Halloween: Back to Basics

Some of us remember a time when even overprotective parents would let their kids out once a year for a night of scary fun. The children roamed the streets unaccompanied by adults, wearing dark clothing and taking candy from strangers. Often the treats were unwrapped—homemade popcorn balls or cookies, or little waxed-paper bags filled with candy corn. Children needed pillowcases to drag home all the loot.

The climate in this country has changed, and so has Halloween. These days—the era of “stranger danger” and “orange alert”—safer activities are taking the place of trick-or-treating on dark streets. If kids go at all, it’s often accompanied by their parents, and only to a few homes they know. Candy is rigorously inspected, and anything unwrapped is discarded. Many children, especially in urban neighborhoods, are not even allowed this limited fun.

Community organizations, schools and retail establishments are stepping up to fill the gap and make Halloween memorable for today’s generation of children. Halloween, more and more, is becoming an occasion to decorate and throw parties in safe venues like malls, community centers and private homes. The props are getting more elaborate and more expensive with each passing year. According to the National Retail Foundation, around 170 million Americans currently celebrate Halloween, with the average person spending $80 on candy, costumes and decorations.[1]

If the budget is tight—or if you just don’t want your children getting the message that it has to cost a lot of money to have fun—consider some cost-effective ways to celebrate Halloween this year. Most kids love the idea of making their own costumes, so if you let them help, you can probably avoid high-priced party-store costumes. Keep safety in mind—children should be able to walk freely, see clearly out of masks and be seen easily by motorists while walking outside.

Some simple costume ideas:

  • Mummy: Tear an old white sheet into strips and wrap around the child’s body, tying ends together as you go. Leave eyes and mouth free. Use face paint to whiten face and draw dark circles around eyes for a spooky touch.
  • Tombstone: Cut two large tombstone shapes out of cardboard and wear back and front, attached on the sides with cord or rope. Use brown or gray poster paint and markers to color realistically and to add inscriptions (funny or scary).
  • Pumpkin: Cut holes for arms and legs in a large orange leaf bag. Stuff with crumpled-up newspapers. Wear green or orange clothes underneath.
  • Bunch of grapes: Tape two dozen purple or green balloons all over child’s body. Purple or green clothes should be worn underneath if possible. (Be sure to recycle balloons properly afterward; they can be dangerous to wildlife.)
  • Roman senator: Wear sandals and a bedsheet. Look online for pictures to help you wrap the sheet effectively. A “laurel wreath” crown of real or fake leaves adds a nice touch.
  • Piece of gum: Dressed in pink from head to toe, affix an old shoe or flip flop to a pink hat by sewing or hot gluing. Voila – an instant piece of gum stuck to the bottom of a shoe!

Plan a party with spooky, kid-friendly food. Some ideas:

  • Spider Web soup: Ladle tomato soup into bowls. Pipe a thin line of sour cream in a spiral on top of each (using a cake decorating bag or a plastic baggie with a tiny corner cut off). With a toothpick, drag lines outward from the center of the spiral to form the web shape.
  • Mummy Dogs: Cut packaged biscuit mix into thin strips and wrap around hot dogs. Bake according to biscuit mix instructions.
  • Bloody Fingers:  Cut sticks of string cheese in half to form “fingers,” rounding off one end with a knife and using the dull side of the knife to score wrinkle marks for knuckles. On each rounded end, stick a slivered almond for a fingernail (cream cheese makes good glue). Serve with marinara sauce for the “blood.”
  • Kitty Litter Cake: Layer slices of any flavor cake with any flavor pudding in a brand-new, never-used kitty litter pan till three-quarters full. Sprinkle a layer of crushed vanilla sandwich cookies on top. Soften several Tootsie Rolls in the microwave for a few seconds and bury half-way into the “litter.” (Drape one or two over the edge as well.) Serve with a brand-new, never-used pooper scooper.
  • Glow-in-the-dark Punch: Add tonic water to pineapple juice or a combination of juices. Under black light, this will glow (because of the quinine in the tonic water). The more tonic water you use, the more it will glow, but experiment a bit because tonic has a slightly bitter taste which may not appeal to your children. Tonic is fizzy, so prepare just before serving.

Sarah Tolson, Certified Financial Planner™ and Founder of Girls Just Gotta Have Funds, is passionate about helping women and families create customized wealth-building plans tailored to their goals and life circumstances. As a second generation financial planner, Sarah’s vision is to inspire women to make their dreams a reality! Sarah is offering the readers of Active Kids a complimentary one-hour financial consultation and would like to extend an invitation to her monthly Wine, Women & Wealth workshop. Please call her at (925) 736-3024 or email her at stolson@financialguide.com for more information.



[1] National Retail Federation, There’s No Spooking Spending as Seven in 10 Americans Plan to Celebrate Halloween This Year, issued September 25, 2012.