J.D. is on vacation. This is a guest post from Mandy Hering.

How can people afford fun these days?

I ask this question because my husband and I recently attended a Coldplay concert. We bought the tickets for my birthday back in June, and paid for them with some extra money that I made working as a grader for an AP exam. We didn’t need to use the extra money for an emergency fund, to pay off debt, or to finance any type of big purchase as we are already squared away on those fronts. Still, the concert was expensive:

  • Tickets cost $97.50 each plus a handling fee of $33, bringing our total to $228.
  • The concert was in a nearby town, meaning that we needed to travel there and spend the night. Transportation costs were about $15.
  • The hotel where we stayed (within walking distance to the venue with complimentary parking) cost $120.
  • We also had to eat dinner once we arrived, costing another $33.

That brings our grand total for one night’s worth of entertainment to $396. I shudder to think about that number — our usual night’s entertainment costs no more than $8 in movie rental fees!

There are ways that we could have saved, such as by bringing our own dinner from home in a cooler. We did bring snacks, eliminating the need to buy bottled water and chips elsewhere. We could also have bought less expensive tickets if we wanted to sit in the cheapest of the seats. Instead, we decided that if we were going to spend the money that we wanted to at least have a chance of seeing the band members with our own eyes instead of just viewing them on the big screens.

As we don’t typically go out for such a big night of fun, I wondered what other types of people we would see at the concert. Undoubtedly, many of the concert-goers bought their tickets before the economic meltdown was in full swing, but many of them probably also bought them at the last minute.

Additionally, this type of event is much different than a planned vacation. You don’t have to take a week off of work, and the actual concert lasts less than two hours. Who has the money for such extravagances these days? Are these the people referred to in The Millionaire Next Door as those with big ten-gallon hats, but no cattle in their pastures? Or are they people like me who have made a conscious choice to use their money like this?

While it’s difficult to know what a person has in his or her bank account based only on the outward appearance, here is a short assessment of who we saw:

  • Parents — sometimes just a mom or dad with a single child and sometimes a whole clan.
  • Teenagers — usually in a group of 3 or 4.
  • College students — typically identifiable by the logos on their t-shirts.
  • Young couples — people in their late twenties to early thirties.
  • Middle-aged couples — either pairs of friends or married couples

Can your average person afford such an expense on a regular basis? Of course, the people sitting in the floor seats (ranging from $300 to $600 per ticket) looked better dressed than other people, but maybe they only wanted to look that way.

The lead singer asked a child sitting on the front row how old he was, and the child said he was 8 years old. My parents would never have given me a $600+ ticket to see Coldplay on a school night — what a lucky kid. It makes me really hope that the kid appreciates it and will remember it later!

But, it seems that the premium on fun has gone up since I last had the disposable income (be it responsible or not) to make such an expenditure. For example, say you have a family of four, with two children and two adults. Here are some typical entertainment costs:

  • Coldplay concert in Arizona: 4 tickets + handling fee + printing fee = $244.40
  • Seaworld in San Diego: 2 adults + 2 children, single day admission + parking = $252.00
  • Six Flags in St Louis: 2 adults + 2 children, single day admission + parking = $155.00
  • Disneyworld in Orlando: 2 adults + 2 children, single day admission (Florida residents) = $248.00 (other residents) $276.00

Of course, none of these figures includes lodging, if required, or transportation and food.

Ticket prices for athletic events are no better, and in many cases are worse. At my university (Texas A&M), tickets for a football home game range from $70-$85 each for conference play. The cost for professional games is even more, to say nothing of Hannah Montana concert tickets.

Is it my imagination, or have “family fun” events become major budget drains? There are certainly many types of low-cost entertainment for families, but do you feel that your child would miss out if they did not have a “Disneyworld experience”? When do you decide to splurge on a game or concert and when to sit it out? Do prices such as these influence your decisions at all?

I don’t regret the splurge that we made since the Coldplay concert was amazing. If we could have spared the time off from work, we would have loved to see them the following night in a different nearby city. The only regret we have is that we followed the “no cameras/no recorders” rule printed on our tickets when, in fact, almost everyone there had a digital camera! It just goes to show how long it’s been since we’ve attended a concert like this one!

Photo by Josh McConnell.

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