As a cheapskate, I'm tempted to tell you the best way to save money on the 2011 N.C. State Fair is to STAY HOME.
But I know I'd pretty much be run out of town, if not the state, for uttering such a thought. So I'm going to give you my best tips for holding on to as much of your hard-earned cash as possible while still enjoying/enduring your time at the fair.
Buy your tickets in advance. You have until 6 p.m. Thursday to buy discounted tickets at locations throughout the Triangle, including Gate 9 at the fairgrounds and the state farmer's market. Click here for all locations. (You can also buy tickets in advance online through midnight, but you will be charged a convenience fee of 5 percent to 15 percent, which is decidedly not frugal.)
By buying early, you'll save $2 on adult admission and $1 on a child's ticket. Prices at the gate are $8 for adults and $3 for children ages 6 to 12.
You can save even more on ride tickets by purchasing in advance. An $18 ride booklet on the midway is $10 in advance.
Click here for all the information on advance tickets.
Do a good deed and get in FREE. Donate four cans of food on Thursday, Oct. 20, and get in free. Hunger Relief Day, sponsored by Food Lion, benefits the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina, which serves a 34-county area surrounding Raleigh.
Go on your lunch hour and get in FREE. Yes, it's true. Enter through Gate 9 off Trinity Road, or Gate 12 between the Education & Commercial Buildings, after 11:30 a.m. weekdays. Purchase a lunch card at the gate for $8 (cash only). As long as you return the lunch card by 1:30 p.m. to the same gate you entered, you'll get a full refund.
Act your age. It could get you free admission. Senior citizens ages 65 and up are admitted FREE every day of the fair. Seniors who attend the fair on Tuesday, Oct. 18, can also score a free breakfast and entertainment during the fair's Senior Citizen Fun Festival, which takes place from 9 to 11 a.m. inside Dorton Arena. Children 5 and under are also admitted FREE every day of the fair.
BOGO rides for the wee ones. Children under 36" tall can ride selected rides for FREE when accompanied by a paying adult 16 years of age or older. Those rides include the merry go round, the children's slide, the gondola wheel and five others. Click here for the complete list.
Step away from the midway. You really can spend an entire day in frugal pursuits at the fair: Wander through the flower and garden show and take your picture sitting in the giant Adirondack chair. Then walk through the barns and let your kids see the chickens, pigs and cows up close and personal. Chat with the craftsmen at the Village of Yesteryear. And it doesn't cost a dime to ooh and ahh over all those prize-winning desserts.
And that's just for starters. The state fair website boasts of more than 20 FREE performances daily, including the BMX bike show, the pig races, jugglers, clowns and daily concerts. There's even a pack of stunt-performing poodles scheduled to perform. (That alone may be worth the price of admission.) Click here for a complete list of FREE entertainment.
Set a budget and stick to it. If you've bought two ride booklets for the family in advance, move on to something else when they're gone. Don't get sucked in to paying full price for ride booklets.
It's also a good idea to give everyone a food allowance because those latest and greatest fried concoctions have the potential to burn a hole in your pockets. Last year, we gave both our kids $10 to spend on lunch, plus we paid for their Howling Cow ice cream. Beyond that, they knew they had better bring their own wallets.
Leave your ATM card at home. See preceding tip. Bring your budgeted money in cash. When it's gone, it's gone.
Give your kids fair warning. Once you've set that budget, let your kids know before you even step foot onto the fair grounds. That way, they can adjust their expectations and you can avoid a public meltdown.
BYOB: Why spend money on water or soda when you can bring your own? Fair regulations allow you to bring in food, water and soda. If you're planning on staying for an extended period of time, you may also want to pack a few snacks to fill in between your budgeted indulgences. Just be prepared to have your bag checked at the gate.
Don't forget the fireworks. They're FREE at the close of business each night at 9:45.