A day at the fair could easily cost you hundreds of dollars! From the admission, parking, rides, exhibition halls and all that amazing fair food, you could slip up on the budget quickly. If you plan ahead and do a little research, your day at the fair could be a lot of fun for cheap! There are definitely some practical ways to stay on budget at the fair.
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Budgeting for the County Fair
I’ve only been to one County Fair but I’ve been nearly every single year – the San Diego County Fair (aka: Del Mar Fair). I’m going to venture that most county fairs are the same if not very similar to our large fair so I think these tips could be applied most anywhere. Here are my tips on how we save money at the county fair.
Save Money on County Fair Admission Tickets
Potential Cost of Fair Admission: $19 per adult, $12 per child, Free for kids 5 and under.
Ways to Save on Admission at the Fair:
- Pre-purchasing tickets is almost always cheaper than buying them at the gate. A quick search online will let you know where you can purchase tickets for the fair. Avoid any site that charges a “transaction fee”.
- Some grocery stores, military bases or employers sell discounted tickets.
- Kids can often get free entry from their school for reading books.
- Some of the competitive one-day contests allow for free entry.
- Look at the fair website for special days where you might receive discounted entry.
- If you plan on attending the fair more than once, consider the price of the season pass.
Potential Cost of Fair Parking: $10 per car
My cost: Free. We park off-site and take a free shuttle. Savings $10. Check your county fair website and see if off-site parking is available.
Full Cost: Dependent upon what you eat, but of course fair food is pricey and over sized. One family’s meal could easily cost $50+. The cost of those weird specialty snacks could cost you upwards of $10 each.
My cost: $30. Packing lunch and snacks in was allowed (no glass bottles or containers). I brought in snacks for us so we wouldn’t be tempted to buy $8 chocolate covered bacon! We had a big bag of kettle corn from Sprouts for $1.99, half-pound of trail mix with M&Ms and nuts for $2.00, and a bag of Twizzlers for $1.00. I did splurge and buy us lunch (because we very rarely eat out, this was a treat). A half-lb burger with waffle fries, two large hot dogs, macaroni and cheese and three drinks set us back $25. I knew that some of the vendors were offering a kids meal for $5.25 so that’s what I bought them. Some other vendors were selling kid’s meals for $9.00 so just shopping around saved me $7.50 on the two meals. We were so full from our big lunch that we only had a light snack at home for dinner.
Full Cost: Depending upon how many you purchase upfront, the cost per ticket for our fair is between 50 cents and 75 cents; Each ride takes between 3-10 tickets.
My cost: Free. My husband’s grandmother gave us a sheet of 40 ride tickets. That sheet (which allowed 5 total rides) would have cost us $20.
Plan upfront how much you want to spend on tickets and stick with it. Prepare kids ahead of time by letting them know how many rides they can go on. Kids can then choose to be more selective with the tickets they have and decide which rides are most important to them (as in, is that House of Mirrors really worth my $3.00?) Some fairs offer a Ride-for-One-Price wristband which offers unlimited rides on certain days of the fair.
Set a budget on how much you’ll ultimately spend playing the carnival games. You don’t want to regret throwing $40 into a game trying to win a stuffed animal that’s only worth $3.
Shows Pig Races, Demolition Derby, Buggy Races, Magic Shows, Hypnotist, Live Bands & Concerts.
Print out the daily schedule before your visit and highlight the top attractions you’d like to hit. You won’t be able to see it all in one day. Get input from the rest of the family (take a vote) on which shows are a “must”.
We arrived just in time for my daughter to be the volunteer in a magic show. She was inside this box stuffed with umbrellas (what the illusionist was calling the Mary Poppin’s Box of Doom!).
Attractions, Exhibits & Demonstrations Petting Zoo, Wood Carving Demo, Gem exhibits, Home & Garden area, Butterflies, Arts & Crafts.
We saw big cows, had butterflies land on our shoulders, made a craft and watched a pottery show (and got a free vase from the potter). The toddler rode a little tractor and the big kids watched the wood carvers (who gave them each a free puzzle). All free stuff!
I had no intention of shopping but my son had a $5 bill burning a hole in his pocket. He found a booth selling cheap jewelry, three pieces for $4.99 and that satisfied the souvenir itch. If you know your kids are going to want to leave the fair with something have them bring a small amount of their own money and plan what they would like to buy in advance.
Free Concerts at the Fair
A few years back I entered my Summer Pasta Salad recipe in a contest and won a second prize ribbon. Another year my son brought art painted in a specific theme and won a first place ribbon.
This year my kids were looking forward to trying one of the one-day competitions. My son was all about the Pie Eating Contest. He loved it and received a participant ribbon!
My daughter is the champion ice cream speed eater in our house so she was excited to enter the Ice Cream Eating Contest. She would have won too, if she’d not been picking around the pineapple in her banana split!
They both had fun and it was a free treat for them both!
Other Budgeting Tips for the Fair
Use cash only and leave the credit and debit cards at home.
Plan out your day ahead of time.
Eat before you go so you aren’t tempted to indulge in fair food. Conversely you could also pack a cooler with snacks and head out to the car when you want to eat.
Price out the bundle packages to figure out if they are worth it to your family. If the bundle includes features you won’t use, the cost might not be worth it to you.
Bottom Line: Do your research and plan ahead how much you intend to spend. This day could have easily cost us $150 or more. Instead I paid a total of $30 for our meals (and that could have been reduced as well, if we’d decided to pack in our lunch). Enjoy all the unique and free things that the fair has to offer!