Dollar stores Look for accessories such as wreaths, vases and candelabras to set a spooky scene, Susan Weingartner advises. Another tip: Scoop up decorations at a fraction of their usual prices by shopping the clearance selection in the week or so following Halloween at places like Walgreens and Target. That’s how she adds to her collection of masks without breaking the bank.
Hardware stores “Black spray paint makes everything look creepy,” Vicki Mecklenburger says. (Buy it in the ’burbs, since it’s illegal for stores in the city to carry it.) Every year she buys cans of it at a hardware store and sprays it on the budget accessories she picks up from dollar stores. Another find here: colored and black-light bulbs and quirky lamps—like the strobe light Mecklenburger snagged for less than what she would have paid at a specialty lighting shop.
Fabric shops To give a room an eerie, deserted vibe, drape fabric over the furniture. You can find yards and yards of it for pennies at any fabric shop.
Going-out-of-business sales When State Street’s Carson Pirie Scott closed its doors four years ago, Weingartner snagged a mannequin and spray painted it gold. She’s used it on her porch every Halloween since. Keep an eye out for cool light fixtures or furniture pieces you can use in a haunted house. Or if you’re game, troll neighborhood alleys for discarded treasures.
Thrift stores The racks of clothes at Salvation Army shops and thrift stores are a treasure trove for kids and adults in search of costumes. Think dresses for witches, suits for vampires and…so much more.
Grocery stores Hit up your local market to create faux blood (corn syrup and food coloring), decaying brains (cottage cheese) and bowls of squirmy worms (cooked spaghetti).