Three of my worst personal habits are as follows: I have non-existent impulse control; I hate not “being busy”; and I am extremely susceptible to FOMO. Couple that knowledge with the fact that I love music, especially live music (I listened to over 106,000 minutes of songs this year according to Spotify), me saying that I’ve attended 55 shows in 2018 should not come as a surprise.
I’m met with a predictable set of reactions when I divulge this to friends, the first usually being some sort of disbelieving amazement, the inevitable second being a question of how much it cost or how I was able to afford to do it. I brushed that off at first; I’m notoriously bad at budgeting (I deleted Mint after a month of feeling shamed by its push notifications) and, as I said before, extremely impulsive, so my lifelong method for concert ticket budgeting has thus far been seeing a tour announcement, immediately comparing the on-sale date to my pay schedule and my current account balances, and throwing remaining caution to the wind.
As the year wore on and I added more and more shows to my list — at the same time I was finally beginning to think more seriously about my financial stability — I began to realize that the often rhetorical question of how much my concert attendance was costing me was not something I, the person financing it, should be treating hypothetically. I’d been avoiding investigating this portion of my spending for a number of reasons, but the foremost was that I was afraid of what the total would be. However, I’m working more diligently on self-honesty these days, and as such I decided it was time to comb through a years’ worth of bank statements, Venmo transactions, and various flyers on venue websites to crunch some numbers.
A note going forward: the figures and experiences presented below only reflect concerts I ATTENDED in 2018. As such, some of the ticket-spending happened in 2017, and some tickets were purchased in 2018 for shows happening in 2019, which is not reflected here. There were also a handful of shows for which I purchased tickets but ultimately did not attend. I refused to calculate that total hit to my finances for my own sanity but I know it’s likely around $120.
So, how much DID it cost me to go to 55 shows in 2018?
I’ve been telling people that I went to 55 concerts this year, but that’s not entirely true. I went to 55 events total, with three being book talks, three being comedy shows, one (truly incredible) touring drag show, and the remaining 48 being concerts. They ranged from small “pay for the band’s gas” house shows and free locally-programmed gigs to packed mid-size club concerts for people like Lorde and Florence + the Machine and arena tours for the likes of Beyonce and Harry Styles. I saw a few of my favorite acts twice in the same year (and, in one case, three different times). I went to a handful of shows that were under $10–mostly through programs like SoFar Sounds or the sheer luck of Fall Out Boy playing a surprise free set in honor of the NHL playoffs mere blocks from my office — and also a few that pushed beyond the $100-a-ticket territory (those being general admission tickets for Lorde and Florence + the Machine and nosebleed seats for Beyonce). The vast majority fell somewhere in the middle, between $25-50, or the average cost of a happy hour in DC. As I can’t be at happy hour if I’m at a show (I’m short and love to get a good spot so I rarely make plans before gigs), it seems like an even enough trade.
I’m extremely fortunate in that I live in a metro-accessible area in the middle of DC, meaning that I was able to either walk or metro to the vast majority of shows I attended this year, or maybe hitch a ride home with a friend who had also gone. I take part in a pre-tax transit benefit program at work, so I try to Metro as much as possible. I took maybe three Lyfts to or from shows all year and try to minimize my transit spending as much as possible. The bulk of this number comes from special occasion concerts: flying to Chicago to see my teen angst heroes, Fall Out Boy, play a hometown show with an old friend; taking a bus to Philly so our whole squad could see Beyonce together; and an unexpected emergency $96 train ticket after seeing my favorite band in Brooklyn on the now-infamous (bus-cancelling) first snow of the year. It also additionally accounts for Airbnbs in Pittsburgh, Brooklyn, and Philadelphia, as I was able to couch crash in Chicago. This number is actually much lower than originally anticipated, as I was supposed to see the band I saw in Brooklyn in London. A train ticket’s a bit cheaper than transatlantic airfare, eh?
This was another hard number to track down, as so many venues where I was buying merch were cash-only or cash-preferred, so the number is a generous over-estimate. That number comes off of several years of a merch-at-shows-moratorium as I frankly have too much stuff, but people are making good designs again and I’m making a concerted effort to wear the wearables and display the posters, etc. The biggest hit here was the Fall Out Boy show, wherein they had a pop-up “experience” based on their new album and the coinciding show at Wrigley and I’m a sucker for nostalgia.
I don’t drink anymore and truly hated being even remotely intoxicated at shows, but I will occasionally snag a grilled cheese at my most-frequented venue if I’m there early enough and feeling peckish. This figure also reflects my food on the above-mentioned trips (including the best pancakes I have ever had in Brooklyn, delicious craft beers in Philly when still drank, and a comped bottomless brunch in Chicago).
Grand Total: roughly $3,550 spent in or around concerts in 2018
I’m totaling that up for the first time as I write this and, I must admit, I’m a bit startled to see how rapidly (and almost ridiculously) some of those line items added up, especially the travel and merch. It’s a sobering reminder that the ticket isn’t the only cost associated with going to a concert, and a reminder to better assess the decisions I make while ~in the moment~ at a show. Did I need $85 of Fall Out Boy merch? In 2018?! Probably not!
Of course, the remaining question is whether or not all of this was worth it. Looking at the total, standing alone on this page, gives me a momentary second of pause and regret. According to most budget experts, that number is slightly above the percentage of income I should have been spending on entertainment total, and I still went to the movies, bought books, and went on other excursions throughout the year. I bought tickets to every show I saw in which I had any remote interest without checking to see if I could actually go or would be up to it (I had several weeks with three or more shows in a week). It is, frankly, a lot of money.
However, it’s not a finance-tanking amount. I have a few thousand dollars in savings and didn’t use credit cards to the point of doing into debt for any of this. Because I’m neurotic about buying tickets, I’ll usually get them for the whole group and then have everyone use a payment app to send me their share. I never move money out of that account, so thanks to the sheer volume of shows, I have a tidy little rainy day fund there which I mentally categorize as money I’d previously spent. Additionally, the family of venues I frequent most (36 times last year, according to their year-end roundup email) has a loyalty program wherein you get points for everything from buying tickets and actually going to the show to buying merch or refreshments at shows. I’ve racked enough points for at least three tickets to shows of my choosing, and, thanks to my activity, have been guest-listed for a handful of shows over the last year, sometimes saving me over $100 in ticket charges.
In a less practical sense, this was also the year I got to see many acts I’d been dying to see since I was a young teenager. I used to go to a decent number of shows a year — around ten or so — when I was a teenager and in college, but due to geography, I had missed out on some of my favorite artists over the past decade and a half. This year was me making up for that. I met Kate Nash; I screamed with Florence Welch. Now that I live in a city with a much more vibrant scene, I’m able to embrace all that it has to offer and all that I’d been wishing for as tours breezed past my hometown growing up.
My most expensive show, in total, was Fall Out Boy in Chicago. I have missed their last several shows in the DMV, as I’d seen them three times before and the more recent music just doesn’t do it for me. But, for some reason, I spent upwards of $500 to see them return to their old stomping grounds for their biggest show yet. I was disillusioned the week before I flew out, kicking myself for how expensive it was. The morning of the show, I went to the pop-up gallery surrounding the album and stumbled into a room entitled “confess your love,” wherein fans were covering the walls with memories and lyrics and memes and, indeed, confessions of love. I read dozens of people’s stories of how they, too, traveled to be part of this bigger something for a band that had meant a lot to them for a long time. I added my own story, cried a little bit as I left, and then cried some more for a few moments later that evening at the concert with my old friend — the same friend I’d seen them with for the first time 13 years prior. I heard them play a song they’d long retired and saw Pete and Patrick get just as choked up as I was to feel what it was like to return to what you love.
I know it’s cheesy to say that something’s priceless, but things are cheesy because they’re true. Concerts have cost me a good deal over my lifetime, and especially over this last year, but they’ve also given me some of my fondest memories, loveliest friends, and a whole bucket load of hearing damage. Concerts are my safest space, and while I need to work on my problem of saying “yes” to everything and want to be more mindful of how much I spend getting to them and while I’m at them, I don’t plan to slow down my attendance record any time soon.
Image via Unsplash