Of all the frights that can startle you on Halloween, sticker shock doesn’t need to be one of them. It’s true the price of decor, costumes and candy can add up: The National Retail Federation estimates that those celebrating the holiday will spend an average of about $87 each to do so.
But you can alleviate the pain with some strategizing before you pay for that goblin or superhero costume. We talked to credit card and spending experts about how to ensure this year’s Halloween treats outweigh any tricks.
Start with your rewards credit card
“Most cards issued today have some sort of rewards program, so using a card helps you build up points,” says credit expert John Ulzheimer. While he doesn’t recommend applying for a new card just to use for Halloween purchases, he suggests looking in your wallet and using one you may already have — preferably the one you already use for most of your everyday expenses — so you can build up your stash more quickly.
While cards come with different rewards rates, a 2% cash-back card will give you $40 back on $2,000 of spending. Over the course of a year, that kind of cash back can add up. Just be sure to pay off your balance every month to avoid accruing interest.
Use the right card at the right store
Some store credit cards will give you a bigger bang for your buck when you’re picking up Halloween gear. Getting candy, decorations or costumes at Amazon? Wallet Hacks website founder Jim Wang suggests using the Amazon Prime Rewards Visa Signature card, which earns 5% cash back on all Amazon and Whole Foods purchases; 2% back at restaurants, gas stations and drugstores; and 1% back on all other purchases.
Lisa Lee Freeman, co-host of the “Hot Shopping Tips” podcast, suggests Target’s REDcard, which offers a 5% discount on most Target purchases. She notes that T.J. Maxx — another good Halloween destination for its costumes and decorations, and the store Freeman chooses for her own Halloween purchases — also offers store-branded credit cards. The TJX Rewards Credit Card can be used only in T.J. Maxx and affiliated stores; the TJX Rewards Platinum Mastercard can be used anywhere Mastercard is accepted. Both cards earn 5 points per $1 spent at T.J. Maxx and affiliated stores, like Marshalls and HomeGoods. With the TJX Rewards Platinum Mastercard, you also earn 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases.
Be aware that store credit cards tend to carry higher-than-normal interest rates, so it’s particularly important not to carry a balance on these.
Check for coupons before you shop
Tracie Fobes, founder of the Penny Pinchin’ Mom website, suggests keeping a close eye on coupons released by retailers, especially as Halloween gets closer. The Cartwheel feature on Target’s app makes it easy to find available coupons, for example, while the Flipp app lets you scan coupons and weekly flyers for hundreds of retailers at once.
And look for opportunities to “stack” these discounts. For example, “coupling bonus rewards [from a credit card] with coupons or sales is a great way to maximize your savings,” says shopping expert Andrea Woroch. And if you have a credit card with rotating bonus categories, she says be sure to opt in to participate and look for deals before you do your Halloween shopping. The Discover it Cash Back card, for example, features Amazon and wholesale clubs as bonus categories for the fourth quarter of 2018.
Wait as long as you can — which might even be after Halloween
Wang says the best time to shop for Halloween costumes is right after Halloween, when they go on deep discount. But if you didn’t snag those deals in November last year, your next best bet is to wait until as close to Halloween as possible to buy your gear, since prices tend to fall as the holiday gets closer. Of course, the risk is that the costume you or your children want might be sold out by then.
Liz Gendreau, founder of the website Chief Mom Officer, says she tries to pick up discounted decorations and crafts in the days after Halloween. “Everything is on sale, and sometimes you can score a great bargain,” she says. Then, she pulls them out in early October each year.
Woroch adds that shopping secondhand through sites like Facebook Marketplace can help you save big, too. “It’s also a great place to sell old costumes your kids have outgrown to help pay for the new ones,” she says. Plus, she adds, many local parenting groups on Facebook post costumes to swap for free.
Don’t forget to plan for the winter holidays, too
Even before the pumpkins are carved, it’s a good time to start saving for any end-of-year holiday gifts or travel, Gendreau says. “We save for the holidays all year long. So if you haven’t started yet, now is the time,” she says.
She suggests giving yourself a budget based on your holiday spending from last year. She uses a cash-back card to make her family’s holiday purchases and then pays off the balance with the savings she’s been accruing throughout the year.