Women’s magazines, radio phone-in shows, all over the Web… I’ve been catching a whole lot of variations on the same thrifty theme. And if your family has decided to try to save money on the whole Halloween trip, you may have been noticing this too.

Photo: Mozo Man

We won’t embarrass any major media outlets by naming names, and I haven’t quoted the words exactly, but the substance of these “top 3” frugal Halloween tips is spooned out by more than one source this season — and I’ve got serious doubts.

Here’s the kind of thing they want you to do:

  1. Costume the kids as homeless people — it doesn’t get cheaper than that, when you can send them out around the neighbourhood in last year’s jacket and their oldest patched jeans;
  2. Decorate your home and yard with everyday items and almost-trash, like leftover candle stubs and toilet-paper ghosts;
  3. Save money on treats to hand out at the door by picking up cheap gum and chips at the dollar store.

Huh! Well, those tips just don’t work for me — and I’ll tell you why:

Poverty ain’t no Halloween costume.

“Costume the kids as homeless people”?

Well, leaving aside the fact that Junior might be scarred for life by wearing his own clothes as a Halloween costume… doesn’t it just seem wrong somehow to dress up as a homeless person in order to get free candy? Anyway, a big part of the whole point of dressing up and going door-to-door for treats is to amuse the neighbours. And they’ve seen your kids in grubbies already: so where’s the old folks’ treat in that?

Do it cheap, sure, but do it right.

One of the best things about Halloween is that it’s a night to let fantasy run free… So instead of money, why not spend a bit of creativity? Sometimes those quick homemade Halloween costumes can be the best costumes, if the ideas are good ones.

If you’re not the sewing-crafter type (or simply don’t have time), make a trip to the local Goodwill or Salvation Army thrift store, or whatever the equivalent is where you live. We’ve got a fabulous chain of super-cheap secondhand shops called Frenchy’s that are always good for a great cheap costume for kids or for adults. Jodi tells me she’s even seen secondhand wedding dresses in there for a ridiculously low price — so there you go, a Bride of Frankenstein costume! Just add a bouquet of dead flowers and the right make-up.

The school that @wadlington‘s kids go to just held a Halloween used-costume sale. “After the sale,” she says, “the leftovers were donated to Goodwill. How great is that? It’s too late now to organize a costume sale for this Halloween, but I’ll bet you’d find a lot of parents keen on the plan for next year, if you brought it up at the next PTA meeting, while the pain and stress of finding (and paying for) Halloween costumes are still fresh in everyone’s minds!

Photo: juhansonin

You can always swap Halloween costumes with friends who have kids the same age, too. This year, your kid goes as an adorable mouse; next year, he moves up to the boy-next-door’s pirate costume?

We used to pass costumes along from older sister to younger, when we were growing up. The trick is to pack them away safely until next year. But you know what? If it’s one of those trendy character costumes straight from the Disney marketing machine, I wouldn’t bother trying to save it for next year — just throw it into the toy box and let the kids wear it to play make-believe to their hearts’ delight, because you might as well put it to use. What are the odds your daughter will have any interest in dressing up as Hannah Montana, by the time next year’s Halloween rolls around? Of course, my parents probably said that exact thing about that Princess Leia costume, way back when… So, who knows? You’ll have to make your own call on that one.

My point is, why dress up your kids as homeless people and make light of something so serious as other people’s misfortune? Especially when there are so many creative ways that you can save money on Halloween costumes.

‘Nuff said.

Now, what about that bad advice on decorating your home for Halloween? We’ll be tackling that tasteful and thrifty issue in the next part of this series, so stay tuned to learn more about toilet-paper ghosts.

This Post Has 5 Comments

  1. domestika

    Great ideas there, guys! Want more?
    Absolutely DO NOT MISS my pal Squawkfox’s 10 Cheap Last-Minute Halloween Costume Ideas to add to her earlier list of costume ideas. These are not only (a) cheap, (b) fast, and (c) creative; some of her “punny” costume suggestions are just ROFLMAO funny!

  2. Adam Snider

    Dress up as the homeless by wearing old clothes? That’s offensive and lazy.

    When I was a kid, it was relatively common to dress up as a “hobo.” Thinking back, I suppose this could have been offensive in the same way as dressing up as a homeless person (since that’s essentially what a hobo is), but it was always that sort of fictionalized “wandering hobo” type character that you’d see in old cartoons.

    And, it was always more creative than just wearing last year’s clothes. We’d wear our dads old trench coats, rub dirt on them, get the fingerless gloves, the ratty hat, use makeup to draw a fake beard…it was a real costume!

    As for decorating your lawn with garbage, that’s got to be the stupidest suggestion I’ve ever heard. That’s like saying, “empty a trash bag on your lawn and call it Halloween decorations.”

  3. WordVixen

    My mother dressed me up as Princess Leia one year. She used one of her plain white blouses & belted it, and made buns out of dark nylon stockings. I think that was it!

    Another year, my brother made me a robot by using a large white box and gluing pinwheels near the top as eyes, and cutting a hole out for the mouth (where I could see out of. Those were my favorite costumes, and super cheap!

  4. kayellen

    Funny post! That picture is a crack up!!
    I told both my teens this year..be creative with what we have around the house and look in all the closets….
    I know they will come up with some great costumes!! and no money out of my pocket!!!
    I know one is done and is going be a black cat…one down:)

    Happy Halloween to you:)

    Here comes November!

  5. John Haydon


    Dressing kids as homeless people is exactly the kind of ignorant, classist advice I’d expect from the major media outlets (wow – that was the shotest I’ve ever ranted!)

    Goodwill is a great idea for costumes. My son’s going to be “Optimus Prime” which was actually pretty cheap at Target.

    Take care,


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