Thursday, May 20, 2010

Chuck E. Cheese on the Cheap

To be completely honest, I'm a patron but not a big fan of Chuck E. Cheese. It's never my first choice for a play date, but my kids love it and it can be a good way to beat the heat in the summer. Today Chuck E. Cheese was the resounding request for where the boys wanted to go on the first day of our summer vacation. Roll the eyes.

Thinking at least we would beat the summer crowds, I consented. Once there it occurred to me that I have picked up a few tips over the years to save money here. So if your kids find it as irresistible as mine do, these are for you.

If you want to avoid paying for lunch, get there early. They open at 9am, and most kids are done within 1.5 hours.

I realize they may frown upon this, but I buy a lot of tokens at once and spread them out over a few visits. With their latest coupon in a paper insert, you can get 160 tokens for $25. That provides enough entertainment for all three kids for three visits.

Chuck E. Cheese has lots of ways to earn 10 tokens per child, per visit. Check out the variety of rewards calendars or bring in their report card for up to 15 tokens--both require a food purchase. One of these is always pertinent; so we can usually count on 20 extra tokens each visit if we're willing to buy pizza.

I give each child their allotment of coins in the beginning. When they're gone, we go home. I've found 30 for Bobby and 30 between Devin & Brooke works out pretty well. This has proven to be a good way to teach them money management skills as well: they realize we have a finite amount of money, they can make either good or bad choices with their money, and they can decide how long their money will last. Bobby goes for the games that generate the most tickets, and so far, Devin prefers the rides. Bobby runs out of coins first but Devin has virtually no tickets. They've learned compromise by Devin sharing some of his coins for Bobby's tickets.

I'm using my powers of make believe as long as possible. Brooke (15 months) is still young enough to be content just sitting on the horse. I make clippity clop sounds, pull on the reins, and point to the horses on the screen. She doesn't know I never put in a coin.

Treat the ticket chomper like another game. They love that thing.

From an environmental perspective, the cheap chachkis they trade their tickets for are awful, but what kid doesn't like plastic rings, snakes, suckers, and stickers? I look at it as another way for them to practice their consumer skills. They have to make choices they can afford; they can't have anything they want. I also encourage them to consider saving their tickets for something "really great" in the future or they could opt for something cheaper now. My boys always go the "give it to me now" route, but I'm hoping they'll eventually wise up to the fact that most of the stuff here is just tomorrow's trash.

If you're looking to book a birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese, I HIGHLY suggest opting for a weekday party (cheaper and less chaotic). And if you have two kids with birthdays near each other, you can get one party for both for the same price. Bobby and Devin are 5 days (and three years) apart, and we celebrated their 5th and 2nd birthdays together here. We made the mistake of doing it on a Saturday when there were easily 5 other parties going on simultaneously. Ugh. I've also been to unofficial parties here where the parents got enough tokens for all the guests and brought in their own cake and gift bags. That's a big money saver for sure.

To save on pizza and tokens, you could get coupons from either the paper inserts or by signing up for periodic emails. But be prepared that you're still going to pay about $15 for a large cheese pizza. I can appreciate they're a business that needs to make money, but $15 for a cheese pizza is crazy to me. Today we left and went to Little Caesar's on Cedar Bluff and bought one for $5. We then took it across the street to the woods surrounding The Church of the Good Samaritan (which happens to be our church) and had a picnic. It was awesome. The grounds are inspiring, refreshing, and of course open to the public. All they ask is for you to leave it like you found it.

So how do you save money at Chuck E. Cheese?

No comments:

Post a Comment