WRAL SmartShopper

WRAL SmartShopper

Saving money at the N.C. State Fair!

Posted October 16, 2013

If you love the fair as much as my 12-year old, but you hate to pay full price as much as me, check out these money-saving tips for a more frugal fair adventure!  For all your State Fair questions and more information on the deals below, head to the General Info section of the State Fair website.


Free admission with food donation: Get into the fair for FREE on Thursday, October  24 when you bring 5 cans of Food Lion brand food for Hunger Relief Day. Cans of veggies are often $1 or less at Food Lion so for $5 or less in food, you can get into the fair. With the regular admission price at $8.00 for adults - that's a good deal! The food you donate goes to the Food Bank of Eastern and Central North Carolina, the same place our donations go to after the food drives we have at the couponing classes at WRAL.

FREE admission and breakfast for those over 65!: Folks who are age 65 or older get into the fair for FREE every day.  AND, on Tuesday, Oct. 22, they can also enjoy a FREE Bojangles breakfast and entertainment at the Senior Citizen Fun Festival taking place in Dorton Arena from 9 to 11 AM.

Thanks to our U.S. Military!: Members of the military including active duty, reserve, National Guard, retired and veterans and their families get a discount. Military adults and dependents ages 13-64 pay only $5 at the gate (about a 38% discount), just show a military or veteran ID at the ticket window. This offer not available online or in advance.  Military Appreciation Day is Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2013 and the N.C. State Fair will have special activities and the 440th Army Band will perform on the Waterfall Stage at 1, 3 and 5 PM.

Weekday Lunch Pass FREE Admission: According to the State Fair website, you can get into the Fair for FREE during lunch! Here are the details: "Visit Gate 9 off Trinity Road, or Gate 1 off Hillsborough Street only after 11:30 a.m. on weekdays. Purchase a lunch card at the gate for $9 with cash (cash sales only). Buy your lunch from the many fair food vendors on site. Fair food vendors take cash. ATMS are available inside the fairgrounds. Return the lunch card by 1:30 p.m. to the same gate you entered on the same day purchased the card for a full $9 cash refund. If you leave later than 1:30 p.m., then you forfeit your $9. The card is good only on the day purchased. This program is only for adult admission."

Bring your own snacks: I realize that one of the main reasons some folks go to the fair is for the amazing (and sometimes insane) foods that you only see once a year. After you enjoy your Sloppy Joe doughnut burger or deep fried Sugar Daddy, you are also going to want something to drink. If you don't want to spend too much money on a bottle of water or a soda, bring your own. Or maybe you plan on taking the whole day to experience the fair and want to make sure you have something to eat with less than 10,000 calories. The good news is that you can bring your own food and drink to the fair. Bags are subject to being searched at the gate so make sure you have no glass bottles.

Free rides for the parents of young kids: There are a number of rides that parents can ride for free when accompanying a paying child. From their website: "Parents can ride on all slides and Merry-Go-Rounds for free when accompanying a paying child who is 40-inches tall or less. "

Free exhibits and performances: There are so many wonderful and FREE exhibits and performances at the State Fair including The Village of Yesteryear, Cultivate a Career exhibit, Livestock Barns, Heritage Circle, Flower and Garden Show, Education Building, Arts and Crafts, jugglers, clowns, stunts, pig races and more! The State Fair website has a great section on educational opportunities including links to resources. You can top off the evening with free fireworks every night at 9:45!

Come visit me at the WRAL tent for FREEBIES! I will be at the WRAL tent on Friday, October 18 from 12 noon until 2:00 PM and I will have some freebies! You can also register for a chance to win a $25 Harris Teeter gift card!

What ideas do you have for spending less at the fair? And while you are sharing, what is your favorite food? Favorite ride? Favorite exhibit? Favorite performance or event?

Here are some additional and very helpful ideas from our readers who posted in the comments section below:

* "Sharing food is something else we do. Normally the portions are very large and we can also try more things that way."

* "We always hit the free exhibits too and buy tickets in advance."

* "We always take a huge empty cup. A lot if the vendors will refill any cup for $1 :)"

* "The best way to make sure you don't spend too much is to take in a certain amount of cash and leave the atm card in the car. You will be more selective on what you purchase and once it's gone and you've made that long walk back to your car you aren't likely to turn around and go back in!"

* "Buying tickets during the advance sales is a must --- Hurry because that ends very soon."

* " I always pack juice boxes and water for our outings. My 3 years has her own backpack that she puts her juice and snacks in."


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  • winkyocean Oct 17, 2013

    During Lunch Pass.. I go buy ticket to get in and buy lunch and leave at 130pm means I cant get back in fair after 130pm after get refund?

  • gobbledygook Oct 17, 2013

    Can anyone provide details on bringing my own large cup...? I plan to bring bottled water, but what is this large cup thing?!

  • eri815 Oct 17, 2013

    DianeNC - yes!

    you just have to look for the signs, but they don't care where the cup comes from... and at $1 that's cheaper than a can drink from a machine any where!

  • knaranjorn Oct 16, 2013

    Thursday 17th is wristband day $28 & you can ride all you want! That's perfect for my thriller children

  • meredith88 Oct 16, 2013

    My life insurance company gives us free admission tickets and ride tickets every year which is great!

    Once in the fair we ride as many rides as we can with our free tickets and give the few extras to a young child we pass.

    We only take cash with us. We set a budget before we go and the debit cards stay in the car so we can't spend any more than what we planned.

    We always take our own water bottles and refill them at the water fountains so we don't pay $4 for a bottle of water. We also carry snacks with us for when we get hungry. That way we only stop to eat when we see something we want to try, but you can spend $10 just for a hamnburger and fries if you are hungry and in a rush so we make sure to avoid that situation.

    We also check out all the exhibits and animals. They are my favorite part of the fair!

    We can usually have a date night at the fair and leave only having spent about $20!

  • DianeNC Oct 16, 2013

    eri815 - I never even thought to bring my own cup to have vendors refill. They'll do that even though the cup isn't from their own establishment?

  • lagniappe342 Oct 16, 2013

    Faye and friends,
    The advance tickets and discounted ride vouchers are available online until noon on Opening Day at :

  • Faye Prosser - Smart Shopper Oct 16, 2013

    Hope to see you as well, UNCW Ash!

    Thanks to everyone for your suggestions! I will add them to the list above. :-)

  • UNCW_Ash Oct 16, 2013

    Sharing food is something else we do. Normally the portions are very large and we can also try more things that way. I like the "huge empty cup" idea eri815. We always hit the free exhibits too and buy tickets in advance. We'll be there Friday Faye so I hope to see you there!

  • eri815 Oct 16, 2013

    We always take a huge empty cup. A lot if the vendors will refill any cup for $1 :)