Halloween on a budget

Kathryn Rem

Americans are expected to spend an average of $66 on Halloween this year — including $20 on candy and $23 on costumes — according to a survey by the National Retail Federation. Total holiday spending will reach $5.8 billion.

But Halloween doesn’t have to break the bank.

The holiday is “one of the most exciting days of the year for children, and people want to go out and make it memorable. However, with some advance planning, you can still make it special while saving money, too,” said Elizabeth Mascali. She is the author, along with Dawn Sandomeno, of “Plan to Party: Simple and Special Entertaining in Your Home.”

Think about low-cost alternatives to the way you usually celebrate. Mascali and Sandomeno offer these ideas:

  • Form a candy co-op. Get a few families to create a co-op. Each family buys one type of candy in bulk and then gets together to share.
  • Skip costly trick-or-treat bags. Use pillowcases, instead.
  • Arrange a costume swap. Children rarely want to wear a costume two years in a row. Get together with friends and family to trade costumes and props.
  • Put together a potluck. Since Halloween falls on Sunday this year, spend a little time that day making a dish. In the evening, neighbors and friends can share their dishes after trick-or-treat hours. If the kids will share, the collected candy can be the dessert.
  • Whip up homemade treats. Serve them in lieu of store-bought Halloween cupcakes, cookies and cakes.

Here are some Halloween recipes to cook at home:

Jack Skellington Cupcakes

Batch of chocolate cupcakes

White buttercream frosting

2 toothpicks

Tube of black decorator’s icing

Frost the cupcakes. For each cupcake, use the tip of a toothpick to lightly etch the outline of two large eyes in the frosting.

Slowly pipe black decorator’s icing onto the etched lines and then fill in the inner circles. Use another toothpick to spread and smooth the icing.

Pipe on two short lines for a nose. Next, pipe a long line across the bottom of the cupcake for the mouth. For the finishing spooky touch, randomly top the mouth with a bunch of short icing barbs.


Chocolate Batty Cupcakes

1 (18.25-ounce) package devil’s food chocolate cake mix

1 1/4 cups buttermilk

1/2 cup butter, softened

3 eggs


1/2 cup butter

3 cups powdered sugar

2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa

2 tablespoons light corn syrup

1 teaspoon vanilla

4 to 5 tablespoons milk


24 chocolate kiss-shaped candies, unwrapped

Black decorator gel

48 red cinnamon candies, if desired

48 sliced almonds

1 (9-ounce) package fancy chocolate wafers

Nonpareils, if desired

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Place paper baking cups into 24-muffin pan; set aside.

Combine all cupcake ingredients in large bowl; beat at medium speed until well mixed. Spoon batter evenly into prepared muffin pan. Bake 20 to 22 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool 5 minutes in pans; remove to wire cooling rack. Cool completely.

Melt 1/2 cup butter in 3-quart saucepan over low heat. Remove from heat; stir in powdered sugar, cocoa, corn syrup, vanilla and enough milk for desired spreading consistency. Frost cooled cupcakes.

To create bats, place 1 candy kiss at an angle on cupcake for bat head. Attach 2 red cinnamon candies for eyes using decorator gel. Pipe edged with decorator gel; dip in nonpareils. Add 2 sliced almonds for ears.

Cut chocolate wafers in half with sharp knife. At serving time, place wafer halves into cupcakes for wings.

Recipe tips: If you attach cookie wings too early, then they will absorb moisture from frosting and break. Fill each paper baking cup with equal amount of batter so all cupcakes are same size. A spring-loaded ice cream or cookie scoop can be used to place batter into paper baking cups.

If frosting is too dry to spread, beat in additional milk, 1 teaspoon at a time, until creamy.

Makes 24 cupcakes.

-- Land O’ Lakes

Pirate’s Skull Cookies

Small Tootsie Roll candies

Waxed paper

Sugar cookie dough (homemade or store bought)

Kitchen knife


Baking sheet

Chocolate sprinkles

Slice the Tootsie Rolls into 1/8-inch thick circles to use for the skeleton cookie eyes. With clean hands, flatten and shape the circles so that they are slightly rectangular. Then set them aside on a piece of waxed paper.

For each skull, cut a 2-inch circle head and a ¾-inch square jaw from the cookie dough. Place the jaw up against the bottom of the circle head and gently push the two pieces together until they stick. Lightly press 4 or 5 chocolate sprinkle “skeleton teeth” atop the jaw portion of the cookie. Then use a spatula to transfer the cookie to a baking sheet.

When the baking sheet is full, bake the cookies according to the recipe directions. (Note: If the dough has softened too much, place the sheet in the refrigerator for a few minutes to stiffen it up again before baking so they’ll hold their shapes.)

Remove the baked cookies from the oven and let them cool on the tray for a couple of minutes before transferring them to a cooling rack. While the cookies are still warm, top them with the Tootsie Roll eyes (the candy will stick to them as they cool).


Spider Cheese Ball

1/3 pound sliced American cheese

1/2 cup thick and chunky salsa

1/4 cup sliced green onions

2 tablespoons butter, softened

1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened

1/2 teaspoon finely chopped fresh garlic

1/8 teaspoon hot pepper sauce, if desired

Coating ingredients

3 tablespoons poppy seeds


2 pitted ripe olives

Red bell pepper pieces

4 pretzel rods


Assorted cut-up vegetables

Stack cheese slices. Cut into thin strips; coarsely chop. Combine chopped cheese and all remaining cheese ball ingredients in large bowl; beat at medium speed until creamy. Cover; refrigerate 1 hour.

Reserve 2 tablespoons cheese mixture for legs. Shape 1/2 cup cheese mixture into ball for spider head. Shape remaining mixture into round spider body. Place poppy seeds into large shallow dish. Roll cheese balls in poppy seeds, pressing seeds onto balls to coat. Place onto large plate or platter to form spider. Gently push olives and small pepper pieces into cheese head for eyes and mouth. Cover; refrigerate at least 4 hours or overnight.

Just before serving, attach legs by breaking each pretzel rod into thirds. Insert 3 pieces into each side of body; use reserved cheese mixture to attach remaining pretzel piece to form bent legs.

Serve with assorted crackers and vegetables.

Recipe tips: The spider body can be made a day ahead. Carefully wrap in plastic food wrap and refrigerate. Attach legs right before serving.

Makes 2 ½ cups.

-- Land O’ Lakes