Saturday, June 20, 2009

The True Cost of a Membership

Just about a year ago, JC and I decided that it would probably be worth it to buy a membership to the Central Park Zoo. We looked at the price for the two of us (Children under 3 are free) to get in and it was $20. We decided to get the Individual Premium membership, which would pay for itself in 4 more visits on admission alone. For $90, we'd get free admission to all five WCS wildlife parks (including the NYC Aquarium at Coney Island) for one adult and a friend plus unlimited access to Bronx Zoo attractions. We also have had a membership to the Museum of Natural History, which is a stones throw from our place. With both memberships coming to a close, and our plans for an upcoming move by October, the idea of renewing these memberships has been brought to the budgetary table.

We decided that the zoo membership would be worth it for admission. The AMNH membership is a little more difficult to value, since a non-member can enter via a donation. In trying to crunch numbers and be wise with our money, I have to remind myself about the value from which we benefit with a membership:

1. Unlimited Access to The Collections
Want to see dinosaurs today, gems tomorrow, and maybe a deciduous forest on a whim? Do it. It's already paid for, so use it as much as you want. Zoos, museums and the like give us a view of something we don't have access to otherwise, and it's an exciting way to learn for Pumkpin and ourselves.

2. Significantly Shorter Lines
The next time we went to the Zoo after getting our membership (Labor Day Weekend maybe?) we almost turned around because of the lines to get in. It was bright out, and our pasty pumpkin would have looked like a cooked lobster before we even got through the gates. I thought, nay - I hoped! -- that maybe, just maybe, there was a members' line. Sure enough, there was. We went from a line of about 75 to a line of none and walked right in. I remember thinking at the time, "that just made the membership worth it." That line has been a very nice perk, and saves us time waiting on line that could be better be spent admiring the new Snow Leopards.

It should be mentioned that JC finds the non-members' lines to be very mild during the off-peak weekday hours, so this might not be a huge factor for stay-at-home-parents, or zoo-goers with non-traditional work hours.

3. Energy Savings
With a little more groundwork, I could put this into dollars, but I'll say this: Last year one hot month with two air conditioners running left us sweating a $300 electricity bill. Since the home is occupied during the day now, we use more electricity than if the house were empty; the hotter months exacerbate our electricty use. Turning off all the lights and AC for an hour a day while walking around the climate-controlled AMNH can only have a positive effect on our wallet.

4. Free Parking
While we've only benefitted from this once, but the membership to the Zoo came with 4 FREE parking passes for the Bronx Zoo and New York Aquarium. A free parking pass at the Aquarium saved us $12 while were we galavanting around on four wheels.

5. Developing Curiousity and A Love for Learning
Definitely an intangeble, but really priceless to me. I wonder how much Pumpkin picks up at the AMNH, but I do believe she knows that it's an important place with experiences she gets nowhere else. She's just starting to love the Central Park Children's Zoo, and is excited just to explore its grounds. At 15 months old, her curiousity and cleverness makes it clear that before long she'll be asking to go pet the animals, see the big whale, and asking the favorite question: "what's that?". I honestly can't wait!

Our memberships run out around the end of june, at which point we will hopefully be narrowing down on our future home. It sad to think that we might lose accssibility to these excellent resources if we leave our nabe', but I'll have to remind myself that similar options exist throughout the city and beyond. So until July 1, we'll party like it's the Mesozoic Era.

* Pumkin explores a "Sea Turtle's Egg" on May 30, 2009. Picture by Columbia.

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