Thursday, April 02, 2009

Voluntary Pricing at Museums

After my post the other day about flexible pricing for hair cuts, I was thinking about other situations where how much one pays may be somewhat self-determined. Museums are a prime example. I went to the Philadelphia Museum of Art not long ago, on a Sunday when they offer "pay as you wish" entry pricing. The normal price is $14, so I just paid $14. The Metropolitan Museum in New York offers "suggested" rates all the time. It's $20, which starts to feel a little steep, but even $20, to me, doesn't feel like something I should be trying to skimp out on. I've spent $20 on far stupider things than a great art museum. I can afford $20, and I'm happy to support the museum being able to offer discounted rates to other people for whom $20 would be prohibitive. But if the entry fee was $50, or $100, I'm sure I'd be more likely to opt out of paying full price!

How do you decide whether you can pay full price when it's optional? If a museum offers flexible pricing, should you pay less just because it's the frugal thing to do?


kat said...

When I go to the Met (or the natural history museum), I pay something, but not $20. Usually around $10, though once I gave them the change in my pockets because I was seriously THAT broke. If I paid $20, it would feel too expensive and would dissuade me from going. I live on the Upper West Side so I do find myself at one of the museums fairly often. :)

I agree that it's definitely important to support them, but you shouldn't feel obligated to give more than you can afford or feel comfortable with. BTW, I believe they get money from the city in exchange for offering suggested donation, so it's not like it's going to drive them out of business.

It's basically about balance -- personally, I have room in my budget to spend $10 on an afternoon's entertainment, but anything more expensive than that is pushing it. (I don't pay $12 to go to the movies, either.) That line is different for everyone, though... and I know that someday I'll be at a point in my life where I'll be able to pay more without feeling pinched, so, I think it evens out in the end.

Kate@LivingTheFrugalLife said...

It's a good question. Obviously, if they're allowing patrons to determine the price they pay, they must expect that some will pay less. I liked the way the British Museum used to do it: free admission, but a conspicuous and see-through donation box that held currencies from all over the world.

Personally, I would rather go to a museum on a free admission day than pay less at the door. It may not make any sense, but it makes me feel better. I agree that $20 is very steep for museum admission. I don't think I could pay that very often.

A said...

I can't say I would ever pay $20 for museum admission. If I went to a flexible price museum, I'd pay what it's worth to *me*... right now, that means taking into account my financial circumstances (broke), how much would I be willing to pay for this kind of entertainment? I'd say my max is $10, and only if there were some extraordinary exhibit there that day that I wouldn't have another chance to see in the near future. There is too much free entertainment out in the world.

Of course, I am writing from LA, and we have fewer and smaller museums than NYC.

KM said...

A yoga teacher I used to go to regulary offers his classes on a donation basis. I think this is right in line with the true spirit of yoga. The suggestion donation (at the time) was the same price as the steep price (at the time) for a regular not by donation class ($14ish). I usually contributed about $10. I based this on both what I thought was a fair price for a crowded yoga class led by an excellent teacher and the general (easy to imagine from the locale) socio-economic demographics of the class and my place in that ranking. Although I had to make some assumptions to come to that amount ($10)I think it was a fair amount. If I was near the top of the heap or had no concerns about money I would pay more than the suggested donation (because that would really be a discount from the private lessons I could afford and I would feel I was helping someone in the class less fortunate than myself).

I'm new to your blog by the way and am really excited so far to have found it!


Anonymous said...

Thanks for reminding me of a lovely day spent in NYC about 10 years ago - took my boys to see the Statue & Ellis Island & finished off the day at the Museum of Natural History - it was late afternoon, we pulled into a parking spot right out front & were told we could pay whatever we wanted to enter the museum. It was a nice surprise, especially after the $45.00 parking fee at the ferry!! I think we contributed about 1/2 the regular price & spent the next hour with the dinosaurs. Great day!

lazybride said...

The reason they are suggested and not required is because they are supported by federal, state and local funds, ie, your taxes. I don't feel bad handing the Met counter $5 and asking for 2 tickets.

MOMA is another story, they do not take public funds and can charge whatever they want...$20. But free on fridays!

Optioned Unarmed said...

I didn't realize these museum prices were only suggested donations.

I'm thinking I'd be inclined to do the following:
1)pay on the lower side
2)stay for shorter periods of time
3)make more frequent visits

In the end it would prob come out to about the same as paying full suggested price and staying a good couple hours. But personally I prefer to look at only a couple pieces per visit.

K said...

I pay a dollar at the met. If I had to pay more, I wouldn't go - except very rarely. But I do pay $75 for a yearly membership to Moma. I like moma a lot and go a few times a year, but would find it hard to go paying $20 a pop. Strangely I enjoy my visits more when it's paid for in advance and I don't have to fret about leaving only after 30 minutes after paying $20. Plus the tax deduction is also nice.

Chicago Rob said...

If you're going to a non-profit, pay the recommended "donation" unless you seriously cannot afford it, like a student or unemployed. I would bet most people can afford it, but choose not to.

Anonymous said...

I went to the MET and they display the price as it is admission. I misunderstood the guy saying I could pay whatever I like and gave him $40 or $60 to enter. I asked for $30 back and he said sorry.

I felt like a cheapskate going to the counter again, but was refused and the lady told me I now know for nexttime. Bummer.

Escape Brooklyn said...

I stopped paying more than $1 anywhere that has a "suggested" donation. Not only do these places get my NYC tax dollars for support, I also looked up their 990s a while back and they have ridiculous amounts of money. They're certainly not your typical cash-strapped charity struggling to feed the homeless!

As for MoMA, I only go if a friend who works there gives me a free pass. But don't feel too bad for this place either. Here's an excerpt from a NY Times article I blogged about a while back:

"For the last three years, Mr. Lowry has been the highest-paid museum executive in the country, according to data from MoMA’s tax forms compiled by The Chronicle of Philanthropy. In the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2005, for instance, he received basic compensation of $590,051, a bonus of $285,250 and benefits of $403,682, a total of roughly $1.3 million."

Clearly they're not hurting if they could pay their executive that well!

Clean ClutterFree Simple said...

I wish our local museums had voluntary pricing--I'd actually visit them! My kids can only take about an hour at a museum and I can't bring myself to pay $30+ for that. If it was voluntary, I'd toss in a five and not feel bad if we had to leave after a short time. And, I'd come back.

dawn said...

Any place that asks for a "voluntary donation" makes me feel awkward; pay less than what they ask, and you feel like a cheapskate.

I would definitely pay a minimal amount if i were un- or under-employed.

Looli said...

The first time I have been to the MET instead of paying whatever, I bought the membership (60$ lowest level). I like it to contribute to such a great museum plus it is a tax deduction and you do not have to wait. I go there twice a year, sometimes with a friend and I tell my friend he can give whatever he wants even 1$. You can also visit the cloisters with the membership.

Something else is the Pay As You Want kind : the Radiohead album Rainbow, that was the first time music was sold this way and it was strange. Did you buy it ? How much did you pay ? I paid 1$...I have already bought all their albums and so many concert

Anonymous said...

A couple of years ago, a friend who worked in the non-profits sector told me that the MET is not hurting with all its millions in endowments.

When we went to the MET one day, I watched him pay 5 cents to the cashier. When s/he confirmed that as his payment, he asserted it was and s/he accepted it as payment with much surprise at his nerve.

I thought that was a bit chintzy, but he was adamant that the museum was not losing any funds.

mapgirl said...

Interesting. Perhaps the Met is a lot richer than other museums. The Monterey Bay Aquarium is $30 for adults, but in DC all the Smithsonians are free. I haven't been to the Met in years, but I supposed I'd slip $5-10 in the box to be nice.

Everyone in DC admits we are spoiled by the Smithsonian's free admissions. But we do pay for it out of our federal tax dollars and everything else is not cheap there. (Like the IMAX theater, parking at Udvar-Hazy, concessions, etc.)

Anonymous said...

My story is this: I went to the Natural History Museum with my daughter without knowing about the suggested price 20 minutes before the closing time. We had to see the museum that day and the patron said the full price, never hinted suggested price knowing we only had 20 mins. I paid the full price and later I found out about the suggested price. Oh, I wish the patron had been nice enough to hint the suggested price with 20 mins left to see. What a mean spirited lady she was! I have not gone since.