10/25/2012 12:39 pm ET Updated Dec 25, 2012

5 Easy Ideas for a Less Commercial Halloween

By Sierra Filucci, Common Sense Media editor

Halloween has always been my favorite holiday and is filled with fantastic memories, like when I was 5 and my mom made my Big Bird costume out of a paper grocery bag andthe year I glued Play-doh horns to my forehead in a messy attempt at dressing up as a devil.

Now that I'm a parent, my kids and I take our costumes seriously. And I love seeing what they'll choose. There was the year my kindergartener wanted to be Michael Jackson but then changed her mind after I'd made the costume. After my daughter and I read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, our entire family went as characters from the book. And this year, my son is debating whether to shave his head for his Last Airbender costume.

Books, TV and pop culture are great places to get inspiration for Halloween costumes. But for the last few years, the kids trick-or-treating at our door have seemed more like walking advertisements than an exercise in inspiration. From boys in puffed-up Iron Man garb to girls lost in reams of Little Mermaid organza, the marketing machine that stocks the Halloween sections in drug and department stores seems to have sucked all the creativity out of a holiday that begs for imagination -- not shopping.

It's not surprising that marketers are working hard to dress up little kids. In 2012, consumers are expected to spend more than $1 billion on kids' costumes -- just part of the nearly $8 billion of total Halloween spending. While there's nothing wrong with buying supplies for celebrations, if kids are limited to dressing up in costumes chosen by marketers, they'll quickly run out of options -- not to mention imagination. And if we want to steer kids away from commercialism, branded Halloween costumes are part of the slippery slope that can lead to the backpack, the pencil case and the pajamas. Branded costumes also tend to squeeze kids into strict gender roles -- like sexy girls and violent boys -- which can send problematic messages to impressionable minds. Before you know it, this year's Ariel will want to be Nicki Minaj in a rainbow wig.

But there is a way to take control back from marketers and retailers and have fun in the process. It doesn't need to take more time than grabbing something off the rack, and it's a chance to get kids' creative juices flowing, save some money and maybe even express your own values.

1. Foster creativity. If kids want to dress up like a character from a TV show or movie, ask them to create the costume out of stuff in the house. My Big Bird costume was no more than a paper grocery bag and some leftover yellow party streamers.

2. Shop your closet. You'll be amazed at what kids can construct themselves (Ramona the Pest, Daddy Warbucks, even Cinderella!) if you avoid the costume aisles at big-box stores.

3. Think thrift. Thrift stores are great resources for costumes and a way to sidestep consumerism in a quick and easy way. Many shops are filled with almost-new costumes you can buy off the rack or embellish with a few special touches. What used to be a giant yellow M&M becomes a cute bumblebee with some black stripes and fairy wings.

4. Let go. Halloween is about letting kids experiment with dressing up. Kids don't need to look perfect -- if they like their costume, that's all that matters.

5. Be brainy. Here's something you won't see at the costume store: puns. Two people tied together = A PEAR. A big "P" on a shirt and a blackened eye = A BLACK-EYED PEA. Kids love the looks on people's face when they reveal their puns -- and this approach challenges kids' imagination more than your wallet.

Read more from Common Sense Media

The 10 Worst TV Role Models of 2012
New Fall TV for 2012
Halloween Apps for Kids

About Common Sense Media

Common Sense Media is dedicated to improving the lives of kids and families by providing the trustworthy information, education, and independent voice they need to thrive in a world of media and technology. We exist because our kids are growing up in a culture that profoundly impacts their physical, social, and emotional well-being. We provide families with the advice and media reviews they need in order to make the best choices for their children. Through our education programs and policy efforts, Common Sense Media empowers parents, educators, and young people to become knowledgeable and responsible digital citizens. For more information, go