This is a Guest Post from Kevin at No Debt Plan, a blog about living debt-free. This is part of Kevin’s Dumb Money series.

I was recently thinking about my first real job — doorman at the movie theater. Ah, the days of minimum wage. I thought movies were expensive back then, but nowadays they cost a fortune. Let’s look at some numbers.

Assume a family of four (two adults, two children) goes to the movies on a Saturday night. I researched the ticket prices for a local theater with Fandango simply because I haven’t been to an actual theater in years. I can’t as easily research concessions, but let’s say they spend at least $5 per person. (I’m guessing this would still be fairly low.) Your expenses would be:

  • Cost of Adult Ticket: $9.50 x 2 = $19.00
  • Cost of Child Ticket: $6.50 x 2 = $13.00
  • Concessions: $20
  • Total: $52

That’s $52 for, at most, three hours of entertainment. Some may find that reasonable, I think it’s ridiculous, and for more reasons that just the cost. There is simply no convenience to going to the movie theater.

  • You are on someone else’s time table. If you get stuck in traffic, you miss out or your plans are pushed back 2-3 hours.
  • You have to go somewhere other than your house. You are spending additional money on gas and other car related expenses.
  • You don’t get to set the thermostat. It can be too cold. It can be too hot. How do you prepare? Wear layers? Just to go to the movies?
  • You can’t pause. Have a coughing fit? (Get up and leave — you’re ruining the expensive experience for everyone else!) Need to go the bathroom? Need to take your child to the bathroom? You may miss out on some of the best scenes.
  • You can’t rewind. Really love that line or special effect? You can’t go back and see it again, at least until the DVD comes out.
  • Other people can ruin the movie for you. There were countless times when I worked at the theater that we would get complaints about someone on a cell phone, or kids being loud, or any number of other things you could imagine.

Let’s contrast all of the above with renting or owning the DVD yourself. For my $52 spent at the movies, I can pay for almost four months of the Netflix two-DVDs-at-a-time plan. I could probably watch a movie every three days with that plan. But even if I only watched one every two weeks, that’s at least seven movies. (Also, with Netflix you can now get unlimited downloadable movies!)

Plus, when you’re watching a DVD, you’re at home. You can pause, rewind, or watch in your pajamas. You’re on your schedule and in your comfort zone. Want refreshments? For what you spend at the theater, you could buy enough popcorn and soda to have a group of friends over!

I’ll be the first to admit there’s nothing like watching an action thriller on the big screen. The explosions are that much bigger, and it truly is an experience. But staying at home is the more frugal of the two options and, frankly, my personal preference.

And really, can you justify spending $5 for one bag of popcorn?

J.D.’s note: I’m not as anti-theater as Kevin, but since Kris and I began using Netflix several years ago, our theater attendance has dropped sharply. The last film we saw was Juno on Christmas Day. I was shocked that my ticket cost $8.50. On a holiday! My refreshments — child’s popcorn, a pack of Red Vines, and a soda — cost over $10. Since when does it cost $20 to go see a movie? This is why we stick to the second-run movie houses — five bucks for a film and a snack.

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