Mardi Gras on a budget: Top money-saving tips for Carnival activities

Carnival is in full swing, which means you’re probably planning for your next parade. However, even the greatest free party on Earth can get pretty costly.

If you don’t plan ahead, unexpected costs can add up. There are costs to participating in Mardi Gras traditions, whether you’re riding in a parade, enjoying it from the neutral ground side or planning for other Carnival-related activities.

We teamed up with Hancock Whitney for some cost-effective tips to help you enjoy Mardi Gras while watching your budget.

Remember, Mardi Gras is a marathon, not a sprint.

Costumes on a budget

Many Carnival revelers love to stand out among the sea of parade-goers with eye-catching costumes. Get creative with your parade gear by creating your own Mardi Gras costumes instead of purchasing from a store.

Check thrift stores for cost-effective items to help build your look. Craft stores can help you find items to create headpieces. You can even print out a mask on cardstock like the ones found here at TheBalance.com. Kids can show their personal style, and you can put it in a scrapbook as a keepsake.

Another way to keep it simple, but cute, is to dress up a basic t-shirt and jeans with Mardi Gras-colored earrings and accessories. Several local boutiques have these hot items in stock right now.

This website also has instructions on how to make a Mardi Gras flapper dress using recycled beads, a jester hat and other festive homemade ideas.

Parade route menu on a budget

Food along the parade route can hit your pockets hard. Planning in advance is the most cost-effective way to navigate preparing for meals during parades.

Consider packing a cooler with healthy and finger-friendly snacks like sandwiches and chicken fingers. Make sure to check your local grocery store for any specials on items or even party platters. If you’re planning to head to the route with a group of family or friends, consider partnering with them to budget and divide food costs.

Filling gallon jugs with water and bringing cups that can be reused throughout the day is less expensive than buying a case of soda. It’s a great way to stay hydrated and avoid paying for drinks along the route.

If you have to purchase along the parade route, try to buy items with larger portions to share with your krewe or eat throughout the parade. Some good items for sharing with groups include chicken, pizza or a super-sized, 32-inch po-boy. Another idea is to take advantage of businesses with happy hours along the parade route.

When you make any food purchases, make sure you remember to fill up your water bottle when visiting restaurants. It’s also the perfect time to use the restroom, since you’re already making a purchase.

Parade throws on a budget

One aspect of Carnival that falls on many locals’ bucket list is riding in a parade. Oh, but riders better make room in the budget for parade throws.

As Mardi Gras trends seem to be moving more toward more sustainability, folks are looking for ways to save money while being green.

Arc of Greater New Orleans is a great resource for purchasing recycled beads and throws. Another idea for non-traditional, eco-friendly throws comes from Grounds Krewe. The business creates throws from New Orleans-themed food items like coffee, red beans and jambalaya mix. Maybe you can create something similar.

If you opt for more traditional throws, try shopping for throws online during the off-season for more affordable rates. You can also recycle throws you or your friends catch at previous parades.

Carnival balls on a budget

Aside from parades, Carnival balls are another fun way to party during the season.

Some balls cost a pretty penny to attend, especially when you add in costs for food, drink and formal wear. However, if you’re on a budget, there are some options that won’t break the bank.

One idea is to look for some smaller or medium-sized krewes that haven’t reached superkrewe status. Typically, their balls are hosted at smaller venues. The event might even have a more relaxed dress code than black-tie or formal.

The first-ever Krewe of Freret “Shorty Gras” concert ball is a new option for Carnival revelers at Mardi Gras World, and general admission only starts at $50. General admission for Pygmalion Fest runs around $35 for the big bash at The Sugar Mill.

Sometimes you have to get even more creative. Popular New Orleans marching groups also host smaller balls during Carnival.

Each year, the 610 Stompers hosts their annual debutante ball at Mardi Gras World to serve as the official debut of the group’s rookies. The Pussyfooters are also known for their annual Blush Ball, which raises money for a good cause.

If you’re able to save enough to splurge for the ultimate Carnival ball experience, several larger krewes host the biggest, all-out parties. Many larger superkrewes offer tickets to members only, or you can probably score a pair if you know a krewe member.

Endymion is one superkrewe that allows the public to purchase tickets. This year, the krewe hosts its Endymion Extravaganza at the Morial Convention Center due to construction at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Performers at the massive party include Tim McGraw, Styx, and Train.

Created in partnership with Hancock Whitney

Shan Bailey

Shan Bailey

Shan Bailey is the digital content producer and on-air personality for FOX 8 Nola Weekend. Shan is a creative storyteller who is passionate about creating compelling content that connects with audiences.