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How to save on Halloween

Donna Freedman and readers shared tips and advice during a live Facebook chat.

By MSN Money Partner Oct 8, 2012 1:34PM

Image: Halloween (© Digital Vision Ltd/SuperStock)Spending for Halloween can be downright ghoulish. Costumes, treats, decorations, party favors -- it can all add up quickly. Frugal Nation's Donna Freedman joined MSN Money's Facebook fans for a live chat last Thursday about ways to save and avoid being tricked on Halloween. Below is an edited transcript of the conversation.


Donna Freedman: You know the scariest thing about Halloween? Overspending on it!


That’s why we’re having this Facebook chat: to share tips on having a frightfully good time without driving a stake through the heart of your budget.


Amey S: Hi, Donna, what are some of the mistakes people make when buying Halloween stuff?


Donna Freedman: Overspending. You can get a great costume cheaply -- or even for free. For example, an organization called has a master list of "costume swaps," where you can show up and trade what your kid wore last year for something that will fit him or her this year. These swaps take place in 38 states and two Canadian provinces.


MSN Money:  So Donna, what tips would you offer to save money on Halloween costumes? Any of our users who are reading have any tips too?


Sonya M.: I love Halloween, love it! That said, I hate to spend money on it, especially since it is so frivolous. I like to be on the lookout for things all year long. Anything that is broken or trashed is perfect for Halloween. An old sheet that was overused and abused can transform the couch. Halloween to me is more about imagination than money.


Abby P.: I know one of the biggies: I regret any costume I ever bought in person. Starting in about a week, you'll be able to find online coupons for 30 to 50% off costume stores. Oh, and social buying sites will sell vouchers to costume stores, too.

Sunny W. Hi, Donna, any tips on throwing a Halloween party?


Donna Freedman: @Sonya: Good point. Reduce, reuse, recycle.


Donna Freedman: @Sunny: Encourage your friends to be the people they wish they could be all year long. It will make for some interesting costumes. ;-)


If there’s a chapter of the Freecycle Network ( near you, keep an eye out for costumes and decorations.


If there’s nothing on there now, start watching again in early November --  if this was the last year that Junior fit into his clown costume, his parents might want to give it away. You can "shop" for free, for next year.


Donna Freedman: Another cheap costumes/decorations tip: Thrift stores are another great place to get frugal Halloween costumes and spooky décor.


Yesterday I went past a Value Village store that had hired someone to dress up as the Grim Reaper and wave a sign. Inside the store they had both gently used costumes and brand-new stuff, plus lots of decorations (signs, pumpkins, crepe paper, etc.).


Abby P.:  I wanted to have a party this year, but some unexpected costs hit, so I think maybe I'll try to hit clearance sales and stock up for next year.


Sonya M. I hope you don't mind if I jump in here. Sunny, I would look to Pinterest for some interesting ideas on the cheap.


Donna Freedman: Fun fact: Halloween is the second-biggest holiday for online shopping, according to the Extrabux site.


A spokeswoman for told me that deals are pretty good until the second week of October, when they die off (so to speak) a bit.


But as the holiday gets closer you’ll see "hundreds of deals" -- low prices, free shipping codes, online coupons.


Amey S.: I was wondering about stocking up on candy. Do you think you can save bagged Snickers bars and the like? For how long? There certainly are good deals after Halloween.


Donna Freedman: @Amey: Chocolate freezes well, and one of those fun-sized bars makes a nice dessert for bag lunches. Every Christmas I make those peanut butter cookies with the Hershey’s Kiss on top, using candy I bought at half off or better in the week after Halloween.


Donna Freedman: Or keep the store receipts, and don’t open all the bags. If you get fewer trick-or-treaters than you expected, return some of the goodies. You don’t want them hanging around the house. Trust me on this.


Kymberly L.: My issue if I buy candy "on sale" -- I tend to . . . uh . . . snack. So my tip is to buy candy you don't like!


Luke L: Any tips for what to do with extra candy left over after the holiday? I hate seeing all that go to waste . . . .


Donna Freedman: @Luke: Take leftover candy to the fire station. Firefighters need quick energy. ;-)


MSN Money: Do any of you have specific ideas for inexpensive costumes?


Donna Freedman: Inexpensive costumes . . .  you could try cross-dressing. Seriously. Wear a partner's clothing and brush on a mascara mustache (if you're a woman), or wear a partner's dress and borrow a wig (if you're a guy). I always say Halloween is the time when guys can wear skirts without getting beat up.


Cindy B.: My parents live near a school, so are always bombarded with a ton of trick-or-treaters . . . . Any good tips on budget-wise alternatives to overpriced bags of candy from the grocery store to hand out to the kiddos?


Donna Freedman: @Cindy: Check out sites like and Candy is almost always more expensive at the grocery store. Drugstores and warehouse stores are cheaper.


Donna Freedman: A spokesman for says that shoppers can expect more than 50% off if they’re willing to wait until late in the game. (Don’t worry: Overnight shipping is your friend!)


Donna Freedman: Quick aside about too many trick-or-treaters: Hand out the candy a piece or two at a time. Don't let them dig into the bowl. Who could blame them for taking five or six pieces?


Amey S.: I live in an apartment building, and swarms of children come by all at once and clean me out every year. I'm going to try your method, Donna!


Sonya M.: I have everything that I'm going to hand out already. I shopped mid-November at CVS and got all the little tattoos and some really nice trick-or-treat bags to hand out. All for 90% off. Not to brag, but most of the kids say we give out the best treats!


Amey S.: Donna, do you think people are spending more at Halloween than they need to? It seems a much bigger deal than I remember as a kid.


Donna Freedman: I'm sure of it. As noted, it's the second-biggest holiday for online merchants. Also, back when the Earth was still cooling, only kids dressed up, not grown-ups. A recent survey from said that almost one-third of adults wear costumes on Halloween.


MSN Money: @Amey, here's an article on your point: Americans to spend more on Halloween this year:


Donna Freedman: Fun fact: Men between the ages of 18 and 34 spend the most on Halloween -- an average of $200, significantly higher than older men and any age group of women. Who knew?


Denton M.: The online yard sale pages that have cropped up locally are quite popular. I see a lot of little kids' costumes for pretty cheap.


MSN Money: Great tip, Denton. And thank you fans for joining us, and thanks so much, Donna, for your great tips. This concludes our chat for this evening. To learn more great frugal ideas, check out:


Donna Freedman: Halloween is pure fun. Kids get to extort sugary treats from people they may not even know, and adults can dress up and act out without fear of public censure.


My frugal mantra is this: Save where you can, so you can spend where you want.


Maybe for you that’s an animatronic zombie in your front yard, or a grown-up Cinderella costume with a pound of hand-sewn sequins.


It’s your money. Spend it in ways that makes you happy. But you don’t need to overspend to have a good time. Get the best deals you can, and have a happy Halloween. 


Join the conversation on MSN Money's Facebook page.



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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.