Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Tips for Saving Money at Festivals

A few years ago, we went to the Texas State Fair. My family was visiting from out of town, and we thought it would be a fun activity for everyone.

And it was. But we were woefully unprepared with how much money we would spend on that one afternoon--around $150 - $200. Just for my immediate family, not all of our visitors. A single ride on the ferris wheel is $10 per person. Yup.

We haven't been back to the Texas State Fair since, but the next time we go, we will be a little more prepared. We got some practice in this past weekend when we went to the Celina Balloon Festival.

If you want to attend a local fair or festival but don't want to spend too much money, check out these tips:

*  Look for entrance deals and coupons

Groupon, Living Social and the actual event websites frequently offer discounts to local fairs and festivals. A simple Google search should notify you of where to buy discount tickets, so don't pay full-price admission. We scored tickets to the balloon festival for 50% off from Groupon.

*  Research the event before you go

Look on the event's website before you go so that you know what to expect in terms of possible costs. Many events have a fee for parking, and websites list which activities are included in your entrance and which require extra tickets. For the balloon festival, we figured out from the website that viewing the balloons were included, and there would be a free Home Depot workshop for kids, but the rest of the rides/bounce houses/petting zoos would cost extra. The Texas State Fair has many shows and exhibits that are free, but the food and rides can be pricey. If you are on a limited budget, head to the shows and events that are included as part of your admission.

*  Decide on a budget, and tell your kids the plan

If you attend an event that requires you to buy tickets or pay extra for certain things, decide on a budget before you go. Tell your kids about it before you go so that they can get on the same page. Hopefully, this results in less whining. For the balloon festival, we decided in advance we would buy $40 worth of ride tickets. We told our kids about the plan, and let them know that they would each be able to pick 3 or 4 activities, depending on the cost. When we arrived, our kids scoped out each attraction and chose carefully. As it turns out, they all picked different rides.

*  Bring your own food and drinks

Whenever possible, bring your own food and drinks to save money. Last weekend, we brought some peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for the kids, and told them we could buy them a treat for dessert at the festival. Due to allergies and food intolerances, many places now let you bring in your own food and drinks. Read the FAQ section of the event's website to understand the specific rules about bringing your own coolers and alcohol. (Or better yet, plan to go outside of a meal time if the event is short).

Our entertainment budget is really small, and we have it that way on purpose. There are so many free, fun things to do around this area, and we are making an effort to funnel our money into other priorities. But, every now and then it's nice to splurge on a fair or festival and experience unique entertainment and fun.

Do you have any favorite fairs or festivals? Do you have any tips for enjoying them or saving money?