When bills and living expenses are lurking in the shadows of every corner, Halloween spending can be a scary thought.
Halloween is fun, but prices of costumes, decorations and candy can be more of a trick than treat if you're not careful.
The excitement has been building at my house since August. My son, Noah, had decided to be Batman months ago. My husband, or "DJ Dad" as Noah calls him, has decided to make a ghost-themed dance party in the front yard for the trick-or-treaters.
Luckily, we've figured out how to pull it all off for very little money.
Thrift stores can be an awesome source for Halloween. For Noah's costume, we found impressive bat wings at Savers, 5845 E. Broadway. You pull the string and the wings come up. They sell on eBay upward of $70. We paid only $7. He's going to pair that with a costume a friend gave us. Bam! Costume for $7. Plus, it's something he'll use over and over.
I went to Casa de los Niños Thrift Store, 1302 E. Prince Road, to see if I could find two costumes each for $10 or less . What I ended up with was six costumes for a total of $8 - a couple of them brand-new, still in the package.
Tammy Dominguez, production manager for Casa de los Niños Thrift Store, said the store puts out Halloween merchandise in early September. But, for those of us who aren't always (or never) early on costume shopping, there's no need to worry. The store still has plenty of costumes, ranging in price from $3 to $5. Plus, they are 50 percent off. Dominguez said as Halloween gets closer, the discounts get higher.
If prepackaged costumes are not your thing, a thrift store is the place to be to mix and match. "You can find bear gloves and a spooky mask and pair it with a Superman cape or a ballet dress," Dominguez suggests. "Coming into thrift stores is like a treasure hunt. You can come in with one idea, and see so many things you end up with something different."
I went to Speedway Outlet, 5421 E. Speedway, to try my hand at putting something together. I found a cat hat with an adorable face, ears, whiskers and a tail . So, I looked around until I found a complementary black jumpsuit to make a cat costume. Total - $1.75.
For the creative types, creating their own costumes is an option. Rachel Mosher, a 30 year-old preschool teacher and mother of two, makes costumes her kids will wear again. This year she made a shark costume out of a hoodie for her 5-year-old son and an Elmo tutu for her almost 2-year-old daughter. Mosher used items she had at home, so she ended up spending about $10 for both costumes. And the kids will wear the costumes again.
Mosher's biggest money saving tip? Make it reusable. She said she'd much rather spend $30 on something the kids will wear all year, opposed to something they'll only wear one night.
Between dollar stores, thrift shops and items at home, you can decorate without spending a lot.
"Don't ignore the Dollar or 99 Cent Store," said Tucson mom, Ann Tarwater. "They have some neat stuff this year." One of Tarwater's favorite finds is solar lights, which she uses to backlight decorations.
All three thrift stores I visited - Casa de los Niños Thrift Store, Speedway Outlet and Savers - have regular items you can turn into decorations, such as candlesticks to which you can add cobwebs , bowls you can spray paint black or orange for candy dishes, picture frames you can add scary pictures to. The possibilities are endless.
Or, look around your house and see what you have to work with. I bet you already have items you can turn into decorations.
"Using stuff you already have on hand is the cheapest," Tarwater said. She gave an example of using a kitchen trash bag, a marker and a balloon for a ghost. "After the night is over, pop the balloon and reuse the trash bag in the kitchen."
Tarwater's son, Kyle, used his electrical box in front of his house as the centerpiece for a Halloween decoration. He bought clothes from the Goodwill and used an old hard hat he had on hand to make it look like an "electrical guy that got zapped." To add ambience, he played sounds of a hot electrical wire on a CD player.
For our ghost-themed dance party, we got three big sheets - from Speedway Outlet and Savers for about $9 all together - to drape over our three citrus trees. We painted ghost faces on each of them and will light them from behind.
To make hanging ghosts, I got white balloons, a marker and a flimsy white curtain for $4 total. There are enough to make at least six ghosts. Here's how to put it together: Blow up a balloon and draw a face on it, with the tied end on top. Cut a small hole in the middle of the fabric, tie a string on the balloon and string it through the fabric to hang out on the patio.
We spent less than $15 - mostly at local thrift stores - to decorate our yard. It's a good example of using what you have at your house combined with thrift store finds to pull off decorating on a budget.
Ellen and Peter Staab are making a haunted house the kids can walk through on Halloween night, using mostly found or recycled items and handmade props.
They made a one-way see-through mirror they call the "Bloody Mary Mirror" with scraps of wood, plastic and window tint. To hang cobwebs and partitions, they are using recycled shelves. The partitions will be made of cut up plastic bags, rather than buying tarps and sheets.
The Staabs also glued plastic spiders onto strings of lights and got plastic eyeballs to put in mason jars full of colored water for added creepiness. A stuffed pair of work coveralls will be a headless guy sitting on a couch.
"We are really trying to stay cheap and make things ourselves," Ellen Staab said.
You don't have to be elaborate.
I found a really cool pumpkin faces idea on Pinterest to make your windows look like they're broken. All you need is frosted contact paper. Cut it apart to look like broken glass and stick it either on the outside or inside of the house. It would be cool to pair that with a windowsill display: stacks of jars of colored water and eyeballs, spiders or bats floating in them.
Tarwater has another good tip. She said she uses fall decor, like scarecrows, for Halloween so it lasts through Thanksgiving. Her ceramic jack-o'-lanterns are turned around after Halloween to add to her Thanksgiving decorations.
Crafts and treats
Mosher enjoys doing Halloween theme crafts and activities with her kids, rather than buying decorations.
"We make pumpkin spice play dough ... or we'll play with baking soda and vinegar in a plastic pumpkin," Mosher said. "I say we're making potions and they love it."
Mosher says making your own play dough is "way cheaper than buying it." Plus, you can make different scents to go with what time of year it is. (See the recipe box on Page E10 to learn how to make it.)
Buying candy can add up as well. The dollar stores may not be the way to go, either. Renee Duffin, a stay-at-home mother of two said she doesn't find dollar store candy to be a good value because of the smaller bags.
Duffin starts shopping for candy about a month before Halloween. She uses candy coupons paired with sales at Target or Fry's to get the big bags of the good stuff.
"When you can get the larger bags for $2 to $3 after coupons and get five times as much candy, it works out better than the dollar bags," Duffin said. It's worth it to put the work into the coupons and sales to get the better candy, she added.