If you are a typical American consumer, I bet you love going to the movies. It is a very romantic notion, having been tightly woven into our modern culture. Communal entertainment served up widescreen and surround sound in a comfy seat with enough showtimes throughout the week to fit any schedule. And of course tasty snacks to munch through while you sit silently, being entertained.
I grew up going to movies all the time. My grandfather owned and ran a theatre when my mom was a kid, and the love of movies was passed on to my generation. My high school job was in a video rental store, and I loved it. Once when my future parents-in-law revealed they hardly ever went to movies, I could barely understand it. Why wouldn’t you want to go to the movies? The lights would fall, and you could escape into another world for a few hours. Laugh, cry, scream, any emotion you wanted was delivered to you in the darkness. It was magic.
When I moved to DC in 2007 for my first job as a nurse, I was carrying almost $60,000 of debt. While I had avoided misusing my credit cards and had always paid my bills on time, after three years back in school I had still racked up an impressive amount of student, car and personal loan debt. At this point I still knew very little about money, or how to manage it, or what my goals were or should be, but I did know that I hated having that debt hang over me. I made it my focus to pay it off. Every overtime shift, every tax return, any extra money I had went towards my debt. I had a visceral need to see it wiped out, and became very focused on that single goal.
As the debt began to fall, I started educating myself on other money matters. I read some books. I started watching the Suze Orman Show and following JD Roth at Get Rich Slowly. And eventually I realized it wasn’t just about getting rid of the debt. I also needed to start saving for my retirement. I needed an emergency fund. In fact what I needed was a plan of where I wanted to be, and how I wanted to get there.
While at first my focus was mostly on debt, over time I began adding other goals. I built up an emergency fund. I contributed to my 403(b) at work, and then opened a Roth IRA. And the debt continued to fall. As I started more and more goals, the progress seemed slower on each of them, but still the progress remained steady. It felt good.
Spending five years as a starving actor in NYC had taught me to be pretty frugal. But now it wasn’t just about making sure I could pay my rent – I needed to pay off my past and save for my future as well. Slowly we began to find more ways to cut back. Eating out went pretty quickly. As did going to movies. I enjoyed those things, but as far as my priorities went, those activities just weren’t at the top of the list. I didn’t cry much about it, I was too pumped up seeing so much progress.
And I began to find joy in other things. We started cooking at home more than ever, and with all that practice have gotten pretty good at it. And we gave up not only going out to movies, but we finally cut off cable as well. The only thing I use my TV for now, my one splurge for outside entertainment, is my Netflix account. So I can still watch all the movies. I just do it at home.
I went to a movie today. Cleaning out a drawer we found a $10 gift card from two Christmases ago that we had just never gotten around to using, so we decided to make use of it. And I was a little surprised at my reaction to the whole affair. Because I’ll be honest, the last movie I paid to go see was the final Harry Potter movie. (Well, to be totally transparent, my parents did come to visit and took me to see the Spiderman reboot, but even that was spring of 2012, and since it was their idea they paid). So I was pretty excited about going. I mean it seemed like such a treat, a real indulgence to enjoy. Going to sit in the dark with a bunch of strangers to enjoy some popular entertainment. It had been so long!
And boy was I…underwhelmed.
The movie itself wasn’t the problem. It was “Saving Mr. Banks” if you’re curious, because I have a weakness for most things Disney all things Emma Thompson. We arrived early to get good seats, but the commercials were so loud we couldn’t even have a conversation. We just sat, stupefied by the noise, basically forced to pay attention to advertisements for 20 minutes. Then after about 25 minutes of more “official” commercials and previews I mostly didn’t care about, the movie FINALLY started. The one good thing I can say is it seems the public has gotten more savvy, because I didn’t hear or see a single cell phone during the whole movie, so that was a relief.
But a lack of people behaving badly is hardly a stunning endorsement for the experience.
Despite it all, it still feels weird to say it out loud. But apparently I don’t really enjoy going to movies anymore. It is much more fun to have the movie delivered to my door, and then watch the movie on my own schedule, wearing only my underwear if I want, or under an electric blanket if I want, or eating whatever snacks I want to have. The volume is at my discretion, and there is no one else to worry about possibly behaving badly. I can even pause it if I want. And my monthly bill is still less than the two of us going to one movie. Win/win.
I’m sure not all of you will agree with me on this. Which is fine, different folks have different priorities. But where my decision to stop going to movies was based on an external choice of saving that money for other things, I’m just intrigued that over time it has become an internal choice as well, without me even realizing it.
And I’m not saying I’ll never go to a movie again. I’m sure I’ll be tempted by the next Baz Luhrmann movie to come around. But overall, I am pretty satisfied with my choices. We teach ourselves what things are important and what aren’t, and financial independence is far more satisfying to me than enjoying movies like “everyone else” does.
Cause whatever you want to say about me, I’m certainly not like everyone else. (Except when I am, but shut up.)