Reader Suggestions for Celebrating Halloween and Thanksgiving On A Budget
September to December = my favorite time of year. I’m a holiday hound. A festivity fox. A Halloween hugger. What can I say? This trifecta:
IS MY JAM. People are sometimes surprised at how robustly I celebrate holidays because celebrating is not inherently frugal or minimalist or simple. It’d be cheaper, easier, and require less stuff if I let October 31st, some Thursday in November (I always forget which), and December 25th roll on by.
But I protest. I say that the point of being frugal–and managing your money well–is to enable you to spend on stuff you care about. And I care about these holidays. As does my husband, as do our daughters. Well, the baby does not care yet, but she will.
Welcome to my monthly Reader Suggestions feature! Every month I post a question to our Frugalwoods Facebook group and share the best responses here. The questions are topics I’ve received multiple queries on and my hope is that by leveraging the braintrust of Frugalwoods nation, you’ll find helpful advice and insight. Join the Frugalwoods Facebook group to participate in next month’s Reader Suggestions.
Halloween The Frugal Way
Halloween just might be my very favorite holiday. A controversial choice, perhaps, but there’s something about Halloween that speaks to me. It might be the fact that it’s a holiday with low expectations. There’s not a whole lot you have to buy or do for Halloween, which makes me a fan.
My fandom is bolstered by the following:
- I may or may not have a slight candy corn addiction
- The onset of fall is, in my mind, the pinnacle of nature’s beauty
- I like chilly air, warm mugs, and woodstove fires
- Candy corn goes on sale
- I love, love, LOVE to dress up
- I thrive on tacky holiday decor and Halloween is pretty much THE BEST time to bust out my ghosts, scarecrows, and pumpkin candles… I mean, I could do it in May, but it seems more apt in October. Oh who am I trying to impress, I decorated in September. September 1st to be precise (I have some standards; August seemed premature).
- Did I mention the thing about candy corn?
Whoa, Whoa, Whoa, Isn’t All Of That Stuff Expensive?!?
I just listed food, decorations, costumes–doesn’t that stuff cost money? Sure, it can be expensive. But it can also be frugal and, lucky for you, that’s what we’re here to discuss! I’ll share what I do and then we’ll turn to the readers of Frugalwoods for their tips.
Holiday Decorations: Reuse and Buy Used
I could pretty much stop there because reusing and buying used are the two pillars of frugal festivities. I have ceramic ghost candles, I have pumpkin lanterns, I have faux pumpkins, mini scarecrows, and teeny tiny chipmunks. Most of this was either a hand-me-down from my parents/in-laws as they downsized OR purchased at a garage sale. I’m always confused when people lament the cost of holiday decorations because, at worst, it’s a one-time new expense and at best, it’s $0.50 at a garage sale.
It’s not like pumpkins and ghosts are going to go out of style as Halloween decor. Even if they do, I’m not bothered. I decorate because it’s fun and because my children adore it–being “on trend” is not the goal or the priority for me. If you prefer to buy new decorations, choose classic things you see yourself using year after year. Alternately, if you’d rather to mix it up every year, thrift it up! I see holiday decorations at almost every single yard sale I go to.
In addition to the thriftiness–and the environmental boon–of reusing decorations, it creates memories and traditions. Kidwoods loves to see the same decorations come out every year because she remembers them and associates them with the holiday. If I bought new decorations every year, we’d miss out on the anticipation and joy of the memories they evoke. Plus, since a lot of our decorations are hand-me-downs from our parents, Mr. Frugalwoods and I enjoy reminiscing about our own childhood holidays.
My two kiddos–at almost 4 and at 19 months–are not old enough to express serious opinions about their Halloween costumes yet and it’ll be interesting to see how my approach evolves at they age. For now, I employ the following tactics:
1) Buy used.
You’d better believe I bought the $3 dinosaur costume I found at a garage sale in August. Neither kid wanted to be a dinosaur this year, but Kidwoods has fun running around the house roaring. If it never gets used as a proper Halloween costume, no sweat! It’s great for dress-up and, let’s reiterate, was $3.
I will note that I did not buy the $20 ice cream cone costume I saw at a garage sale this summer as, in my opinion, that’s WAY too much to spend on a costume (new or used).
I have several boxes of costumes stashed away in the basement. All of these costumes were either hand-me-downs or purchased at a garage sale (a la the $3 dinosaur). What Kidwoods outgrows, Littlewoods will wear. And what Littlewoods outgrows gets passed along to my friends with younger kids.
3) Help your child decide what they want to be.
At this stage, it’s easy for me to gently guide my kids towards what they want to be for Halloween. In late summer, I start asking Kidwoods what she’d like to be for Halloween so that I can get a sense of what she’s interested in. Then, I comb through our costume stash, determine what’ll fit, and start seeding those ideas. This year, I had the following costumes in her size: pirate, dinosaur, ballerina, princess, cowgirl, and fairy.
Based on this data, Mr. Frugalwoods and I began listing these options anytime the topic of Halloween costumes came up (which, with a four-year-old is pretty often). This helped guide Kidwoods toward selecting one of these pre-approved choices. Yes, she did request to be a tent(?!?), a robot, a reindeer, and a ghost, and I never said no to any of these, but I didn’t exactly encourage them either. A few weeks ago, I brought out a box of costumes in her size and let her pick the one she wanted. She landed on princess and all is well in our kingdom. Since I have multiple princess gowns, Littlewoods will follow suit and be a tiny princess.
In my best imitation of a toddler-whisperer, I never said she had to wear one of the costumes we own, but I also never said I’d buy her any costume she wanted. My response to her requests for things like tent or robot were along the lines of, “that’s an interesting idea.” With Halloween costumes–and pretty much everything else–if it can seem like the kids’ idea, but actually be endorsed by the parents, that’s the sweet spot. Parents–you are in charge. It’s not up to a toddler to dictate what you buy them. It’s up to you to provide options and ideas that work for YOU while also making the kid happy.
4) Hand-me-down and share around.
My friends and I swap and share Halloween costumes for our kids. Last year, I borrowed a baby ladybug costume for Littlewoods and received a hand-me-down ladybug costume for Kidwoods. This year, I’m borrowing a leotard for Kidwoods to wear under her princess gown and I lent a ballerina costume to another friend.
We no longer live in a place that gets trick-or-treaters, but when we lived in the city, we bought giant bags of candy from Costco and sat on the sidewalk with our neighbors to hand it out. Buying in bulk is your friend when it comes to Halloween candy. Buying in bulk is not your friend when it comes to candy corn and you cannot stop yourself from consuming those delectable little triangles of synthetic flavor and questionable chemicals.
Most of my decorative pumpkins are what you might term replica, faux, or ersatz. Fake, Mrs. Frugalwoods. Just say it, they’re fake. We do like to have one real pumpkin for jack o’lantern duty and this year, we managed to grow it in our garden! We’re as shocked as you are that this worked out. Last year, I traded a neighbor some of my kale for one of her pumpkins. And back when we lived in the city, we’d buy a cheap pumpkin from Costco.
My Thanksgiving tips are best enshrined in the following:
- Reader Suggestions For A Deliciously Frugal Thanksgiving
- No Turkey, No Problem! How We Celebrate Thanksgiving Our Way
- How I Fight Food Waste At Thanksgiving And Beyond
- Starting The Thanksgiving Season With Gratitude
- Thanksgiving Is The Gateway Drug To A Leftover Loving Life
- A Very DIY Thanksgiving
- Weekly Woot & Grumble: Certified Turkey Freak
Apparently I really like writing about Thanksgiving. We’ll discuss Christmas frugalization next month because now, it’s time to turn to the readers!
How Frugalwoods Readers Celebrate Halloween and Thanksgiving On The Cheap
Noel wrote, “We have recently been introduced to the idea of masks and capes as birthday party favors that kids can reuse for dress up. I’m in love with the idea, and my son will be combining a mask and cape he received as a favor with some coordinating clothes from his wardrobe and trick-or-treating as a blue ninja turtle this year. Such a thoughtful, useful, and waste-reducing party favor!”
Cindy (photo at right) said, “We love to reuse costumes here! Get them in a bigger size than they need to allow for this-and get gender neutral stuff if you can. The simpler-the better! My middle child loves being a pumpkin for trick or treat. She’s used this costume 4 years in a row. The dog also has a few costumes we reuse. My oldest loves picking out a costume every year, then her sister wears it the following year to school (and literally changes back into a pumpkin for trick or treating lol!). All three wore the same pumpkin costume for their first Halloween, too.
We usually go to either an apple orchard or a pumpkin patch with a hay ride, animals, and games. We usually only do this once in the fall, and find a coupon or Groupon for the place. We have thanksgiving at our house every year. I do all the sides and my mom brings the turkey. Potatoes/corn/corn bread/cranberry sauce/etc are so inexpensive. I cheat and mix cranberries and walnuts into cornbread stove top stuffing. No one can guess it’s from a box since it’s so good! I guess we’re frugal in that we don’t have to travel anywhere-also we reuse thanksgiving decor/placemats/plates my mom gave us from her hosting days. Goodness I love fall!!! And I don’t feel like we spend much $ until Christmas really!”
Jodi shared, “When my kids were young I put together homemade costumes. Some winning contests at their schools. A lot with cardboard I got free from a furniture store. Piece of pizza and the fortune teller in the machine. I would use stuff from around the house. Made wigs with yarn, used makeup for drawing on faces, made glasses and head pieces including a connected huge spider web head piece with pipe cleaners from the dollar store.”
Joslyn wrote, “I utilize my local Buy Nothing Project group for kids Halloween costumes, it’s awesome!”
Jen said, “Our kids created their own costumes. I would buy something inexpensive, usually a piece of fabric or a mask and they would get so creative. They still do this now as adults.”
Alexandra wrote, “I shop the sales after the holidays and stock up. Halloween costumes are 75% off at Target the day after Halloween, and those costumes can make pretty good presents for Christmas (my son loved his Christmas present Ninja costume, complete with Ninja stars and swords, for only $5).”
Sionainn relayed, “Sharing costumes with friends is the cheapest thing to do, but now that my kids have strong opinions on what they want, I went to Joanne’s and bought some supplies. I think their costumes will cost $20-30 total, which isn’t bad for happy kids. My rule is that if they change their minds (one tried last year) than she had to wear something that’s in the house. Mom will not get anything else. The cheapest way to decorate outside is to grow your own pumpkins and gourds.”
Lindsay said, “For costumes, we either buy used or buy new on November 1st on clearance. This means my kid picks out a costume a year ahead of time, but we just remind him that if we buy it, it’s what we are going to be. When we are done, we pass them on or sell at consignment, usually making what we paid.”
Carolanne (photo at right) said, “Make my own – this is a half crochet/half rug-hooked Monsters costume made for my grandson. Cost nothing but time using leftover wools. Better still – it’s fun!”
Ben wrote, “My kids have been a very convincing Indiana Jones and even a character from Fortnite using things they found at the thrift shop. Only had to buy small little items to complete the costumes. And the costumes looked much better than the $40 costumes from the costume stores.”
Jessica said, “Children consignment stores have tons of costumes for cheap-tons I tell ya! Goodwill is a safe bet for Halloween or Thanksgiving decor on the cheap.”
Krista shared, “We don’t have kids yet, but do have a box in the basement full of costumes for adults that we & our friends have collected over the years. We can then share with anyone who needs a random mask or costume to wear when taking their littles Trick O’Treating. It’s super handy when I have spirit week at my school, too! Thankfully our families & friend group like to have pot lucks for the holidays, making it easy to be frugal & no big deal if we decide to host. Overall, we enjoy hanging out with those we care about & don’t need to spend much to do that.”
Bobbi shared, “When my children were little we shopped goodwill, garage sales or used costumes we already had. I always host all holidays for my side of the family–my sister brings a side. I try & buy things on sale or use stuff I already have. Aldi saves me a ton of money!! As far as decorations I buy them at the good will or garage sales!! Our local thrift store also has some good finds & the dollar tree always has some decorations!
Shelly wrote, “I plan everything at the beginning of September. What activities to do and how much they cost. Also I shop for Christmas in October and November and usually am done before Thanksgiving. This way I can stay on budget and not get rushed in the crowds. Or better yet look for things used on eBay or locally. It’s so nice to not have to worry about presents in December. It brings my stress level down. This year I bought the Holiday Docket from The Lazy Genius and it has helped me plan on a whole new level. I look at making sure we have rest times in between things and only doing activities we really want to do and cutting back on things we think we should have to do. Now that my kids are in school we have a bazillion Christmas programs and also December birthdays to plan for, so I realized as much as I like making Christmas candy I will probably skip it this year to save my sanity.”
Judith shared, “December can throw off my frugal game for sure. The easiest way for me to save money toward the end of the year is a heavy dose of advanced planning! I’ve learned that I need to start building my holiday card, purchasing Christmas gifts, and making arrangements for holiday parties at the beginning of October to ensure that I end the year with a strong bank balance and my sanity.”
Lindsay said, “For fall, we look up local pumpkin patches. We check for free teacher weekends since I work for the school district. Other years, we have looked for ones that offer reduced admission for canned goods or Groupons. We generally choose ONE fall festival type event. Instead of trying to do them all, we pick one intentionally and enjoy it.”
Allison shared, “I love hosting – we have a Halloween party, and I host Thanksgiving. I like being generous, and I also really like food, good cheese, good wine, etc… so I’ll make small tweaks to recipes to frugalize. Like, walnuts are less expensive than pecans where I live, so walnut pie it is! Just as delicious as pecan. I use what I have. I shop sales and stock up. Also, immediately after Thanksgiving, whole turkeys will be deeply discounted. Get one and toss it in the freezer for Christmas!”
Judith said, “Apple picking is generally a very inexpensive way to get some exercise, enjoy the onset of fall and stock the fridge! We will pick lots of apples and make 6-12 homemade pies and crumbles that we freeze and then bring along to pot lucks and give as gifts. A homemade pie offers a nice personal touch while being very affordable, and baking several pies at once gets us ready for a busy holiday season!”
Julie wrote, “I host Thanksgiving but treat it like a potluck. For Halloween we put messages on FB to friends to borrow things we can’t find at the thrift store or from our costume box.”
Barbara said, “We go apple picking every year. I make applesauce in the crockpot with the apples that don’t get eaten in the first two weeks. I find that pumpkin picking can get pricey fast. I usually find pumpkins much cheaper at the grocery store. We do try to use Halloween costumes for more than one year. Best thing about Thanksgiving are the leftovers. Here’s my hacks: heat up leftover stuffing in the waffle iron and serve an egg on top, take leftover roast veggies and blend them with stock to make soup, turn leftover mashed potatoes into potato pancakes, etc.”
Laura wrote, “We glean neighborhood apples. There are many beautiful old trees where we live, but not on our property. Luckily our neighbors are awesome and let us pick them. I just made a garland for our window with leaves I ironed between two pieces of paper to get the moisture out. Free, pretty and compostable. Last year was the first time I bought costumes, one of my boys wants to wear it again (yeah) and it still fits. Usually we make a costume from things we have around the house or have been passed down to us. I will put up my winter lights soon to combat the early darkness and bring some cozy to the living room, just fairy lights around the window, we have had them for years and they look lovely in the early mornings and the evening.”
Pauline shared, “I host Thanksgiving most years. My sister makes the turkey & stuffing, some of the kids make pies and side dishes. I like making mashed potatoes & gravy because then I know it’ll be good 🙂 LOL! We will have 13 people this year I think. Everybody pitches in so it’s not stressful. We always watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade and the dog show, then play board games after we eat. The turkey carcass becomes turkey noodle soup. We never have enough leftovers, but that’s a good thing sometimes :).”
Karla said, “A nonprofit in our town maintains a listerv of homeowners who would like people to come glean the fruit trees on their property owners. Free cherries/apricots/plums/grapes/pears/apples for me, and less waste falling to the ground to attract bears (real problem in our mountain town)! They also organize gleaning meet-ups to pick from larger properties–volunteer pickers get to keep whatever they want, and the rest gets donated to local food banks. The split and damaged fruit even goes to feed local piggies! With access to free fruit, the cost of making jam, fruit syrups, applesauce, and pies plummets. I can and freeze, and plan to give the goodies for Christmas gifts.
Our local college agriculture extension offers cheap classes on canning. I bought my big canning pot and rack from Walmart for about $30 as I couldn’t find one used. I bought my jars from thrift stores. For pumpkins, I prefer to buy big ones on sale at the grocery store and just get (cheaper) little ones at a farm, so you can still get the experience. If you have access to an Aldi, they have amazing prices on pumpkins, butternut/spaghetti squash, and baking staples. I also just watch for sales on squash at my local grocery store and stock up–they can last for months. Fall is also a good time to buy and freeze cranberries. I commonly buy turkey/ham on clearance after Thanksgiving, and then freeze and serve for later get togethers. For holiday movies, such as Charlie Brown and the Great Pumpkin, and books, these are rarely on streaming services so I get them from our local library.”
Carrie said, “We save seeds from our pumpkins and replant them around 4th of July. We also plant corn and sunflowers as decor. Our Buy Nothing Project Group shares/gifts outgrown costumes.”
Irene suggested, “Invest in a faux Christmas tree! A fake tree can be used year after year, while fresh ones require purchasing every year. My partner and I waited for a beautiful Martha Stewart-brand tree to go on sale at Home Depot, and then drove to a farther location that still had one to pick it up. I’m sure you could also get a faux tree at garage/estate sales!”
Allison wrote, “For costumes & decor, early planning is a great frugalizer, as with most things. We DIY our costumes every year out of as many thrifted elements as possible. Having several months to keep an eye out for whatever random item we need is helpful. For decor, I keep an eye out at the thrift shops year-round and scope out the after-Halloween sales for deeply discounted spooky wares. We got our full sized posable skeleton for something ridiculous like 70% off the week after Halloween a couple of years ago!”
Emily shared, “We have our own pumpkin patch (new this year) which my son is obsessed with! We’ve picked one already (carved and painted it) and we’ve got 8 more left.
- Got his costume on FB Yard Sale page for $5
- We host Thanksgiving and do a potluck. It’s the one holiday we host and my absolute favorite.
- I have an almost two year old so this is new this year but I’m trying to focus on cheap and easy crafts and baking to celebrate the season. We’ve only made pumpkin muffins but I’ve got some apple baking on the agenda soon.”
Melissa shared, “I reuse my decorations year-to-year, occasionally adding new ones that I might find on sale or clearance or at yard sales. We grow our own pumpkins, squash, and gourds. We save the seeds to plant the next year which gives us an amazing variety. I am attaching a photo of the grandchildren with some we grew this year. We have many apple trees so we are able to pick apples for several months. I always cook a big Thanksgiving dinner. I buy the turkey on sale and grow a lot of the items for the side dishes.”
Julie said, “I no longer buy Christmas wrapping paper. I have Christmas fabric in all sorts of sizes that I reuse each year and tie with ribbon that I also reuse. I mostly do it for environmental reasons but it saves money too!”
Roxane wrote, “For decorations: I love to go for walks outside and find either wild flowers, colorful leaves, pinecones or other foliage I can use for nice centerpieces during holiday dinners. Also, for Christmas I go to the dollar store and buy big gift bags and replace our framed pictures above the mantel with them. I get compliments on them every year plus it costs me no more than $2!”
Sionainn said, “For Christmas, my friend in Roxbury has 10 acres and just cuts down a random “Charlie Brown” tree every year. Her trees are fun and free, and smell much better than plastic ones.”
Noel shared, “We have managed to grow a few pumpkins this year that I plan to decorate with and then roast and can–pie filling, pepitas, and decor for the low low price of 3 seeds from a friend!”
Jen wrote, “Aldi has the cheapest pumpkins if you’re buying them.”
Jessica suggested, “Go old school on pumpkin design. Don’t buy the stencil kits 😃.”
- Don’t lose your frugal mind when holidays loom: there are ways to celebrate festively and frugally. Fun does not have to equal expensive.
- Reuse and buy used: costumes and decorations do not need to be purchased new. Using the same decorations every year is thrifty, environmentally friendly, and creates traditions and memories. Thrift stores, garage sales, and the side of the road are your trusty companions for finding used decor. Wondering how to shop used? Check out this and this.
- Plan ahead: if you do buy new, shop the after-Halloween sales to stock-up on decorations and costumes for next year. Buy turkeys right after Thanksgiving and pop ’em in the freezer for future festive gatherings.
- Make your own: crafty people report making kids’ costumes as well as decorations. This is amazing. As I am not crafty, I rely on other tactics. To those of you who are crafty, I bow down.
- Share and swap: especially when it comes to kids’ costumes, swap with your friends, hit up your local Buy Nothing group, and lend the costumes that your kids aren’t wearing this year.
- Help guide your kids toward costumes you can easily make happen: because you already own it or you know you can borrow it from a friend or you just found a $2 hippopotamus costume at the thrift store.
What are your tips for frugalizing fall festivities?
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