Minnesota State Fair 2011: How to Save Money While You Enjoy the Fair

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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
  • Corndogs
  • 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
  • Popcorn
  • 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.

Free Entertainment

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:

Plus, it’s free to come see me the two days I’ll be at the Fair. Join me on Monday, Aug. 29 and Tuesday, Aug. 30.
  • 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?


  1. sally says

    Carrie, Not 10 minutes before you posted this I was trying to find the free rides & could not find them. Thanks so much for this post. Lots of great info. here.

  2. Violet says

    One freebie at the fair that you missed that my daughter loved when she was little – the Little Farm Hands interactive exhibit at the north end of the fair. It's for kids 2-10 (but probably best for the 4-7 set) and they pretend to farm and at the end of it, they get fake money to buy a real item. Most of those items are food, such as fresh apples or mini cereal boxes – but if your kid isn't hungry, you can also get a free can of vegetables. It's a great way to get a free healthy snack for your kid at the fair!

    We went to the fair today and we are going again tomorrow. For my family, going to the fair is mostly all about getting all of our favorite fair foods, but the coupon book has been my best friend!

  3. Leann says

    Is the Home Depot tent at the fair again this year? My kids have made a couple of wood projects there over the years. Just remember to grab a nice bag somewhere along the way to carry your new toy in.

  4. Michelle says

    I bought all of our Kidway and Midway tickets at Cub Foods – they were $10 for 20 tickets – no limit.

    They stop selling these on 8/24 this year, but good to note for next year! We also bought the Blue Ribbon Coupon book for $1 off and our entrance tickets for just $9 each at Cub.

  5. Mary says

    Thanks for these tips Carrie! Super helpful-who knew there was an app for that?! Can't wait to bring my boys this yr.

  6. Christine says

    Yep, the Home Depot tent is at the fair. They were making sun catchers this year. (I think it was sun catchers.)

  7. mark says

    We bring our Minnesota State Fair Sovenior cups from 7 seven years ago. Every year the Fair sells the same refill cup. We get refills in the Cub Food building for $1.25 for our 32 oz. cup at the Pepsi booth.

  8. ruth w says

    Giglges in the northwoods area has kids meals for $1.50!! They include two smiley chicken patties, a pile of waffle fries and a cookie for dessert. Great Deal!!

  9. Kelley says

    For families that prefer to park in one of the Fair lots, a discount Cub ticket ($9) can be used for a savings of $3 off of the $12 parking lot fee.

  10. says

    We ended up at the fair into the evening, and I was wishing I had brought some dollar store glow sticks because all those glowing things for kids are soooo tempting… and expensive. Then we managed to get free glow bracelets (well, my kids used them as lightsabers) from the Xfinity booth across from the Ball Park Cafe!

  11. Debra says

    AND the FREE horse shows!! I am not sure if all are free or just some, but we did take in one for free and interesting too. We always get our tickets early, buy the blue ribbon book and we do bring 1 cooler full of waters, fresh fruit, carrot sticks and snacks(peanuts,granola bars crackers) to both add to a meal AND to keep everyone happy till we get to their food choice booth!! We always do the Home Depot build a workshop and this year scored on the last 2 race cars for that day:) The little farm hands is fun but more for the younger kiddos, though mine loved the free chips this year.(we don't eat much chips in our house). We skipped the rides this year which also helped give us a little extra savings:) Unfortunately, my husband works for MTC and cannot get off during fair time, except his weekends, so we cannot utilize the cheaper days for admissions.

    Thank you RENEE for the great idea of bringing glow sticks.

    Hope EVERYONE has fun at the fair this year!!

  12. Leanne says

    Visit the Food Building at about 9:57 p.m. a few minutes before closing – many vendors will sell you their ready items for big discounts rather than throw them out. Came upon this by accident this year and will be saving my appetite next year!

  13. Roz says

    Thanks Leanne, how exactly did u find out by accident…went to buy something and they just happened to give a discount..were they announcing the discounts to ppl?

  14. Leanne says

    I went walking around, and didn't even realize it was closing time. I looked half interested in some things and they made me an offer, like four piles of fries for $2 or an awsome spinach/artichoke stuffed pizza slice for $1, cinnamon rolls or stromboli for 1/2 price. Clearance time! They have only a few minutes to sell what they've made or they have to throw it anyway. I was there again tonight, and a few places were just out of things. Maybe they're planning better now than the second night of the fair, but I still did all right. Doesn't hurt to make an offer either and they will likely be happy to take you up on it.

  15. Jennifer N says

    I know the Fair is over but thought to mention this when I saw batteries on the Rainbow shopping list. We bought the batteries at the Fair from Northern Tool last year. I can't recall the price but it seemed like a good deal and we still have batteries so they lasted over a year. Plus there was some kind of a coupon in the blue ribbon book so if you use batteries – this could be a good deal to think about next year.

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