Today launches the start of the Minnesota State Fair 2011. I love the challenge of enjoying a day of family fun while sticking to a budget.
Free Parking & Shuttle to the Fair
Many people take the Express Bus to the fair to avoid the hassles of parking, but also thinking it is a money-saver. Well, you’ll pay $5 per person, which adds up and I have a better, free alternative
Instead, use area park & rides. In the Roseville/St. Paul area there are 34 State Fair park & rides where you can leave your car, then be shuttled to/from the gate totally free of charge.
Discount MN State Fair Tickets
Some of you may have purchased discounted admission tickets at Cub Foods before the Fair opened, but if you didn’t you they are offering six days this season when you can buy discount tickets for the Minnesota State Fair.
On each discount day a different group gets a reduced entrance price. When adults (13-64) are discounted they’ll pay $10 versus the regular $12 fee. When seniors (65+) and kids (5-12) are discounted they’ll pay $7 versus the standard $10 entrance fee.
Discount admission days for the 2011 MN State Fair include:
- Thursday, Aug. 25 is Thrifty Thursday
- Adults and kids receive discounted admission.
- Monday, Aug. 29 is Seniors & Kids Day where those groups receive discounts.
- Tuesday Aug. 30 is Military Appreciation Day
- Active, retired and veteran United States military with documentation are admitted for $7. Active military and their families present one document to apply the discount to all immediate family members. Retired military and/or veterans are allowed one discount per person per document.
- Wednesday, Aug. 31 is Read & Ride Wednesday
- Guests presenting valid public library cards when purchasing admission at the gate are admitted at discount prices. One card is required for each discounted admission.
- Thursday, Sept. 1 is Seniors Day where seniors get reduced-fee entrance.
- Labor Day, Sept. 5 is Kids Day when children get in for $7 each.
Fair food is a cornerstone of the State Fair experience, but it is also the most expensive part of most fair-goers experience. I have three suggestions to help you enjoy the foods you love, but stay within your means.
Bring Your Own Snacks & Water Bottle
You are allowed to bring your own food and beverages to the MN State Fairgrounds. For those on a tight budget, pack a picnic lunch and then invest in one or two food items that the family can share. For me, I have two small girls, and will bring a variety of snacks from home to keep them, and us, satisfied during the day.
Even if you don’t pack a single snack from home, be sure to bring your own refillable water bottle. There is running water in the Grandstand that you can use for refilling.
Blue Ribbon Bargain Book
For the food you are going to buy I highly recommend you invest $5 in a Blue Ribbon Bargain Book. The book contains coupons for the MN State Fair, including food and activities. Books are sold at State Fair FairWear kiosks throughout the Fairgrounds.
I looked over the book and noticed these 17 food items that will be half price and/or buy one, get one free when you use a coupon from the Blue Ribbon Bargain Book:
- Green Mill pizza
- Bridgeman’s Brownie or Muffin Sundae
- Root Beer Barrel drinks
- Midway Grill’s Footlong Corndogs
- Sno Cones
- Pretzel Factory Soft Pretzels
- Hotdogs from Mike’s Hamburgers
- Al’s Subs & Malts Soft Serve Cones
- RC Cola soft drinks
- Luigi Italian Ice
- Caribbean Smoothies Real Fruit Smoothie
- Rice Kristie Bars
- Ice Cream Parlour’s Jumbo Ice Cream Float
- Leimon’s Pizzeria Pizza
- Apple Lil’s Jumbo Pretzel
- Robbinsdale OES Dining Hall’s Chicken Tenders
Besides items discounted to 50% there are dozens of other popular food vendors that offer discounts from 25-50% off with coupons from the Blue Ribbon Bargain Book.
Food for a Buck
For those that resist using coupons for Fair Food, there is a money-saving solution for you too. A handful of vendors have food items regularly priced at $1 each. You can browse the complete list of $1 food items, but a few of my favorites include
- All the Milk You Can Drink
- Watermelon Wedge
- Lemonade and Iced Tea
- Sno Cones
- Salted In-Shell Peanuts
- Cider Freeze
- Apple Cider
- Ice Cream Cone
Free State Fair App Helps Find Cheap Food
This year it is easier than ever to locate food vendors that are in the Blue Ribbon Bargain Book or have items for a buck when you use the free MN State Fair app for Android or iPhones.
The app has a food finder that lets you search by food type (aka “cotton candy”) or by vendor name, then present you with that vendors location. You can filter, or limit, those food results to vendors that are in the Blue Ribbon Bargain Book or to those that sell something for $1.
Midway & Kidway Savings
As a kid I loved going to the Kidway, then the Midway with my family. Now, as a parent, I want to provide that kind of fun for my kids, but it can be a very expensive component of a State Fair outing.
Blue Ribbon Bargain Book
I’ve already raved about the Blue Ribbon Bargain Book, but if you plan to buy at least one $20 sheet of Midway/Kidway tickets, then the Bargain Book is a must have. The very first coupon in the book is good for $6 off a $20 sheet of tickets. That coupon alone covers the cost of the $5 book.
Discount Ticket Days
Much like the Fair offers six discount admission days this year, it is offering 4 days when rides and games in the Midway and Kidway are discounted by one ticket each. Couple that savings with the discounted tickets you’ll get using the Blue Ribbon Bargain Book and you’ve got rock bottom prices. The four days are:
- Thursday, Aug. 25
- Monday, Aug. 29
- Wednesday, Aug. 31
- Labor Day, Monday, Sept. 5.
In addition to those four full days of savings, early birds can get that same reduced ticket pricing on four half-days. These early bird specials offer the one ticket discount from the open of the Midway/Kidway through 1 pm on these four days:
- Friday, Aug. 26
- Tuesday, Aug. 30
- Thursday, Sept. 1
- Friday, Sept. 2.
As if people watching isn’t enough free entertainment, the Fairgrounds have more than a half dozen stages with lots of acts performing on each one daily. Details on stage locations and performance schedules can be found on mnstatefair.org.
A couple entertainment-related things that caught my eye include:
- Free skateboarding shows
- Free extreme trampoline shows (maybe you don’t want your kids to watch this??)
- Free Doggies of the Wild West shows
- Find Your Fabulous Fair alphabet game is a free and easy way to keep your kids engaged as you roam the fairgrounds
- Free Minnesota State Fair walking tour put together by the Minnesota Historical Society
- On Monday, Aug. 29 I’ll be at the Star Tribune booth interviewing with Kara McGuire and John Ewoldt from 3-3:30.
- Then I’ll head over to the KARE 11 Barn and join Pat Evans and Diana Pierce during KARE 11 News at 4 pm.
- On Tuesday, Aug. 30 I’ll be live with John Hansen and Elizabeth Ries during Twin Cities Live at 3pm.
Your turn: How do you save money when you enjoy a day at the MN State Fair?