Despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, most Americans are still planning to celebrate Halloween in 2020, and that includes dressing up in costumes. In fact, based on its annual survey of shoppers, the National Retail Federation projects that Americans will spend $8 billion on the holiday this year. Most of that spending is tied between Halloween decorations and Halloween costumes, with $2.6 billion of projected spending on each category.
And it’s no wonder, given the average cost of a Halloween costume is near $40 (and oftentimes more). It’s enough to make any shopper scream — especially if you have a whole family of adults and kids to buy for.
If the cost of a tattered and shredded zombie costume at the average retail store is beyond your budget, it’s time to look for ways to slash the expense.
How to Save Money on Halloween Costumes
While money-saving tips can’t help you decide whether to be a wicked witch or Wonder Woman this year, they can help you shred one of Halloween’s biggest costs. And whatever you choose to dress up as, you won’t have to sacrifice your choice to save money. Sometimes, all it takes is a little creativity and ingenuity.
Before you head to the store, it’s crucial to plan ahead. Careful planning helps you understand your resources so you don’t accidentally exceed them and helps you avoid impulse buys.
1. Make a Budget
While Halloween officially kicks off months of back-to-back holidays — with Thanksgiving and Christmas hot on its heels — many people fail to budget for it. Yet with costumes, spooky decorations, trick-or-treat candy, and sometimes pricey activities (like haunted houses, corn mazes, and parties), Halloween spending easily costs the average family hundreds of dollars. And that means Halloween can put you in the red.
So don’t fall into that trap. This year, create a Halloween budget just like you would for Thanksgiving or Christmas. Even better, get the whole family in on it. Instead of picking costumes for your kids, give them a price limit. Then set them loose in the thrift store or costume shop. That way, instead of being disappointed with the choices you make for them, they get the freedom to choose. As a bonus, you’ll also be teaching them financial independence.
Additionally, consider working a slush fund into your budget for unexpected finds. Set a limit for what you think you’ll need to buy, and then cushion it with a little extra — depending on your resources and what seems reasonable to you. That way, you give yourself a little wiggle room but can still stay within your resources.
2. Stick to a List
To make it easier to stick to your budget, shop with a list. Know exactly what you’re looking for before your eyes take over. Just as with saving money on groceries, if it’s not on the list, you’ll know to skip it.
For example, if you’re shopping for a superhero costume, decide on a mask and a cape and that’s it. So when you spot all those other accessories — like Batarangs, web-shooters, tridents, and shields — you can resist the temptation.
Of course, it’s possible while you’re out shopping to come across things you didn’t know existed. For example, maybe you opted not to get a Batarang for your kid’s Batman costume because you didn’t realize buying a safe foam Batarang was a possibility. In that case, you have your budget to fall back on. Consider the total amount you’ve allotted to spend and decide whether the cape or Batarang matters more to your child.
Alternatively, take the money from your slush fund if you opted for one. It’s exactly the kind of unexpected find it was designed for.
3. Sell Last Year’s Costume
If you aren’t interested in hanging onto last year’s costume, sell it to earn money toward this year’s purchase. While you can’t charge the full purchase price, you can make back anywhere from 20% to 50% — depending on the costume’s condition. People selling their old costumes are the reason there are some to buy in consignment stores today. And plenty of like-minded frugal shoppers would love to get a deal on something you or your child wore only once.
To sell your costume, check out local or national resellers like Once Upon a Child, Plato’s Closet, and Clothes Mentor. Alternatively, look into local consignment sales — especially regional pop-up shops. These are semiannual sales that rent space in community centers like churches and resell babies and kids clothing and things like toys and furniture. Find one by searching your region on Consignment Mommies.
You can also list your costume for sale online with eBay, Poshmark, or ThredUp. These sites allow you to sell and ship your costume to anyone anywhere. Or list locally with a customer-to-customer marketplace like OfferUp or in a Facebook resale group.
If you’re planning to shop for a costume in person, there are several ways to stretch your dollars.
4. Shop Consignment or Thrift Stores
You can find some serious deals on costumes at thrift and consignment shops — and without sacrificing on choice or quality. For example, my son has told me exactly the costume he wanted for the past several years — right down to the color choices. And every year, I’ve found it at a local consignment pop-up for 80% less than I would have paid in a retail store. And they were all in good condition. The costumes sold or donated to consignment and thrift stores are often worn only once. So while they may have some minor wear and tear, it isn’t usually significant.
Plus, depending on what you or your child wants to be for Halloween, it’s possible to piece together the outfit from non-Halloween items you find on the racks. For example:
- Zombie. For a zombie costume, you need clothes you can shred and cover with gore — like fake blood. So if you don’t have any old clothes you no longer wear, the thrift store is the perfect place to find cheap ones you can slash up and add blotches of red paint to.
- Scarecrow. You’ll need to hot-glue or sew lengths of straw, raffia or straw-colored yarn inside the sleeves and legs if you’re going as a scarecrow. So find a pair of denim overalls and a long-sleeved shirt, such as a button-down flannel, from the thrift store. You can also buy other cheap garments to cut squares from to hot-glue to the overalls to look like patches.
- Newt Scamander. A long blue or gray wool coat is the key piece for a costume of Newt Scamander from “Fantastic Beasts.” If you don’t already have one, skip paying retail for a coat you may never wear again and look for something similar at a thrift store. Then pair it with a brown vest, white shirt, black bow tie, and black pants — all of which you could also find at thrift stores.
- Black Canary. This superheroine from “Birds of Prey” wears a pair of bell-bottoms and a gold tank layered over a black corset. Bell-bottom jeans are a vintage piece you might find at a thrift store (though you could opt for more modern jeans with a heavy flair). And you could also score the necessary pieces to complete the rest of her outfit — including the top, shoes, and gold jewelry.
- Government Agent. Whether you’re opting to be a Man or Woman in Black, an FBI agent, or a Secret Service member, you’ll need a black suit, black tie, black sunglasses, and a white shirt. If you don’t already own a suit, you can pay upward of $100 for even an inexpensive one at a retail store. So check the thrift stores instead.
5. Shop at the Dollar Store
While you can reuse decorations yearly, you typically use costumes once. Many of us change our minds about what we want to be from one Halloween to the next, so a costume might get worn to one party or for one night of trick-or-treating before you toss, sell, or donate it.
So when those more expensive Halloween costumes start calling your name, remember that and shop the dollar store instead. While dollar stores aren’t known for stocking high-quality merchandise, you don’t need quality in something you wear once. Plus, dollar stores, including online dollar stores, often stock various generic plastic accessories — from swords and shields to tiaras — that can complete the look of many costumes. And they’re a fraction of the prices available at Halloween stores or big-box retailers.
6. Look Beyond the Halloween Aisle
Costumes are the priciest part of Halloween celebrations because they appeal universally to kids and adults alike. Unfortunately, retailers know that, so price increases are common — just like bouquets of roses suddenly cost 4 times as much on Valentine’s Day. But if you leave the Halloween aisle, you can often score deals on costumes in other departments of the exact same store.
For example, if your daughter has her heart set on being Elsa from “Frozen” this year, check out the toy department’s dress-up section. While an Elsa dress marketed for Halloween costs around $40, you can find an Elsa dress-up costume for $20 in the toy department — and you don’t even have to wait for a sale to score the 50% savings.
Likewise, you can find makeup and even accessories in other departments for significantly less than the Halloween section that you can piece together to make costumes. For example:
- Sabrina Spellman. You can recreate Sabrina the Teenage Witch’s costume from “The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” with a red off-the-shoulder sweater and a short black skirt from the women’s clothing department. Find a chunky black headband from the hair department, and shop your (or a friend’s) closet for her knee-high black boots.
- Wednesday Adams. Get the look of this moody member of the Adam’s Family with a long-sleeve black dress from the women’s or children’s clothing department. To get the look of her dress’s white collar, layer it over any collared white shirt.
- Snow White. Mimic the look of this princess’s iconic dress with a yellow skirt and blue top. Then shop the accessories department for a big, red hair bow.
- The Scooby Gang. Buy everyday clothing that mimics the look of any member of the Scooby gang. For example, find a green T-shirt and brown pants to transform into Shaggy or an orange sweater and red skirt to become Velma.
- Superman. Skip the expensive supersuit and instead buy a T-shirt with Superman’s shield. To cosplay as the Man of Steel during the moment he’s transforming from Clark Kent, pair it with a partially unbuttoned white Oxford-style shirt, pants, and a loose tie — including ones from your own closet.
Additionally, skip the Halloween-marketed makeup and opt for dollar brands like Wet n Wild or E.L.F.
7. Ask About Costumes With Defects
Sometimes, costumes come with slight defects that make them unsellable at full price but don’t significantly compromise the costume’s integrity. For example, a costume may have a small tear that’s barely noticeable. And while large rips and tears aren’t worth the savings, a small tear on a costume your child is likely to wear once anyway can score you significant savings. In fact, you can get discounts upward of 50% on these defective costumes. So it’s worthwhile to ask the store if they have any.
8. Use Coupons
While we all think about coupons for saving money on groceries, it might not be top of your mind when it comes to costume shopping. Yet stores that sell costumes, including Target, Walmart, Kohl’s, Hot Topic, and Spirit Halloween, regularly offer coupons.
And don’t forget to check coupon apps. A smartphone shopping app like RetailMeNot finds any available coupons for the stores in your area, including costume retailers. Also try store-specific apps, which often feature coupons.
9. Use Loyalty Rewards
Store loyalty accounts like Target Circle allow you to earn points toward store credit on your past purchases. You can then use your credit toward your costume purchases. Additionally, many stores have their own apps that alert you to sales, even if they don’t offer rewards points.
Or use an app like Shopkick, which allows you to earn reward points called “kicks” at various retailers, including in-store and online. Once you earn enough kicks, you can redeem them for gift cards to stores like Target, Walmart, and Amazon — all of which sell Halloween costumes.
10. Use Rebate Apps
Some smartphone retail apps — like Ibotta and Rakuten — give you cash back when you shop in-store. First, check the app to see if it offers cash back where you’re shopping. Then link a credit or debit card to your rebate app so it can automatically credit the offer when you check out or scan your receipt. Be sure to check with the app you’re using for their exact procedure.
11. Wait Until the Last Minute
To score the best deals on costumes, buy them the day before — or even the day of — Halloween. This tactic is tricky since you’re not guaranteed to find the costume you want. You’ll have to pick from the leftovers. So if your child would have a meltdown if they couldn’t be exactly what they wanted, it’s best to skip this tip. But for adults who don’t care as much what costume they wear, you can score as much as 75% off the original price shopping the day of.
The moment Halloween is over, stores are eager to switch to Christmas stock. So Halloween merchandise — including costumes — is marked down drastically to move it off the shelves.
12. Buy Next Year’s Costume This Year
While you’re busy sorting through the clearance costumes, pick up anything you can use for next year. This tactic is also tricky since you or your kids are likely to change your minds about what you want to be next year. But occasionally, kids latch onto perennial ideas. For example, when I was growing up, I wanted to be a witch almost every year. But if your kids aren’t like that, you can still score some deals for the future by stocking up on generic products like makeup — just be sure to check the expiration dates.
You can also take advantage of the sales to fill up their everyday dress-up bins. Or use them as Christmas gifts for kids who love to play dress-up.
Online shopping comes with many money-saving benefits, including the ability to easily comparison-shop for the best deals. Browser extensions and flash sale sites also help online shoppers save.
13. Comparison-Shop Online
Finding the best deal often involves going from one store to another to see who offers the most savings. But online shopping makes what could be an exhausting ordeal simple and easy. The Internet gives you access to seemingly limitless information at your fingertips — including the ability to see within seconds who has the lowest price on the costume you want. Just type in the keywords for the costume of your choice, and Google’s Shopping tab will get you search results with prices at both online and physical retailers.
14. Shop Flash Sale & Discount Sites
To score the costume you want at significant savings, try a flash sale site like Zulily. It sells a wide variety of kid and adult costumes at 40% to 70% off retail. So you’re likely to find a costume for whichever latest movie or TV character you’re longing to be at a great price. In fact, I scored my son’s costume for this year for 50% off from Zulily.
Another place to find costumes online to fit your budget is Amazon’s Halloween store. They have a vast selection, so if you can’t find the costume you’re looking for there, you likely won’t find it anywhere. Plus, they feature competitive pricing. And Prime members get free two-day shipping — perfect if you’re looking for a costume last-minute.
Or check out Walmart’s Halloween page. The prices on their costumes are typically the lowest of all the retailers, with average prices of $20 to $30. But they also sell a significant number of costumes for less than $20 and inexpensive accessories like wands, capes, and wigs. And they feature a large selection spread across ages and categories.
15. Use Online Classifieds & Auctions
You can find almost anything you’re looking for on eBay — and Halloween costumes are no exception. So if you like the idea of buying a used costume at a fraction of the original cost but want more variety than consignment shops provide, check out online resale sites like eBay, Poshmark, or ThredUp. Or try a local resale site like OfferUp or a local resale Facebook group — you never know what people might post for sale.
Just as with consignment and thrift stores, you might not need something specially designed as a costume. You can just buy the pieces or accessories to put together your own. And you can definitely find these on resale sites.
16. Use Browser Extensions
While you’re shopping online, don’t forget to use browser extensions like Capital One Shopping. They’ll automatically add available coupon codes to your purchase (and you can put that money toward your savings for Christmas gifts.) In addition to coupon codes, some browser extensions also help you find better prices.
Capital One Shopping compensates us when you get the browser extension using the links provided.
One key way to save money on Halloween costumes is to limit what you buy. But that doesn’t have to mean forgoing your choices altogether. Instead, you can shop strategically to spend money where it counts and save money where it doesn’t.
17. Buy One Great Piece
Instead of buying a full costume, buy one star piece to go with pieces you already own. For example, when I was a kid wanting to be a witch every year, I re-wore the same black dress repeatedly. But I always got a new hat.
Likewise, sometimes, you just need one great piece to turn an outfit into a costume. For example, a cape turns black pants and a white button-down shirt into a Dracula costume. And one year, my husband paired a homemade belt buckle with a yellow T-shirt and jeans he already owned and transformed himself into the spitting image of superhero Luke Cage.
18. Only Buy Accessories
As with buying one single piece, accessories can also transform a basic outfit into a costume. For example, a black leotard and tights from your daughter’s closet become a cat costume with the addition of ears, a tail, and some whiskers drawn on with face paint. And a tie-dye T-shirt and flared jeans become a hippie costume with the addition of a fringed vest and leather headband.
Plus, not only will you save money, your creation will be unique. So your child and another kid will be less likely to have identical costumes. And you’ll be less likely to get into a “who wore it better?” contest with another guest at your Halloween party.
19. Skip the Plastic & Rubber Masks
Halloween masks are one of the pricier parts of a costume, and they can also be dangerous. In fact, Safe Kids Worldwide warns that masks obstruct a child’s vision and should be avoided. So skip the cost and risk, and opt for face paint instead. It’s safer and cheaper, especially when you use products you already own. Eyeliner, for example, is especially great for drawing on mustaches or cat whiskers.
The exception to this rule, of course, is mask-wearing during the coronavirus pandemic. According to CDC guidelines, any time you can’t maintain social distance with those you don’t live with, you should wear face masks, whether you’re at an outdoor Halloween party or trick-or-treating. These masks are breathable and don’t obstruct your vision. And unlike a Halloween costume mask, they’re designed to protect against coronavirus exposure.
- A bloody fangs mask for a vampire costume
- A webbed mask for a Spider-Man costume
- A camo mask for a military costume
- An NFL logo mask for a football player costume
- A glittery sequin mask for a fairy or princess costume
- A glittery scales mask for a mermaid costume
- A white mask for a mummy costume
- A surgical mask for a doctor or nurse costume
- A tie-dye mask for a hippie costume
20. Be Flexible
The more flexibility you have with the Halloween costume you wear, the easier it will be to find one that fits your budget.
For example, if you have your heart set on being a gorilla, you may have to pay quite a bit to get a full suit of fur. But if you’re open to dressing up like any zoo animal, you can purchase the inexpensive lion costume that only consists of a mane, tail, and paint-on whiskers.
Additionally, even if your heart is set on being a particular character, you don’t have to go the “deluxe” route. For example, if you want to be a witch, you can skip the cliche green face paint and ugly prosthetic nose and just go as a normal-looking witch. Or if you have your heart set on being a vampire, skip the Dracula robe and ornate jewelry and dress as a modern version — like any of the vampires from the “Twilight” or “Buffy” series, who wore everyday clothes. That means all you need to vamp up is a cheap pair of fangs, which you can get from the dollar store.
Reuse Costumes & Accessories
With a little ingenuity, you can score free Halloween costumes by swapping with friends or strangers or gradually building up a collection of costumes and accessories you can mix and match to create new looks.
21. Borrow or Swap With a Friend
Ask around to see if any of your friends would like to do a costume swap for Halloween. Be flexible if you go this route, as you have a limited number of costume choices if you trade with friends. But if you don’t have your heart set on something specific, this tip will save you considerable money since you’ll be getting your costume for free.
I did this for years with friends. Every Halloween, we’d get together and raid each other’s collections before heading out to a party. Not only were the costumes free, but we’d also come up with some unique and wild creations by piecing things together.
For the kids, see if you can borrow last year’s costumes from friends and family and offer them your kids’ past costumes in return. Everyone gets the fun of wearing a “new” costume without anyone spending a dime.
And you don’t necessarily need to swap to get the benefit of a free costume. Sometimes, it’s OK just to borrow. One of the reasons buying Halloween costumes is so painful is because kids only wear them once or twice. So chances are you know parents who feel the same way and would be happy to lend you a costume just to get a second use out of it.
Remember that if you borrow a costume, make sure to keep it in good condition. After a night of running around outside and eating candy, it may need a good washing before you return it.
22. Swap With Strangers
The second Saturday of every October is National Costume Swap Day. The “holiday” was created in 2010 by Green Halloween to encourage frugality and cut down on waste. To keep up with the annual tradition, many communities host costume swaps. So check with your local parks and recreation department to see if your community is hosting one.
If not, start your own. Set a time, pick a location — like a local library, park, or community center — and decide on a procedure for dropping off and picking up costumes. Then advertise your swap with your child’s school, in your local community calendar, and on Facebook.
23. Utilize Hand-Me-Downs
Most kids aren’t overly fond of hand-me-downs — especially if you force it on them. Halloween is a time to live out your wildest fantasies and pretend to be the superhero or princess or Jedi knight you always wanted to be. So kids can get pretty particular about their costumes. However, hand-me-downs can still work for younger kids.
Older kids or cousins can pass on costumes to little ones who aren’t yet old enough to understand Halloween and won’t be bothered by a hand-me-down. That way, you can cross at least one costume off your shopping list and still get a cute photo op.
24. Create a Costume Chest
I keep one of those large Rubbermaid storage totes in my garage with all our other holiday stuff. And into this bin go all the costumes and accessories we accumulate every Halloween. I have everything from wigs to Renaissance gowns to swords and pirate pants. And while we typically buy new elements every year, keeping this supply of old costumes and accessories helps cut down on new purchases.
While this idea works best for adult costumes — since adults are less prone to grow out of old sizes — it can also work for kids. Accessories don’t tend to be size-specific. And you can hand down costumes an older sibling has outgrown to younger siblings. Plus, Halloween costumes can gain new life as dress-up clothes when they’re all gathered together for play in a chest or other dress-up storage center.
25. Shop Your Closet
Before you head out to the store to spend money, start with your closet. You may already have key pieces you can repurpose as costume elements. And even if you need to buy or make a few accessories, you won’t overspend if you first take inventory.
For example, you may come across any of these key pieces you can transform into a Halloween costume:
- Athletic Wear. Any of your kids’ sports uniforms easily become a costume of their favorite athlete. Just buy them an inexpensive T-shirt or jersey for their favorite team or player to go with the rest of their gear.
- A Black Dress. Your LBD is the perfect base for a witch costume. Just add an inexpensive hat (you can find these at the dollar store) and some chunky costume jewelry. For an extra touch, fashion a homemade wand from a found twig, like they did on Brisbane Kids.
- A Black Leather Moto Jacket. Pair this with some neon-colored bangles, hair scrunchies, and anything you own with a leopard print for an ‘80s costume.
- A Gray Cardigan. Long-sleeved cardigans are a staple of any school uniform-type costume. For example, one year, I paired one with a button-down white shirt and a gray skirt — all pieces from my own closet — to create a Hermione Granger (from “Harry Potter”) costume. All I needed to buy to complete the look was an inexpensive Gryffindor striped tie.
- Old Clothes. If you have any clothes that have been collecting dust in the back of your closet for years, slash them up and cover them with gore to become a walker from “The Walking Dead.”
Sometimes all it takes is thinking creatively about what you already own. So take a discerning eye to your closet and see if there are ways you can create the costume you imagine from any of the things you already have.
Make Your Own
If you can’t find a low-cost costume you like, one of the best ways to save money is to make a do-it-yourself Halloween costume.
26. Break Out the Sewing Machine
Having a skill like sewing is beneficial when you want to live a frugal lifestyle. That’s especially true when Halloween rolls around each year. If you sew your own costume, you can save a significant amount of money over that $40 one in the store. And you have endless opportunities when you make your own. Depending on your skill level, you can get as creative as you want and design something truly unique and memorable.
Or find an inexpensive pattern for your costume of choice on Etsy or eBay. Skip buying them at a fabric store, where they cost $10 to $20 for a single pattern — undercutting the money you otherwise saved by making your costume yourself.
In fact, beware in general if you go the sew-your-own route. It’s possible to end up spending more than you would buying a costume. So you have to be careful not to overdo it. For example, for my son’s third Halloween, he wanted to be Batman. I scored the exact batsuit he wanted for $8 at our local pop-up consignment shop. But if I’d bought all the fabric, thread, and notions — like Velcro and a Bat symbol for his chest — it would have cost me closer to $20, plus all the labor. So, it doesn’t always pay to DIY.
27. Repurpose Household Items
If you don’t sew or own a machine, you can still make an awesome Halloween costume. A quick search of Pinterest reveals hundreds of ways to repurpose household items to put together a costume.
A few ideas include:
- Robot. Cover repurposed cardboard boxes in aluminum foil to make a robot body. Then cover your arms and legs with dryer vent hoses. Get the full instructions on Dukes and Duchesses.
- Rubik’s Cube. Paint a cardboard box — big enough to slip over your body — black and cover it in squares of colored card stock to make yourself into a Rubik’s Cube (you’ll need to cut a hole for your head and arms, but your legs can go through the open bottom). Then dress in all-black clothes so the cardboard box stands out as the centerpiece of your costume. Get the full instructions on The Benson Street.
- Scuba Diver. Paint a pair of soda bottles blue to look like scuba tanks. Pair with goggles and a snorkel you can buy on discount during an end-of-season sale. Dress in skin-tight black clothes to resemble a wetsuit. Get the full instructions on Delineate Your Dwelling.
- Fairy. Cover wire hangers bent into wing shapes with hosiery stockings in the color of your choice. Embellish the wings with glitter and rhinestones. Then pair them with a fancy dress from your or your child’s closet. Get the full instructions on WikiHow.
You can also make your own Halloween makeup using ingredients you probably already have in your kitchen. Get the full instructions on DIY Boston.
28. Make It a Party
Halloween is one of those holidays that’s fun for everyone because you get a free license to act like a kid again. So invite your friends or family over to have a DIY Halloween costume-making party. Have everyone bring their own stocks of craft supplies to share — including anything you could need to make a homemade costume, such as fabric, colored paper, ribbons, beads, and wire.
Everyone gets to socialize and use their imaginations. But better yet, you’ll all save money by pooling supplies so no one has to run out and buy Mod Podge or glitter. They can just borrow a friend’s.
Halloween costumes are meant to be fun. So get creative and go wild. It’s what this holiday is all about — and why so many love to celebrate it. And despite the stats, there’s no need to spend a lot on a costume to join in the fun. Whether you repurpose something from your closet or shop the sales and thrift stores for clothing you can make the most use of, you can put together an awesome Halloween costume with whatever resources you have. There’s no need to shred your budget to kill it this Halloween.
Are you planning to dress up this Halloween? What will you be, and how do you plan to save money on your costume?