Checking Out The State Fair of Texas Can Be Expensive. Unless You Know What You're Doing.

It's that time again! The State Fair of Texas officially opens at 10:30 tomorrow morning! And, listen, this is a big year for the State Fair, too. Big Tex is turning 60 years old, Fletcher's Corny Dogs are turning 70 and the Girl Scouts are celebrating their own organization's 100-year anniversary by joining forces with the Fair to present some Deep Fried Samoas for your eating pleasure.

In other words: There's a whole heck of a lot going on at this thing. No surprise there: The State Far of Texas is Big Business. Last year alone, attendees spent over $38 million dollars in just 24 days at Fair Park.

And therein lies the rub, of course: The one and only complaint we ever hear about our beloved State Fair of Texas is that it's too expensive. But it doesn't have to be. Take heed of the following six steps toward having a blast at the State Fair on a budget and you'll be all set. These suggestions will change your life, we promise. Or at least the next 24 days of it.

1. Know your discount days — and know them well! General admission to the Fair is generally $16, which makes the following list of days in which admission can be had at a discounted rate very, very important to remember:
• Friday, September 28 (Opening Day): Bring a full 20 oz. bottle of Dasani water (or any Coca-Cola product) and get in for $6 per person, per donation.
• Any Tuesday: Bring an empty Dr Pepper can and get in for $5. (Also of note: Most rides cost 5 coupons on Tuesdays.)
• Any Wednesday: Bring three cans of food for area food banks and get in for $2.
• Any Thursday: Bring an empty 20 oz. bottle of Coca-Cola product and get in for $6.
• Any Thursday: Bring a Cinemark Movie Theater ticket stub and receive free admission on that day.
• Thursday, October 11: Anyone wearing a Dickies logo clothing item will receive free admission to the Fair.
• Any Friday: Download and print this coupon from the KISS-FM website and get in for $11.
• Any day after 5 p.m.: Bring an empty Dr Pepper can and get in for $8.
• Any day: McDonald's offers $3 off general admission with coupons available on their food packaging.
• Any day: You can purchase a discounted ticket at any Kroger store for $14.50.
• Any day: You can also purchase a discounted Fair ticket and DART Pass package at any Kroger for $17. (The package gets you admission into the Fair and transportation on DART rail and local buses on date of use.)

2. Get a Season Pass. If you know you're going to attend the Fair more than once this season — and you can't deal with the hassle of bookmarking this page and/or remembering the aforementioned discount days — just buy a season pass. Available for $34.95 at Kroger, a season pass gets you access into the Fair any day and any time (or the hours when the Fair's open, at least) during the entire 2012 season. Visit three times and it pays for itself. Plus, they give you a free Cinemark movie ticket. Not bad, right?

3. BYOB! Well, your own non-alcoholic bottle, at least. Tasting the new foods is a big reason people visit the Fair, but all drinks taste the same. So why not save yourself some coupons and bring your own! You're even allowed to bring a cooler if you want No glass or alcohol, though.

4. Ride the DART Rail (or bus). A one-day DART pass is $4 and, by using it, you're not only reducing your “carbon footprint,” but you're saving the money you'd be spending on parking at the many pay lots around Fair Park. (If you plan on attending the Texas-OU game on Saturday, October 13, you can pre-purchase your DART pass here.)

5. Park at a meter or at a free spot on the street. You know all those spots right on Exposition Avenue, right near the Amsterdam Bar? Yeah, you can park there and anywhere else on the street that's not marked as a “No Parking Zone” for free. One problem: These spots fill up quick, so you better show up and cross your fingers to make this method work for you.

6. Go to the free events. You don't have to spend money on games or rides to be entertained at the Fair. Check out the daily calendar of events here. There are tons of shows, concerts and demonstrations — even hands-on events — offered completely free once you've entered the grounds. At least one of those free events is a must-see (maybe): On Saturday, September 29, Kevin Costner and his band The Modern West will play a free concert on the Chevrolet Main Stage. Yes, for real.

Still need more ways to save cash at the Fair? OK, here are a couple more suggestions.

Bring someone to go splitsies with. I don't care who you are; you can't eat all that food alone. Bring a friend that's willing to split the cost and the food. Plus, you get to try more stuff for less money.
Hover. Yes, this is a real suggestion. Near closing time, hang out near the ticket booths close to the exit gates. Out-of-towners (and, really, just anyone not planning to return to the Fair) are usually pretty willing to hand their extra food and ride coupons to a kind face. So long as you're on your best behavior, you can probably score some freebies.

And there you go! Consider this your official “How To” for going to the State Fair of Texas on a budget. Enjoy, y'all! And God Bless Texas!

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