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Halloween has always been my absolute favorite holiday of the year. When I tell you this is my favorite time of year, I mean it. I had Halloween decorations on my door the minute fall came around, much to the dismay of a particular neighbor down the hall who was very passionate about letting me know that “It’s September” was on the whiteboard outside my door. Maybe they had a point, but I just couldn’t help myself. I love decorating, carving pumpkins, going to parties, and the frightening thrill of a good haunted house... but to be honest, the holiday expenses are the scariest part, especially as a college student on a budget.

Despite the lack of funds, I’ve managed to get even more invested in the spooky spirit than I ever have before. This year, I went the whole nine yards when it comes to Halloween preparations, and I’m going to share some tips and tricks on just how I did it.

First things first, figure out what you want to dress up as for Halloween! You’ll definitely want to know this in advance by at least a month, so you can make sure you get a hold of all your costume pieces and supplies on time. Usually, I have such a hard time deciding what I want to dress up as, but this year I felt possessed (haha, get it?) to dress up as Emily from Tim Burton’s The Corpse Bride.

Now, it’s easy to just drop by the Spirit Halloween that has made a home out of your hometown’s hollowed-out former Office Max and pick up a premade costume, but where’s the spirit in that? After my own trip to Spirit Halloween and seeing their cheap rendition of The Corpse Bride, I decided to leave the store with only a cheap blue wig. I even considered leaving the wig at the store because it kills me to spend money on cheap, shiny, synthetic wigs, but there aren’t a lot of more affordable options. Thankfully, I know a few cosplayers who were able to teach me a few things over the years about how to make a cheap wig look good.

The first thing I did when I got back to my dorm was give my shiny new budget wig a bath in fabric softener. Unfortunately, my dorm sink isn’t quite big enough to give it a good soak, and my room only has a shower. Instead, I filled a plastic tub that my roommate stores her tupperware in with a concoction of 150 mL of Downy Fabric Softener, a shot of dish soap and a cup of cold water. I let my wig soak for 2 hours before taking it out and rinsing it in the shower and letting it dry. You really aren’t supposed to use heat on synthetic wigs, but I did end up getting impatient and taking a blow dryer to it, and it turned out just fine. Once it dried, I applied my second technique: dousing the entire wig in baby powder. Dry shampoo also works, but I found it was more expensive than baby powder. This dulled out the shine of the wig and made the hair look more natural. 

Next, I spent a few days scouring local thrift stores for wedding dresses. Usually, I see them all the time, but I guess this time around I was very unlucky. So I turned to my next best cheap option: Shein. I ended up getting a long white tulle skirt, a white corset, and accessories all for 47 dollars. Then I headed to Michaels to pick up some Rit fabric dye, air-dry modeling clay, a miniature glue gun, and some blue fabric paint to complete my look. 

Living in a dorm, there isn’t a lot of room to do projects like this, but I came up with some creative solutions. To dye my fabric, I used a tote that I filled with boiling water to dye my skirt and accessories. Despite my lack of space and “proper” equipment, the dye turned out fantastic. Then I molded some ribs that I hot glued to my corset for the illusion of my ribs showing through. I wish I could show you how great the costume ultimately turned out! It just goes to show just how much you can do with a small budget and some crafting skills.

When it comes to decorations, I found a lot of great cheap options. Michael’s has the cutest Halloween decorations I was able to pick up for 50-70% off the original price. For my door decorations, I picked up some battery operated pumpkin string lights from Walmart, a black curtain to drape above my door, and the cutest window decorations from Dollar Tree that I was able to apply to my door. My boyfriend and I also hand carved styrofoam pumpkins from Michael’s and lit them up with battery-operated tea lights. 

The finishing touches included a 5 dollar fall-themed doormat and wreath from Five Below and a little cardboard bucket that I filled with Halloween candy and hung on the outside of my dorm for my neighbors to grab a treat from. In full honesty, the candy is the most expensive part. I combatted this by putting my Venmo on my door and asking my neighbors to pitch in 50 cents so I can keep buying candy, and surprisingly, people like the candy so much that I’ve gotten a few donations!

So many people wrongfully believe that Halloween is only fun for kids, but it doesn’t have to be. There’s something so rewarding about really putting some effort into a costume and decorating for the holiday that I think more people should consider. College is stressful, why not enjoy the little things when you can? Halloween only comes once a year, so get creative and get spooky!

My name is Olivia Bystrom and I'm a college freshman studying Journalism at Arizona State University's Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communications. I have a passion for writing, fashion, beauty and music. I'm originally from Minnesota, and I typically spend my winter hitting the slopes on my snowboard. I am also an advocate for fellow neurodivergent women and nonbinary folks. In my free time, you can catch me practicing my roller derby skills with the ASU Derby Devils, at the gym trying to set a new deadlift PR or grabbing coffee after a good thrift session with my friends.
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