How do you cosplay on a budget?

Let’s face it, we ALL want to cosplay on a budget because it’s 2024. Most likely where you’ve living in, you’ve been dealing with inflation for a little while and it’s getting tougher to save your money. Whatever your situation may be, you want to cosplay as much as you can without breaking your wallet. That way, even if times get tough economically, you can still afford to have some money for cosplaying. 🙂

Well look no further; this post will give you 20 amazing tips to help you do cosplay on a budget in 2024!

(P.S. Thanks to The Cosplay Angel and Lisiantha Fey for helping me out with this post!)

1. Buy second-hand cosplays to save more money for your budget.

Persona cosplay
Buying a used cosplay will always be cheaper than commissioning one brand new. Most of the time, used cosplays are in great shape!

The first and foremost advice for cosplay on a budget – you don’t have to buy or commission a brand new cosplay all the time; save money by purchasing cosplays from cosplayers who are selling theirs! Join a local Facebook sales group and buy second-hand cosplays from another cosplayer.

In most major cities, there are Buy/Sell/Trade (BST) groups on Facebook for this purpose. Either cosplayers are looking to sell their old costumes to make money for a new one, or they’re looking to buy used cosplays for cheap. These are usually cheaper than buying it new and you can resell them if your cosplays are collecting dust in the closet!

2. Purchase your budget cosplays from one source.

If you’re buying cosplay from a website like eBay or Taobao, sometimes a particular store may offer discounts or shipping incentives if you purchase multiple items at once on top of the cosplay, such as wigs, accessories and shoes. Why?

Because this saves the store the extra shipping and handling fees than if you were to purchase all of these items from different sources.  You’ll also receive them packaged together, so it’s easier than having to track down multiple orders or having to pay custom fees multiple times. Let’s say you’re buying a Sasuke cosplay for example.

So rather than buying the wig, outfit and sandals from different retailers, you should buy them from the same store to save not only on shipping costs, but to also receive a discount from the store for buying a cosplay package.

3. Purchase generic items for your cosplay.

If you only need one particular product and not an entire cosplay outfit, it’s much cheaper to buy a “generic” item.

Did you know that when you buy a full cosplay set, you’re paying extra for the extra accessories? Many cosplay stores/suppliers market a specific wig or item for a specific character and mark up the price several times more than the exact same generic version of the item!

4. Re-purposing your cosplay materials for multiple uses.

Marth packing checklist
My Marth cosplay! There are many different parts of this costume I can reuse for different cosplays, and so can you.

Cosplay on a budget isn’t just about saving money; it’s also making use of what you got! Who says that one cosplay can only be used for one character?

You can utilize specific parts of one cosplay for a different one. For example, those boots you wore for your Lucina cosplay can be used for the next Anime cosplay character that also wears boots. I personally have used my Roy Mustang cosplay boots for many other characters, like my Marth from Fire Emblem!

Versatile items that can be used for multiple cosplays and re-purpose items for new cosplays.  You aren’t going to wear two cosplays at the same time, so if say, shoes can work for two characters, why not?  If you don’t care too much for accuracy, you can pick something that looks similar to what a character wears and use them for multiple cosplays.

5. Save on shipping with group cosplay orders.

Chances are that you’re not the only one trying to cosplay on a budget. So get your friends together and buy in bulk!

If you are purchasing from online, shipping from overseas can get expensive. So purchase with friends to split the cost of shipping, and maybe even get free shipping if the order is large enough.  This is especially true for contact lenses and orders from Taobao.

6. Sell your old and unused cosplays.

Going back to #2, sell your old cosplays after you’ve finished shooting with them or don’t plan on wearing them. Or trade them between friends. Unless you enjoy collecting cosplay (or are just a pathological hoarder), why not give older cosplays new homes and let someone else get some more wear out of them? I have an entire guide on selling used cosplays if you want to learn how to do this!

7. Almost anything in your home can be used for cosplay!

One time I used my latex gloves at home for one of my cosplays!

You’d be surprised with what you can do with a cosplay with stuff that’s lying in your home.

Got old clothes lying around that you don’t need anymore?  How about that old curtain and bed sheet you’re thinking of replacing?  Consider using your old stuff as material to make a new cosplay from scratch!

Thrift stores are great to buy lots of old clothes (aka fabric). Here are some ideas on how to recycle your old cosplays for better use.

8. Do Time-For-Prints (TFP) photography.

I have a friend that does this. She is a cosplay model who does photoshoots for photographers. She gets free cosplay photos, while the photographer gets cosplay photos for free in his portfolio.

When it comes to cosplay photography, there are paid photoshoots and there are TFP shoots. While most experienced photographers will do paid photoshoots, you can opt for TFP shoots while budgeting. Time-for-prints (TFP) means neither party pays the other. This helps you as a cosplayer network with up-and-coming photographers, where you get content, and they can build up their portfolio. Win-win!

9. Attend local budget-friendly conventions.

You don’t always have to attend a large conventions. Smaller cons are just as fun, and cost much less.

Unlike out-of-town conventions where transportation and hotel costs are necessity, you literally save hundreds of dollars by not needing to book a hotel or transportation for a local con.  Considering forgoing that U.S. convention and go to a smaller local one instead.  You’ll be able to afford new cosplays as a result. As for having fun, smaller conventions can be just as fun as the big ones!

10. Go for characters that wear more regular clothing.

Sycamore
I enjoyed my Pokemon Professor Sycamore cosplay, and it was fairly cheap to do because most of it was just my regular clothing!

Generally speaking, the more your character wears “normal” looking clothing, the cheaper it generally will be! For example, cosplaying a Pokémon trainer involves a regular top, and either pants or a skirt. These are pieces of clothing you can make or buy for fairly cheap. On the flip side, something like full-body armor or elaborate dresses will cost you much more.

11. Your closet has valuable cosplay materials.

Go through your closet one day; you’ll be surprised to see how much of your clothing can be used for a new cosplay! That leotard that’s been sitting in your clothing basket for months could be used for a magical girl cosplay.

That white dress shirt would work for a lot of fancy cosplays!

So what you do is go through your closet one day; you’ll be surprised to see how much of your clothing can be used for a new cosplay! That leotard that’s been sitting in your clothing basket for months could be used for a magical girl cosplay. That white dress shirt would work for a lot of fancy cosplays.

If you want some closet cosplay ideas, click here to check out my article about it.

12. Casual cosplays are another option!

Diluc (Genshin Impact cosplay)
Casual Diluc! Cosplayer: wizardess_miseria.

If you’re really tight on money, you can always opt for just a casual cosplay. Note that this isn’t the same as closet cosplay; a casual cosplay is simply doing only part of the character’s outfit instead of the entire look. An example would be cosplaying Usagi from Sailor Moon, but only wearing her signature blonde ponytail wig and wearing a regular schoolgirl outfit.

Also keep in mind that doing a casual cosplay might seem intuitively easier, but it’s quite the opposite! To pull it off the look without looking tacky or lazy, you have to do a decent job or be creative with your casual cosplaying.

13. Cosplay a character from an older series.

If you don’t care about doing popular or new cosplays, then consider doing cosplays from older series. Not only will they be easier to find, but they’ll likely be on clearance in many cosplay stores. So you’ll be adding more cosplays to your roster while saving money!

14. Check out the clearance section with online cosplay stores.

There are many cosplay websites that have a clearance section where you can find costumes at a huge discount!

I’ve seen clearance cosplays that go for less than $20 USD, so you can really save a lot of money. This is great if you’re just looking for a cosplay to wear for a convention coming up. The only downside is that the size selection may be limited as the costumes have probably already been made, and you can only pick from what’s left. But if you find a cosplay that you like and it’s the exact size that fits you, then why not buy one and save a lot of money this way? 🙂

If you want a guide about the best cosplay websites, click here to read!

15. Group cosplay can save you a lot of money on cosplay.

Mahou Dreamers Love Live! Cosplay Group
Mahou Dreamers Love Live! Cosplay Group.

If you’re cosplaying from the same series with your friends (e.g. Love Live!), then consider bulk-buying all the costumes at once. You can save a considerable amount of money and shipping costs if you all buy together. If you’re looking for cosplay ideas to with your friends, click here to see my list of group cosplay ideas!

16. Is it cheaper to make your own cosplay?

If you’re trying to figure out whether making a costume yourself or buying it from a store is cheaper, then here’s the answer: it’s about the same price.Considering all the cosplay materials and equipment needed to make a costume on your own, the price roughly comes out to the same amount. However, the enjoyment of cosplay-making is the main difference between buying one outright and making one through your own hard work.

17. Borrow/exchange cosplays with a friend!

Joker Cosplay
I borrowed my friend’s awesome Joker cosplay. This is a great way to save money on cosplay!

Borrow cosplays from your friends; it’ll save you a lot of money! Maybe you’re bored of cosplaying Sora from Kingdom Hearts, but perhaps your friend always wanted to be the Keyblade Master…what better way than to borrow and exchange costumes with each other? You’ll both have a new cosplay to wear at the next convention, and you’ll also have some new cosplay photos to share on social media! And how much will it cost to do this? 0 dollars!

18. Sports Anime cosplays = great for the wallet!

I bought Kuruko No Baske jersey for dirt cheap! The basketball was even cheaper. 🙂

By far the cheapest type of cosplays is from sports Anime, such as Haiykuu or Kuruko No Baske. You can get a jersey or outfit for easily under $50 USD!

19. Look out for garage sales.

While thrift stores are the most obvious places to find cosplay materials for cheap, garage sales are another option that’s overlooked! Often you can find stuff at a garage sale that will be useful for cosplay, such as used clothing, older cameras great for cosplay photography, appliances for costume-making (e.g. sewing machine) and metal parts for armor cosplay.

Like thrift shopping, garage sales can be time-consuming to attend and browse, so only do this if you have more time than money in your situation!

20. Make a birthday wish list, even if you do cosplay on a budget!

Is your birthday coming up? Are your friends asking you for ideas on presents?  Why not make a Ko-Fi where everyone can contribute to a goal that lets you afford that next cosplay, and wear it to your party?  Some people even gift entire cosplays!

 

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While watching Cosplay Music Videos on YouTube and browsing conventions photos on Facebook, you might be thinking most cosplayers are loaded with cash to afford all these costumes. But that is far from the truth! Many of us budget and use strategic options to afford new cosplays.

Summary

Let’s go through the 20 tips for doing cosplay on a budget:

  1. Buy second-hand cosplays to save more money for your budget.
  2. Purchase your budget cosplays from one source.
  3. Purchase generic items for your cosplay.
  4. Re-purposing your cosplay materials for multiple uses.
  5. Save on shipping with group cosplay orders.
  6. Sell your old and unused cosplays.
  7. Almost anything in your home can be used for cosplay!
  8. Do Time-For-Prints (TFP) photography.
  9. Attend local budget-friendly conventions.
  10. Go for characters that wear more regular clothing.
  11. Your closet has valuable cosplay materials.
  12. Casual cosplays are another option!
  13. Cosplay a character from an older series.
  14. Buy in bulk.
  15. Group cosplay can save you a lot of money on cosplay.
  16. Is it cheaper to make your own cosplay?
  17. Borrow/exchange cosplays with a friend!
  18. Sports Anime cosplays = great for the wallet!
  19. Look out for garage sales.
  20. Make a birthday wish list, even if you do cosplay on a budget!

These 20 tips for doing cosplay on a budget will give you a head start on your next dream cosplay and relieve your wallet a little bit in 2024!

If you have any questions or have any other suggestions for saving money and doing cosplay on a budget, leave a comment below.

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