Halloween is less than two weeks away, and — if you haven’t been thinking about it for months — it’s time to get your costume together!
Pressure to make this spooky holiday magical for kids and have fun yourself can make Halloween a costly venture. That’s something you don’t need just as Thanksgiving dinner and winter holiday shopping start to tug at your wallet.
In 2014, the average American planned to spend almost $30 on a costume, according to the National Retail Federation. That’s hard to justify, especially for a kid’s costume, which they’ll grow out of and possibly forget almost immediately. A lot of adults I know spend upwards of $50, even if they DIY!
I’m not a crafty person. If I’m going to learn how to thread a needle and cover a garment in sequins (why are there always sequins?!), I don’t want to also shell out cash that could otherwise buy two weeks’ worth of groceries.
So, what are my options?
Here are a few ways to create cheap and easy Halloween costumes. (And cute. Don’t forget cute.)
1. Work With What You Have
Start by raiding your own closet. What can you piece together from your existing wardrobe? What can you borrow from a sibling, roommate or friend?
The best part about this method? Free Halloween costumes!
A floral shirt you grabbed when it was on sale, only to realize it’s totally gaudy in your mirror at home? Match it with mom jeans and rub some chalk dust on your elbows to go as your elementary school teacher.
Wondering what to do with a vintage dress that doesn’t fit the office or a night out? Add nylons and practical shoes, swoop your hair into a classy coif and call yourself a suffragette.
Other costumes you might already own:
- Turn a denim shirt into a Rosie the Riveter costume.
- A red-and-white striped shirt easily becomes Where’s Waldo.
2. Go Thrifting
If you don’t find what you want in your closet, try a thrift store before heading to a major party store. Many carry discounted Halloween costumes, which could help you get popular items for the kiddos without breaking your budget.
Or peruse the donated clothes, shoes and accessories to piece together a unique costume on the cheap. Bold jewelry, bedazzled hats and feather boas abound at thrift stores — and they’re great costume fodder.
Some costume ideas from common thrift store finds under $10:
- A yellow dress, blue umbrella and yellow flats could turn you into the Morton’s Salt Girl.
- Pick up scrap wallpaper or something similar from the crafty section, pair it with a 90s top and an awkward hairdo and go as an old-school yearbook photo.
- Or grab some cheap jewelry, a feather boa and a picture frame, and go as a glamour shot. (You can call it “ironic” if you don’t want to admit you love the look.)
3. Buy Something You’ll Wear Again
If you do plan to shell out grocery money for a costume, make your costume budget do double duty by plumping up your wardrobe with some fashionable items you wouldn’t otherwise splurge on.
Here are some chic ideas from the Deal Divas at the Tampa Bay Times:
- This green fit-and-flare dress for $80 will turn you into Joy from “Inside Out” and command envy in the office for years to come.
- Pair leopard-print shorts with this Ivy League–inspired KALE sweatshirt for $65 to be a super-comfy Beyonce.
- Join the trend with a fashionable high-waisted skirt or pants and a crop top for $30-$60, and wear it the on the 31st to become Taylor Swift.
4. Recycle Old Costumes
While you may not want to repeat your full costume from last year, you may be able reuse pieces from years past.
If you can mix and match old pieces with what you already have in your closet, this could be a totally free Halloween costume!
More ideas for costume transformation:
- Turn Dorothy into Little Bo Peep by swapping out Toto for a stuffed sheep and the basket for a shepherd’s crook (a wooden cane should suffice for a small child).
- Turn any character into “Zombie [insert character here]” by strategically tearing up the old costume and adding some creepy makeup.
5. Set Up a Costume Exchange
If you’re supplying costumes for kids, hand-me-downs could mean you only have to purchase a new costume every few years — which means tons of savings.
Pool with a group of parents to share gently-used, similarly-priced costumes from year to year. When each Halloween comes around, work with everyone to divvy up costumes and accessories.
This works best with evergreen costumes — but it could also pay off to save your branded character costumes.
For example, Disney’s “Frozen” topped the Halloween most-wanted list in 2014, nearly a full year after the movie was released. It still ranks in the top 10 kids’ costumes for 2015, even above the popular “Minions,” released just this summer.
Here are some costumes that make good hand-me-downs across age, size or gender:
- Pumpkin. Buy or make it large enough for older kids, and fill in the little ones with extra stuffing for over-the-top adorableness.
- A few choice accessories can turn any outfit into a pirate costume.
- For adults or kids, a handmade or store-bought crayon outfit is a quick, simple and nostalgic pick.
6. Find Sales, Deals and Discounts
If you just don’t have the resources or time to search, exchange or get creative, buy a costume.
But don’t pay full price!
Check out these RetailMeNot deals for up to 70% off Halloween costumes, like 20% off any single item at Spirit Halloween or 25% off any order at Halloween Express.
Don’t Miss Out
Let yourself indulge in Halloween fun without breaking the bank. You can create a beautiful costume that inspires envy — and no one has to know you did it practically for free.
Your Turn: What are YOU going to be for Halloween? How are you saving money on your costume this year?
Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. We would have shared them with you anyway, but a true “penny hoarder” would be a fool not to take the company’s money.
Dana Sitar (@danasitar) is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. She’s written for Huffington Post, Entrepreneur.com, Writer’s Digest and more, and she’s still trying to top the crayon costume her mom made for her first Halloween.