How to spend less on Halloween

October 13, 2016

By Sheryl Smolkin

According to the Retail Council of Canada, Canadians annually spend upwards of $1 billion on Halloween-related products and services each year, with the average Canadian spending more per capita than the average American on various Halloween- related goods. In fact Canadians have become so enamored with Halloween that holiday-related spending is second only to Christmas.

So how can you spend less on Halloween without disappointing all the big and little ghosts and goblins that live with you or show up at your door? Here are some ideas:

  1. Buy later: Don’t buy Halloween candy when it hits the shelf in September. Chances are you will eat up the first batch and just have to buy more. And your waistline doesn’t need the extra calories.
  2. Buy what you need: There are very few young children who trick or treat in my neighbourhood. Yet “just in case” every year I buy several boxes of mini-chocolate bars to give out. As a result I typically end up spending more and eating the leftovers.
  3. Buy in bulk: It’s easy to toss a box of individually wrapped candy bars or small bags of chips into your grocery cart and call it a day. But do the math. Chances are that if you buy treats from the bulk store and package them in small plastic bags tied with a ribbon, the cost per item will be much less.
  4. Make your own costumes: I must confess I just spent $40 on an “Elsa” costume for my granddaughter because she is crazy about the character in the Disney movie Frozen. But her other grandmother sews and has made her great costumes for a fraction of the cost in previous years, including a very clever dinosaur that she loved every bit as much.
  5. Re-use, re-cycle: Check out Value Village or another local thrift or second hand store. For a few dollars you can find great stuff to outfit yourself or your little one as everything from a hobo to a travelling salesman to a ballerina.
  6. Costume swap: If you bought or made your child the most popular costume last year, for sure it no longer fits. Furthermore, even if it does fit, she won’t want to wear the same thing two years in a row. Set up a page on Facebook and invite your friends to participate in a costume swap.
  7. Avoid over-decorating: A pumpkin carved with a funny face and lit with a candle shows the neighbourhood you are open for business. But you don’t need cobwebs, sound effects and a fake grave with dancing skeletons to attract people or enjoy the evening.
  8. Have a party: Halloween is often cold and wet in Canada. A house-party with lots of games and orange food can be a lot more fun than traipsing around in the rain or wind with heavy coats covering up lovingly crafted costumes. This website has hundreds of economical Halloween party ideas.
  9. Check out community events: If you don’t have the time, money or space to host a Halloween party, check out community events. You will likely discover that your local library, community centre, school or museum is hosting free or low cost events.
  10. Buy on sale for next year: If you have space to store then, buy costumes in sizes your children will grow into, decorations and non-perishable snacks when they go on sale November 1st. However, be prepared for the fact that the kids might have very different ideas about what they want to wear for Halloween when they are one year older and if you put your purchases away in a really safe place by next October, you may not be able to find them!

Cheap, Clever Halloween Costumes

October 22, 2015

By Sheryl Smolkin

In October 2014, Hollie Shaw at the Financial Post reported on the $1-billion fright economy. Apparently Canadians have become so wild about Halloween we now spend more per capita on costumes, candy and décor than our U.S. counterparts do, with holiday-related spending that is second only to Christmas.

“In the past three years, the Halloween holiday has just gone viral in Canada — we have just seen it shoot up,” said Diane Brisebois, the Retail Council’s president and CEO told Shaw. “Adults have really, really gotten into it. Now it’s adults and their pets. In Canada, it has become so popular that people are pretty much decorating anything.

Far be it from me to rain on anyone’s parade, but if you are having trouble making ends meet, or if you are trying to come up with ways to better afford a retirement savings plan, minimizing your expenditures at Halloween might be a good start.

Here are some helpful hints on some cheap, clever costumes, whether you and/or your children are planning to trick or treat close to home or attend a Halloween party.

  1. Princess costume: A sparkly crown from the dollar store, last year’s Christmas dress, make up and costume jewelry will go a long way to turn your pre-schooler into a princess. You don’t have to spring for the last Disney confection that in late October weather will probably be covered by a coat
  2. Doctor, lawyer: I am a lawyer and still have my court gowns, tabs and shirt. I can’t tell you over the years how many times I or my children have appeared as lawyers or judges on Halloween. The tools and “uniforms” of any other profession or trade can become a costume.
  3. Orange is the new black: If you can get your hands on orange scrubs (or dye some) and lots of fake tattoos you can masquerade as this hit Netflix show. A group can also select different characters in the show and add hairdos, make up or cheap wigs to enhance their look.
  4. Bag of jelly beans: I love this kooky costume. All you need is a bunch of colourful balloons, a piece of ribbon, a clear garbage bag and the ingredients list to write on the back. You cut two holes in the bottom of the bag, fill it with balloons and tie a bow around your neck. Voilà, you are a bag of jelly beans.
  5. Rubik’s cube: This costume requires that you be a bit crafty. The raw materials are a square cardboard box, coloured squares of construction paper and black electrical tape. The completed box is worn over a black top and pants or leggings.
  6. Superhero Underoos: I remember when my kids were little, superhero underoos were a highly coveted reward when they finally left diapers behind. Guess what – new superhero underoos for adults are not only functional, they can form the basis of a great costume for the comic book geek in your life.
  7. Sports: Whatever sports equipment and typical garb you have on hand can be used to dress you or your child as an athlete. For example, a tennis player will wear all white and carry a racket. A yoga instructor will wear yoga pants, a headband and carry a rolled up yoga mat. A golf pro will have plaid pants, a golf shirt, golf shoes, a sun visor and a putter.
  8. Olympic/Pan Am medalist: Did you buy sweats or other outfits from The Bay after the last Olympics or Pan Am games? Well get them out of the bottom drawer. Then fashion as many gold, silver and bronze medals as you like and hang them on ribbons around your neck. You can even put the name of your favourite world class athlete on the back of your jacket.
  9. Second-hand stores: If you have a good imagination, Value Village or other second-hand stores can be a great place to pick up costume components. An oversized sports jacket and a used fedora can turn your child into a detective or an investigative reporter. Old wedding or prom dresses are the stuff from which fantasies are made.
  10. Freebies and deals: The day after Halloween is over, stores bring out the Christmas paraphernalia. That means they need to free up floor space fast. If you have storage space and can guess-timate what size your kids will wear next year, you may be able to pick up ready-made costumes at greatly-reduced prices.

Also read:

Halloween on the cheap

Halloween on the cheap

October 17, 2013

By Sheryl Smolkin


As soon as the back to school displays come down, stores shift their marketing efforts to selling Halloween costumes, decorations and treats.

A survey conducted by Harris/Decima for the Retail Council of Canada reports that in 2012 Canadian households with children plan to spend an average of $75 on Halloween purchases. Fully half who planned to spend on Halloween said that 75 per cent to 100 per cent of their budget would go on candy.

But we all have neighbours or friends who up the ante by turning their front yards into elaborate haunted houses complete with sound effects. And for some reason, your lace shawl and a home-made crown can’t compete with an expensive princess costume from the Disney store.

So how can you do Halloween on the cheap and still keep your family happy? Here are a few ideas.

  1. Manage expectations: By October 31st it is often rainy and cold in most parts of Canada. Therefore elaborate costumes that will be covered by a coat won’t even be seen. Tell your child if a store-bought costume is unaffordable and present other more practical options. Make-up and a hat can go a long way.
  2. Organize a costume swap: Use social media and invite your friends with children to a costume swap. Not only will you get rid of all the stuff that no longer fits, you may end up with some real gems for almost nothing.
  3. Be crafty: If you are a busy, working parent and don’t do crafts, skip this one. Otherwise, check Pinterest for creative costume and decorating ideas that use low cost and recycled materials you already have around the house.
  4. Visit a thrift store: Take the kids on a trip to the local thrift or second hand store. Great finds like used prom gowns, dramatic capes and dashing fedoras can be key elements of creative costumes.
  5. Buy on sale: The day after Halloween, most costumes go on sale. While it is difficult to know whether this year’s Batman will want to be next year’s Darth Vader, it may be worth stockpiling a few costumes in bigger sizes will give you a head start on next Halloween.
  6. Healthy treats: The most economical option is to buy in bulk and package treats in ziplock bags.  However, parents are more worried about safety than ever. So unless you give out factory wrapped individual items, they will likely end up in the trash. But you can read ingredients and offer more nutritious choices like pretzels, popcorn, raisins, fruit leather or sugarless gum.
  7. Have a party: If there are few children in your neighbourhood, it may make more sense to invite a small group of your children’s friends over for a Halloween party. Dim the lights bob for apples and tell ghost stores or rent a spooky (age-appropriate movie). Hot dogs or pizza, cut-up veggies and dip and home-made cupcakes are inexpensive, easy to serve and clean up.
  8. Buy less: There are few young children in our neighbourhood anymore, but every year I dutifully buy several boxes of chips or chocolate bars to hand out. We never give it all out, and my husband and I end up eating the leftovers. I tried buying stuff we don’t like but then we just end up pitching the rest, which is a waste of good money.

Can you suggest other ways to do Halloween on the cheap? Share your tips with us at http://wp.me/P1YR2T-JR and your name will be entered in a quarterly draw for a gift card. And remember to put a dollar in the retirement savings jar every time you use one of our money-saving ideas.

If you would like to send us other money saving ideas, here are the themes for the next three weeks:

24-Oct Charity How to raise money for almost anything on Indiegogo
31-Oct Winter travel Planning your winter getaway
07-Nov Augmenting your income Seasonal jobs