How to avoid movie theater money traps

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Movie theaters are such a money pit. I recently paid $15 for a ticket and an additional $15 for a pretzel and soda. That was a $30 night out! No wonder I love Netflix so much.

I got very spoiled in grad school since the city I lived in had a $1 movie theater. The movies were always released really late, but it didn't bother me. And just $1! That was my kind of movie.

But if you are going to shell out the big bucks to see the latest blockbuster, and there have been quite a few lately, here are a few tips to help keep your spending down.

Matinees
Matinees should always be your go to movie time if you can swing it. Nearly every theater has a matinee discount, although some only have them on select days. The movie theater nearest me does them only on Wednesdays. You can call or ask next time you're there or you can keep an eye peeled for signs about matinee prices.

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How to avoid movie theater money traps
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Discounts
If you are a senior citizen, military or student, the first thing you should ask about are discount programs (this actually goes for just about everywhere, not just at movie theaters). Again, a lot of movie theaters may not offer discounts all the time, but they often have a senior citizen day or military day of the week. Call ahead to ask.
Eat Before
Movie theaters make most of their income off of concessions. I wasn't joking about it being $15 for a pretzel and a soda! Yes somehow these folks are marketing geniuses. There's almost always a line at the concession stand and they've developed a marketing strategy that makes you feel like you're missing something if you don't have a tub of popcorn and some soda to go with watching that movie. Even the candy boxes are marked up. You can find them at the Dollar Store and yet they sure don't cost a dollar at the movie theater! Movie theaters also make sure the smell of popcorn is good and strong since it's another technique to get you to buy some. Be aware and eat before going to see a show.

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Also, as a friendly reminder, if the movie theater posts a "no outside food and drink" it is not actually illegal to bring food in with you; however, the theater can legally ask you to leave. This is not to say I've never snuck in a box of candy and a soda, because I sure have and it's the most frugal way around the cost of concessions, but you should be aware that you could be removed from the theater for doing so. Movie theaters do sometimes have a policy of checking bags for security reasons.

Loyalty Cards
Movie theater loyalty cards should be considered with some caution because some of the large chain theaters cost money to join. If you see movies infrequently throughout the year, the cost of the loyalty card will probably not be worth it.

For instance, the AMC Stubs Reward card costs $12 (although there's a holiday sale right now bringing it down to $9). For every $100 you spend, you get a $10 reward and the card waives service fees if you buy tickets online. You can also get your popcorn and drink upgraded to a large for free. So for the AMC Stubs Reward to be worth it, you have to go to the movies about seven times and buy that 7 ticket online to just even out what you've spent. To get to a second $10 reward, you're up to 13 trips to the movies in a year. A lot of people are big movie buffs and will have no trouble making that number of trips.

However, the Regal Crown Club is free. You earn a point for every dollar spent and can redeem those points for free concessions and movie tickets. This card is definitely worth the two minutes it takes to sign up online if your local theater is a Regal Cinema.

A little bit of preplanning and scheduling can reduce the cost of movie theater ticket prices and concessions quite a bit. So next time a big blockbuster hits the silver screen, use some of these tips to keep your trip from becoming a budget buster.

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How to avoid movie theater money traps

1. Clear your browser history

Some retailers might sneakily increase prices based on your browsing patterns and demand - so make sure to always clear your history and cookies before shopping! 

Photo credit: Shutterstock

2. Use an alternate email address

When you log in to a retailer's site with a new email address, retailers will often welcome you as a new customer with exciting new promotions and discounts. 

Photo credit: Shutterstock

3. Note price changes throughout the week

Another pro tip: Prices and deals can fluctuate based on the day of the week. For instance, if you're purchasing a flight, monitor prices for around a week to see if they take a dip on any particular day before purchasing. 

Photo credit: Shutterstock

4. Let items linger in your cart

Here's a hack: Add items to your cart, but let them sit for 24 hours before purchasing. The retailer might attempt to lure you back with additional discounts.

Photo credit: Shutterstock

5. Check out multiple sites

Do some research! Don't settle for the first price you see - poke around on a search engine and find the best deal. 

Photo credit: Shutterstock

6. Bargain with customer service

Use customer service to your advantage. If you ask (politely!) about an expired coupon, you'll often find yourself pleasantly surprised by an extension or new code! 

Photo credit: Shutterstock

7. Don't purchase impulsively

Try this shopping hack - don't buy that shiny, new toy right away. Step away for a few hours, and if you find yourself itching to go back and click 'purchase', then you know you won't regret your investment!

Photo credit: FogStock

8. Avoid shipping fees

Take advantage of free shipping! If you are a few dollars below the free shipping price point, add a low-cost filler item you need anyway (like socks!) and make the math work out in your favor. 

Photo credit: Alamy

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