Haunted house with fog

Building a Haunted House on a Budget: 5 Tips for Successful Scaring

Nothing screams Halloween quite like a haunted house. If you’re just getting started with building your own, it may seem like a daunting and expensive challenge. However, with a little imagination, planning, and a knack for scaring people, you’ll be on your way to giving your guests the fright of a lifetime. Follow these five strategies to save money on your haunt without sacrificing scares.

1. Theme on a Budget

Expensive: Theming your haunt around huge props or popular movies

Save Money By: Choosing a theme that will lend itself to low-cost materials

Picture a futuristic alien invasion: larger-than-life spaceships, extraterrestrial creatures, smoke, flashing lights, moving props. All those electronics, massive props, and pneumatics will get expensive fast.

Now think about a bug infestation filled with creepy crawlies of all sizes, where the walls are draped in spider webs and flickering lights give the impression of something scurrying up the walls around you.

Bugs and webs can be made with low-cost materials and are easy to maintain throughout the season. Plus, there will likely be less maintenance and upgrades you’ll need to make next season – so you can focus on adding or upgrading just a few pieces at a time as your budget allows. There are plenty of other themes that lend themselves to low-cost materials, and if you get creative you can find one that will thrill you and your guests.

2. Props on a Budget

Expensive: Sourcing all of your props and electronics from vendors

Save Money By: Getting crafty with DIY props

Speaking of which, the props you use are arguably the most essential part of your haunted house. With some hard work, truly anything can be DIY-ed. Start off by taking a look at the items you already have in your home. Everyday items as simple as cardboard boxes or milk jugs can come in handy in a variety ways to make decorations. For example, pour some water, food coloring, and glitter into a leftover glass container to make a witchy concoction. Grab a black trash bag and duct tape, then stuff it with newspaper and clothes to shape it into a bodybag. You can also take a trip to your local thrift store to find some unexpected but creepy props perfect for your haunted house. A framed black-and-white photo can easily be turned into a haunted photo of the family that once resided in the house by using a sharpie to black out their eyes. Pick up a few vintage baby dolls and use some paint to morph them into little zombies. With your eye for creativity, the options are endless.

Three ghost lights illuminated by other string lights in the background

3. Lighting on a Budget

Expensive: Colored incandescent bulbs and backlights

Save Money By: Using LEDs and fabrics

When it comes to your lighting, think about what kind of story it can tell within your haunt. Where do you want your guests to look? What do you want them to see– or not see? You can vary the location of your light sources, whether that’s super high up or closer to the ground to make it more interesting. There are many options for lighting: blacklights, string lights, LED bulbs, and even something as simple as a few flickering candles. The total for buying multiple sets of different colored bulbs can add up quickly. Instead, it can be just as effective to pull a sheer colored fabric over existing bulbs (just make sure that the fabric is a safe distance away from the bulb to avoid it heating up too quickly). You can get creative with different fabrics to project unique patterns. Opting for LED bulbs also tends to be more sustainable, so they will last for longer and save money over time.

4. Audio on a Budget

Expensive: Large surround sound speakers with custom tracks

Save Money By: Utilizing free audio resources online with portable CD or MP3 players 

One aspect of haunted houses that many owners miss or put minimal effort into is their sound and audio. Having an audio experience in addition to your visual experience helps to fully immerse your guests. Can you imagine watching your favorite horror movie on mute? The best part about this is that it doesn’t have to be expensive and you don’t have to be a tech genius. Pre-recorded audios, whether that’s background music or specific sound effects, are available for free online. Search terms like “haunted house audio” or “scary halloween sounds” on YouTube and plenty of audios will come up. You can also opt for a collection of CDs that are also very affordable. To get the sound playing throughout your entire haunt, grab a few portable MP3 players or even portable CD players. Hook these up to Bluetooth speakers and those are more than enough for point-source audio. 

5. Actors on a Budget

Expensive: Hiring multiple scareactors for every room of your haunt

Save Money By: Strategically designing your space

A haunted house isn’t complete without a cast of monsters to help blow away your guests. Yet this essential piece to your haunt can take a major hit to your budget. One of the best ways to save money here is to strategically design your space to optimize the number of actors required for scaring.

Depending on the size and complexity of your haunted house, you may just need just a small group of people to help. Build in hidden doors and corridors where your actors can quickly maneuver between two or more rooms in your haunt. Then, use props, lighting, and sound to fill in the gaps where you don’t have live actor coverage.

Some haunts also save money by having an apprentice program, where young actors who want to study the craft can learn from more experienced scarers. The apprentices are sometimes volunteer positions or paid a stipend rather than a full salary. This can be a successful strategy, if the apprentices are truly receiving something of value from the experience, but you should look into local regulations surrounding internships and volunteer requirements before implementing a program like this.

Man with a pumpkin mask holding a knife.

Wrapping Up

Don’t let your budget stand in the way of you creating a spine-tingling haunted house experience. If you take the time to put in the work, your efforts will pay off. When you’re ready to start selling tickets to your haunted house, let HauntPay help. It’s completely free and loaded with features designed for the haunt owners. Click the button below to schedule a demo with one of our team members!