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NOLA on $30: The Mardi Gras Edition

Mardi Gras is the biggest free party in the world, but just $30 makes it even better as you eat and drink along the parade route.

Mardi Gras is the biggest free party in the world — but if you spend a little bit of cash, you can make it even better. I’ll take you through a few options of what I might do on a parade day with just $30 in my pocket, although, during carnival time, I like to play things by ear. I’ll start first with a few money-saving tips:

Top 3 Mardi Gras Money-Saving Tips

1. Walk. During Mardi Gras, I wear sneakers and opt to walk rather than take a car or public transit. This helps me avoid any traffic and also lets me people-watch and interact with characters I meet along the route. Walking also helps me conserve some extra money for much-needed sustenance throughout the day. If you do choose to use the streetcar or bus, take note of Mardi Gras schedules. Since I’m on foot, I can also stop at food and drink locations along the St. Charles Avenue parade route

2. Carry a refillable water bottle. You’re going to get thirsty, and you want to avoid needing to buy water bottles on the street (they’ll be marked up.) Make sure to refill that bottle (for free) each time you stop in at a restaurant.

3. Be on constant lookout for restroom opportunities. During Mardi Gras, a clean bathroom is a hot commodity. There are port-a-lets at various places along the route (Sacred Heart’s Mater Campus and The Columns Hotel, for example) but you’ll have to pay to use them. Similarly, most restaurants will only let you use the restroom if you buy something. That said, whenever you DO buy something, make sure to use the restroom and avoid having to pay for one later.

Mardi Gras decorations
Some festive decorations I saw during one of my walks last Mardi Gras. (Photo: Ann Marshall Tilton)

With these tips in mind, I’ll move on to how I’ll (most likely) spend my $30.

Mardi Gras on a Budget

Breakfast: It’s best to start off a day of parades with a hearty breakfast or brunch to coat your stomach and keep your stamina up for catching all those throws. I’ll start with breakfast at Coulis on Prytania Street, just one block from the parade route. Two eggs with hash browns and bacon should do the trick. That comes to $6.50 with tip.

Running total: $6.50 ($23.50 remaining) 

Beer: After a short walk to the parade route from Prytania Street, it’s probably time to find an adult beverage. I’ll walk over to Sacred Heart’s Mater campus for a beer from their carnival stand and enjoy the morning parades in that area. The beer is $5, though you could also BYO in a backpack (it’ll double as storage for throws). 

Running total: $11.50 ($18.50 remaining)

Crawfish: During the lull before the evening parades, I’ll walk past Napoleon Avenue to Zara’s Lil’ Giant Supermarket at the corner of Prytania and Lyon streets. Here, I’ll snag myself a pound of boiled crawfish for around $4. Score! That particular corner of Prytania street also features a CVS Pharmacy to stock up on Band-Aids, Tylenol, or other Mardi Gras supplies. A collection of local cafes like Creole Creamery and St. James Cheese Company are also in the neighborhood (though you’ll get more bang for your buck at Zara’s). 

Running total: $15.50 ($14.50 remaining) 

A crawfish boil from Zara’s Lil’ Giant Supermarket. (Photo: Ann Marshall Tilton)

Happy Hour: After that, I’ll head to the corner of Napoleon and St. Charles avenues to Superior Seafood.  Here I’ll have another beer or two and watch the parades roll by! I’ll also make sure to refill my water bottle and use the restroom before heading back out to the parade!

Running total: $20.50 ($10.50 remaining)

superior seafood
Beer, wine, and frozen mojitos are all part of happy hour at Superior Seafood. (Photo via Superior Seafood on Facebook)

Snack: After the evening parade rolls by, I’ll be tired and hungry from all the walking I did, so I’ll finish off the night with three $2.50 sliders (which come to $9 with tax and tip) from Fat Harry’s, which is right next door to Superior Seafood.

Running total: $29.50 ($0.50 remaining)

The Takeaway

My best advice for carnival time is to stay flexible, keep an open mind, stay hydrated, and take advantage of an open restroom. And with so many local businesses along St. Charles Avenue, you never know what other great deals you may find along the parade route!

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