3 Ways to Stay On Budget at the County Fair

by Travis Pizel · 11 comments

We’re deep into the heart of summer, which means county fairs are popping up everywhere. Our local fair happened last week, and my kids were excited to go. I know exactly how they feel, as I too have great childhood memories of going to the fair. As a parent, however, it usually means dropping a lot of cash in one day — and wondering if it was really worth it.

Luckily, my experiences have taught me how to maximize our family fun while keeping the cost from making me feel like I just got off the Tilt-O-Whirl.

How to Reduce Costs at the County Fair

The Food

Eating at the fair is expensive. I could advise you to grab a bite before heading to the fair, but I won’t. Walking down the midway with the smell of corndogs and freshly made mini-donuts is not only impossible to resist; it’s part of the fair experience.

I don’t go anywhere to spend money without a list of what I’m buying, but at the fair, it’s impossible to know what will be offered or what the prices will be. Before buying anything, I walk the entire length of the midway scoping out all the food vendors and their prices. By doing so, I know what’s offered, how much it costs, and who offers what for the cheapest price.

With this information, we can make educated choices that will fill our tummies, but not empty our wallet.

The Rides

We have two choices when it comes to the rides:

Tickets: Tickets cost $1 a piece, or $45 for a block of 50. The rides my kids go on are generally five tickets per ride; that means we get a maximum of 10 rides, or five rides per kid for $45.

Wrist Bands: Wristbands cost $20 a piece, so for $40 my two kids can go on as many rides as they want.

The choice here is clear; we bought the wristbands. I counted how many rides my kids went on, just to make sure we made the right choice. By the time we called it an afternoon, they were well into the teens each.

The Games

I have a very strict policy on games: I’m not paying for them. Every year, I tell the story of how a fast-talking carnival game worker got me to spend $18 on a small stuffed animal for my significant other. If they want to spend their own hard-earned money on games, they’re welcome to do so. They usually bring money along and play one or two — but I think they’re starting to understand why I have the opinion I do.

After four hours at the fair, we headed home full of food, sick of rides, and on budget. County fair, see you again next year!

Do you go to your county fair? How do you stay on budget?

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{ read the comments below or add one }

  • Michelle says:

    I just wasted entirely too much money at the fair. Fair food is a sick obsession I have. There is no control when I see funnel cakes and elephant ears.

    • David Ning says:

      Heh. That’s why they sell them Michelle. Can you get them anywhere else? Maybe you can have a couple BEFORE you get in! At least it’ll be cheaper that way.

  • Gary says:

    Good tips for having fun but not breaking the bank. At many of the fairs and festivals in my area, there are also lots of vendors selling everything from jewelry and clothing to soaps and candles to crafts and more. It’s important to ask yourself a few questions before buying, like will you really use/wear the item, is it something you can buy cheaper somewhere else, etc. And if you still want to buy, it may be worth haggling.

    • David Ning says:

      Good suggestions Gary. I’m good at not ever thinking I’ll need those things, but my daughter is at the age (she’s four) where she will start asking me to buy stuff. I always ask her if she has money, and her response is always “but you have it.”

      I guess that’s why I’m working right now on a Sunday!

    • I don’t think I’ve ever found anything at one of the fair vendors that was a good deal. Every time I think I have, I’m proven wrong…like the time I bought a pair of sunglasses for a $1, and they broke by the time I got to the car. LOL. thanks for stopping by!

  • Erastus says:

    Has been tricky to stay on budget while at County fair. I love eating, with the smell of corndogs and freshly made mini-donuts can’t restrict myself from grabbing them. At the end of the day I use more bucks than intended.

  • Michelle says:

    I went with the fair with my niece (who is one), and luckily we did not have to purchase ride tickets or anything like that. But just the two of us were expensive enough because we wanted all of the fair food.

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