Halloween Costumes for the Cheap and Lazy

Liz Jasper always enjoyed writing, but in college and graduate school dutifully studied things that would make her “marketable.” Fortunately, she loved her stint as a middle school science teacher (most of the time), her time working as a business analyst and still really enjoys her most recent career switch into financial planning.

And yet…while teaching, doing five-page math problems in graduate school, and doing some serious bonding with Excel, she kept haunting bookstores and compulsively read her way through the library system’s fiction sections in three counties. She took unreasonable joy in fact that, while she very properly interned for a bank during business school, part of what she did for them was write magazine articles. The award she’s secretly most proud of? Her high school English department award.

Being a clever analyst, she eventually admitted she’d always wanted to write novels. And then she went ahead and wrote one. She shoved that in a drawer, took some classes and started again.

Why does she always end up writing paranormals? After five years teaching middle school followed by way too much crunching numbers, writing about blood-sucking demons is only natural.

Take a look below for a chance–or two–to win a copy of Underdead!

Maybe you’re too busy with daily life to come up with a good costume for Halloween. Or maybe you can’t muster the energy to deal with the parking lot at Target, much less the insanity of the Halloween aisle.

Or maybe you’ve already eaten the candy meant for trick-or-treaters and have had to go back for the re-buy of shame and don’t have money left for a “real” Halloween costume. (Liz hurriedly shoves empty king-sized bag of Rolos out of sight.)

Not to worry. I, Liz Jasper, award-winning author of the UNDERDEAD vampire mysteries, am here for your Halloween costume needs!

I have a long history of cheap and easy Halloween costumes. My mother wasn’t one of those moms who did crafts or sewed. This is how Halloween went in our house growing up.

Liz and her sister [plaintively]: “Mom? It’s Halloween. We need costumes!”

Mom: “Already?”

Liz and her sister [voices going shrill]: “Trick or treating starts in an hour! The little kids are already going out!”

Mom [Leaving kitchen with audible sigh and crossing to hall closet.]: “Okay, let’s see what we have here.” [Reaches into closet and pulls out a trench coat.] “Here you go. One of you can go as a spy. You can wear this hat.” [Pulls out crumpled hat off bottom of closet and gives it a shake.] “And, um, sunglasses!”

Liz’s sister: “Mom, that hat has flowers on it!”

Mom: “No, look! You turn it inside and out and it’s black. Very mysterious!”

My sister and I fought over that costume.

As you can see, I have it in my roots to be, um, “clever” about costumes. I will now, as promised, share with you some great costumes.

5. Little Red Riding Hood. Pull a red rain slicker from the hall closet, put the hood up and carry a basket. Cost: FREE. (Courtesy of Mom. Tested by two girls over several Halloweens.)

4. Redneck. Go to drug store on day of Halloween, ten minutes before party, and root around in what’s left of 75% off costume bin. Find red face paint or fake blood. Put on jeans and a t-shirt or men’s undershirt and wear a flannel shirt as your top layer. Slather some red gunk on your neck. Cost: $1.00 for Halloween face makeup. (Tested by author. Warning: You will not go home with a date from any party you wear this to.)

3. Bat. Take an old file folder or leftover cereal box, cut out two triangles and color them black with a marker. Tape them to an old head band for your bat ears. Cut a black plastic garbage bag into bat wings and affix to the undersides of your shirt sleeves. You can sew them on or use duct tape, but stapling is the gold standard here. Cost: 75 cents in materials. (Adapted from a costume worn by Liz’s college roommate who had craft talent way above the author’s.)

2. Cat. See “Bat.” above, only do cat ears and use black yarn or an old computer cable for a tale. Cost: 50 cents for materials. (Adapted from bat costume one year after everyone had seen bat costume. Note: Feel free to rotate bat/cat costumes year after year. You can absolutely use the same headband and possibly the same triangles  for ears.)

1. The Devil’s Advocate. Get devil horns from the 75% off Halloween rack. Or make your own using the cardboard and headband technique under “Bat.” Wear a suit. Get hyped up on candy and make up a few “Soul Contracts”, print them out and carry them in a briefcase.  Threaten anyone who comes near the candy bowl. Cost: $1.99 if you buy the horns. (Tested by author. Author is very proud of this one and has used it no fewer than five times.)

So come on, pull up a bowl of Halloween candy and tell us about your best or worst Halloween costume. Yes, even if you spent money on it. Everyone who comments will be entered in a drawing for a trade paperback of UNDERDEAD. Those with the really good ideas or who make me laugh get entered twice! (And as you snarf down the candy intended for Trick-or-Treaters while typing, as I know you are, be sure to pat yourself on the back for your noble generosity. Those kids don’t need the candy. Really. You’re thinking of them and their health. You are a noble, noble being.)

38 thoughts on “Halloween Costumes for the Cheap and Lazy

  1. Many moons ago I went to my first Halloween party {USA} style with a chum – I had a fantabulous outfit – the details of which I can’t remember.

    But my chum hadn’t prepared in advance so she knocked out out there in the kitchen – black trash bag [split open for her head at the top] a can of orange icing in one hand and a bag of marshmallows in the other to finish off on arrival at the party.

    Every time a guy asked her what her costume was, she’d squirt a shot of frosting on the plastic and stick a marshmallow on top. Weirdest Dalmatian I’ve ever seen, but she was the sweetest treat.


  2. My children wore fleece blanket sleepers for years: red devil, pink bunny and yellow Tweety. I think I may have out-cheaped your mother. They were ecstatic when they were upgraded to plastic. As far as my most embarrassing Halloween moments, I think those costumes say it all! Great blog. I might just steal your “devil’s advocate” costume. It fits right into my budget.


  3. When I was about seven years old, my mother made me a leopard costume. It was pretty elaborate, made from a pattern and leopard print she’d gotten at a fabric store. She even made a little headpiece complete with ears.

    After her death a couple of years ago, it was the one piece of clothing I took away when we cleaned out the house. Very special memories.

    My own homemaking talents, however, more closely resemble those of Liz’s mother. I’m taking note of these handy and cheap suggestions!

    I’d love to win a copy of UNDERDEAD. Love paranormal stuff!


  4. I like the spy one. Funny about the hat.

    When I was 13 (probably too old for trick or treating, but my friends and Ie did it anyway), I wore my older brother’s white button-down shirt, which came below my butt, and a pair of black tights. Voila, I was a beatnik!


  5. My all time favorite costume was going to a swanky party at a vineyard in Napa dressed as the Empire State Building. I took two cardboard boxes of different sizes – one was the body, one went over my head. Then I printed out sheets of paper with dark rectangles on it for windows and pasted them on the boxes. To complete the costume, I attached a stuffed gorilla to the top and hung a small plane from it by a wire (i.e. King Kong swatting a plane).

    I did attract some unwanted attention – a drunken lawyer wearing one of those weird, transluscent face masks, who buttonholed me about his latest client, who had beheaded someone. It was a strange night. But a great costume!


  6. The best costume was created by a co-worker. He took a white plastic trash bag, put two holes in the bottom for his feet and two in the sides for his arms. He crumpled sheets of white paper to fill it. He cinched (loosely) the tie at his throat and went as… White trash.


  7. costumes are always a little bizarre at my house — also not readily apparent to the public. My son is going as Percy Jackson and my daughter as Rachel Elizabeth Dare. Easy costumes — just needed red hair spray and allow my kids to sacrifice a pair of jeans to graffitti … but does anyone in the general public know who they are?


  8. Liz,
    Hilarious post! My little guys (4 and 2) were trying on their costumes and looking in the mirror the other day. My 4 yr old is Spiderman and the costume is puffy with fake muscles -so he flexed in the mirror and said, “I’m spiderman!”
    His little brother, Bobby – dressed as a pirate, was watching him so he flexed into the mirror also and said in a deep voice, “I’m Bob!”
    Looking forward to reading Underdead.
    Happy Halloween all!


  9. I was living in Europe and they didn’t celebrate Halloween. I talked my Belgian husband into getting dressed up and going to a party. At every traffic light we scared the hell out of the people in the car next to us. We arrived at the party and did not take our masks off for over three hours, thoroughly creeping everyone out. When the party giver said she was going to call the police if we didn’t reveal our identity be finally unmasked. We won a prize for creepiest couple. Great fun.


  10. That was friggin’ hilarious, Liz… Our costumes varied from year to year from storebought (one year I went as Snow White with one of the drugstore costumes with the plastic masks that hooked onto one’s face with those nasty little stretchy strings) and then the year after, she made me a Lady Octopus costume out of a paper bag and stuffed nylons for the tentacles. Pink tights and flat shoes completed it.


  11. Hi Maddy, I had a hard time imagining the dalmation at first but then I got it and now I’m giggling and can’t get it out of my head. Your friend absolutely has the right Halloween spirit! A bad thing for the world that you have unleashed this idea. (evil grin).



  12. Hi Edie, the key part to the spy costume was the floral underside to the hat–you had to tilt your head down when you trick or treated or they’d see it and comment on it and the great spy illusion would be blown. LOL.

    Beatnik was perfect for your 13 costume–way to transition to cheapness! And trick or treating is FINE at 13. Shoot, I’d do it now if I could get away with it!



  13. Thanks for this post, Liz. It has reminded me how much fun I’ve had making Halloween costumes for myself and my kids. Unlike your mother, I’m rather crafty. My first homemade costume was The Flying Nun. Guess what year that was! I thought it was the greatest thing to put it together myself and I never got another store-bought costume again.
    I so love all the garbage bag ideas I’ve learned here. I’m gonna talk both my sons into being bats this year.


  14. Kirsten,

    Wow, that is a great costume. I love the touch of the gorilla on top! Am giggling imagining it. That one is worth a redo–you must find a party worthy of it. And maybe upgrade with some reinforced cardboard so you can bump annoying monopolizers out of the way.



  15. Dana, my inner 4th grader who borrowed a spider costume with legs made of giant pipe cleaners (and required explantion “Um, what are you, dear?”) is v. jealous of your wonderfully plump octopus legs!



  16. Best is a tough question! I’ll let others be the judge of the best of my two faves:

    1. Christmas Tree. I created a felt tunic, simply cutting a hole for my head in the green cloth that hung over me on both sides like a soft-sculpture sandwich board. I decorated the green cloth–my tree part– with a garland of tinsel and ornaments. I wore tiny holiday bulbs as earrings and loud red and white checkered socks with red shoes. For my head, I found a big shiny star at the crafts store and stuck it on a headband. On a string, I had a wrapped present that I pulled under me, whenever I posed, arms stretched out. I think the mixed metaphor of going as something Christmassy at Halloween was as much a hoot as the costume.

    2. The Purple People Eater. The old novelty song by Sheb Woolly inspired this get-up, “He was a one-eyed, one-horned flying Purple People Eater.” I had on dark purple tights and leotards and a longish royal purple blouse on top. I found a pointed cone at the crafts store, which I painted purple and splashed with glitter that I head-banded onto my crown. I took a purple, simple eye-cover mask and glued a big fake eye in the middle. This was for a work competition where we had to promenade for the best costume contest. I “flew” in, arms held out airplane fashion, and played The Purple People Eater as I entered, the living visual of the words.

    I love costumes and am writing a mystery that takes place at a big gala costume party. It’s a lot easier to write them than to put some of my complex costume ideas together sometimes! 🙂


  17. Hi Liz!

    What a fun post! It really took me back to my own childhood days. My mom always “put together” our costumes, too. I remember one particular Halloween in which she quickly gathered together (from her own closet) a skirt, top, jewelry and scarves and made me a gypsy outfit. I loved it. This was circa ’71, so lots of jingly, jangly jewelry and bracelets in her jewelry box were readily available. Coin/chain link drop-belts that hung off the hips were very popular at that time. I also loved the fact that I could wear grown-up makeup (red lipstick, mascara, etc, etc.) Thanks for the walk down memory lane!


  18. K.E. That is a great costume! I can totally see loving that as a kid. Sigh. Reminds me of when I played princess by putting old sheer curtains over my head and swaning around. Um. TMI? : ) Liz


  19. Hi Nancy, see now, I like it when the parents dress up too. And a flapper dress is always right. I always wanted to be a ghost growing up but no way was Mom sacrificing a sheet! –Liz


  20. My favorite costume is the one I made for my daughter’s FIRST Halloween (she was one year old). I designed and sewed a Batman costume out of satin with the belt and everthing. She did NOT like the hood. I got her to wear the costume to ONE house, where she promptly burst into tears and wanted to go home! I took a photo so I could see her in it for more than 5 seconds. After sewing her costumes for 5 years, I discovered she like the store bought ones just as well–they were cheaper and less work–we were both esctatic! Hmm, Halloween is my fav holiday. Maybe that’s why I have a creepy, scary house scene in BEVERLY HILLS VOODOO where Detective Murry steps on an eyeball. 🙂


  21. Louise, that is so cute. I’m terrible but I love the part where she burst into tears at the first house. Am cracking up. Poor thing! And re: the book scene, eew! translation: perfect scene. : ) Liz


  22. Hi Liz. I’m a 6’4, 300lb guy so one year I bought a cheapo hockey mask and a tube of fake blood. I took a knife to the mask and made numerous cuts to it. On one of the cuts I applied a little too much pressure and the tip of the knife broke off and stuck in the plastic, so I left it there and then added liberal amounts of blood all over the mask. Then I realized I had a slight problem when I went to try on the mask. I wear glasses, in fact, need to wear them, and they wouldn’t fit over the mask. So, I had to grab another knife and carve notches in the sides and in the bridge of the nose. So, there I was, the nerdy Jason.


  23. My favorite was when 3 co-workers and I went to an office party and later to an evening party as Fruit of the Loom—an apple, purple grapes, currants, and I was the green grapes. Making all those grapes was a PITA but worse was discovering that none of us could sit down for hours, including using the facilities. Still, we won the office contest!

    Liz, thanks for a hilarious visit and let us know who the winner is 😉


  24. Leila,

    You had one of those GOOD creative costumes–though next time you’d have to go as grapes wilted on the vine or something so that you could sit. : )

    Thanks for hosting me! I’ll come back and announce the winner later, after I’m sure I can trust myself not to cheat. Though that would be hard, as all of the comments were great and now I’ve got lots of costume ideas to steal, I mean, admire.



  25. OK – so I am a little late in responding….I had some old lace and sewed it to my red thermal shirt around the collar and cuffs. I had a remnant of white material that I sewed as a band to the bottom of my black work skirt. I pulled on a pair of old white knee highs and rolled them down over the tops of some borrowed black army boots. Then I got out the hair gel and slicked my hair back into a pony tail that I wired so that the pony tail stuck out and put on a pair of white button earrings. And I was done! Then I took a look in the mirror. It was true! All the years of being teased throughout school, and I really do look like Olive Oyl!


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