Halloween is Deborah Wakefield’s favorite holiday. In fact, though Wakefield travels most of the year as vice president of media relations for CityPASS, a company that sells discount ticket packages to top U.S. attractions, she refuses to schedule business trips around Halloween. Instead, the Portland, Oregon, resident and her husband make an annual pilgrimage to her parents’ Aberdeen, Washington, home in a neighborhood that attracts hundreds of trick-or-treaters. They and other family members arrive a few days early to help her parents prepare for the big night.
“Halloween is the one holiday where we can get together and have fun with no worries about dividing our time between in-laws or exchanging presents,” she says. “Dad goes overboard on decorating the exterior of the house. There’s a smoke machine by the front steps, ‘tombstones’ on the lawn, carved pumpkins lining the walkway, and a projector casts shadows of ghosts and skeletons on the curtains.”
As much as they love Halloween, the Wakefield clan keeps a watchful eye on their budget. Because the scariest part of Halloween can be the amount of money you spend on candy, costumes, decor and parties.
But there are ways to celebrate without emptying the coffers. Below are tips from the Wakefields and others.
■ Stake out stores early.
You’ll find the best deals on candy, costumes and decor one month before Halloween, says Melissa Cid, site manager for MySavings.com and mother of two boys, ages 8 and 11. If you wait until a week or so before, you’ll pay top dollar. Wakefield’s husband, Mark Catanese, keeps a watchful eye on his neighborhood warehouse store and shops the first day full-size candy goes on sale for the best selection. Retailers such as Target may even offer a one-day-only discount coupon on Halloween-related merchandise, so look out for that as well.
■ Don’t overlook local drugstores.
They offer promotions and coupons for candy, decor and costumes you can combine with seasonal sales, and you may also earn extra reward points. Drugstores may also hold a buy-one-get-one-free deal on “fun-size” candy.
■ Save on the small stuff.
Dollar stores or online retailer Oriental Trading Company are good places to find inexpensive reusable trick-or-treat bags, plastic treat buckets, spider clings, reusable decor and battery-operated flashlights. You can use the flashlights when walking your neighborhood, or cover them with pieces of colored gel to add a spooky element to your home.
■ Find cheaper costumes.
Many thrift stores such as Goodwill, Salvation Army and Savers embrace Halloween with an entire section, including new and gently used costumes for adults and children probably worn only one or two times. Recently during a totally unscientific survey of local retailers, I spotted some impressive (under $20) full-blown costumes complete with accessories at warehouse stores. Ask friends and neighbors if they want to swap costumes, either because their kids have outgrown them or they just want to change it up. Wakefield suggests parents repurpose outfits their children are already wearing, such as recital costumes from a dance class, gymnastics leotards (add a gold medal on a ribbon and you have a Simone Biles costume) or sports uniforms (with a blacked-out tooth, a kid can be hockey player Alex Ovechkin).
Make your own.
Smart shopping expert Trae Bodge of Montclair, New Jersey, says she collaborated with her daughter, Sadie, when the preteen chose to be a Forest Princess. The duo bought a long dress at a thrift store and silk flowers and leaves on clearance. Sadie contributed to the design and helped with the sewing and gluing. “We attached flowers and leaves to the dress and made a crown of flowers and feathers,” Bodge says. “It was fun making it together, and we really bonded.” For costume ideas and how-tos, look online. There’s a list (to which I contributed) of more than 100 inexpensive and easy ones at LivingontheCheap.com.
Eat and party for free.
In past years, restaurants and retailers such as IHOP, Krispy Kreme, BurgerFi, Chuck E. Cheese and Voodoo Doughnut have offered free food and treats in the days leading up to Halloween. Some want you to dine in costume; others offer the freebies to all. Also check for free community events. Many are held the weekend before Halloween. In Miami Lakes, Florida, where Cid resides, the city stages a free Halloween bash that includes haunted houses, candy, a costume parade and trick-or-treating. You can probably find something similar sponsored by your town, library, recreation center, schools, churches or shopping centers.
Find cheaper haunted houses.
Leonard Pickel, who owns Hauntrepreneurs, a company that helps design spooky attractions, doesn’t consider Halloween a kid’s-only holiday. Adults love to be frightened, too, and haunted houses deliver with movie-quality sets and props and bigger and better scares, says Pickel, who has designed and built haunted houses worldwide for 40 years. As attractions increase the scare quotient, the price of admission rises, some topping out above $40. To save some bucks, visit early in the season (some open in mid-September) or on a Thursday or Sunday. Look for online discounts through Groupon. Local restaurants and bars also may offer Halloween dining deals, drink specials and bar crawls for adults.
Haunt your own home.
“Home haunters,” a term for those who dress up their houses, are always on the lookout for items that can be transformed into a Halloween element. “It’s amazing what people throw away on trash day or sell at a garage sale,” Pickel says. “Look for light fixtures, dolls, old suits and construction materials.”
Foam insulation sheets are easy to cut, carve and glue together to create props such as small tombstones or three-story crypts. Be sure to use latex paint, as oil-based will dissolve the foam. An easy DIY: Cut and paint Styrofoam to look like old boards, then attach with Velcro strips to your windows so it appears your house is boarded up.
One of Pickel’s favorite techniques is to take something new and make it look old. Using rust color primer, spray-paint the object, toss dirt on it and let it dry. Don’t wipe off the dirt. Instead, spray it with the primer again. This works with items such as plastic cauldrons or lamps so they look corroded.
Larry Wakefield, Deborah’s father, crafted tombstones out of scrap lumber and leftover gray paint. One of his cleverest ideas was to buy plastic pumpkins at a dollar store, cut off the bottoms and make a slit down the back. The pumpkins simply slide over the porch lights so they are lighted from the inside.
Buy now for next year.
Those serious about Halloween savings need to shop on Nov. 1 for anything that will store well. This includes hard candy, chewing gum and lollipops. Cid has found string lights, plastic pumpkins and treat bags for under $1. Pickel looks for Halloween props. Sales typically start at 30 percent off and eventually reach 90 percent. And here’s a tip: Many Target stores donate unsold seasonal items to their nearby Goodwill. So you may find leftover Halloween goods at the ubiquitous thrift store in late November at bargain-basement prices.
Deborah Wakefield is one of those post-Halloween shoppers. “My dad’s birthday is in September, and for gifts he wants Halloween decor. Every year right after Halloween we look for stuff at half-price, buy Dad’s gift and give it to him 11 months later.”