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Frugal Confession: We Bring Our Own Candy to the Theater

Written by Nickel - 19 Comments

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I talked the other day about how much I prefer Netflix over the theater, at least from a financial perspective. That being said, we do indulge in trips to the movie theater every once in awhile. And what fun is a movie without snacks?

The problem here is that the snack bar is even more overpriced than the ticket counter. Our solution? Simple. Stop by the drugstore on the way to the theater to pick up our treats. Then just slip them in your pocket and head for the show. Given that a box of Milk Duds goes for something like three bucks at the theater, picking up the exact same thing for under a buck while you’re en route is a great way to keep your costs down while still enjoying full movie theater experience. This is especially when you have four kids that are hankering for a treat — to be fair, our youngest doesn’t go to the movies yet, but still.

You know, it’s funny… I never realized how much of a habit this had become until our eight year old asked “Dad, is there a CVS drugstore at every theater?”

Published on September 8th, 2006 - 19 Comments
Filed under: Frugality

About the author: is the founder and editor-in-chief of this site. He's a thirty-something family man who has been writing about personal finance since 2005, and guess what? He's on Twitter!

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Comments (scroll down to add your own):

  1. I had someone comment on my blog that his wife had a special, huge purse that was just used when they went to the theater. They load it with candy, snacks, and even drinks — and head off to the show!

    I remember reading a piece somewhere that theaters know this is going on and they allow it just so long as you don’t flaunt the fact that you’re bringing stuff in. If you wanted to feel no guilt at all, you could call the theater and ask them what their policy is. 😉

    Comment by Anonymous — Sep 8th 2006 @ 4:09 pm
  2. If I have the spare time, I usually stop by 7-Eleven and get a big gulp soda, and any snacks I want.

    I have yet to enter a theater and have anyone tell me I couldn’t bring in my soda. The snacks are either in my pocket or the wife’s purse.

    Then my wife blows the whole thing because she spends $8 on some popcorn and hot dog.

    Comment by Anonymous — Sep 8th 2006 @ 6:39 pm
  3. Good for you! With the prices of movie tickets going through the roof, theaters should encourage people to bring in their own food/drinks. The revenue they lose in concessions would be more than made up in the increased ticket sales.

    Comment by Anonymous — Sep 9th 2006 @ 2:55 pm
  4. I have to say, I used to live back east and sneak candy and a soda in a heavy coat. Once I did it on the way to a local cinema: I got there and there was an elderly woman on oxygen selling tickets ($3) and her husband worked the snack counter selling popcorn for $2 and soda’s for a dollar. I felt so guilty I bought snacks there and left the ones in my pocket. Needless to say, I made many trips back to that theater over the years. Nowadays, when I go to the theater it’s often to avoid a hot afternoon in my non-airconditioned apartment so I have a tendency to sneak into a second movie at the mega-plex. I’ve often wondered why they don’t sell an all-day ticket like pay-per view does.

    Comment by Anonymous — Sep 9th 2006 @ 10:34 pm
  5. In high school, many moons ago, my buddies and I would head for the theater. My one friend would wear a winter coat stocked with snacks. One time he wasn’t being very subtle and the bulge caught the attention of an attendant on the way in. He was really on the lookout for beer, because when he challenged my friend to open his coat, he saw the packages of fig newtons and little debbies, laughed and waved us through.

    Comment by Anonymous — Sep 10th 2006 @ 1:43 pm
  6. I worked at a movie theater for 6 years.

    Policy was no outside food or drink. If they were not keeping it hidden we’d tell them no outside food allowed.

    Concession is where the theater makes thier money. Almost all of the ticket sales goes to the studios.

    People bring in microwave popcorn sometimes as well.

    Comment by Anonymous — Sep 11th 2006 @ 11:42 am
  7. I will be the first to admit that ticket prices are high and the popcorn/goodies are extremely overpriced. But if you don’t want to buy them then don’t and get through the movie with no snacks. It has already been mentioned that the movie theaters make their money on the snacks and the movie studios get the ticket sales.
    Why break the rules by “sneaking” in snacks, just wait two hours. If you think it is ok to sneak in food then I suppose speed limits are just suggestions and prices posted at Target are only if you can’t sneak the item out with out paying for it.

    Comment by Anonymous — Sep 13th 2006 @ 11:22 pm
  8. Ed,

    A couple of things. First of all, you suggested that we either: (1) skip the snacks, or (2) skip the movie. While it’s true that much of the ticket price goes to the studio, you’re wrong when you say that “movie studios get the ticket sales.” In general terms, theaters *do* get a cut. In fact, they take in 20-55% of the ticket price (it increases as a movie runs longer and more tickets are sold).

    I’ll write more on this sometime soon, but…

    It sounds like you’re suggesting that skipping the movie entirely is better for the theater than is filling an otherwise empty seat and giving them a cut of the ticket sales. I don’t know about you, but if I owned a theater, I’d certainly rather have a cut of the ticket sales. No matter how small that cut ends up being, I would argue that giving them your business is better than turning your back on them entirely. Sorry, but you’re just wrong on this.

    Second, you equated bringing snacks into a theater with speeding and shoplifting. Why not throw murder in there, as well? The key difference is that your examples have been codified into law. It’s a crime to speed or shoplift (though I’ve been known to do the former on occasion). As far as I’m aware, the same cannot be said of bringing snacks into a theater.

    Comment by Nickel — Sep 14th 2006 @ 8:00 am
  9. I remember doing this alot when I was younger. The one time one of the workers saw it he just shook his head and laughed to himself but didn’t do anything about it. I don’t do it much anymore simply because I don’t eat much snacks.

    Comment by Anonymous — Sep 14th 2006 @ 10:46 am
  10. Mr. Pibb + Red Vines = Crazy delicious

    Comment by Anonymous — Sep 14th 2006 @ 1:35 pm
  11. nickel,

    I never said skipping the movie if you cannot take in snacks, I just said skip the snacks for a couple of hours, if you cannot abide by the rules. If the theater depends mostly on concession sales to stay in business then you are stealing from the theater by bringing in your own snacks and not purchasing them there. I guess you can rationalize this by saying, “well I wouldn’t have bought anything there anyway, so the theater wouldn’t have made money on me” To each his own.

    At my local theater they had to start stamping the date on the free refill bags o’ popcorn because people would actually save the bag and bring it the next time for their “free” refill.

    While it might not be a law, it is still wrong. If it is against the rules and people still break them, I suppose it is up to their own feelings if it is dishonest or not.
    It just smacks of cheapness and not frugalness, if that is a word.

    I do not believe the prices, at the movie theater, for their concessions are fair either, but if I think they are too expensive I don’t buy and even though I have a hearty appetite and have the body to prove it, I can make it through a movie without snacks or a drink. Again I just believe it is dishonest to walk past a posting of ‘no outside food or drinks allowed’ while purposely hiding said food or drink.

    Comment by Anonymous — Sep 15th 2006 @ 12:25 am
  12. You know, I bring candy to the movies a lot, not because I don’t want to buy it from them, but because half the theaters don’t carry any kind of selection anymore. I can’t get what I want unless I bring something. That includes beverages–I don’t like Pepsi, and the local theater doesn’t carry Coke. I’ve been known to put a bottle of water and a package of candy in my purse. Am I a bad person for it?

    I don’t think this is unethical. They are perfectly within their rights to ask you to leave if you violate their policies, but I’ve never seen someone asked to leave at most of the local theaters for outside food. The only exception is the indie place about an hour from here, and I only know that they did it with people bringing in Starbucks from the place down the block.

    The rules made by a movie theater are not law and they don’t have the force of law. I don’t have to follow them, and they don’t have to sell to me. But they do, so thus far I’m presuming that they like the ticket dollars. As soon as *they* find those rules to be more important than ticket dollars, they can start enforcing them. But that’s their business, not mine.

    Comment by Anonymous — Sep 15th 2006 @ 11:18 am
  13. Susan-

    I guess the only question is, do you have it in plain site, Coke can in one hand, candy in the other walking in or do you hide it? How can they ask you to leave if you have it hidden? They don’t know that you are breaking their rules. *They* already feel that those rules are important or *they* wouldn’t post a sign. They expect honest, God fearing, hard working people to follow the rules. It is just a guess but I would say if you had your items in the open they would enforce their rules. They are not going to pat down people/check bags and have electrical snack monitors like Wal-Mart going in and out of the theater.

    Comment by Anonymous — Sep 16th 2006 @ 1:25 am
  14. I’m with comment #1;
    I too had a “man-purse” (murse) which i discreetly used to “smuggle” in items purchased prior from dominoes and burger king (which were conveniently located right next door to the cinema)
    plus i drink only water, and i don’t like paying $5.99 when i can get it free from home in a 1 litre size bottle instead of single gulp sized.
    and further, for years my uncle who is diabetic and requires special diet, has used that excuse to bring in whatever home-prepared food he wanted into the cinema (and any other place)


    Comment by Anonymous — Jun 19th 2007 @ 12:57 pm
  15. my asian friends also complained the western foods offered are too sweet and they prefer to bring in their kim-chi and other various spicey-ricey foods. is kinda cool eating chinese food in a cinema though.. just as long as nobody can smell it or you’re busted.

    Comment by Anonymous — Jun 19th 2007 @ 1:02 pm
  16. I went to a Carmike theater with a zippered square container but also bought a bag of popcorn which cost more than the admission. I was asked what was in my bag. I said why do you want to know, it is an invasion of privacy. The ushers said you are supposed to buy from the concessions, I said I did, then I went to my movie seat. The Manager came and said I’m afraid I’m going to have to ask you to leave, I will refund your ticket price. I said fine, I will go elsewhere. He refunded the ticket but picked up the almost $7 popcorn and threw it away in front of me. I am disabled and diabetic. If I don’t get justice from Carmike, I may take legal action.

    Comment by Anonymous — Aug 12th 2007 @ 11:34 pm
  17. Ed, You have no idea how the movie theater business runs. Yes, the movie theaters do get a cut from the tickets sales. It is almost never 50%. The first two weeks after it opens is 80% or even 90%. Its based on the number of seats and how many sell out shows you have. The rates drop each week but so does attendance. You figure it costs over 8 million dollars for even a smaller theater to be built. At $8.50 a ticket and the business gets $.85 opening week, you have to make up for it somewhere. $.85 A ticket does not even cover payroll sorry. Remember this, if you like to see the movie on the big screen support your local theaters. Without concession sales, movie theaters will go out of business.

    Comment by Anonymous — Oct 29th 2007 @ 11:58 am
  18. In my small Midwestern town we are trying to
    buy and restore the movie theater. The mortgage
    is huge,the repairs extensive,yet,we still only
    charge five bucks a ticket.

    The studios don’t care. They want their cut.
    I can’t say as I blame them. So all of our
    ‘real’ money comes from concessions.

    Every single person at that theater is a
    volunteer. We’re working hard to preserve
    our shared heritage. Our group is one of
    MANY across the country.

    On behalf of all of them:


    Comment by Anonymous — Jan 23rd 2008 @ 2:54 am
  19. I just went to amc and brought bottled water with me not disclosed. I insisted, to the manager, that it was not legal for them to make me give them my water to get in and they said that it is their policy and they just recently started enforcing it. I made a pressing case to the manager asking for names of president and lawyers of amc so i may sue them if possible. Was this legal for them to make me give them my water to get into the theater? I received his name and the general managers name.

    Comment by Anonymous — Sep 5th 2009 @ 4:20 am

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