You can also see this column at the online magazine GalTime!

Okay, considering I never really started my summer dieting in earnest, you can imagine my astonishment that Halloween is upon us. The weather is cooler, the leaves are changing, and hey, LOOK! CANDY CORN! Oh, yeah!

I’m getting emails this year from cash-strapped parents looking for ideas on how to make a fabulous Halloween for their kids, while spending less than in years past. They recall stories of Octobers past, when they meant to keep spending in check, but between costumes and candy, found themselves shelling out over $100! I love this year’s attitude because, let’s face it, Halloween is a great holiday, but it’s no reason to break the bank! Luckily, this is a day in which fun and frugal go hand in hand. I have to admit, I had a blast researching this article – the ideas for easy, terrific costumes are EVERYWHERE! Best of all, the resources necessary to pull them together are close to just almost everyone, courtesy of your local dollar stores and thrift stores!
After exhaustive research (and a bag or two of creativity-inspiring candy corn), here are my favorite costume ideas. These got top marks for being easy to put together, fun, comfortable, and best of all, available for $3 or less! What’s not to love?

Fireman – If your child has a red, yellow or black raincoat, pair it with appropriate dark colored clothing that they already own. Black pants and black turtleneck are perfect. Every dollar store I’ve been to has a $1 plastic fireman’s hat, as well as a $1 “Fireman’s Kit” complete with small extinguisher, official badge, walkie-talkie and (completely safe) play-axe! Adorable!

Cheerleader – The dollar store has $1 cheerleader sets complete with outfits, pom poms and megaphone! If you can, simply pair the pom poms and megaphone with any combo of cute skirt and matching sweater that your daughter already owns, along with ankle socks and sneakers, and have her practice her “Ready…OK!” move as she rings the doorbell.

Pirate – Ahoy, Matey! Hit the black clothing combo again (black pants, black turtleneck), and put it together with a pirate set, complete with a combination of eye patch, pretend hoop earring, hook, telescope, coins and the requisite (in this case, ultra-safe, pretend) dagger. Note, the pirate packaging specifically mentions that the smaller items (coins, etc) could be choking hazards. Keep this outfit for your 3+ trick or treater!

Nemo- More fun at your local thrift store – I found this adorable $50 Nemo costume for $1 in the Goodwill outlet. How cute is this?! Perfect for my three-year-old. Fabulous, comfy, and WARM in case the weather turns colder.

Scary ghoul – Okay, when I was a kid, I’d see these masks and get completely freaked out. Whoever designed them had nerves of steel. Now that I’m in my forties, I’m better around them. Kinda. I open the door to a kid wearing one of these and my pupils are still going to dilate, but I can keep my cool. I hope. You have to admit, they ARE freaky. However, paired with black pants and black sweater, it makes for a fabulous frugal costume!

Knight – I have held a lifelong affection for White Knights. Miniature ones coming to my door are positively adorable and are automatically eligible for double candy rations. Hit your local dollar store for the Knight’s shield, and spend another $1 for the archery playset, and you’re in fabulous shape. I love this costume, and it’s so easy to pair with the black pants and turtleneck!

Princess – My five-year old daughter is still deep in her princess phase, as are many of her Kindergarten friends. No need to go out and spend serious cash on the princess get up tho. Here’s a thought: Has your daughter been in a wedding as flower girl within the last year or so, complete with shiny, silky, ruffly, fluffy dress? The one that’s currently residing in the back of her closet with the perfectly matching shiny shoes? Pull it out and have her try it on, you would be surprised how forgiving those loose little waistlines are. If you’ve got a winner, check the toybox for a princess tiara and assorted bling (we’ve got loads in our playroom). If your searching comes up short, just add a tiara, wand and bling set from the dollar store et voila! Best part, comfy sneakers can fit right under the dress & nobody will see!

Special mention: Snow White’s Encore Performance! While costume shopping this year, check out your local thrift store; they are stuffed with fabulous name brand costumes! The selection is incredible, the costumes are very well made, and the prices are often 90% off retail! Last year, we found an adorable Disney-brand Snow White costume that was beautifully made and wonderfully comfy. Originally $50 retail, we came upon it in perfect condition and priced at $5. This year, after much debate about the pros, cons and personality traits of all two quadrillion Disney Princesses, Katie decided she wanted to be Snow White again. Keeping fingers crossed, we tried on last year’s costume, and sure enough, it fits perfectly! Putting my sophisticated math skills to work, a $5 costume, used twice, works well in the $3 or less costume category!

Another Halloween note about your local dollar store – it’s a fabulous place to get your candy! Great selection, always fresh, and the price can’t be beat. If you’re planning a kids’ party at your house (rather than have them walk house to house) check out your store for party supplies as well! Happy Halloween, everyone!