Money Lessons Learned at the Movie Theater

movie theater

I don’t go to the movies that often, but when I do I’m reminded that it’s not only the movies themselves that can teach lessons about money. Sometimes you can learn about money simply by going to the theater and paying attention to the whole experience. Here are some money lessons that you might pick up on a trip to your local multiplex.

Value is subjective

Going to the movies always reminds me that value is subjective. While I may be willing to shell out the admission price for a sci-fi blockbuster, others could care less about that and will, instead, choose the comedy that I think is stupid and not worth the money. Their choice is no more or less worthy than mine, it’s just different. What one person deems worthy of a certain price, another person might buy only at a discount or not at all.

The Lesson: Whenever I’m tempted to judge what someone does with their money, I remind myself of the movie theater experience. People like different things and what one person sees as valuable another may see as a ridiculous waste of money. That’s okay. It’s fine to like what you like and it’s fine for others to do with their money as they choose. As long as they are paying their bills and aren’t in debt up to their eyeballs and seeking a bailout from the government, it’s no one’s place to judge what someone spends their money on. It’s a big marketplace with different products for different tastes. Not everyone will like everything.

Patience is often rewarded

It is rare that I go see a movie the first weekend that it opens. I don’t like the crowds, for one thing, but what I really don’t like is being the first to see a movie only to discover that it’s a stinker. I’d rather wait until the reviews come in so I know that there’s a reasonable chance I’ll like it. In many cases I opt to wait for the DVD rental which costs much less and makes me feel better if the movie is terrible. Or, there’s always the $2 theater. Being patient means I waste less money on movies that I walk out of saying, “Ugh. What was I thinking?”

The Lesson: Patience when spending money is often rewarded. Rather than buying the hottest thing the minute it comes out, you can often benefit from waiting. Wait until others have tried and reviewed the product so you can be more certain it’s something you’ll like. Let the early adopters deal with the problems, bugs, and faulty products. Let any patches or revisions come out before you buy. Waiting also leads to lower prices. Things are often full price upon release but drop after a couple of months. Sales or offers of free gift cards or accessories are also easier to find when you wait.

Paying a lot does not guarantee a good experience

Movie theater admissions are expensive. Admission at a first run theater can be as high as $20. For a two hour movie, that’s $10 per hour. For that kind of money you’d think you should be guaranteed at least a good experience. You’d be wrong. Other patrons will talk, use their cell phones, and bring crying babies. In many places the management will do little to nothing about these disturbances. You end up paying big bucks to be annoyed.

The Lesson: Paying a lot of money does not guarantee a good experience. You cannot equate enjoyment with money paid. Many high priced restaurants serve sub-par food. Many pricey experiences are not as much fun as something you could do for free. An expensive video game might be less fun than the one on the bargain rack. It’s in your interest to learn as much as you can about the type of experience you will have before you fork over the money. The poor experience in the local theaters is why I don’t go to the movies that often. I prefer to spend my money on an outing that I’ll enjoy more. Just because something is pricey does not mean it’s enjoyable or that you will be guaranteed any sort of good experience.

Sometimes, buying in advance is a savings and sometimes it’s not

Movie theaters offer several ways to get tickets these days. You can order in advance from sites like Fandango, you can buy tickets in bulk through the theaters themselves or through other organizations and, of course, you can buy at the box office. Many people assume that buying in advance is automatically a cost savings, but when the fees are tacked on by some websites, there is no savings and you end up paying more than you would have if you’d just bought tickets at the box office.

The Lesson: Buying in advance is not always the road to savings that we’ve been led to believe. In much of the personal finance world buying in advance is touted as a way to save. Buying advance tickets to an amusement park, for example, is usually a way to save money. At movie theaters, advance purchase might be convenient but it usually costs more due to the service charges that are tacked on. You can save money, though, if you buy bulk ticket packages in advance from the theaters or from another organization. Whether it’s a movie theater or anything else, don’t always assume that advance purchasing will save you money. It might or it might not. Or, like with theaters, there might be two paths to advance purchase savings. Do your research and find out the way to save the most money.

Look for the small print

My theater sometimes has bargains in the concession area, but you have to look at the tiny print. Most of the menu board is large and obvious, but there are sometimes tiny signs tacked on to the bottom that advertise special refillable cups that are good for a year, for example, or special combos. Sometimes a certain candy item is marked down. These are good deals, but most people never see them.

The Lesson: Whenever you spend money, check and double check to make certain there aren’t any deals or coupons that are hiding somewhere. You may have to ask a manager or look around really hard, but you can be rewarded for your persistence.

Movies are expensive, but if you pay attention to the experience and the ticket purchase process, you can learn a few things about money that might serve you well later in life.

(Photo courtesy of Sarah_Ackerman)

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