What I Spent on Pop Culture in March

How much does it cost to be part of the cultural conversation?

Participating in culture and the conversations around movies, podcasts, books, and TV shows is more than just a fun activity. When I lived alone in New York and fell in and out of depression, having cable specifically made me feel connected to the outside world. When I had cable, I was guaranteed to be watching something at the same time as other people. If I didn’t have that connection, I felt as if I could be in my apartment for days without ever knowing what was going on outside my walls. Cable felt like a lifeline that tied me to the world when I was alone in the dark.

I didn’t always have cable, but when I could afford it, it felt like a refuge. I’m no longer depressed (I’m almost afraid to say that out loud and tempt fate), but I still love the idea of looking through my television screen into a world that’s shared with other people.

For me, participating in water cooler conversations about the latest cultural craze is a way to connect to others and feel excited about something I love. But it costs money to participate in these conversations, creating a barrier or buy-in to this culture at large. It could cost anywhere from $5 for a matinee movie ticket to hundreds of dollars for a ticket to a Broadway show to be able to join in on the fun. Even if something is free online, you still generally have to pay your internet or phone bill to get online in the first place.

I want to look at what it costs me to participate in the culture I love — not necessarily to find a cheaper way to do it, but to see what I spend and if it’s worth it to me. Your mileage may vary. (For transparency, I share an apartment with my boyfriend, and we both contribute to bills and movie night/date night costs.) This is what culture cost me in March.

Cable/internet ($306.84)

Worth it?: Cable is my biggest monthly bill besides rent, but old habits die hard. I use On Demand a lot for movies and TV shows, and I watch a lot of TV. Just this month I have kept up with The Americans, The Magicians, Are You the One, Big Little Lies, Planet Earth II, and Feud as well as network shows I could watch without cable but are available On Demand or that I DVR like Jane the Virgin, Bob’s Burgers, and Riverdale. I’ve also used On Demand to watch movies this month: Arrival(rented for $5.99), XX(rented for $7.99), Crimson Peak, and Carol. Not to mention the hours and hours of HGTV that acts as background noise while I work from home.

Is it possible to watch these shows on streaming services? Some of them, sure! Some of the shows I watch are available if you buy episodes or seasons on Amazon, which you would of course have to pay for. But all of them are definitely included in my monthly cable bill — which is usually less than $300, for the record.

This month my bill was unreasonably high because a promotion I had going with the cable company ran out (I have since resolved this). My cable bill also includes the internet (which provides a lot of entertainment and connection with the outside world) and home security (which provides none).

Netflix ($9.99)

Worth it?: I did not use Netflix this month except to watch the movie Sing Street, which was so delightful it was definitely worth the entire monthly subscription.

Two tickets to Get Out ($30.34)

Worth it?: Get Out cost me and my boyfriend $30.34 for two tickets and was worth every single penny. What a great movie! What a great movie to see in the theater! I’m lucky that we both love horror movies because it’s great to have a partner when you want to be terrified. I tried to stay as spoiler free as possible before we saw it, and because of what I’ve seen in the past of Jordan Peele, I wasn’t sure if I should expect scary horror or jokey horror. It was scary horror (with a few jokes), and it was brilliant. I would recommend seeing this in the theater if you can; it’s worth the extra money if you’ve got it. It is definitely part of the larger cultural conversation, and I finally get all the references to the sunken place I kept seeing on Twitter.

One ticket to Beauty and the Beast ($11)

Worth it?: I love the ceremony of seeing something in a theater away from distractions, when all you focus on is the screen in front of you and the company you go with. But there’s another aspect to seeing something the weekend or week it opens — the connection with the people who are excited about the movie. I saw Beauty and the Beast opening weekend, and the theater was full of excited kids and adults. I liked the movie, but even if I didn’t, seeing a big movie on opening weekend is an experience.

Library fines ($4)

Worth it?: Technically, I had an embarrassingly high fine of $13.50 from renting two DVDs and then forgetting them at home repeatedly when they were due, but I only had $4 in cash when I was at the library, so that’s what I paid. This month I checked out From Bauhaus to Our House by Tom Wolfe, and I have two other books on hold that are not yet ready for me to pick up.

I’ve been trying to get my books from the library — one area of culture I am weirdly frugal about is books. I usually don’t buy a new one on my Kindle until I’m finished with the one I’m reading, and I’ve been getting both Kindle and paperbacks from the library when possible. I’m also rereading American Gods this month in preparation for the TV series, which I already own.

Podcasts (free)

Worth it?: I’ve been listening to a few podcasts on the regular, which are included already in my internet and phone bill. (I try not to think of them as free since I pay a monthly bill to access them.) One I really loved this month was “ In the Dark,” an investigative podcast on what went wrong in the Jacob Wetterling investigation. (Jacob Wetterling was a child who was abducted in Minnesota in 1989, whose disappearance was just solved last year.) I also listen to “Bad with Money” (which probably wouldn’t approve of all the money I spend on culture?), “My Favorite Murder”, “Writing Excuses”, and “I Think You’re Interesting.” I used to listen to no podcasts regularly, so this is a pretty new area for me, and if you have recommendations, please let me know. I’m already planning to listen to “S-Town” so I can participate in the cultural conversation, like the one that happened on this very wesbite.

A Brief Chat About “S-Town”

True/False Film Festival ($0)

Worth it?: I went to the True/False Film Festival and saw some great movies while I was there, but since I was there with a press pass, I didn’t pay to see the movies. I saw Rat Film, Casting JonBenet, Strong Island, Still Tomorrow, and The Force. A single ticket to the movies would have cost $8-$12 each, and passes for the weekend had varying prices. If you’re into film fests, I would definitely recommend True/False. They play mostly documentary films and every time I’ve gone, I’ve had a great time. I used to go to college in Columbia, Mo., so I dearly love the town where True/False takes place, but it’s also an unintimidating film festival for first-timers.

YouTube videos (free)

Is it worth it: I spent one work day listening entirely to Lorde videos on Youtube and another day listening to one song from the Sing Street soundtrack. It is a very good song.

Total: $362.17

Worth it?: Most of this total is my cable bill, which for now is worth it to me, and the rest of my monthly culture spending seems reasonable — except for the library fines, which are completely avoidable. This month I didn’t go to any shows or buy any new music, which could raise this total a significant amount, depending. I’m also thinking about joining Filmstruck, which is $6.99 a month, but I haven’t signed up yet (movie lovers, is it worth it?).

It feels vulnerable listing all of this out in the open. Where you spend your money generally reflects your values, and this list certainly reflects my tastes. I’m interested to hear where everyone else’s money goes — I have a friend who goes to several concerts each month, and others who likely only spend money on Netflix. But no matter what you’re into, you’re probably paying for it.

Rae Nudson is a freelance writer and editor. You can talk to her about the latest pop culture you love on Twitter @rclnudson.