When I was little, we'd spend joyous weeks before Halloween delving into the dress-up chest in the attic, and cobbling together bits of this and that to come up with creative costumes. I often think the creating was at least half the fun. Halloween these days and seems to be mostly a celebration of cheap (and disposable) plastic from the Far East. It also seems that, just like Christmas, we have to start planning earlier and earlier, before the “best” costumes and all the good candy sell out. Of course, Halloween doesn't have the heavy messages that are at the root of the upcoming winter holidays, nevertheless, there are ways to enjoy Halloween while avoiding conspicuous spending, and there are other ways to make sure the money you do spend is put to good use.
Take the trash out of trick or treat.
Whether you decide to make your own treats or buy them, hand out something other than artificially flavored and colored sugar or disposable plastic: Check out GreenHalloween.org for a great list of ideas. The coolest ecotreats sell out early, so stock up now on Endangered Species Chocolate Company’s Bug Bites, small chocolate squares that come with trading cards devoted to insects—perfect for Halloween. In keeping with Fair Trade Month, the nonprofit group Global Exchange sells a Fair Trade Trick or Treat Kit that includes mini Fair Trade Certified chocolates along with cards explaining fair trade that you can hand out.
Make your own simple DIY Halloween costumes.
If you have kids and don’t already have a dress-up chest, this is a great time to start one! Haunt thrift stores and yard sales for gaudy garments, jewelry, and wigs to fill it with—head out this weekend before the crowds pick everything over. Elementary school–age kids love playing dress up any time of the year, so any modest investment will pay big returns long after the Halloween costumes have been returned to the collection. And the kids will enjoy the hunt for costume components almost as much as creating and wearing their outfits.
If you or your children want to dress up as something for which human clothing won’t suffice, buy something you will be able to wear again and add temporary trimmings. When my kids were little I turned hooded sweatshirt sets into costumes by sewing on felt horns or ears, webbed wings from arm to side, and tails, to create a wide range of animals and mythical beasts. After the big night, snip the threads and you have a good set of sweats…if your child will let you: My 3-year-old refused to let me take the purple faux-fur floppy-puppy ears off her jacket and wore it that way until she could no longer squeeze into it.
If you feel the need for a totally awesome costume, rent one! You’ll save a bunch over buying one, and it will get reused again and again, rather than gathering dust or getting thrown out once you’re done with it.