Trick or Treat: Making Cents of Halloween

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Don’t Let Halloween Spook You Financially

Many parents might be hard-pressed to say exactly what they spend most of their budgets on at Halloween, but everyone knows it really adds up. When you think of expensive holidays, Christmas is obviously the first to come to mind, but Halloween traditionally involves some hefty expenditures, too.

Just look at the numbers. Americans have been spending more than $7 billion – yes, billion – on Halloween for years. That figure ratcheted up to more than $8 billion in 2016 and the National Retail Federation expects it to keep climbing.

What’s a Halloween-lover to do if you don’t want to break the bank, particularly with the winter holidays waiting for you right around the corner? You might be surprised to realize just how easy it is to pinch pennies on this holiday without sacrificing anything in the way of enjoyment.

Costumes – The #1 Budget-Buster

Costumes are the big ticket item at Halloween. The National Retail Federation says consumers spend more on these than anything else. This year’s hot, ready-made costume will probably cost you as much as $40 or more.

That’s a lot of money when you might already have a costume or two (or four) lurking in the back of your closet or drawers. Dig through those places for clothing you haven’t worn in forever.

OK, now you have to know what to do with all this stuff. Nobody wants to go out for Halloween dressed as a business executive in a suit you haven’t worn since 2005. Fire up your laptop or tablet and go online. Numerous sites like Pinterest not only provide some good ideas, but they also walk you step-by-step through the "how-do-I-make-this" process. Sew a tail onto the back of those old leggings and you’re halfway to being a mouse.

If your kids just flat-out balk at homemade costumes, consider having a trade-fest with other families. You can turn it into a pre-Halloween party. Have everyone bring their children’s costumes from last year, then everyone can dig in to find one they like.

And watch for pre-Halloween sales. There may be some leftover costumes in the days before the holiday, and retailers really want to sell them. Of course, you’ll have to guesstimate what size your child will be wearing a year from now and this year’s hot costume might be vintage in 12 months’ time. But if you’re brave enough to attempt this tactic, Kiplinger indicates that you can expect to save as much as 40 percent by waiting until October 29 or so to buy.

Stocking Up on Candy

Odds are that you can probably expect a fair number of trick-or-treaters on October 31 if you live in a single family dwelling or a townhouse – anywhere with an approachable front door. You'll probably need a good amount of candy.

If you’ve lived in your residence for a while, you probably have a pretty good idea of how many trick-or-treaters you can expect. Otherwise, ask your neighbors if you’re new to the area. Overbuying candy because you just don’t know what to expect is a real budget-buster, not to mention that you might be tempted to eat all those leftovers yourself.

Nothing says you can’t shop cheaply when you have the number nailed down. Warehouse clubs and thrift stores are great resources. They almost always offer lower prices than your local grocery or drug store. And timing is everything. Even typically expensive stores will begin slashing their candy prices in the days immediately before Halloween because they don’t want a ton of it still sitting on their shelves on November 1.

Skip the chocolate if you want to be frugal. It costs more. Bulk bags of assorted candies tend to be the least expensive, but make sure all those pieces inside are individually wrapped. Otherwise, you’re probably just throwing your money into the nearest trashcan because that’s what most parents will do with unwrapped, unsafe candies their kids bring home.

Don’t feel compelled to buy the most expensive brands, either. The kids probably won’t even notice while they’re collecting it, and you can pretty much be assured that some other neighbor will spend top dollar. No child will be shortchanged at the end of the evening. It will all balance out.

Parties for Young and Old

About that party where you’re going to swap costumes. You’ll need food and drink.

Potluck never fails and usually makes for some good conversation at any time of year. You can put a Halloween spin on it by asking guests to bring a “spooky” contribution to the menu, and a BYOB event is nothing to be ashamed during times when everyone knows money can get tight. As for entertainment, rent or download some scary movies.

You might even want to skip the party at home entirely. Who says it has to take place in your family room or backyard? Grab a copy of your local newspaper up to a month ahead of time, check social media, or make a call to your local chamber of commerce to find out about scheduled Halloween events. Many are free, and even those that aren’t don’t generally cost too much.

Decorations – Doing Your House and Yard up Right

You’ll want decorations even if you’re not planning an at-home party. You’ll want to greet trick-or-treaters in style.

If you can handle making a costume, you’re definitely creative enough to dress your home up for Halloween, too. Sites like Pinterest can help here as well. An old sheet easily becomes a ghost. Old cans and candles can be effortlessly turned into luminaries. And if no one wants to dress up in all those old clothes you found, stuff them with newspapers and turn them into bodies – just keep them safely clear of those luminaries.

If you just really hate crafts and making things, the same store rules still apply: Thrift stores and warehouse clubs have the best deals. Dollar stores are also great for decorations, even those that squeeze in merchandise for $2 or $3 instead of just $1.

You might also find some really good deals online. And if you begin shopping early enough, you can keep an eye out for coupons and other deals and pounce on them when they become available.

About That Pumpkin

No Halloween is complete without a pumpkin. This is another purchase that will typically be much less expensive on October 29 or 30, but what fun is that? One of the best parts of the holiday is that jack-o-lantern lighting up your front porch for weeks ahead of time.

By the end of September, most grocery stores will have pumpkins piled up at the front of the store or right outside, but you’ll pay top dollar. You’ll spend somewhat less at a farmer’s market, and you can stretch your dollars into double-duty if you also make pumpkin-gathering a part of your holiday festivities.

Many farms allow kids to roam their fields to gather up their own pumpkins. The hunt is often free, although you’ll pay for the pumpkins. Call around to compare prices if you have more than one such market in your general area.

And if you want that grinning, gap-toothed pumpkin to last until the end of October, you can extend your pumpkin’s life if you clean the inside out with bleach and water after you scoop it out. Then let it sit and dry for a couple of days before you carve it, and apply petroleum jelly to the cuts. You don’t want it to dissolve into a mushy, orange puddle by Halloween night or you’ll have to buy another.

You might even want to clean and roast those scooped-out pumpkin seeds for a snack rather than toss them out, or you can use the pulp in pumpkin bread or pie if you’re really savvy in the kitchen. But even if it all goes down the garbage disposal, you might not wince at the cost of pies come Thanksgiving because you saved so much money at Halloween.