A Family Night At the Movies for $5.50

We were operating on a shoestring budget due to overspending during some vacation activities the first half of July. My kids had been interested, and in my daughters case begging, to be go see Ice Age 3 Continental Drift as a family. Going to a movie can be an expensive excursion, especially if you visit the concession stand. Our usual movie going technique is go see the movie as a matinee, when the tickets are $4.50 per person. However, even that was more funds than we felt comfortable shelling out.

With a little creativity, my family of four were able to go to the movie with popcorn and soda for about $5.50 total. Here’s how we did it:


A few months ago we had won 4 free movie passes.  The first weekend we contemplated going to the movie, it was too new and passes were not accepted.  However, by waiting one week we were able to use our passes, and get into the movie for free.


We could have been content with just seeing the movie, as movie theater snacks are insanely overpriced. However, my wife came up with a plan that allowed us to get popcorn and soda for all four of us for relatively very little money.

Our 4 movie passes also came with a card good for one free medium popcorn with the purchase of a soft drink. We purchased a single large soda for $4.75 which comes with free refills. My wife also inquired if we could upgrade our medium popcorn to a large by paying the difference. The employee agreed, and allowed us to pay the extra $.75 to get a large. Why would we want a large? Free refills.

(Author’s side note:  My wife was so excited about being able to upgrade our popcorn to the “refills for free” size that she walked away from the counter without paying.  This resulted in a “it’s funny now” moment of being chased down by the cashier as we were entering the theater)

When our family sat down in our seats, my wife got out the 2 small popcorn bowls and 2 cups with lids that she had brought with her. She didn’t try to hide them, in fact she placed them on the counter when she was ordering.  The way we look at it, the size of a large popcorn and soda is built to share. What does it matter if we pass the bucket or cup around, or split it between different containers?  After all, another theater in our town will actually offer small bags in order to better share a large bucket of popcorn.

She filled the bowls with popcorn, and the cups with soda and handed them to our children who were sitting in front of us.  Then, I went an got a refill on the soda, and poked two straws through the lid – one for her, and one for me.  Total cost of the movie, popcorn and soda for our family of four came to $5.50.  We were lucky to have the free passes, but with a little creativity we were able to enjoy a family movie night at the theater, even when on an extremely tight budget.

What extremes have you gone to for entertainment when the budget is really tight?

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12 Responses to “A Family Night At the Movies for $5.50”

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  1. Jerry says:

    That’s brilliant. You are more honest than me! We used to sneak snacks into the theatre all the time! It’s insurance for our budget to bring snacks from home and is it really against the rules to do it? I just thought it was uncouth. Regardless, spending little and a free movies leads to a fun night for all. Thanks for sharing 🙂

    • Travis says:

      I suspect that if the movie theater posts a sign that says “no outside food/drink allowed” that it’s against the rules. Although I can’t tell you whether I’ve seen such a sign at my movie theater….not that I’m looking for it. 🙂 Glad you like the post, Jerry!

  2. Gina says:

    We are signed up for birthday clubs for all our fav restaurants..So it is my husband’s birthday on Wed.
    We had free cake and ice cream at Cracker Barrel
    Free entree from IHOP
    Free entree from First Watch
    Free donut and coffee from Krispy Kreme
    Free burrito from Moe’s
    Around $30.00 worth of goodies for just signing up or asking! Makes a cheapos heart sing! lol
    For the actual birthday gift, I talk with a country music star at work every once in awhile and he signed a birthday greeting for my husband on a sheet of paper. My husband was THRILLED!!
    So free food and a free gift! YES!

    • Travis says:

      That’s simply AWESOME, Gina! That sounds like a challenge…..for my next birthday (coming in December) I’m going to see how much free stuff I can get too!

  3. I love the idea of bringing shareable containers, especially since I”m a germaphobe and my family has been sharing popcorn at the movies since the early 90’s! Good for you guys! 🙂

    • Travis says:

      So glad to hear we’re not the only ones doing this! It just makes sense……..how much they charge for a large popcorn and soda (both of these items are SUPER CHEAP to make) is the real crime. Thanks for stopping be, Lauren!

  4. JMK says:

    My husband travels a lot for work, and has earned access to use the airline’s lounges at the airport. In all locations he can bring a guest into the lounge with him, and in many locations he can bring in his immediate family. there is some variation on what you’ll find in a lounge, but it seems that sandwich materials, salads, cookies, coffee/tea and an open bar are standard. Also there are racks of free newspapers and magazines. On our recent family trip to Europe we flew out at noon on the Friday and between food included with the flight and visiting the lounges during our conections we didn’t actually buy any food until dinner Saturday.

    The flights were “bought” free on points earned by using our credit card for everything, so in addition to free flights, the airline fed us for over 24 hours. We bought one dinner when we arrived, breakfast the next morning was included at the hotel, and we made sure we were on board the cruise ship by lunch to benefit from the included meals. Each day we when we left the ship to tour the next city, we were carrying a sandwich made with materials from the breakfast buffet. We paid for food with our cruise, we just weren’t going to be back on board before the lunch buffet shut down. I’m very careful to remind the kids to take only what they will eat – the sight of all the wasted food on a cruise is stunning. Even with packing a little lunch, I figure we consume/waste way less than the average passenger. I always take sandwich bags and refillable water bottles when we travel to get our water from a reliable source and cut down on meal costs. Having a few baggies in your purse makes it easier to save leftovers where containers aren’t offered (street vendor food). In Italy, we’ve bought pizza and calzones to eat while we wander. It’s nice to be able to pack up the extras for a snack later on. If possible get a hotel room with a coffee machine and mini fridge. Taking a doggie bag home from a restaurant only works if you have somewhere to keep it cold in the hotel. I figure if I can reduce a few food costs along the way, there is more budget left for the sightseeing which is really the memorable part of the holiday.

  5. Travis says:

    Thanks for sharing such great ideas, JMK! I love your perspective that by reducing food costs along the way there is more budget left for sightseeing……that’s a great example of using your money wisely, and getting what you want from your spending.

  6. Wow! I LOVE the ingenuity! If I could only teach my clients how to live like you….

  7. Reva says:

    My best friend and I may or may not have snuck airport bottles of vodka into a theater to see Bridesmaids – bought the large sodas and spiked them in the bathroom!

    • Travis says:

      Wow, Reva….just WOW. I LOVE your ingenuity and creativity. I’m totally stealing your idea the next time I go to the movies – I just have to make sure I spike the drink AFTER we fill the kids’ cups with soda. LOL.

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