Cheap Date: Saving Money on Movies, Restaurants, Bars, Sports and More

Shopping
You can trust that we maintain strict editorial integrity in our writing and assessments; however, we receive compensation when you click on links to products from our partners and get approved. Here's how we make money.

Whether you’re planning an event for your family of five, going on a date with someone you’re just not that sure you want to go expensive-candlelit-dinner for, or just a normal budget-conscious human being, there are plenty of opportunities to save on entertainment – deal websites, marketplaces and tricks abound for lowering the cost of a night out. Here are ways to save money on a night out on the town.

Entertainment money-saving tips

The following tricks apply equally to restaurants, movies and sporting events.

  • Check for affiliation discounts. If you’re a member of the AARP, Costco or AAA, you can probably get deals through those websites. Students, seniors and military often get discounted tickets from the theater directly as well, so be sure to bring your ID.
  • Use discount gift card websites. Sites like Cardpool and Gift Card Granny buy unused gift cards and sell them at a discount. Check out their entertainment sections for savings.
  • Check for credit card deals. Visa Signature, for example, sometimes offers 20% off on Fandango gift cards or 2-for-1 movies on Fridays; the MasterCard Marketplace has discount restaurant deals. Many offer event discounts on concerts and games as well.
  • Use a deal aggregator so you never miss out. Websites like DealGator aggregate offers from Groupon, LivingSocial and local discount websites so that you can cast the widest net possible.
  • Check out cash back websites. Cash back websites like eBates or Upromise often give 5-20% back when you click from their website to the merchant’s before you make the purchase. You can find deals on anything from AMC Theaters to Groupon to Restaurant.com with the coupon and deal tool.

Movie tickets

The best thing about movie discounts is that they usually don’t depend on the specific movie you see. This means you can often score a deal for, say, cheap AMC tickets, and use them for a variety of showings. The downside is that there are often restrictions placed on the tickets: No just-released movies, no 3D or IMAX, that sort of thing. Be sure to read the fine print.

  • Look for discounts at local theaters. Many independent theatres offer creative deals, like buy-one-get-one ticket nights or a discounted ticket if you present a receipt from a local restaurant.
    • Pro tip: Call up the theater manager to ask for deals, as many aren’t well advertised.
  • Buy tickets in bulk. Many theater chains, such as Regal and AMC, allow you to bulk-purchase tickets at a discount. BulkTix.com offers a great way to see what deals are available, including how many tickets you have to purchase to get the deal.

Bars and restaurants

  • Use Upromise Dining. Upromise offers up to 8% cash back on over 10,000 restaurants – you can use their restaurant finder to see if there are any near you. Just register your debit or credit card at Upromise.com, and you’ll get your rewards credited into your account.
  • Find happy hours. Whether you’re looking to Mad Men up your day or just grab a bite to eat, happy hours are your friend. Chances are you’ll find discounted drinks and food between 3 and 9 on weekdays. Happy Hour Spots helps you see which offers happen when in your area.
  • Join a loyalty program. Opentable.com offers points every time you book with them, and though the earn rate is terrible, you can eventually work your way up to a gift certificate. Other, localized apps like Gving or Belly aggregate indivudal restaurants’ programs.

Live events: Sports, museums, performances, and concerts

  • Look beyond Ticketmaster. Websites like ScoreBig can offer even better deals than the famed Ticketmaster and StubHub. However, you do choose your seating area, rather than the seat itself, so you give up some flexibility.
    • Heads up: Obviously, keep an eye out for ticket scams. Don’t wire money or hand over cash before you’ve seen the tickets; instead, use a credit card to limit your liability in case of fraud.
  • Buy last-minute. The best deals are found hours before the game, when people are desperate to unload their tickets.
  • Don’t buy food at the event. Who wants to pay $10 for a Bud Lite? No one, that’s who. Tailgate, people.
  • Consider going to a minor league game and skipping the majors. If it’s the atmosphere you’re after, the minors can provide the joy of athletic competition without the annoyance of an overly excited fan spilling the aforementioned overpriced beverage on your shirt.

Choosing the right events.

The tips listed above assume that you’re dead-set on a certain event, but having some flexibility significantly reduces your cost. Some examples:

  • Go to performances on Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday. They often have cheaper performances on off-peak days.
  • Consider a music festival instead of an individual concert. You’ll get more bang for your buck by essentially getting a set of concerts rather than buying tickets piecewise. (They’re also really fun).
  • If you have a Bank of America credit or debit card, you may be able to take advantage of their once-a-month free museum days. They have free days at 150 museums in 93 cities – check out the list here.

As with most forms of commerce, the more flexibility you have, the more you can save. It pays to plan ahead and shop around.