These days, a ticket to a movie costs $11 or more. Add in popcorn and a soda, and date night at the movies can add up to $35. Bring the kids, and you're talking more than $50 for a night out.
But there are ways to indulge your love of film without emptying your wallet.
Here's the obvious one: Don't buy popcorn, soda or large boxes of ridiculously priced candy (though theaters do need the money they earn from concessions to keep going). Watching a movie does not require snacks and drinks.
If you know where to look, you can find ways to see movies for less and also pay less for concessions.
1. Look for deals on theater websites. Nearly all the major theater chains have loyalty clubs and discounts - some for members only and some for everyone. Regal Entertainment Group, for example, offers $2 popcorn on Tuesdays to club members, special Value Days at some theaters and tickets you can use any time for $8 each if you buy 50. (Get a group of friends together, and split up the tickets.) Cinemark has discount days, family days and offers coupons for free snacks to members of its loyalty club. AMC offers free popcorn refills and special kids' snack packages.
Before you go to a movie, check the theaters' discount pages, Facebook pages and Twitter feeds for deals. If you go often, sign up for email updates. That goes for local and independent theaters, too.
2. Ask about discounts. Many theaters offer discounts for students, seniors, AARP members, military, AAA members and other groups to which you belong. You might be surprised.
3. Look for discount tickets or ticket packages from places besides theaters. Some employers buy blocks of tickets at a discount and sell the individual tickets to their employees. AAA and Costco often have discount movie ticket packages.
4. Go to movies at less popular times or at less expensive theaters. That could mean going to the first show of the day or it could mean Monday night instead of Friday night. Another alternative is to patronize the theaters that run slightly older movies and charge less all the time.
5. Find free movie previews. Film promoters schedule free screenings in most cities a day or two before major films open. Many of the sneak previews are listed at gofobo.com, but you sometimes need a promotion code, which you can find in some local newspapers or radio station websites. A word of caution: The promoters always distribute more passes than there are seats, so you usually have to arrive an hour or two early in order to get in.
6. Find free and cheap movies showing in your city. These are likely to be older movies, but they're good options for families with children. Kids like to see the same movies over and over, and the family-oriented movie events are more relaxed. In some areas, you'll also find regular free movie screenings for adults. Check parks and recreation departments, libraries, museums, cultural organizations and, if you're over 21, even bars. In the summer, the major movie chains show free or discounted movies for kids on weekday mornings.
7. Look for promotions by Fandango. The online movie ticket site Fandango.com has joined with Visa Signature for a variety of promotions, including 2-for-1 tickets on select Friday nights. The current promotion is 20 percent off a $25 Fandango gift card.
8. Wait until films come out on Pay-Per-View, DVD or video streaming sites. A good movie is still good months (or years) after its release. You can subscribe to Netflix, Hulu Plus or Amazon Prime and stream a month's worth of movies for the price of one ticket. You can get promo codes for free rentals at Redbox (and new releases are only $1.20 plus tax to rent for a night without a code). Lastly, don't overlook your local library, where you can rent movies for free.
Teresa Mears is the editor and publisher of Living on the Cheap, an online magazine that shows its readers how to live well on less.
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