Simple Halloween Hacks to Fit Every Budget

Blocks that spell out "Happy Halloween"

JeniFoto /

Halloween comes at a perfect time each year. Classes are about halfway through, so you’re definitely ready for a break, but it’s still too far off from finals to be feeling completely stressed. Especially perfect is when Halloween falls on a weekend and you don’t have to worry about getting up for class. Alas, it’s on a Monday this year.

Halloween has a tendency to be pricey. You have to buy candy, a pumpkin, a costume, and decorations, among other things. It doesn’t have to break the bank, though. Your school may have a fall festival or pumpkin carving event where students get free pumpkins and then can carve them together on the quad. You get to socialize and bring a pumpkin back to your room or apartment. It’s the perfect event. A tea light candle will only cost you a dollar or two at the local grocery store (but remember, if you live on campus, you’re probably not allowed to have a real flame).

If you carve your own pumpkin, bring along a Ziploc bag and save the innards! You can bake the pumpkin seeds for a tasty snack. Pumpkin seeds are high in fiber, protein, potassium, and magnesium, so they’re just a bit of a better choice than Goldfish crackers! To make toasted pumpkin seeds, separate them from the rest of the pulp, then rinse them and pat them dry with a paper towel. Spread them evenly over a greased or nonstick cookie sheet and sprinkle them with salt. Bake them for 60 minutes (stirring them every 20 minutes or so to ensure even cooking) and enjoy a crunchy snack when they’re done. You can also use the pulp and meat from the pumpkin interior to make pumpkin purée, which can then be used in pie, cheesecake, gnocchi, bread, cupcakes, scones, oatmeal, you name it!

A girl wearing pop art costume and the associated face paint to celebrate Halloween in college.

MillaF /

Now that the snacks are taken care of, you’ll be glad to hear that costumes don’t have to be too tricky or expensive either. My favorite go-to Halloween costume is Rosie the Riveter: jeans, brown belt, denim shirt, red bandana, bright red lipstick, and whatever brown shoes you have laying around. It’s got historical significance, everyone recognizes her, and the costume is easily thrown together using things that you (or your roommate) have lying around. Or you can always dress up as the night sky, like I did in 2011. Dress up with someone who has a lot of blue clothes (for daytime), and a combination of reds and oranges (for sunrise or sunset) and you’ve got yourself a group costume.

A few other costume suggestions:

  • Giorgio Tsoukalos from Ancient Aliens (a coat and tie, and a lot of hair gel)
  • Tom Cruise in Risky Business (a button-down shirt, briefs, tall white socks, sunglasses)
  • An Instagram photo (cardboard and paint)
  • A dentist (a white button down and a medical or paint mask)
  • Waldo (jeans, white tee shirt, white beanie hat, red duct tape for stripes, glasses)
  • Athlete (t-shirt, black tape to make a number and last name)
  • Wednesday Addams (black skirt, white collared shirt, black sweater, braided hair)
  • A pop art cartoon (lots of makeup or facepaint)

When it comes to candy, you can either buy your own or try to trick-or-treat. I say try, because as a college student, many people will look down upon you trick-or-treating. Trust me. My roommate and I decided that as juniors, we should trick-or-treat through the neighborhood around our college. We ended up ringing the doorbell of my current art history professor, a man who I really admired. He gave us some candy, but you could tell he was very confused. I was mortified and couldn’t look him in the eye for weeks. Obviously, there’s no rule about who is too old to trick-or-treat, but once you’re out of high school, you’re probably going to get quite a few shameful looks.

Target, CVS, Walgreens, the Dollar Store, Walmart, and your local grocery store or pharmacy are all going to have candy that you will be able to buy if you want to spend money. Your college may also offer an on-campus trick-or-treating event where you can stock up on candy. If you just want the candy in general and don’t need it for Halloween, bags of Halloween candy tend to go on sale starting November 1. These stores also often have cheap decorations, and living in a dorm or small apartment, you’re not likely to need too many. I bought some Halloween themed window clings from the $1.00 bin at Target years ago and still use them to this day.

A girl dressed in a Halloween costume and holding a movie scene prop.

Elnur /

For something a little more DIY, buy construction paper and tape to make your own black and orange paper chain. Print out images of spooky witches and spiders to tape to your door. Printing may be free or a minimal charge, depending on your institution. Bake cookies and frost them with orange and black frosting for a tasty and fun evening or weekend activity. Sometimes you may be able to get these materials from your RA (ask in advance), or you can plan a trip to the local grocery store and split the costs with friends. If you just want the ambiance, dress up in costume, turn out all the lights, and watch a scary movie or a Halloween movie with your friends. There are any number of them available instantly on Netflix.

Most importantly of all, enjoy your Halloween! Check out free events in your city and on campus, carve a pumpkin, and eat as much candy corn as you can stand. Happy Halloween!

About Megan Clendenon

Megan C. is obsessed with Cincinnati-style chili, Louisville basketball, and Scandinavian crime fiction. She has lived in six different states and held 12 different jobs since beginning her undergraduate degree at Carleton College in 2008. The wanderlust abated somewhat in recent years, as Megan settled in Texas from 2013 to 2016 to finish a master’s degree in geosciences, write a thesis on the future horrors that stem from climate change, and get married. During her free time, you will find Megan sitting on the couch, cheering for her Louisville Cardinals, planning future adventures abroad, and snuggling with her dog, Tiger. She currently lives outside of Washington D.C.

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