A Guide to Making Budget-Friendly DIY Halloween Costumes

Halloween costumes have changed a lot over my lifetime. Remember the particular smell of the plastic masks that came with the costumes our parents grabbed for a few bucks at the pharmacy or big-box store? Now, the stores are overrun with intricate, adorable costumes that also carry really high price tags. And that’s before you add on extras like makeup, tights, special shoes, or hair coloring. Luckily, there’s no need for you to spend a fortune on something you or your kids will wear for just a few hours. Not only will you save major money by making your own costumes, but you can also be sure that no one else will walk into the party or the trunk-or-treat event wearing the exact same costume. Let go of the idea that you’ll perfectly copy your favorite movie character or the cool costume you spotted online: Be inspired, but put your own touches on the costume, and don’t be afraid to switch things up for budget or creative reasons. Focus on using things you have around your home or can acquire without spending much money.

Get Supplies at the Dollar Store

Dollar stores are typically a treasure trove for all of your crafting and holiday needs. Some stores carry ready-made costumes, but all are stuffed full of accessories and random items you can use to create fantastic, creative costumes for all ages. For example, they typically have makeup, accessories like wands or fake glasses, tiaras, witches’ brooms, hats ranging from tiaras to pirate hats, wearable butterfly wings, ninja accessories, pieces for the perfect cowboy getup, superhero capes that only need a little personalization to be absolutely perfect, boas, fake mustaches, all manner of jewelry, fake teeth (and fangs!), and even specialized cosmetic kits. You’ll probably need to supplement your dollar store finds, but you’ll certainly be off to a good start.

Learn to Sew Your Own Costume

Maybe you are accustomed to doing your own alterations and have a sewing machine ready to go, or perhaps you’ve never sewn anything in your life. Either way, with a little persistence, you can make at least part of a Halloween costume. First, remember that you aren’t trying to sew an heirloom christening gown or someone’s wedding dress: It’s OK to take shortcuts here. For inexperienced sewers, that means that you don’t need to shy away from using a hot glue gun or iron-on hem tape to make a seam. It’s also OK to hand-sew a few seams if the idea of a sewing machine scares you or you don’t have access to one. Hot glue guns are also great for attaching things to the fabric. You don’t need to struggle with sewing on sequins or other costume bits; just glue them into place! Even experienced sewers should skip hems, finishing buttonholes, lining, and other things that matter very much when making a garment that will take a lot of wear and tear but matter very little for a costume. It’s also important to understand the fabrics you’re dealing with. Even very experienced sewers rarely work with the fabrics used to make most costumes. Do a quick Internet search to figure out the best way to deal with the fake fur or sequined stretch velvet you’ve picked for your costume so you know exactly how it needs to be handled.

Use What You Already Have

Dollar stores and a willingness to get crafty will take you far, but the real magic ingredient in making cool costumes for very little money is using things you already own. Not having to buy things like tights, shoes, or even basic elements like a shirt, jeans, or skirt can save you major money and time. Clothes that have outlived their practical use and can be covered in sequins or fake blood are a great basis for many costumes! But lots of clothes can just be repurposed for the night. For example, if your little one wants to be a cowboy, you can grab a hat, kerchief, belt, and other accessories at the dollar store and mix them with jeans and a plain shirt your child already owns. If they want to be a cat, grab the ears and tail from the dollar store and combine them with black clothes already in their wardrobe.

Easy (and Low-Cost!) Costumes

There are plenty of inexpensive and easy costumes that those of us short on money, time, and crafting talent can pull off:

  • Mummy:
    This is a great last-minute costume. Over white or light-colored clothing, wrap (and wrap and wrap) bandages or toilet paper around and around the person until they are fully covered (but still able to move!). Using double-sided tape, secure some of the ends; it’s OK if some come loose over the course of the night.

  • Vampire: From the dollar store, purchase fangs, white face paint, hair oil, dark red lipstick, black nail polish, and black eyeliner. From your own closet, look for velvet or dark clothing. Making a simple cape out of a black or red tablecloth can add a lot of drama to the look for very little money! Cover all visible skin in the white face paint. Apply the lipstick to the inside of the lips, line the eyes with eyeliner, and paint the fingernails with black polish. Use the oil to slick the hair back and pop in the fangs for a spooktacular look!

  • Artist: Kids will love helping to make this costume! An oversize white shirt over dark pants can be topped with a paint-splattered smock (it’s the paint-splattering that kids love!). From an old box, cut out a cardboard palette and let them color in the paint colors with markers. A dollar store beret and a face smeared with bright-colored makeup that resembles paint smears can complete the look. Don’t forget to tape an old paintbrush to the palette!

  • Greek God/Goddess or Philosopher:
    This is a great, easy costume for adults and teens that requires little more than a white sheet, a cord or belt, safety pins, and a laurel wreath. The wreath can be made with things from your yard or the dollar store. However, wrapping the toga so it stays in place requires a little know-how, so you’ll want to practice a few times to make sure you can get it right.

  • Character From Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds:
    Start by making birds out of black construction paper. Find a shirt you don’t mind sacrificing, and glue the birds all along the shirt (attaching a few to a headband is also a great way to amp up the costume). Cut the shirt in a few places, and smear red lipstick under and around the slits in the fabric to resemble blood. Add more “bloodstains” to the face and hands.

  • Sports Fan: This outfit is very easy for those with a favorite team! Wear the gear you already own, and try to make sure everything else you wear is in the team’s colors. This is also the time to break out foam fingers or other team-specific things that fans bring to the stadium.

  • Shark: The major components of this costume are gray sweatpants or leggings and a gray hoodie. Cut a fin from gray construction paper, poster board, or card stock and attach it to the back of the hoodie with tape (double-sided or duct tape should work). Cut triangles from white poster board or card stock and attach them to the inside of the hood to make teeth. Black circles cut from construction paper and taped on either side of the top of the hoodie can make the shark’s eyes. It’s simple and fast!

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