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Lynn Magdol: Even a cheapskate can see great films

If I ever write a cheapskate’s guide to living well, I will certainly have a chapter on going to the movies. I’ve become quite adept at this since I retired. Most of the films I see cost nothing and the rest cost almost nothing.

First, there are the free movies. Many great classics are available on cable TV in the comfort of my own home. I’m starting to catch up on all the films I’ve missed. When I was young, I had no extra money; later, when I was career-minded, I had no extra time.

There are also free movies at the library. From the oldest to those from just a few years ago, I’ve seen some gems this way. I like to randomly pick a letter of the alphabet and browse the titles beginning with that letter until I find something that looks appealing for both members of my household.

I also keep a wish list when traveling. In spite of being an avowed cheapskate, I’ve enjoyed the luxury of an annual trip to Europe in my retirement years. Ironically, these not-so-cheap trips are another source of free movies.

There are the movies that we see during our European adventures, on television in our hotel room and often in another language. I add these to my list and look for them in English at the library when I get home. They are usually things I would not watch ordinarily, but some great surprises have come to me this way. “The Fifth Dimension,” an excellent science fiction film, and “Jumanji,” a wonderful children’s fantasy starring Robin Williams, are two recent examples of such treats.

After a trip, I also enjoy seeing films that help me to understand the places I’ve been. Seeing neighborhoods in Helsinki that were beyond our reach as tourists was eye-opening. The Seine River in Paris was even more exquisite seen through the lens of having recently walked there. The social issues revealed in these films – poverty, immigration, technology, family stress, etc. – are often invisible when visiting cathedrals, museums and parks.

Another option is a monthly event at a friend’s house, where she shows her latest Netflix pick. She often discovers little-known films that we would otherwise have missed. Some are historical and give us a more personal sense of events like the Cuban Missile Crisis and the war in Vietnam. Others defer to our English friend’s taste and have fleshed out our sense of life in Britain in the last 50 years or so. We never know what to expect, but are rarely disappointed.

Then there are the low-cost movies. Some theaters have a discount day and most have a senior rate. My favorite in-the-theater option is the Tuesday Buffalo Film Seminars, a University at Buffalo class open to the public.

Yes, I do pursue the cheapskate lifestyle, but there are hidden costs for these free and almost-free options. Obviously, the trips to Europe are far from free. The cable TV channels are not free either, getting more expensive in recent years. There is also the American norm of reciprocity. To pay back the library, I’ve started sending it a check every year for the amount I would have spent on a Netflix subscription. To reciprocate my friend’s home offerings, I often bake and bring dessert.

There are many reasons to be a cheapskate. Some people cannot afford to spend much on entertainment. Others choose the simple life to oppose rampant commercialism. Whatever the reason, it’s possible to do it, live well and see some great films.