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Several years ago I made the mistake of wandering into the Disney store with my then-6-year-old daughter in early October. You know where this story is going. We left with the full regalia for a Jasmine princess costume, at a total cost of over $75. Then, to top it off, she got terribly sick on Halloween that year and our trick-or-treating only lasted 30 minutes!

I am not the only one who has gone a bit overboard on this holiday. When I put the word out to my personal finance peeps that I was looking for money-saving Halloween tips, Michael Bovee of Consumer Recovery Network told me, “I am not a good money-saving tip guy for Halloween. It’s my favorite holiday and I spend too much on it.” But even he managed to come up with a few suggestions.

So if you love Halloween but don’t want it to break your budget, here are a few suggestions for saving money. After all, that’s what budgeting is about, right? Saving money on the things you don’t care that much about so you have enough money to spend on the ones that you do!

Costumes That Are Fun to Wear, And Buy

Shop now to save on costumes. The hands-down most popular strategy I heard for saving money is to buy costumes at thrift stores. I know this can work: Since our Disney debacle my daughter has found several great costumes that way. But the trick is to shop now. Last year by mid-October, my local Goodwill store was a zoo and everything was picked over.

“It’s harder to save when your options have been picked over. Start planning your Halloween costume now so that you’re prepared and don’t have to take a 2-hour lunch break to find your kids’ costumes,” warns April Lewis-Parks, the editor and writer at MissMoneyBee.com, a blog sponsored by ConsolidatedCredit.org. “I’ve been there, and done it. Let me tell you, it wasn’t frugal or fun.”

Other money-saving strategies include hosting a costume swap with friends or neighbors. Or pull in a favor from a creative friend. “Maybe you don’t have the time, skill or inclination to make one of those clever homemade costumes flaunted in women’s magazine. But maybe your friend or neighbor does,” says Emma Johnson, mother of two who blogs at WealthySingleMommy.com. “If the sizes make sense, ask if you can have or borrow their handmade outfit for next year — after all, it is unlikely they have any plans for it.”

If your kids are heading to more than one party, consider a “3 in 1” costume, suggests Parks. They’re a little more expensive than a typical costume, but cheaper than buying three. I hadn’t heard of these before, so she offered an example: A costume listed on Amazon can be worn as a cowboy, an Indian, or Peter Pan. Who knew?

If you must buy a new costume, at least look for a coupon. You’ll find discount coupons for numerous stores that sell costumes, candy etc. at websites like RetailMeNot.com which tracks Halloween coupons. Or simply type “Halloween coupon code” or “(name of the store) coupon code” into a search engine.

Candy at a Sweet Price

A rather, ahem, creative idea is to recycle candy your kids don’t want. Scott Bilker of DebtSmart.com says that if you have kids, you can send them out trick-or-treating in “waves.” When they get back from the first round, “have them go through their bags quickly and give you the candy they don’t want or you don’t want them to have, and use that candy for kids at the door.” Bilker adds, “It’s not just about saving money but about keeping candy down.”

Or you could avoid buying candy on the most popular Halloween candy list to ensure that kids won’t be hitting your house up for a second round of trick-or-treating.

And of course, this time of year retailers will be offering all kinds of discounts and promotions for treats to get shoppers into stores. Keep an eye out for offers in your Sunday newspaper, or take a quick look at the holiday display when you pop into your grocery store or drugstore and grab bargains.

On the other hand, this is one situation where procrastination may pay. “Wait until a day or two before Halloween and you’ll find lots of great discounts…even on the best candy,” suggest Trae Bodge, senior editor for RetailMeNot.

“Also, when you buy candy in advance, there’s the danger that you might eat it before the big day!”

Bodge also suggests buying in bulk if you expect a lot of trick-or-treaters. “Shopping clubs like Costco and Sam’s Club offer great prices on BIG bags of candy, like $8.52 for a 360 count bag of Dum Dums,” she notes.

Decorations That Won’t Destroy Your Budget

One year my Dad waited for trick or treaters on his porch in a handmade wooden coffin he had bought an Amish auction. No one was bidding on it, so he bought it. (It didn’t end up being particularly cheap, though. He thought he could use it “someday” but my Mom made him get rid of it after it sat in their living room for a few weeks.)

With or without killer decorations, you can still have fun on a modest budget.

“We spent hours decorating with window clings, creating spiders made from black pipe cleaners and gluing foam pumpkins… total cost: $4.50,” says Madison at MyDollarPlan. “The best crafts double as decorations and you’re set.”

And if you’re really into Halloween, you can stockpile items you use to decorate, and only add to your stash after October 31st when those items go on clearance.

“I use the same Halloween decorations every year,” says Kathryn at MillionDollarJourney.com. “We’ve never had a neighbor gasp in surprise and disappointingly shake their head at the idea that our decorations are the same as last year. They don’t even notice.”

Remember Michael Bovee, who says he goes all out for this holiday? He says, “My wife and I have always enjoyed Halloween with our now-teenage daughters. A good part of the fun comes from getting the house ready for trick or treaters. We reuse many of the props we place on the porch each year to make it a spooky walk for kids to get to the pay off — the sweets! We incorporate as much of the fall season into our props as we can. Often times using fallen leaves (which cost nothing if you already own a rake) to frame that plastic carcass in the lawn, or to hide the mobilized spiders that will jump out as kids take to the front steps.”

Finally, one of the best pieces of advice I heard came from Madison at MyDollarPlan who says, “Holidays are all about the traditions. It really doesn’t matter what you do, but if you do the same thing every year, your kids will anticipate your traditions. Make a frugal tradition early on and you’ll be all set.”

Image: Michael Bovee

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