I love Halloween. I love watching little kids walk to school in their costumes. I love the excitement in the air as time time to go out draws near. I love helping my kids with their costumes, taking pictures and sitting by the front door with a big bowl of treats as the door bell rings over and over again.


I keep reading news reports about Halloween spending being down due to the economy. There’s no reason you can’t have a great Halloween and do it for a reasonable amount of money. If you want to be cheap, turn out your lights and hide in the basement.

If you want to be frugal, here are some tips:

Think outside the box.

You don’t have to give out candy. One year we gave out play-doh. It was a huge hit. I knew a dentist who gave out toothbrushes. The parents loved that one! How about stickers or smelly markers? Get creative. We average about 120 kids on Halloween so we make sure whatever it is we are giving out, we have about 150 just in case.

Think Costco.

As most of you know, I’m not a huge fan of Costco. For our budget, I don’t find the membership pays for itself. However, for those of you who do shop there, it’s a great place to get Halloween treats. Think outside the box. How about fruit snacks? Kids like them and can take them as a part of their school lunches. I’ve seen some families give out stickers, craft supplies or animal shaped erasers.

I confess, at Halloween I make the trip out to Costco with my parents. They get the rewards through their Costco Amex executive membership card and I get my Halloween supplies for a good price. It’s win win for both of us.

Reuse decorations from previous years.

I use the same Halloween decorations every year. We’ve never had a neighbor gasp in surprise and disappointingly shake their head at the idea that our decorations are the same as last year. They don’t even notice.

Make the pumpkin an event.

For some, it seems a waste to buy an overpriced vegetable, dig out the insides, carve it, stick in a candle, cut it up when it’s done and throw it into the composter.

At our house the pumpkin carving is an event that we all enjoy. We drive out to the nearest pumpkin farm and choose the most perfect locally grown pumpkin we can find. Then every year we try to outdo the design from last year. We compost the insides. We roast up the seeds. For the cost of one overpriced vegetable, we have a whole evening’s worth of entertainment. Now that’s value!

Get creative with costumes.

Don’t flame me here but we’ve never bought our kids a Halloween costume and neither have most of our friends. Most families we know have a dress-up trunk full of costumes collected over the years. Our kids either pick something from the trunk, get creative with what they have or trade off with friends. Most years we’ll get a call asking to borrow something from our dress-up trunk and many years we call around to borrow things from other families. If you know how to sew, all the better! Make something slightly over sized so they can wear it again the following year or lend it to a friend.

There are ways to keep the cost of Halloween down. You don’t have to turn off the lights and hide in the basement. It’s a time to get out, meet your neighbors and have a little fun in the process.

Now if only I could figure out a way to sneak my kid’s Halloween treats without them noticing.

Kathryn works in public relations and training for a non profit. In her off hours, she volunteers as a financial coach helping ordinary Canadians with the basics of money management. Her passions include personal finance and adult education. Kathryn, along with her husband and two children live in Ontario.


  1. Four Pillars on October 6, 2009 at 8:34 am

    I have to agree – I like Halloween as well.

    So far we have just used hand-me-downs for costumes which has worked quite well.

  2. Caitlin on October 6, 2009 at 10:29 am

    We had a big costume trunk too! While my parents never bought us “a costume”, they did like to buy supplies to stock up the truck so we could make practically anything from the items inside. Shiny metallic pipe-cleaners become jewellery, a basic black wig can fit any costume, a few items from the local thrift store and fabric from the discount bin at the fabric store can be reused year after year for a variety of outfits. We always had a blast making our own costumes (and by “making our own”, I mean basically we played in the box and told my mom what we wanted to be, and she made it happen).

    Granted, I grew up in the 80s, when the only store-bought costumes available were plastic masks and plastic smocks with a picture of the character you were supposed to be on the front of the smock. Classy!

    Store costumes have much better variety these days, but they are still generally poorly made and are really intended to only be worn for a couple hours. Costumes you make yourself are always more fun! ^_^

  3. Novice on October 6, 2009 at 10:31 am

    Kathryn — have to say that as a kid, the people giving out toothbrushes go up pretty high on the ‘let’s egg them later’ list…..

  4. Kathryn on October 6, 2009 at 10:41 am

    Caitlin & FP: Great ideas with hand-me-downs and making your own.

    Novice: True enough! He did give out ‘character’ ones so in this case the little kids still thought they were pretty cool. The big kids .. not so much.

  5. Craig on October 6, 2009 at 1:17 pm

    Buy early and in bulk. Will helps cut costs big time. Don’t go for the trendy halloween candy or packaging either.

  6. Alexandra on October 6, 2009 at 2:31 pm

    I just HATE having junk food sitting in my house because if it is in my house, I will eat it. So I buy the most disgusting treats I can find – last year it was bags of fake blood (actually liquid sugar with food colouring in it), eyeball gum, and gummy “hamburgers” and “hotdogs”. The more disgusting it looks, the better – this way the treats end up out the door with the kids instead of in my mouth (and then on my hips).

  7. Dharma on October 6, 2009 at 5:33 pm

    A tip from a Mom of 2…..if your kids like character costumes, go out the week after Halloween with your little ankle biters and have them pick out *next* year’s costume. We generally save about 60-80% on costume blowouts :) Plus you can line the insides of that tickle trunk for “frugal” fun all year. The idea of having the basic wigs, makeup kits, house decorations etc is great and these are all on sale after the big night. (Note this for Christmas as well if you celebrate).

    To make the absorbtion of buying all those candies a bit less expensive we have a party at our house on the Big Night. We get over 500 kids on average so the cost can be staggering!! Our neighbourhood is CRAZY that night and is a hoot! Everyone wants to be where we are because of this. Our evening is potluck for all families/comers with us supplying a BBQ treat for the kids prior to going out trick or treating (so no empty bellies out there roaming the neighbourhood). All the families also bring one big bag of candy each to donate to the cause. Cuts our costs huge….and we get to see all our friends and their kiddies costumes!!!!

    I love Halloween, can you tell? It’s an event for us, on top of the big Pumpkin Carve night we do as well.

  8. Briefcases on October 6, 2009 at 7:26 pm

    I have fond memories of halloween as a child. We usually didn’t have a lot of money, but we still had a good time. My mom often created costumes for us for quite cheap. We always made the pumpkin carving an event too. I loved the baked pumpkin seeds afterwards.

  9. In the Money on October 6, 2009 at 8:14 pm

    I remember when I was a kid, there was this one house that was extremely creative in giving out treats. They had created a wheel that you could spin to see what you would get for a treat. Some were awesome large pieces of candy and the worst was a dog treat. It made for a wonderfully fun time.

  10. Janie Out of Debt on October 7, 2009 at 7:50 am

    I love Halloween. I think this is a great post.

    Best wishes,


  11. Canada Deals on October 7, 2009 at 2:42 pm

    We already do most of the things you’ve laid out here. Great list though! I envy you for the 120 or so kids you get to your door. I wish we could get more than 20 kids to come to ours.

    One of the funniest memories I have of my kids revolves around Halloween. My son was about 4 and we had just started scooping out his first pumpkin. He started playing around with the “guts” and I kept telling him not to when all of the sudden he gave out a little “urp” and promptly threw up inside it lol. Seeing that, mixed with all the slimy pumpkin guts lol, I threw up too.

    He’s 15 now and we laugh about it every Halloween. Good times :)


  12. Paul the Accountant on October 8, 2009 at 6:18 am

    I don’t know if it’s just me but here in the UK Halloween seems to be on the decline, a lot of kids don’t even bother getting dressed up anymore. They just see it as an opportunity to knock on doors and ask for sweets or loose change, sometimes starting a week before halloween!

  13. Becky on October 8, 2009 at 11:37 am

    Why is giving Play Doh frugal? I’d think that would cost a lot more than a bunch of snack sized candy bars.

  14. Kathryn on October 8, 2009 at 3:41 pm

    Becky: They had play-doh for really cheap in small containers specifically designed for Halloween at Costco. It the same price as the chocolate bars but it lasted longer! :-)

    Love the other creative Halloween ideas!

  15. Ms Save Money on October 8, 2009 at 5:51 pm

    I love Halloween – and find that doing paper mache to create halloween decor is the best, most fun, and cheapest way to celebrate.

  16. Ms Save Money on October 8, 2009 at 5:52 pm

    @ In the Money – we had something like that in our neighborhood too – love the houses that dec out all the way – feels more festive.

  17. Cheapskate Sandy on October 10, 2009 at 9:57 pm

    I love this day! :) I round up some young cousins to take them trick-or-treating but it’s really because I want an excuse to dress up. I love it!

    Anyway so my cheap tip is to use face paint instead of all the costumes. You can try Youtube for some creative makeup ideas.

  18. cannon_fodder on October 19, 2009 at 12:01 am

    Don’t forget to get dressed up yourself when answering the door! I did that the first few years when we moved to our house and the kids loved it (or were scared to death).

    If you want a frugal Halloween do what we did – move to a house that only has houses lining one side of the street and most of the people are elderly who don’t give out candy. I miss living in a neighbourhood where there are lots of kids coming around.

    But, I, too have seen a decline in the number of kids coming out as well as the effort made to get dressed up. However, every year always brings an especially cute kid that is so adorable – funny how they tend to get the biggest share of candies.

    Also, if you want to be liked – give out mini chocolate bars. They were my favourites.

    One Halloween memory for me was one of the last years I went out – it was raining all night but my costume was perfect. I went out as a bag of money. Simply put a garbage bag over my head and a big $ on the front. Well, we went to this lady’s house who must have been retired. She had a tray table of hot apple cider with cinnamon sticks in it. I was too young to really enjoy it, but I appreciated the thoughtfulness of her effort.

    Unfortunately, today most parents would neither appreciate nor understand such a gesture.

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