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Last-Minute Tricks to Do Halloween on a Budget This Year

Hear that sound? It’s the first of the major shopping holidays at the door. Halloween is the fourth most popular holiday that gets consumers to open their wallets — the kick-off to a lot of shopping before the end of the year.

According to the National Retail Federation, Americans spent north of $10 billion on Halloween last year. Yes, billion. Talk about 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 the spending translates to new credit card debt that goes on long after the festivities have been forgotten.

I know we can do so much better this year if we stop, think and then find ways to keep all the fun while doing Halloween on a budget.


Even if your neighborhood attracts busloads of kids, that doesn’t mean filling their bags with gourmet chocolate is up to you. 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 kid’s haul that matters, not the quality of its contents. Think of that before you drop the big bucks on candy.

Buy what you can pay with cash, period. Dollar stores are rife with knockoff lollipops and nondescript 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 light.


Halloween is a really big deal for many folks, and I get it. There’s one house in my community 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.

Be careful if you find yourself somewhere between that and my two-pumpkins-on-the-porch choice of decor. 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!


According to my family, dressing up is the best part of Halloween. These days, people dress their pets, newborns, kids and themselves. And this is where the budget can quickly fall apart.

I blame a lot of this on Pinterest and Instagram. It is 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.

Even If you didn’t get started weeks ago making costumes, it’s not too late to go cheap. Use what 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 contest. Remember, there’s always next year.

To get your creative juices flowing, here are a few ideas for cheap Halloween costumes you can put together quickly:


Get a big, clear garbage bag. Cut two holes in the bottom for your legs and two arm holes near the bag’s opening. Fill it with multicolor blown-up balloons for jellybeans. For M&Ms, take multicolor round balloons and choose ones that match M&M colors. Blow them up to about 80% (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.


Get a shower cap or swim cap and a plastic plant with 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 grease paint. With black eyeliner, draw numbers on your face, including appropriately located clock hands that start from your nose. Go ahead and gel up your hair and slick it back. Silly, right? And that’s what will make you so unique.


Gather the black clothes 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.


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 even more fun if you and the kids carry through with any one of these harmless gags come Halloween night.

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Mary Hunt

Mary invites you to visit her at, where this column is archived complete with links and resources for all recommended products and services. Mary invites questions and comments at, "Ask Mary." Tips can be submitted at . This column will answer questions of general interest, but letters cannot be answered individually. Mary Hunt is the founder of, a frugal living blog, and the author of the book "Debt-Proof Living."

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