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County Fairs Provide Cheap Entertainment

Took this at the Evergreen State Fair in Washington State. Loved the colors

What do you get when you combine Ferris wheels with farm animals and funnel cakes? That's right, good old-fashioned fun at a county or state fair.

With summer disappearing like a heat mirage on a desert highway, fair season is gearing up across the country. Having grown up in rural Ohio where kids anticipated fair week every bit as much as Christmas morning, I'm always surprised at the number of people I meet who have never been to a county or state fair.

See also: 99 Great Ways to Save

Fairs are a lot of fun for people of all ages, although if you're not careful the cost of attending a fair can really add up. Here are some tips for enjoying a fair this summer cheapskate-style:

  • Look for discounts on admission:  Many fairs designate special days when kids, families, or seniors are entitled to discounted or even free admission.  Check out the fair's website for discount deals.

  • Share a weeklong pass with friends:  Fairs typically offer daily admission as well as steeply discounted passes for the entire length of the fair. Many times weeklong passes aren't restricted to use by the purchaser, so you can share your pass - and its cost - with friends, neighbors, and family members who want to attend.

  • Consider volunteering:  County fairs often rely on volunteers to help staff the event, and volunteers are usually given free admission in exchange for their labor. Sometimes for only a couple of hours of volunteering you can score a free pass to the entire fair and get an interesting behind-the-scenes glimpse of how the fair operates.

  • Bring your own food and drinks:  Fair food is notorious for being overpriced and unhealthy (Deep-fried chocolate bars anyone?). That's not to say that indulging in one or two outrageous culinary creations shouldn't be part of the fair experience, but many fairs still allow you to bring in your on picnic foods and drinks (check the rules ahead of time), which can save you a bundle.

  •  Don't be a sucker:  Avoid the "game row" as much as possible-you know, the aisle with all of carnival games where you end up spending $80 trying to win a $8 stuffed teddy bear by knocking over milk bottles with a baseball. If you have young children or grandchildren with you who are tempted by all the glittery prizes, play only those games where a prize is guaranteed every time so kids get "fair fever" out of their systems without you spending a fortune.

  • Set a budget for extra expenses and stick to it: In addition the cost of admission, most fairs charge extra for rides and special events like concerts. Decide in advance how much you're willing to spend on those extras, because the costs can really get out of control if you're not careful. Also, you might try getting into concerts or other ticketed events for free once they're half over, since often times they stop collecting tickets at some point after the show is underway... just a cheapskate suggestion.

I hope you enjoy the fair, and be sure to have a corndog for me.

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Photo by Attilaconlacamara via Flickr.

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