Besides back to school shopping, perhaps one of the true signs that summer has reached its end is that presence of local fairs. We have always gone to fairs. Before we had kids my husband and I liked to go to the Big E. For those of you that are not from this area, the Big E is a huge fair in Springfield, Mass, and all the New England states participate. We like to look at the venders in the Lifestyle building. There is always some new gadget to get. The first year we went to the Big E together, I spent $250 on a "Bamix." I thought it was the best kitchen tool ever. They must not have had a good patent on it, because less then a year later the "Magic Bullet" came out and was sold on T.V. for $19.99! It was essentially the same thing.
Another year we went and bought these two swinging patio chairs. They were over $200 a piece but were super comfortable. We hung them from our pergola on our deck, and enjoyed them for a summer, but by the following season they were ruined. Not meant to get wet, apparently. My point is that the Big E is not a very budget friendly place. Go there planning to spend money, not save it. Even if you somehow manage to not buy anything (which you will not), they charge you to park, it is expensive to get in, and of course you will be buying food. Not to mention the gas it takes to get there if you live two hours away like we do.
So our family has come to enjoy going to one small local fair a year. The kids love to see the animals, we get a little taste of the fatty fair foods, and enjoy a few kiddie rides. Most years we go to the Haddam Neck fair. They have a dog agility show, pony rides, face painting, a small circus performance, the racing pig show, a few rides, and all your favorite fair foods. Last year we went with the girls and I was 8 months pregnant with Grayson. It was nice not to have to do too much walking. Its out in a grassy field, so there's plenty of places to lay a blanket out and rest with the kiddos.
This year we thought we would try something different and go to the Chester fair. Its small as well, even smaller then the Haddam neck fair. Parking was free and it was only $8 each for the adults to get in, kids were free. Love places that let kids in for free! Someone out there knows that when you have kids you will be spending a lot more money inside the fair gates then people going in without kids. They should charge those people extra!
The nice thing about fairs is the "free" entertainment. There was a clown sort of character, putting on a show for the kids. The racing pigs were there. They had the dog agility show. And of course the calves, goats, sheep, rabbits, ducks, chickens and roosters. Once the kids had there fill of animals, we lathered up with Purel and headed to the food venders. Trying to pick out a somewhat healthy option at a fair can be challenging. I gave up and allowed the girls to have fried dough, which was $6. They were going to share. Jimmy had the Taste of Thai, which was probably the healthiest food there (and yummiest) and I had perogies (I thought they would be something special, but they were basically the kind you can buy in the freezer section of the grocery store). His was $7 and mine was $4.00. So we spent $17 on our lunch. Thank goodness I had brought waters for everyone, or it would be another $3 per person.
On to the kiddie rides. It was $25 for a sheet of 20 tickets. and rides were 3 tickets each. I ended up one ticket short and had to spend an extra $2.00 for an additional ticket. Each girl went on 3 rides and I went on one with them. I definitely did not feel like it was money well spent. I can't even imagine how much it is going to cost in two more years, when Grayson will be going on rides as well (and eating regular food). We never do the games, even though the kids always bug us to. We don't need any more stuffed animals in this house and if the kids lose, they cry. After about 30 minutes we were out of tickets, so we figured it was time to get everyone a little treat. If they didn't get us on the food, they got us on the ice cream, because of course everyone wants their own. And poof! Another $20.00 added to our tally. I think I used half a box of wipes to clean the ice cream sundae mess off the girls. But that is all a part of the fun.
It seems a familyof5 can do a small country fair for around $80.00, plus gas, if you bring your own water, don't go crazy with the rides, and one of the kids isn't riding or eating (Grayson is still eating baby foods, but did have a little of Jimmy's Thai chicken).
As I ponder how we fared at the fair, I feel a little let down. It was still a nice day, but was it worth eighty dollars? Would we have enjoyed ourselves more if we had gone to the Big E, with its big circus tent, its horse show, its Lifestyle building of gadgets and gismos? Maybe next year. But one fair a year is all I want to budget for. And I will not put this down as a budget friendly staycation idea. But it is definitely something the family can enjoy together.
Tips for going to the fair:
Try to choose a cooler day. Hot days at fairs are not fun.
Pack water (freeze a bottle, so it is cold longer and keeps the other bottle cold)
Bring snacks, and maybe food for the picky eater in the family. I bring GoGo squeezes for everyone. They are all natural, just applesauce. Even 10 month old Grayson can handle it on his own.
Pack hats, sunscreen, wipes & Purel.
Bring a blanket to sit on (We have one we bought at Costco long ago, and we bring it everywhere we go. It has a nylon bottom, so it doesn't get gross, and still works if the ground is damp. If you ever see one of these, I highly recommend it).
If your kids are older and really love rides, look into buying them each a wrist band, so they can go as many times as they want.
If you are going to one of the bigger fairs, such as the Big E, speak with your spouse ahead of time about what you might be spending there. Those spontaneous purchases can kill a family on a budget and start an argument. And since you're at a fair, they're usually not returnable.
Soon I plan on doing a blog about how budgeting keeps us on track. I would love to share how budgeting and going debt free has changed our lives forever.
"You never know who you'll see at the fair!" "A goat watching me." "Baby calf" and "Kiddie rides."