Savvy Mom: Free and Cheap Family Fun at the Fair

Some years our family has gone to the Minnesota State Fair and it’s like someone put a siphon in our wallet. Eat, spend, ATM, repeat. But as our boys, now six and nine years old, have gotten older, the options to spend money have grown. Keeping to a fair budget is no longer a should, but a must. And I’m here to say, it is possible to spend hours at the fair without breaking the bank, while doing fun things and eating delicious (albeit unhealthful) food. Here are a few of my favorite bargains and freebies:

1. Free Park and Ride. My favorite lots are at the University of Minnesota. It’s close, so the ride is short, and the buses run frequently.

2. Wrist ID bracelets. On the way in, I stop at the information booth to get ID bracelets for my kids and put parent names and cell numbers on them. We’re grateful they’ve never had to be used, but having them makes me less panicky when they bolt.

3. Discount entry, rides, and games. Kid days are today, August 27, and September 3. Kid entry is $7 (regular is $10) and Kidway/Midway rides and games are discounted, one ticket all day. Wednesday, August 29 is Read and Ride Day. Children and adults with valid public library cards get discounted admission. Rides and games are discounted one ticket all day. Going another day? Fret not. Take advantage of Kidway/Midway early bird specials until 1 p.m. on Tuesday, August 28, Thursday, August 30, and Friday, August 31. Additionally, the Blue Ribbon Bargain Book has a coupon for $6 off one $20 sheet of 28 ride and game tickets.

4. Free attractions. Not only are the free shows entertaining, but they also provide a much needed break for tired feet, overheated kids, and over-full stomachs. Some of our favorites include Sean Emery at Baldwin Park, the Timberworks Lumberjacks, and the 3rd Lair Skatepark shows. My kids also are fans of the Giant Sing Along (shown above), the Miracle of Birth Center, and the Eco Experience building.

5. Cheap eats. My annual advice on eating at the fair is to always get the smallest size and share it. Tapas-style fair food allows for maximum sampling for minimized money. But some of the best treats are also some of the cheapest! All You Can Drink milk is still only $1 a cup, while 1919 root beer and Minnesota Apples frozen cider pops are just a little more than that.

6. Pirate Tag. Behind the River Raft ride is Pirate Tag, where for $3 you get a bucket of balls to fire in an air cannon across a lagoon at an enemy pirate ship. Hits to the square targets result in a gush of water spraying the enemy. It’s not open early in the morning, but is a less-crowded attraction we visit on our way out.

This year’s family visit was a success. The boys were tired and happy, we still had money in our wallets, but not too much food in our bellies. I guess it’s all about balance, even at The Great Minnesota Get-Together.