20 Ways to Save on Entertainment
A few months ago, I looked up tickets to see Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater at UC Berkeley. I’ve seen this dance company a few times in the past and have been blown away by every performance. So when I found out that the company was going to be at UC Berkeley earlier this year, I resolve to see it perform. That was until I look up tickets. No matter how much I wanted to see the company perform, I couldn’t bring myself to purchase tickets. Why? You guessed it. Because the tickets were too pricey for my comfort.
As someone who is a huge fan of the performing arts, but an even bigger fan of frugal living, I weigh the cost before purchasing anything considered entertainment. After all, entertainment is a luxury and not a necessity. That sometimes means skipping shows I’m craving to see. And while I’m disappointed about not seeing some shows, the disappointment doesn’t last long because I’ve found many ways to enjoy entertainment for less. Here are 20 ways that you can do the same.
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1 | Buy rush tickets
Rush tickets are tickets available close to the time of a performance. The SF Ballet offers standing room tickets for $15 to $20 each available 2 hours prior to each performance. Some of the major musical theater shows in SF have tickets available for $40 each also 2 hours before a show. Seats can be amazing too. The past two times I purchased rush tickets, I sat in the orchestra section and saved over $100 on a pair of tickets.
2 | Buy discounted tickets
Many companies offer discounts to specific members of the public. If you’re a senior, student, military member, or someone who works in education, take a look at what a company offers before you click the purchase button. And don’t forget your ID when you pick up your tickets.
3 | Buy season tickets
Many companies offer season tickets consisting of various show tickets at discounted prices. This is a good way to save when there are no other deals available or there’s a hot ticket you’re dying to get your hands on. A few people I know subscribed to the SHN – Broadway in SF season just to get tickets to the musical Hamilton. One person I know then sold the tickets that he didn’t want, thereby recouping some of the money he spent.
Being a season ticket holder often includes other benefits like exchanging ticket dates at no additional cost, invitations to exclusive events, and goodies like tote bags or show programs.
4 | Search ticket resale sites
Sites like StubHub and Ticketmaster host ticket sales from other sellers. You may be able to get a good deal depending on the show and date. If you’re looking to see a show that’s less popular or one that’s coming up soon, prices may be in your favor as people try to get rid of their ticket. Another benefit of these sites is that tickets are legitimate, so you know you’re not being scammed.
5 | Enter raffles
Some of the most popular musical shows in SF have raffles a few hours before a performance. You show up about 2 hours prior and enter your name in the raffle. Then if you’re chosen, you pay $40 for the tickets you’ve won. If you’re there with a friend, you may not get two seats together, but you’ll still get a great deal for huge savings.
6 | Ask others for extra tickets
Ask family, friends, and co-workers about extra tickets and deals they have available to them. If people know you’re a fan of a certain band or sports team, they may think of you when they come across a good deal or have tickets they can’t use. One of my previous co-workers had season tickets to the Giants and would pass them to others in the office from time to time when he couldn’t use them.
7 | Attend community theater
Community theater can mean smaller theaters with less elaborate sets and no big-name actors. Yes, sometimes it means bad acting and cringe-worthy performances. Sometimes though, you walk away stunned at how amazing a performance was. So don’t count out community theater as a way to see quality entertainment.
Local theater usually means you sit closer to the stage. You can see more of the stage and sometimes a better connection to the play than if you were to sit far from the stage in a larger theater. Community theater and shows have the added benefit of being relatively cheap or free.
My favorite place for live classical music is the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. You can attend concerts by students and faculty at varying prices and even for free. Check out the universities in your area. Their theater and music departments may offer the same.
8 | Visit discount ticket sites
Goldstar is my favorite discount ticket site. Goldstar offers discounts to some all kinds of shows from world-famous performers to community theater. Some examples of ticket prices: Jersey Boys for $53-$63 (discounted from $73-$93) and SF Giants games for $5-$68 (discounted from $17.25 to $112.25). The discounts vary with some equaling huge savings and others being only a few dollars. They have complimentary tickets to events as well. All tickets come with additional service fees. Be careful because they can be expensive and eat into a discount.
Goldstar has a holiday special each year where you can purchase gift certificates on sale. I’ll by a $100 gift certificate for $80 for myself and then use it the next year. This only adds to your savings from the face value of a ticket.
9 | Volunteer
Many venues require volunteers to fill roles such as ushers for performances. In return, volunteers get to watch shows for free. You may have to make a commitment to work a certain number of shows for a season. You might have to adhere to a dress code, arrive early and stay late for volunteer duties, and even miss parts of the show doing your work. Nonetheless, you can still get a good sense of many of the shows and watch them as many times as you sign up to work.
10 | Attend pay-what-you-can days
I love pay-what-you-can days. When my friend invited me to a community play she was in last year, I wanted to attend to support her. I didn’t want to pay $30 for a ticket or $60 with a guest. I looked at the show schedule and came across pay-what-you-can day. Many community theater runs will have a pay-what-you-can day. Sometimes you have to ask because it’s not advertised. Those discount days are there so take advantage of them.
11 | Attend free events
Take a look at event websites for your community. You may be surprised to see how many things are offered for free. The summer season is especially full of free events. In SF, there’s Opera at the Ballpark, a summer concert series at Sigmund Stern Grove, Shakespeare performances at The Presidio, and more. Several neighborhoods and Bay Area towns host family movie nights for free as well.
12 | Attend early movies
Have you ever gone to the movies at 11 AM? It might seem strange to go to a movie when it's still light outside, but tickets are much cheaper, theaters are a lot less crowded so you get your seat of choice, and you have the rest of the day at your disposal.
In the pictures below, you can see that an early bird movie costs as low as $6.59. The same movie in the evening costs $15. You can buy two morning tickets for one evening ticket at those prices.
13 | Buy discounted movie passes
If you're a regular movie-goer, you can purchase discounted movie tickets. They usually come in packets offered online on sites like Goldstar and at places like Costco.
14 | Use the right credit cards
With the right credit card, you can earn rewards that include tickets to concerts and other events. Some credit card companies provide you with first access to buying tickets. One of my relatives used her AmEx card to get first dibs in GLEE tickets back when the show on tour. You may not get discounted tickets, but this is one way to get tickets to the shows you’re dying to see.
15 | Buy from the box office
I hate paying extra fees. That includes service and handling fees when paying for show tickets. If I'm already paying an arm and a leg for the ticket, why do I have to pay additional fees? These fees aren't cheap either. At SHN – Broadway in SF, fees can easily be another $11 - $16 per ticket. Yikes! My solution is to buy straight from the box office, avoiding those extra fees.
16 | Pay cash
It's no secret that many places charge extra when you pay with a credit card. You're paying to cover their fee for offering you the convenience of using your credit card. Instead, chose to pay cash. You may have to ask because it's not always advertised or told to you when you pay. The last time I bought tickets at a box office and paid cash, I saved about $50 on two tickets.
17 | Purchase group tickets
Many performance companies offer discounted rates for when you attend as a group. You can get a group of friends or family together or put on a company event to a show. If you don’t want to do the organizing, you can join a Meetup or neighborhood group with the same interests as you. Some Meetup group organizers arrange for group members to attend events together, thereby qualifying for group rates.
18 | Check Craigslist and neighborhood boards
Craigslist and neighborhood boards like Nextdoor are good places to locate last-minute tickets. There's a popular three-day festival called Outside Lands in SF in August each year. Towards the weekend of the festival, the boards are filled with people trying to sell their tickets. Some people buy a multi-day ticket and sell one day of it because they can't make it or they're not interested in attending. You can bargain with the sellers too.
19 | Use corporate discounts
If you work for a corporation, you may have access to discounts to local museums and events. A few of my family members get free admission to places like SF art and science museums and discounted tickets to see major performance companies like the SF Ballet. Not bad, right?
20 | Sign up for email lists
Normally I advocate unsubscribing from email lists because they can lead to unnecessary spending, but this can be a great way to get to get first access to the cheapest tickets. You’ll have knowledge of the cheapest tickets available and when those tickets first go on sale. For popular events, this may be your only chance to get tickets before they sell out.
If you don’t love paying top-dollar prices for entertainment, try out some of the tips above. You don’t have to cut entertainment out of your life, especially if it brings you joy and fulfillment. And you may be surprised at what you find available to you for less than at first glance. I’ll be enjoying lots of shows at discounted prices over the coming months. But if you ever find good discounted tickets to see Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, let me know! I’ll take them!