Sunday, April 3, 2011

Don't Go By "Their" Average Costs

Articles such as this one in the Chicago (area) Daily Herald always capture my attention, especially when they focus on the high overall cost of doing something that I personally enjoy doing.

The story focuses on how, for this new baseball season, it "would" cost a family of 4 more than $250 to attend a White Sox home game, with a Cubs game coming in at more than $300. For ONE game.

But before you expect me to go on about how we need more articles like this and how wonderful the points it makes are, think again.

As a Frustrated Consumer, I continue to not like these articles. Sure, the writer seems accurate and did her homework. Same with the articles about the costs of going to the amusement park, the movie theaters, and some tourist or family destination points. I understand that consumers want to know how the "family of four" is impacted financially.

Sorry, but I'm here to tell you that these writers (in general) in these stories are being way too kind to the entities which are, for the most part, getting away with charging such high prices. Just because people go to something with the "It's once a year and we know it is going to cost an arm and a leg" attitude doesn't mean we are all required to feed the system. Articles such as this one are the enemy. Even as much as I dislike high prices.

The figures they show (in general) include the expensive "extras", as if these are required costs. I'll get back to the baseball example later. For now, let's look at the movies, and I'll show you what I mean.

I don't have a link to the article, but I saw a similar (to the baseball one) story recently about how it costs "close to $60 for a family of four" to attend a movie. Obviously, that is an outrageous cost for just one movie. However, that figure is not realistic, because it includes "optional" expenses.

You see, we do not HAVE TO automatically invest in a $4.00 soda, $5.00 for a super duper large popcorn plus more money for butter (as if $5.00 won't cover their cost) for every person that walks through the movie theater door.

While the writers of these stories take the figures the movie theaters and chambers of commerce provide and make it appear that we all "have to" prepare for all of these costs, there is a more realistic way to look at it.

A family of four with two children doesn't need to wait until evening to all go to the movies. They can go AFTER lunch (when they are full, of course), or perhaps right before going to dinner right after, when they know a big meal is coming.

By paying matinee pricing, the typical family of four should be able to all see a movie for less than $30 per visit. Not upwards of $50. Keep in mind, we are not "forced" to be gouged for soda and snacks, especially since we are at the theater for such a short time. If some of the "families of four" still wish to indulge themselves and their kids and spend $30 to $40 on refreshments for all, so be it. But don't make it an "acceptable" average cost.

My "$30 per visit" figures $6.00 per person matinee, which is $24 total. However, some families will pay full price later in the day, or not know to look for a theater which charges reduced prices during the afternoon, and pay upwards of $9.50 per person, or $38 total.

To me, the $38 total is "expensive" for just one movie, especially when the theater visit is generally well under 2 hours, and when it can be done for $24. The article I saw should be reporting the "average cost for a family of four" as $31, splitting the difference of full price vs. a discount price. Either way, it's well under the "expected" $50 that the movie theaters want us to think it is.

Meanwhile, I happen to think that paying for than $6 - $7 for just one movie, at any time of the day or night, is quite high. I grew up during a time when most movie theaters had a "double feature" playing most weeks. Plus, they would show cartoons, "short features", or other forms of entertainment on the big screen prior to the start of the first feature, and sometimes in between the two movies. We used to easily be "at the movies" for upwards of 4+ hours. Going to the movies was what you did for an entire afternoon or evening.

Now, it has become what we do on the way to or way from something. Sometimes 100 minutes and you are out of there. No cartoons, short features. Instead, we have to watch commercials from advertisers and endless previews of other movies which will, of course, be coming to the specific theater you are at. And for this, the price keeps going up?

So, YES, it does cost a lot, in my opinion, for a family of four to go to the movies. Unless they can keep it well under $30. What and where they eat or drink is their option, not my "expected" expense.

Next, apply the same theory to baseball games. The above linked article, like others, "expect" people to buy souvenirs, food, drinks, etc. every time. They factor in parking, as if $20+ to park one car for less than 4 hours is an "accepted" expense.

The above linked article includes purchasing team caps for all four people. Say what? I would like to believe the parents would make certain the kids still have their team cap (purchased at a discount retailer for well under 1/2 of what they sell for at the ballpark!) before they go.

Baseball games in Chicago generally start after 1 in the afternoon (after lunch) and are over before dinner. Night games generally start after 7 PM. There is time to eat dinner before hand, at at quite a savings over the $10 - $12 per person a crappy hot dog, fries, and one soda costs at the ballpark. Even if that family of four all takes the bus or train to and from the game (at roughly $2 per person each way), the cost of transportation totals $16, which saves from the $20+ merely to park. That is, if they choose not to drive and park a mile or two away in a free spot and walk to save even more.

Again, anything beyond the ticket prices is an optional expense, unlike how this and other stories portray them.

Yet, even more than the movies, the cost of baseball (and other sports) tickets is outrageous. In Chicago, it costs at least $24 per ticket (other than the few bargain or special discount games) and often $40+ per ticket just to sit in the outfield seats. The ones with little to no protection from the sun and the elements, and the ones which are furthest away from home plate.

The "reporter" should be pointing out how a family of four could spend over $150 just on game tickets in Chicago again this summer. There would be enough of us to realize that even if we do this once per year, there may or may not be enough money left over to purchase any food or souvenirs during our visit.

I'll admit it's tough to stay away. I enjoy movies, but go to fewer and further between. And when I see one I don't enjoy enough or find fault with, I point it out to as many people as I can to try and save their money.

As a baseball addict over the years who has gone to literally 100 baseball games in person during each of several seasons, I now go 5 to 10 times per year when I can arrange for tickets at "enough" of a discount to meet my budget. We either park and walk, take the train, and eat before or after the games. Elsewhere.

To put it in terms of the above linked article, I may spend $258.68 on the White Sox this new season, but not for just one game. More like 10 games, with change left over. Yet, if only they were reasonably priced, I'd go all the time.

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