How to make the most of the SC State Fair without breaking the bank

Here is a sneak peek into the new attractions at the SC State Fair

The South Carolina State Fair has some new attractions planned this year including new rides and food.
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The South Carolina State Fair has some new attractions planned this year including new rides and food.

Going to fair comes at a cost, but that doesn’t mean you need to go broke to have fun.

You can save the most money and get the full fair experience by purchasing ride vouchers in advance, for $25, and going on opening day, Oct. 10, when you can pay $1 per person for admission. There also will be a free concert by Elton John tribute band Tokyo Joe at 7 p.m. on Oct. 10.

For $137, a family of four — with no children under 5 or seniors over 55, and no military personnel — can park, enter, have unlimited rides with the pay-one-price wristband deal, attend a free show and each have one corn dog, a drink and a side of fries for the family.

Cut a few dollars more by seeking food deals at the different vendors on the grounds. These special offers will be announced each day.

The next cheapest option would be taking advantage of “Lunch Bunch” tickets from noon to 2 p.m. on weekdays. Pay $10 cash per person at the gate and receive a full $10 refund when you return your ticket by 2 p.m. This does not include the cost of food or rides.

Another money-saving option is to buy advance admission tickets ($7 per person) and ride vouchers ($25 per person), and only pay for parking ($5) and food on site.

A family of four can expect to spend the most by showing up at the gate on a weekend. That day at the fair can add up to more than $200 when admission, ride vouchers, food and parking are tallied.

How else can I save?

If you’re not willing to sacrifice rides or that corn dog, there are a few more ways to save and enjoy the fair on the cheap(ish).

There will be plenty of free fun, including performances by local entertainers, artisans at the Heritage Village and a new dinosaur attraction. Many of the shows, including the new illusion performer and an exotic animal exhibit, are also free with admission.

A number of attendees can also get in for free on select days. Here is who can get in for free and when:

  • Children under 5

  • Active and retired military and their dependents (children 10 and older must have ID)

  • Those with a valid SC Farm Bureau membership card (2 free admissions, Oct. 11 only)

  • 4-H Alumni (with registration certificate, Oct. 11 only)

  • Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts and scout leaders (wearing official gear, Oct. 13 only)

  • American Heritage Girls (wearing membership pin, Oct. 13 only)

  • Those wearing 2018 Palmetto Health Walk/Race For Life shirt (Oct. 13 and 14 only)

  • All college students with ID (Oct. 15 only)

  • Future Farmers of America members (students with cards, Oct. 16 only)

  • “Exceptional Citizens”/Those with lifelong disabilities (Oct. 18 only)

  • 4-H members (with membership card, Oct. 20 only)

On the first Saturday of the fair, football fans will be guaranteed free admission into the fair before kick off with their USC football ticket and will be able to return after the game as long as they receive a stamp before exiting the fairgrounds.

In recent years, some have complained about how going to the far has gotten increasingly expensive. Though attendance has gone up over the past five years — except for 2015, when the fair opened right after the floods — last year, attendance was down 37,000 people from the year before.

SC State Fair organizers say they have made a concerted effort to make attending the fair more affordable.

“We are very mindful of the importance of affordability, and we aim to put on a fair each year that is both entertaining and economical,” said Nancy Smith, the fair’s first-year general manager.

Compared to prices at nearby fairs, including the Georgia and North Carolina state fairs, South Carolina’s is more affordable. Both of the other fairs have charged admission for children and military personnel in recent years. Only the North Georgia State Fair would cost you less, since it allows children up to 10 years old get in for free, and ride tickets are overall less expensive.