Frugalista

Sneaky Savings on Summer Museum Visits

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Are you above sneaky tactics to get the kids into zoos and museums this summer?

Recently I posted about swapping and sharing memberships to Chicago-area attractions with friends. I now have a Brookfield Zoo pass, and my mom friend has a pass to the Shedd, so between us we can bring one another as guests to either place.

Today I have some sneakier ideas for you. Some people may feel that you should support your local institutions to the fullest, and not indulge in any kind of plots to get in the doors cheaply. Those people should go ahead and buy full-price memberships for local attractions and not engage in any of these tactics:

SNEAKY: Shop nationally for museum memberships. Last summer, I found out that another mom friend annually purchases a membership to the Boston Children's Museum instead of to one of our local kids' museums. She does this because the $125 family membership there gets you into both children's museums (including the Chicago Children's Museum, the Kohl, and Oak Park's Wonderworks) as well as SCIENCE museums (including the Adler, the Field and the Notebaert).

Now, the Chicago Children's Museum at Navy Pier belongs to the same reciprocal organizations, and you can become a family member there for the same $125. HOWEVER, they have special deals with Chicago-area science museums that DO NOT allow their members to get in free. You get in half-price at some, and get no discount at all at the Field. Furthermore, no matter where you buy your membership, the program technically disallows use of the reciprocal membership benefit at a museum within 90 miles of your home. I haven't heard of any friends getting their IDs checked and getting called on this, though.

 I don't see any similar restrictions for the children's museum reciprocal memberships.

 Even better than the Boston museum deal may be the Boonshoft Museum of Discovery in Dayton, Ohio. This place belongs to the science museums, the children's museums, AND the Association of Zoos and Aquariums reciprocity program. A $100 family pass gets you into members of all those associations; a $69 pass gets you into the science museums and zoos but not the children's museums. Alas, neither the Brookfield Zoo nor the Shedd is included in the museums that accept this pass, but if you ever get up to the Milwaukee or Racine Zoos, you're in like Flynn.

SNEAKIER: Museum passes are generally good for two adults living in one household and some kids. But if your family is like mine, only one parent usually brings kids to museums because the other one is at work every day. You might want to consider putting down someone else's name as the other adult, such as a friend, grandparent or babysitter. Some museums are actually fine with this -- when we had a part-time nanny, the museum we belonged to allowed us to put her name down instead of my husband's. But other museums do not allow this. Can you get away with it? Probably -- but be warned that if the place is hard core and checks driver's license addresses against the membership address, you'll get caught.

In a similar vein, my local children's museum has no problem with it if I just send my membership card along with my parents when they want to take the kids in. I actually called and asked permission first, but if I hadn't, they probably wouldn't have gotten caught.

 SNEAKIEST: Some memberships are for a set number of children -- generally two or four. Others are for all the minor children in the household, and these memberships usually ask you on the form how many rugrats you've got.

Sometimes you're watching other people's kids, or your kids want to bring friends along for a day trip. I'm not naming names, but I'm guessing that if you checked the membership rolls of such museums, the number of families listed there with six or more kids would outstrip the same in the local population.

SNEAKLESS: Sneaking around not for you? There is a perfectly legitimate way to get into local attractions without paying: Take advantage of free days and free weeks. There are tons of these in the winter, but even in summer you can catch a break at many places -- check their Web sites for the free day schedule. If you have a Bank of America account, they offer free days exclusively for their customers at tons of museums nationwide, including the Shedd.

Photo by Epu, used with permission. 

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3 Comments

Megan said:

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This is only in the city (I think), but Chicago Public Library has museum passes you can check out. The more popular ones go fast once they're returned, but it's free! The Shedd also only include entrance to the main part of the aquarium (not the Oceanarium? I can't remember). CPL also has a program with Ravinia - I believe you can "check out" passes to certain concerts.

Carrie Kirby said:

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Megan, thanks for that tip! I actually had pretty good luck using the museum passes at my local library in Lincoln Square when we lived in the city. A friend in Hyde Park had terrible luck though so I think it depends on your branch.
They were good for a whole week. And yeah, the Oceanarium wasn't included in the Shedd pass.
Even if you live in the suburbs, check with your local library. I know Oak Park recently got Brookfield Zoo passes, although when I have called to ask they have been checked out.

Gene-Paul Kelly said:

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The key for City Dwellers is to go to a library that's not too popular. It's highly likely that the passes will be more plentiful at a lesser used location.

Carrie, I have info on a killer deal for white sox tix that i think your readers might like, but I cant find a "contact me" link or tab. any help?

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