How to Save Money at the Ballpark

One thing many families love heading out to the ballpark. Whether it’s minor or major league, these games can be a lot of fun, keeping you entertained while supporting your favorite team.

But it can quickly become expensive between tickets, parking, food and more. (You can read about one couple who attended a Cubs game for less than $100 here.) We’ve got some great tips you can follow, so that you can get out and enjoy the game but not spend too much.

Eat Before You Go (or Bring Your Own Snacks)

The smells are there to entice you: They have a way of wafting toward you and when you really listen, you might even hear that popcorn or hot dog calling your name. However, if you eat before you head out, you won’t be as easily tempted to grab a snack from the vendor as he walks by.

Each ballpark has different rules, but you may be able to bring in snacks and water. Just make sure you check your park’s website to see what’s allowed. Most parks let visitors bring empty water bottles, which you can fill at any fountain.

Take the Bus

The cost of parking is astronomical — many venues charge $20 or more just to park. And that is on top of the large amount you dropped on the tickets themselves. Check the bus schedules, as there are often some which will drop you off at the game and pick you up when it’s over (saving you money and the headache of fighting traffic). By parking outside of the stadium and taking the bus, you can save on hefty parking fees.

Don’t Spend a Fortune on Tickets

If you buy tickets at the window on the day of the game, you will get them at face value. However, if you purchase them online, you often pay fees, which makes your tickets cost more. The only downside to this is that you have to take what’s available. But you never know which seats you may find, and they may be better than you expect. No matter where you sit, you can have a good time. Just don’t forget your binoculars.

Watch for Deals

Check out discount sites, such as Groupon, where you can sometimes find tickets to local events at a reduced price. You can sign up for alerts so you never miss out. Also watch for special events. I know that there are often $1 night deals — which means $1 hot dogs and soft drinks (the rare time you can afford the food). Keeping an eye out for deals doesn’t just apply to sporting events — you can do this to help you save on traveling as well.

Don’t Buy Souvenirs 

These are priced much higher than you would pay at your local sporting good store or even online. It is tempting, but shop before you go and you’ll be less likely to get drawn in by having a new shirt to wear as you root for your team.

These are ways to save while still enjoying America’s favorite pastime. But it isn’t worth blowing your budget or going into debt just to see a game you could easily watch at home. (You can keep track of your financial goals and see how your spending habits are affecting them by looking at your free credit summary, updated each month, on Credit.com.)

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Image: Renee Keith

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How We Went to a Cubs Game for Less Than $100

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You’d think America’s favorite pastime would be less expensive, but baseball games are one pricey outing. The tickets are just the beginning. Factor in transportation and the obligatory peanuts and beverage of choice, and going to a major league baseball game can easily cost two people more than $100.

The average cost for two to see the Chicago Cubs at the Friendly Confines is $116.06, according to an analysis of 2016 MLB prices from GOBankingRates. That includes tickets, parking, food and drinks. The only team more expensive to see at home is the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park, where two people pay $157 on average.

Recently, my husband and I went to one of the priciest ballparks in the country: Wrigley Field. But to prove it doesn’t have to be so expensive, we set out to spend less than $100 (and not deprive ourselves of any fun). Here’s how we did it.

1. Go for the Cheap Seats

When you go to a game, you want to be able to see it. But so much of what’s fun about being at a ballpark is the atmosphere, and you can experience that no matter where you’re sitting. We got tickets in the second-cheapest section ($10 each before tax, as opposed to $9), purely because I thought the vantage point would be better for shooting photos.

When you’re looking for cheap tickets, keep in mind it’s not just about seats. We opted for a weeknight game, which was much cheaper than a weekend game during the day. Taxes and fees run pretty high in Chicago, so our tickets ended up costing $18.38 each, for a total of $36.76.

2. Cut Transport Costs

Unlike a lot of ballparks, there are several ways to get to Wrigley Field. Driving is the most expensive, given that parking can cost $15 to $30 (not including gas), unless you find a free or cheap spot. There are lots of shuttles and park-and-ride options, but unless you live within walking distance, public transport is the cheapest route.

I live in the city, so we took the L (Brown Line to Red Line) from work to the Addison Red Line station, where you walk right into the glorious chaos that is the streets of Wrigleyville on game day. To get home, we took a bus.

L fare costs $2.25 roundtrip per person, and bus fare is $2 each, so we spent $8.50.

3. BYOP (Bring Your Own Peanuts)

If you take the Red Line to Addison, you’ll probably pass Jeff Flores on your way out the station. A Chicago native, Flores has sold game essentials to cost-conscious fans for 17 years. “Bottled water for $1! It’s $4 inside!” he yells. (Flores also sells attire, sports drinks and, on a freezing day in late April, hand warmers, which I should have purchased.)

The water and peanuts cost $8, since someone forgot you’re not allowed to bring open bottles into the ballpark. Still, we saved money, which left us with just less than $50 for the rest of the game.

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4. Budget for the Expensive Stuff

If you want a beer and hot food, there’s not much you can do. We didn’t want to skimp on the in-game experience, so we tried to get everything else for as little as possible.

The cheapest beer I saw — and this is upsetting — was $8.25 for a draught Bud Light. I’ve paid more for a Bud Light (cough Yankee Stadium), but the “better” beers weren’t worth it either. We actually paid $9 for our first round of Bud Light.

Trying to find the most affordable option wasn’t easy. Vendors in stands hawked $8.50 Bud Light, but I would have tipped them, which would have cost more. At first, it looked like $9 beer was the best we could do, but right after we bought them, we passed a stand where Bud Light was being sold for $8.25. We later bought two of those but realized the cups were a different size than our $9 cups.

I have no idea if they held the same amount, and as I tried to figure this out, the Cubs pulled ahead in the bottom of the sixth, and I had to watch the biggest play of the game on a screen. Going with the vendors in the stands would have been smarter.

Besides four beers ($34.50), we got some nachos and a soft pretzel. We didn’t buy the cheese cup for the pretzel (who wants to pay $1.50 for cheese?), but the nachos came with plenty extra to make it work. Nachos were $5.50, and the pretzel cost $5.

Grand total: $98.26

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When spring and summer roll around, it’s easy to get carried away and end up spending more than you should. But while it may not seem like it in the moment, a fantastic experience doesn’t justify forgoing your financial goals or going into debt, and you don’t need to do either to have a great time. (You can track your financial goals, like building a good credit score, each month on Credit.com.)

Our strategy is just one way of trying to balance fun and frugality. The most important thing for us was to have as much fun as possible without blowing our budget, and we certainly did. Plus, the Cubs won.

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Images Courtesy of Christine DiGangi; Screenshot via Cubs.com

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