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Updated on Friday, March 23, 2018
Spring marks a time for many music and arts fans to prepare for the summer festival season. As they should. Music festivals like Coachella, Bonnaroo, Burning Man and Electric Zoo are famously possible among young people all over the world, but they are also infamous for being ridiculously expensive. Without proper planning, you could easily find yourself in a mountain of debt to see your favorite artists.
A general admission pass to three days at Coachella in 2018, for example goes for $429, plus any applicable taxes and fees. VIP passes start at $999. That’s before figuring out the cost of food and drinks while at the festival, getting there and where you’ll stay … but we will get to those figures later on.
For the average American, struggling to save $400 — in an emergency fund — let alone spend close to $1,000 to attend a music festival when it’s all said and done isn’t feasible. For the young person saddled with sky-high rent, low-paying jobs and student loan debt, seeing their favorite musician at a music festival can seem like only a dream funded by credit cards or very generous benefactors (read: parents).
“It’s not even the tickets to the festivals that gets expensive, it’s everything else.” said Kellye Greene, 30, a freelance software engineer in New York. “After college, I was not working the best job because of the recession back in 2009. I had to find a way to have these experiences or do these things. Finding all of these little hacks help me offset the cost of participating.”
MagnifyMoney spoke with Greene and a few regular festival goers to learn their best tips for saving money and still having a good time.
If you are willing and able to work for your entrance, volunteering at a festival is a great way to save money on tickets. There are dozens of different organizations you can volunteer with and various things you could do as a volunteer. You’d work a number or shifts in exchange for entrance to the event and still get to enjoy the festival.
Greene, also the regional director and president of New York chapter of DanceSafe, has been to about 36 festivals over the past eight years. At many of them, she volunteers with DanceSafe, a nonprofit organization focused on harm reduction at nightlife events and music festivals by passing out free condoms, ear plugs and information on alcohol and other drugs.
Greene usually has her entrance covered, and if she needs to travel she may get a travel stipend in exchange for working a number of shifts at the event. For example, when she went to Shambala in Canada, Greene says she worked a minimum two shifts and those guaranteed her ticket would be covered for the four-day event. This year’s pass runs around $325.
Like Greene, you could do something you’re passionate about. For example, an organization called Headcount requests volunteers to help register people to vote at music events, or you could volunteer as an ambassador with Paradocs, a service that brings in doctors, nurses, EMTs and paramedics, and offers free health care at events.
Or you could simply volunteer to help out. This year, Bonnaroo requires its volunteers, called C’roo members, to work three six-hour shifts. In exchange, they get a T-shirt, free showers, a meal token for every shift they work and access to enjoy the festival when they’re not working. That’s a decent trade-off, as a four-day general admission pass to the festival runs $325 plus taxes and fees. You’ll want to sign up to volunteer as soon as you hear the opportunity is available, as volunteer opportunities may go quickly.
Work for pay
In a few cases, you could work for the festival for pay and get to enjoy some of the main event. Festivals generally hire a crew of workers to help on the day of the event. You may work the ticketing gates, security or possibly be part of the cleanup crew. These positions are hard to come by and generally require you to directly contact the festival coordinators to ask about work opportunities or apply online.
Events promotions company, Live Nation, generally posts paid positions available at its events on its website and other job sites. As of this writing, there’s an open ground control festival team member application listed on Glassdoor for Electric Forest 2018, hosted by Live Nation in Rothbury, Mich. The festival kicks off June 21.
Again, in this situation, you would work a few hours and generally be able to enjoy some of the music while you’re working or be let go early enough to enjoy some of the festival when you’re finished. In addition, you’d get a check in the mail in a few weeks that may ultimately offset auxiliary costs like food and lodging.
Buy your tickets early
Most festivals release a limited number of “early bird” tickets first that are generally priced lower than the regular ticket prices.
“If you plan ahead, the same ticket will cost less than if you wait until the last minute,” said Tucker Gumber, 30, aka The Festival Guy and founder of FestEvo, a company that creates tools for festival goers. Gumber has been to more than 130 festivals over the past seven years. He authored The Festival Goer’s Guide, and says early bird tickets are a simple way to save.
Beware: Some popular festivals may allow early-bird ticket purchases before releasing their lineup or the names of the headliners, so you may not yet know who you’re paying to see. For example, early bird tickets for The Peach Music Festival in Scranton, Pa., went for $99. Early bird tickets went on sale Dec. 21, 2018, before the initial lineup was released in January 2018.
“If the event has been running for multiple years you can look at previous years to see what kinds of bands have performed before,” said Greene. “You can save 100s of dollars. And if you decide you don’t want to go, you can resell the ticket.”
Festivals may also tier their ticket pricing based on the number of tickets already sold or certain cutoff dates for pricing. For the Peach Festival, there was a second tier of limited early bird passes that went for $135. After that, there are three tiers of regular advance passes at $165, $190 and $210. There is a final tier of passes, a last chance ticket for late birds, is priced at $245.
If you’re a loyal attendee, some festivals even offer early access to cheaper tickets if you’ve gone to a previous year’s festival. Again, they may be limited and may come out before the lineup is announced.
Wait for single-day tickets to go on sale
If you can’t swing the cost to attend all of the days a festival is held, you may be able to save by only paying to attend the days that have the artists you are truly dying to see and getting single-day tickets.
For example, a one-day pass to Panorama (plus fees) in 2018 is $125, a two-day pass is $215 and a pass for all three days of the music festival is $295.
Single-day passes are generally cheaper than purchasing passes for the entire duration of the festival, but they may not go on sale until later. As of this writing, four-day passes to Lollapalooza are available for $335, but single-day tickets are not yet on sale.
If there are only one or two artists in the lineup you’re dying to see, single-day tickets may be worth the wait.
Use the payment plan
You may not have the cash on hand to pay for a full-priced ticket when tickets come out. But you don’t want to run the risk of saving up only to watch tickets sell out. Most events offer payment plans for these cases. The plans allow you to break up the full cost of the ticket into more affordable payments.
For example, if you want to purchase a ticket to Governors Ball 2018, hosted by Front Gate Tickets, you would need to make a minimum purchase of $71 to qualify for the layaway plan. Passes start at $115 for the event, plus $20 fee, plus $15 in shipping which comes up to $150, so that’s easy to make.
The Governors Ball plan splits your payment into two. You’d pay 50% of your package and all fees associated, then have the other half automatically deducted from your account in April, two months before the event kicks off on June 1. If you miss the second payment, your Layaway Plan will be canceled, and you’ll be refunded all but the fees associated with your purchase, according to a Front Gate Tickets representative. For a $350 three-day pass, that’s $30 in applicable fees.
Firefly Music Festival in Dover, Del., has a similar payment plan option but only offers weekend passes. General admission weekend passes for the event beginning on June 14 start at $329, plus $29.99 in fees. Firefly’s EZ Pay payment plans are available for up to 7 months and you are automatically charged the same day as your original purchase date each month. The number of payments you are allowed will depend on how many months in advance you make your initial payment. If you bought a ticket in March, you’d get a two-part payment plan. So, you’d pay $179.50, and be charged the other half in April.
Travel and Lodging
Stay with friends or family
You could save on lodging just by knowing someone in the area and asking if you could stay with them during the event.
“I very rarely have to worry about lodging because I try to go places where I know people,” said Greene. “If I don’t know people, I try to make friends.”
She says having friends nearby can make traveling alone a much better experience. Use your connections.
“Every single time I go to another city, I find another harm reduction group and befriend them. Most of the time I end up going to festivals I didn’t plan on going to,” said Greene. She linked with one group while visiting Amsterdam one year. “I just showed up and they provided me lunch, and I could hang out at the festival.”
You may also elect to use a peer-to-peer service like Airbnb if it’s a more affordable alternative compared with a hotel stay.
Use credit card rewards programs
If you’re savvy and budget-conscious, you could cover most of your travel and lodging expenses with rewards credit cards, like Joe DeIuliis, 28, in New Haven, Conn. DeIuliis has been attending about three to four festivals a year for nearly 10 years. At first, he was spending a lot of money.
“I was living at home and spending all of my money on just like traveling and going to festivals,” said DeIuliis, who was a student at the University of Pittsburgh at the time. After school, he moved away from home, got married and accepted a job in the pulmonary research lab at Yale.
“When I moved and accrued all of these other bills that real adults have, I had to figure out a way to still do this. I thought there has to be an easier cheaper way to do this,” said DeIuliis.
So he started reading up on how he could use airline miles and credit card rewards to pay for all of the auxiliary costs around the festivals to cut down the overall cost of the events.
Now, DeIuliis uses credit card rewards points to cover hotel stays, rental cars, flights and most other transportation expenses for both him and his wife, Rachel, to attend festivals like The Dirtybird Campout and Holy Ship! He’s been doing so for about four years and says he now pays for maybe 10% of their transportation cost out of pocket. They use their savings to have a better festival experience, overall.
“Camping is fun and if you have friends there you can stay with them but the comfort of being able to get in a rental car, and go to the hotel and get a hot shower is great,” said DeIuliis.
If you try this tip, make sure your bill is paid in full each month, otherwise high interest rates can offset any rewards you earn. You can use an online budgeting tool like Mint or You Need A Budget to stay on top of your bills. In addition, you should avoid opening cards for the bonus points only to cancel the cards later, as that could harm your credit score.
Camp (if it’s cheaper)
“A lot of times your cheapest option for lodging will be to camp,” said Greene, as its usually cheaper than a hotel or Airbnb.
Weekend (Thurs.- Mon.) car camping and tent camping passes at Coachella each run $113, for instance. As of this writing, hotel rates for the second weekend of Coachella (April 19-23) range from around $410 to more than $500 per night per room to accommodate two adults, according to Google Maps.
“It’s a cheap option but it’s not luxurious in any kind of way,” said Greene. She says to avoid festivals in remote areas if you’re not a camping kind of person. “If its way in the middle of nowhere you’re not gonna have many hotel options.”
Generally, campgrounds will have some amenities like public showers, charging stations and lounges with Wi-Fi. Sometimes festivals will provide “glamping” options like a cabin or tents for you.
Glamping (glamorous + camping) is a little fancier. They are pre-made camping options with some amenities, depending on how much you pay. Coachella’s glamping options started around $2,458 for two, plus two general admission tickets. A four-person tent with 4 VIP passes cost $5,600.
Plan to go with a group
You could roll solo to a festival and have a great time making new friends, but it may be more cost-effective to go with a group.
“Try to reduce the amount of money it costs to get to the venue by carpooling,” advised Gumber.
Not only would you cut your overall cost in gas, but you may save on lodging, too. To purchase a single-car camping pass for Bonnaroo 2018, you’d pay $59.75 per car, not per person, so you may be able to split the cost among a car pool of friends.
If you don’t happen to know enough people to form a group and are open to meeting new people, you may be able to find a Facebook group of fans planning to attend the festival, and coordinate with some folks to go together.
Choose a festival nearby
You don’t have to cross the country for the festival experience. There are so, so many music and arts festivals that there is likely one in your state or region of the country.
Choose a festival that will require you to travel the least to help save some money on travel. The Music Festival Wizard website has an interactive map you can use to check for festivals nearest you.
If you live in New York City, for example, the map shows five music festivals within the five boroughs. You’ll likely be able to take public transit and walk to most festivals in the Big Apple.
Food and Drink
Festival food is notoriously pricey and festivals typically start around noon and end after midnight, according to Greene.
“It’s harder to avoid eating inside when you are at most non-camping festivals because they don’t allow re-entry so you can’t leave for food,” said Greene. “Save a lot of money or at least be prepared to deal with the eating situation.”
Vendors know your options are limited, too. You may be there for 12 hours and if re-entry isn’t allowed or the line is very long, you may not want to leave and waste some of your expensive ticket.
“Put money aside to feed yourself. If you’re at a festival and you’re going to be purchasing food it’s not going to be cheap,” said Collin Molina, a 25-year old aspiring musician in Philadelphia.
If you have some time between purchasing your ticket and going to the festival, do your best to set aside money to buy food at the event. Molina says budgeting to spend about $20 per meal should be sufficient.
Compare options and make sure you know what you’re eating, Molina advises. He says to try to get something filling, like a high-protein meal that will keep you feeling fuller longer, so you don’t have to buy too many meals.
Always bring a water bottle (and snacks, if you can)
Most festivals allow you to bring in an empty, reusable water bottle and provide free water refill stations. Take advantage of that perk and always bring a water bottle so you can keep yourself hydrated for free and have something to drink with meals.
Many non-camping festivals don’t allow you to bring in food, but If you are allowed to take snacks into the festival with you, you should bring some.
Eat something before you get in
“Eat before you get into the venue and pre-plan your meals to save money on concessions,” said Gumber.
Greene says she also would boil eggs to eat just before she walked into the festival. You can help keep hunger at bay by keeping yourself well hydrated throughout the day or using stimulants, too.
“Stimulants like coffee and energy drinks will suppress your appetite as well. Some people are smokers so nicotine does that, too,” said Greene.
Plan out your meals
Planning your meals can help you shave down some of your cost regardless of whether you’re camping and bringing your own food, or planning to purchase food from vendors on festival grounds.
If you’re camping, you’ll generally be able to cook and leave and return to the festival, so that may help cut the cost to feed yourself while there.
“We would just make a trip to the grocery store and figure out what would be good to cook,” said Molina of the times he would camp at festivals.
“It’s a different kind of shopping, almost like survival shopping,” Molina added. He recommends trying to get things that are simple, easy to make and filling.
Learn to budget
If you know ahead of time that you’re planning to attend a festival on a tight budget, you can plan to save money ahead of the event. Do the math, and budget set aside some money each paycheck to cover the cost of the event .
The last thing you want to do is rack up debt attending a music and arts festival because you didn’t take care to do at least a little financial planning. MagnifyMoney has a wealth of articles on budgeting you can use to help plan attending your next festival.
Really, don’t break the bank to go to a music festival
This tip may be a tough one to swallow, but it needs to be said because at the end of the day, you have got to look yourself in the mirror and be honest.
“Abstaining is the top way to save money. If you really can’t afford it, don’t stretch your budget,” said Molina. He says he knows he’ll likely get another chance to see most of the performers and acts that he wants to see later on. Sooner or later they will return to the venue, festival or city, and you will get another chance.
The Festival Guy signs off on this tip, too.
“If you’re not in the right place to go to the festival financially, sit this one out and plan ahead for the next one,” said Gumber. He advises anyone who loves the festival experience not to let FOMO (fear of missing out) drive them into debt or worse.