Weird & Black: Con Survival 102 – Financing the Con of Your Dreams

On my way to Katsucon 2016
These next few weeks of Weird x Black will be focused on conventions (YAY). With one of my major conventions of the year coming up in February, I will be chronicling the preparations leading up to the big days as well the convention itself. Katsucon, my favorite convention ever, is happening February 17-19 at the Gaylord Convention Center in National Harbor. I wrote last year about how much I love Katsucon and gushed about how well organized it is for a moderate sized con. This year, I will probably do just as much gushing, but with a bit more focus.
As the weeks wind down and the convention gets closer, I find that my excitement level ratchets up to like, DEFCON 12. Today, I finally got the biggest parts of my cosplay together. This upcoming week will probably be spent trying to get the makeup for my cosplay and Jay’s, and once all of that comes together, we will probably relax. It’s way too soon to pack or panic so, we’ll just congratulate ourselves on not waiting until the last minute this time.
Couple Cosplay: Hipster Harley Quinn and Joker (Katsucon 2016)
Now that you know where we are in the planning, I am going to dedicate this week’s Weird x Black to a question I receive often right around con time. Admittedly, these questions come from people like my parents, who are dubious about the amount of coins in my pocket at any given time, but here we go anyways. FINANCING THE CON OF YOUR DREAMS. *gasp, scream, run*. People are always asking me how we afford to go to these conventions, or bemoaning how they want to go but can’t afford to. I get it. Forking out $60+ when you have bills and stuff is not easy or always feasible, but I will try to help out here.
For one thing, IT HAS TO BE AN INVESTMENT TO YOU. Jay and I both work really hard, and because of the nature of our jobs, we often miss each other. He’s asleep when I’m awake, or I’m in class, or we are both at work. It’s the nature of the hustle. That being said, we both love attending genre, fandom, and industry conventions, and the ritual of going to con has pride of place in our relationship. We actually started dating at a con, so there you go. 
It is a part of our relationship that we both enjoy and take seriously, and as such, attendance is a priority for both of us. That level of priority makes forking out the coins for registration fees palatable.  We both enjoy cosplaying, and we both spend ample time taking advantage of programming. I particularly love attending panels and learning new things, so the value is there for me as well. If attending a convention is not a priority to you, don’t force it. You won’t feel like you got your money’s worth and there is no worse feeling than that.
If you are like us and you do see con as an investment in either your knowledge bank or your entertainment bank, my next bit of financial advice is DO NOT SKIP THE LOCAL CONVENTIONS. I can’t tell you how many times I snobbishly turned my nose up at a tiny local convention because I didn’t think there would be worthwhile guests or programming. Do not be like me, I now know better. Those smaller cons are great for getting to know people and the programming is usually pretty comprehensive. You may not meet Jason David Frank, but you will probably meet some cool people in your area who love the same things you love, and you’re also not going to be paying “Meet Jason David Frank money” in registration fees. 
Attending local cons, regardless of size, also helps with my next point: WHERE AT ALL POSSIBLE, CHEAPEN YOUR STAY
Con Elevator Pic, 2013
This point is important but also flexible. The largest part of my con budget without question is accommodations. The more advanced in age I become, the more important comfort is to me. Gone are the days when I was comfortable shacking up in a hotel room with a gabillion other folks sleeping on top of one another. Now, I am very particular about who I stay with and how many people I invite (or consent) to stay with me. That means that often, I am paying a good chunk of change to have a hotel room. If you are not like me, feel free to save some money by staying in a room with more people. If you are like me, you can do what I do (or not, but I promise it helps). 
Every convention, I only book a room for the duration of the convention, which is usually Friday through Sunday. In my earlier days, I would book Thursday so that I could be there for the entire day on Friday. Now, I just head to my hotel and ask them to hold my bags until I feel like coming back and picking up my keys. I save an entire night’s worth of money without sacrificing comfort. Another way to cut fees down is to book your room directly after the con dates are announced for the next year. As the convention dates get closer, you will notice that the room rates start to skyrocket from the amount of Internet traffic the hotel sites in the area are receiving as people consider attending. Another cost saver is booking the room through the convention block. This tends to be hit or miss, however, as those rooms sell quickly and sometimes require upfront payment. The cheapest way, of course, is to consider driving back and forth every day, especially if the con is less than two hours away. 
My next point, which is just as crucial as accommodations, has to do with eating: DEVELOP A MEAL PLAN AND BE PREPARED TO STICK TO IT. Unless you’re just strange that way, you’re not going to survive a weekend on McDonald’s fries and water from the convention center water fountain. You just aren’t. Be realistic about what you will need to eat, and what you might want to eat. A little research comes in handy in this area. Google the food offerings in the area and take a good look at their menus to create a daily per diem for yourself. Pack snacks for the day and use them to supplement the meals you’ve planned. Don’t deprive yourself if you come across something that goes over your budget a little. But, setting aside food money for the day helps you to be more careful about blowing it just because. Planning meals may take some coordination with your group, if you’re going with one, but it’s worth it to have the extra money left over for…
…THE DEALER’S ROOM. Ah, the Dealer’s room. Budget buster of every convention goer. I have a trick for the dealer’s room that I adhere to faithfully, but everyone has their own strategy. For a collector, like Jay, this strategy is not always best. For the shopaholic like me, it works like a charm. The trick is this: never buy anything from the dealer’s room until the last day of the convention. This is helpful because it allows you time to peruse the stalls and wares at your leisure, collect business cards and Etsy pages, and do some comparative shopping. I usually keep a note in my phone of things I saw that I want, the stall they were in, who made them, and whether or not the same item is for sale on a website or other online vendor. 
Me at American Ninja Katsucon 2015
Then, in quiet moments, like queuing for programming or in the hotel room at the end of the day, I take a look at the vendor’s site and decide if I’m willing to pay convention price. Often, the convention price has a markup. Sometimes it’s a small markup, other times it’s just insane. I make a note of the price difference, if there is any, and I go back on Sunday prepared to haggle and show receipts from my detective work. By Sunday, vendors are contemplating repacking their vehicles, trekking home, and unpacking the merchandise. It’s a daunting task, and coupled with the income (or lack of) they’ve generated over the past couple of days, it usually means they are ready to get rid of some stuff before they go. These people are in prime deal making mode. That can bode very well for your pockets.
Lastly, I will leave you with my parting bit of financial wisdom: SAVE FOR CON LIKE YOU’RE GOING ON VACATION. You kind of are, so it makes sense. But if you’re going out of state for a con, treat it like a vacation and save over time. Jay and I actually plan vacations and family visits around cons every so often, so we end up being able to kill two or more birds with one stone. The year we did New York Comic Con, we stayed with his family in Harlem and took the subway to the convention center. When we do Anime North in Toronto, we will tack on a day or two for sightseeing and other touristy stuff. A con doesn’t have to be an event in itself; it can be one of a few things you have on an itinerary in a city you’ve been dying to explore. Some larger cons even offer day passes rather than obligating you to a full weekend registration, and you can treat it as you treat the rest of your vacation entertainment.
I hope these short and sweet tips help make the task of paying to attend a convention a little less daunting, and hope you take the plunge and purchase that registration.
Speed on the Beat

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