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How to save money attending a family event like the circus

Families who live near a large city have frequent opportunities to attend kid-friendly events. One or more touring shows exist now for Blue Man Group, Disney on Ice, Sesame Street Live, the Harlem Globetrotters and the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus.

Disney on Ice shows feature ice skaters dressed as beloved Disney characters performing to songs from Disney movies. Tickets generally start around $20, but discounts can bring the price even lower, particularly for weekdays.
Disney on Ice shows feature ice skaters dressed as beloved Disney characters performing to songs from Disney movies. Tickets generally start around $20, but discounts can bring the price even lower, particularly for weekdays.
Photo by Barry Brecheisen/Getty Images
It's possible to save significant money on tickets and other expenses when taking your kids to a family entertainment event.
Photo by Brian Ach

The circus ranks high in entertainment value for the family. You and your kids can marvel at elephants who behave as consummate professional showmen, scary looking but talented tigers, men and women performing amazing acrobatic routines, a person being shot out of a cannon and much more. Plus, you can snag tickets for around $20 each at some venues.

For whatever event you choose, you can easily spend significantly more on extras than you do on the tickets. Even families with significant wiggle room in their entertainment budgets may find the costs associated with a special entertainment event daunting. Here are a few ways to keep costs down when planning a trip to a family show.

  • Look for ticket contests or discounts. Many newspapers and radio stations offer drawings to win free tickets and also codes for buying coupons at a discounted price. You can also check on the venue's Web site for advertised specials, often for specific show times or certain days of the week.
  • If you live or work near the event's venue, consider trekking to the box office to buy your tickets. You might save quite a bit more in nuisance ("convenience") fees than you'll spend on gas money getting there if you buy tickets directly from the venue rather than by Internet or phone. Check with the arena for the best time to stop by, when there isn't another event going on.
  • See if you can car pool or use mass transit. With parking priced at $15 or more at many arenas, you may want to double up with another family if one of you has a vehicle large enough to handle the crowd. Ask around at work, school or day care to find other families who plan to attend the event.
  • Forget about smuggling food into the venue. You probably won't get in with a large pocketbook, backpack or tote, plus security people search all purses and bags at the door. They're not just looking for weapons. They'll make you discard any outside food or beverages they find.
  • Know what you're up against. To inflate prices on the snacks kids want most, concessions have bundled food with souvenirs. Snow cones at a recent circus performance cost $11 and came in a take-home cup, and cotton candy cost $14 and included a circus hat. For food that doesn't come with something else, you'll pay prices at or slightly above movie theater levels - around $4.50 for a drink, $7.50 for a large popcorn and $3.50 for a bottle of water. These prices can vary by venue and show, but they're a good baseline for planning purposes.
  • Pick a mid-afternoon show rather than one that spans a lunch or dinner hour, and feed everyone before leaving for the event, since you'll be gone for awhile. You may want to arrive early for a circus performance to view the up-close pre-show down on the floor. You should plan to arrive at least an hour ahead of show time anyway to allow for parking and waiting in line to get into the place. If you live far away or you know that the venue is notoriously hard to get into and out of, you'll want to allow even more time, and the show may last two or more hours plus intermission.
  • Set a per-person budget before leaving your house. If you know your kids will try to buy more than they'll eat, plan to sponge off their popcorn bucket rather than buying for yourself, since you probably don't want to spend over $10 for popcorn and a drink only to end up trashing half of it later. You know your own kids, including how much they'll beg to eat and how much they can actually scarf down without making themselves sick. If you set a dollar amount ahead of time, it gives them motivation to select only what they truly want and will enjoy eating.
  • Get a large drink and a bottled water and refill them during intermission at the water fountains. Before the show starts, scope out where the restrooms and drinking fountains are located, since you'll need to make a beeline for them immediately when intermission starts and again when the show concludes.

If these tips helped you or you have further suggestions, please feel free to leave a comment below.