Squirreling Gone Wild #36: Saving Money on Movie Theatre Popcorn

save money on movie theatre popcornSo, it’s been a while since the last installment of Squirreling Gone Wild, but I came across another example of borderline extreme behavior when it comes to saving money.  You might call it clever instead.  Let’s see what you think.

The scene was a local movie theatre.  As I’ve written about before, it can be expensive to go see movies, and there are plenty of ways to save money on movies that don’t include going to the theatre.  Though admittedly, I have a renewed interest in seeing movies, and find that my kids really love to see them.

Anyway, one aspect of going to see a movie that can be quite expensive is the cost of concessions.  A recent post from ABC news discussed why popcorn costs a lot at the movies, and it’s really a notion that’s quite common these days.  Get popcorn, or any other concessions at the movies, and you’ll pay quite a bit more than if you bought similar items outside.

Now, with other concessions you might be able to sneak a few things into the movies.  Candies come to mind.  Is this ethical? We discussed it in a post a few weeks ago on ethics and frugality, and sentiment seemed to be that it’s not a huge deal even if borderline.  Do you agree?

Well anyway, one would think that it wouldn’t be possible to game the system when it come to popcorn.  After all, it would be tough to bring a big bag of popcorn into the theatre, much less hot, buttered popcorn.  You might be able to bring in some healthier popcorn, but that’s another topic altogether.

What I saw at the theatre was a family that found a way to squeeze some savings out of their entertainment budget by figuring out a way around the high cost of movie popcorn.  Here is what I think they did, and it’s pretty simple:

  • Buy a large bucket of popcorn for $6.75, which comes with refills (the smaller sizes don’t).
  • Bring into the theatre some brown paper bags, which they hid in their jackets
  • When in the dark theatre, bust out the paper bags and transfer popcorn from the bucket to each of the 4 individual bags.
  • Keep going back for refills as they need more popcorn.

The net result is that for the price of one large popcorn, they could ultimately get the equivalent of 4 large popcorn servings!

One could always point out that if they just used that original bucket and passed it around and shared, they could have gotten the same deal.  However, that seems like it would be quite inconvenient at the movies to pass the popcorn around a group of people.  Getting your own bag that only you are touching seems to be a more convenient, pleasant experience, right?

When I saw that these people were doing, I smiled right away :)  After thinking about it more, I thought that it might have crossed the line.  It seemed analogous to getting one fountain drink at a restaurant, and then pouring drinks into separate cups for the whole family.  Perhaps just because it’s the movies, many turn a blind eye to this behavior.

My Questions for You

What do you think about this movie theatre popcorn workaround?

Do you think we tend to give frugal behavior at the movie theatres a free pass compared to similar actions in other settings?


    • Squirrelers says

      Those savings can really add up. If a family of 4 buys candy ahead of time, it could mean $10 off the total expenses for the evening.

    • Squirrelers says

      Yes, it’s not exactly conducive to a healthy lifestyle! The last time I had movie popcorn I just didn’t feel too great the rest of the afternoon.

  1. says

    I know that most movie theaters don’t make money on the movies, and only survive because of the profits on concessions. With that in mind, I will buy concessions occasionally. Not every visit but I don’t completely go without.

    • Squirrelers says

      You’re a good citizen, Money Beagle! The concessions sure seem like that’s where the money is. There is an older independently owned theatre near where I live, and I thought of this aspect the last time I was there.

  2. says

    I personally don’t care for popcorn while I watch movies so I don’t think I would ever try something like that, but hey I understand that a family of four going to the movies can be pricey so I don’t think it is a big deal.

    • Squirrelers says

      Yes, passing that bag of popcorn back and forth isn’t fun. I’m cool with sharing things, but popcorn is something that I don’t want to share with just anyone due to the gross out factor.

  3. says

    Movies are so overpriced these days. The markup on that popcorn is super high. I think there is no shame in making it work for you. Good for you for figuring out a workable system. Not all movie theaters have unlimited popcorn for the big one though, so everyone will need to check their local policies.

    • Squirrelers says

      Well, I can’t take credit for figuring out that system – I just saw someone do it! But it sure did seem to work out for them.

  4. says

    This is so interesting! Not something I ever would have thought of. I have seen families do it with buying 1 drink and sharing then refilling for free which I was never completely comfortable with. I don’t think I could do it.

    Just 2 days ago I took my kids to the movies. When we sat down my 5yr old asked me “Where’s my popcorn?” (my ex used to take them to the movies and they got everything they wanted, popcorn, drinks, ice creams, chocolates, lollies etc.) I just told her I didn’t buy any. That was it. I don’t usually buy the snacks, they didn’t care and it saved me money.

    • Squirrelers says

      That would most certainly save money, by not buying things at the movies. As parents we do need to live within our means and teach lessons in responsibility.

    • Squirrelers says

      Of the candies that are sold there (I know you bring it in), that always seemed to me to be the least unhealthy.

  5. says

    I don’t remember the last time we went to the movies! It’s $20 per adult, when I can buy a movie or have an online subscription for the family at that price.

    As for the popcorn, quite a smart move bringing the bags in! Mind you, I would feel guilty and couldn’t do it. Not that we get refillable popcorn here anyway.

    • Squirrelers says

      $20 per adult is quite a bit. Over here, a matinee show can cost much less. At that price you pay there, I can see how it would be off the table when considering alternatives.

  6. says

    I’m not a huge movie popcorn fan to begin with – it’s way too buttery and greasy. However, it sounds like this family made this work for them. I also think it’s fine that they do this to save a buck or two. Going to the movies isn’t cheap, especially for a family of 4 or more,

    • Squirrelers says

      Healthy it sure isn’t…or at least that’s my understanding of it. I suppose if people want to eat unhealthy anyway, they might as well save money while doing it :)

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