Budget Friendly Halloween Costumes

Holidays are a great break from the ordinary, and Halloween is one of my favorites. The reason? Costumes! Dressing up as someone or something else is a great way to express your sense of creativity in a judgment-free zone (or light judgement, depending on your friends). If you’re trying to come up with some ideas while sticking to your budget, we have some tips for you!

If you’re completely out of ideas for what you want to go as, consider visiting a couple of thrift stores. There are an amazing number of costumes built by excellent crafters (or bought by people who paid big bucks) who then donated them to free up closet space. If you can find something in your size, you get to reap all the rewards of their hard work at a fraction of the cost. Thrift stores also have an abundance of clothes that work for 80s themes and other throwback styles, giving you lots of options to put something together that achieves your desired look.Find a look-alike
If you’re going as a person, pick someone you already look like. Ask your friends to give you their opinion on which TV or movie character you most closely resemble. Having similar hair color, hair length, body style, and other features removes needing things like wigs, contacts, makeup, special shoes and other accessories that would normally accompany that costume.Buy reusable pieces you’ll wear more than once.

Consider the reusability of your costume components. Try to minimize pieces you only wear once for this event. Consider a costume like a flight attendant – you could buy a packaged “flight attendant costume” that comes in a few generic sizes and looks cheap. Or, you can search for dresses that have a flight attendant look, meaning they’re generally pencil shaped; in a dark color like navy; have details like belts, buttons, and shoulder epaulettes; and come in your actual size. Pair this with a flight wings pin and a scarf and you’ve recreated the look you’re going for, plus after Halloween you have a smart new business casual dress and a sharp scarf that pairs with jackets for cool weather. Money well spent!                                                      


Typical Costume $50.90 vs. Components: Dress $24.99 + Scarf  $7.43 + Flight Pin $7.95 = $40.37

If you’ve selected to recreate a look that can’t be bought in stores (or you insist on looking unique), dust off those basic crafting skills you learned in elementary school  as they can take you a long way. The following items make great building blocks and you can get them cheap or even for free.  

Cardboard - If you’re designing something like a vehicle or person-sized phone, you want something durable but lightweight. Cardboard is my go-to choice. You can often get cardboard for free from stores who receive products packaged in it -just ask! Hardware stores who stock things like refrigerators may be able to give you the boxes they came in since it means less refuse for them to manage. Craigslist is another good alternative – look in your local free section for people giving away moving boxes.

Foam - Another great lightweight material for building unique shapes like extra appendages. Pool noodles come in a variety of colors and thicknesses, and you can buy them from dollar stores or other retail outlets.

Aluminum foil - Metal is both expensive and heavy, but aluminum foil is cheap and easy to recognize as ‘metal’. This is another product readily available at dollar or grocery stores.

Spray paint – an easy way to get the materials above in a color consistent with your vision. Make sure to read the label on what types of surfaces it works best on.

Fabric - If you’re looking to add letters or pictures to existing clothing, “bargain scraps” sections of your fabric or craft store will typically have lots of options to work with. If you need an entire piece in a specific color or style, check out your local thrift store. When designing Jon Snow’s look from Game of Thrones, I found the perfect fur shoulder piece by cutting it off a grandma-styled cardigan that I got for $2. Win!

If it’s been awhile since you last worked with your selected medium, brush up on your skills by watching YouTube tutorials. Your time is precious and your resources limited, so make the most of it by setting yourself up for success. Creators frequently point out “gotchas” or highlight tools that make your work much easier and provide a more frustration-free crafting experience.

As always, when starting a crafting project make sure to protect your workspace! Laying down a layer of newspaper that was sitting in the recycle bin is a great resource to make sure you don’t accidentally bedazzle your desk, scratch your kitchen table, or change the color of your carpet.

If you’re going for a specific look that’s very involved, consider places where you could rent it instead of purchasing. There are even other rental services like Rent the Runway moving into this space – this year for halloween they’ve put together a stylish rental lineup with a costume flair.

Sometimes you just have to have that perfect thing on Etsy or Ebay to finish your look. If you must go this route, you should be planning your costume at least a month in advance – production and shipping times from these outlets can be quite long. Even with expensive express shipping, vendors often get huge surges in demand around the holidays which jeopardizes your order arriving in time! Play it safe (and be cost effective) by ordering in advance.

Speaking of planning, just about all the tips above function best at least month in advance so you can watch for the best deals instead of rushing around last minute when supplies start running low and stores know they can charge higher prices. Make economics work in your favor by penciling in planning sessions on your calendar for next year so you don’t forget!

Have other budget-friendly Halloween tips? Share them in the comments below, we’d love to hear your ideas and see what costumes you came up with! GenW will feature on our site the most creative cost-effective costume submitted to our Facebook feed. Submit your picture today!