My Maniacal Money-Saving Manifesto
Some people think trick or treating, pumpkin carving, and bobbing for apples are the only true traditions for Halloween. I beg to differ. I have a long-standing tradition that I've honed into a skill: Halloween shopping.
Let me share with you some tips for when you're out and ready to drop some cash on items for Halloween (American readers take note: most store references are places found in Canada). You can read the entire article or go directly to a specific tip:
This is the most obvious tip in my entire list. Always, always, ALWAYS shop around.
Not all locations of the same chain of stores are created equal. I often go to two, even three different locations of the same store, and every time I find different items being offered.
More importantly, go to different types of stores: craft stores, party stores, discount home decor stores, dollar stores and second hand stores. Many of them will have the same items at VERY different price points. Which brings me to my next tip.
It sounds funny, but makes a lot of sense. You will benefit from going to certain types of stores first. Here's an example of my retail route:
I hit the dollar stores first. If you've been travelling the dollar store circuit at Halloween over the last ten years, you can attest to how much it's changed. Many dollar stores (usually the chains like my personal favourite, Dollarama) have better selections and quality than independent dollar stores. Every year they are closing the gap as they compete with big party stores, and that's why I go there first.
There is no reason why you should pay more for the same item just because it's at a fancier store. As an example, I found squishy skull heads for $1.00 while Michaels was selling the same skulls for $3.00, and Party Packagers (my second stop in my hunt for Halloween goodies) was selling them for around $2.50. I've found many items at different stores at different price points, and every dollar adds up.
The dollar store may not have the nicest items, but they often have the least expensive items with the most potential. Don't be so quick to pass over that cheap looking sword or mask: with a little paint, you can turn it into something better for only pennies.
I mentioned Party Packagers earlier, which is a lower-end party store. Predominately, their stock consists of items to fill goody bags, but at Halloween they line the shelves with decorations and props of all sizes.
Once I've seen what the two wallet-friendliest places have for sale, and note the price of their items, I head to the more expensive places (craft stores and party stores).
While the dollar stores are coming up aces, in my opinion the main party stores (like Party Giant) - at least in my neck of the woods - are starting to go downhill (while keeping their prices high). Maybe I make too many props, but a lot of times I look at the items they are selling and think 'I can make that, cheaper and better'. I tend to use party stores for ideas rather than stocking up on decorations.
Finally, discount home decor stores (like Winners and Home Sense) have started to corner a particular consumer in the Halloween market, and offer fantastic fancier items you just can't find anywhere else. And it's surprisingly affordable.
Once you have your favourite stores, plot when you visit them. Going early in the season - say end of August/start of September - means you can pick up any clearance items of old stock left over from last year. For example, most Party Packagers stores do NOT have an end of the season sale - they box it all up a day after Halloween and move their Christmas items straight in. Instead, they put whatever stock they had leftover out on clearance at the start of the new season.
Shopping early also lets you get a sense of what's new this year, and what you should keep an eye on when you make the rounds to compare prices. Try not to impulse buy during this stage. The season is just starting, and there's a chance you might find something you like even more (that's even cheaper) later on.
Going late in the season allows for the price of items to settle. The closer to Halloween you get, the more likely some newer items - specifically ones didn't sell as well as store owners had hoped - will drop in price or at least go on sale.
And of course, the best prices can usually be found by going after Halloween, and I mean the DAY after. Stores may wait an extra day or two before putting items in the clearance bins, but not always.
Stores like Winners and Home Sense may have slim pickings by the time Halloween has arrived, but they usually have the best sales in early November.
I know you have enough garbage being dumped into your email account. May I suggest you create an email account solely for Halloween? This way, your regular mail isn't clogged with more spam, and any nuggets that make its way to your inbox aren't missed.
Many stores offer coupons online now (like Michaels). Sometimes, it's the only way to get them. You can either sign up to have promotions sent to you, or look online for websites like this one that offer links to coupons to different stores.
Speaking of Michaels, some of their locations (at least in the States) will accept certain ACMoore and JoAnn Fabrics coupons. Ask the management at the store about their policy on competitor coupons.
Don't wait until autumn has arrived before you start your shopping. Some online stores have sales throughout the year. Other places may offer items that aren't Halloween-specific, but could fit in with a specific theme you're planning.
Another good tip is to put aside a Halloween fund. Since we're generally broke around Christmas, I'd suggest starting a savings jar in the springtime. This way, you have money saved up when October hits and you are blinded by Halloween madness, making you want to spend, spend, spend!
It's often (but not always) cheaper to make a prop or costume yourself. Visit your local thrift shop (like Value Village, Goodwill, or the Salvation Army) and use your imagination. For example, I saw a mirrored coat rack and turned it into a trophy head plaque. Open your mind and see the items with a creative eye.
It's also a great place to pick up silver/antique ware for a fancier Victorian theme, and specimen jars for a mad lab or witch's kitchen.
If you are ordering items from an American store and having it shipped to Canada, your cheapest choice (to save you ridiculous brokerage fees) is USPS - United States Postal Service. Personally, I don't do business with companies who only offer UPS (the brown van guys), and I cringe when forced to deal with BorderFree.