When Halloween rolls around, parents see it as another thing that’s going to drain their wallets. You need to buy a bunch of candy to pass out to strange children, only to also need to arrange an elaborate costume for your child so they can go demand candy from other people.
It’s frustrating, but our parents did it for us, so we might as well do it for our own children.
But stop right there. The candy part might be an unavoidable cost (unless you want all the kids in the neighborhood to hate you, which you don’t), but the costume doesn’t have to be a bank-breaker.
No, the alternative to overpaying for a costume isn’t to simply forbid your children from trick-or-treating. You can be frugal and still be a fun parent if you’re smart about how you acquire a costume.
Find out as soon as possible whether your child wants to be a specific thing for Halloween of if they’re open to your ideas.
If they know what they want to wear, start planning early. If it’s a costume that is likely widely manufactured, shop around both in stores and online to find the best price.
If it’s something more offbeat, start brainstorming with your child how you could assemble the costume. Try thinking of household items you could reuse and reincorporate into the get-up.
If your child is undecided, don’t just leave them to figure it out by themselves. When they invariably don’t know until the last minute, you’re going to be stuck in that time crunch with them.
Help them come up with ideas and encourage them to think about whether they want this costume because it’s something they want or if it’s just the trendy costume this year and they don’t want to be left out.
If they want to just go with the trend, that’s fine, they’re kids and fitting in is important to them. But it’s important they’re aware of this bias before you allow them to lock into their idea because they may come to regret their choice if it dawns upon them later.
When their mind’s made up, get cracking on tracking down what you need.
If your child is still undecided, keep calm. Try to weed out what they might like and make your own suggestions. If nothing else, this might be a perfect opportunity for some personal improvement.
Practice Your Persuasion Skills
This will be tricky, and it may even be better to not do it at all than to do it wrong, but you may find yourself in a spot where you need to do it right.
Maybe your child wants a costume that’s far too expensive. Maybe they’ve already got a costume, but they changed their mind and now they’re demanding you buy them a new one. Or maybe you’re still trying to help one figure out what they want to dress up as.
Whether you’re going to have to steer your child toward a more affordable costume, convince them to stick with their first choice, or get them to just pick something already, you’re going to have a tall order ahead of you. You’ll need to be able to talk to your child on their level and use their logic to convince them of what you want them to think in a way they’ll want to hear.
Whatever you do, don’t be content to be one of those parents who completely disregards their child’s sense of agency and says things like, “What do you mean? Of course you like this costume!”
Children might be emotionally immature people by definition, but they still have emotions and personhood, and acting like their wishes don’t even exist is just begging for a bad parent-child relationship. There are people who have held grudges against their parents for lesser transgressions than not being allowed to pick their own Halloween costume as a kid.
We’re telling you this because there are going to be a lot of times – such as during costume shopping – when your child wants something you can’t, won’t, or just don’t want to give them, and it will seem like your only options are to spoil them or play Bad Cop and lay down the law.
But there’s a third option to try to just convince them on their own terms that your idea is better.
Persuasiveness is an important life skill, and if you can figure out how to negotiate with a literal child, you surely would be able to win over any adult. There will definitely be people who think trying to reason with your child is just a waste of time, and while it will take time to pull it off, it is possible. Not only will you have a lot less conflict with your child in the long run, but you’ll save time and money on costume-hunting.
Make It an Art Contest
While we’re on the topic of figuring out how to speak to your kids in their language, you can make magic happen if you can encouragingly challenge your child to come up with an original costume – preferably something they can make out of household materials.
This goes into persuading them again. Get it in their head that you’ll be impressed if they can display creativity and resourcefulness. Maybe don’t give them the idea that you’ll be mad or disappointed if they don’t, but do give them the idea that originality is a virtue.
You may need to help your child assemble their custom wardrobe, especially with younger kids, but if it saves you money and builds your bond, it will be worth it.
Use Your Own Resources
They say kids learn habits from watching their parents, so if you want them to learn to think in terms of what they can do with what’s already at your disposal, demonstrate.
Do you know other parents who may have old Halloween costumes lying around? See if they’d be interested in a swap, or if their kids are too old for you children’s old costumes, maybe they’ll just sell you the costumes dirt cheap.
If you find yourself responsible for composing the costumes, think about cheaper alternatives to what might seem like inevitable costs.
For example, somewhere along the line someone figured out face paint can be cheaper than buying a mask. Not to mention, the remainder of the face paint can probably be saved for future Halloweens if you store it correctly.
If it’s too late to salvage this Halloween, then it’s not too late to start preparing for next Halloween. When the holiday is over and all the merchandise goes on clearance, swoop in and nab what you think might be useful in Octobers to follow.
Parenting is tough, and if you’re aiming to be a parent who’s not only responsible but also supportive and fun, some cynics would say the best you could hope for is two out of those three things.
But the gap can be bridged. As with many dilemmas in life, it can be solved if you just know your options and appreciate your own abilities.