There was a period in my life where I didn’t want to go to the state fair. The great Minnesota get together had worn me down. It was around the age of 18-23, when all I could wonder is why would I want to pay for parking, or find parking a mile away, walk forever, and pay a bunch of money to hang out in a crowded place to eat a corn dog?

When my wife and I moved back to Minnesota in 2008, now in our 30s, we visited the fair and I was pleasantly reacquainted. Jessi is pretty adept at couponing, so we sought out to maximize our dollars. Here’s how we do it.

Tickets & Coupon Book

I don’t count this towards the per-person total because I consider it a sunken cost. Get your tickets before opening day at Cub for $11. If you’ve got a kid that is between 5-12 get them a ticket at Cub too. Unless you’re going on “kids day,” you’ll still pay $12 to get them in.

Get the coupon book for $5. Even if you only use it for drinks (which you should), it will pay for itself.

Always Share

We have one rule about the fair: you always share. It starts with getting there. Always go to the park and ride and take the bus. Never try to drive and find parking. You’ll spend more time and money driving and parking.

Share the food. Sometimes it is hard to share when one person wants something the other doesn’t, but this is rarely the case. There’s so much wonderful stuff to try and you don’t want to overdo it right out the gate. Approach the fair like a tasting.

Example Day

Here’s an example of what you can do using the coupon book. After doing this for over 5 years, these are all great options on a budget. With two people this is $40 total:

Farmer’s Union – Frappe $3.50
French Creperie – Breakfast crepe $6.25 (highly recommended)
Andy’s Grill – Breakfast sandwich $4
Wild Rice Specialities – Wild Rice Cheeseburger $6 (highly recommended)
RC Cola – $1.50
Fresh French Fries – $4
Shaved Ice – $4

Things to bring home:

Mini Cinnamon Rolls – $4
Cinnamon Roasted Almonds – $2.75
Rice Kristie Bar – $4

If possible, we like to take a day off of work, start early and eat breakfast at the fair. The crowds don’t seem so bad if you let it grow throughout the day, rather than showing up when it’s already pandemonium.

Don’t live and die by the coupon book

Obviously, many staples were left off of my example list:

  • Mini Donuts
  • Cheese Curds
  • Pronto Pup / Corn Dog (why not both?)
  • Corn on the cob
  • Sweet Martha’s Cookies + all you can drink milk
  • Ice Cream
  • Beer / wine

There are coupons for some of these things, but not all. Plus there are always new foods that you may want to try. Plan accordingly on what you want to get.  You can’t eat it all – even though you might like to try. Even at $25-30 per person, you can have some classics and try some new things. We treat the coupon book as a baseline and go from there. There are some things we always get from the book, and some things we only do occasionally.

Free things to do

With 2 kids we have to set boundaries to not break the bank. Every kid gets exactly one (1) ride on the giant slide – both at once if possible 🙂 Thankfully there are several great free things to do.

  • BMX & Skateboard Show – hands-down my favorite show. I love to see what these guys and girls can pull off. It’s astounding what a 12 year old can do on a skateboard.
  • Animal Shows – dog agility, sheep shearing, equestrian contests, live animal births.
  • Home Depot build-it workshop (great for kids)
  • Little Hands Farm (great for kids)
  • Chainsaw Carvings
  • Art Galleries – Creative Activities, Fine Art Gallery, Student Art, 4H, Seed Art.
  • Eco Experience activities
  • Robot competition
  • Climb the Fire Tower
  • Free concerts

Other strange tests

One year Jessi and I did virtual welding. Jessi did a much better job than me. Another year, I took an ADD/ADHD test – do I have it? I’m definitely on the spectrum. Want to ride bikes? I’m thirsty. Do you like marshmallows? I can’t wait for the fair next year!

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