Too many families become Halloween budget zombies -- aimlessly wandering the most convenient big-box store, buying full-price decor, dark chocolate and costumes reflecting the hottest craze. But being a zombie takes a real bite out of your budget.
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Decor items typically hover around $25 to $50. Some lifelike, moving monsters can cost up to $200.
A bulk bag of fun-size M&Ms can cost anywhere from $10 to $15 per bag. If your neighborhood is a sweet spot with kids, you'll need to scare up several bags.
Costumes run from $30 (children's) to $139 (adult). Dressing as Darth Vader runs anywhere from $24.99 (infant) to $74.99 (adult). Have a few kids? Double or triple the bill.
Here's how to get into the Halloween spirit, without sacrificing your wallet.
Preserve your pumpkin
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Pumpkins on the front steps tend to decompose into a scene worthy of a horror-movie cameo. To keep pumpkins from an early grave, take a few tips from Terrance Zepke, author of "Happy Halloween!: Hundreds of Perfect Party Recipes, Delightful Decorating Ideas & Awesome Activities."
"Rinse uncarved pumpkins in cold water, with a few teaspoons of bleach added, dry thoroughly, and spray everywhere with WD-40 or another sealant," Zepke says. "Do not subject them to intense heat, and it's best if not placed in direct sunlight or on concrete or rugs."
Put cardboard or paper bags between the pumpkin and concrete, if they're going to be displayed.
"Real pumpkins will only last a few weeks at most once they have been carved and gutted," Zepke says. Preserve them a little longer by applying the bleach-water mix to the carved interior or coating the inside with petroleum jelly.
How about some boo reuse? Head to your local secondhand store to find donated Halloween decor for only a ghost of the original price. Popular places to shop include Value Village, Salvation Army, Goodwill, and church and community thrift shops.
"Check for any chips in ceramic pieces or tears in things like banners or window decorations," says Jeanine M. Boiko, a do-it-yourself blogger at OkioBDesigns.Blogspot.com. Garage sales also offer Allhallows Eve goods. "I found some candy corn-shaped candy bowls recently for only $1 each," she says.
Off-price retailers like T.J.Maxx, Ross and Marshalls present spooky decor in the housewares section, says Kendal Perez, a blogger at HassleFreeSavings.com. "You can even find costume accessories and trick-or-treat bags from these retailers."
"If you want to decorate on the cheap, there's no better outlet than the dollar store," Perez says. "In addition to skeleton cutouts and bright pumpkin lanterns, you can load up on Halloween-themed toys for party goody bags."
Create some DIY hocus pocus
Ghostly decor is as easy as a creepy-idea expedition on the collecting website Pinterest and a spelunking trip in the garage. If you must spend a little, Boiko suggests thinking cheap: faux moss, window decals or black spray paint to add a mysterious twist.
Inspired by Pinterest, Boiko used black spray paint on used plastic drink and food containers, then added her own spooky stickers to them, creating an eerie centerpiece. She rifled through her storage to find a pair of plastic snakes and an old wreath. With the addition of black spray paint, she created a wreath fit for a wraith.
"Check out sites like The Graphics Fairy for free images like spooky ghosts, skeletons, bats and crows," Boiko suggests, along with Pinterest (search for "free printables"). "I use the images on tags, sheet music, glassine sacks and more," she says.
To save on costumes, dare to explore the recesses of your own clothing closet. Look for older clothes you can alter or reuse for this year's hauntings, says Lyss Stern, founder of the Divalysscious Moms website at DivaMoms.com.
"My son loves baseball. For this Halloween, he will be dressing up in his very own baseball uniform that he wears for his travel baseball games," she says. "I did not have to spend any money. If your daughter loves ballet, and she already has a tutu, use that and perhaps add some fun color to her hair or a little sparkle to her nails."
According to Stern, a boo-worthy costume is all about accessorizing what you already own. Or, adding one inexpensive extra. For example, one year her son wanted to dress as Batman. He had long owned the mask, black jeans and a black sweatshirt. With just one purchase -- a cape -- he was ready to ring doorbells.
Kristl Story, who blogs at TheBudgetDiet.com, suggests dressing up a toddler in overalls and pulling him or her around the neighborhood in a hay-filled red wagon. "Add a few stuffed farm animals for fun," she says.
Reuse or swap a costume
If your child is looking for a new-to-her costume this year, try consignment, Perez says. "Some consignment stores offer gently used costumes for less than retail price, plus you can exchange your child's costume from last year for credit toward your purchase, depending on the store's policy," Perez says.
Attending a Halloween costume exchange also can net your kid a new (to him or her) Spidey suit. National Costume Swap Day takes place this year Oct. 12 at dozens of locations nationwide. You can find locations at CostumeSwapDay.com.
Shopping clearance costumes is also a solid strategy. Parents don't have to wait until after Halloween to find costumes at cut-rate prices. "CostumeCraze.com has kids' costumes for less than $10 and adult costumes for less than $15 on their clearance page," Perez says.
Try thrifty tricks and treats
When picking up doorside treats to pass out to little ghouls, Perez suggests procrastinating, right up until the last minute. "Though the best prices on Halloween candy can be found after Oct. 31, some supermarkets mark it down a few days before Halloween to get inventory cleared out in anticipation of Christmas-themed candy," Perez says. "It pays to procrastinate."
If you want to scratch "buy candy" off your to-do list but still save money, Perez says snatch up the cheap stuff. "Snickers, Reese's and Almond Joy cost more than Smarties, Tootsie Rolls and Double Bubble," Perez says. "Buy accordingly."
Or buy in bulk, whether that's bulk jelly beans at the grocery store for a party or a giant bag of Snickers at Costco or Sam's Club. Of course, this tip comes with a caveat. "Just be sure to buy candy you don't like, or you'll end up paying more to restock," Perez says. And no one likes having his waistline haunted by the ghosts of PayDays past.