How to budget for festival season: 3 Tips

Learn how to live it up during the summer festival season without draining your wallet.

Do your summer plans involve soaking up the sights and sounds at music festivals around the country in cities big and small? What about expressing your artistic side at festivals that tout the arts? Or maybe you’ll be indulging your taste buds at the best food festivals the summer has to offer.

While summer festivals have their own unique personalities, they also have one thing in common: Attendance doesn’t come cheap.

“Festival season can be a fantastic way to spend your summer vacation, but they can often become bottomless pits of spending on tickets, travel, gear—it begins to add up,” says Carson Yarbrough, savings expert at a coupon database and resource for savings advice.

For some festivals, you may see ticket prices range from $400 to $1,700. Oh, and that’s just what you’ll pay to get through the gate. You also have to factor in expenses like food, travel, and lodging. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the final price tag if you’re hoping to survive festival season on a budget.

Graphic of a laptop with pictures of a plane, plane tickets, suitcases, and calendar.

Fortunately, there are ways to save money at festivals that don’t require you to sacrifice any of the fun. Check out these ways to enjoy festival season on a budget without turning up the heat on your wallet:

1. Skip the hotel

A hotel may be your travel go-to, but rates can skyrocket during the dates of a summer fest. However, there are alternatives to staying in a hotel or other short-term accommodation.

If you’re ditching your hotel plans, on-site camping may be a way to enjoy festival season on a budget. General admission camping is included in the ticket price for some festivals, and you can typically pay a fee if you’re bringing a vehicle along. While camping can bring serious cost savings by skipping a hotel rate, you also won’t have to dish out for daily transportation to get to and from the venue.

But what if camping isn’t an option because of venue restrictions? A home exchange is another way to survive festival season on a budget. For a membership fee, you can list your home on a home exchange website and connect with other homeowners who are interested in swapping homes temporarily.

“Travelers can benefit from completely free accommodations around the world without any money changing hands,” says Alexandra Origet du Cluzeau, global PR director for a home exchange service. “You’re free to choose additional services, like insurance, but the roof under which you’ll be staying won’t cost you a dime.”

If you’re not comfortable having a stranger stay in your home, booking a vacation home rental is another way to save money at festivals. Yarbrough says a way to enjoy festival season on a budget is to go in on a vacation rental with friends.

“Getting a large vacation rental and sharing with four to eight friends will be much more comfortable than a cheap hotel,” Yarbrough says, “and give you the best bang for your buck.”

“Festival season can be a fantastic way to spend your summer vacation, but they can often become bottomless pits of spending on tickets, travel, gear—it begins to add up.”

Carson Yarbrough, savings expert

2. Bypass pricey festival food

In addition to an extensive lineup of performers and events, summer festivals also tend to offer an impressive food menu. From gourmet food trucks to pop-up restaurants to fine dining, there’s something to satisfy virtually every taste. If your goal is to survive festival season on a budget, however, you may have to curb your appetite.

“Food at festivals is expensive and often overpriced,” Yarbrough says, since “vendors know festivalgoers will be willing to pay higher prices for an easily accessible meal.”

Yarbrough suggests bringing plenty of nonperishable foods, snacks, and water if you’re camping and looking for ways to save money at festivals, assuming the festival allows that. Some say no to outside food and beverage, while others may allow you to bring food, drinks, and even portable camping grills. Before you try to survive festival season on a budget by packing your own cooler, check the festival rules. If you’re staying off-site, eat before you go to cut back on overpriced grub from a festival vendor.

Festival-goers cook their meal on a small hibachi grill.

Alex Juel, frequent festival attendee and marketing strategist at a marketing company, recommends munching on freeze-dried foods to keep dining costs down if you’re allowed to bring your own snacks and want to travel on a budget.

“They’re lightweight and cheaper than vendor food,” Juel says, both of which are helpful if you’re camping with limited space and want ways to enjoy festival season on a budget.

If you’re a frugal foodie and plan to frequent the on-site vendors, be sure to have cash on hand for the cash-only options. ATMs at festivals may charge fees that you may wish to avoid.

3. Get a jump on buying tickets

Ordering tickets in advance can work in your favor if you already have money set aside for your summer festival plans and you’re committed to going.

Yarbrough notes that when you purchase tickets at the presale price, you can save money. In order to realize these cost savings, you may need to lock in tickets six months to a year before the event.

You can stay on top of presale events by subscribing to your favorite festival’s social media account or entertainment blogs to get notifications when early bird tickets go up for grabs. If you missed the presale boat, don’t think you’re out of ways to save money at festivals.

“It’s a bit more risky, but you can sometimes find people selling their tickets last minute for a rock bottom price” on social media, Yarbrough says. She cautions, however, that you may not be able to secure a ticket or end up paying even more than the original ticket price for waiting longer.

A worker at the entrance to a music festival puts a wristband on an attendee's wrist.

Survive festival season on a budget by planning early

Finding ways to save money at festivals takes planning and, sometimes, a little creativity. Setting your budget early gives you time to evaluate where you can splurge and where you may need to skimp. And if all else fails, consider volunteering your way into the festival of your choice as a way to enjoy festival season on a budget.

Some organizations visit festivals throughout the year with volunteers in tow. While you may not get to see the entire show when your favorite artist is performing, it’s possible to enjoy the festival without paying a fee in exchange for a few hours of your time. You can also check with individual festivals to see if they offer a no-fee ticket to event volunteers.

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