Halloween is fast approaching. Can’t you tell by all the decorations that have been on display in retail stores for the past six weeks already? Now, don’t get me wrong, I love Halloween, always have. It was my daughter’s favorite holiday growing up and we always made a big deal of it but trick or treat is costly, make no mistake. Consumer reports say that in 2018 an estimated $9 billion was spent on the holiday $3.2 billion on costumes, $2.7 billion on decorations, $2.6 billion on candy, and $400 million on greeting cards.
So before we roll out the mechanical crows and screening monsters and light shows, whoa, just whoa.
You can celebrate Halloween for very cheap and still love the holiday by:
- Showing up at church or your local community center and celebrate there instead of handing out candy. I personally love to hand out treats but my partner thinks it is a gigantic waste and sits out the holiday watching hockey upstairs all evening.
- Decorating can cost absolutely nothing. We used to take drapes we had been given for free and hang them on the eves on our front porch. We had ripped them and dyed them and we played spooky music (same old CD of scary sounds lasted years and years and still is good). By the time kids knocked on our front door, they were trembling with anticipation, LOL. I would then reach around with a clawed hand and slowly open the front door. Kids were then screaming in terror and delight. We were, obviously, the most popular house in the neighborhood bar none. Later we bought a fog machine (used) and dry ice but in reality, we could have done without both, our home was incredibly popular because we relied on the most important thing; kid’s imaginations. One year, kids were so thrilled with the skit that they came back assuring me that they didn’t want more candy but could we scare them again? Every production hopes for an encore, what can I say.
- Buying costumes that should never cost more than few dollars courtesy of your local thrift store. As reported in an earlier blog, my daughter loved Interview with a Vampire and she and her friends staged vampire parties for years wearing thrift store finds. A little white power, red lipstick, smoky eyes and off she went to terrorize the neighborhood.
- Buying candy in bulk from the big box store. One large bag does the trick for my neighbor kids.
- Shopping right after Halloween for cheap decorations. We bought a scary rubber mask for just $2 and every year thereafter, made a makeshift hag that sat on the bench on our front porch. One year, my daughter decided everyone had seen her too often and dressed like her sitting perfectly still on the bench so when kids came up and ignored the hag they thought they had seen for years, she would jump at them, send them running and screaming. Delightful. Remember, those 10 year old boys are going to get their learner’s permits to drive in a few short years so get your licks in while you can. And just to be clear, we don’t scare anything in a tutu or panda costume that is two years old. We have scare standards.
- Entertaining teens with simple television classics. My daughter and her friends rolled their eyes when I turned on The Exorcist. After all, they’d yawned at Chucky, laughed at Jason in a hockey mask, mocked Pennywise the horrifying clown, and rolled their eyes at Freddy Kruger. But they had not seen The Exorcist. Those 16-year-old girls ended up sleeping on the floor in my bedroom that night. They never doubted me again.
- Prolonging the trick or treater interaction by dressing up in a lab coat, wild hair and goofy dark glasses and asking who wants to help with your lab experiments? Then have them put their hands in cold spaghetti (brains), gelatin (guts) and grapes (eyeballs) super cheap entertainment and fun. Just put everything in old glass jars or bowls and give the kids a sleep mask to cover their eyes as part of the fun. Watchful parents can stand there and enjoy the fun, nobody has to come into the house because well, stranger danger is a very real thing but everyone can still have fun. The cost? Jars and bowls cost nothing and the total for dollar store pasta, gelatin and even grapes is under $5 (the grapes might cost you a couple of bucks at your regular grocery store if your dollar store doesn’t have a produce section).
- Buying pumpkins the day of or day before Halloween when they are deeply discounted. Prop them up with wigs and food coloring and hats and then use them afterwards. Once Halloween is over with, cut up the pumpkins, roast the wedges and puree them in the food processor. Freeze and use the pumpkin puree as a base for breads, muffins, cookies and deserts. Another something from (almost) nothing. You can also carve your pumpkins and use dollar store plastic lights to illuminate them before using them up as described above, just don’t use real candles.
- Use foamboard to cut out and create a graveyard of tombstones that decorate your front yard. Get your kids to ink them with fun epitaphs.
- Stage a themed holiday party every year and make it your signature annual event if you love Halloween. We did this for years. I knew my party was a hit when people would start calling me in August and oh-so-casually trying to find out what the theme was that year (I never released the theme until Oct. 1st). My friends are very competitive. We did Disney characters one year with nearly very single adult male showing up as Captain Hook for some reason but the best year was when we did a theme of great characters in literature and a couple showed up as the Cat in The Hat (she was the cat, her partner the cat). They won, hands down. I always served a great but cheap main dish like lasgana and a terrific dollar store graveyard dirt cake (recipe below) and everyone brought a side dish. Again, my friends would compete for the coolest Halloween themed dish. We tossed chunks of dry ice in the punch and let it smoke away. Loads of fun and very inexpensive as far as entertaining goes.
- I am very fortunate to live in a diverse neighborhood where people come from all over the world to work hard and find their fortune in Silicon Valley. My former next door neighbors came from India and one year, that very shy mom plucked up her courage and knocked on my door and introduced herself. Seems her kids were dying to participate in Halloween but she had no idea where to start. She didn’t want them to feel left out at school. Had she come to the right place or what? We invited her kids to help us scare up our house by joining in our annual decorating and I explained costumes to her. Her children ended up with astonishing costumes. I had somehow thought she was going to buy them costumes. Nope. As she explained, every girl from her town in India learned to sew and sew well, so she went to make unbelievable costumes every year from there on out with her kids quickly becoming old pros at Halloween, going so far as to explain to their visiting cousins one year that the scary house next door was all for fun, not to be afraid. The moral is, however, sewing is a cool frugal skill to have. That shy frugal mom from India turned her kids into virtual Halloween rock stars every year because man, could she sew. And because we made friends, her kids ended up loving our dogs when they had come from a town that only had wild dogs roaming in packs, something to avoid and fear but once they met our dogs, that changed too and all because of Halloween. Some of the best things in life really are free.
Dollar Store Dirt Cake
Dollar store cake, chocolate (with oil, eggs and water according to package directions)
Dollar store frosting (2 cans, chocolate)
Package of dollar store chocolate cookies
Dollar store vanilla cookies, oval or rectangle shaped
Gummy worms and candy ‘bugs’
Method: Bake the cake according to package directions using the correct amount of oil, water and eggs. Use a rectangle baking pan. Once baked, cool. Frost with the dollar store frosting and grind up the chocolate cookies to a fine powder in the food processor or blender. Sprinkle the ‘dirt’ over the frosting and make headstones about of the vanilla cookies, you may have to shave the edges off to round them out. Decorate the cake with the cookie gravestones, gummy worms and candy bugs on the cookie dirt.
Options: You can create a gate by using sticks of cookies or prezels. Also, considering buying a dollar store doll, cutting off the arms and sticking them into the cake so they are coming out of the graves.