A Frugal Approach to Halloween to Make the Holiday A Bit Less Scary

Halloween marks the start of the holidays for us. That’s about the only celebratory sentiment I have towards this holiday. I don’t typically celebrate Halloween at all, except to rejoice that Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years are just around the corner. Anyone who knows me can tell you that I avoid anything that could even remotely resembles scary. I go so far as to avoid YouTube in October, just in case I see one of those ads for an upcoming horror movies. To be honest, I was not introduced to the concept of Halloween until I moved to the United States at 8 years old, an age nearing when it was time to outgrow playing dress up. Additionally, I’m a DENTIST. So I have never passed out candy in my life, and likely never will. It has helped that we live in a live/work loft, since no children walk along the streets of downtown knocking on the doors of businesses already closed for the evening.

Despite my Grinch-like approach to All Hallows Eve, I understand that there are others who choose to celebrate the holiday. And I’d hate to send the wrong message here, because frugal living does NOT equate to deprivation. There IS a way to enjoy your favorite holiday, whatever it may be, without excess consumption. Hence, a brief guide to a more frugal approach.

Costumes

Create Your Costume

Remember in college, there were Halloween parties to go to, but most of us were broke? I think being poor really does require one to tap into our most creative selves. If my memory serves me, almost every costume at a college Halloween party was home-made. Why not have some fun and re-create those days? I remember one year, I had a witch’s hat and a name tag sticker that said “Hi! My name is Sam!” and I went as a Sam-witch. Another favorite was a classmate carrying around a cereal box and a knife, calling himself a “serial killer“. Cheesy?  Yes. Punny? Absolutely! A conversation starter, at the very least. If you’re interested, here is a list of clever, last minute Halloween costumes.

Borrow A Costume

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As a zero waste advocate, I am all for borrowing! Not only costumes, but everything else, too,  from vacuum cleaners to clothes steamers. Since this is a Halloween post though, let’s talk about borrowing a costume. I may not like Halloween, but there are people who live for this holiday! I have a dental assistant who loves it so much that she goes to multiple parties and wears different costumes to each one. I happened to mention to this particular assistant that I did not have a costume to wear to work, since we were required to dress up for the kids. I inquired if there was a costume I could borrow. She immediately listed off a number of costumes that she had on hand, and we decided that I would go as a pizza slice this year, because I like pizza. It’s that easy. Another assistant of mine mentioned that they were doing the same as I, borrowing their sister’s costume from a previous year. Props for those friend circles who create a chain of borrowed costumes. Gather a group of people and trade amongst each other, to have “new” costumers for multiple years without spending a dime!

Wear a Hand-Me-Down

In line with the previous thought, there are many people who refuse to wear the same costume twice. Offer to take their hand-me-down costume for the following year. If you create a loop with such a friend, you may get a “new” costume from her every Halloween, and she has a way to de-clutter her costumes without throwing them directly to the trash. I would consider that a win-win.

Re-Use the Same Costume Every Year

This is the one advice that I get the most push back on, but I think it’s worth considering. For four years, I wore the same teddy bear costume. For three years prior to that, you could rely on me showing up as Sally from Nightmare Before Christmas. Part of the reason definitely had to do with the fact that I did not put much thought into Halloween and ended up having to make do with what I already had whenever I would get <s> invitied </s> dragged to a Halloween party. The other part? It saves money!

Decorations

I cringe whenever I walk by houses decorated with all sorts of fake cobwebs and plastic spiders and inflatable black cats and flying witches. Cringe because, firstly, they DO give me the creeps, and secondly, because I think of all that plastic waste. I can guarantee that very few people re-use cobwebs that have been sitting in their bushes for a month. In fact, those fake cobwebs may be intermingled with entirely real cobwebs. Here are a few thoughts I have on decorations.

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Pumpkin on the Porch

I’d like to pose one simple question. Will lack of decoration stop children from trick or treating at your house? I don’t know about you guys, but as a child, even if no decorations were up, I still walked right up to the door with my siblings and tried my best to solicit candy. Call it hopefulness, or ignorance, but children will still want to TRY. So a lack of decoration will not deter a child, unless mom or dad is with them and is telling them to respect the privacy of that one particular home owner. Therefore, the simplest way to decorate your home and signal to little beings that you’ve got candy in store is a single pumpkin on the porch. Okay, or maybe a few pumpkins on the porch, and some in the windowsill. Carved pumpkins optional, the use of its insides non-optional. (Who doesn’t love pumpkin cake?) In fact, when I was young, this was how most houses were decorated. There was no excess consumption of plastic skeletons, and scary moving ghouls. No myriad of plastic webs on the front yard. Plus, kids who trick or treat are only thinking about one thing: The treat! They aren’t judging who’s got the best house on the block. I’m just saying.

YouTube Videos

If a pumpkin on the porch just doesn’t cut it, or if you are looking to be a bit cooler than that, try adding effects using a projector. We happen to have a projector at home, in lieu of a TV, so we could easily point the projector towards the front of our house and play music or an image that we film on repeat. Try projecting Singing Pumpkins or a Zombie Invasion.

Use Yourself as Decoration

Is projected imagery still not enough? Want your house to be really scary? How about using yourself as decoration? This isn’t to comment on your physical appearance, but rather, at your ability to disguise yourself. I remember the days of walking by a porch with a lone monster or ghoulish figure sitting on a wooden stool or chair. Those were the houses that I knew were the scariest, because you never know when the monster would come to life and get you. The bowl of candy is by his feet, or worse, in his lap, and the sugary sweets are calling to your sweet tooth. But is it worth the venture onto that porch? If you are looking to scare little kids with decoration, why not use yourself, dressed up in the scariest possible way? Or get a group of friends and create a themed look.

Au Natural

Lastly, have you noticed that fall decor consists mostly of dead things? How appropriate for Halloween! In addition to pumpkins on the porch, why not gather organic elements and create a house worth visiting? Grab some fallen pine cones on your nightly walking path. We’ve got tons at the park, so you may too. Display them amongst the pumpkins. Gather a bunch of broken twigs and sticks, and tie them together with twine to make witches brooms. Collect some “poisonous” apples and throw into a cauldron or basket. Or better yet, bend the thinner twigs into a wreath, and collect autumn colored leaves to make a fiery statement on your front door. Got paper? Cut out spider webs and bats to hang from the ceiling and walls. A combination of all these natural, bio-degradable, and sustainable elements is enough to make any person want to swing by! Hey, if you have a black cat, maybe he’d like to perch on the window sill all night, too. Who knows?

Dear College Kid: Pursuing Medicine Will Not Get You to Financial Independence Faster

Dear College Kid is a series I decided to write to my younger self. I would send them too, if I could somehow teleport myself via time machine to my late teens and early twenties. I hope other college kids find these letters, and garner some foresight that I myself had lacked. I hope it changes their lives.

Dear College Kid,

Have you ever heard of the term FI? More importantly, do you know of the FIRE community? Standing for “Financial Independence, Retire Early”, FIRE is a concept that aims for the option to be free from needing to spend forty years of your life working. Not to be confused with your life’s work, FI aims to free people of your job, if and when you choose to do so, in order to do your life’s work.

What I am here to tell you is this. If you’re dream is to pursue FI, then the medical profession is not the best, most practical route. I’m a dentist, who graduated from dental school at age 26 with more than half a million dollars in student debt. Now imagine being a doctor finishing residency at age 30, or an oral surgeon finishing at age 34. What you have as a college kid that I no longer do is time on your side. Time to get a head start, time to reach freedom more quickly and efficiently. Time to start opening doors.

At 21, I had no idea FIRE existed. It’s unfathomable for me to even think that I would have understood that work is not necessary in order to live a good life. A 21 year old graduating with zero (or very little) student loans, pursuing a desk job and saving  their income will have a 5-10 year head start on a 30 year old medical professional graduating with hundreds of thousands of student loans and saving none of their income because it is all tied up in debt. I will start at 36 years old at $0 in the bank if I spend all my income right out of school and funnel it to paying down my student loans (something I’ve talked about before). Meaning, the 21 year old with the desk job will have 15 years ahead of me in savings. On top of that, those savings have been racking up compound interest for 25 years. Assuming a moderate 6-7% return rate, those 15 years makes a whole heck of a lot of difference!

Off course, if you are pursuing the medical field, I am not dissuading you entirely, if it is what you WANT to do. The medical field is great! I love my job, but that’s because I did not go into it for the money. If you want to become a medical professional because it’s what you want to do for a long time, then by all means, you will be very happy! If you want to enter the medical field because you want to be RICH and that’s your goal in life, then you will be successful. BUT, if you are pursuing freedom or FIRE, and you think the medical field will get you there quicker because of the higher salary, you are incorrect. There are people in the FIRE communities who retire at 30 years old. If you go into the medical field, unless you have relatives that can pay for your entire tuition and you graduate debt free, well, you’ll still be at net-zero at 30 years old, but at least you have the means to get to FIRE by mid-to-late thirties perhaps. Most parents, however, cannot support med school, and if you graduate with a medical degree AND a ton of student debt, then you’ll be reaching FIRE later than your other FIRE friends. See what I mean?

This does NOT mean, pursue a desk job that you hate in order to reach FI. We reach for FIRE in order to be happy. There is no point putting yourself through misery in order to get to FI because you’ll be giving up happiness in order to do it. Some people say, “Well, I’ll just put in the work and hate my job but get to FIRE faster and THEN I will be happy.” But will you really, though? Reaching the end and never working a day in your life does not guarantee you will be happy. True FIRE pursuers recognize that it isn’t about the end goal, but the journey. It’s about gaining your freedom in the future, without giving up your freedom now. Otherwise, you’ve read FIRE all wrong.

Alternatively, FIRE is not entirely about Retiring Early. It’s about having the option to not work at a job, in order to pursue something else in life that will lead to more happiness. Ultimately, this all boils down to entering a profession for the right reasons. If you find a profession you love, you may not need to retire at all. I find myself happier than a lot of my colleagues, some of whom have only been out a few years and are already “sick of it”. They want out! Unfortunately, they are far from being free because of their lifestyle, or their debt, or a combination of the two. I am happier because I did not enter the field solely for money. I am happier because I do not need as much money in order to live, and can therefore choose how much of my life I need to give up in order to live a happy one. As I’ve said many times before, having money dictate the way you live your life is not a good thing. Whether that’s a lack of money, or a plethora of money. My dream is to free myself from student debt, go FIRE, and eventually travel the world and work for free as a dentist in third – world countries. To give back to communities that dentists never touch. I will likely never be “rich”, but my life will be. I am very, very happy, because I am doing what I love.

So in summary, enter the medical field if it is something you are very interested in or really want to do. (Sage advice: enter ANY profession because it’s what you want to do.) Do NOT enter the medical field, thinking it is the quickest way to get you to financial independence. It’s not the fastest, and it’s not the easiest, either.

For those just hearing about FI, here are a few of my favorite blogs and podcasts:

Welcome to the rabbit hole.