Almost $7 Billion Spent on Halloween? THAT’S Scary!

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Avoid the high cost of holiday fun with 'eek-o-friendly' alternatives and other tactics that won’t bleed your budget dry.

How’s this for scary: We’ll spend more on our own Halloween costumes this year than on our children’s – $1.22 billion vs. $1.04 billion, according to the National Retail Federation. Total Halloween spending is expected to reach $6.9 billion.

But you don’t have to break the bank to look spooktacular on Oct. 31. In fact, you won’t have to pay much (or maybe anything) if you go the “eek-o-friendly” route: costume swaps, thrift stores, The Freecycle Network or a clever reworking of stuff you already own.

This is eco-friendly because you’re not buying stuff that will be worn once and get tossed in the landfill. (Hint: A lot of flimsy prefab costumes tear or crack before your little goblin can get halfway through the neighborhood.) And it’s wallet-friendly because you won’t hand over a scary amount of cash.

(There’s a budget-friendly retail route, too. More on that later.)

Since 2007 an organization called Green Halloween has pushed for activities with less of a negative impact on both children’s health and the environment. One way to do this is to trade rather than trash our holiday disguises.

That’s why Green Halloween and Kiwi Magazine Online are promoting Saturday, Oct. 12, as National Costume Swap Day, with events in 28 states and three Canadian provinces. (Depending on where you live, the swaps may take place on a different date. Click on the NCSD link to find events in your region.)

Some are kids-only but others have adult and even pet costumes for trading. Fun fact: 13.8 percent of consumers will dress their pets for Halloween.

No swap in your area? Organize one: with family and close friends, through the PTA, by putting up invites at your child care center or place of worship. Green Halloween has an extensive list of tips to make swaps run smoothly.

‘Easy to put together’

Another end run around the high cost of Halloween is to shop at thrift stores, where you’ll get a lot more bang for your buck.

Or for your duck: Fifty percent of the shoppers surveyed by the Value Village/Savers chain chose “Duck Dynasty” as their favorite group-costume theme. Another popular meme was zombies from “The Walking Dead.”

“What’s great about both of these looks is that they’re easy to put together from (thrift stores) or from people’s closets at home,” says Value Village spokeswoman Sara Gaugl.

Put on your hunting gear – or borrow some – and buy a fake beard and you’re all set. (Or go cleanshaven, as a Duck Dynasty trainee.) Dress the family dog as a duck, if you must.

Zombie garb is super easy: Buy some old duds and tear them up, smear on ghoulishly pale makeup and then stagger around and moan a lot. Faux gore is a nice touch, so do an online search for “how to make fake blood.” (Warning: You may never look at chocolate syrup the same way again.)

The cheaper the thrift store stuff is, the easier to justify ripping and staining them. Employees at Value Village/Savers have gone so far as to run over wedding dresses with heavy equipment to create just the right look for a zombie bride.

(How about “zombie bridal party” for a group theme? Admit it: Bridesmaids’ dresses are scary.)

‘Being smarter about how you spend’

Gaugl says another hugely popular meme is the TV show “Breaking Bad.” Bald guys can put on a porkpie hat and dark-rimmed glasses to portray the meth-cooking former science teacher Walter White. Or they could wear rain gear and a gas mask and be “Walter White on his way to work.”

Some “classic” costumes are coming back, too: princess or fairy princess (think: old prom gowns), pirates, witches and knights. The popularity of the TV show “Once Upon A Time” has made it cool to be a grownup Huntsman or Red Riding Hood, too.

Thrift store Halloween couture will likely continue to grow in popularity, since 86.1 percent of consumers will spend less on Halloween this year. According to the NRF, the average budget will drop from $79.82 to $75.03.

“That doesn’t mean celebrating less,” Gaugl says, but rather “being smarter about how you spend.”

More tips for cheap scares

If none of those screamin’ memes appeal to you, go online for help. Photos and how-to information are posted on social media, personal blogs, magazine home pages and craft websites.

Again, many of these can be put together with what you already have or can borrow, or from items you can get inexpensively at thrift shops.

Not a DIYer, or even a thrifter? Discounts abound online, according to Trae Bodge of the RetailMeNot coupon site. She’s seeing coupons for up to 75 percent off from companies like Spirit Halloween, Oriental Trading and WBShop.

Both regular retailers and Halloween-specific stores will amp up coupon and cash-back rates starting in mid-October, says Brent Shelton of He recommends and Spirit Halloween. Because the latter chain opens temporary brick-and-mortar stores in many regions, you can return a costume if it doesn’t fit correctly.

Post-holiday discounts can be as deep as 85 percent off, Shelton says, so shop in early November for next year’s holiday. Even if you haven’t decided on your 2014 persona, you can stock up on things like party decorations and, yes, pet costumes. Oh, and those practically free kids’ costumes make swell birthday/Christmas gifts for children who like to play dress-up.

Finally, don’t forget The Freecycle Network. You never know what’s going to pop up: a camou jacket for that “Duck Dynasty” look, say, or a fez to complete your “Doctor Who” regalia.

Or, maybe, a handmade-with-love costume outgrown by its previous owner. Resist the impulse to turn one of these into “Zombie Raggedy Ann.” It deserves better.

Stacy Johnson

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