How to have a lot of fun at the circus without a lot of money.

The circus. $20 to get in, $100 to get out. Well, that’s what I USED to think, but when I was given passes to see the opening night of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus Xtreme in KC this week, I felt the need to prove to myself and my loyal readers (hi, mom) that a trip to the circus can be just as fun whether you decide to splurge while you’re there or not.

My neighbor, her six-year-old daughter and my six-year-old daughter were kind enough to be participants in my social experiment and the test results are in: You really can enjoy a great show, spoil your kids, leave happy without any FOMO AND keep your wallet in your purse the entire time. Here’s how I did it:

Find a free parking spot — It’s against my religion to pay for parking in Kansas City so I rarely do. Save $10 and get some exercise with the kids by avoiding the parking garages and finding a free spot on the street (after 6PM).

Wear tennis shoes — Admittedly, parking for free can create a bit of a hike (we found one about 7 blocks away from the Sprint Center) but our first graders had no problem at all coming or going. I don’t think we would have been as successful with their attitudes had they not been wearing comfortable walking shoes.

Eat before you go — There were plenty of tasty options if you want to eat at the show—I saw a chili dog the length of my forearm—but if you’re looking to save money, eat before you go. We stopped at Pie Five and got pizzas, drinks and brownies for a fraction of what dinner for four would have cost us during the show. Bonus: Going out to eat was also a fun way to extend our special night on the front end.

Pack snacks  – I thought we’d be bombarded by a guy yelling “Cotton Candy! Popcorn! Snow Cones!” up and down our aisle throughout the show (I was pleasantly surprised that the circus isn’t pushy with their concessions at all) so my defensive mechanism was to pack my own circus-themed treats for the kids (Fruit Roll-Ups, Tootsie Pops and animal crackers). As luck would have it, our girls were so full from our pizza stop, they never once asked for any food at the circus. (Thanks Eat-Before-You-Go rule!) I’m guessing lightening won’t strike twice, so pack some fun snacks for your crew.

Don’t spend more on a bottled water than I do on a bottle of wine — Unfortunately you can’t take liquids into the Sprint Center, but there are water fountains inside and the show’s 15-minute intermission allows plenty of time to stretch your legs to find one. Bonus: Not having drinks at the seats means you’re less likely to have to take your kids to the bathroom during the middle of the show.

Bring your own souvenirs —  Cheap mom alert here, but I’m not ashamed. The circus sells a lot of fun flashy wands and toys that light up and look really cool in the dark audience during the show. BUT THEY ARE $25. If you have multiple kids that’s a serious chunk of change for toys they’ll LOVE having that night but won’t cherish nearly as much once the night’s over. Head to the dollar store before the circus. You can outfit four kids with glow necklaces and their choice of flashing rings or color-changing bracelets for $5 TOTAL. You’re welcome.  

My DIY circus fun kit: Fruit Roll-Ups, Tootsie Pops, animal crackers, glow necklaces and $1 light-up multi-colored bracelets.

My DIY circus fun kit: Fruit Roll-Ups, Tootsie Pops, animal crackers, glow necklaces and $1 light-up multi-colored bracelets.

The circus is in town September 16-18 at the Sprint Center. Ticket prices start at $22/person.