Beating the budget: how to swerve the VAT rise for 2011 festivals

The best ways to keep next year as cheap as possible


Photographer:Robert Kelly

United Kingdom United Kingdom | by Daniel Fahey, lydia white | 16 September 2010

Here we are again then: the music and politics junction. This time it isn’t John Lennon singing for peace, nor is it Autechre or Orbital’s aural protests against the Criminal Justice Bill. No, now the influence of politics is going to hit music lovers and festival-goers right in the pocket, so it’s time to get prepared so you don’t fork out more than you have to.

From 4 January 2011, the standard rate of VAT will increase two and a half points from 17.5% to 20%. But what does this mean for the festivals next year and how will it affect you?

Nearly all of the products you buy - including festival tickets, camping equipment, food and drink - have the VAT tax included on them, which all consumers are required to pay. That means the Reading Festival ticket you bought this year for £187 will cost you £190.98 come January. £3.98 may not seem much of a difference, a pint of beer at the event even, but add this to the cost of your travel, a new tent and even that cup of booze you’re going to throw at Fall Out Boy and it all tots up.

There is very little we can do about the rise, but there are a number of initiatives you can try to implement to make sure festivals in 2011 are as cheap as ever. Here are a few ideas to get you going…

Take advantage of early bird tickets and deposit schemes

Nowadays, nearly all festivals release early bird tickets. The premise is simple: the earlier you buy, the more money you save. Passes for the likes of Liverpool Sound City and The Great Escape start from £20 and £35 respectively, saving you plenty of cash in the long run. If you can, take advantage of these deals now, as the events often only stump up a limited amount of tickets at these prices.

With the VAT increase looming, more festivals than ever are offering discounts on tickets, so the advice is to buy before Christmas to save the most money.

A number of events have also introduced a deposit scheme, which allows fans to secure a ticket for a nominal price before paying the remainder of the balance in instalments. Have a look now to see if your favourite festival has the service available and try and spread out the cost. Just because you don’t have the money to buy straight away, it doesn’t mean you won’t over the next few months.

Click here to search for festivals with early bird tickets or deposit schemes.

Buy your camping gear before Christmas and always take it home

A rise in VAT could mean the end of the disposable camping economy. With the summer a long way off, try and find some penny-squeezing deals at camping stores and online outlets to save that little bit of money before 4 January.

What will be more important, however, is making sure that what you buy lasts, as there can be a false economy with much of the cheaper equipment. You may be able to get a tent for under a tenner, but often an inexpensive single-skin one is unlikely to protect you from little more than a particularly breezy fart or the spray of a well-shaken can of lager. That doesn’t mean you have to re-mortgage your house to get a typhoon-protected four-man, just spend that little extra to get a sturdy two-skin that you can use again and again.

As a final point, always take your camping equipment home. Just because your tent is looking sturdier than you on the Monday morning, don’t just drag your clothes out and bugger off home. Pack it up and take it back with you because not only can you reuse it but it’s also better for the environment. Sometimes it’s not only about being frugal, but thoughtful as well.

Festival abroad

UK festivals are often hailed as the best in the world, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty of healthy competition from abroad. Europe offers more discoveries than Captain Cook found on a single voyage and with ever-improving transport links and flights now cheaper than an Airfix model, the best musical bounty (and weather) is within easy reach.

In dark shades and a sunhat, VF journalist Neil Outram adopts the role of bargain hunter David Dickenson and tracks down the cheapest getaways that await you on the continent.

Click here to read about cheap music festivals in Europe.

Take advantage of family tickets

Buying your tickets early isn’t the only way to save some money, especially if you’re thinking of taking your children with you - or they’re planning on dragging you along. A number of more family-orientated events such as Bearded Theory offer ‘family tickets’ which usually means a combination package of passes for adults and children which will save you the money of shelling out for each person individually.

So don’t forget to check if there are any family tickets available before you buy.

Re-think your travel plans

Right, before you chuck your one-man tent into the back of your monster truck and take the scenic route to your festival, have a conscious think about your journey and how to save money.

Speaking to Ben Challis, the man behind A Greener Festival, the cheapest (and most eco-friendly) options are to cycle or walk as there is “no additional CO2.” Plus cycling will exercise those thigh muscles, gearing you up dance to [insert favourite band here]. But it’s not always a practical option.

“If using motorised transport, the greenest way to get to a festival is almost always by coach,”
Ben tells us and with many festivals offering bespoke packages to events from a number of cities, it may even be cheaper than filling your car with petrol.

For many though, a car will be the easiest option but bring the price of petrol down by getting as many people into a car as is legally possible. “With cars, obviously the more people in a car, the less of a carbon footprint per person. In fact four people sharing is actually better than the train average using DEFRA figures,” says Ben. Websites such as allow festival-goers to find a lift to their event and gives driver the opportunity to fill their car with passengers. As Ben explains, “Lift share is 'win win',” as there are “lower CO2 emissions and lift sharers can contribute to costs. Some festivals reduce or waive parking costs for cars with three or more occupants.”

If you’re going by train, it’s best to book in advance. The cheapest fares are typically available around 12 weeks before you plan to leave. Special Railcards can get you up to a third off of your fare, so if you’re planning a few journeys over the year, getting a £26 card will easily pay for itself by the time summer rolls around.

If you’re flying to a festival, shop around. Money Saving Expert’s Flight Checker is an excellent way of digging out the cheapest journeys but don’t forget that you’ll have to get from the airport to the festival as well.

In environmental terms, “Air travel will be the worst [way of travelling to a festival],” says Ben, “but sometimes the only solution. If it is the only solution then we would suggest offsetting carbon emissions.”

Check out small or local festivals

If you’re looking to pinch the purse a little, avoiding the big festivals is a good place to start, especially if you tend to buy a ticket based on the bands playing rather than where you’re going. Yes Glastonbury, Download and the like pull in the massive headliners, but if you can give them a miss, you’re likely to see the acts further down the bill slugging around the circuit at loads of smaller, cheaper affairs.

For those trying to catch a certain act, try our Artist Finder to see all the festivals your favourite band are confirmed to play.

The UK is also a blossoming garden of great events that won’t leave you crawling into the bank on Monday morning offering to shine the manager’s shoes. Many festivals will charge well under £50 to enter and give you plenty of music (and sideshows) for your hard earned pound. Take Bingley Music Live for example, the bash hosted Public Image Ltd’s only UK festival show of 2010 as well as Buzzcocks, The Enemy, Seasick Steve and many more for just £30.

Cities usually have a high influx of free events over the summer with plenty on offer from local bands and shining superstars to theatre, comedy and enough entertainment to fill the entire schedule on Dave for a year.

Check out festivals happening near you in our listings section.

Try working or volunteering at a festival

It isn’t just bands that ‘work’ at festivals, there are plenty of helping hands mucking in for a free ticket and sometimes a smattering of self-satisfaction as well. Take Christopher Swindells for example, who joined a charity for Glastonbury. “Working for Oxfam as a festival steward is really like being part of a massive army of volunteers,” he says, “It may not be glamorous and the orange jackets definitely aren't going to be trendsetters but we're the crew working round the clock, making sure music festivals can happen and the people stay safe and happy.”

But it’s not all hard graft though, you will get plenty of time to check out the music as well. “For the average volunteer you work 24 hours over a festival, split into three shifts, each eight and a quarter hours long,” Chris tells us, adding, “If you go with friends you should be given the same three shifts as each other, but sometimes half the fun is meeting new people, the volunteers are from all over the country and all walks of life.”

There are a few perks to the role as well. Volunteers are given free meals, better toilets, hot showers, their own campsite and phone charging points too, that’s before we mention the fulfilling nature of the job. “There's definitely a sense of being there for the collective good, not in a narcissistic and conceited way, but it's quite a humbling feeling being around that many Oxfam workers,” says Chris, “Working for Oxfam will of course get you a free festival ticket but as anyone who has done volunteer work before will know it can give you so much more if you're looking for it.”

But helping a charity is just one of the many jobs available at festivals over the summer. Events will always need stewards, bar staff, litter pickers, programme vendors and people working on stalls too, so don’t only research the festival you want to attend, but also what work you want to do as well.

If you’ve got any ways of saving cash and making 2011 festivals cheaper than ever, share your suggestions in the comments box below.


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