Note: This column was published in the Barrow Journal on August 14, 2013.
If you and your family enjoy going to a particular venue, it makes sense to purchase a family membership. As our children get older and their interests flourish, it’s our goal to be able to take them places where they can have hands-on experiences. I was skeptical at first, but family memberships have saved us a lot of money.
We can’t afford to get a membership to every venue, so we decided to choose just one or two each year, according to our children’s interests. When my eldest son was four, he was crazy about ocean animals, so we wanted to take him to the Georgia Aquarium.
At that time, the admission price at the Aquarium for an adult was about $27. According to their website, it’s now $34.95, and a ticket for a child is $28.95. Add parking, and that’s an incredibly expensive day for a family of four.
We waited until we had relatives in town to make it a special occasion, and we used coupons, which saved us money, but finally we spoke to someone about a membership. I was worried we wouldn’t take advantage of it, but we did, and that year, we went several times.
What makes memberships especially worthy are their reciprocal programs. For example, last year when we were visiting family in Chicago, we took our boys to the Field Museum, and for only $30 over our admission price, we purchased a family membership. We did this because through the reciprocal program, we get free admission to five different museums and science centers in Georgia.
The tricky thing about reciprocal programs is that there are restrictions on their reciprocal programs. For example, if we had gotten a membership to the Fernbank Museum of Natural History in Atlanta, our benefits would not apply to any institution within a 90-mile radius. That means we could not get free membership to the Tellus Science Museum in Cartersville, GA or The Museum of Arts and Science in Macon, GA.
Since our membership is with the Field Museum in Chicago, we have benefits in both the Fernbank Museum of Natural History and the Tellus Science Museum. We’ve already visited both of those places, so it has more than paid for our membership fee. We also had to take an unexpected trip to Chicago this summer to help some family members, so while we were there, we went back to the Field Museum for free, and our benefits allowed us to bring some guests for free too.
Our relatively inexpensive family membership to the State Botanical Garden of Georgia, which we got in order to save money on their educational programs, paid the $25 parking fee at the Chicago Botanical Garden. This made it an even sweeter experience to watch my sons holding the butterflies in their awesome butterfly habitat.
If you travel, even to nearby states, you should consider getting your memberships there so that you can take advantage of these reciprocal programs. You’ll need to do some research to find out what they cost and if you could benefit from them.
Most of these places are big, and it’s hard to enjoy them on one visit. It’s also a disappointment when we visit on a crowded day. By having memberships, we relax when we go because we know we’ll go again. Our children get the extra benefit of learning about a place and feeling at home there. There are always new things to discover, and that’s the best part of going to these wonderful places.
Psst! Be sure to read the comments below. My readers have left some other awesome tips. And while researching this column, I found this page about saving money at the Georgia Aquarium. Remember that you can get memberships at zoos, children museums, and nature centers too!
Next week I’ll share our experience at the Tellus Science Museum.