By Justin DeMarco

If you’re looking for an inexpensive place to hang out with your family or friends this week, the US Open probably isn’t your best bet, even though I’m sure you already knew that.

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Walking around the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, you can’t help but notice the amount of money involved in this year’s tournament. There are Mercedes-Benz parked in high pedestrian traffic areas on the grounds, Lacoste and Polo Ralph Lauren stores a little more than the length of a tennis court away from each other, and an area to purchase Moet & Chandon champagne for people who don’t want to drink water, soda, beer, or vodka.

For those of us who aren’t in the running to win a percentage of the record 23.7 million dollar prize money the players competing in this year’s US Open will take home, the food and souvenir prices may seem a little high, especially if you only have allowance money from your parents.

“Everything here costs like eight dollars and up,” one little boy said to another after they walked around the Food Village and then made a stop at the centrally located US Open souvenir shop.

Assuming that eight bucks was the amount of money each kid had, I tried to figure out if they’d even be able to buy a meal and have any money left over for a trinket to take home. If they brought a water with them, which it appeared they did, the kids could choose between a hot dog ($4.75), a chocolate chip cookie ($3.75), rice pudding ($3.50), a regular order of seasoned waffle fries ($4.75), or a regular ice cream cone ($5) to eat. Their only souvenir choice would be a decal – either a US Open 2011 Championships Stadium Removable Decal or a US Open Patriotic Logo Removable Rectangle Decal ($3 each).

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If they chose to spend less money on food and went with Cape Cod Kettle Chips ($3.25), they would be able to decide between the decals or Wilson US Open tennis balls ($4.75). The only cheaper food option was Nan Bread ($2.50), which meant they’d be able to buy decals, tennis balls, a US Open Logo Headband ($5), or a US Open Flame Vibration Dampener ($5). I’m not really sure what a flame vibration dampener is, but sorry kids – the options for food and US Open merchandise are limited on an eight-dollar budget.

If you have anywhere from $50-$100 that you’re willing to spend on food and souvenirs, your selection increase dramatically. Most of the dining options in the Food Village are around $10-$25 per meal with a drink (soda or an alcoholic beverage) and then you can pick out the US Open items that are within your budget. Official US Open caps and visors cost about $20 to $25, towels range from $20 to $35, most T-Shirts are priced at $25, and sweatshirts start at $40 and go as high as $96.

Another popular item, for children in particular, is the basketball-sized tennis ball that cost $34. Most of the young fans also come prepared with a Sharpie and try to have as many tennis players as possible sign the ball. Depending on what player’s signatures they land, it may not be the worst return on investment, especially when you consider an Andy Roddick autographed tennis ball is going for $275.

That said, parents beware: if you come to the US Open with your children, be prepared to spend.

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Did you head out to the Open yet? How did you spend your money?