Have Your Fair-Food and Save Money Too

I’m not going to lie.  I love fair-food.  The Indian tacos, fried cheese curds, elephant ears, fresh-squeezed lemonade, cotton candy, anything else deep-fried, and other tasty items I can’t even recall until I’m there to see the glittery advertising calling my name.  It’s so greasy, salty, sugary, and generally unhealthy.  I LOVE IT and I can’t wait to get there and eat my fill….. on something like a $100 budget if I were to get everything I wanted. 

It’s fair season and the numerous county and state fairs are about to be in full bloom. carnival ride Aside from the food, there are the shows, the midway, and all of the other ‘great deals’ that are offered.  It really can be an expensive proposition to take a trip to the fair.  So, I wanted to offer a few ideas to help you save some cash when you make that annual pilgrimage to the land of asphalt, massive crowds, bright lights, and culinary treats galore.

Like a midway carnival ride, awaaaaay we go….

Tickets – First things first, you have to get in.  Watch for specials.  This is where a little bit of research can really help you out.  Yesterday our local fair at $1 admission, which we didn’t know about until it was too late.  We even both had the day off, but instead spent the day cleaning the house.  Check your fair’s website for these deals.  You may also be able to score reduced-price tickets or coupons at other local businesses.  Hey, a buck is a buck and a buck is one ride on the tea-cups.

Shows – Again, do a little research regarding your fair’s schedule.  If there is a big name you specifically want to go see, you may just have to pony up (not referring to the kiddy pony rides here) and pay the price.  But if it is just about getting out and listening to some music, watch for reduced-ticket and even free performances around the grounds.  At our local fair, the cost of the concerts is generally free with any admission to the fair.  Two for the price of one!

Midway Rides – Ugh, this is one that digs deep for me.  With two young kids, they want to ride every ride there at least once.  Then you have the ride attendants calling them over for a ride and tempting them to ride the one ride we were about to pass up.  There are two ways to handle this.  Most midways have a ticket system.  If you have a set budget, buy enough tickets and then hand them over to your child (or child at heart) and then walk the midway before taking a ride.  They pick what they want to do and as the tickets go out, they see how much they have left.  We handle rides a little differently.  We end up springing for the unlimited wrist band.  Sure it’s a little more, but they can ride whatever they want as many times as they want.  It saves us some headache and arguing and also gives us a reason to say no to the games.

Midway Games – Since we’ve already touched on the subject, let’s look closer.  While I haven’t done any behind-the-scenes research, it’s pretty obvious – the odds are NOT in your favor here.  I would compare it to a trip to the casino.  If they handed out the jackpot every time you dropped a dollar, they would go broke.  Going broke is not what they are in business for.  If you want to try your hand at a game or two, go for it.  It is a fair tradition after all.  Just be realistic in your expectations.  I would also encourage you to stand back and watch a few players attempt the game before you step up to the line.  See what works (or more likely what doesn’t work) and increase your chances.  Also, find the games where every person playing has a chance to win rather than only one of the eight players ending up with a prize.

Exhibitors – You know the building.  There are booths lined wall to wall, all with something to sell.  On one hand I hate going through there.  I just know there are going to be sales people who accost me and try to sell me something I really don’t want.  Or they will sign me up for a drawing and all I end up winning is a merciless advertising campaign of mailers and phone calls.  And yet, I can’t help myself.  I still have to walk through the displays.  This is the place to use one simple word.  “No.”  It’s ok.  They’ve heard it before and will hear it again.  Two minutes later they will not even remember you were one of those that told them ‘no’.  If you do find something you are interested in, just take their paperwork to look over later.  Then, if you really are interested, you call them back on your own terms.

mnstatefair friesFair Food – And here it is.  My true weakness at the fair.  Short of breaking the bank only to gain 10 pounds, there are other options.  First, work as a team.  If you all want to try something, only buy one and make sure everyone gets a taste to satisfy your craving.  Second, eat slow.  It will take a bit for your brain to register that your stomach is full, so give it time to do so before ordering the flash-frozen cotton candy-coated cheese curds.  They won’t look quite as good if you are already feeling the pain of over-eating.  And finally, if you are going to spend the day, you don’t have to eat it all in one meal.  A little for lunch and a little more for supper without duplicating any cuisine because you’ve already eaten it all.

Cash Only – Decide on your total budget and take it out in cash.  Then only spend cash at the fair.  When it’s gone, you’re done.  Feel free to sit around and people watch, but you are going to have to do it without a double-dipped-corndog-deep-fried-in-chocolate-sauce in your hand.

It’s fair season.  There is nothing else quite like it.  So go and enjoy with your friends and family.  It probably is just going to cost you some cash.  But with a little attentiveness, it doesn’t have to cost as much.  (By the way, this is true for most things in life.)

If you find yourself struggling to know how much you can afford on the fair or anything else, the counselors at the Center for Financial Resources can help you work through the numbers and priorities towards a manageable budget.  Just give us a call at 605-330-2700 to schedule an appointment.

Now go enjoy some fair food….

written by Breck Miller
images courtesy freedigitalphotos.net and Minnesota State Fair, respectively

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