10 Ways to Save Money on Cosplay

Budgeting for cosplay is something that’s come up a lot in my feeds recently. Con season is quickly creeping up on us, and I’m seeing a lot of new people express anxiety over the potential cost of getting into this hobby. Believe me, I get it. Cosplay can get expensive, especially when you do big, detailed builds. But it doesn’t have to be! This hobby is what you make of it. Even when you do go for those huge builds, there are ways to keep your bank account from crying (too much). Here are a few tips and tricks to keep your costs down:

2015 collage
My original line-up for this year. As you can see, I’ve swapped out a bit. Belle and Batwoman replaced Vanessa and Zatanna, but both are relatively equal in terms of cost. It’s also okay to decide that you don’t want to do costumes! I opted to drop NoFlutter Jupiter since Lulu is going to be such a big project.

1. Plan in advance: At the beginning of the year, I create a list of the costumes I want to create. It’s always subject to change, but for the most part, I stick with my list, since deviation from the list normally means extra $$$. Doing this helps me plan out when I need to buy materials and how much work I’ll need to do on my costumes. That second part is just as important as money to me, since I plan my more intense costumes around non-hectic work time (*cough* Lulu *cough*). You can also plan around sales to get things cheaper. We’ll touch more on that in just a moment.

2. Create an itemized budget: In the process of planning out all my costumes at the beginning of the year, I also create an itemized budget. I started doing this when I began offering commissions, but it’s also really helpful for keeping me on track with my own stuff.

margaret

Just as an example, here’s a look at the budget for my current project, Margaret. My first step in creating an itemized budget is to gather up all the reference images I can and make detailed notes on what all is involved. Most of my research is done at this phase. I typically look up other cosplayers’ builds to get an idea of what patterns and materials to use and look up tutorials for new techniques. I also do some preliminary online shopping to get my prices as accurate as possible. In addition, I take stock of what I have on hand and see what can be used to help cut down on costs.

When it comes to pricing, I always go for retail price to prepare for a worst case scenario. Sometimes big sales don’t always lineup with my payday, so getting a discount is a pleasant surprise rather than something I absolutely have to rely on.

Once I set my budget, I figure out how much I need to set aside each month to make my costume happen and time out sales shopping. With Margaret, for example, I waited for one of Arda’s sales since the lacefront wig is one of the most expensive pieces. Which leads me to…

Some of my goodies from last year's Black Friday sales. I bought most of my materials for Captain Marvel through sales!
Some of my goodies from last year’s Black Friday sales. I bought most of my materials for Captain Marvel through sales!

3. Work those sales!: This is one of the biggest reasons I plan most of my costumes a year or more in advance. Black Friday sales are one of the best times to pick up costume pieces, including wigs, contact lenses, spandex, and more. I often use Black Friday/Cyber Monday to buy big materials for costume pieces for the first half of the next year.

E-mail and mobile newsletters are really useful tools plan out your sales shopping. I always keep an eye out for weekly advertisements for Jo-Ann’s and Hancocks, since they’ll list when patterns go on sale.

Liking your go-to shops on Facebook and other social media platforms is also a good way to keep in the loop on upcoming sales, especially for places like Arda, Epic Cosplay, Golden D’Or, and Spandex World.

IMG_1757
Another instance where coupons saved my butt. The quilted blue fabric is for Margaret. If you hit Fabric.com, a box will pop up asking you to join their e-mail newsletter list, and you’ll also get a 20 or 30% off your total order coupon. I waited until I got the offer for a 30% off coupon before buying this fabric.

4. Use those coupons!: Coupons are seriously a cosplayer’s best friend, especially when you hit the big box craft stores like Hobby Lobby, Michael’s, Jo-Ann’s, and Hancocks. Each of these shops almost always has coupons available, especially if you sign up for mail, e-mail, and/or mobile notifications. Many of these stores also have mobile apps with coupons, so make sure to snag those too!

Even if you don’t happen to have a mailer coupon, these websites all have coupons listed on their sites. Just Google “[insert store name here] coupon.” Most of the time these are for about 40% off, so it’s always worth your time to print one off, especially if you’re picking up a big ticket item!

Another perk to going to these shops is that most of them will accept competitors’ coupons, so keep those coupons handy no matter where you go!

rogue
3 different costumes, all using the same wig!

5. Re-use costume pieces: Reusing costume pieces is one of the easiest ways to cut down on cosplay costs. For example, high quality wigs can get pretty costly, so I try to do different variations on characters. My good Rogue wig, for example, cost about $80 to make, so I get as much mileage out of it as I can. I’ve worn it for my Kotobukiya, casual, and Marvel Now! Rogue.

Same goes for my Princess Jupiter and Ms. Marvel variants. Both of those costumes happened since I already had a large amount of materials on hand, making my “total” cost for each of those costumes around $75. Definitely cheaper than my Sailor Jupiter!

Photo by Gone Catawampus.
Callula Cosplay and I swap skills quite a bit. She made this gorgeous mirror for my Belle, and I made her Huntress bodysuit.

6. Trade skills: This is a new thing for me and I’m absolutely loving it. I have several friends who are great with props and leather, but not so great at sewing. So we work out agreements in advance and trade sewn pieces for props and such. It’s been great! Not only do I get something made much better than I ever could, I don’t drop the money I normally do in failure (I tend to muck up even the most basic armor. Whomp whomp).

Of  course, you could also expand on this idea for other services, such as photography and web design. Of course, your mileage may vary, but think outside the box in terms of potential swaps.

2014-03-12 08.54.52-3
Repurposed work flats for Fluttershy. I wanted to see if adding glitter worked well, and it did! I also added my gel inserts.

7. Thrift, thrift, thrift!: Buying gently used stuff from local thrift stores, eBay, or even re-purposing old things from your house is a great way to cut back on costs. I do this a lot with old shoes. I’m not willing to pay a lot of money for shoes I’m going to tear apart and rebuild anyway. Once my flats and pumps are too scuffed for work, I’ll hold on to them until I need them for a costume. And as an added bonus, they’re already broken in and comfortable.

Keep an eye out for used costumes as well. Many cosplayers will sell their used creations for cheap. Storenvy, Etsy, eBay, and cosplay pages are a great way to keep an eye out for such sales.

Ms. Marvel was made largely from scraps. I had leftover gold from Supergirl and black from Rogue.
Ms. Marvel was made largely from scraps. I had leftover gold from Supergirl and black from Rogue. The original mask was made from scrap Worbla. I also got the wig second hand from another cosplayer. Photo by Aperture Ashley.

8. Keep an open mind, especially when it comes to the bargain bin: Sometimes stuff I find in the remnant bin or even in my personal stash inspires my costumes. This was definitely true for Marvel Now! Rogue and Ms. Marvel. Marvel Now! Rogue was inspired by a trip to my local spandex outlet, where I found the perfect green fabric for about $3/yd. I already had black and white fabric on hand, in addition to a leather belt, white leather paint, and an X-shaped belt buckle from my classic Rogue. This doesn’t happen often, but when it does, it’s a pleasant surprise!

Commissions have been a really useful way to give me a little more flexibility for larger projects.
Commissions have been a really useful way to give me a little more flexibility for larger projects.

9. Monetize your hobby: One of the main reasons I started offering commissions was so that I could have a bit of extra spending money for bigger costumes like Lulu. But commissions aren’t the only way to recoup costs and fund future projects. Here are a few other ideas:

  • Set up an online storefront for trinkets or accessories. Something that doesn’t take away too much craft time, but is also profitable. I’m hoping to do this soon!
  • If you have a blog, set up sponsorships through a resource like Passionfruit.
  • Sell your used costumes and accessories.
  • Sell cosplay prints.

10. Learn to say no: This is probably the hardest one on the list for me. It’s so  easy to get caught up in the race of “Who can make the most costumes?” Theoretically, I could make a costume a week, but that’s not enjoyable or anywhere near affordable for me. If it works for you, by all means, go for it. But remember that it’s okay to say no to doing a group costume if you’re not feeling it or bumping a costume back to a time when you can afford it. Real life comes first!

I hope this list helps! Do you have any tips on budgeting for cosplay?

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14 thoughts on “10 Ways to Save Money on Cosplay

  1. They’re great tips for all big sewing projects too, like winter coats. I’ve only made occasional dressing up costumes for parties and they’re usually last minute makes! And no where near as good as yours! 😀

  2. These are great ideas! I love your thoughts on refashioning old shoes–it makes so much sense, and you could totally save a ton. I personally love your Rogue wig, so I’m glad you’ve gotten to reimagine it in so many different forms!

    I follow a lot of these practices in my own sewing. I always buy thread in weird combos whenever its on sale…as a bonus when it’s time to sew something from my stash, I almost always have the right color of thread on hand, so no emergency trips to the store for thread. Time and time again too, I’ve been floored by what I can find at the thrift store. As long as you’re willing to look, and look often, there’s great stuff to be had in any given store.

    1. Oh, thread is so useful on sale, especially specialty stuff like serger or embroidery thread. Anytime serger thread is $1 I grab at least a dozen cones! There’s no way I’m spending $3-4/cone! Adds up way too fast.

  3. Found this today linked by Food and Cosplay over on facebook. You have some useful tips here, and a nice blog. 🙂 Over here in the UK I’m not sure what our equivalent to a thrift store is… we have charity shops which sell secondhand and donated stuff, so maybe that’s it. One thing I struggle with though is the inability to either find clothes that fit me in places like that, OR to find patterns. I’m a fat chick and no useful patterns tend to go up to my size, which means making a new pattern for everything pretty much if I can’t buy it. I do enjoy cosplay but don’t have many. I’m working on it. 😀

    I apologise if you get this twice – I posted and it told me to log in, but then the comment wasn’t showing on the refreshed page, so I sent it again.

    1. Thanks! Yeah, I think’s that’s probably the equivalent of our thrift shops. Plus size patterns are such a bear. I’m thankful that Big 4 pattern companies are finally starting to expand their selections for plus-size folks. Some independent pattern makers are starting to focus on plus-size sewists as well. I’d highly recommend checking out the Curvy Sewing Collective and Cashmerette if you haven’t already!

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