Penny Wise: Scare up some Hallowe’en savings

Friday, 1 October 2010

If the Thanksgiving-Hallowe'en-Christmas combo is a triple threat to your bank account, perhaps a little imagination this October 31st will give your finances a temporary reprieve. Some people go all out to celebrate, but it's way too easy to overspend on decorations, costumes, treats, and party food.

According to a report by the National Retail Federation, consumer spending on Halloween is second only to Christmas. This year, consumers are expected to spend an average of $72 per person on Hallowe’en, with the total projected sales coming in at nearly $7 billion! That’s a lot of fake spider webs.

Here are some ways we like to save money on our Hallowe’en festivities. We know you’ve got lots of tricks and treats too, so feel free to share your ideas below!

Pumpkin Decorating

Pumpkins are a staple of Hallowe’en, and unless you’ve grown your own, buying one at your local grocery store or farmer’s field is a necessity.

Carve a niche:
When it comes to pumpkin carving kits, we’re on the fence. As big proponents of avoiding single-purpose gadgets, we don’t like to spend the money on something used once a year when a handy kitchen knife will do just fine. Many kits advertise they’re safer alternatives for children to use, but they still require adult supervision. Also, they’re made so cheaply that you wonder if they’ll last more than one use anyway. We say leave the tricky carving to the adults. For kids who insist on wielding the knife, do some strategic pre-cuts with the sharp knife and let your kids finish the job with a regular (duller) dinner knife.

Cookie’s Fortune:
One great alternative to using a knife we came across online is to use metal cookie cutters to help make the cut outs. Use a soft rubber mallet (or a regular hammer with a gentle touch) to push the cookie cutter through the pumpkin shell. A star shape works great for eyes. An upside-down candy cane can double as a nose or ears. See what other designs you can make out of what you already have in your cupboards.


Make it up:
Instead of or in addition to carving your jack-o-lantern, you can dress up this year’s pumpkin using last year’s expired Halloween make-up, or any old/outdated make-up you need to toss. Mascara (which you should replace every 3 months), eyeliner, and lipstick are good options. Just be sure not to smudge all your handiwork when you’re arranging the pumpkins on your front step!

Playing with food is another way to dress up a pumpkin. From limp lettuce hair to a spikey spaghetti moustache, a pumpkin with a food face is a sure way to express creativity and earn admirers.

Frightful Décor

It’s hard to resist all that great decorating stuff you see in store windows. But that’s exactly what it is: stuff. Before you buy, ask yourself: do I really need more? We suggest you check out what you already have at home and see which items can channel a Hallowe’en alter ego.

For example:

Household garbage bags

When it comes to creating easy Hallowe’en décor, the versatility of regular old garbage bags is downright hair-raising. You’re only limited by your imagination! They work indoors or outdoors, and the best part is they’re lightweight and store easily for next year.

Here are some ideas for using garbage bags this Hallowe’en. Since most of these ideas include cutting the bags up, we recommend you buy the least expensive brand you can. (Heavy duty bags might work better in some cases, so use your judgement, and remember to keep an eye on the budget.)

 Spooky tendrils:
Think creepy vines, spider web, long skeleton fingers, etc. Slice black or green bags down the sides to open them up lengthwise, and then slice again lengthwise in 1-2” strips, leaving a 2” horizontal strip uncut across the top (see photo). Essentially you’re creating a shredded curtain. Jagged edges are fine, even encouraged, so don’t worry about precision cutting.

Hang your tendril curtains from the ceiling in your front door entry way or covered porch area, or drape them from trees and bushes in your yard. Create different lengths, or tape two tendrils together for extra long pieces.

You can also create your own black streamers this way too, instead of paying $4 or more for crepe streamers from the store.

Scary 3-D creatures:
A giant spider or octopus is an easy one to start with, but you can make any kind of creature with a little effort and ingenuity.

Fill a black or green garbage bag half full with crumpled newspaper or similar material, and shape the bag into the rounded abdomen of your giant spider or octopus. Loop a garden hose back and forth across the ground in an 8-pointed star to create legs and place the abdomen in the middle, or perhaps you can find something else around your house for legs. Add spooky faces and toothy grins to your creatures with acrylic paint, or draw them on plain paper, cut out, and tape them to your creature.


2-D bats, black cats, spiders, rats and more:
Search online for templates of animal silhouettes that you can print out, then tape the shape to your garbage bags and cut out as many as you like. Put them on your windows, walls, and porch area. Add some cardboard or wire (sandwiched between two garbage bag cut outs) of for some structure and hang them from trees or the ceiling. Or attach them to garden stakes and shine a light at them to create a creepy shadow on the wall.

Dark, creepy party room:
For the more ambitious folks, garbage bags can also double as wallpaper. Slice open the sides of black or green bags lengthwise and tape them to your walls using painter’s tape. (We don’t recommend putting tape on real wallpaper, however, since it can damage the surface.)

Other bag ideas:

  • Orange or clear garbage bags filled up with leaves or crumpled newspaper double as large lawn pumpkins. Add facial features with other items around the house, or cut out from paper.

  • Feeling ambitious? Try a twist on a snowy favourite using orange garbage bags stacked up instead of snowballs. Dress up your pumpkin men and women with lightweight accessories and a sense of humour.

  • Use white kitchen bags or plain white shopping bags to create ghosts. (Rags or old t-shirts will also work.) Fill the bag about half full with crumpled newspaper and tie loosely with string. Turn upside-down and create eerie faces with marker or paper cut-outs, or try slicing up photos from some old magazines to create funny mis-matched faces. Then hang your ghostly visitors from the ceiling or trees.




Use old spaghetti sauce jars as an alternative to a pumpkin. Take your trusty garbage bag (black, green or orange), and slice out a rectangle that is as tall as your jar and slightly longer than its circumference. (Lay your jar flat and roll it on the garbage bag to figure out the circumference.) Then cut a design into the rectangle and add a tea light or small flashlight for a quick spooky lantern. You can also use paper as well.

Re-purpose your Christmas lights

If you’ve got a few strings of single colour Christmas lights, they can often double as Halloween décor. Just try to avoid red-green or red-white combinations.

Use white, blue, green, or red strings as ambiance inside or outside. String them in bushes and trees, shape them into designs on the lawn, or use them to light up the garbage bag spiders, octopuses, and pumpkins you just made.


Shadows & Darkness

Don’t worry if your homemade creations don’t look real in daylight. They’ll transform into ghoulish works of art as soon as darkness falls.

And a bit of spooky lighting can make a world of difference, turning your yard or room into a shadowland of creepy shapes. Get creative!


Can you believe the price of those mini chocolate bars these days? Enough to blow your whole budget! For less expensive alternatives that won’t earn you a nasty trick, think outside the candy box.

Here are some other treat ideas:

  • Stickers are a great alternative to sugary sweets. Buy them in singles or in sheets and slice them up. They don’t necessarily have to be Hallowe’en themed either.

  • Rings with spiders, bugs, fake jewels, and more. Check out the dollar store for these inexpensive options. (Just in case, be sure to tell the kids they’re not edible!)

  • If you’re a coin hoarder and have a jar or bowl full of pennies, nickels, dimes, sprinkle these low cost treasures into your trick-or-treaters’ outstretched bags. Who doesn’t like money?

Tell us your tricks!

These are just a few of the things you can do to keep your Hallowe’en budget from sending your finances to an early grave this year. And we know you’ve all got some great money-saving ideas too, so please share!


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