They say $20 doesn't buy what it used to. However, with a little careful planning, you can enjoy all your favorite Halloween treats for less — and that's no trick.
With Halloween rapidly approaching, we asked personal finance experts and frugal living masters to share the best Halloween activities for revelers on a budget. Click through to find out how to have fun this Halloween without spending a scary amount of cash.
1. Attending a Fantasy Fest
Stacy Johnson, founder of Money Talks News, put together some timely and affordable Halloween costumes just in time for the bursting of the housing bubble.
“My wife and I always attend Fantasy Fest, a multi-day costume party held annually during Halloween at Key West, Fla.," he said. "Back in 2009, during the height of the housing crisis, while packing our extensive list of costumes, on a lark [we] threw two old real estate signs in the trunk of the car. One said, ‘Foreclosure’ and the other ‘Bank Owned.’"
Johnson said that he and his wife found some string to tie the signs around their necks. "My wife put on an American flag bikini, then put on the 'Bank Owned' sign. I bought a simple walking cane at Walgreens, put on the ‘Foreclosure’ sign, walked with a limp and thus instantly became ‘Foreclosed (Dr.) House.’"
In total, the costumes cost less than $10. And Johnson said that he and his wife have never been photographed more.
2. Going on Free Hayrides
Barbara Friedberg is a personal finance writer and expert on how to celebrate Halloween on the cheap. She explained how she and her daughter have spent Halloween in the past.
"My daughter's birthday is the end of October, so Halloween is an important holiday for our family," she said. "As we live in a cost-conscious fashion, every year we manage to get a lot of bang for our Halloween buck. From getting a free hayride at the pumpkin patch to watching Halloween neighborhood parades and pumpkin carving — Halloween is one of the most 'bargain' holidays."
Friedberg also recommends baking Halloween cookies with the kids or hosting a Halloween party to decorate some.
3. Getting Thrifty With Costumes
Deacon Hayes of Well Kept Wallet discovered an easy way to achieve a cheap Halloween experience — and create a memorable costume.
“I do recall buying a green jacket at a thrift store at the last minute to go to a Halloween party, and I am sure I paid less than $20 for it," he said. "I told people I was going as a professional golfer, as a green jacket is what they receive as a winner at the Masters.”
4. Making DIY Halloween Costumes
Barry Choi of Money We Have proves that money doesn't have to constrain your creative genius when it comes to your ideal Halloween costume.
“I'm a huge fan of 'Toy Story,' but I could never justify the costs of buying a legit Buzz Lightyear costume, so I decided to make my own," he said. "I bought a disposable coverall and used colored sharpies to make my space suit. I definitely wasn't going to infinity and beyond, but everyone was impressed by my creativity."
Need Inspiration? Last-Minute DIY Halloween Couples Costumes for Under $20
5. Attending My Daughter’s Halloween Play
Cameron Huddleston is a GOBankingRates featured writer and an expert on personal finance. With a little creativity, she was able to find some kid-friendly things to do on Halloween for under $20.
“I just spent $15 ... on tickets for me, my husband and my son to watch my daughters perform in a Halloween-themed play," she said. "It was actually a series of ghost stories from the days of old train travel re-enacted on restored train cars at a historic rail park museum where I live. It was such a thrill watching my girls act — and slightly creepy seeing how convincing [they] were in their roles. It was perfect for getting in the mood for Halloween."
6. Making an Imperfect Pumpkin Pie
Bobby Lee of 2 Minute Finance honed his inner craftsman to celebrate Halloween on a tight budget.
“The best $20 I’ve spent on a Halloween experience was to make a pumpkin pie from scratch. I can’t cook, can’t bake, didn’t want to go out trick-or-treating, nor did I want to hand out candy."
A self-described pie aficionado, Lee decided to spend the evening learning to bake.
"Through trial and error, and a lot of effort, I spent a good part of my evening making a perfectly mediocre scratch-made pumpkin pie," he said. "Given how much time, effort and ingredients went into the pie, I will never again take the value-priced $4.99 grocery store pumpkin pie for granted."
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7. Playing Low-Cost Halloween Games
Deals expert Kyle James of Rather-Be-Shopping.com is no stranger to finding affordable ways to celebrate Halloween.
"A couple years ago my wife and I decided to take Halloween to the next level with my three young kids," he said. "For about $12 we played some very memorable 'Halloween' games. We started with a mummy wrap using toilet paper, where the kids took turns doing a full body wrap on each other. By the time they were done, all you could see were their eyeballs."
Next, James and his family played a 'Fear Factor' game using their mouths to find gummy worms and gummy spiders in a pie. The cost of these memories? Priceless.
8. Throwing a Discount Halloween Party
Benjamin Glaser of DealNews knows that hosting a Halloween party doesn't mean blowing your budget.
“Last year, I threw a Halloween party, probably for not much more than $20," he said. "My friends brought drinks and snacks. I put on a Halloween playlist from Spotify — I have the free version — and played a scary movie on Netflix ($7.99 a month) on mute. We played Cards Against Humanity, which is the perfect party game, especially for Halloween; and it's actually available to download for free. You'll have to print the cards yourself though."
9. A Memorable Haunted House Experience
Joe Saul-Sehy of Stacking Benjamins had a mixed Halloween experience with his spouse. For $10, the couple visited a haunted house, which was essentially just a big tent with walls in a parking lot. His wife thought they had a great Halloween, but he felt differently.
"Before I tell you about the experience, let me say that I'm terrified of anything remotely Halloween-ish. I don't like scary movies, can't stand spooky books, don't like even the Halloween stores much," he said. "When we walked into the first room, I was already gripping her hand so tight she complained. We then crossed the room — full of caskets — to a narrow hall. The lights go out and it's dark. I have to use my hands to find my way. I'm sure I'm going to press against something horrible any second."
And Saul-Sehy did, encountering fake spider webs, ghouls and two men with chainsaws.
"In total, our $10 donation had bought us about four whole minutes in that haunted house," he said. "While the value wasn't good, that $10 really funded the hundreds of times Cheryl's told that story to everyone we know."
10. Dressing Up as a Rock Star
Brent Shelton of FatWallet paid homage to the days of grunge rock for his DIY discount Halloween costume. The event was a Dead Rock Stars Masquerade, and his costume of choice was Woodstock-era Shannon Hoon of Blind Melon. Luckily for Shelton, this just meant buying a $7 bathrobe.
“Knowing the party would accommodate the likes of Hendrix, Cobain, Joplin, Garcia, Marley and other super-famous rock legends, I wanted to come as a dead rock star that was more obscure, but memorable," he said. "[He was] most famous for one huge legendary festival performance — Woodstock ’94 — and a hit song/video called 'No Rain.' Nothing else but a barefoot and carefree hippie singer. What a gas."
11. Pulling Tricks on Trick-or-Treaters
Jim Wang of Wallet Hacks makes discount Halloween more fun by deceiving trick-or-treaters just a little.
“When you're giving out candy at your house, make a few 'feel boxes,'" he said. "You cut a hole — big enough for a hand — in a cardboard box, put something in it and then ask your visitors to guess what it is."
He recommends putting peeled grapes for eyeballs, wet noodles for worms or a cold wet sponge for brains to completely throw them off.
12. Making a DIY Halloween Kid Costume
Personal finance journalist Trae Bodge described one of her favorite budget Halloween experiences.
“My favorite under $20 Halloween experience was the year my daughter and I collaborated on a wreath crown for her 'forest queen' costume," she said. "We went to a craft store and wandered the aisles choosing the perfect feathers, flowers and leaves to incorporate into the crown. We also bought a spool of floral wire."
Her final total was about $18. "At home, we wove everything together until the crown she had imagined was hers to wear," said Bodge. If you have kids, check out these DIY Halloween kids' costumes for under $10.
13. Visiting a Neighbor’s Haunted House
A Money Crashers staple, David Bakke had a great haunted house experience for less than $20.
"The best Halloween experience I ever enjoyed for under $20 was a haunted house set up by one of my neighbors recently," he said. "They really did it up right — the outside of the home was decorated as a cemetery, there was spooky music playing, and there were folks dressed up in goblin costumes who served as impromptu guides."
Along with different color light bulbs, the house featured fake bats, cobwebs, ghosts, snakes and a few fog machines, he explained. The best part about it though was that it wasn't too over the top, so it was enjoyable for the kids, as well.
"They didn't charge an admission, but only asked for a donation at the end if the guests felt inclined to do so. I left them $15 because it was such a job well done," he said.
14. Discount Halloween Party Ideas
Howard Schaffer of Offers.com didn't have a cheap Halloween experience of his own to share, but he did put together a list of Halloween party ideas that will spare your wallet.
- Send free digital invites. Look to sites like Evite and Minted for creative designs.
- Bring your own alcohol and encourage friends to do the same.
- Throw your party late in the evening. Guests won't expect a full dinner, and you can invite them all to bring appetizers and desserts to share.
- Get crafty in the kitchen. You can whip up snacks that are both enchanting and inexpensive.