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School Carnivals 101 – How Many Prizes Should I Buy?

How Many Carnival Prizes Should I Buy?

Ordering prizes is one of the most difficult tasks of the carnival organizer. How does one calculate how many prizes will be won? And how can you make sure you have enough prizes, without buying too many or running out? When your budget is limited, it can be a tough call. Here are some ways to figure out your prize order.

How Many Prizes Will We Use?

The simple way is to just use our formula: 70-75 prizes per hour per game for a typically crowded school carnival

This formula is tried and true – it’s based on many years of data. It applies to crowded events – obviously, you’ll use less if there are fewer people, but this formula gives us our maximum usage. It is based on a very liberal prize policy. We don’t give a prize to every player no matter what, but we make sure every player gets a prize, even if they have to try more than once. And if anyone looks like they just sort of need a prize no matter what, then we make sure they win. We literally have a “no crying at the carnival” rule.

If you want to give a prize to every player, see below for how to calculate number of players.

The simplest way is to figure out the maximum number of prizes you will use, and then buy that many. You’ll have some left over, but you can always use them next year. You can calculate this number by taking the number of prize-awarding games – let’s use 8 as an example – and figuring out the “put-through” of each game, or how many people can play that game in an hour.

pig race carnival game

The Porkchop Speedway takes exactly 1 minute to run, and only awards one prize per game, so we always know its maximum prize usage is 60.

Most popular carnival games, such as the balloon pop, ring toss, and basket toss, have a maximum put-through of about 120/hour. That means 2 players per minute, or 120 prizes per hour. Games that allow two players to play at once may have double that amount. So if you have 8 one-player games, that’s up to 960 plays an hour for your entire event. If every single person wins a prize, that means you will need 960 prizes per hour. Now just multiply that number by the cost of each prize. For example, if you spend an average of .28/prize, then your prize budget will be about $268 per hour. Here is a chart that shows this calculation:

Maximum Players Per Hour x Average Cost of Prize x Number of Games = Per Hour Prize Budget for Event

balloon pop carnival game

This game moves fast, and we’ve counted over 120 plays per hour here.

That’s your maximum. On the low side, plays will probably about 100/hour per game, maybe even less, and not all will win. However, at a wristband carnival, with unlimited games for each child, more than half will usually be winners because they have the opportunity to practice. So if 3/4 of players win and there are 100 plays for each game in each hour, you will use 600 prizes total, per hour, for your 8 games. This would be your low end. So at .28 per prize, your budget would be $168. That leaves you with a prize budget of $168-$268 per hour, with your actual number likely being somewhere in the middle.

How Much Money Should I Actually Budget for Prizes?

We have been using .28/prize at the prize cost in the examples, because that is the current cost of Kidsmart prizes (but please don’t hold us to that – it can change). This is the average cost of typical small prizes such as sticky hands, mini yoyos, bouncy balls, and finger puppets. Kidsmart sells prizes at an average price instead of individually, in order to keep calculations simple. One prize, one prize. This is a little bit less in most cases than the price you would pay to purchase such prizes on sites like Oriental Trading and Amazon.

If that is more than you feel you can spend, you can do several things to reduce your prize budget.

First, you can reduce the number of prize-awarding games. We use our Giant Connect 4, Kerplunk, and Giant Jenga as “just for fun” game, that provide entertainment but don’t award prizes, but any game or activity that doesn’t award prizes will work.

giant lawn game

Giant Connect 4 doesn’t award prizes, only personal glory!

You can also add some entertainment to your event instead of more games. Kidsmart can help with great children’s entertainment such as a DJ or juggler that engages the kids in active games, giving them something to do besides win prizes.

Second, you can reduce the amount spent per prize. The cheapest prizes are .05-.15 per piece, which could bring your maximum budget down below $168 per hour. Many schools choose to purchase candy, stickers, and tattoos as prizes, in order to spend the least amount of money possible. At Kidsmart, while we acknowledge that it’s all basically plastic junk, we hold that our plastic junk is high-quality plastic junk, and we do not include fillers such as stickers or tattoos.

Beware ordering large prize bags from online retailers. While they may appear to be inexpensive, they contain significant amounts of filler. Some of that filler is often tattoos and stickers with images and slogans that may be inappropriate for children. If you do buy such bags, be sure to check them carefully before using them.

carnival prizes

Some 15-50-cent prizes (Kidsmart sells all prizes at an average price of about .30/prize, meaning no calculating is necessary when purchasing from us). And there is no filler!

One way we do not recommend is to rely on volunteer game operators to adjust the game difficulty in order to give away a certain percentage of prizes. Volunteers often feel rushed or flustered at a busy event, and forget to take this into account or simply aren’t able to do so while supervising the game. It is best to use variables you can control to determine your prize budget, or you risk running out of prizes or going over budget.

pig race carnival game with crow of children at school fun fair

This is our most exciting game, but it’s hard work for the operator!

Tickets vs. Wristband Carnivals

If you don’t use wristbands for unlimited play and use tickets per game instead, you can expect your prize usage to be on the lower end of your calculation. Likewise, a poorly attended event will lower it. On the other hand, if you sell unlimited wristbands and have a very busy event, your prize usage will probably be closer to your maximum.

One thing we have found leads to high prize consumption is using students to run games. 6th graders make great game operators for an elementary school carnival, but don’t expect them to be able to regulate prize usage among children almost their own age. It may be worth the trade-off to get enough willing volunteers, but expect your prize usage to be on the higher end.

The Perfect Solution to the Carnival Prize Dilemma

If you’re in the Northern Virginia area, you can forget all about these calculations and just use our Prizes on Consignment Service instead – we help you figure out your prize budget range, and then bring you enough prizes to make sure you don’t run out, but only bill you for what you actually use. We can even help you manage your volunteers and prizes during your event. Best of all worlds!