Is the cost of fun worth it?


Last week, a friend of mine asked me to go with them to THEMUSEUM’s Barbiecore Night. As a lifelong lover of all things Barbie, I was about to happily say yes — until I heard the registration cost. General admission tickets were $40 and with tax, the event’s price tag came out to roughly $50. It wasn’t a fee I felt I could justify to myself, especially since I knew I’d be going to a concert that very same week. I had to be selective with how much money I was spending as a student — and by extension, just how much fun I was having. 

There’s generally an implicit cost to going out, and I’m sure you’ve experienced it yourself: Want to grab lunch at that new place uptown? Great, that’ll be $30 when you could have just meal-prepped at home! How about we watch that new movie or check out that local comedy show? All right, get ready to break the bank for tickets and an Uber home if the buses stop running by then! There have been moments where I skipped hang-outs for no reason other than wanting to save a little extra cash, but the sinking fear that I was missing out on all the fun soon made the price of attendance seem worth it. I even began developing strategies to combat the sense of guilt and stress that arose each time I agreed to go out. At restaurants, I often followed a carefully calibrated series of processes to save money: I coupon-collected like a fiend to secure discounts, ordered a cheap appetizer instead of an entree, and wasn’t above pretending it was my birthday to score some free dessert. Later, the extent to which I struggled to balance my disposable income began to make me feel small: could everyone sense how badly I was trying to save? Shouldn’t I just enjoy my hard-earned cash by indulging in the occasional concert or karaoke night in the way I felt I was supposed to? After all, I was in my early 20s: at what other point in my life would I be able to go out as much without the commitments and constraints of being a full-time adult? 

The truth is, the question of just how affordable fun is (or isn’t, as I’d argue) is one that extends far beyond my individual neurotic habits at the local Pickle Barrel: it’s a larger reflection of real-world economics. In a world where movie, concert, sports, and theatre ticket prices are all on the uptick, it’s hard not to wonder whether the cost of fun has become so steep because so too, has the cost of everything else. The satisfaction we derive from making a purchase, also known as the utility cost, has to directly contend with the swiftly-rising inflation rates that impact every essential from housing to food to gas to rent. Having fun hardly seems worthwhile when you’re already paying thousands in tuition, in a city where finding reasonably-priced housing is an uphill battle. The average cost of every ticketed event listed in my “What to do in April article came out to $34.73 to $38.93 depending on the type of ticket — and while I was passionate about every activity that I included, they were ones that I myself would’ve been reluctant to shoulder. This made me want to start consciously vetting events for my “What to do in May” article based on better affordability; however, this too, raised new ethical questions: the gallery exhibit I omitted because I thought it was a rip-off has to pay its artists somehow, right? How can a local theatre keep its stage lights running if we as community members don’t promote its plays and buy tickets? 

It goes without saying that having fun isn’t free. It’s just a shame that it comes at a price that I as a student often struggle to shoulder — and that not paying it also has a cost.