We all know dressing up for Halloween, whether for trick-or-treating or parties, can get pricey fast. A quick scan of the costume aisle at any retail store reveals average prices of $25 to $40 per outfit. And if you’re buying for a whole family of revelers, it’s enough to make any shopper scream.
But there’s no need to miss out on the fun. If the cost of a tattered and torn zombie costume at the average store is beyond your budget, there are plenty of 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 and 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. Even so, many of us opt for costumes, spooky decorations, Halloween candy, and sometimes pricey activities (like haunted houses, corn mazes, and parties). And that means Halloween can put you in the red.
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. If it’s not on the list, you’ll know to skip it.
For example, if you’re shopping for a witch costume, decide on a hat and a cape and that’s it. So when you spot all those other accessories — like brooms, wigs, and wart-covered noses — you can resist the temptation.
Of course, it’s possible to come across options you didn’t know you had. For example, perhaps you didn’t know a kid-safe foam Batarang existed. 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. You can’t charge the full purchase price, but you can make back anywhere from 20% to 50%, depending on the costume’s condition. Plenty of like-minded frugal shoppers would love to get a deal on something you or your child only wore 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. Or type “consignment sale near me” into an online search.
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 Nextdoor 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 or places like Goodwill. And you don’t have to sacrifice selection 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 for a new costume 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 family members want to be for Halloween, you can piece together the outfit from non-Halloween items you find on the racks. For example, you can put together a government agent costume with a black suit and tie, dark sunglasses, and a white button-down. But if you don’t already own a suit, even an inexpensive one at a retail store can cost upward of $100. 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 at 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 standard — just like bouquets of roses suddenly cost four times as much around Valentine’s Day. But if you leave the Halloween aisle, you can often score deals on costumes in the store’s other departments.
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.
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. 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 using coupons at the grocery store, it might not be top of mind when it comes to costume shopping. Yet stores that sell costumes regularly offer coupons. For example, check Target, Walmart, Kohl’s, Hot Topic, and Spirit Halloween or search for your favorite store plus the word “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 programs 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. 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 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 they mark down Halloween merchandise drastically to move it off the shelves.
11. 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 comparison-shop for the best deals effortlessly. Browser extensions and flash sale sites also help online shoppers save.
12. 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 the shopping tab on search engines like Bing or Google will let you see results with prices at both online and physical retailers.
13. Shop Flash Sale and 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. I scored my son’s last costume 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.
14. Use Online Classifieds and Auctions
If you like the idea of buying a secondhand 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 Nextdoor 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.
15. Use Browser Extensions and Rebate Apps
While you’re shopping online, don’t forget to use browser extensions like Rakuten, Honey, or Capital One Shopping. Typically, browser extensions give you rebates on your purchases — a certain percentage of cash back that varies from retailer to retailer. Depending on the browser extension, you can generally redeem your cash back for either cash or gift cards.
Additionally, some browser extensions add available coupon codes to your purchase. Some also help you find better prices.
You can also use a rebate app like Ibotta to shop for costumes. Ibotta gives you cash back on your purchases when you shop using your computer’s browser. Additionally, you can get cash back from retail stores when you shop through Ibotta’s smartphone app.
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.
16. Buy One Great Piece
Instead of buying a full costume, buy one major 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.
17. 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.
18. Skip the Plastic and Rubber Masks
Halloween masks are one of the pricier parts of a costume, and they can also be dangerous. Safe Kids Worldwide warns parents to avoid costume masks, which obstruct a child’s vision.
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 is mask-wearing during the coronavirus pandemic. The current Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines recommend all unvaccinated individuals wear masks indoors and whenever they’re unable to maintain a safe social distance from others, such as in crowded outdoor settings.
Thus, Halloween 2021 is likely to look a lot like Halloween 2020, with mask-wearing standard practice at Halloween parties, when out trick-or-treating, or when handing candy to trick-or-treaters. Fortunately, unlike a Halloween costume mask, surgical and cloth face masks are breathable and don’t obstruct your vision. And it’s even possible to make them part of your costume, such as a vampire teeth mask for a vampire costume or a tie-dye mask for a hippie costume.
If you want to incorporate one into your costume, make your own or find one made for you on Etsy.
19. 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 fur suit. 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 you want to be a particular character, you don’t have to go the deluxe route. For example, if you want to be 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.
Likewise, if you’re longing to be a superhero, dress as their plainclothes secret identity instead of springing for the full supersuit. You can match an everyday outfit with something distinguishing to pull off many superhero looks. You just need to include an element that hints at the superhero identity, such as a Superman T-shirt peeking from underneath your Clark Kent button-down.
Reuse Costumes and 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.
20. 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.
21. 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.
22. 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.
23. Create a Costume Chest
I keep one of those large 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.
This idea works best for adult costumes since they’re less likely to grow out of old sizes. But 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.
24. 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, any of your kids’ sports uniforms or equipment easily become the 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.
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 your own Halloween costume.
25. 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 do it yourself.
26. 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.
For example, to transform into a robot, cover cardboard boxes in aluminum foil, tape, and various widgets to make a robot body. Then cover your arms and legs with dryer vent hoses.
27. 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 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.
But 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, you can put together an awesome Halloween costume with whatever resources you have. There’s no need to tap into your winter holiday budget to kill it this Halloween.