Updated on 09.18.14

Planning A Frugal Halloween With Family

Trent Hamm

HalloHalloween 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.

Five Frugal Family Halloween Ideas

1. Buy and carve 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

2. Make 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.

3. Make 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

4. Make 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.

5. 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.

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  1. chris says:

    mandatory: halloween post featuring a picture of you dressed as a mummy. you owe it to your readers!

  2. Johanna says:

    For pies and other eating purposes, I much prefer butternut squash to pumpkin or any other type of winter squash, for a couple of reasons. The butternut’s skin is perfectly smooth, so it’s easier to peel. And the seed compartment is smaller, but the price per pound is usually the same – so you get more food for less money and less weight/bulk to carry (important for me because I don’t drive, so I have to transport my veggies home under my own power).

    I really, really dislike Red Delicious apples for eating or for baking, but you say they are good for juicing? Have you tried other varieties, like Fuji, Braeburn, or Gala?

  3. Elaine says:

    Canned pumpkin is rarely actual pumpkin, usually some other type of winter squash possibly including butternut – so it’s just as well anyway.

    You can also make the jack-o-lantern pumpkins into pie. Usually carving pumpkins are more stringy than the eating variety, but it’s completely doable. Just trim off any parts that are singed or have wax drips on them.

  4. Mandee says:

    Your explanation for the pumpkin pie left out how long the strips of pumpkin should be baked in the oven for?

  5. Tyler K says:

    After carving the pumpkin also enjoy salting and baking the seeds.

  6. Oswegan says:

    Nice post.

    I was writing about our debt snowball progress on my blog this morning and Daisy stopped by and suggested your site. I may add a link if that’s ok.

    We are getting ready to make our costumes soon too. Although, I’m not sure that our thirteen year old will trick-or-treat this year.

    He is having a Halo-ween party with a bunch of buddies, using the Halo 3 and the X-Box 360 that he saved for and bought on his own, with cash.



  7. Lazy Man says:

    Growing up we went as hobo’s for Halloween every year, it turns out that it’s a very frugal costume.

  8. Kat says:

    Wow, pumpkins and apples are cheap in your area. 10 pounds of apples is an easy $10-$12 and are small apples. Last time I bought a pumpkin it was $8 for a medium size. And all of these items are grown near me.

    Have fun trick or treating!

  9. Mike says:

    Sounds delicious. For how long do you keep the strips of outer shell in the oven at 400 degrees?

  10. Trent Hamm Trent says:

    I added the detail about how long to bake the pumpkin – 15 minutes will do it.

  11. Jim says:

    Thanks for the great post Trent – my girlfriend and I are going to try out the cider and pies in the next couple weeks! Neither one us can do anything in the kitchen other than boil water, but I think your directions were straightforward enough to warrant an attempt. Can’t wait!

  12. s says:

    Kat, you say they grow them locally, sp try to find a local farm that has pumpkins — they tend to be a lot cheaper than the store. Plus picking them from a farm is way more fun!

    Elaine, Where did you hear that canned pumpkin is “rarely actual pumpkin”? I have eaten about a million (my guess) cans of Libby’s pumpkin – the only kind I’ve noticed at the store – and it clearly says “100% pumpkin” on it. It seems odd that they would use anything else, since it’s not like pumpkin is expensive (and certainly not less than butternut squash).

    And on the topic of butternut — I hadn’t thought to mix it with the pumpkin fo pie, but I happen to have bought a few of each last week — a great deal too ($.25/lb for the pumpkin $.40 for the squash. I love the fall!) — so I’ll have to try that!

  13. Kelly says:

    My roommate and I intentionally planned our Halloween Party for November 3rd. From what we hear, our friends are very excited to get an extra use out of their costumes. The best part? All the Halloween decorations, candy, costume parts, etc. that will go on sale November 1 – we’re doing our party shopping then :) We’re also making inexpensive popcorn balls and homemade cider (alcoholic and non).

  14. Allison says:


    did you buy your pumpkin at a pumpkin patch? They tend to hugely inflate the prices. We buy ours from the local grocery store. I’ve seen them from 13-25 cents/lb right now, and in the next week or so, I anticipate that our local bargain grocery store will lower theirs to 8c/lb.

    Pumpkin patches charge way more because of all the on site entertainment they use to draw in big crowds (cider, corn mazes, hay rides, etc) I’d rather just go to the grocery store and pick up the pumpkins while taking care of another errand.

  15. Kat says:

    The pumpkins come from the store.
    The apples from an orchard.
    I think So. Cal is just expensive.

  16. Elaine says:

    S, re: canned pumpkin being other squash. Here: http://blog.fatfreevegan.com/2006/10/and-answer-is.html
    I guess pumpkin is a close enough relative of cushaw, and most people faced with a can of it would think “What the hell is a cushaw and where’s my pumpkin??”

    As for where to buy them, I get nearly all my produce at the farmer’s market, including apples and winter squash. I don’t know how the price compares, but it’s not a factor in my where-to-shop decision since I believe strongly in supporting local farmers.

  17. Heather says:

    Thanks Trent!
    I was getting quite depressed about Halloween coming up.
    It is by far my favorite holiday. And I love the season to.
    But just thinking about the cost of it all was eating me alive.
    You have renewed my spirit.
    I think my daughter will be a Hippy (sooo easy and cheap) and my son may go as a simple ghost (this I think will be good considering all of the way over done, and over priced, costumes today).

    Your words are always appreciated!

  18. Oswegan says:

    I love the pumpkin seeds after they are roasted – a little oil oil and salt – delicious.


  19. Oswegan says:

    I meant “olive” oil. Oops – tired fingers.


  20. Heather says:

    Oh, and I back Chris 100% on the mummy picture!

  21. Jason says:

    Trent, So the pumpkin pie filling comes from mashing up the hard part of the pumpkin, not the pulp?

  22. vh says:

    What a neat post! These are all such great ideas.

    Can you get Halloween candy in bulk packaged individually? Around here, a lot of people have gotten pretty paranoid as the cumulative result of some things that have happened over several years, and so they won’t let their kids eat anything that’s not sealed tight in factory packaging. That lets out stuff like apples (not that I could afford them for the 87 gerjillion kids trucked in from the ghetto) and home-made popcorn balls (a fave treat when I was a li’l kid). Buying a ton of packaged M&Ms (or whatever) challenges my budget, especially since some years a lot of kids come around and some years only a few show up — and in the lean years you have to donate or throw away the candy kids don’t collect.

    If you could find factory-packaged Halloween candy treats in bulk, it would make having to buy foodoid you won’t eat a little less frustrating.

    BTW…if you haven’t made popcorn balls for the kidlets, you’ve gotta resurrect a recipe from the _Joy of Cooking_ and try it out this month!

  23. Vince says:

    Heck. Halloween is where I really let loose. I have YEARS of stuff to display and use and the collection grows each year – love them after Halloween sales. I give out regular sized candy bars and a glow necklace. Our house has become THE house to go to for candy and to get spooked. I always do up the yard/garage. Haunted graveyard one year, Haunted operating room the next, Hannibal Lector one year, Dragon Cave the next. Can’t wait. Less then 20 days to go….

  24. Vince says:

    Oh… I forgot! Our 14th Annual Pumpkin Carving Party is this weekend! Whoo hoo! 30-60 folks. Pumpkin guts everywhere. Big BOUNCY castle in the backyard. Good eats. And trophies!!

  25. Mariette says:

    Jason, Y

    ou scrape the pulp off of the hard skins and mash the pulp in the blender – the hard skins get composted (or thrown away depending on your set up,) although they also are excellent in a soup stock provided they aren’t burnt.

  26. KarenFLA says:

    My friend taught me to buy the small Halloween gifts on sale right after Halloween the year before and give them out as unlike candy you can save the leftovers and not put on weight. I give out Halloween spider rings, pumpkin cups, pencils, etc. Walgreens often puts the pencils on sale a few weeks before Halloween. I give a piece of candy with each gift, but I don’t have to overbuy on the candy. I also keep a roll of dimes to give out with the gift if I run out of candy. So I give out a 25 cent gift item I paid half or less for with the candy and the kids are delighted with the generosity. Most of the kids in our neighborhood have aged out, so there are fewer and fewer every year and in the past I got stuck with lots of candy.

  27. Michelle says:

    Thaks for the tip Karen. I always get less children at the door then expected and I end up eating all the left over candy myself (not good for the diet) I think small gifts are a much better idea

  28. m garcia says:

    Children under the age of two should not drink unpasteurized juice or cider of any kind.


  29. Elaine says:

    mary – I highly doubt that’s a concern with homemade cider. Otherwise your kids wouldn’t be eating any raw fruit or veggies at all.

    Jason – yes the “hard part” becomes the pie. Scoop out the seeds and the stringy stuff. Wash the seeds and roast them, pitch the stringy stuff. Cook, peel, and mash the rest of the flesh.

  30. SunshineD says:

    He’s boiling it so it’s fine anyway. As long as it’s heated to 160F for at least 1 min, it’s ok according to this website.


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