I'm going to detail most of the advice I give out at "Cosplay on a Budget" panels, which are almost a permanent fixture at cosplayer heavy conventions.
If you ever get a chance to check one out at your local convention, do it! They may have even more tips to give you, especially ones specific to your region. Some of my tips refer to Canadians/Americans companies, but overall it is general advice for all.
More blogs in the 10 year Cosplay Retrospective Series:
Week 1 -Wigs | Week 2 - Make-up | Week 3 - Armour | Week 4 - Cosplay Closet Purge | Week 5 -Planning | Week 6 - Inventory | Week 7 - Controlling Cosplay Costs |
Picking your Project
Before you start crafting, do as much research as you can to figure out the rough cost of the project. Once you have an estimate then you can decide whether to go ahead with it or not. You also have to keep in mind that little hidden costs can add up (such as replacing an old tool or restocking supplies like gesso).
What are you looking for?
Before almost every purchase I make, even non-cosplay related, I do a quick search for coupons or discount codes online. Retailmenot.com and Retailmenot.ca are a great source for coupons. Do a quick search before shopping and contribute coupon codes to help the community.
For CAN & US: Never step foot inside a Michael's without a coupon. They even accept digital versions on your smartphone, so can look one up while you wait in line. 90% of the time there is a 40% off one item coupon. Make the best of it.
In a perfect world all my costumes would be made with different kinds of silk but since I don't have a bottomless pit of money, I have to compromise. Odds are there are cheaper alternatives for any expensive material you are considering. There are multiple ways to make one costume. Just remember to ask yourself, what are you compromising, if anything, by going the cheaper route?
I can swap out charmeuese silk for satin, however, does the satin have strong shine that will ruin the look of the costume? Does it have additional texture that you don't like? Or does it look exactly like silk and just costs less?
How do you sniff out cheaper alternatives? Do some research, ask around, talk to your peers, and ask staff for help while in the store. Simply ask an employee to help you find fabric or materials to match your budget.
Does the cheaper route compromise the durability of the costume? If yes, are you OK with having to do repairs or getting less "wears" out of the outfit?
Buy in Bulk
Get your friends together to get bulk discounts on products and to save on shipping especially for thermoplastics, corsetry supplies, and wigs. You can also benefit as a individual by buying in bulk on sites like Aliexpress.com. Many vendors sell items by the lot and offer discounts the more you buy, as well as coupons for hitting certain dollar amounts.
Here are a few things I frequently buy in bulk: foam rolls instead of foam sheets (+ coupon at Michael's), a box of model Magic instead of an individual bag (+ a coupon at Michael's), beads, worbla xl sheets ( I never buy any of the smaller sizes), styrene, interfacing, feathers, paint mediums (ex: a big bottle of gesso) and trim.
Warning: If you are buying from an international seller keep in mind the total value of your order because you may get dinged with duty charges, cancelling out all the savings you accumulated. In Canada and the US when your package is valued at about $200 or more, customs is likely to inspect it and charge you duties.
For more on buying in bulk check out my blog on Online Resources for Cosplayers
Reduce, Re-use, and Recycle
Cost cutting at Conventions and Traveling
The simplest advice I can give is to do all your bookings with groups.
What are your tricks to keeping your costumes low budget?
MeltingMirror's Cosplay Blog
Learn more about my experiences in the cosplay world, from conventions to photoshoots and everything in between.