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Entertainment for Less

Just because you're broke doesn't mean you can't go out. These six strategies will help you snag discount -- or even free -- admission to concerts, plays, sports matches or other events.

Does your idea of going out consist of a walk to your mailbox to pick up your next Netflix movie? Are you spending your Saturday nights sifting through the clearance shelves at your local Wal-Mart? Have you given up on dating because you can't afford dinner, drinks or entertainment for yourself, let alone for two?

Snap out of it. I know money may be tight, but that doesn't mean you can't go out and have a good time. In fact, if you know where to look, you can find incredibly cheap -- or even free -- admission to all sorts of events, including concerts, theater performances, sporting games and museum exhibitions. Below we list six strategies for snagging these discounts to help you get more entertainment for your buck. Then, check out our slide show for our picks of the Hottest Summer Tickets Under $50.

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1. Wait to the last minute. When it gets down to a couple hours before the 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, including Austin, Boston, Chicago, New York, San Francisco and Washington, D.C. Or call your favorite home-town theater to see if it offers price cuts directly to the public right before show time.

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Of course, bear in mind that if you're trying to get last-minute seats to a popular show, there's a good chance it'll sell out. So it pays to keep your plans flexible.

2. Seek out less-hyped venues. For cheap seats, think location, location, location. Don't automatically zero in on the biggest show in your area. Your favorite performer may appear at a nearby venue for a lot less. For example, the cheapest tickets to catch country crooner Kenney Chesney at Madison Square Garden this summer started at $52. See him 45 miles away in Holmdel, N.J., however, and you could snag admission for $34 -- that's a savings of $36 on two tickets.

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Similarly, you don't have to pay Broadway prices to see a great play. Many of the performances on the Great White Way are playing at smaller venues nationwide -- and carry much lower price tags. For example, tickets to see the Monty Python musical Spamalot on Broadway in New York City cost between $37 and $112. Tickets to the show in Salt Lake City run just $25 to $63.

3. Work or volunteer. My freshman year of college, I worked on the student janitorial crew at the school's basketball arena and football stadium. Not only did I get in free to almost every game and special event, I got paid to be there. Sure, I had to empty a trash can now and then, clean up a spilled soda on the concourse and stay late to lock up, but I got to satisfy my inner fan and make a buck at the same time -- and I got to carry a walkie talkie. Don't want to get your hands dirty? Consider getting an evening job as an usher at your favorite concert hall or theater.

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Some venues may even take you on as a volunteer. In exchange for passing out play bills at the door, for example, they'll let you sit in on the performance when your work is done. You may miss the first 15 minutes of the show, but it beats shelling out the money for a pricey ticket or, alternatively, sitting at home watching reruns on TV.

4. Take advantage of discount days. Many theaters, museums, galleries, zoos and parks offer special discount days, such as standing room only or pay-what-you-can nights. Some even offer free admission on certain days. For example, you can get in free to the San Francisco Zoo on the first Wednesday of every month, or the Modern Museum of Art in New York every Friday evening from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. For performances, ask about free or drastically discounted admission to dress rehearsals.

Also, matinees aren't just for senior citizens or little kids. You can often get cheap tickets to movies, theater productions and other shows if you attend in the early afternoon instead of the prime evening time slot. Daytime is also a good time to try out a hot new restaurant. You can get lunch-menu prices for dinner-quality entrees.

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5. Go with a group. When it comes to finding cheap entertainment, more really is merrier. Buy in bulk and you could get a 10% (or more) discount to many exhibitions and events. Team up with friends, co-workers or relatives to get the lower rate.

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6. Use your assets. Being a cash-strapped student may seem like a liability. But your student ID card may be your golden ticket to affordable entertainment. Many theaters, concert halls and sport arenas will knock a few bucks off the price of admission when you flash your card. When I was in college, one of my favorite places to take a date was the symphony, which offered $6 tickets to students with an ID. After the show, I'd treat my date to an ice cream. Total cost for two: Less than $20.

Your student status also can help you snag front-and-center tickets to some of the hottest sporting events of the year starring your school's teams. And don't overlook free or inexpensive student concerts, plays, dance performances and art shows right on campus.

Not a student? Use other associations to your advantage. For example, your job may offer discount tickets to amusement parks, sports arenas and other local events. Check out discounts offered through AAA, your credit union or your alumni association, too.

NEXT: See the Hottest Summer Tickets for Under $50

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