Saving Money on Entertainment

Category Advice
Finding fun places to go and things to do does not have to cost a lot. This page is about saving money on entertainment.


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February 6, 2009

Budgeting for Entertainment

The first thing you should do is set up a budget for entertainment. Determine how much you can afford to spend each month on entertainment so that you don't spend money that is needed for other areas of your budget, like bills, food and other essentials. Be sure to factor in monthly entertainment fees, like cable TV, when creating your budget.

Going to The Movies

If you love going out to movies, consider the matinée. Instead of doing Dinner and Movie, go to the movie first. You save a little money and can talk about the film during the meal. If you go to the movies a lot, be sure to sign up for the theatre rewards program. At many theatres every time you buy tickets or concessions, you get reward points which eventually add up to free movie tickets or concessions.

Discount Movie Theaters

Most areas have at least one movie theatre that runs older movies for cheap prices. All you have to do is wait until the movie has been out a for a few months and it will eventually show up at one of these theaters. Ticket prices can be even less than a matinee and are sometimes double features. There is also a growing trend of movie pubs. You can go and order a drink or even a meal and watch a second run movie for a discounted price. Drive-in movie theaters can also be great bargains and an added novelty for the kids or an old fashioned "date night".

Renting Movies

An even cheaper way to watch movies is by renting them. If you rent a lot of movies, consider a subscription service like NetFlix. It allows you to create a list of movies you would like to watch and they send them to you in the mail. The cost is based on how many movies you want to check out at a time, down to $9.99 a month for one movie at a time. If you watch one movie a week that's about $2.50 a movie which compares pretty well with the video store prices for new releases.

With any subscription service, you should periodically evaluate whether you are getting your money's worth. You can view your rental history and see how many movies you have received over the last month and divide it by your monthly subscription fee. If you find you aren't using the service enough to justify the cost, you can scale back your membership, or just opt to rent occasional movies from your local video store. However, late fees can really eat into your entertainment budget.

Cable or Movie Rentals?

One way to save money on entertainment and get more for your money is to limit your options. Do you really have time to watch cable movie channels and your movie rentals? Pick one of the other. Even alternate. Subscribe to HBO for a couple months while the Sopranos are on and cancel your Netflix account until you switch back.

For free movies, take advantage of your local library. They have tons of movies available and you can request that they order movies you want to see. You can even reserve movies you want online and they will notify you when they are available. And, of course, you can always borrow movies from friends and family after they have watched them.

Dining Out

Coupons are a great way to save money when dining out. You can look for restaurant two-for-one coupons in the entertainment section of the newspaper or in an entertainment book. Good coupons often come in the mail as well. With the large portions sizes that many restaurants serve, consider splitting a main dish and each getting a salad. It will be easier on your waist line and pocket book. Most restaurants offer a similar menu at lunch, but with smaller portions for less money.

If you avoid getting drinks or cocktails while you are dining out, you can save a lot of money. The mark-up on drinks and cocktails is high. You will do much better having your drinks at home after a night out. Also most bars have a happy hour early in the evening so call your restaurant to check out the best times to go.

If you would like to go to one of the 5 star restaurants but are on a 2 star budget, consider going and sitting in the bar. Although the price tag may still be high, you can share a couple of appetizers and have a drink without spending hundreds of dollars.

Theatre, Opera and Live Music

Most public theatre and classical music venues have mailing lists and email newsletters, which are a great way to find out about ticket specials. It also helps you plan ahead, since some shows can sell out months in advance. The Seattle Symphony usually has a free day once a year and occasional free organ recitals. The Seattle Repertory Theatre has a special price for students and other venues offer either discounts or special events for students. Weekend matinees also tend to be less expensive than Friday or Saturday evening shows.

Local community theatres are also a great way to see plays. Many produce locally written plays and take chances on lesser known authors in addition to performing audience favorites. You can often see the play for free if you volunteer as an usher for some of the performances.

Local High School plays can be a lot of fun to attend. They usually encourage attendance by the general public because it helps support the theatre department. The bigger high schools put on very elaborate productions, including live orchestras for musicals. Other schools do more intimate classics, by Agatha Christie or Neil Simon.

For live music, pick up a local newspaper or check out the Internet. Most cities have a weekly paper that is free and had information regarding clubs and activities in the area. Many local bands play at bars or clubs with a low cover charge. There are also performances at the local universities, colleges, and performing arts centers. Musical styles can range from jazz to rock to experimental performance art.


If you like to visit family friendly places like zoos, aquariums, or theme parks, look into buying a family membership. You can often get a yearly membership for the price of just a couple of visits and also get discounts on special exhibits. For example, the Pacific Science Center in Seattle offers free IMAX tickets if you join and a 10% discount on concessions.

A membership may also allow you free or discounted admissions to zoos or aquariums in other parts of the country. Always be sure to mention your membership when you travel to find out if they provide a discount. Also, be sure to mention that you are a member of the AAA or the AARP when you buy tickets. The key with any membership is using it enough to justify the investment!

Another thing to check out is your local community library. Many libraries have membership passes that they "rent" for the day to library members. This is a great way to go for free.


Many museums offer free admissions at some point, say on the evening of the first Thursday of each month or on national holidays. Going to dinner and a museum can be a very inexpensive date. There are musuems for fine art, of course, but there are also children's museums, motorcycle museums, rock and roll museums, forestry museums and on and on. Museums also have yearly memberships that allow you to attend special events and have unlimited attendance throughout the year.

Sporting Events

This is a another situation where the internet is your friend. You can find out about special tickets packages by subscribing to a team's email list. There are also family or group ticket packages that can cost as little as $10 to $15 per person and sometimes include a voucher for food or merchandise.

For even cheaper options, look into minor league teams in your areas. Tickets are much cheaper than their major league counterparts and the games can be a lot of fun to watch.

Farmers' Market and Swap Meets

You don't have to spend much money to have a good time at your local Farmer's Market. Most communities have them on Saturday or Sunday every week during the Spring, Summer and early Fall. You can get some great vegetables for less than you pay at the grocery market and usually there is something fun for the kids to do.

Swap meets and garage sales are a great way to spend a Saturday morning. Even if you don't spend a dime, you can look at trash and treasures, meet some interesting people and maybe find a real bargain!

Playgrounds And Parks

Most local and State parks are free, especially if you are not camping. Pack a picnic lunch or bring some barbecue. Try out different parks in your area until you find your favorites. Whenever you can bring food from home, you will save money. You can hike to a waterfall in the mountains, or play frisbee on the beach, for the cost of driving.

If you live near a National Park, they are well worth any entrance fee. Camping is usually cheap, there are nightly entertainments and daily lectures with knowledgeable park rangers. They also have great kids programs with crafts and education about the area.


Metropolitan areas seem to have a festival of some sort nearly every weekend during the late spring and summer months. Every community has it's own festival, even if it is only on the Fourth of July. There is quite often free entertainment, plus craft and food booths. Parades are a big hit for the kids. Take pride in your own community or visit a surrounding area for something new.

Share your own favorite tips with the ThriftyFun community and read more ideas submitted by readers below!

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Start planning now for upcoming holiday events. Take advantage of local theatre's preview and community nights. You get the same performances at deeply discounted prices.

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If you want to get invited to local artistic events, consider writing a column on that sort of thing for your local newspaper. As a member of the press, you will get lots of free invites!

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Ask a QuestionHere are the questions asked by community members. Read on to see the answers provided by the ThriftyFun community or ask a new question.

September 10, 2004

We would like to have a night for all the neighborhood kids where we watch DVD movies outside on beach blankets (before it gets cold again). We have a 12 ft wide enclosed trailer that we could project the movie on. Only problem is we don't know how to do this with a DVD player. Does anyone have any ideas or can tell me of any special equipment I could buy for this?



September 10, 20040 found this helpful

The one thing that comes to mind for me is a projector but they are really expensive. They cost between 800 and 3000 dollars. Here's an example of one of the cheaper ones:

A lot of churches and community centers have these and they may be available for loan. Maybe libraries or community centers. Some other community organizations might also have them available to check out. Or you may be able to rent one locally. They are really cool.

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By kimmy (Guest Post)
July 27, 20050 found this helpful

you can buy an old 8mm movie projector on ebay for around 20 dollars and a bunch of older cartoons you can purchase for around a dollar I the children would really enjoy the older cartoons. Good Luck

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July 19, 20070 found this helpful

You can rent the projectors that attach to a computer or to a DVD player for not too much money. Call around your local rental places. Businesses rent them for meetings and they are also in demand for special events like reunions, award ceremonies, weddings and funerals.


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ThriftyFun is one of the longest running frugal living communities on the Internet. These are archives of older discussions.

May 18, 2007

Use The Library and Other Community Resources

Use the library. You can take out books, music, DVD's and they often offer other entertainment. Go to the park if you have one near. Play cards with another couple. Refreshments can be simple, cookies, cake, coffee or pretzels and soft drinks.

By Linda Jackson

Biking and Hiking

Go for a bike ride! We have bike paths in Vermont that are fun, clean and safe. No need to worry about cars and it is free. My mom used to bring me when we were young and we would stop for picnics or playgrounds along the way. As I got older I would rollerblade with friends and pick blackberries along the way. Who says you can't have fun and burn calories?

You could also "climb a mountain", not the rope climbing kind, the walk along a hilly/steep path kind. All states should have these free, or sometimes a couple dollars.

State parks are fun too! when I lived in the southwest, there were all kinds of parks to go to. My brother and I would fill out these "tests" about the park and then we got junior badges. That was so fun! I'm not sure if they still give the was ten years ago.

I like the library idea, we did that too. You can also find movies cheap on clearance or at yard sales. Used video games can be purchased for under 10.00 if you look in the right places. Or even ebay, I have bought movies for 5.00 or less, that's shipped to the door(shipping+sale price= less than 5.00)

Growing up we found ways to have fun on the cheap. And those memories are much more appreciated than the time I went to Six Flags. Family time is so hard to find in the blur of this multitasking technological world. Best to you and yours everyone!

By Heather

Don't Buy Movie Concessions

To save money on snacks at the movies: before taking kids to the movies, feed them so they can't say they are hungry. Make microwave popcorn and let them eat it in the car on the way. Have cold juice boxes and a candy bar in your purse for them at the movies and/or tell them homemade cookies and hot chocolate are waiting at home.

By happydee

Check Out Grand Openings And Open Houses

You can have a great time at business grand opening celebrations and home builders also have weekend days where they invite you to see their models and offer fun and free food. Read the paper and keep your eyes peeled for those things happening in your community. Most are free or very cheap to go to and the kids have a ball.

By D.W

Grocery Store Movie Rentals

Here in CA, Safeway stores have new movies for $1.49 a night plus tax ($1.61) and on Mondays for $.99. Not ALL new releases but most, great deal! You can keep for a day (up until 11:59 the next day, no matter what time you buy) or if you keep longer it's $.99 a day after.

Read a book to each other! Make a book. READ, it's the best!

By Michawn

In our local grocery stores (Harris Teeter, BI_LO ) they have a video machine. For $1.49, you can rent a video for one night and if you choose to keep additional nights, it's only $.99 for each day. Grab a 2 litre drink and some micro popcorn and, for less than $6.00, you can have movie night at home. Also be sure to add your email address when the machine prompts, they will email you "rent one, get one free" codes. I love it.

By sharon

Free Galleries and Lectures

Cards, board games, drives (not inexpensive any more). If you live in a large city, art galleries have showings. Get on the mailing lists online. Check out free lectures listed in your local paper at local colleges, societies, hospitals, etc.

By Carrie

Play Bridge

Learn to play bridge. Gather three other friends and you'll love it. It's free. (except for the snacks!)

By cheapo

Look For Free Events In The Newspaper

Here's a few we use all the time. Check out the newspaper on Sunday, there is usually a page full of club and city activities that anyone is welcome to for no charge. Sign up for the mailing list of local colleges, I've gone to free concerts, plays, musicals. Your local park district has a lot going on too. Ours has nature walks during the day and evening, garden shows, history reenactments, maple sugaring in the spring, haunted trails in the fall. Our city has a vintage car show every week and a weekly concert in the park. All this is found in the newspaper.

By sue zoleske

Library Resources

Go to your local library to check out VCR movies and DVD's. They also have books on tape, have the family listen to a chapter a day "together", talk over what they think the outcome will be and whoever is closest to the outcome gets to be or do whatever they want for a day.

My kids loved the competition of listening and then remembering what they heard. I believe it helped them become better rounded adults.

By Paula, Mebane, NC

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