If your recent "nights out" consist of a walk to your mailbox to pick up your latest Netflix movie or browsing the shelves at your local Walmart, it's time to get back in the saddle. Here are 12 fun ways to get more out of your entertainment dollar:
1. Wait until the last minute
When it gets down to a couple of hours before the performance, a 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 show time. Of course, there's a good chance a show will sell out, so it pays to keep your plans flexible.
2. Check out the library
Dust off your library card and enjoy DVDs and books for free.
If you'd normally rent a movie a week and buy a book a month, you can cut costs by $30. Plus, check out library-sponsored events, such as book readings, book clubs, film screenings and lectures.
3. Work or volunteer
Here's a great way for cash-strapped teenagers and college students to have some fun and make a buck at the same time. Check out part-time jobs at a sports venue, concert hall or theater. You may have to empty a trash can now and then or tear tickets, but you might be able to catch a good portion of the show.
In exchange for passing out play bills at the door, for example, you may be able to sit in on the performance when your work is done.
4. Watch for 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 of the month.
For performances, ask about free or drastically-discounted admission to dress rehearsals.
5. Team up for babysitting
As any parent knows, a good chunk of any entertainment budget can be eaten up just paying the babysitter. Join forces with a relative, neighbor or friend and trade off watching each other's kids instead. For example, you watch their kids one Saturday evening and they watch yours the following weekend.
If you spent $10 to $20 a week on a babysitter, you could save $560 to $1,120 per year with your co-op.
6. Catch a matinee
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-time evening slot.
Daytime is also a good time to try out a hot new restaurant. You can get lunch-menu prices for dinner-quality entrees.
7. Go with a group
When it comes to finding cheap entertainment, more really is merrier. Buy tickets in bulk to get a 10 percent (or higher) discount to many exhibitions and events. Team up with friends, co-workers or relatives to get the lower rate.
8. Get moving
Forget the $40-a-month gym membership that'll cost you almost $500 a year. Instead, check out community centers in your area. Some may be free or charge a minimal fee, such as $100 a year.
Or buy a good pair of running shoes, or dust off that bike, and work out the old-fashioned way.
9. Give 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, alumni or professional association, or even your job. Flash your membership card; save money.
And if you're a student, always ask about student discounts with your ID.
10. Go back to college
College campuses offer a treasure-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.
11. Fire your video store
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. You may find rentals for a $1 a night. If you're a once-a-week renter, you could shave your movie costs from $20 a month to a mere $4.
12. Head outdoors
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. You could even host a campout and roast hot dogs in your backyard. The sky's the limit.