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13 tips for a frugal Halloween

Costumes, décor and party snacks can be cheap-y as well as creepy.

By Donna_Freedman Oct 15, 2012 11:26AM

Logo: Zombies (Renee Keith/Vetta/Getty Images).Halloween isn't just for kids. Almost one-third of adults dress in costume each Oct. 31, according to a survey from Nextdoor, a private social network for neighborhoods. Nearly one-quarter of those surveyed believed that you're never too old for trick-or-treating.

Even when kids are involved, it's probably adults doing the spending. Here are 13 tips to make sure your budget stretches for all ages on All Hallows Eve.

1. "Shop" for freebies.
If there's a chapter of The Freecycle Network near you, keep an eye out for costumes and decorations. Start watching again in early November -- if this was the last year that Junior fit into his Spider-Man costume, his parents might want to give it away.

2. Use what you've already got.
Your 1980s prom dress could be a great retro costume for a niece attending a middle-school dance. Got any old, beat-up dolls? Put their heads on the mantelpiece or place them in jars on a table. To create a gloomy abandoned-house look, move most of the furniture out and replace it with dilapidated stuff from the attic. "Anything that is broken or trashed is perfect for Halloween," says Sonya Ann, who blogs at A Mom, Money and More.


3. More on décor. Thrift shops have plenty of Halloween bric-a-brac and ordinary items that can be creepified. Look up "zombie Barbie" online and you'll see what I mean. Imagine the impact of half a dozen discounted ceramic clowns on an entryway table, or a clown painting to which you’ve added a few artistic touches (like fangs, or a hatchet).

Night of the living deals?

4. Trade with others.
Attend an organized costume swap or create your own informal trading group. Or swap online, at sites like thredUP and Swapmamas.

5. Easiest. Costume. Ever.
Zombies continue to rule the night, thanks to the TV show "The Walking Dead." For this look, all you need is "some clothing you can rip," according to Sara Gaugl, marketing manager for the Value Village thrift store chain.

Take almost-outgrown or worn-out clothing (or something "new" from the thrift shop) and tear it here and there. Kick it around in the dirt and spray on same fake blood. To complete the look, do an online search for "zombie makeup." Incidentally, Gaugl is seeing themes like zombie bride and groom, zombie cheerleader and zombie businessman: "They're zombifying anything they can think of."

6. Hit the library. Look for books about costumes, food and games. Raid the DVD shelf, too, and have a mix of classic and modern horror movies on in the background of your party. Even with the sound turned down, they'll make a statement.

7. Use coupons.
Local merchants offering sales are likely to put coupons out there, too. Ads for crafts stores such as Michael's or Jo-Ann Fabrics often contain coupons for 40% to 50% off.

Scary-good savings

8. Order online.
Halloween is big business for e-tailers. A spokeswoman for told me that deals tend to die off (so to speak) in the middle of October. But a week from now you'll see "hundreds of deals" on everything from princess costumes to animatronic vampires.

According to Brent Shelton of, shoppers can expect more than 50% off if they're willing to wait until late in the game. (Overnight shipping is your friend!)

9. Use cash-back shopping.
Jeff Nobs of the  Extrabux cash-back site notes "very aggressive coupons" plus cash-back rebates of 9% to 13%. Check out other hot deals at cash-back sites like Mr. RebatesShopAtHome and Ebates.


10. Monitor daily deals. Sites like My Bargain Buddy and put up all sorts of short-term bargains -- including Halloween items.

11. Stash those sweets.
When in doubt, overbuy -- otherwise you might run out after an hour. Start watching blogs like and, which break it down by state and by store (most major supermarkets and drugstores are listed). They also let you know where to find coupons to go with the deals.

Put all your store receipts in an envelope and open only a couple of bags of candy at a time. Hand the treats out yourself; I've seen kids take double handfuls from proffered bowls. You might wind up with a few unopened bags; if so, you'll be able to return them. Note, though, that chocolate freezes well and a fun-sized candy bar is a nice surprise in a brown bag lunch.

Spooky snacks and scary sips

12. Frightful feeds.
What to serve at your Halloween party? Here's a simple idea: Take some of those baby-cut carrots, use a bit of cream cheese to glue a thinly sliced almond to one end and voila! A plate full of severed fingers! Eeeeewwwww.

I love the Food Network's idea of "Hot Dog Mummies" (frankfurters wrapped in strips of phyllo dough), "ghostinis" (ghost-shaped crostini that you can dip into "bloody murder tapenade") and "wormy weenie sandwiches" (hot dogs with strips of grilled peppers that really DO look like worms). For these and other scarily good snacks, do an online search for "Halloween food ideas."


Popcorn is one of the world's cheapest snacks, and it lends itself to Halloween fetishes. Fill food-service-type gloves with flavored or unflavored popcorn. Before you do, though, put a piece of candy corn or a gumdrop at the tip of each glove’s finger -- it'll look like a nail. Or how about a recipe for zombie boogers? (Really.)


For a grownup party, put out bowls of flavored popcorn rather than pricier pretzels or chips. An industry group called The Popcorn Board provides a ton of interesting recipes like buffalo-ranch, five-spice, down-home BBQ and spicy Italian – and a couple of Halloween-themed ones, too.

13. Hit the after-sales.
Prepare now for a frugal Halloween 2013. As of Nov. 1 stores can't get rid of orange-and-black items quickly enough. Expect online discounts to go as low as 80% on clothes, accessories and decorations, according to spokesman Shelton. If you have a one-year-old this year he or she probably won't care much about next year's costume choice. Pick out whatever is the best deal, either locally or online.

Lauren Greutman, who blogs at I Am That Lady, buys deeply discounted costumes for her kids to wear when playing dress-up. She also buys costumes to give as Christmas gifts. This is a great idea if you know a preschooler who's going through a princess phase or a superhero phase. Or a superhero princess phase.

What are your tips for frugal fun this Halloween?

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Oct 29, 2012 12:16AM
btw the survey that claims 1/3 of adults even trick or treat is silly.. we DONT give to adults....its a children holiday. we refuse the right to give out candy to people past age 17..i stoped at 12.. grow up
Oct 29, 2012 12:15AM
the more you save.. the more you cost... if we keep on saving money and cutting costs on the economy ( AKA spending on retail and such) then that keeps the job market low.. gotta have consumers to have sellers....people want nice stuff dont wana pay for it.. this is why we got 25 million out of work.. its the same philosophy look it up.. ive done my just go on ahead and wreck the economy...idc if i pay full price for food.. lol im the reason you even GET to coupon. without people to buy.. if everyone couponed then how the hell would we pay the workers, farmers, and truckers to process the food? are couponers that stupid to think money falls from the sky? thank me for paying full price im a true american economy feeder
Oct 29, 2012 12:13AM
oh.. and all that money you saved up will go back to your local dentist.. your dentist and gov. like you know!
Oct 29, 2012 12:13AM
btw we spent nearly 100 dollars this year on candy.. to her that would be a fortune she probablty spent like 10 dollars lol. cant coupon on expensive candy name brands now can ya? like receese's and hersheys.. and 90% of stuff you coupon is junk food.. can you coupon on fruits and vegetables or meat??? lmao.. waste time, save money, eat junkfood!
Oct 29, 2012 12:12AM
shes so cheap that she'll probably buy taffy for 2.50 a bag.. just buy 2 of those for 5 dollars *( oh my thats alot of money for a cheapskate! ) and she'll give it out for 1 hour and thats it... man i feel bad for the US economy.. it relies on coupons, welfare, gov. aid, and other benefits JUST to keep things going....huh odd why cant we be like other countries? oh right were not.....the word debt here is just a punchline to a funny joke....its one thing ot save money.. but if you needa fill an entire coupon book up for 40 hours a week and spend all your time doing that.. you have no life and you must be so low on go to school/trade school tech. school and get a mitt romney would say, we dont like you*( the 47% )
Oct 29, 2012 12:09AM
the krazy koupon lady is a obsessed nut... she has no life....and blocked me for expressing myself to state facts that couponing isnt good for the economy
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Donna Freedman's Frugal Nation blog is for readers who want to live cheaply -- whether due to necessity or a lifestyle choice. It explores living sustainably and making life more meaningful at the same time.


Donna Freedman

Donna Freedman, a writer based in Anchorage, Alaska, writes the Frugal Nation blog for MSN Money. She won regional and national prizes during an 18-year newspaper career and earned a college degree in midlife without taking out student loans. Donna also writes about the frugal life for her own site, Surviving and Thriving.