When’s the last time you went to a state fair? If you’re like our family, a visit to the state fair with the kids is an expensive undertaking. Not only are the tickets and food expensive, but so are the rides, carnival games, and other games of chance. For most families, attending a state fair might cost more money than we can afford.
After several years of working at the state fair as a 4-H superintendent, I’ve discovered some secrets for saving money on rides, food, tickets, and more. Here’s my “insiders guide” to saving money at the fair while still having a good time at the fair.
1. Buy advanced tickets. Most state and county fairs let you buy advanced tickets up to two to three days before the fair opens. Advanced admission tickets and all day ride wrist bands are usually discounted by 20-40% percent. More savings yet is to buy your tickets for the designated “family day” which can knock off another 10-20% or more off the price.
2. Be selective where you eat. Carnival food is fun, greasy, and very expensive. For those of us who work at the fair, we eat the fair-owned cafeteria & grill which serves up relatively healthy fare for less money then what’s found in the food court. What our family does is to eat dinner in the cafeteria, then hit the food court for an elephant ear or some other “fair food” to share.
3. Scope out FFA and 4-H food booths for cheap treats. Many agriculture-based youth clubs see the fair as an opportunity to make money for their club. These clubs sell delicious treats like chocolate milk, ice cream, and frozen confections for $1 or less.
4. Visit the agricultural pavilions for lots of freebies. Part of the fun of going to a state fair is coming home with lots of free stuff. But, instead of spending $25 to win a dollar store teddy bear, hit the ag & educational pavilions instead for free loot. Educational pavilions usually give away things like free coloring books, fun pencils & rulers, frisbees, balloons, stickers, tattoos, rubber bracelets, posters and more which your kids will enjoy equally as well.
5. Enter stuff at the fair for prize money. One big tip that few people know about is that anybody, including your kids, can enter just about anything at the fair for judging. Once you figure out how to work the system, you too can win hundreds of dollars in cash and free merchandise. Premium money is usually available halfway during the run of the fair, and can be used to pay for carnival ride wristbands, fair food, and other great stuff.
6. Hit the dollar store AFTER the fair is over. Saw something at the fair you wanted to buy, but couldn’t afford it? Once the fair is over, vendors often unload their unsold merchandise at local dollar stores. The dollar store is definitely the place to buy those $25 back rests, that overpriced “As Seen on TV” kitsch, and other fair merchandise that you saw but couldn’t afford at the time.