Five Money Lessons to Learn BEFORE the County Fair Takes You for a Wild Ride
I grew up in a relatively small town east of San Francisco. At the beginning of each school year, just as the doleful days following the end of summer were taking hold, kids of all ages would descend on downtown and on Civic Park for the Walnut Festival. The festivities include a parade, food tents, the carnival and exhibitor booths used by local organizations to raise funds for their annual budget. Even now, these many decades later, I can still catch glimpses in my mind of the excitement of marching in my first parade, of smelling the stock at the competition stalls, and of the carefree thrill my brothers and I felt as we entered the carnival and beheld the various attractions that would soon vie for our precious few coins.
It is county fair season again, and, just as in my youth, kids of all ages head to their local parks and fairgrounds to enjoy the great community spirit of county fairs. Such traditions have been passed down for centuries. Since 13th and 14th-century medieval European towns held their own fairs to celebrate religious holidays and combined them with markets to support their local businesses.
5 Tips to Help Save You Money at the Fair
So, if you are heading off to your local fair in the coming few weeks, here are five lessons to learn before you leave:
- Plan your spending. Before you even throw the sunblock in your purse or the kids in the car, make sure you have figured out how much money you want to spend and how much money you can afford to spend (not always the same thing). Otherwise, every new and colorfully lit attraction, as well as every tantalizingly tempting, yummy smelling fair food, will call out for your money. Going to the fair without a spending limit is like taking a ride on the Tilt-A-Whirl. You might love it while you are there, but the sky-high spending will leave you financially dizzy and disoriented.
- Take cash, but keep it safe. If the ticket booth accepts debit, credit, and pre-paid cards, you could easily spend 50% to 100% more than if you only use cash. Spending double what you expected is like riding the Ferris wheel. It always seems to take twice as long and is half as enjoyable as you had hoped.
That said, make sure to keep your wallet in your front pocket or to secure it in a fanny pack with the zipper to the front.
- Hold the Food Orders. If you go to the fair with kids at dinnertime, you can expect to drop $50 on yummy, greasy fair food. And that does not even include treats. To cut down on overspending, eat at home (or even at a more affordable joint on the way to the fairgrounds) or go in between mealtimes. Paying for meals for you and the kids at the fairgrounds can sometimes feel like a spin on the Round Up. You want to say, “no,” but you are stuck. It feels pointless to fight the inertia of your hunger.
It seems like there are exceptions to all rules, as is the case here. If you feel like going to the fair is a chance to help local organizations raise funds at their food booths for the services they provide the rest of the year, then plan for such spending ahead of your trip.
- Take some splurge money, but be patient. Besides taking the amount of money you plan to spend, add some splurge money for each member of the party. It may just be a couple of dollars each or it may be $20 or $30. The amount is up to you and what your household budget can afford. Just make a rule that you can’t spend it until you have walked around all of the carnival attractions and booths. This way, if you do spend it, you will know that it has gone towards the purchase of most meaning to you, whether it be the corn dog and churro you just couldn’t past up, or to the last ride of the night on the Zipper with your adventurous son or daughter.
- Be prepared to say, “No.” If you are taking kids with you to the fairgrounds, you already know that they are liable to turn into very different children around all of the blinking lights, the screaming roller coaster riders, the wafting of freshly baked waffle cones, and the sight of freshly spun pink and blue cotton candy. They may very well come down with a concerning case of the gimmes and getmes. “Gimme another dollar.” “Getme some candy.” “Gimme more money.” “Getme 10 tickets.”
In combination with lessons 1 and 4 above, be prepared (and steeled) to say, “no” to your children when they start asking for money after they (and you) have spent all that you planned to spend. In fact, you might even tell them ahead of time that not only will you say, “no” if they ask for more money, but for each time they ask for more money, you will assign them another chore at home.
However you approach this lesson, it is important to the long-term development of their own critical ability to set spending limits for themselves that they learn that their folks have spending limits as well.
County fairs can be opportunities to bring families together, build lasting memories, and even find some new favorite foods. They can also be occasions that part you from your hard-earned money. Sticking to the recommendations above can help make your next visit to the fair a fun one for you and a less stressful one for your wallet.
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