7 Ways to Save Money at the Fair

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iowa state fair. Des Moines MomReady or not, The Iowa State Fair is just around the corner, August 11-21!

Going to the fair is one of my family’s top summer traditions, and we always have to check out our favorites (mostly food). But we also discover new things every time we go!

If you aren’t careful, it can be easy to blow your budget on a day at the fair. The average group of fairgoers (three people) spends roughly $126 on entertainment, parking/admission, and food. I know my kids could probably spend an ENTIRE week’s worth of our grocery budget on the Giant Slide alone.

This year, I’m looking for ways to save money on our trip to the fair so my kiddos can ride the Giant Slide “One! More! Time!”

Here are 7 ways to save money at the fair

1. Plan ahead to save on admission

Did you know you can save money on admission if you buy tickets in advance? Advance tickets are $9 for adults (ages 12 and up) and $5 for children (ages 6-11). Got kids under 5? Their admission is free! At the gate, adult admission is $12 and children are $6. I’m sure you can do the math on that!

Advance tickets are available on the Iowa State Fair Website. You can also find them at participating Fareway, Hy-Vee, Hy-vee Drug, Price Chopper, and Cash Saver stores.

2. Don’t pay for parking

If you don’t want to spend $10 to park in one of the fairground parking lots or similar rates for non-street spots near the fairgrounds, I’ve got good news. If you live close enough to bike, parking for bicycles is available for FREE inside gate 11. Riding DART is also a great way to save on parking. The Bonus? Your kids will LOVE it!

Parking is free at all DART locations from 8:30 a.m.-midnight every day of the Fair. Regular round-trip fares (cash only) are $2 for adults (ages 11-64), $1 for children (ages 6-10), and children under 5 are free. If you show your advance Fair admission ticket at one of DART’s three State Fair Park & Ride locations, you’ll receive half off the round-trip fare! You can also use the MyDART App to receive half off your round-trip fare.

3. Go during discounted times

If you miss the advance tickets or want to plan an extra visit, you can get discounted admission Monday-Thursday evenings from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. ($10 adult admission; $6 child admission). You can also wait until Extreme Sunday (Aug. 21, the last day of the fair), when admission is $10 for adults and $6 for children. If you bring three cans of non-perishable food with you to the fair that day, you’ll get $7 adult admission.

4. Eat strategically

If you eat a meal before you go, you’ll have at least an hour or two before you start to get hungry and crave something fried. Download the Fair app to compare food options and be sure to check out the list of $4 or less menu items, which has more 100 menu items on it (including the locations).

To save money and room in our stomachs, my family prefers to share everything. That way we get to try a wider variety of foods and don’t end up throwing away a lot of leftovers. Our favorites are pork tenderloins, a cup of chocolate chip cookies, pork chops on a stick, and ice cream at Bauders. I’ve also heard you can get a discounted burger if you go to the Beef Quarters for a late lunch.

5. BYOC (empty, of course)

One easy way to save money (and stay hydrated) is to bring a refillable bottle for water. Make sure it’s empty when you go through the gate, then stop by a water fountain or filling station to fill it up. If your family loves lemonade and has cups leftover from last year, bring the empty cups with you to get cheap refills!

6. Be Entertained for FREE!

Once you’re inside the gate, there are plenty of opportunities to entertain your family without spending extra money. Check out the fair’s list of free entertainment, which includes four free stages and other attractions. Two of our favorite free activities are Little Hands on the Farm (located in the Kids Zone) and the Animal Learning Center. The splash pad/fountain in Pella Plaza and the Fun Forest are also kid favorites. While you’re in the area, swing by the Fun Forest stage to catch the Rubber Chicken Show or the Dollipops, with performances at the top of the hour, daily from noon to 4 p.m.

7. Save on family fun

If your family spends a lot on rides, you’ll want to check out the advance tickets for the fair’s thrilling rides and attractions. The Value Pack ($20) includes one reloadable Wristband with 5 credits, $4 in food/beverage tickets, one Giant Slide ride, two Sky Glider rides, one admission to Ye Old Mill, and much more! It’s a $34 value, so the savings are clear.

You can also get a discount on advance Thrill Parks wristbands, which are good on any day of the fair on any ride or game in Thrill Town (for little fairgoers) and Thrill Ville (for “super-speed screams”). It’s reloadable at the fair, so you can always buy more credits if your budget allows.

If you’re looking for additional insider info on the Fair, download the Iowa State Fair App to save time or sign up for text alerts to get updates and giveaways.

What are your tips for saving money at the Iowa State Fair?

Iowa State Fair tips

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Kimberly is a Northwest Iowa native, a Drake University graduate, and a fan of all things Des Moines. She is a girly girl who grew up and became a boy mom, and is now an expert on all types of construction equipment and big machines. She shares her Des Moines home with hubby Sam (2006) and sons Jack (March 2014) and Henry (December 2016). Kimberly studied magazine journalism in college, spent 10 years working for a newspaper, and recently became a postpartum doula. In her abundant (and almost nonexistent) free time she enjoys writing about mom life, drinking coffee, documenting time with family and friends, starting Shutterfly projects she rarely finishes, doing Crossfit, and daydreaming about future decorating and crafting projects.

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