The Ultimate Guide to Going to Music Festivals on a Budget

Two women dance at a music festival.
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After two years of postponed shows and cancellations, music lovers are flocking to big festivals across the country.

While festivals themselves are amazing, the damage they inflict on your wallet isn’t. Travel, lodging, meals, admission and incidentals all add up quickly.

Just take a look at 2022 ticket prices for some popular music fests around the country: 

  • Bonnaroo in Manchester, Tennessee: $350 and up for four days
  • Coachella in Indio, California: $449 and up for three days
  • Lollapalooza in Chicago, Illinois:  $350 and up for four days
  • Electric Daisy Carnival in Las Vegas, Nevada: $359 and up for three days
  • Okeechobee Music & Arts Festival in Okeechobee, Florida: $350 and up for four days

Most ticket prices don’t include options lile parking, camping, meals and other add-ons, let alone Insta-worthy VIP experiences or glow-in-the-dark rave fans.

When you tally everything up, it’s easy to spend $1,000 per person at a festival by getting swept up in the moment — or making rookie mistakes.

Save bank and enjoy the experience with these pro tips on how to afford music festivals.

Save Money on Tickets

The sooner you purchase your festival tickets, the better. You’ll need to plan ahead to get the best price.

Presale Tickets

Presale tickets are the most affordable. They usually go on sale anywhere from nine months to a year before the festival.

You’ll need a presale code to get the cheaper rate. Some festivals, like Coachella, let you register for the advanced presale on their website.

Enter your name, mobile number and email, and you’ll get notified with a code when the presale starts so you can grab your early tickets.

It’s also easy to find presale codes online by Googling the name of the festival + presale code.

Tier Tickets

Miss the presale? Buy your tickets as soon as possible anyway. They will only get more expensive as the event nears.

Most festivals release tickets in “tiers.” As one tier sells out, the next tier becomes available — at a higher price.

For example, when Bonnaroo 2022 tickets first went on sale, a four-day pass cost $299. But two weeks before the event, the same tickets cost a whopping $350. And that’s before an extra $67 in taxes and fees are tacked on at checkout.

Should You Layaway?

Many music festivals, like Ultra and EDC, let you set up a payment plan so you can spread out the cost of your ticket in installments over the next few months.

Most layaway programs include additional fees. They’re usually pretty modest, between $15 and $30.

If your monthly budget can’t stand a $200 to $400 blow all at once, spreading the cost over four or five interest-free payments is a solid alternative.

Just make sure to factor in the installment payments in your monthly budget so you’re not caught off-guard by automatic charges.

Score Last-Minute Tickets

If you’re willing to take a risk, you can usually score a last-minute ticket at a rock bottom price the day of the event.

Scalpers and festival-goers unable to attend the event may offer tickets at a steep discount to recoup some of their original cost.

Patricio Solano, 35, has nabbed discounted tickets for his friends through festival Facebook groups and message boards.

“In the days leading up to events, people won’t be able to make it, and a lot of times you can get the passes online from people at a fraction of the cost,” Solano said.

It’s never a guarantee though, and festivals are notorious for scammers. So proceed with caution.

Make a Festival Budget and Plan Ahead

Start mapping out your budget for the festival as soon as you buy your tickets.

Which expenses are you responsible for? Which ones can you split with friends?

Decide how much money you’re comfortable spending the entire festival and divide that number across each day.

Overestimate how much you’ll spend. Festivals are full of surprises — good and bad —  so you don’t want to come up short on money due to unforeseen circumstances. No one likes to borrow money from friends or rack-up credit card debt.

Keep Your Money Safe

Some people like taking cash to festivals because it’s easy to use and can help you stick to a budget.

But cash is also really easy to lose. Especially when you’re in a crowded, unfamiliar place and possibly under the influence of, ehm, a lively festival atmosphere.

Festivals are also notorious havens for bad actors who take advantage of good vibes by stealing phones, wallets and other belongings.

If you’re hesitant to use cash, consider bringing a prepaid credit card or app-based bank card with an allocated budget loaded on it instead.

Whether you go cash or card, keep your money on you at all times. Buy a fanny pack or a money belt and get in the habit of checking on your belongings throughout the day.

Save Money While Getting Your Rave On

You bought your ticket — but you still need to figure out how to get to the festival.

You’ll also need to decide where you’ll sleep and what you’ll eat without going broke.

Getting There

People sip on drinks while sitting in lawn chairs at a camp site at a music festival.
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Where to Stay

  • Many festivals have on-site camping but you’ll be expected to bring your own tents and supplies. Find out ahead of time how much camping passes cost and what items are permitted so you know in advance if you can bring things like your own firewood and portable stove.
  • If you’re going with a group, consider pooling your resources to rent an RV.
  • An Airbnb can be an inexpensive alternative to pricey hotels near the venue.
  • If you don’t mind sleeping in a room with strangers, staying at a hostel can save you big bucks. You may get a free breakfast too and the opportunity to meet new people.

What to Eat and Drink

  • If you’re not camping on-site, look for accommodations that include a kitchen. This way, you can buy groceries, cook for yourself and save money on food while you’re in town for the event.
  • It’s easy to splurge on food and drinks at a festival. Make sure to bring a CamelBak or a couple bottles of water with you, and check out these other super simple tips for saving money on food while traveling.
  • If you decide to leave the festival grounds for a hot restaurant meal, don’t forget to check online food deals before you go.
  • Set a food and drink budget for yourself at the festival and withdraw cash prior to the event so you don’t overspend.
  • Challenge someone to a friendly bet at the beer tent. If you win, the other person has to buy you a drink.
  • Make your own hummus, Lunchables, granola and other snacks to take with you.
  • Double check the festival rules about food and alcohol before you go. You don’t want to spend tons of money on booze just to have it confiscated at the entry gate.
  • If you’re staying off-site, eat before you go to the festival and avoid that $12 hot dog and $15 slice of pizza.

How Fellow Penny Hoarders Save Money at Music Festivals

When you want to know how to get things done, it’s important to talk to the experts — that is, the people who attend music events.

We asked a group of dedicated festival-goers on Facebook for their best money-saving tips and tricks.

  • “Basically just be willing to barter,” said Brenton Rhein, of Orlando, Florida. “Talk to your neighbors and see what you can pool together. Most people are willing to do this, and it’ll save everyone money in the long run.”
  • Make things and be creative with each festival,” Jeremy V., also of Orlando, recommends. “I always hand make things as a side hustle, so that I can use it for trades or cash. I leave festivals with money made.”
  • Plan meals with your group and all pitch in on ingredients and labor. We made stir fry, bacon grilled cheese and a huge breakfast everyday. We didn’t spend much on food inside the fest, and spent maybe $80-$100 per couple on the groceries,” said Alex Gallo of Woodstock, Georgia.
  • “Don’t spend money on souvenirs and merchandise at the festival,” said  Solano, a Florida resident. “Most of those are available online at a cheaper price and you run the risk of losing whatever you bought at the festival.”
  • “We had a big group,” said Florida resident Courtney Lord. “[We] assigned certain snacks and drinks to singles and couples brought food. Everyone was responsible for bringing their own case of water.”
  • “Goodwill and DIY for outfits,” recommended Alexa Mucci, a resident of New York City. “Lots of people spend a ton of money on their rave gear or festival fashion, but you can repurpose thrift store finds or make really creative stuff out of cheap material and fun dollar store stuff.”

Think Outside the Box

Here are a few other ways to save money on music festivals.

Become a Volunteer

Festivals always need volunteers to help with things like distributing wristbands at the gate, selling programs and cleaning up after the event.

In return, you’ll get free access to the festival. You might even score other perks like free food and tips.

“You usually work about five to six hours per day and get the rest of the time to enjoy the festival,” says Kelli Wheeler from Orlando.

Just make sure to sign up as a volunteer as early as possible because positions fill up quickly.

Write about the Festival

Come up with an interesting story angle and pitch it to a website that might be willing to pick up some of the cost to send a freelance writer to cover the event.

Enter Contests

When all else fails, sometimes you just need to make your own luck.

Bands, music venues and radio stations randomly give away free festival tickets. You may need to be caller number X to get a pair of free tickets on the radio.

“I went to Okeechobee for free because I entered [around] 10 different online contests,” Mucci said.

Give it a Google and add your favorite bands on social media so you can learn about giveaways and contests.

Rachel Christian is a Certified Educator in Personal Finance and a senior writer for The Penny Hoarder. Lisa McGreevy is a former staff writer at The Penny Hoarder.