How to Cosplay on a Budget: Tips & Tricks

Let’s face it: cosplay isn’t the cheapest hobby. Once you factor in all of the materials, accessories, and time costs, it can add up fast. Cosplayers–including myself–know this all too well, so it’s definitely important to set monetary limits on yourself where you can so you don’t break the bank–especially if you’re new to cosplay. Luckily, there are some ways to save money on your next cosplay.

Here are some of my tips to cosplaying on a budget I use every time I start a new project!

Create a Detailed Supply List

As is the case with any big project, you’re going to need lots of pieces to put together. Compiling a shopping/supply list will help you stay focused on what you need and where to shop around for it. You can use planning apps like CosPlanner to keep tabs on what you need, how much the item is, and check-off what you’ve bought. That way, you can see how much you’re going to spend, areas to save money, decide what is necessary, and see what you already have in your supply kit.

Screenshot from the CosPlanner app of a detailed shopping list for a Midnight cosplay.
My checklist for when I made my Midnight cosplay.

Get Materials and Supplies at the Dollar Store

While a lot of cosplay elements are quite pricey, you can easily reduce costs on materials supplies by shopping at the Dollar Store! The Dollar Store has a wealth of super cheap items that are great for pattern-making, crafting, or using on your actual cosplay! I have a few reusable glass bowls from the Dollar Store I like to use for crafting, and I have a giant measuring cup from there that I use to refill my iron.

Scour Your Local Thrift Store

Thrift stores/resale shops/charity shops often have a crafting section, and some may even carry unused fabric (or bed sheets), sewing patterns, paint, sewing notions, and more! Also, you can buy foundational pieces–or whole clothing items–to use in your cosplays. Both my Tintin and Two-Face cosplay were made primarily from thrift store clothes. There is always a treasure at a thrift shop, so scour your local stores until you find the right piece!

Picture of Mickey of Nerdily dressed up as a female Two-Face as she stands in front of a blue background.
My Two-Face cosplay made primarily out of thrift store pieces

Shop Around for The Best Price

Looking for materials and pieces at multiple stores can significantly affect the supply cost you’ll pay, and shopping around for the best price can yield excellent results.

For example: let’s say you need muslin so you can drape and pattern a dress you’re making for your cosplay. Hobby Lobby sells muslin for $5 per yard (totally made-up price) while JoAnn’s sells it for $4 a yard (another totally made-up price). That’s $1 savings right there! And if you have any applicable coupons* (*more on coupons later), or if that store is having a sale on the item(s) you need, you can save more money.

There is a bit of gray area with this tip, as sometimes you get what you paid for (i.e. lower price=lower quality), so go with what you’re comfortable with to pay in that case.

Check Out Amazon

I know a lot of cosplayers love Amazon–as do I–for a few reasons:

  1. It has a stupidly huge selection of actual cosplays, cosplay pieces, wigs, and accessories
  2. It has a wide range of materials you can get easily
  3. It’s usually pretty cheap
  4. You can create wishlists specifically for a character you’re planning on cosplaying
  5. Shipping is fast

With any project, I usually order at least one thing off of Amazon just because it’s so convenient, so it never hurts to check it out!

Also, if you go to smile.amazon.com, you can select a charity for a portion of your purchases to support!

Become a Coupon Master

This is perhaps one of the easiest things you can do to save money, because tons of stores offer coupons, whether it’s by mail, e-mail, online, or on the store’s app. Also, a lot of craft/hobby stores will give you printed-off coupons at the time of purchase as an incentive to make you come back. Always keep these, even if you don’t think you’ll use them! You can also download apps like RetailMeNot, which alert you to new coupons for your favorite stores.

Here are some of my favorite stores that have banging coupons:

  • JoAnn’s
    • Lets you use multiple coupons in one purchase
    • Often has tons of craft supply and fabric sales
    • Sends lots of coupons to your email
    • Their app lets you save coupons to readily scan
  • Michaels and Hobby Lobby
    • Usually has one 40% coupon available on the site or app
  • Ulta
    • App offers latest coupons
    • Use your Ulta Rewards Points* for money off (*more on rewards programs below)
    • Will occasionally send a 20% off coupon that you can use on anything
  • Amazon
    • Some sellers will offer coupons you can use on that particular item or product line
  • Target
    • If you have the Cartwheel app you can scan any item you’re purchasing and it will automatically save applicable coupons to use at checkout

Sign Up for Rewards Programs

If you frequent certain stores that offer a free rewards program, you should 1,000% sign up for these. Rewards programs are amazing because they can provide perks like additional savings on future purchases, exclusive coupons or sales, or early access to discounted items. Michaels, JoAnn’s, Ulta, and Sephora have free rewards programs you can sign up for to utilize on your next cosplay.

Explore Pinterest for Cosplay Hacks

Pinterest, if you’ve never dove into that realm, is a cosplay haven. Not only is there an over-abundance of free patterns and tutorials, but there are also tons of affordable cosplay hacks you can utilize. For example, here is a Pin that demonstrates how you can use googly eyes as rivets on foam armor, or how to make horns out of cardboard. This is also where I found the hot glue idea to use to make my gems.

Various shapes in the form of gems and stars that are made out of hot glue and painted.
These are all made out of hot glue!

No matter what you’re working on, if you just search for a how-to on whatever you need to make, there will more than likely be a cheap DIY hack.

I’m sure there are plenty of more money-saving tips out there, but these are the ones that I definitely stand by! Let me know if you have any others that work for you, and for other cosplaying advice, take a look at my other posts like:

The Best Cheap Makeup Brand for Cosplay

An Easy Tutorial on How to Make a Belt for Cosplay

How to Dress at a Renaissance Faire

Life was meant to be lived nerdily, so what are you waiting for?

4 Comments Add yours

  1. I didn’t know there was a cosplay planning app. I’m downloading this right now. Great suggestions.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Mickey says:

      Thanks! Yeah I discovered it through another recommendation and it’s super helpful!

      Liked by 1 person

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