Why Are Mormons Sooo “Cheap”?

Don - October 31, 2005

We own two businesses, a discount movie theater in the heart of "Happy Valley" (Orem) and a bridal store in Spokane Washington. At both locations Mormons are the cheapest of the cheap. Let me give some typical examples:

We charge $1.50 admission for adults, $1.00 for students and on Tuesdays everyone is 50 cents. As many of you know I’ve already posted about all the food these good members continue to "sneak" into the theater. Well, that’s not good enough or cheap enough for a lot of them. We continually have people pass one student I.D. around to their friends so they can save 50 cents. Or they will beg us to believe them that they are a student so they can save 50 cents. We have people who will watch part or all of the movie on Tuesday (50cent admission) come out of the theater, tell the manager they didn’t like the movie and want a refund. They gripe about our high snack bar prices. We have $1 candy and our popcorn and drinks are from 50cents to $1 cheaper than the competition.

Our bridal store has "cheap" Mormon stories too. Girls who come in and try on dresses that when questioned will tell us they are just checking styles, their mother is going to make their dress. Girls who want to know if we give special discounts to Mormons. Girls who will ask for the manufacturer and or style number of a dress because they want to buy it on the internet. (Yes, some non-Mormons will ask this as well, but the majority are Mormon)

Why is "cheapness" such a part of our culture. I’ve owned several businesses and Mormons per se are almost always the most money conscious, penny pinchers, difficult people to deal with.

34 Comments »

  1. Ask your wife.

    Comment by Rusty — October 31, 2005 @ 5:54 pm

  2. Here in San Diego the Holiday Bowl people were glad when they got out of the deal that sent the WAC/MWC champion here. Part of the reason was that BYU fans didn’t spend as much as fans from, say, Nebraska or Arizona. The quote from one official was “BYU fans come here with the ten commandments and a ten dollar bill and they don’t break either!”

    Comment by Timburriaquito — October 31, 2005 @ 6:01 pm

  3. As far as the movie business goes I don’t know how much of it can be singled out on Mormons. You have a couple strikes against you allready
    1) You own a discount movie theater, which by its nature attracts the skinflints in greater proportions.
    2) You are in a town with a lot of college students, who are by their nature cheap.

    As far as the wedding thing goes, I think it has to do with lowered expectations. My wife and I probably spent 2-3k on our wedding all told including flowers, food etc. That included her 1k wedding dress. My wife’s good HS friend just got married and probably spent 10 times that. Her dress was 4-5k. Percentage of the budget was a lot less for her dress than my wifes, even though she spent way more. My point, when you spend less on the wedding you are more likely to spend less on the dress.

    Have you considered offering something unique to your movie theater so people pay a premium? In portland, the McMenanmins chain has one a few movie theaters (including the amazing old Bagdad) where they show second run flicks for 1-2 dollars and then serve food (depending on the location, anywhere from pizza to bar food to a full restaurant) and beer(obviously verboten in the UC). Is your theater the University Cinemas?

    Comment by Jay S — October 31, 2005 @ 6:23 pm

  4. Forgive my earlier comment. I realized now it is phrased in a somewhat awkward way. Also, I just googled you and saw you operated the Garland Theater in Spokane. Cool!

    Comment by Jay S — October 31, 2005 @ 6:28 pm

  5. So Don, if I drop your name at the theater do I get a discount?

    Comment by a random John — October 31, 2005 @ 6:31 pm

  6. Don: 10% tithing, a “generous” fast offering, one year of food storage, contributions to the missionary fund, large families, teenagers saving for their own missions, and the professional opportunity costs associated with magnifying callings.

    These, I would guess, are the causes of Mormon cheapness!

    Comment by RoastedTomatoes — October 31, 2005 @ 6:41 pm

  7. Tim, great comment.
    Jay, yes I own the University Mall Cinemas, did own the Garland and at one time owned several other locations on the east coast, Oregon and California. Many, including Spokane had a lot of college students and families, none, percentage wise, as cheap as the people in Orem. Bridal, I agree percentage and total dollars spend Mormons are different than the world, but why do they always expect a deal?

    Comment by don — October 31, 2005 @ 7:26 pm

  8. Roasted, Try it and see. Becky is the manager, Bryce (my son) is an assistant and Bryan is the other assistant. Tell them I said you can get in free….we’ll see what happens….you cheap Mormon you ;)

    Comment by don — October 31, 2005 @ 7:29 pm

  9. Opps, sorry A Random John, you try it and see. Roasted go ahead try it too!

    Comment by don — October 31, 2005 @ 7:30 pm

  10. Rusty, I’m telling Mom.

    Comment by don — October 31, 2005 @ 7:32 pm

  11. Don,
    Our discount cinema here in Baltimore costs $3. You’re getting ripped-off man!

    Comment by Ronan — October 31, 2005 @ 7:55 pm

  12. Ronan, I’d be charging $2.50 to $3.00 now in any other place except Utah…1st they wouldn’t pay it, and second the competition is $1…..don’t you love the free enterprize system?!

    Comment by don — October 31, 2005 @ 9:12 pm

  13. Mormons are the worst tippers, bar none.

    Comment by Sue — October 31, 2005 @ 10:30 pm

  14. Don,

    Just so you know, there is absolutely no way that I would attempt to cheat a dollar cinema or any other theater for that matter. I’ve gotten my money back at the movies twice. Once the sound was out for half the movie and the other we left after 20 minutes because it was offensive.

    Comment by a random John — October 31, 2005 @ 11:13 pm

  15. Mormons can be cheap. I think the root of the matter has to do with no alchohol. If you drink you get used to paying 5-10 dollars for your drink. So when you go to the theater it doesn’t seem as extravagant.

    Our discount theater (in vegas) is $2. I agree it has to do with the competition. I was going to say that the Varsity would provide competition, but no longer.

    As far as why Mormons are looking for “the deal”, its because we have been conditioned to do so. Being a small group of people, we expect others to look out for us. We are used to the friends and family discount. I think non-members have this too, but it is usually limited to friends and family or immediate neighbors. In the church, to varying degrees (some to ward, others to stake, others to all mormons) expect a deal.

    I think people would pay the $2, except for the competition.

    The major problem with theaters is their declining relevance in today’s entertainment spectrum. 2nd run theaters are often coinciding with DVD releases (which stinks for you). But that is another thread.

    Ultimately Mormons are conditioned to think of thrift as a virtue. Thrift especially extends to entertainment. My mom is the worst (best to some). They have a decent income, have very few expenses and still prides herself on getting a deal on dinner (using the coupon, creative ordering, complaining about the food (ok, there are legitimate times when this is ok, but if it isn’t absolutely perfect to her complicated ordering she will complain). This is a flaw, but I think she makes up for it with her charity to others (granted the restauranteur probably doesn’t feel too happy about this).

    Also the comment about additional pressures (large families, tithing expenditures, charitable donation) reduce disposable income for entertainment.

    But the cheapness doesn’t extend accross the board (how many families do you know with the living scriptures!). Don, I think one of your neighbors in orem sells the videos, perhaps you could arrange a deal to screen these at your theater! You would have lines around the block, but they still probably wouldn’t buy your popcorn!

    Comment by jay s — November 1, 2005 @ 12:19 am

  16. I know Don thinks I’m going to outer-darkness because I’m a food-sneaker-inner (in truth, I’m going to outer darkness for completely unrelated reasons). But even I would probably feel bad about sneaking food into a 50 cent movie, especially if the prices are as reasonable as you say.

    That being said, I can’t say I’m too surprised that a people whose motto is “thrift” also happen to be cheap. What about all those General Conference talks about reusing, recycling, and darning old socks? Not paying full-price for a movie is practically in our Articles of Faith.

    I think another big factor that no one has mentioned is that Utah Valley has an enormous population of married college students (very unusual) and extremely young couples with kids (also unusual these days).

    aRJ– you can’t leave us hanging like that. What movie was so offensive you asked for your money back? I have a few guesses…

    I’m going to the movies tomorrow, and in Don’s honor, I will not sneak in my left-over Halloween candy. I will buy a big tub of popcorn, which is the only thing I don’t feel like I’m getting ripped off for.

    Comment by NFlanders — November 1, 2005 @ 12:46 am

  17. Do you think people get to know your business and know that you are Mormon so they expect “nice-ness,” read “good deal”?
    Of course, this would be the opposite, I guess of the little fish that the born-agains have in their windows. The idea there, I think is to advertise so that people know they are dealing with like-minded folks and would, conceivably be willing to look past some other competition to come to you. Johnathan Stapley has an idea for a Mormon kosher mark (word of wisdom safe), the circle M. We could expand that and adopt the idea for business. (I don’t really advocate this.)
    A small note, my street is known for it’s Mormon-ness. I live in Hawaii, and everyone feels the street is safe for trick-or-treating, so they come from as far as Honolulu. Many folks on our street spend as much as $100 on Halloween candy. While this is a great PR move, I think it does show that Mormons, in the right situations, aren’t necessarily always cheap.

    Comment by Steve H — November 1, 2005 @ 2:33 am

  18. Ned,

    Let’s hear your guesses!

    Comment by a random John — November 1, 2005 @ 9:30 am

  19. I would never ask for my money back for seeing a movie I didn’t like (technical issues are a different matter). It’s like handing back a half eaten sandwich to someone who didn’t even make the sandwich. There’s enough information out there (reviews, etc.) so that moviegoers can make up their own minds before spending the outrageous prices at the theaters (c’mon! 50 cents!! I wish. Try $11).

    That said, I’ve fallen asleep in a few movies. Men in Black II for one. What happened to the Lara Flynn Boyle alien? She was creeeepy.

    As for Mormons being cheap, I think it’s true – mostly because of the reasons Roasted Tomatoes and others point to. But Mormons DO save lots of money for not buying alcohol. Considering the drinking habits of some of my friends, 10% of their income is probably not too far off the mark for how much they spend in alcohol.

    Comment by Elisabeth — November 1, 2005 @ 9:46 am

  20. You own University Cinemas? Awesome! I alone have spent probably over one hundred dollars there, and that’s saying a lot when you’re talking about $.50-1.00 tickets. It seems to be growing in popularity now, but you guys need lots of lights and snaz like Movies 8. Movies 8 is still the place to hang out in Provo and so you have to compete with that aspect. I always went to University precisely because no one was ever there – at least when it first reopened a couple years ago.

    There are a few dollar houses here in Boise, and one does something that seems like a really good idea. All of their snacks – candy, drinks, popcorn, hotdogs, nachos – they’re all $1. And because of that, there is never a time when there’s not a line at the food counter, whereas in the other dollar theaters no one is ever buying anything. If you spend $.50 or $1 on a ticket, you don’t think, “Oh, I just saved money, I’m going to spend a lot on snacks.” It’s just the opposite. You can’t bring yourself to pay $2-3 on a drink when you got in for fifty cents. People are cheap, but they’re willing to buy things when the things are cheap. I think this theater is smart to play off that.

    Comment by Eric Russell — November 1, 2005 @ 10:11 am

  21. I worked at Movies 8 in Provo for three years. Every manager I ever had was as frustrated as you, Don. Their bonuses and promotions depended heavily on the per-cap concessions sales (the amount of concessions sales per ticket sold). It’s been a while, but it seems like a really good weekly per-cap for them was something like $0.95, whereas the company average was at least double that. Most of the managers were upset with the sneaking in of food, but there was one that was a total Nazi. He watched people in the lobby like a hawk. When he knew somebody had something in their pocket or purse (and he always knew) he wouldn’t let them in until they handed it over. He wasn’t from Utah and he was baffled by the cheapness of the customers.

    I confess, I was a very bad usher when it came to busting people. If I saw somebody with a Zuka Juice or a bag of fast food, I just looked the other way and pretended not to notice. I dreaded confrontation. I feel kind of bad that I didn’t do that part of my job better. Otherwise I was freakin’ exemplary. (Except the time that I sold R-rated tickets to underage kids sent by the Daily Herald!). I was glad to move to the projection booth so I wouldn’t have to feel bad about not being a food Nazi.

    Comment by Brother Tom — November 1, 2005 @ 10:13 am

  22. If Mormons are so cheap, what is the fuss with Bankruptcy? At least it doesn’t sound like thrift.

    Comment by Jettboy — November 1, 2005 @ 10:35 am

  23. Confession time!

    In Boston I would take food into movies. I took and enormous burrito into Lord of the Rings. I was starving and there wasn’t time to eat. I made no attempt to hide it and if they had asked me to throw it away I would have taken a giant bite and then thrown it away.

    I also remember taking something into 28 Days Later. A sandwhich? Not a very good movie to eat a meal during.

    Elisabeth, you should know that your husband and I made a trip to 7-Eleven prior to Revenge of the Sith and walked in with a great deal of candy.

    In general I buy food at the theater though and pay through the nose. It would cost us about $40 for my wife and I to go to a movie in Boston.

    In my defense, I am a good tipper. Or at least I think so.

    Comment by a random John — November 1, 2005 @ 11:18 am

  24. University Cinemas is awesome, Don. We started frequenting it close to the end of our time in Provo, but if we ever move back down there, it’ll be our premier second-run theater. All of my friends thought it was much better than Movies 8.

    And that gigantic refillable tub of popcorn for a great price? Pure genius!

    As for the topic at hand: I’ve heard of Mormon’s being bad tippers, but being from Ohio, I’d never really experienced that before. Now, living in Utah, I always try to tip more than 15% (close to 20%, if possible, without doing weird 4.64 cent tips) just to make up for other folks. I think roasted tomatoes’ list is a good one for reasons why people might justify their own cheapness.

    I’d also add that Utah County to me seems to be known for it’s entrepeneurial spirit, and I don’t know how many people I’ve seen reading those “Rich Dad, Poor Dad”-like books down there, all of which basically tell you to be a niggardly miser when it comes to making your millions, from what I’ve been able to determine in my limited experience with them.

    Just my non-discounted $.02.

    Comment by A. Nonny Mouse — November 1, 2005 @ 12:39 pm

  25. Eric, thanks for the $1 snack bar idea, I think I might steal that and modify it a bit.

    Tom, our dollar per is about .85 – .95 as well…and that’s with lower snack bar prices than Movies 8, so I guess that’s good. It’s just not very good (financially) when theater like the Garland did $1.50+. The bottom line is the difference between a very profitable venture and one that is borderline and even in the red some months. 25,000 people per month times .50 is a big deal!

    Comment by don — November 1, 2005 @ 1:43 pm

  26. ARJ: Yeah, I can’t believe you two played hooky to go see Star Wars! At least you didn’t get dressed up in character. Or did you?

    Comment by Elisabeth — November 1, 2005 @ 5:39 pm

  27. Years ago I read a snippet of Torah or Talmud commentary that stated it is morally wrong to inquire about the price of an item that a person has no intention of buying.

    For some reason that really struck me as a truth. It’s a form of deception and it is wrong to deliberately and falsely raise another person’s hopes.

    For similar reasons, I think it is wrong to go into a bridal dress shop and try on dresses when a person has no intention of making a purchase. It seems especially wrong to do so with the purpose of finding “ideas” for a dress a person is making at home.

    People who work in bridal stores have a right to compensation and it is a form of worker oppression to obtain their assistance when one knows ahead of time that no payment is ever intended.

    Here’s a link titled “Price Shopping With No Intention to Buy” that provides interesting discussion of the matter.

    Comment by danithew — November 2, 2005 @ 7:59 am

  28. http://www.cinemark.com/theater_showtimes.asp?theater_id=193

    I’m paying a dollar to go there, never thought to sneak food in. It is kind of hard to sneak movie popcorn in anyway — and they don’t give refills if you bring it yourself.

    Comment by Stephen M (Ethesis) — November 2, 2005 @ 9:23 pm

  29. My dad said once that as the repuatation of Mormons grew, people would change the way they talked about bargaining people down:

    “I really Mormon-ed the guy down. I got a great deal.”

    Comment by Mark B. — November 7, 2005 @ 4:03 pm

  30. I imagine the slang would go like, “Could they be anymore Mormon with the serving sizes here?” or “The boss went Mormon on us and cut dental insurance.”

    Comment by gibbyg — November 8, 2005 @ 2:48 pm

  31. I go to the most expensive theater in town–the Hollywood Arclight–because teenagers won’t pay $14 to see a movie, and it’s worth an extra $5 not to have teenagers in the theater.

    Don, would you eject a customer who “movie hops”? Sometimes if a movie is a dog I will go watch something else, or two other things (though I do not stay for a whole other movie cycle, that is, in an evening I won’t watch more than about 2 hours worth of movie, or watch two movies back-to-back). Is that objectionable?

    Incidentally, I can’t movie hop at the Arclight because ushers seat you in assigned seats for each showing, so I pick my movies more carefully there.

    Comment by gst — November 10, 2005 @ 7:33 pm

  32. I had a very dear friend of mine regularly sneak home-cooked popcorn into the movies – she’d put them under her shirt and pretend she was pregnant.

    I don’t go to movies that often, but the last two have been at the University Cinemas (an entertaining, if not well-written, Fantastic 4 and the highly enjoyable Sky Captain.) I blame John C. (a random John?) for getting me to both of those.

    Don, the coolest thing about your theater, IMO, is providing those interesting popcorn toppings.

    gst: I’m pretty sure my wife and I would pay more to go to a movie where we’d be less likely to have kids present. *grumble*

    Comment by FaithHopeLove — November 11, 2005 @ 12:09 pm

  33. A lot of people are cheep. Including Mormons. I like to save a buck anytime I can, but I have never sneeked popcorn into a movie.

    Comment by movies in utah county — August 24, 2010 @ 9:33 pm

  34. Figured out how cheap Mormons are when hubby’s oldest brother and sister-in-law went in with 4 other couples to get us a crockpot for our wedding. Not to be outdone, I sent one thank you card to all five couples, in care of his brother. Figured they didn’t deserve a separate thank you card from me either.

    Comment by Jenna B. — March 19, 2012 @ 12:18 pm

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