How to Save on Halloween Candy, Costumes and Spooky Decor

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Lincoln, Nebraska. Wearing Halloween costumes, a father holds his daughter.
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By Erin Coduti

The easiest way to save cash on Halloween is to hide inside with your lights off and pretend you're not home. But who wants to be a Halloween Scrooge? If your answer is "Me!" you should probably try a different article. For everyone else, we've gathered up some tips to help you save on treats, costumes, and spooky decor.

Consider Going Non-Chocolate for Candy

In 2013, Forbes estimated $39 was the average amount spent by Americans on Halloween candy. That's probably crept up a little since, but is still likely in the $40 range. How can you cut that down and still have happy trick-or-treaters?

First off, let's set our baseline. While you can easily hand out more or less, two fun-size bars per house seems to be common, and such bars weigh half an ounce to 1.5 ounces. Chocolate treats tend to cost between 20 and 30 cents an ounce at full price, giving you an average spend-per-treater of about 50 cents.

One thing you can do is avoid the chocolate. Dedicated chocoholics may be frowning, but hard candy like Smarties and Jolly Ranchers ring up at closer to 15 cents an ounce. You could spend only 30 cents a kid to hand out the same amount of candy by weight. (Your handout would be much bigger in quantity -- instead of two mini-bars, two ounces of Jolly Ranchers is 10 pieces of candy.)

Clip Coupons and Buy Last Minute

Of course, you can pay less for any type of candy by shopping smart. Halloween candy coupons tend to be released throughout October, while prices in-store often drop in the last day or two before the holiday. If you clip coupons early and buy last-minute, you can sometimes stack your savings. If you'd rather buy early, choose your store carefully. Some good bets include hitting up the dollar store or buying in bulk from an online seller or from a membership store like Costco (COST) or Sam's Club (WMT).

Control Portions Yourself

Another tip is to put the candy in Trick-or-Treaters' bags yourself, ensuring the greediest ghosts get the same goods as the most polite pirates, and helping you avoid either running out or overbuying. Don't do that bowl-on-the-porch thing; it just takes one bad-spirited Trick-or-Treater to ruin the fun for everyone. If you're new to your area and don't know how many trick-or-treaters to expect, ask your neighbors! (But keep in mind that weather could throw off estimates.)

Go Non-Candy

You could also consider the daring strategy of stepping away from candy entirely and handing out a non-edible treat. Heresy, you might say! But if you buy treats in Halloween-style bulk you may be able to find something cool for less than you'd pay for candy. This pack of 300 8-inch glow bracelets, for example, costs only $21.99 at the time of this writing, which is almost half the cost of what most people spend on candy. That's less than 8 cents a bracelet and something most kids would enjoy as much as a tiny candy bar. Plus, it might make them a little safer as they haunt your streets and sidewalks at night.

Buy Decorations in November for the Following Year

Our best decor tip won't help you this year. Why? Well, the best time to buy Halloween decor is after the holiday. In the past two years we've seen stores like Home Depot (HD) and Kmart (SHLD) cut 75 percent off Halloween decorations in early November. While you'll likely see some pre-holiday sales as well, waiting to buy means you don't get to display the decorations for as long, so that's a trade-off.

When choosing decorations, don't head straight to the cheapest stuff; if you can't re-use it for years to come, you may be losing money over time. Many cheap items wear out quickly, and it doesn't take long for even modest yearly spending to add up to more than you would have spent on more durable items.

Make Your Own Decorations

Another good option is making the decor yourself! Even if you're not usually interested in craft projects, you might want to consider it for Halloween. It's one occasion where having your creations look a little beat-up, messy, or misshapen can be passed off as intentional.

If you want to buy craft materials, make sure you check for coupons. Fabric and craft stores frequently run excellent coupons like "40 percent off one item." But with a little creativity, though, your spending on craft supplies may be little or nothing at all.

Beat-up clothing can be stuffed with straw and plastic grocery bags to make a fine scarecrow. A tattered white sheet can be cut further, tied, and hung with fishing line to make a fluttering ghost. And any weatherproof material can be painted and set up as tombstones. Those are just a few suggestions, obviously. If you want to do something a little more creative, but aren't sure how, there's almost assuredly a YouTube tutorial waiting to help guide you.

Buy Costumes Last Minute

Costumes usually plummet in price after Halloween too, but those are harder to shop for a year ahead of time. It's still a good bet for adult costumes for next year, but it's often hard to predict what a kid's size or interests will be. (Saving 75 percent on a costume that never gets worn is still a waste of money.)

%VIRTUAL-pullquote-Many retailers will cut 30 to 50 percent off costumes the week before Halloween, and "trendy" costumes will sometimes see the biggest markdowns.%The next best option? Last-minute shopping. Many retailers will cut 30 to 50 percent off costumes the week before Halloween. "Trendy" costumes -- like those that are popular due to a recent movie release -- are a particularly likely target for markdowns, as a retailer can't be sure how well they'll sell next year.

If you're buying a kid's costume, consider buying a size up. Why? A few reasons. First, if it's a chilly Oct. 31, they can put that sweatshirt or coat on under their tutu or turtle shell, rather than spoiling the look by putting it on top. (Very disappointing to spend good money on a costume only to barely see it.) Second, you can give the costume some extra life by throwing it in the dress-up box after the holiday passes. Finally, you might get lucky -- if your kid is still obsessed with the same thing the following year and hasn't sprouted up too much, maybe you can get by with re-using the same costume.

Make Your Own Costumes

Do-it-yourself is a great option for costumes too, and you don't have to be a dab hand with the sewing machine to make something fun. Find something the appropriate color to use as a base and get to accessorizing. (Walmart often carries sweatpants/sweatshirt combos for around $12, if you don't have something on hand.) Two friends in red outfits, blue hairspray, and the words "Thing 1" and "Thing 2" painted on can easily portray the Suessian duo. (Or, paint the circles separately and pin them to the outfits if you want to re-use the clotheslater.)

Of course, if you are a craft-master, you can always get more ambitious, like the parents who handmade this transforming Transformer costume for their kid. The sky really is the limit, and unless you have a truly crazy idea, you can probably find someone who has done it already and posted an instructional video or blog.

Readers, what are your favorite ways to save on Halloween? Let us know in the comments below.
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