How To Attend a Festival on A Budget

I know the best advice in terms of being frugal is not getting too attached to having “the best” of anything. Logically, it makes perfect sense. If you can be happy with good-enough coffee, or wine, or food, or furniture, you’re free to save the money you aren’t spending on having the best of the best.

However, no one told me that before I got into craft beer.

It was right around the time that I met The Boyfriend. I had the silly thought that, you know, since I was “an adult” now, I should get into wine. Yes, the kind of “into wine” that basically necessitates buying the expensive stuff. Luckily, The Boyfriend already knew a lot about really good beer, and you know what they say about proximity. Instead of getting into $100 bottles of wine, I started to learn about the different ways to spend $10 on a glass of local beer.

Now, to be fair, the cap on how much you can reasonably spend on beer falls far short of how much you can end up spending on wine, which is great news for my wallet. I have yet to find a $10,000 bottle of beer, so that’s nice. At the same time, it’s really easy to spend way more than is reasonable when you like the “good stuff.”

Because if you frame the beer posters, it's less frat house and more art... right?

Because if you frame the beer posters, it’s less frat house and more art… right?

And some of the best stuff, at least around here, comes from a local brewery about an hour outside of Ottawa: Beau’s All Natural. They also happen to host an annual Oktoberfest way out in the country where their brewery is located. The Boyfriend and I are big fans of their beers – we even have some of their beer labels hung up in the house as art prints, which at $5 a piece, is a pretty frugal and interesting way to decorate without having to make your own art prints. So it’s not a stretch to see why we make the trek out to their annual festival.

It’s a great time, a lot of our friends attend it as well, and you can try a huge range of hard-to-find beers. The only thing is, it quickly turns into an expensive outing when you tally up the admission price, the travel costs, the beer, the food and the sometimes-irresistible brewery swag.

I wanted to go this year, but I knew I had a slew of other upcoming expenses that were higher on my priority list.

  • Thanksgiving travel, because up here in Canada we like to get that out of the way before the entire country is a frozen ball of snow. That means that next week, I’ll be having not one but two turkey day celebrations – both of which are hours out of town.
  • New glasses, which have been a long time coming. For the last year – literally, a year – I’ve been either wearing my contacts or using tissue paper to fix my old, broken glasses. That’s too frugal for me, especially since The Boyfriend gets way too much enjoyment from making fun of my MacGyver’d glasses.

So since Oktoberfest was lower on my list of priorities – but still something I wanted to do – I decided to frugalize it, and see how I could make the event fit my budget, instead of making my budget fit the event.

These four steps were a huge help, and ended up reducing the cost of attending Oktoberfest significantly – without in any way compromising the amount of fun I had, or depriving me of my annual hot chocolate. (Hot chocolate at a beer festival? Just wait. I’m getting to it.)


Free beer is even better than regular beer.

Free beer is even better than regular beer.

With an event this big, there are usually plenty of volunteer opportunities. If you’re looking to attend a festival of any kind, including Oktoberfest, check to see if they accept volunteers. Most festivals have a wide variety of roles they need to fill, from serving beer to manning the gates.

This year, I volunteered to help load the busses that took people from the city to the fairgrounds on Friday night. As a volunteer, I got free entrance to the festival all day on Saturday and a free beer token. For a short volunteering shift, that’s $35 in savings right there.

Pack a lunch

Oh yeah, I went there. There’s a huge amount of great food at Oktoberfest, but I wasn’t really going for the food. That’s why I decided to bring food with me, and take advantage of the fact that this particular Oktoberfest was outside-food friendly. That may not be the case for every festival, but make sure to check and unless food is your favourite reason for attending the festival – pack your own lunch.

Be the designated driver

Here’s the thing: liking really good beer doesn’t need to mean liking getting drunk at beer festivals. In fact, all things considered, I’d really rather not get drunk. Hangovers are my nemesis, and I hate spending time being a lump with a headache instead of enjoying my weekend.

So offering to stay sober and drive a few friends to and from the event in Little Car not only gives me an iron-clad pass on hangovers, it gets me tons of brownie points with The Boyfriend and our friends. The friends we drove with us covered the gas expenses, so transportation to and from the festival was entirely free for me, minus the time we spent in transit that would have been even longer had we bussed it.

Spend strategically

There are some things in life that are more than worth spending money on. Let me tell you about just one of them.

Last year, Oktoberfest was cold and rainy, and as the perennial designated driver, I wasn’t inebriated enough to forget how cold I was. I ended up looking around at the different food options to keep me occupied and to warm me up at least a little.

As I wandered around, one sign caught my eye. “Hot Chocolate with Tom Green Milk Stout.” Oh.

This is the sign that changed everything.

This is the sign that changed everything.

Well that sounds interesting.

I’m not kidding you when I say that first sip of hot chocolate a year ago changed me on a fundamental level. I’m not a huge hot chocolate person. They’re always either too sweet, or too bitter, or too watery. None of the garden variety hot chocolates I’ve had in my life have never been worth a second try.

Until this hot chocolate.

This hot chocolate haunts me, you guys. It’s the kind of hot chocolate where they melted the really good chocolate into a dairy product with a fat percentage I don’t even want to talk about, combine it with vanilla beans and all sorts of delicious goodness, and then add a shot of really good beer.

It will change your life.

It’s complex, and sweet, and salty, and rich, and all sorts of yummy. After having just one of them at last year’s Oktoberfest, I was hooked. I looked forward to this hot chocolate all year, and about three months ago, I started telling just about everyone I met that in a short few months, I had a hot date with a cup of melted chocolate.

Not like that, guys. Come on.

Anyways, the point is that there is no budget of mine that will ever deem the $5.00 I spent on this hot chocolate once a year an “unnecessary expense”. In fact, as I work through the Mindful Budgeting program from Blonde on a Budget, I highlighted this hot chocolate as the absolute best money I spent this week – by far.

My long-winded, hot-chocolatey point here is that you can – and should – spend money on the things that make an event absolutely amazing for you. If it’s hot chocolate, or a concert t-shirt, or a piece of art that brings you joy every day – whatever it is, if you love it that much, spend the money. Just be sure to ruthlessly cut back on spending that doesn’t bring you that kind of joy.

Once you’re paying attention to the amount of joy you get from purchases, you’ll be able to see the difference immediately. Paying $30 for admission? Not my favourite thing. Buying a $5 hot chocolate that I will literally talk your ear off about for the rest of the year?

Definitely my favourite thing.

Such toque. So Canada.

Such toque. So Canada.

So there you have it – four simple ways to attend a festival, have an absolutely amazing time and stay well within your budget. When all was said and done, I left the festival with one life-changing hot chocolate experience and a really great toque (oh my god I’m so Canadian it hurts sometimes) for a grand total of $30.

That’s the same price as a ticket to get into the festival on Saturday, not including transportation or the free beer I got as a thank you for volunteering a few hours of my time. All in all, what could have been a $100 day was a much more reasonable – and joyful – line item on my monthly budget.

Have you tried any – or all! – of these strategies to have a great, frugal time at an event? Did I miss any? Let me know!