Carnival is coming! This has to be one of my favourite times of the year. The fun, the music, the sense of community, the bubbling anticipation that sweeps the country and that feeling of complete and utter freedom… there’s nothing like it!
Unfortunately though, this can also be one of the most expensive seasons of the year. With costumes costing upwards of $6,000 and pockets still struggling to recover from the Christmas madness, can we enjoy the magic of Carnival without having to regret it for the rest of the year?
I’m here to say that we absolutely can! I’ve participated in the festivities in some small way each year since I was 24 and I’ve had zero regrets. Here are my recommendations for a fun, yet budget-friendly Carnival season!
Fete in Moderation
Fetes are fun. The latest Carnival tunes challenge us to fete until we fall down; to go to every single fete if we can. Honestly though… I’ve never had the energy for all that. One fete, a week or two before the main event, is pretty much all I need to get into the spirit of things. If I’ve dished out thousands of dollars for a costume (always backline) in an all-inclusive band, I’ll probably eschew fetes altogether. I know they are fun and going may seem like the thing to do because… well… everyone’s doing it. Remember, leaders don’t follow the crowd. Also remember that the people singing about being Mr. Fete and drinking rum till they die might be working with very different means than you or I.
Potential Savings: $500-$800
Choose Your Fetes Wisely
Ah, the joys of ‘free’ food! Except… the food you eat at a fete is never free.
A normal dinner will usually fill me for the night. If there’s alcohol involved… three or four drinks in, I’m guaranteed to be well satisfied – if not very tipsy. I don’t like to eat too much while partying anyway (although I’ll definitely eat before going out) – I mean, who wants a food baby to ruin the lines of their sexy party outfit? Added to that, if I eat and drink too liberally, I run the risk of getting to a place where I suddenly feel very… sleepy! You know what I’m talking about.
If you feel the same way about food, you should question the allure of the “All Inclusive” party. If you go, you’ll want to have your money’s worth… but do you really need all that food and drink to have fun? Probably not. I’ll take a regular fete (or a carefully selected cooler fete) where I get to go, have a couple drinks at a reasonable price (how much can a good stag cost?) and pack a snack in case I feel hungry on the way home. Seriously. It may sound crazy, but when I check my bank balance the day after… I don’t feel crazy at all.
Potential savings: $300-$400
Share a Costume
This option isn’t for everyone, but I can see it working for some. Carnival can be like a big, all-inclusive, two-day fete. Nobody in their right mind needs a fete to last two days. Maybe you have a good friend who’s around the same size as you and also budget-conscious, who’ll love the idea of splitting the bill for a costume you can share. In any case, the real ticket into the band is well… the band! The wristband may be difficult to remove and replace, but it can be done (just put it on loosely, so you can slip it off). That way you can have the costume (and everything that comes with it) on Monday and your friend can have it on Tuesday, or vice versa. Since most people these days don’t wear the same thing on Monday and Tuesday anyway, there’s even less to share!
Potential Savings: $2,000 – $3,500
Take a critical look at Carnival culture and you’ll spot many trends that you may have unwittingly been sold although they in no way reflect the true sense of the season. Knee-high boots, crazy face gems, booty shorts, Monday wear, professional makeup… all of these things are new or unnecessary frills added to an already sufficiently frilly festival.
Does anybody else remember the days when we’d get some comfy old sneakers, spray paint them to match our costumes, then hit the road in the most practical footwear ever? Does anyone remember the days when bands did not offer ‘Monday wear’ at an additional cost, because people just wore part of their actual costumes on Carnival Monday? Am I the only one who still does my own makeup on both days?
Potential Savings: $150 – $2,000
Find a Band
If you really want that costume and that spot in the band, this may be your thing. Often, would-be revelers have a change of heart – or a change of circumstances – and sell their unused costumes for a fraction of the original price. Fineahban.com and Carnival Junction are two popular online resources for budget costume shoppers… Most of the costumes on these sites are sold at their original price, but be patient; sometimes you’ll find a very motivated seller who will drop the price a few days before Carnival!
Potential Savings: $500 – $1,500
Amazing as it might sound, many people only know about the big bands. The all-inclusive bands. Many think it would be impossible to have fun in any of the smaller ones. I’m here to say that’s a fallacy. People played mas for years before the ‘cool zone’ and the ‘makeup zone’ became trendy. People had home-cooked pelau at lunch time and bought their drinks along the way. People had the time of their lives. Adjust your expectations and so could you!
Choose the band with the costumes you like best – if it’s not an all-inclusive band, most of the money you’ll be dishing out is actually going towards the costume. Cook your own meal, or bring some light snacks in shoulder bags/ fanny packs. It might take some coordination between you and your crew but it can be done. What’s even more surprising? Many of the smaller bands are all-inclusive too! Check them out…
Potential Savings: $2,000 – $3,000
Lots of die-hard pretty mas players would be reluctant to choose J’ouvert as a replacemet option, but the idea has merit. It’s much cheaper than pretty mas, but no less fun. Like everything in Carnival, you’ve just got to make sure you’re with the right people and be responsible about your safety. Some years I play J’ouvert, others I play mas… I never do both in the same year.
It can be hard for a ‘pretty mas’ aficionado; watching the big band revelers come out on Monday morning after having been on the road for HOURS already. Still, J’ouvert is a special experience. It’s like watching the new recruit come in and try to do the job you’ve been doing for years. A part of you is sad and maybe even resentful at the change, but a bigger part of you feels self-satisfied and competent, because you OWNED the position while you had it and you know your shoes will be hard to fill. Plus, you’re pretty tired so you’re kinda glad to hand over the reins.
Potential Savings: $3,000 – $7,000
There’s no reason to go out and buy brand new monokinis or shorts for Monday Wear. I love to recycle old costumes or use affordable materials to make my own! I’ve often found it easiest to buy cheap bras, feathers and sequins in the colours I want, then cut the bra into a fancy shape and attach the decorations with a hot glue gun. I’ve also done this in the past when I wanted to re-vamp an old costume and use it as Monday wear for a subsequent Carnival. You can save even more if you don’t actually purchase anything, but get a friend or two to donate their old costumes; call me crazy, but I enjoy plucking gems off of old costumes to re-style and re-use on my own Carnival creations!
Potential Savings: $200 – $500
Shop in Advance or Shop Online
I hate to recommend buying things abroad if they are sold locally. Bear in mind that I only make this suggestion for those who are unable to shop for their Carnival needs several months in advance. If you made a last-minute decision to play mas this year, you may be faced with steeply inflated prices for Carnival-related items. If that’s the case, Amazon is your friend. Make sure to place your orders at least three full weeks before Carnival, if you want to have any hope of receiving your purchases in time.
Also, if you’re a Carnival junkie, buy a little more than you actually need this year. Five years ago I bought glitter, spirit gum, gems, sneakers and some insanely bright eye-shadows in preparation for my first Carnival. I’ve never had to repurchase any of those items since!
Potential Savings: $100- $300
Find a Carnival Hustle
This one is a freebie: Do you live in Port of Spain, close to the epicentre of the festivities? If you do and you find it tough to curb your spending, try balancing it out by earning some of your money back. Invest in some drinks you can sell to revelers and onlookers. How about hats? Check the forecast; will it be sunny this Carnival? What about bathrooms? Depending on your circumstances, maybe you can open your home for revelers needing to use the facilities, at a small fee. Nobody wants to clean up after strangers, but hey – it’s a good, honest way to make the season work in your favour!
Whatever you do, avoid going into debt for Carnival. The money you spend doesn’t guarantee your enjoyment (take it from me, my WORST Carnival was the one I paid the most for). Don’t start preparing for Carnival in December, or even in band launch season… begin saving and planning a full year in advance. If you want to be in on the action for Carnival 2K17, go out on Ash Wednesday and BUY YOUR TIGHTS. They’ll be cheapest then.
Don’t forget to let me know if these tips have helped… and comment with your own tips if you’ve got any more ideas.
Wishing you a safe and enjoyable Carnival 2016!