The Tip Jar @ the Minnesota State Fair: Is the Blue Book worth it?

It contains 150 discounts, but is it worth paying $5 for?
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This story is part of our 2017 Minnesota State Fair Music, Food & Beer Guide.

Spoiler alert: The answer is “yes” with a “but.”

I went out and about at the Minnesota State Fair Monday with a plan to spend no more than $20 using the Blue Ribbon Bargain Book – and I'm including the $5 it costs to buy the book itself (leaving $15 for the day).

Within three purchases I’d made back the $5 I spent on the book, so yes, it’s a money-saver provided you’re not too picky about what you’re buying.

I spent eight hours at the fair, during that time setting myself a challenge of buying breakfast, lunch, dinner, two drinks and a gift, using the Blue Book and any other offers presenting themselves on Monday.

Here’s how I did.

Breakfast: Sandwich from Steichen’s – $2.75 ($1.25 off)

Last year I found that cheap breakfast fare is limited and unsatisfying. And while the cheese, egg and ham sandwich from the famous Steichen’s isn’t huge, it’s pretty tasty and the price at $2.75 is the best I could find in the Blue Book.

Location: Between the Commissary and Sheep and Poultry buildings

Drink No. 1: Coffee from Hot Apple Dumplings – $1

I landed in Minnesota around 18 hours earlier after 10 days in France – I was severely jetlagged and sorely needed this coffee.

This wasn’t a Blue Book Deal. Hot Apple Dumplings is one of the $1 deals found in the regular State Fair discounts booklet. 

Location: Randall Avenue near Eco Experience

Gift: Mini hand-painted sun from El Burrito Mercado – $3.50 ($1.45 off)

I’m pretty happy with this purchase, one of the cheapest offers for gifts in the Blue Book.

That said, at the time of writing I hadn’t presented it to my wife, and ultimately it’s she who has to give it the seal of approval. If it doesn’t cut the mustard, it’ll be available for $2.50 by emailing adam@gomn.com.

Location: International Bazaar

Lunch: Falafel from Falafel King – $3 ($2 off)

I wanted to get something on a stick, and this was the cheapest deal in the Blue Book.

On the downside, it’s falafel.

I’m not a huge fan but the yogurt sauce slathered on top was good enough.

Location: Food Building

Drink No. 2: Root beer from Root Beer Barrels – $1 ($1 off)

These tiny huts have “root beer” emblazoned all over them, so I felt clever when I asked the server, “Do you have any root beer?”

She didn’t get it … I was disappointed, but refreshed after my root beer.

Location: Four outlets on State Fairgrounds.

Dinner: Footlong hot dog from About a Footlong – $4 ($2 off)

I splurged a little bit on my last purchase but I was pretty damn hungry by the time I was nearing hour eight at the fair, and I didn't believe my other cheap Blue Book option ($2 for a slice of pizza from Green Mill) would fill me up.

This put me just over my $20 limit, but the hot dog was goooooood.

Total: $15.25 spending + $5 Blue Book = $20.25

When is the Blue Book is worth it?

When you’re buying a lot: If you intend to spend a lot at the State Fair, either because you just love splurging or you’re bankrolling a family, the Blue Book can definitely help cut down the costs.

The $5 fee can be made back in a few purchases, as I found out pretty quickly, so provided you’re happy spending the money at the places with Blue Book discounts, it makes sense to pick one up.

If you’re a repeat visitor: Same as above. If you’re planning on making several trips to the State Fair, you’re likely to spend more, which is when the discount book comes into its own.

If you're going on rides: The book contains discounts for ride tickets for use at the Mighty Midway and the Kidway. These tickets can mount up so a Blue Book is invaluable in keeping your costs low.

If you’re stuck for gift ideas: I fluctuate between being a really great gift buyer for people I know very well, to terrible for friends/relatives I’m not as close to but am still obliged to buy for.

I um, I ah, I can’t make a decision – well the Blue Book’s selection of merchandise discounts narrows down the choice. I’m a particular fan of the 50 percent off alpaca hats and gloves at Bolivian Imports at the International Bazaar.

You’re not bothered about what you eat/drink: While the overall food choice at the State Fair is huge, there are some really good meal deals in the Blue Book, and if you go into the State Fair happy with the options available in the book then it’s worth paying the $5.

When is the Blue Book not worth it?

If you’re on a really tight budget: I set myself $20 and it was doable, but didn’t present me with a wide variety of choices. If you’re on a very slim budget then the $5 really eats into it – you’d be better looking for the discounts in the daily “Deals, Drawings & Giveaways” booklet.

There are also some really good deals to be had without discounts – such as the apple cider freeze pops in the Horticulture Building I found last year, the $2.50 burgers at the Midway Men’s Club, and, sigh, the $1 frozen yogurt from the Dairy Goodness Bar.

If you’re only going once, for a short time: The Blue Book really comes into its own with repeat visits, but if you’re only able to make the fair for a short time you’re probably not going to get full value from it.

If you want to buy/eat specific things: 150 coupons sound like a lot, but there are thousands upon thousands of things to buy at the fair. So if you’ve got your heart set on a number of them that aren’t in the book, then shelling out for the book might not be for you – otherwise you’re spending money for the sake of spending money.

This story is part of our 2017 Minnesota State Fair Music, Food & Beer Guide.

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