The following is a guest post from Teri Gault, Lifestyle expert, money-saving guru, and CEO & founder of The Grocery Game.
As CEO of TheGroceryGame, busy mom of two and wife, I love to celebrate the holidays and enjoy time with my family. Nothing is better than that, although the frosting on the cake is being able to have the best of the best without spending a fortune. But most importantly, I must be able to do it all with ease!
I’ve made it my life’s mission to discover wonderful ways to have it all and I’m happy to share what I’ve learned. Here are some of my best tips and tricks:
Planning Your Menu
Let’s start with the party food. You never have to pay full price for food, especially on holidays. And the good news is that some of the best and most delicious foods are also easy. Instead of deciding what you want to serve for your Halloween party menu, let the sales dictate what goes on your menu, but try not to miss unadvertised sales!
That’s right – there are often twice as many sales once you get to the store, so keep an eye out for those great opportunities. Check drugstores for sales on all kinds of party food, like chips, nuts, crackers, candy, and more at great savings. Stack the deals. Look for store coupons in drugstore and supermarket circulars, and match those with manufacturer coupons from the Sunday paper.
Now that you have a plan for how to get your food for half off or better, here is how you build your money saving fabulous menu! Ideally, you will gather the best sales over the course of weeks for your Halloween bash. And don’t forget to think about what you already have in your fridge, pantry and freezer.
Saving on your main course is easy, especially if it’s meat. Choose your meat dish from the front page of one week’s sales circular. The big picture will usually be the best deal. If you find a meat sale that you like weeks before the party, pop it in your freezer. A big pot of chili is a yummy and easy option, as dry beans soaked overnight and then slow cooked, are cheap addition to chili. Any type of beef, even ground turkey is great in chili. The point is to choose whatever meat is on a great sale.
As the weeks go by, look for a great sale on cheese to grate, and canned tomatoes to add in. Pasta is a super cheap side dish or even main dish. Check circulars for a great pasta sale and stock up for your party, which can be weeks before if the sale hits early.
Be flexible. Substitutions are one of the best ways to save big money! If you see ground beef on sale for half off, but your meatball recipe calls for Italian sausage, stick with the money saving ground beef and spice it up. For chip and dip, if plain yogurt is on sale instead of sour cream, make a yogurt dip. Or if hummus is on sale, use that for your veggie dip. Since there are lots of varieties of cheese, let the sales determine which variety of cheese will go on your cheese platter. You’re being flexible, and it just might get you out of your rut too!
Stick to traditional fare since much of which became traditional is because of readily available ingredients of the season. Caramel apples are traditional Halloween fare because apples are in season and super cheap. Popcorn balls are also traditional, and you can’t beat the cost savings (and fun) of making those! Rice crispy treats are super easy, but only make them if you find a great sale on the rice crispy cereal!
On the last week, you’ll buy whatever veggies are on sale to go with all that you’ve gathered for super cheap. And how easy was that? You did all the biggest shopping ahead of time. And in the end, you’ll find you just cut your food cost by half or better!
Ways To Save On “Trick Or Treats”
Deal stacking is huge for candy at drugstores and some supermarkets. Remember, that’s where you find a “store coupon” in the circular and combine it with a manufacturer coupon from the paper. Whenever you see a “limit” on candy, food, or anything else, buy that limit. For instance, if the circular reads “limit 2” on a bag of Halloween candy, it’s probably at one of the lowest possible prices so get it! In most cases, you can also use a coupon to make the deal even sweeter. Nice!
Consider healthier choices for trick-or-treaters (and save money at the same time). Look for sales on all kinds of granola bars, fruit snacks, and more. A good sale is 50% off or a BOGO (buy one get one free). Add a coupon to the sale and you can save about 67%.
In addition to candy, give out prizes! Hit up the dollar store for great deals on fun trinkets. I just got a package of ten cute Halloween pencils, Halloween erasers, glow-in-the-dark spider rings, and more for super cheap. Kids love to find prizes among all that candy and it can save you money!
You can’t go wrong with do-it-yourself luminaries. Paper lunch bags filled with sand and votive candles create an inviting seasonal glow for the front of your home. You can even use a hole punch or scissors to cut designs in the sides of the bags. Jack-o-lanterns or fall leave patterns will help the light to shine through. It’s super fast, easy, cheap and gives you lots of impact for your investment of time and money.
Several jack-o-lanterns in various sizes and with different faces are great for your front porch. To make your lantern last longer, refrigerate them during the day, and only put them back out in the evenings. If you don’t have room in your refrigerator, store your pumpkins in a large ice chest with frozen blue ice blocks in the middle of each pumpkin, and a few around to keep it cool. A cut pumpkin can last nicely for over a week when kept cool.
To make a front yard spooky, all you need are a few sheets, lighting, and a fan. Hang sheets like ghosts in trees and use lighting from behind bushes to give an indirect glow. Even Christmas lights spread out on the ground behind bushes or a low wall can cast a glow of light that’s spooky. If wind is forecasted, your sheets will move just fine, but a strategically placed fan with an extension cord is a great alternative.
Spooky Home Decorations
Decorate with food that’s in season and traditional. Apples are in season, and therefore, super-cheap! Plus, they’re bright and festive. Make apple candleholders by coring out the top of an apple to make a well for a tea light. You can do the same with mini pumpkins too! You can also use apples and mini pumpkins for nametags on place settings. Coil a colored paper clip to hold a nametag and stick into the apple or mini pumpkin. Print the nametags on your computer in spooky fun fonts and decorate with glitter or Halloween stickers.
If you have clear glass hurricane candleholders, fill them with candy corn or gummy worms, and place a candle in the center. You just created a Halloween candleholder for almost nothing! Gather fall leaves and use them to sprinkle around mantles and tables, keeping them away from any candle flames.
Decorate food tables with real fall leaves. I live in California, so we don’t’ have those beautiful fall colors. I bought fake fall leaves from a dollar store years ago, and they serve me well every year! Black and orange curling ribbon is fast and effective to decorate a food table, if you just haphazardly string it all over the table around the food.
Speaking of food, having it elevated on various levels is easy to do and appealing for buffets. A super fast and easy way is to use stacks of books in varying levels with the highest in the back and then cover with a tablecloth. Sprinkle around fall leaves and black and orange curling ribbons, as well as a few apple and mini pumpkin votives. A jack-o-lantern on a buffet table is also bright and fun, but just make sure all candles are not in a place where people will burn their hands or clothes when reaching for food.
Online shopping for decorations for big parties can be super easy for busy moms and can save money. Sites like Oriental Trading Company have good items for place settings, and small decorations that can be used for sprinkling around on food tables, or for place settings.
I also love streamers because they’re cheap and really make a party festive if you do it right. Streamers are best used diagonally stretched across a room from one corner to the other, hanging down about seven feet from the floor. About three or four twisted and stretched across a room’s ceiling really brightens it up and brings in the festivity.
To me, the best costumes are free! For years, we had a costume swap play day before Halloween where we would trade costumes from previous years. My kids loved looking through all the “new” costumes and even enjoyed getting to wear one of their friend’s costumes they had envied the year before.
The next best thing to free is a thrift store. I just got an adorable plush child’s lion costume for $1.25. Visit thrift stores often, as new items are donated daily. Get to know someone at each thrift store, and ask if they will call you when a costume comes in that you may like. Buy used costumes on EBay, Craigslist, or check your local paper for used costumes. This can be a great way to get a nice costume for much less.
Make your own costumes for super cheap. Check out these great Halloween costume ideas or Google “DIY costumes” and you will find tons of ideas from very complex to super simple. Lots of costumes can be made from what you already have. Kids also like to make their own costumes. Maybe your daughter wants to be a “paper doll”. Help her cut a dress out of cardboard, a cardboard bow for her hair, and a cardboard purse. She can add colors and design her paper doll with colored markers or crayons. Add cute round rosy cheeks with makeup and she’s adorable. A boy could be a tin man using cardboard boxes covered with aluminum foil. Kids can come up with their own ideas and will be extra proud of costumes they’ve made themselves.
Have the kids decorate their own treat bags with glow paint. Glow sticks and glow necklaces are fun for kids and also keep them safer on the streets. These inexpensive Halloween Funflectors (pedestrian safety reflectors) are great for little trick-or-treaters.
If your kids are at an age where they can go out by themselves, make them go in groups, and stay together. Also, make sure they have cell phones. And make sure all trick-or-treaters have their flashlights!
And last but not least, what to do with all that leftover candy? Freeze it and then use it for your holiday baking! Snickers, Hershey’s, Butterfingers, and almost any other chocolate candy is awesome chopped up and baked into brownies or muffins. Plus, multi-colored candy can be used to top off cookies!
Teri Gault, CEO and founder of The Grocery Game