Whether you celebrate Christmas as passionately as Halloween or try to ignore the whole season, it’s impossible to miss the seasonal change in merchandise at every big-box store. All of us know to keep an eye on these stores in the days after Halloween to try to snag some amazing deals, but the after-Christmas sales can be an absolute gold-mine for the creative haunter.
Unfortunately, everyone else is trying to get cheap stuff too. It’s important to go in with a plan and a general understanding of what will be most useful next October, or you’ll be just another schmuck with 20 rolls of 25% off Trollz wrapping paper.
Strands of Lights
We all know this pain – it’s nearly impossible to find red or green lights around Halloween. Everything is orange; maybe purple if you get lucky. However, no evil butcher looks as sinister under orange lighting as they will under red, and at least a few green-lit rooms are critical for most alien or zombie themes. If you can find single-colored lights (rather than mixed color strands) on sale, they’re almost always a great buy. They are small, store well, and you’ll love having so many lighting options for the haunting season.
On average, your typical mini-bulb incandescent string lights have 5 lights per foot. Thus, rather than get caught up in “300 lights for $8 vs. 20’ for $3” difficulties as you are fighting off everyone else and their mother in Walmart, think in terms of cost per foot or per 100 lights.
Thus, the Home Depot lights are $2.28/100 and the Walmart version is about $2.61/100, or $0.11/foot and $0.13/foot respectively. I’m not suggesting you do this math in your head for every box of lights – I’m suggesting that based on these numbers, anything you can get for under $2/100 lights or $0.10/foot is a decent sale. So, pass on a box that is $5 for 200 lights, but if you see 100’ for $5, that’s a great deal!
Candles are amazing for creating ambiance in scenes like the Séance Suite or around a pentagram drawn on the floor, but real flames are a huge no-no. Artificial candles are quite convincing now, and cast the same “flickering light” effect as the real thing. You can get away with little LED tea-lights for just the lighting, but I highly recommend wax-encased artificial pillars for use in the sight of your guests. There are plenty of inexpensive all-plastic LED pillars, but they tend to look a little corny. The wax diffuses candle light, both from the flame and neighboring candles, in a realistic way.
LED tealights are cheap. Amazon.com has a 24-pack for $10, and various competitors tend to pop up for $9 or even $8 from time to time. If you can get a dozen for a dollar, you might as well, but the real deals to watch for are on batteries. These little candles tend to work off 1-3 coin cell batteries, which can get very expensive if you’re using these multiple hours a night. There is no standard, so you’ll need to know which batteries you are looking for based on candles you already own (or are in your cart), but basically any sale on batteries is worth investigating.
Proper wax-coated LED pillars tend to operate off standard AAA or AA batteries, which are still worth stocking up on if there’s a sale, but these candles themselves are likely to be heavily discounted after the 25th. These are intended for regular, long-term use, and typically run about $3 a candle, averaged across all heights. An assorted-height pack is best for most scenes, and these tend to be about $30 for a 9-pack on Amazon. If you can work with a homogenous height, you can get the price closer to $2/candle.
Look for these in a gift-ready set to get the best discount on them this time of year. If you can get real wax flameless candles for under $2 each, or any discount on coin cell batteries, go for it!
Damaged and/or Discounted Animatronics
It doesn’t matter if it’s the ugliest animatronic every created – if the price is right, it is worth salvaging the electronics for your own creations next year. As we discussed in our Intro to Motors, motors are easiest to reuse when you already understand the motion it creates. Most stores have a sample running, so you can decide on the spot if you can turn that waving snowman into a stabbing ghoul.
We all know to look for animated deer to strip their head-motion motor, but many other animatronics use the same motor. The key here is not to overpay.
Haunt-specific vendors tend to carry this motor because it’s so useful. FrightProps sells it for $15.99 and MonsterGuts has it for $14.95, both with shipping costs that depend on your location. In the non-animatronic world, these motors are used for microwave turntables, so you can get them for as little as $9 with free shipping from Amazon.com without any of the required power conditioning. Now, this is a prime example of paying for your comfort level. The haunt-specific motors are what is likely in the animatronics you’d buy in the stores – you just plug it into a wall outlet and it spins. The cheaper, non-specific AC motors are typically much more powerful, but require some understanding of power basics and how to wire a motor into your prop. If the capacitor in the picture furthest to the right doesn’t mean anything to you, then it’s safer to pay a little more for a fully prop-ready motor. An improperly wired motor can be dangerous and cause all sorts of damage that will far outweigh the few dollars you could save with the DIY approach.
Basically, if you find a functioning animatronic deer for under $25, it’s worth grabbing. Just make sure you’re willing to gut it as soon as you get it home – an entire deer does not store very efficiently!
Damaged Yard Statues
A concrete angel that fell on her face is worth nothing to most holiday revelers, but represents all kinds of opportunities for haunters. We don’t need faces, arms, full wings, or any other “essential” feature, and this is where you can score big in after-Christmas sales.
Image from TheWondersOfDoing Blog
While we want to look for discounted (rather than damaged) animatronics to guarantee that their motors work well, “damaged” is the key word for statues. Unless you find one at 90% off in a local store, pristine-but-seasonal statues are a tough buy. They are difficult to store and tend to be used as scene-setters rather than key pieces, so they might be a high-price/low-value addition if you do not have a specific use in mind. However, if you can get extremely cheap headless cherubs or pillars that have been crushed on one side, both sides of the equation improve. They are now low-price accessories that are already distressed and can likely be used as-is in a scene. Be realistic about your statue needs, but if you happen to see an exceptionally rowdy family come in ahead of you, it might be worth following them to see what discounted merchandise they’ll leave in their wake!