When ”Free” Becomes Not So Free

When I was on maternity leave last year, we had an opportunity to buy discounted season tickets to our local junior (CHL) hockey team. Knowing date nights would be near non-existent given our tight budget, we jumped on the opportunity to have quite a few ”paid for” nights out since the ticket cost would be covered by some unexpected funds we came into. It ended up being a great opportunity since we were able to watch our hometown team win the league title, it was an exciting year to be a ticket holder.

expensive night out

Image via Flickr – http://www.flickr.com/photos/dborman2/

Friends of ours also had tickets so the four of us (sometimes five, if kiddo came with us) would drive in together, sharing any parking fees, though we usually lucked out with a broken parking lot gate and parked for free. It was fun and cheap!

This year with my return to work, we renewed our seats, this time, many family members also got tickets. So though our nights out aren’t free, rather paid for in advance, it still makes it feel like a ”free” date night not needing to spend any money upfront each time we go out.

Dinner Plans

The tickets are paid for in the summer allowing us to go to the games not needing anything other than the admission ticket itself. Since the family has joined in on the excitement things have gotten expensive. Our family is close. It’s natural to do everything together so if one suggests dinner, it is assumed we’ll all be there. Our family as a whole has never had many financial issues so not being able to afford something is out of their norm. In the past few months we’ve ended up eating out for dinner ($$) before almost every game. Our ”free date” now has an added $30-$50 bill to it.

Gas and Parking

Since we live outside of the city, we need to drive into the city for the games and 90% of the time, pay for parking. Our ”free date” now has an added $20-$30 to each game in the form of parking fees, tolls and gas.


With the influx of friends and family at the games we now find ourselves socializing more. We meet up during intermission, sometimes but a 50:50 ticket, sometimes buy a beer or cold drink. If we partake in the socialization during the games it can run upwards of $20.

So, our ”free” or pre-paid night out, could potentially run upwards of $100 per game. Very much not so free considering we go to at least two games per month, and depending on the schedule can go upwards of four per month.

What we’re doing

We’ve compromised. We know the schedule of games we will and will not be attending. We usually budget to have at least one meal out per week at a restaurant.

Since we know the games, if we plan accordingly we can have our one night out during the game but if we’ve already used our one dinner out then we will decline on dinner. The slightly ironic part being if we go to dinner, and thus get to the city earlier, we 99% of the time end up getting free parking. If we skip dinner and have to pay for parking it can cost upwards of $20.

Even with paying for parking I feel like we attend the games in a different mindset when we haven’t just come from a dinner out, like our wallets are a little tighter and less likely to spend money on silly things we didn’t plan on.  If we both go to the game we either have my sister or in-laws babysit (free) if they’re unavailable, kiddo comes with us. We never pay for babysitting (is this considered a win?).

I sort of wrap our entertainment and eating out budget into these games depending on the month. It can be tough and quite expensive but we genuinely enjoy it. As long as we’re able to continue balancing our budget I think we will be ok, even if our ”free” night out is not so free.

Have you had a free (or free-ish) event turn out to be more expensive than you originally thought?

14 thoughts on “When ”Free” Becomes Not So Free

  1. I’ve had “free” turn into really expensive, but my story is completely different. I got a coupon for some high-end cat food for “free.” I tried it and it royally messed up one of my cats. The vet bill ended up costing $400! So, yes, there are times when something “free” can cost much more!

  2. Wow, it seems like some of those costs have quickly started to pile on. That’s about how I feel with the sports leagues I’ve joined in. They aren’t too expensive themselves. Then you factor in the cost of getting down there and then the team wants to go out for drinks afterwards. Obviously you don’t want to always be that guy who doesn’t socialize with the group. It can add up quickly.

  3. I’ve absolutely had this type of experience. I got free tickets to a movie before, which seemed great! And it was nice, but when adding up the cost of refreshments like popcorn and drinks, it ended up costing a fair amount anyway.

  4. We had the same experience before, we received free movie tickets from our former boss. The movie theater is in the middle of high-end mall. We paid for transportation (taxi) and food for both me and my wife.

  5. When you have a large family, the situation only gets worse. We were recently offered “free” tickets to a professional soccer match — including free parking. But there were only two tickets and we have four kids. If we all wanted to go, that would mean buying four more tickets (not to mention the cost of getting there, since the games are played about an hour away). If we had been planning on going to a game anyway, this would have been a good deal. But otherwise, it winds up being a rather costly freebie.

  6. I buy movie (roughly 50% discount) discount tickets. We usually join friends and go out for dinner after the movie. Irt makes for a nice social evening for less. Actually, the only expensive part is the initial purchase because I have to buy 50 tickets at a time.

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