we made disembodied hands to hang all over the house, and not only were they easy to make, they keep the kids from eating all the candy their grandparents gave them in advance of the holiday.

12. Scoop up cheap decorations (and costumes!) right after Halloween for next year. CVS will have Halloween stuff down to 90% off within a week after Oct. 31.

13. Shop for decorations and costumes all year at garage sales and thrift shops. (My daughter's year-round Halloween obsession makes this easy for us. She picked out a ghost and tombstones display in June, sparkly Halloween hats in September and a big box of decor for $5 earlier this month.)

14. Children consignment shops are usually packed with costumes at a fraction of the retail cost.

15. Host or attend a costume swap.

16. Check eBay for costume bargains. In fact the auction site has a dedicated Halloween page, where you'll find an adult "sexy cop" costume for $3.24 or a baby bunny rabbit costume at 99 cents!

17. Raid the thrift shop for both commercially made costumes and for ingredients for putting together your own costumes.

18. But beware bargains that aren't: Our local thrift store has a Halloween section, but it's full of new costumes and decorations, many of them priced at higher than regular retail stores. This week Target had kids' Halloween leggings on sale for $4, but the thrift store had the same leggings, with tags, at $4.99.

19. Shop for costumes in the very last week before the holiday. This is one situation where planning ahead actually costs you!

20. Here's Julie Rains' list of kids' costume ideas you can put together WITHOUT SEWING with things you may already have at home. Not to be outdone, Andrea Dickson has no-sew ideas for adults, too.

21. And more no-sew costumes.

22. And easy-to-sew costumes.

23. With a good makeup job you may not need much costume. Here are some great ideas for impressive makeup jobs.

24. My favorite cheap, easy costume idea this year came from (the now defunct) Cookie magazine: Your kid can be Max from "Where the Wild Things Are."

25. Frugal use for all that candy: Find a dentist doing a candy buyback.

26. Frugal candy use #2: Thin out your kid's haul and secretly give it back to him in his Christmas stocking.

27. Frugal candy use #3-13: See Andrea Dickson's list that includes my favorite, using it for baking, as well as things I never thought of, like adding some to your emergency car kit.

28. Live on it for a week and save on plumbing by not going to the bathroom. (That's a link to a very funny Suze Orman skit from a recent Thursday night SNL Weekend Update. Frugalites will get a kick out of it.)

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Guest's picture

I hit Target both days after Halloween. Everything is 75-90% off. I have a full yard and porch of Halloween decorations. It looks very nice (and expensive). All of which cost me no more then $40 total.

Andrea Karim's picture

Oh, I so love the after-Halloween sales.

Because I have such a macabre sense of style, many of my normal decorations double as Halloween decorations - I'm a big fan of Day of the Dead paintings, sculptures, and other kitsch. All I have to do is throw some "spider webs" up and light some candles and my house is one creepy place.

No wonder my dogs are so neurotic.

Guest's picture

I am such a huge fan of saving everything from years past rather than ever buying new and just mixing and matching, depending on my mood. Plus, I think that homemade "everything" is better for our bodies, spirits, wallets and the environment, especially when it comes to Halloween and other holiday trimmings.

Anyone who wants some great DIY inspiration for how to make homemade costumes, food, decorations, etc. should definitely also check out this guide: http://bit.ly/3t1YBK It's one of the more comprehensive that I've seen.