Mardi Gras is back baby! After it was effectively canceled in 2020, Louisianans everywhere are ready to “laissez le bon temps rouler.” However, much has changed since the last fully-fledged Mardi Gras celebration in 2019. Many have found themselves to be in a more precarious position financially and several days of partying can get pretty expensive, especially in New Orleans and especially if you’re looking to attend a ball. You’re almost guaranteed to spend a decent bit of cash if you want a good experience. However, there are plenty of ways for you to save money and still have a great Mardi Gras experience.
Transportation will likely be one of your biggest expenses in the Carnival season. Parades make navigation within New Orleans and Baton Rouge much more difficult, and you likely won’t want to drive yourself anyway if you plan on drinking. Before and after parades, rideshare services will have surge pricing, sometimes resulting in fares of $100 or more. So, it’s a good idea to walk as much as you can.
It’s important to keep your safety in mind, however. Always stay with a group and be aware of your surroundings. It’s better to eat the cost of an Uber or Lyft than put yourself in danger. If you do have to take an Uber or Lyft, try to meet up with your friends before and split the fare. Above all though, don’t be afraid of a somewhat long walk. Some of the best Mardi Gras memories are made on the walks to and from parades. Having good company, food, and drinks will make the time fly by.
Whatever your plans for the season are, putting together a festive outfit can be one of the best parts of the Mardi Gras experience. This can get expensive however, especially if you’re attending an event that requires a certain dress like a ball. You can save a lot in this area by shopping at thrift stores. In New Orleans in particular, you will be able to find plenty of Mardi Gras-themed items.
Borrowing costumes from friends can also be a great way to save money. Locals have likely been celebrating Mardi Gras their whole lives, so many people will have leftover Mardi Gras gear, especially beads. If you’ve attended Mardi Gras before you already know this, but you should never buy Mardi Gras beads unless you are riding in a parade and intend to throw them. Many in Southeast LA have at least a box or two of beads in their attic. And even if you don’t have any local friends, going to a single parade will net you more beads than you could ever hope to wear at once.
Food & Drink
Food and drink are some of the best parts of the Mardi Gras experience, so I won’t give you the classic advice of not eating out. But there are definitely ways to save money and still have some great culinary experiences.
One easy way to save is to bring your own alcohol instead of getting drinks from a bar. Doing this will not only save you money, but also time spent waiting in long lines. Your liquor and the bar’s liquor are pretty much the same, except yours is much cheaper. Of course, I wouldn’t blame you if you want to buy a Hand Grenade or two.
As far as food is concerned, the most important thing is that you plan ahead. Do some research on good local restaurants that aren’t too expensive. It can also be a good idea to eat at restaurants further away from parade routes. You will have a shorter wait time and probably find cheaper prices.
If your budget is a big concern, try to make your meals count. At parades, you’ll likely see pizza and other food for sale. This can be convenient in a pinch, but you’re not in New Orleans for Mardi Gras to eat pizza from a chain restaurant. If you spend the same amount of money at a restaurant instead, you’ll get much better food and a more memorable experience. Plan ahead as much as possible so you don’t find yourself hungry with the only option being personal pizza from a cart.
Mardi Gras Balls
Balls are a quintessential part of the Mardi Gras experience for many, but many charge a few hundred dollars for tickets or aren’t open to the public at all. Even once you’ve secured a spot at a ball, you’ll likely need to spend at least another hundred dollars if you need to rent a tuxedo and even more if you need to buy a ball gown. Sadly, if you’re looking for a traditional Mardi Gras ball experience, there’s little you can do to avoid these excessive costs unless you know someone who is a member of a krewe. However, there are plenty of cheaper, less formal options if you are just looking for a great party.
Balls and parties of smaller krewes generally have a much lower cost of admission and won’t require you to wear a tuxedo or ball gown. Pygmalion fest is a great option, with general admission tickets costing only $35. You shouldn’t see going to one of these parties as a mandatory part of your experience, though. Mardi Gras balls can be fun, but you’ll look back just as fondly on your time spent with friends at parades.
Laissez le Bon Temps Rouler
Unfortunately, having a good time at Mardi Gras isn’t free. Compared to other travel options, though, there are a ton of free entertainment and opportunities to save money. Parades, many people’s favorite part, are completely free! And even though you’ll have to pay for other things, a little bit of planning can go a long way in ensuring you get a great Mardi Gras experience within your budget.