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The Tip Jar: The best ways to save money at the Minnesota State Fair

Cheap tickets, discounts and food bargains to know before you go.
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This story is part of our 2017 Minnesota State Fair Music, Food & Beer Guide.

You know what time of the year it is when you have a sudden hankering for food on a stick.

Yes it's the Minnesota State Fair and the Tip Jar is here to help you make the most of your experience (i.e. not run out of money).

I don't blame you if you want to splurge a little – heck, I do it myself seeing as it's only once a year – but there are some really basic ways to save money without having to pass up on what you really want to buy (hello, Sweet Martha's).

Pre-book your tickets

This is such a no-brainer and everyone should be doing it.

You get a $3 discount on adult admission and $1 on seniors/kids if you book your tickets in advance – meaning adult tickets cost $11 instead of $14.

So don't wait till you get to the entrance to buy your way in. Pre-book in advance online here or at the State Fair Ticket Office by Aug. 23.

Tickets are also on sale at customer service centers at certain Cub Foods, Minneapolis Visitor Information and other visitor centers across the Twin Cities metro and beyond.

Also pre-book if you're planning on going to the fairground. You can get a sheet of 25 tickets for $15 for Mighty Midway/Kidway rides and games – that's a $10 discount.

Take advantage of discounts

The State Fair is chock full of discounts on offer every day.

Before you go, check out this guide to discount days where the price of admission at the gate is reduced if you're a senior or child, a member of the military, or a public library member.

Discounts on food, drink and rides on these days are also offered inside the fair.

When you get into the fair make sure you pick up (or print off beforehand), the fair's Deals, Drawings and Giveaways Guide to find the discounts and freebies being offered that specific day.

And if you're looking for more discounts, pay $5 to get the Blue Ribbon Bargain Book, which has more than 150 coupons for discounts – you can check out what deals there are here.

The Blue Book is particularly useful if you plan on visiting the fair more than once, and are likely to be there for many hours.

Free concerts/displays

You don't need me telling you that the State Fair has a multitude of free events to keep you occupied – from the animal barns to horse shows, from the Eco Experience to lumberjack displays.

Most of the attractions in the fair will be free, but if you want to know which ones will cost you money, you can check out this page.

And while the (not cheap) Grandstand shows dominate the musical headlines for the week, there's a huge amount of free music at various stages across the State Fairgrounds.

The Pointer Sisters, George Clinton and Hippo Campus are among the free shows this year. The full list is here.

Lessons from last year

Last year I spent a day at the State Fair without spending more than $30 (I actually achieved $25), and there were a few tips I picked up that I will be employing again this time round.

– The ice cream at the Dairy Building is delicious and pretty cheap (I got a soft-serve cone for $2.50).

– The day I went, the Frontier Bar on Carnes Ave. had $1 hot dogs.

– One of the cheapest coffees I could find ($1.50) was the Swedish egg coffee at the Salem Lutheran Church cafe on Cosgrove.

– Breakfast food can be expensive (mostly over $5) – wait for lunch.

– Cheap burgers taste like cheap burgers – spend more if you want something that tastes good.

Cheapest way to get there

If you really want to save money (and burn off that Pronto Pup) – try biking to the fair.

There are three bike lots you can use free of charge, or you can also drop your bike off at a Park & Ride lot and take the bus in (make sure you lock your bike up).

If you're a driver, the cheapest way to get to the fair is by taking advantage of the 33 Park & Ride locations dotted around the Twin Cities, which run 8 a.m. to midnight.

You can get a map of these here.

It costs you $14 to park in a State Fair parking lot – which is pricey.

I'd generally caution against driving there with the intention of parking in one of the State Fair lots just because there's no guarantee it won't be full by the time you get there.

To keep the cost down on buses, try to catch one of the handful of regular route services that stop at the State Fair (list here), which are cheaper than the special State Fair Express Buses.

Tickets for the Express buses range from $5 to $8 for a return trip depending on the company, with discounts for seniors, children and military. So if there are several of you then the cost of a bus could end up being more expensive than paying for parking.

Metro Transit does have a $4.50 return trip discount offer though if you book before Aug. 23. 

There are also discounts for signing up to Uber or Lyft and going to the fair. Uber is offering $15 off your first ride when using the code MNSTATEFAIR when you sign up before Sept. 18.

Lyft is offering 30 percent off two rides when using the same code, MNSTATEFAIR, if you sign up between Aug. 24 and Sep. 7.

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

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