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Smart Buying

Save Money on Entertainment

Having fun doesn't mean you have to blow your budget.

Having fun doesn't mean you have to blow your budget. And saving money doesn't mean you have to stay home watching Law & Order reruns, either.

Here are 16 ways to get more out of your entertainment dollar.

1. TIME YOUR VISIT

Many theaters, museums, galleries, zoos and parks offer special discounts, such as standing room only or pay-what-you-can nights. Some even offer free admission on certain days of the month.

If you don't plan on spending a lot of time at big attractions, such as amusement or water parks, you might snag a twilight discount -- usually 30% to 50% off -- for showing up a few hours before closing.


2. THINK USED

Buy used, and you can get your books, games, DVDs and CDs in like-new condition for a fraction of the price. For instance, we recently found a used copy of a $15 best-selling book for $3.64 on Abebooks.com with free shipping -- a savings of 76%. Other places to buy used include Amazon.com, eBay.com and Craigslist.org.

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Or try swapping entertainment. Sites such as TitleTrader.com and SwapTree.com help you trade your used books, movies and music with someone who wants them. The services are free, but you'll have to pay for postage to ship your swaps.


3. HEAD BACK TO CAMPUS

College campuses are a trove of quality entertainment options, from student musical performances, film festivals, art exhibits, theater productions, dance recitals, sporting events and more.

The best part: Many are free or incredibly inexpensive to attend.


4. GET IN TOUCH WITH YOUR COMMUNITY

Pursuing a new hobby or interest will keep you entertained for months -- or even years -- to come. But joining a team or taking a class through a private business can be pricey.

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Instead, take an art class, learn a foreign language or join a sports league through your community recreation department or local community college. You could save hundreds of dollars.


5. GET OUT MORE

There is plenty of free and cheap entertainment to be had at the hands of Mother Nature. Go hiking, picnicking, bird watching, fishing, kayaking or camping. State and national parks are inexpensive and set the stage beautifully.

And when you want to get active, forget that $40-a-month gym membership. Instead, buy a good pair of running shoes, or dust off your bike. Or check out the prices at your community rec center.


6. HIT THE STACKS

The public library has a lot of free and dirt-cheap entertainment for the taking. Many libraries let you check out recent movies and TV episodes on DVD for free, or for a minimal fee of a buck or two. You can also check out exercise videos and CDs galore.

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And while you're there, check out a book for some good old-fashioned entertainment.


7. USE THE SECRET HANDSHAKE

As with many things in life, getting a deal on entertainment can come down to who you know.

You could score discount tickets to amusement parks, sports arenas and other events through clubs and associations you belong to, such as AAA, AARP, a credit union, an alumni or professional association, or even your job. Flash your membership card and save money.

And if you're a student, always ask about student discounts with your ID.

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8. RETHINK CABLE

Take a look at what you're paying for and what your family is actually using, and trim accordingly. Dropping your premium channels, for example, is a good way to start saving.

You may even find that you don't watch enough TV to justify the hefty monthly bill. Consider dropping cable entirely and watching your favorite shows for free online or on DVD from the library.


9. CHECK FOR COUPONS

Wherever you're heading this weekend -- from the arcade to the amusement park to the art museum -- don't go without searching the Web for discount coupons.

For instance, in a simple Google search, we recently unearthed Chuck E. Cheese's coupons for free tokens and a $2-off-admission coupon to the Seattle Art Museum.


10. HOST AN INFORMAL GET-TOGETHER

Entertaining the entire family can cost a pretty penny once you factor in food, tickets and transportation. Why not bring the party to your house instead?

Invite the families of your kids' friends over to your home for a potluck dinner, game night, dessert night or outdoor movie night. They'll probably appreciate the money they'll save too! (Get more ideas for entertaining on a budget.)


11. FIND FRUGAL FLICKS

Spending $5 for a movie at the corner video store can add up quickly. And mail-order subscription services can be costly, too, unless you watch a lot of movies every month to make the expense worth it.

Instead, scope out DVD kiosks in your neighborhood, such as Redbox or DVDPlay. They carry new releases for about $1. If you're a once-a-week renter, you could shave your movie costs from $20 a month to a mere $4.


12. TEAM UP FOR BABYSITTING

As any parent knows, a good chunk of any entertainment budget can be eaten up just by paying the babysitter. Solution: Join forces with a relative, neighbor or friend and trade off watching each other's kids. For example, you watch their kids one Saturday evening and they watch yours the following weekend.

If you spend $10 to $20 a week on a babysitter, you could save $520 to $1,040 per year with your co-op.


13. WAIT TO THE LAST MINUTE

When it gets down to a couple hours before a performance, the theater may start selling "rush" tickets at a fraction of the price. It would rather sell the seats at a bargain than let them go empty.

Consolidated discount-ticket booths are popping up in cities nationwide. Or call your favorite hometown theater to see if it offers price cuts directly to the public right before showtime.


14. LISTEN TO FREE MUSIC ONLINE

A buck for an MP3 here or there can cause a slow leak in your budget.

Instead, get in the groove for free at Pandora.com. Type in a favorite song or artist and this online music-streaming service will play similar tunes it thinks you like. It's a fun way to discover new music. You will have to listen to the occasional ad, but they're super-short and infrequent. Slacker.com is another good freebie music site.


15. ENTER THE PUBLIC DOMAIN

When copyrights expire on books and music, the masterpieces become "public domain." That means you don't have to spend a dime to get your hands on classic texts and sheet music -- and it's completely legal.

For instance, at Gutenberg.org, you can download more than 30,000 e-books, including works by Jane Austen, Charles Dickens and James Joyce. At http://books.google.com, you can search the text of seven million books (even those that are still under copyright). And at Mutopiaproject.org, musicians can print sheet music by more than 250 composers, including Mozart, Bach and Tchaikovsky.


16. DO AN ENTERTAINMENT INVENTORY

How many cable channels can a person watch? Are you getting your money's worth out of that gym- or swim-club membership? Are you taking full advantage of your Netflix, TiVo and magazine subscriptions?

Take a good look at what you're paying for and what your family is actually using.

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