How To Be Cultural Yet Still Save Cash

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As you watch your net worth sink along with the stock market, you might be thinking that you just won't be able to do culture anymore.

Don't worry - there's still hope, if you're smart about how to find less expensive opportunities in the arts and entertainment.

Here are some places where you can save money, and still get the experience you'd been looking for.

7. Opera

Live opera is a great spectacle, but there are times when you just can't justify spending the money to get to the real thing.

Fortunately, the Metropolitan Opera of New York has a solution: opera in the movie theater.

The Met, one of the world's premier opera companies, has for several seasons now been transmitting select live performances into theaters around the U.S. and internationally.

Here's a guide on the Met's Web site to the selection of performances and the dates. If you want in on the tickets as soon as possible -- and many of the performances do sell out -- you'll need to start booking in August.

6. Restaurants


BYOB (Bring Your Own Beverage) has long been the method of choice for wine connoisseurs who want to enjoy a special from their collection.

But it can be an economical way to enjoy vino with your meal. Restaurant markups on wine can often double or triple the price. So, it's probably even worth paying the corkage fee (the amount a restaurant charges to serve a wine you bring in yourself).

Restaurants that are particularly accepting of BYOB often include those that serve cuisine from predominantly Muslim countries, and don't provide alcohol for purchase. Many restaurants that don't have a liquor license won't have any corkage fee at all.

The catch is that you should be familiar with the BYOB policy. Some restaurants are very picky about it -- especially since your money-saving plan will eat into their margins. Many places won't allow you to bring in bottles that they offer on the menu, or have other requirements. The best plan is to call ahead and ask what the restaurant's policy is before you cart in that beautiful Bordeaux.

5. Giving to Charity

Charities are hurting along with everyone else, and some are in particularly bad straits because their high-salaried big donors from financial-services firms might not have jobs anymore.

But, there's a way to donate money without even technically sending out a check: shopping on the Internet via charity portals. These usually work by donating a portion of the profit from your purchases made through the Web site to a charity. Many of the sites even offer you a number of charities from which to choose.

Charity sites that operate this way include GreaterGood.com, GoodSearch.com, GoodShop.com and iGive.com.

Another way would be to volunteer at an event, which usually means you can attend free of charge.

4. Hotels

Before you call the front desk at a hotel to book the reservation for your fabulous summer trip, look around a bit on the Internet to see if any discounts are being offered.

Particularly with the chains such as Marriott (MAR), Hilton and Starwood (HOT), you can often find special codes or discounts to use when booking that will either reduce the price, or get you some extras along with the rate.

For instance, Marriott has been known to offer special rates that get you free breakfast for two or tickets to local attractions, or even free parking at airport hotels while you're on your trip.

3. Seeing Art

While the works in museums will usually be exquisite, you can find galleries, art fairs and free exhibits where you can enjoy all that creativity at low or no cost. If you attend receptions, you might even get some free food or drinks out of it.

Plus, a lot of exhibitions show art that's on sale at reasonable prices, so if you do decide to buy something, you can decorate your house or give a gift while supporting a struggling artist.

2. Sports, Plays and Musicals

The touring Broadway plays and professional sports teams get most of the attention, but don't forget the less attention-getting groups.

Local theater groups and schools will put on the shows at significant discounts to what you'd be paying on Broadway or to see a major touring production.

Also, minor league baseball teams, semi-professional sports leagues, colleges and high schools have athletic action that's every bit as exciting as what the pros do. You'll probably also get better seats -- and the hot dogs and ballcaps will be cheaper, too.

1. City Programs

The amount of free activities is myriad, for people who keep their eyes open. Cities and parks often have free activities you can watch for, from movies to Shakespeare plays in the park.

Religious and cultural groups have similar things, so keep an eye out. Parades, street fairs or events at malls could be fun, if that's where your interest lies. Churches regularly have musical performances, as well.

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