Halloween is one of my favorite times of the year. Where I live, children trick-or-treat door to door by the dozens, dressed up in all manner of costumes. My family particularly enjoys the idea of Halloween as something of a harvest celebration as well.
The best part? Halloween offers all sorts of opportunities for frugality. The holiday alone can create several weekends of fun for the whole family for just a modest budget.
Here are our family’s plans for a frugal Halloween.
Buying and carving a pumpkin This usually eats up a couple of hours, as we go out in the country, pick up several pumpkins of various sizes, and head home. Then we undergo the fun process of carving the pumpkin, when my son picks out a face design or two and I empty out the pumpkin’s innards and the face. The best touch? LED pumpkin lights that use almost no energy and give a wonderful glow to the jack-o-lantern’s face. Cost: $15
Making homemade pumpkin pie We also usually take one of the pumpkins and empty out the innards to make pumpkin pie. It’s actually easier than you’ve heard. Just take out all the pulp, then slice the pumpkin’s outer shell into three inch strips (10 cm). Bake them in the oven at 400 degrees Fahrenheit (200 degrees C) for fifteen minutes, then scrape the pumpkin flesh off of these skins into a bowl and mash it into oblivion with a mixer. If the pumpkin is sweet, you don’t need any sugar – otherwise, add 3/4 cup of sugar to taste (Sugar in the Raw is best here), then also add a teaspoon of nutmeg, a teaspoon of ground ginger, a teaspoon of salt, a half teaspoon of vanilla, 1 1/2 cups of evaporated milk, and four beaten eggs. Take two unbaked pie crusts (the ones at the store are just fine) and put the filling in them until they’re smooth on the top and have the same amount in each. Bake at 425 F (220 C) for about fifteen minutes, then reduce it to 350 F (175 C) for another 35 minutes. Stick it in the fridge to cool, then brag about your homemade pumpkin pie from real pumpkin. Cost: $5 – and you get a tasty pie.
Making homemade nonalcoholic apple cider Buy a bunch of apples – ten pounds or so. I recommend half sweet (Red Delicious) and half sour (Granny Smith), though you can mix as you wish – to compromise with my wife, we make an 80/20 mix. You should also get a muslin sack if you can, though a clean pillowcase will work (seriously). Take the apples home, quarter them, (optionally peel them), then run them through a blender. Dump the puree into the sack/pillowcase, then press the juice out into a big pan. Collect the juice in a big jar – the amount you get depends on the juiciness of the apples (if you peeled the apples and your pillowcase or muslin sack was really clean, you can eat the leftover apple puree as applesauce). Put this juice into the fridge for 48 hours. There will be some sediment – pour off the liquid above the sediment (it’s actually best to siphon it). That’s your basic apple cider – it will last about two weeks.
Now, to hit a home run: take a gallon (or 4 liters) of the cider and put it into a large pot on the stove. Add half a cup of brown sugar, one teaspoon of whole cloves, one teaspoon of whole allspice, and three cinnamon sticks (broken up) into a handkerchief or a cheesecloth, then tie it up into a ball so none leaks out. Pop that into the cider, then heat it until it starts to boil – uncovered! Then when it begins to boil, lower the heat so that it just barely simmers and then remove the cloth ball after about twenty minutes. Your house will smell incredible and the cider will be delicious. Cost: $8 – and you get a fun experiment, a gallon of amazing cider, and a house that smells like a slice of autumn heaven
Making a costume Our son will be trick-or-treating for the first time, and so we’re making him a simple costume. He wants to be Spider-Man, so we’re basically going to dress him in a red sweatsuit, make him an appropriate hat, and paint his face with some nontoxic paint. Simple as can be, very cute, and about as safe as possible, too. Our daughter (at age two months) will wear a gifted bumblebee costume. Cost: $4 – and he can keep wearing the sweatsuit.
Trick-or-treaters Many of my trick-or-treaters are on the young side, so I’ll be simple with my costume. My face will simply be wrapped in some Ace bandages like a mummy – easy as can be. Cost: zip The candy will be bought in bulk at Sam’s Club. Cost: $12
Basically, we get a few fun weekends of making jack-o-lanterns, decorating with pumpkins, making (and eating) pumpkin pie, making (and drinking) hot apple cider, making our house smell wonderful, making our son’s Halloween costume, and sending him out trick-or-treating while other kids stop by. Cost? Less than $40.
That’s a wonderfully frugal way to spend some weekend time if you ask me.