Five Tips for Cosplay on a Budget

Five Tips for Cosplay on a Budget

Let’s get real for a minute –  cosplay can be EXPENSIVE especially if you haven’t done it before. Between costs for tools, makeup, and materials to travel and accommodation expenses for conventions and other shindigs-  you can easily burn through a few racks trying to spend a night in Ezra’s heaven’s wheel armor.

(Robe of Yuen is my personal favorite…)
As something of a cosplay connoisseur myself, I can understand how much of a turn-off the price cap is for newbies. While it is true that cosplay CAN be outrageously pricey, it really doesn’t have to be.
Some of the most epic cosplay I’ve seen was completed for less than $50 so, at the risk of sounding like a cliche’ from a 90’s kids TV show:
“All you need is a little imagination!”

Plus- if you have a big enough wardrobe, or your family and friends do, you can probably cosplay without spending a dime.
But how do you do it? I’ve been doing some digging on the interwebs and I’ve put together the five best tips to successfully cosplay on a budget that you’ll be able to use whether you’re getting into cosplay for the first time or if you’re a seasoned veteran looking for some fresh tips to save some money on the next event.

Plan Ahead of Time 

You need to become a master of planning ahead. Having a plan of attack is probably the best way to successfully cosplay on a tight budget. 

Here’s how:

Become One with the Cosplay- Choose realistically

Spend some time envisioning the character you want to become. 

Do they have multiple outfits? Which one will you wear? Do any of those outfits use everyday items? Ash’s cap from Pokemon is a good example here- if you look around your place or ask a few friends, you’ll probably find a decent imitation.

Link’s mastersword however, is not something you’ll be finding lying around… I mean- unless you’ve been spending your free time smashing clay jars for money and fighting lizardmen.

Once you have your list of everyday items, ask yourself what core items you need to make your goal become reality. Let’s go back to the Ezra example for a sec’. NOT- the Heaven’s wheel armor…

(Heaven's Wheel Armor cosplay above for reference)

Unless you’ve got a couple hundred (or thousand) dollars in your cosplay budget- then you’re probably not pulling that one off…

At least not safely…

Let’s just say- I’ve had an experience or two with trying to “recycle” mirrors… Not fun. Still paying off the ambulance ride.

Which brings me to the point of this section- you need to be making realistic choices about what you’re going to cosplay. 

If you have a big budget and you want to have the best cosplay exerience ever- then you may as well have the Heaven’s Wheel Armor custom built for you by hiring an artist on, or

However, if you’re like most of us, then the Robe of Yuen is accessible, affordable and can look dope as f***. As a matter of fact, the Robe of Yuen follows what experienced cosplayers would call “The 5-Piece Golden Rule”. Meaning, don’t choose a cosplay that’s more than 5 pieces. 

Definitely not to get started with.

Look Into DIY

So, we’ve established that the budget you’re working with isn’t absolutely bonkers. Remember- we still have a lot of other stuff to pay for, like lodging, food and convention tickets- so blowing it all on the costume is a good way to end up cosplaying in your living room. 

Instead of balling out on an intricate and expensive outfit that you custom order online, you can start putting together a set of cosplay armor for yourself right at home. Youtube actually has some phenomenal guides on creating foam armor, sewing armor and doing your make up properly!

Here are a few examples: 

Getting Started with Foam armor

Insight into sewing

There’s even guides to contact lenses- for when you order those sharingan contacts off Amazon

Of course, going the DIY route means you’ll probably have to plan ahead of your event by a few weeks or months- whatever gives you enough time to finalize your outfit. I’ve personally seen some AMAZING, DIY cosplay outfits (my own mirror incident not included). You’d never guess them from something made by professional artists, so don’t let yourself be limited by a budget.

Also- don’t forget, you can also mix and match your cosplay kit. Sometimes, individual pieces can be way too intricate to make at home or in time for your next event. So jump on Etsy and Amazon and see what you can find. You’d be surprised! 30 seconds of searching led me to this dope Lux staff replica. 

Choose the Best Event For You

People cosplay for a lot of reasons. One of the most common is social- we’re all interested in finding people who share our passions. So, if you're planning on going to a convention to socialize with other awesome members of the cosplay community, then search for upcoming events in your city first.

If you’re just getting started in Cosplay, it may be wise to hit some local events before going cross- country for the big leagues. Chances are that if you’ve read this far, you’re a functional adult or young person. So you’re unlikely to get lost in a convention- but if you’re anything like me (grown ass adult with ZERO sense of direction), then it’s probably a good idea to start small.

Practice navigating venues and avoid the embarrassment of needing help to decode venue maps.

If there are comic or anime conventions in your area then you might have struck gold. Often, you’ll be able to get into events completely for free if you’re decked out in a well-done cosplay. 

It’s also wise to look into events as far in advance as possible. Quite a few local conventions sell tickets to their events at discounted rates when they are first announced. So be sure to follow your local venues and organizers on social media- you’ll generally get your best scoops from individuals on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram vs official announcements from companies or venues. 

If you’ve decided to travel for a convention, consider going with a group and splitting some costs. There are a surprising amount of Air BnB’s out there that are comfortable, stylish and affordable. But you won’t get a booking if you’re trying to book a week or two before your event.

Be diligent. 

Plan things like your rental car (if you’re driving) USE UBER- DEAR GOD THE GAS!, and accommodation as far in advance as possible. Of course, 6 months out is a little unreasonable to make a booking, people cancel, plans and circumstances change. 4-6 weeks out is a reasonable benchmark to get reasonable bookings.

Take Care of Your Wigs!

There are only 3 characters that you don’t need a wig of spiky anime hair to cosplay: Krillin, Piccolo and Master Roshi… And Oolong.

Of course- I exagerrate, but to say that wigs are important to cosplay is an understatement. More times than not, wigs are way more convenient than styling and dying your own hair into an anime approximate. 

If you manage to get a wig that’s not a blatant parody -i.e. One that’s not oversized, obviously fake hair and designed to be recognizable instead of realistic- then you’ll probably want to hang onto it. 

Many of your best cosplay wigs can be recycled into other outfits with a bit of styling and hairdye! That means keeping them in good condition between uses though, so here are a couple quick hacks to pull that off:

Follow this guide to safely wash and dry

Comb or brush out tangles after a convention

Use a Wig Stand- Don’t throw it in a corner, or into a box

Save on a Photographer- Make Use of your Smartphone!

Once you’ve put together your creative masterpiece, you’re definitely going to want to show it off at a convention or at the very least take some epic photos of it. 

Luckily just about anyone can capture amazing photos of themselves these days, without paying out the wazoo for a professional photographer. Just use your smartphone!

Regardless of the kind of phone you have, there are a handful of free editing and photography appa available in the app store. Thankfully- they’re not garbage and you can actually get high quality edits and filters that’ll make you look like you really did just step out of Final Fantasy 7 (the best one, debate me.)

Here’s a few to look into:

Snapseed - you can edit or create your own filters on this. Not a photography app, but dope, free photo editor.


Prisma - turns your photos into artwork that looks like it was painted by Picasso (Not kidding.)

If you’re absolutely dying to have a professional photographer take your shots consider doing a Time-For-Print (TFP) shoot. In a nutshell, neither party pays the other as the photographer gets permission to use your photo to build their portfolio and of course, you get the content. 

Wrapping up..

Cosplaying on a budget is much easier than most people make it out to be. It can be a lot to wrap your head around ar first, especially when you’re just getting started, so be sure to revisit this guide a few times.

Start your budget cosplay journey with a few steps at a time. Pick a character and make a to-do list of bitesized tasks that aren’t scary or challenging to get done. This is supposed to be fun- not a labor of Hercules.

Talk soon.