The Frugal Misadventures of the Russell Family: The Puyallup Fair Edition

It all started when we decided to go to the Puyallup Fair.

I had a Groupon for 2 adult admission tickets, plus our kids were free (they are 5 and under). Given that, I thought spending $10 on parking was well justified! Little did I know…

Pitfall #1: The Rides

We just so happened to head to the fair on bracelet day. Buy a bracelet for $25 and guess what? You can go on all the rides you want. This is perfect for my son who loves rides. But my daughter? Well, she’s always been scared of lots of rides. So we opted to buy one bracelet for my son and then $20 worth of tickets for my daughter and also so we could go on a few.

Guess what…

My daughter decided on that day of all days, she loves rides.

So back we went, for another $25 bracelet.

Total hit: $70 for rides. EGADS.

What’s worse? At some point my kids convinced me that riding the Tilt-a-Whirl with them would be a Good Idea. I think I’d like to lovingly rename this ride the Tilt-a-Hurl. It whipped me around and around for what felt like a small eternity. Each time we spun by the ride attendant, I quietly begged him to “please stop the ride.” He did…after I’d counted to well over 200….

Pitfall #2: Fair Food

I decided to pack some snacks. After all, you can easily bring your own food and drink into the fairgrounds. But…can you resist…?

Mr. Scone says: YOU MUST EAT ME. And so I did.

And then once we had our fill of scones, my husband found his favorite fair treat….

And my daughter found hers…

And then, of course, it was time for lunch. Guess how much the meal below cost us…

A. $20
B. $12
C. $43

If you guessed C – $43, you’re right!!! Ding, ding, ding! And no, that burger did not have sautéed black truffles on it. Hubby told me the gal at the counter had him verify the charge because many people end up coming back later, thinking they’d been overcharged. I wonder why?

Pitfall #3: The Expo Hall

Every year we go through the same blasted expo hall….and then I always end up asking “why do we feel the need to go through this same blasted expo hall each year?”

Also, you may be apt to see some rather confusing ads. Um…say WHAT?!

I’ve decided that walking through the aisles of the Fair expo hall is pretty much like running the gauntlet. I do have a few tips to come out unharmed (AKA without buying a sewing machine, life insurance, and leaf gutters):

  1. Do NOT make eye contact with any of the salesman.
  2. Keep walking. The moment you stop, you’re a sitting duck.
  3. If someone calls out to you while you walk past, pretend that you didn’t hear. (Again, refer to #1.)

Except for a minor snafu where my husband ended up sitting in a sauna display and didn’t get out before the salesman found him in there, we came out unscathed.

Show me the Bargains!

I bet at this point you’re saying, “surely, Angela – someone like you must have found some deals at the Fair!”

Oh, but I did.

First, this delightful drum toy in Sillyville. They so awesomely provide drumsticks so your kids can go to town on it. (Aspirin not included.)

The Expo Hall also did have a freebie I found of interest…

Now my kids will be able to identify local noxious weeds! Score!

In all sincerity I did find something I thought was pretty cool. With the kids’ bracelets was a free game ticket. My daughter chose this fishing game (in Sillyville, next to the Silly Slide) where you play until you win. Every player is a winner! Yahoo! Both my kids won ducks, like these.

When I was little I never won those ridiculous fair games. So if you are planning on playing any? I highly recommend the kiddie fishing game.

Final Thoughts

At the end of the day, I was exhausted. Case in point: we’re heading through the 4-H Dog Hall and I seriously ask my Hubby if this is a real dog…

I also kind of felt like how this gator did. (While I can’t be certain, I’m pretty sure he’s praying to stop the ride. He wants off.)

So you might ask…”Angela, if this costs you a ton of money each year, you eat too much, you get annoyed with shady salespeople and you end up exhausted, why on Earth do you do it?”

One word. Memories.

You can do it a trot, you can do it at a gallop, you can do it real slow so your heart won’t palpitate…just don’t be late.

Do the Puyallup.


  1. Sue says

    Love it! I have a friend that grew up in east Tacoma –shes 56 now–that flys here every Sept. to “Do the Puyallup”—she has lived in Conn. and NY since college

  2. Lori says

    I’m totally loving the Noxious Weed coloring book! Who knows…doin’ The Puyallup might just create a future Plant Biologist in the Russell family Ü.

    • arussell says

      ROFL!!! I actually just pulled it out for little girl to work on today. They so awesomely left blank pages in the book that read “What noxious weeds have you seen in your neighborhood?” One simple trip to the backyard and she’ll have no shortage of plants to draw….. 😉

  3. says

    I totally get that. I love the food and sometimes I have a hard time saying no to my kids at special occassions such as a fair.

    It looks like your family had a great time and you made wonderful memories. All your hard work has paid off in that you afford such a day!

    Have a great day!

    • arussell says

      Ah, thanks Marisa! You know, I don’t regret it. There are times that stuff like this just happens….and it’s somehow all worth it. I am so happy my kids will grow up having fun family memories like these.

  4. Amber says

    Totally agree that the memories are what make it worth it. I took my 13 year old for 50% off monday and still ended up paying $70 for 2.5 hours of fun. That included parking, food, rides and games. Admission was free for both of us through his school district since I home school. Every penny was worth it to see his face when he won four carnival prizes. Two posters and two stuffed animals. :)

  5. Carly says

    I love the puyallup fair!! I dont live on the “west side” anymore. But today I am taking my three kiddos to our local county fair. Which in its entirety is proabably about the size of the expo hall at the puyallup. Im only taking 20$ (entry is free). Only one of my kids is big enough for rides and Momma must have cotton candy…other than that…well, I only have 20$!! Hmm, maybe I should take 40$???? LOL

    • arussell says

      I brought $100 and we left with $3….plus yes, we ended up whipping out the debit card…..and we didn’t even buy anything beyond food, parking, and rides. Scary.

  6. Lisa B. says

    I think it’s great that you splurged. I went to the Puyallup Fair on Sunday, and I just couldn’t flip off my Frugal(now I realize it’s really a Cheapskate) switch. I brought my own food, and I stopped short of the rides when I realized that $20 would get you on about 2.5 rides. I wish I could just get over it and shell out the $$ and put aside my feelings of being ripped off. I might not go next year. I was looking at the ice cream going, “$4.50? We could all go to McD’s and get 3 cones for the price of one here!”. So we did. I guess you would call it the dark side of couponing, I’m just too much of a tightwad now. Is there a Couponers Anonymous group out there?

    • arussell says

      LOL!!! Yes, I definitely had to check my frugal at the gate. 😉

      We’re headed to Disneyland in a couple months and I’m already telling myself, “it’s a family trip, we’ve saved the money, it’s a family trip, we’ve saved the money.” 😉

      • Annie says

        SOMETIMES I’m able to flip my switch and say – THIS is why I coupon – so I can splurge on things like this – and BTW totally bawled reading your post (a bit emotional these days about families as we are trying to start ours) – so that being said – one day of under $100 – I say – BRING IT ON – you can eat your $1 meals at home the rest of the week!

  7. Deanna Fridenmaker says

    I am so glad I read your post this morning… I laughed out loud when I saw the pic of the stuffed dog and you said you asked your husband if that was a real dog.. You are a pretty witty gal! I love that. Living in Puyallup and being a hairdresser…I always end up getting a couple free tickets to get in. That is the only way I go. That way, I have $ for my krusty pup and scones… I do think it is a waste of money to buy the nut and chocolate covered icecream when you can go to costco and theirs is wayyyyy better and cheap!

  8. Cameron says

    Love your humor and that you can laugh at yourself. :) Glad you went tho’ and made fun memories with your family that they will always remember. Who knows how long they will keep those ducks! Lol Can’t buy fun memories no matter how much you spend. I grew up in Puyallup and love all my memories of The Fair. Actually, just finished my last scone with my coffee a few minutes ago. :) Happy Friday

  9. Tina says

    Been there done that! And don’t you just love it! It looks like you had a great time with your family. Thanks for sharing.

  10. alicia says

    I love elephant ears!!! They don’t make them where I live. Does anyone have a recipe? The last time I had them I was 11 at a fair while visiting my grandparents in Oregon, never have seen them since.

  11. Nathalie says

    We have been going to the fair every year since my oldest son was just a few days old (he was born Sept. 8). He turned 22 this year and came down from Bellingham to do the fair with us! His 19 year old brother (who rarely does things with us – between school and his social life he’s just too busy) came along as he has every year of his life. We had a wonderful time. Looking forward to making more memories every year…..someday with daughters-in-law and grandchildren! It’s worth every non-frugal penny!

  12. Karrie K says

    We also splurged at the fair yesterday. My daughter, 7, has been in a cast and had it removed yesterday so we went to celebrate. We spent around $100 on food and ride bracelets. The smiles on the kids faces was so worth it

  13. Stephanie Vargas says

    Tips for those who haven’t gone yet:
    On years we can’t afford the rides (like this year), we enter at the opposite side of the fairgrounds and don’t go over there.
    The first thing we do is check the fair schedule for the day & look at the map. We usually see one or two free shows (hypnotist, pig races, jugglers, etc.). In between those we visit the animal barns, the hobby hall, the flower competion building, and the art competition. All fun, free, and no one trying to sell you anything. Where we splurge is parking close by (kids are 6 & 3) and food–scones, etc. We are going later today =)

  14. says

    I’ve brought home that noxious weed coloring book many a time.
    Not sure if anyone has ever colored it…..

    We had to skip the scones this year, so I tried the mix out. It wasn’t bad, but I was super sad not to go home with our baker’s dozen.

    Loved the story-especially the Tilt a Hurl. I had a similar experience on the whirling bears-isn’t that supposed to be a kiddie ride?!

    • arussell says

      I swear those rides go on and on and on! The “good news” I suppose is that you get your money’s worth???? One thing that had me LOL while I was in line for the Tilt-a-Whirl (AKA HURL) is that it said it was America’s most beloved amusement park ride. REALLY.

      It’s very similar to those whirling bears except it sort of spins on a tilted axis. Fun….not.

  15. Denise H. says

    We are headed to the fair tomorrow. I didn’t get the Groupon because my husband wouldn’t commit to going at that point. So I’m headed to get the tickets at Safeway, and the kids will be free. I was planning to take the shuttle, but now I see with four of us it would be more than parking???
    Daughter wants to ride the rides, husband wants to eat the food, the son will want ice cream and drinks galore, and I want to keep everybody from getting lost. *Note to self, get out the safety tattoos with our cell # on it!
    ATM, here I come. Goodbye, extra money I’ve saved by couponing…

    • Bill In Seattle says

      This is too late for your excursion this year, but (as an alternative to Safeway), it’s likely you’ll be able to get good discounts next year at Bartells Drug Stores.

      I’m pretty impressed with the constant commitment to local, local, local things that Bartells does.

      I’m not a shill for Bartells. I just appreciate a local company that gives a —- about continuing to be a local company, and then follows through to support all the local events around here through donations and sponsorships, and then…as a good-for-me bonus…actually saves me money when I walk into their stores.

      Perhaps some readers of this blog have infinite amounts of money, and cast aside all thoughts of price…but I’m kind of limited being retired, in dealing with the known and limited amount of money I have to spend this month.

      Bartells prices, and great persons working the counter, draw me back to spend my money each month.

      Their 50% off sales on vitamins (that I took part in purchasing earlier today) totally rock in beating Walgreens or the evil Rite-Aid (I’m in the near-to-downtown Seattle area, so my local Rite-Aid operates under a near-war-zone-mentality when dealing with customers…even in the way they treat us old/short/slow retired folks…your Rite-Aid may be MUCH better, and operate under normal relations that don’t have to assume that every customer coming to the register is going to rob or assault them).

      To flip this back towards the positive about Bartells…buy your tickets for the Puyallup Fair there next year, as you will support a locally owned bunch of stores that give back to the community in so many ways.

      –Bill In Seattle

  16. Karen Lynne says

    The ONE great deal at the fair expo center is the TechniIce. It’s these plastic coated sheets that puff up when wet. You then can freeze or heat them. I love them because:
    -You only need to do one or two sheets at a time.
    -They are sectioned into 2 inch “cubes” and you can cut them into any configuration. (A block of 4 are perfect for the kids’ lunches)
    -Line a cooler with a larger sheet and when they stay cold longer than ice, and don’t get everything all wet when they unfreeze. You just pop them back in the freezer.
    -You can also heat them up for a hot pack!
    -You likely will never have to buy them again. We’ve had our original pack for over 12 years and still have some flat sheets to soak when the others get icky. We still buy them for gifts!

    and… BONUS! They are flat until you take them home and soak them, so you can even carry them around the fair all day easily!

    *I honestly have no interest in the Techni Ice company, nor do I know anyone who works for them. Of ALL of our impulse Fair buys over the past 12-15 years (there have been many), this is the ONE I not only DON’T REGRET spending money on, but I am THRILLED with!

  17. Julie says

    . . . but it looks like your trip was worth every cent.

    We don’t have a great-looking fair like that around here, but we do have some big amusement parks. This year we decided to take advantage of a grocery store promo to get almost-free admission. I found a forum for saving money at that park and followed a lot of the suggestions. A trip that would have started at $155 for admission and parking alone for the three of us ended up costing about $60 total.

    • arussell says

      it WAS worth every cent and I’d do it again in a heartbeat! In fact, pretty sure we’ll be there again next year. 😉

  18. Ginean says

    Great story… thank you for sharing!!!! Last weekend our family did a spur of the moment trip to the beach (excellent weather!). So, I packed our lunches for two adults and two kids. We went to McDonald’s on the way out of town and used our B1G1 free smoothie coupon, though my husband still bought a caramel sundae. Total was $4.79! We went to Seaside which normally means Elephant Ears and taffy (at least). We parked on the North side of the beach, skipping walking down the main street w/ the shops that call our names w/ all the goodies! Hung out for a couple hours, played in the sand, cleaned up, ate our food, and headed out. I wanted something from DQ, but was out of town before alerting my husband. I managed to snack on our food brought from home and we made it to back Portland having spent less than $5!! Yippee! Wow is all I could say. The story would end there, but it was date night for my husband I… which resulted in a $100 dinner at Wildwood Restaurant… you can say we splurged and made up for the cheap family outing!! Loved it and especially the mussels, they were delicious! My husband’s graduation money was well spent and worth the smile on my face!!!

    • arussell says

      LOL!! You know, sometimes being frugal means you can splurge on those $100 dinners and feel OK about it! Thanks for sharing!!

  19. Bill In Seattle says

    Terrific post.

    You captured the ecsense of the event in a nice way.

    When I lived down in the Tacoma area growing up after coming of age, it was a required part of the start of fall to ALWAYS go to The Fair multiple times.

    Earthquake burgers with extra onions lost me a girlfriend at the time due to kissing actions that went astray (where’s that Binaca Breath Spray when you need it!).

    The scones! With extra smears of that raspberry stuff! They used to be a lot bigger, or perhaps I was just a lot smaller and was mislead on size. When I decided to learn to cook when I retired, one of the first recipes I wanted to learn was to try and copy the Fisher Scones. Still working on it, and loving every attempt as it comes out of the oven.

    All of the projectile rides! There have been several over the years that pretty much launched your eyeballs waaayyyy back in the sockets. Being a guy, adrenaline rush is a part of the internal DNA.

    Finally, so disappointed that Pierce Transit downgraded their service to The Fair due to budget cuts. Being a person who tries to be eco-friendly, we always took the bus down from Seattle to Puyallup and jumped the shuttle in the last few years. Not going to happen this year, so no attendance, and we’ll have to live on past memories. Fortunately, this will also help out the home budget, as we won’t be coming home with the newest, latest Ginsu knife or the must-have ulimate salad spinner from the sales persons extrordinaire!

    –Bill In Seattle

  20. Jana says

    I agree, I think the memories are worth it! My husband and I went to the concert tonight, We always go outside to get our food. We bought 5 onion burgers, fries, and two cans of soda and two bottles of water for $14.

  21. Sheila M. says

    “The Puyallup Fair has rides?” That would have been a comment from my kids a few years ago. With 6 kids, it was a firm ‘no’ on the rides and they stopped asking. Now 2 are grown and the youngest at home is a pre-teen. The last two years I’ve agreed to pay for 1 ride each and they talk about how fun that ONE ride was for weeks…I love it. This year I took my Running Start teenager on Opening Day when the fair offers free admission between 10am and noon (hoping you’ll bring a food donation…no problem, I filled my backpack with pasta for the food bank). It was great Mother/Daughter time. My frugal fair routine: Park for free and walk (what’s a few more blocks since we’re walking anyway), cotton candy is cheaper outside (bought it on our way in), Go Play Outside has free catch and release trout fishing (all but 2 kids are too old now), free face painting (spray on lasts and they wear it to school the next day), you’re never too old for the hand washing station where you learn how long you REALLY should be scrubbing your hands (hands glowing under the black light can bring back memories of roller skating in your youth), free milk samples (my kids always say, ‘Now this is real chocolate milk”), scones on clearance as we left $5/dozen (again, outside the fair). We choose not to eat meals at the fair, but ‘fair food’ only happens once a year :)

  22. Sheila M. says

    …and about that cute little duck.
    If you have seen the Usborne books that have the little duck to find on each page, you’ve got yourself the perfect prop for your kids to create their own books. Just take some pictures with the duck hiding somewhere in the background and have your kids write their own stories to go along with the pictures…and Presto! Authors just like their mommy!

  23. Shanea Champlin says

    Hey, (funny story, I am a manager of one of those elephant ear stands, worked there 7 years now) but a tip is… In order for the food places to be in kiddy land they have to serve a food item thats 2 dollars or less, usually its just a corndog or a slice of pizza, but its generally enough to get through the hungry phase.


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