Michael on December 12th, 2007
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A couple of years ago, I went to Michigan with my wife and daughter. (Yes, our visit was timed around a specific football game). While visiting, we decided to catch up with some old friends at the Detroit Zoo.

You: You have friends that live at the zoo?

No, we met at the zoo.

You: So you were living at the zoo when you met?

No. No one was living at the zoo.

You: Then how did you meet at the zoo?

We didn’t meet at the zoo. We met in college.

You: But you said you met at the zoo.

We agreed to meet at the zoo, but that’s not where we originally met.

You: Why didn’t you just say so?

At this point, I have no idea. My head hurts.

Anyway, we walked around the zoo, kids in tow, everyone enjoying the weather, animals, and conversation. Suddenly my friend commented, “You can always tell who the non-members of the zoo are.”

“How?” I asked.

“By their stress level,” he replied. “They’re the ones who are trying to see absolutely every exhibit as quickly as possible. They’re flying from the zebras to the monkeys and can slow down for only a minute for the giraffes. They’re in a constant race to get their money’s worth.”

While it will seldom make financial sense to join a museum or zoo that is far from your home, there are enormous benefits to joining organizations in your backyard.

Take, for example, our local children’s museum. Admission is $6 per person. Since it’s a children’s museum, they also charge for the kids. So for my wife and I to go with our daughter, you’re talking $18. The first time we visited, we probably looked like the crazy aforementioned zoo people; racing from one thing to another while our toddler would have been happy enough playing in the room with all the shapes — thank you very much.

And, for $18, I thought it was a bit pricey for the 45 minutes before it was time to nap. We didn’t go for a while. Then, several months later my wife tells me that she has signed us up to become members.

You: So the person wearing the pants in your family is —

Yeah, pretty much none of your business.

The cost for a family membership was $60 for the year. Members can visit unlimited times for no additional fee. My friend at the zoo was so right.

You: You said you didn’t have a friend living at the zoo.

He doesn’t live there!

As a result of our joining the children’s museum:

  • We have way less stress during our visits: It doesn’t matter what our daughter does at the museum or even if she doesn’t even go near the exhibit she spent 20 minutes playing with the last time. Even if she wants to leave shortly after we arrive, not a problem. In fact, sometimes we arrive when there’s only an hour before the museum closes. No big deal. We’re not constantly trying to prove that we got our moneys worth.
  • We visit much more frequently. Instead of being concerned about the admission cost, membership means we can go whenever we feel like it. We discovered that the museum is a great rainy or cold day activity. Plus, it’s the perfect excuse to get out of the house and burn some of that toddler energy.
  • We increased our tax deductions, because a children’s museum membership is tax deductible. So the true cost was far less than $60.
  • We support an important organization in our community. Members are the lifeblood of most non-profits.

For these reasons, we belong to other similar organizations in our community. Sure, at first glance these memberships look like expenses, but I’ve learned that these memberships actually save us money – and does so in way that allows us to be fiscally responsible, not cheap.

What did you do this past year that allowed you to save some money without cramping your lifestyle? Bonus points if it allowed you to do more, like the memberships.

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