How to save money (and your sanity) at a fair

Ten and a half hours. That’s how long we stayed at our provincial exhibition the other day. TEN AND A HALF HOURS. STRAIGHT.

And you know what? It was pretty great.

Even though we stayed the longest we’ve EVER stayed (I think our previous record was nine straight hours), it went smoothly thanks to a few key things …

Bring cash. So much cash.

(Wait, Heather, didn’t you say something about saving money?) It doesn’t mean you’re going to spend all of it — God no. But we’ve learned the hard way that if you don’t bring enough money, you’re going to need to pay a gazillion dollars in fees at those shady banking machines under a circus tent. They’ll charge you $3 or $4 and then your bank will likely turn around and double it, taking their cut.

Dress carefully.

Socks and sneakers for EVERYONE, people, and yes — I know they’re kind of dweeby because wouldn’t cute sandals also be comfortable? NO. Nothing is more comfortable than socks and sneakers when you’re on your feet for a million hours. We all wore baseball caps (matching, ’cause we’re cool) and Darling Husband and I wore sunglasses. We were all sunscreened, of course, and I tossed the bottle in my bag in case we needed to reapply. Which brings me to my next point …

Pack smart. 

Darling Husband and I each carried a backpack but we were *really* careful not to overload them. Our backs are going to ache regardless at the end of a longgggg day at the Exhibition.

He packed granola bars, Goldfish crackers, and a bunch of small water bottles that we could toss when they were empty (less to carry). I packed sunscreen, my wallet, honey-roasted peanuts, lipstick, a notebook and pen (which I never ended up using, see below), phone charger (sadly never found a place to use that either) and earbuds.

We didn’t bring sweatshirts or jackets because it’s been crazy-hot lately, but we probably should have. It got a little chilly around 8 p.m., but it wasn’t too bad.

Make it a marathon.

We paid entrance fees ($8 each for adults, $4 for D, and C was free) but the big expense is really the ride bracelets. They’re $26 each at our exhibition, so we always designate one day as “ride day.” (Sometimes we’ll go to the Exhibition other days, to look around, but the kids know they only go on rides on ONE SUPER AWESOME DAY).

We certainly got our money’s worth this year, though. The rides opened at noon and the kids rode pretty much nonstop until we left at 10 p.m. That’s like eight cents a minute for giving them the time of their lives, if my math is correct (… it like is not).

We also shelled out an additional $20 for tickets so the two of us could join them on a few “grown-up” rides (two runs on the Tilt-a-Whirl, once on the Ferris Wheel and once on the Swizzler). Tickets, in my opinion, are a huge rip-off unless you only want to go on one or two rides. But it was worth it so the kids could experience the really cool rides.

Take breaks — both physical and mental ones!

Kids? Ha! Ours were so high on sugar and adrenaline that they couldn’t care less about sitting down. I’m talking about grown-ups here. If you’re going to make it an insanely long day, that’s hard. It’s a lot of standing around in front of the Go-Gater and the Conway Run, arms crossed, nodding and smiling as your kid passes you for the zillionth loop.

For Darling Husband, taking mental breaks meant walking over to the arena and seeing what kind of show was happening, checking out the planing demonstration, or ambling over to look at the John Deere display. Or the truck display. Or the other truck display.

My mental break? Did not involve any of that stuff. I wore earbuds and listened to podcasts, zoning out while the kids ran through the funhouse for the millionth time. A few times I left them with Darling Husband and went to sit down in the grass and close my eyes for a few minutes (sunglasses hide everything) so I could listen in peace. It helped all of the ride-watching seem FAR less tedious.

Avoid the games.

It goes without saying, but those things are a joke. I didn’t see a single person walking around with those giant emoji pillows the kids wanted, and I told them (very firmly) that we were not playing those games because no one wins. They seemed to accept that and focused on the rides.(But also I would have really liked a poo emoji pillow?)

Eat as a treat.

Fair food is amazing, obviously, but it’s also $$$$ and not at all healthy. We packed granola bars, nuts and Goldfish crackers to eat as little snacks here and there. We drank the water we packed when we were thirsty. We could have brought a cooler bag full of lunch and dinner, if we had wanted, but fair food is FUN and it’s a once-a-year thing, right?

So we bought lunch and dinner but were careful not to overbuy — the kids were too excited to eat much — so we weren’t left with a ton of cold, uneaten fries and chicken fingers. We split a cotton candy and a (very, very sticky) candy apple while we watched a horse show, and picked up a few more candy apples to take home at the end of the night. We ate those the next day, so it stretched out our enjoyment. Mmmm, candy apples for breakfast.

We had a great day and even though certainly isn’t a CHEAP day, it was less expensive than it could have been. We were all comfortable and relatively sane, even when we left, which is really saying something.

What’s your favourite family-at-the-fair tip?

So what do you think?

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