a “priceless” day at the fair, while on a budget

If you read the last post (http://wp.me/p1Auii-cI), you know how much we love the fair.  Here’s a behind the scenes peek at how we make it work without breaking the bank.  (Sorry if some of the this advice is too late for this year!  And I hope this comes across as “here’s what we try”, not “we have it all together”, because I assure you, we do not have it all together!)

But with that in mind, here’s how we keep it (i.e. us and our budget!) from falling completely apart!

–       Buy advance tickets (discount admissions, discount rides, and we love that kids 5 and under are free…the online advance tickets also offer an opportunity to “click here!” for a $20 rebate.  I clicked it, so I’ll either get a check in the mail or a virus on my computer…stay tuned to find out which!)

–       Find the free parking

–       Buy favorite foods (including typical fair foods) at the grocery store before the trip and eat them right before you enter the fair (we had hotdogs, yogurt and granola bars in the car, and the kids walked through the gates carrying popcorn from home in quart size ziploc bags…full tummies and a treat in hand before we saw the first vendor)

–       Set expectations.  Our kids knew they would each get to pick 2 rides and 1 treat before they entered the fairgrounds.  They also knew we were doing the free stuff first (“I’m saving your tickets until we see everything we might want to use them for!”) and eating treats last.  That meant that as we walked from one free activity to another, we had fun conversations about “is that the treat you’re going to pick?” …  “is that the ride you’re going to pick?” instead of begging to do things right then.

–       Know where the fun free things are.  I checked out a local mommy blog and got the 411 before we entered the gates.

–       Take special candy as a special surprise for when your kids need a fix.  (For us this meant breaking out the “Jessie the cowgirl” pez dispensers E had gotten as a birthday present and reloading them.)  Also take suckers (which my kids love and can carry with them for a while.) These came in handy for us when the girls found out the “goody bags” at one tent contained pickles (not their idea of a “goody”, and I offered to trade them the pickles for a sucker).  Extra tip: hide these treats until the moment you need them, so they are a preventative tool instead of something else to beg for!

–       If the kids can ride by themselves, let them.  We assumed we would have to ride with the girls this year (and budgeted accordingly, telling the girls they could each pick 2 rides).  When we discovered they were ok riding alone, that meant we had saved the tickets it would have cost for mom or dad to ride, and the kids could choose extra activities.  (Side note: if part of the family fun is doing it all together, then ignore this or find a balance.  Dad and I each did one ride with the kids.)

–       Do a “looking loop” before your kids pick their rides.  (Our kids are familiar with the language of “looking vs. buying trips” to the store.)  Our looking loop allowed for informed decisions and prevented later disappointments.  The way ours worked:  dad went to have our advance purchase passes converted into real tickets while I did our loop through the Kiddie Land rides with the kids.  Every time they said, “I want to do that right now!”, I could respond, “This is just a looking loop!  I don’t even have the tickets yet!  We have to choose what rides we want to do, then go meet dad to get the tickets.”  After we had seen lots of things to choose from, we had a conversation about what they wanted to do.  (Side note: we encouraged our kids to agree on rides, since it seemed easier and more fun to have them enjoy rides together.  This was pretty easy for us, since (a) they are close in age and (b) E’s excitement about a ride convinced S and vice versa.  When we realized we had a few extra tickets, they decided to spend them on separate rides, so mom and dad split chaperoning for that part and it was no problem.

–       Don’t forget an extra picnic meal with drinks!  We had a picnic dinner and included special drinks (the kids could choose a juice box or they could split the can of Sprite I had brought from home).  After dinner, they got to pick their one treat each at the fair.  They chose ice cream and cotton candy and shared with each other. (I overheard the cutest conversation between E & S about how if they chose different things, they would actually get a taste of two treats; they love it when they think they’ve outsmarted us!)  Note: budget extra if mom and dad are getting treats too.

–       If you can, splurge a little or find a way to make a special activity work.  The girls wanted to ride a horse.  E had been saving her birthday money from Grammy and Grandpa for that opportunity and the fair proved to be just the place.  E was thrilled, and Grammy and Grandpa were a big part of our fair day even though they were faraway (we called them in NY to tell them all about the horses!).  Thanks again for the pony ride, Grammy and Grandpa!

–       Dress in layers.  We threw fleeces under the stroller.

–       Don’t assume your “bigger preschool kids” will be able to walk the whole time.  We took our double stroller and were so glad we did.

–       Avoid the most crowded days if you can.  If you have preschool aged children, try for a weekday morning.  We went right after we picked up E from Kindergarten and had a blast from 3:30-7:30.  Weekends tend to be the most crowded.  (And although we love discount days, this year we decided that saving $12 was not worth the mayhem level crowds that our fair’s special day would save us.)

–   Set your own expectations for behavior accurately.  With young kids, there are bound to be “moments”.  Time it around naps, etc. where your kids have the best shot at success, manage when necessary, and focus on the positive.  At least if someone has a meltdown, you were in an area where the viewing public had lots of more interesting things to look at (the fair!) instead of on aisle three at Target, where we always seem to attract an inordinate amount of attention.

I think that’s most of it.  Bottom line: we had our fun fair day for around $50 (under $30 if I get the rebate…of course it will be over $1K if the rebate button was a hoax that actually opened a portal of doom on my computer…I’m choosing not to think about that…).

Anyway, I know there’s a mastercard commercial in here somewhere that ends, “a day at the fair: priceless”, but laundry calls so instead of writing it all, I’ll just stick with that punchline, and say that if you are so inclined, we hope you enjoy your well-budgeted/priceless day at the fair!

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2 responses to “a “priceless” day at the fair, while on a budget

  1. What a fabulous plan. I’m curious – did you bring your picnic dinner into the fair or go back to the car and then come back in for the treats?

  2. Thanks! We brought dinner in with us (a trip to the car would have been a 40 minute round trip investment, minimum, based on where we parked). We just packed things in a cooler (glorified lunch box) that had a strap we could hook onto the stroller. When it was time to eat, we just found an empty bench, although there were grassy areas where we could have settled (near the front of the big arena), as well as tables near the food vendors (we saw these later and noticed several were empty…another advantage of going at a time when the grounds were less crowded). Our kids didn’t want to stretch the meal out at all; they just wanted to eat their sandwiches and make a bee-line to get their treats(!), so I think getting them back to the car would have been a challenge for us. Hope that helps!

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