Halloween on a budget: Tricks and tips for cheaper costumes

adunn@newsobserver.comOctober 14, 2011 

Here's a Halloween factoid to frighten the frugal soul: Americans adults plan to spend an average $72.31 EACH on Halloween candy, decorations and costumes for themselves, their kids and their pets this year, according to the National Retail Federation. And that's up nearly 10 percent from last year.

Can you hear me screaming in horror?

Over the next few days, I'll be offering up tips on how to celebrate Halloween on a budget. From candy to costumes to jack-o-lanterns, I'll be posting tips, price comparisons and my frugal thoughts on how to get the most Halloween fun for the least amount of money.

Halloween costumes are big business.

Take a stroll down the costume aisle at Target or click on a few of the costume offerings at DisneyStore.com. The price tags are downright scary.

For $70, you or your kid can celebrate Halloween as a giant yellow chicken. Forty bucks will buy you a full-bodied banana get-up. And for $29.62, plus shipping and handling, your daughter can be Disney's Belle. And that's the sale price.

Then consider the amount of time your child will spend in this gear before it's relegated to the back of the closet or the bottom of the dress-up trunk.

If you'd rather not spend monstrous amounts of cash for Halloween costumes, there are alternatives.

Here are a few of my very best no-spend, low-spend ways to save on costumes:

Borrow before you buy. Send an email to family, friends and coworkers. If your kid wants to be a pirate this year, you're bound to know someone whose kid was a pirate last year or the year before. They might even thank you for taking it off their hands.

Hit the second-hand stores. They can be a discounted treasure-trove of Halloween costumes. Becky Lytle, spokeswoman for Goodwill Industries of Eastern North Carolina, said the stores are well-stocked with a year's worth of Halloween donations and most stores have a designated rack of costumes.

But Lytle said the best costumes are often mined from the regular clothing racks and bins. "With a little bit of imagination, there are so many things to choose from to put together a costume," Lytle said. Plaid shirts, overalls, evening gowns and straw hats are all hot items this time of year.

At the Goodwill store on Hargett Street in downtown Raleigh, kids costumes were plentiful on a recent afternoon and the prices were low, from $3.99 to $6.95 for pumpkin, giraffe and bumblebee costumes.

Consignment shops are another second-hand sales venue, though prices are a bit higher than thrift stores. I stopped in the Kid to Kid store in Cary's Crossroads earlier this week and found four full racks of kids' costumes, many of them priced at $9.99.

Check craigslist. It's a win-win situation. You score a costume for a fraction of the original price and sellers recoup at least some of their investment. And, you get to shop from the comfort of your own home. With 604 listings for Halloween costumes in the Triangle right now, you're bound to find a bargain.

Costume remakes. Many years ago, when my now-grown son wanted to be a magician, I sewed him a black cape. He wore black pants, a white dress shirt, and a top hat from a magic kit we had on hand. That cape became an investment piece, undergoing many a remake over the years. My younger son later wore it with a pair of round spectacles as Harry Potter and most recently my daughter wore it as a vampire. It's still in the closet, waiting for its next reincarnation.

If you must buy a costume from a traditional retail store:

Think long-term. Buy a costume suitable for a boy or a girl so that younger siblings or cousins can wear it in future years.

Go traditional. Pirates, ghosts, clowns and princesses are just as popular today as they were 50 years ago. These types of costumes never go out of style and can easily be handed down or resold. Steer clear of trendy TV characters that kids five years from now won't even recognize.

Make it multi-purpose. One year, my daughter wanted to dress up as a doctor in the worst way. After searching thrift stores, craigslist and garage sales for a miniature pair of scrubs, I broke down and bought her a pair for $20, way more than I typically spend. In the end, we got our money's worth after all. She wore those scrubs as pajamas for three years straight.

Watch for a sale. Costumes are starting to go on sale. Check the sales circulars and you'll see discounts from 25 percent to 60 percent. And it's only the middle of the month.

Think ahead. When this year's costumes are clearanced, starting Nov. 1, plan for next year. But be sure to stick with classic costumes. Even at 75 percent off, a clearance costume is no bargain if your kid won't wear it.

News & Observer is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service