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How to Enjoy a Millionaire’s Cultural Life on a Budget

By Elizabeth Dunkel May 16, 2021 Lifestyle

It’s true that Broadway tickets can cost in the hundreds of dollars and the price of major opera tickets isn’t for the faint-hearted. In keeping with my “living like a millionaire on a retirement budget” series of articles I’ve written for 60+Me, I thought I’d share the explosion of culture you can enjoy with a little investigation on your part.

Culture is all around us; the arts are flourishing everywhere. I’ll tell you about my personal experience in Chicago, and leave it to you to explore options wherever you live. These tips will be helpful to you when you visit your friends in cities and start traveling around the world.

Same Day Tickets

Before Covid, it was possible to get same day tickets to top performances in Chicago at a substantial discount. I’ve paid as little as $20 for a ticket if I call on the morning of a performance or ask at the box office at show time.

This may not be happening these days due to the financial hardships as a result of the pandemic, but it is always something to be on the lookout for and worth calling the theatre to ask about “same day tickets.” An empty seat doesn’t bring in any revenue. Be flexible with your time and make some inquiries.

Be an Usher, See the Show

In many cities in the United States (readers in other countries, please comment below if such a thing exists in your country) there exists the opportunity to usher at plays, theatre, opera, ballet. In exchange for greeting and directing people to their seats, you get to see the performance for free.

In Chicago, for example, there is a group called the Saints, which provides ushers to most of the performances in Chicago. If your city doesn’t have an organization, call the theatre and find out about ushering opportunities.

Start Local

A world class orchestra, right in your own backyard. A neighborhood orchestra plays with same heart and soul as a top symphony orchestra. As there are so few jobs in professional symphonies, where do all the impeccable trained and talented musicians go?

They join second tier and neighborhood orchestras and ensembles, but the music will be just as grand. The quality of performers has increased to the point where you don’t need to hear an international symphony to hear good music. Local symphonies at a fraction of the price offer excellent music.

Street Art and Public Sculpture

An adult admission to the Art Institute of Chicago costs $25 U.S. But it is possible to enjoy world class art on the street. Chicago boasts murals and sculptures by Picasso, Miro, Chagall, Calder, Kapoor, Dubuffet… and more on the street and in parks all over the city.

When you travel or visit friends in big cities, do some research and see what public art and sculptures are featured on the street. Treat the street as a museum; don’t just walk by something. Sit and contemplate for a while; savor and enjoy.

When you pass a street musician, if you like the music, stop for a while, sit if you can. It’s a performance for you. That musician doesn’t want to be background noise, that performer wants to be listened to. And always, give some money if you can. A dollar or even some change means everything. Street music makes the world a better place.

Bars and Pubs

Why just have a burger for dinner, when you can have a burger and music? Investigate which bars and pubs have live entertainment. For the cost of a beer or a burger you’ll enjoy the music and support musicians. Your presence and appreciation mean everything to these performers.

Take Advantage of Summer

Summer is the time of outdoor festivals. Food and craft fairs. They usually have entertainment, music and dance. For instance, at my weekly summer farmer’s market there is often a singing group or a band playing. Buy your pastry and a cup of coffee and sit yourself down.


I had a friend who volunteered for the Olympics in her city and was able to attend Olympic events for free, in addition to meeting people from around the world and helping them navigate the city and the venues. There are many street festivals, arts festivals, music festivals that need volunteers. In return for your time, you’ll see the event and participate for free.


Museums often have a free or reduced price day either once a week or occasionally. Often a museum offers certain free days of the week for local residents. There is usually a senior discount for most entrance fees.

If you live in a city with a museum that you like, consider buying a yearly membership which is cost effective and has other benefits, such as free entrance for a guest or two and discounts in the cafe and museum store.

The biggest benefit for me is that I pop into the museum when I’m downtown, see an exhibit and leave feeling refreshed instead of exhausted. I don’t feel I have to spend the entire day and exhaust myself to “get my money’s worth.”

I have access to the members’ lounge which has comfortable couches and complimentary tea and coffee, books and magazines to read. Often, I stop in, see an exhibit and enjoy the lounge with a book or knitting. (Never without my knitting!)

Museums also offer free or low cost musical and dance events.


Churches can offer beautiful music, both orchestral and vocal. Do some investigating and see what churches have choirs and either go to a Sunday service, or find out when they are giving a concert, usually for donation or a low cost ticket. Many churches have amazing sculptures and paintings as well.


Mariachi bands in a Mexican neighborhood. Indian dance and raga in an Indian neighborhood. Irish dancing and music on St. Patrick’s Day. Investigate the rich, diverse neighborhoods in your area and tune into their festivals – Bastille Day, Day of the Dead, etc.

Home Theatre: Turn on Your TV

It is amazing the things you can find right in your own living room. You have to do your homework. Scour the listings online or in newspapers and learn when there is something special being offered, like live stream performances from the National Theatre in London or the New York City Ballet and Metropolitan Opera.

If there’s a specific play, musical or ballet you’ve always wanted to see, go online and/or look at YouTube and you’ll be amazed at what you find.

How do you enjoy culture on a budget? Any tips or suggestions for all of us to savor? What has surprised you about the free cultural events in your hometown? The comments box below is where the fun happens, so get tapping!

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The Author

Elizabeth Dunkel is a writer and novelist who recently moved back to the U.S. after living in Merida, Mexico for 25 years. Elizabeth is the proud founder of the Merida English Library. As a Cambridge CELTA certified teacher of ESL, she considers herself not just a teacher but a dream maker. “Teaching English empowers people to reach their dreams.”

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