This is my first official blog post and I wanted it to be super helpful for you! I thought about a tutorial or some sort of reference guide, but I figured the best way to kick this off is CONVENTION PLANNING! Many people who enter this hobby will be met with a brick to their face and a crying wallet at how expensive conventions can be. Years if traveling local and distant for my cons, I want to share some insight on how I can manage to afford these cons while not facing late fees or having cars repo'd. I hope you find this useful for you in some shape or form! Lets begin:
This blog will be broken down into 4 major parts:
- Properly Planning Your Trip
- Networking To Split Costs
- Knowing Your Limits
- Saving Tips
Properly Planning Your Trip
Whenever a con passes and the relaxing days afterwards to recharge wheres off, I'm left with this question: what con is next? Usually I have a select through out the year, usually ones I go to yearly like Katsucon and Nekocon, but sometimes I try a con and I'm not satisfied with it, so there's sometimes 4 or 5 months in between cons to pick something out. Every time that situation falls on my plate, I go to a website called Anime Cons. It's a VERY handy website that offers con listings/dates from around the world, with some information on each con, sourced links, guest line ups, and much more. I usually attend cons that have guests I like to see or want to see, so I go into the GUESTS list and search up a name, find a con they're going to, and see if I can swing it. I use this website often throughout the year, it's a very good and handy tool to plan which con to add to your list!
Once you have a con decided out, do some research. Go to the cons website and look up location, prices, and any other info. My first place to check is badge prices. If a badge is too expensive for me, it's a breaking point. $75 is my limit only because that's how much I pay for Katsucon at the door (but this year I did the early bird and got it for $50). I have been to a few cons where the badge prices were on the higher level for lesser content. Unless there's an AMAZING guest or some special event exclusive to that con, I don't tend to go to cons like that. So make sure you do your research! Look at badge prices, the location, guest line up, special events (schedules don't usually pop up until the month of), see if there's a forum or facebook group, check the tumblr tag, or ask some friends! Always get a 2nd opinion on a con if you're torn.
Of once you figure out that the con you're looking at is priced okay in your budget, it's time to start the real planning! If it's early enough, you may be able to snag a hotel room at the con hotel! This saves you money because hotels offer con block rates to bring people in. Do some research on the area around the con first. If you have a rewards program with the hotel across the street, go there! Points build up! Or if you're unlucky and the hotel is full, see if there's something within walking distance that may be cheaper. Or if you are part of the con facebook group, maybe you can see if someone is looking for more room mates!
There's an order to consider when saving for a con, and I list them by priority:
If I don't have the first 3 figured out/saved or properly budgeted the week of, it's going to be HARD. I always start my con saving for a specific con about 1 1/2 months beforehand. Taking away a bit from each paycheck to ensure I'll be able to afford the con. It's hard when you're also trying to make cosplays for that con but budgeting is a skill and it's something you have to work at. I'm sure many people at the con scene will agree with you that they skimped out on actual food for the weekend just to buy a badge and are paying for it in the following days for malnutrition, blood sugar drops, fatigue, etc. Not feeding your body properly in this kind of environment is NOT healthy. I have fed many people in my room or just random strangers because they cant afford food. FOOD IS IMPORTANT. INCLUDE THAT IN YOUR BUDGET. IF YOU CANT AFFORD THE FOOD, BRING SOME FROM HOME. FEED YOURSELF. IF YOU CAN NOT AFFORD THE FIRST THREE, YOU CAN NOT AFFORD THE BADGE.
I will make a separate journal entry on that topic, as it is something I'm very passionate about teaching in the community.
So hotel, food, transportation, and badge money have been figured out, and you have 2 weeks left before the con! Good job. You can officially afford this con, but can you actually afford it in real life? As in, are you going to be late on a bill? Are you going to struggle the next two weeks because you have no other money? Always consider this. I recently had to get a car with a car payment, it's sucking my money dry but it's an adult thing I needed so here I am, adulting. And it sucks. It's gotten in the way of 1 con already but I still managed with the help of friends. I miscalculated and I struggled, hard. But that's a learning experience, I'm going to be better prepared for it next time. So if you have enough money for the con, but you have a phone bill due the Wednesday before the con, can you afford it? Are you lucky enough to be paid the Friday of a con? If you cant do either of those, it's time to budget some more. Still working on a cosplay and you need more foam? Postpone the cosplay, it can wait. Going to see a movie with friends the week before? Save the gas/movie fare and see it after the con. Eat out a few times a week? Stick at home. BELIEVE ME CUTTING OUT THOSE THINGS WILL TAKE YOU FAR. That $10 you didn't spend on a movie is now going to be your meal money for the day. If you really want to go to this con, you will make sacrifices.
Also super important: make sure you figure out your transportation asap! If you're driving, it's not much of a stress inducer, but if you rely on others, it's going to get hard. Sometimes you'll get lucky and a friend (with a car) will go with you, or it's local enough a relative could drive you or take public transport to, or you could how I was during 2015 and completely rely on random people from con groups on facebook to be your ride or, in one case, rent a car and break your entire budget (but not the bank). Figure this out ASAP because it becomes harder and harder as the con approaches. Always give gas money or ask for gas money depending on which side you are on. If someone is coming out of the way to come get you, offer more than what they're asking and vice versa. I've had people give me $6 in gas before because that's all they could afford (I took it, but I refuse to drive them again). Being rude and cheap to your ride will make the ride uncomfortable but also screw you over in the future if you're in need of a ride again. Word goes around quick about who's a good rider and who's not. Never proceed with the next steps of con planning until you have stable transportation figured out (and it doesn't hurt to have a back up).
At the end of this section, you should have the following:
- A Hotel room
- Transportation figured out
- Money saved up
Networking To Split Costs
Time to be like Mr. Krabs, save save save save. Even if you work a 9-5 job that pays salary, still save! There's absolutely NOTHING wrong with saving. Accidents happen, a surprise bill pops up, rates rise, etc. Something will always happen, believe me. So even if you have the money to afford the con, always give yourself room to fall back on just in case sometime happens. Always be prepared.
A great way to save money is splitting costs. And here's where:
- If you know a lot of friends going to the same con, try and do a group rate! It's a cheaper alternative, badge prices tend to be lower. Always look to see if the con you're going to has group discounts. Even if that's $5 off, that's $5 you don't have to spend!
- For hotels: find people to pay to sleep in your room. Sometimes, people will even pay you to keep their stuff in the room (usually this happens if the person is staying farther away). Or someone is just looking for a place to stay for 1 night. That $20 they pay you will help you out!
- Stay at different hotels. Sometimes the con hotel rate is just not worth it. Katsucon for example, the average someone pays to stay in a room of 6 at the con rate is about $120. That's a LOT for the hassle of using the stairs constantly (elevator clogged with people suck; please use the stairs to go to different con floors if you can). It's a hassle, but it's worth it to many who can afford it. I normally stay at the hotels near by, and although the walk is FREEZING, that $100 I saved on the entire room makes my wallet happy. Always look at the surrounding hotels, and if you're on a super tight budget, the farther away you are, the cheaper it becomes sadly.
- If you'r traveling far, find someone to drive with. They will help split gas and parking, plus that 8 hour drive will be more fun because you'll have someone to talk to! Always be clear on prices of gas, don't under price your gas. If parking is unavoidable, make sure whoever you drive with pays for it as well! Be stern about it, don't let people walk all over you. Gas is an ever changing price so sometimes gas will be $1.80 and it'll be fine and dandy, but other times i'ts $2.30 and you're struggling.
- If you are in the Artist Alley scene and you have a table, find someone to split the table with you! They get half the table and you get half your money back. Plus it's a great way to meet friends and bring your goal sale prices down.
Story time: for my room at Animazement, I had 5 people in the room. 1 of which was met through the facebook group. He seemed pretty okay, but as the con got closer he kept asking to add on another person to the room despite my room cap being 5, kept asking for his friend to borrow my badge, and kept trying to change the rules. I kicked him out real quick, and he got so upset/butthurt over it that it turned into a "war" that he obviously lost. It was hilarious. He still hasn't unblocked me.
Don't be that guy.
Another story: For Animazement as well, I drove up 2 people who lived in the area. They were pretty chill people, but I had a goal to get to the hotel by 2, and when I went to pick them up at 11, they weren't even home. I had to wait 30 minutes for them to come to where the address they had given me. I don't have the world's biggest car, and I made that very clear to everyone in my car to pack as light as they can....well they tried but it was still a large bag, 3 pillows, props, and other stuff. They were buried in the back seat and I still had 1 more person to put in the car (she got buried as well and it was...it was not fun honestly). Rule was, $10 for gas from everyone since it was a short drive. The other person paid me $10, while the other two? they gave me $6. And on the way back, while loading the car, they had even MORE STUFF. I have never had such terrible riders before other than my Holiday Matsuri incident (which that too, will have a blog for con horror stories).
Don't be any of these people. I wanted to save money and I did...but it gave me a lot of headaches. So make sure you pick out your people just right.
Knowing Your Limits
Back in 2013, I was going a con once a month. It was exhausting. I never had money for anything outside of bills. Although I had something to do every month and got to see friends often, I was still exhausted. 2013 really burnt me out on cons. I realized then, it was about quality, not quantity. I also learned I'm not a fan of small cons that have less than 1K people, I love the crowd! I love the vast cosplay diversity, panels, and such. Smaller cons didn't have that for me....To be honest I think Katsucon ruined me lol.
So know your limits! Can you financially afford cons often? Don't go to cons every other weekend because you can afford it now, because you might not be able to afford it later or it'll come and bite you in the butt. Cons are fun, and they're a great way to get away from the "real world", but never put yourself into a situation you cant handle. Such as, going a week or two without a phone because you skipped out on the phone bill. Going 2 weeks (or more) not going grocery shopping, or tapping into your emergency savings because you mishandled your money for a con.
The best way to know if you are reaching or have reached your limit can be done like this:
- Sit down and think back, remember the reason why you went to such-and-such con. What was the most memorable moment? Did you have fun? Were you spending more time idle at the con or active in panels/gatherings? Did you get precon jitters? If your answers are more on the negative side, you're reaching a burn out. The best way to bring back the spark is to cut back on your cons.
- Look back through any photos you took at the con or if you have the booklet/schedule still with you, look back and see if you attended any thing or look at the map and see where you spent most of your time. Do this for all the cons you go to either regularly or for the first time, pick out which ones stood out the most to you, that you enjoyed the most, that lets you see most of your friends at once, that have the better dealers hall if you're a merch junkie like myself. This will put your con attendance in order. For me, the one con I will forever go to is Katsucon. Nekocon and Anime Weekend Atlanta are fantastic cons, but they are no permanent if another con took it's priority. Same with Animazement (tho I just go since it's right next to me).
- Create a con bucket list. Is there a con out there you REALLY want to attend but cant ever seem to afford it? If you cut back on your cons, not only will it open a window into your stale con routine, but it'll help you save money to afford it! My bucket list is: Anime Expo, Pax East, and E3. I am expensive lol. But I am willing to cut away cons, such as Nekocon, AWA, and Animazement, to achieve one of these cons if the opportunity fell on my plate. Going to a new con will help bring back the joy of cons, because it's a new environment, new people, different staff, different guests, etc. Going to the same con year after year with the same people it will get dull very fast. So change it up if you can!
You'll find your own tricks and remedies as your con year experience grows. I have many many badges of cons I don't attend anymore because others took that place. It's perfectly normal! Maybe one day I can attend those cons again but that's when I'm paid to do so (and I'm not expecting that at all). Some people take a year off from cons to relax and readjust, because the con scene is ever changing. It's different every year, from what's trending on the cosplay market to what's popular anime wise (so cons cater to those guests).
Back to the money section, if you're unhappy not having money outside of cons and bills, lighten your load. Many times I go to a con and only have enough for my top 4, and that leaves nothing for the dealers room or artist alley, and that's one of my big things at cons (because I am addicted to keychains and figures). I still have fun at the con regardless but going home with maybe one thing (something small or a gift) is rather sad. I don't buy my stuff online because USPS hates me (and I hate it too) so cons are the best way for me to get things. So if you're like me, cut back on that one random con you're going to on a whim or one that you're not too entirely excited about. The extra money not spent on that can go right into a dealer's pocket.
And remember! No one is forcing you to go to cons. :) Do what you want to do.
And the last section! This one will be rather short since most of my saving tips have been covered already in previous sections, but I still have more!
- If you're going to a con and you're struggling with the badge, try volunteering! You work 3-4 hours a day throughout the weekend and you get a free badge or badge reimbursement! You may have to buy the badge ahead of time (most cons want you to be prereg'd) but you'll get it back! So not only do you get to go to the con, you get a free badge while you're at it. And if you keep volunteering for the same con/con company, you'll eventually get hire up and at some point, maybe a staff position! And depending on the con, you'll get a free badge, free food, free stay, and possibly transportation reimbursement (but it differs from con to con)
- Some cons also allow badge reimbursement if you do a certain amount of panels! Usually 3 panels give you 1 free badge, most con websites have that listed somewhere but if not it does not hurt to email them to find out! Panels are pretty fun and a good way to meet friends and talk to fellow nerds, but it can be stressful. And depending on the con, if you only do 1 panel, you'll be refunded the difference! So instead of a $45 badge, you might get it for $35 instead. Every penny counts!
- If you're in the dealers hall, be mindful of bootleggers. If you see a fantastic figure that's 10 inches tall for $10, that's more than likely a bootleg. Although you will be saving money in a way, you're supporting a terrible company cheating your favorite studios out of their money (it's a growing crisis actually). Although this part is not much of a savings tip, it's a tip as a figure collector: do your research. If you want that nice Bandai figure but it's $50 versus the guy selling a bootlegged version 4 tables down for $30, always support your company! Because it's a problem in Japan, that with all these free streaming websites and lack of money coming in from merchandise (dvds, collectors merch, etc) is affecting how the anime industry pays their animators. Ever wonder why anime is declining in story and animation? This is why. It's a huge problem, and you can google it to find lots of inside resources.
- This is a future savings tip: Become a member at all hotels. Marriott, Sheraton/Starwood, etc. Get those points going. I am a member at the Sheraton/Starwood company and I get FREE internet at any stay at a Starwood hotel, but I also get complimentary welcoming food basket, free parking (at participating hotels) cheaper rates, and 1 free drink at the bar (at participating hotels). WHO DOESN'T LIKE FREE FOOD, DRINKS, AND INTERNET? It really pays to be a member, because the points rack up. Eventually you'll rack up enough points to get you a free nights stay at a hotel! Yeah you'll (probably) have to pay for the remaining nights if you don't have enough points, but that's one night you don't have to pay extra!
- Cosplay tip: COUPONS. COUPONS ARE YOUR FRIEND. SO IS GOODWILL OR OTHER THRIFT STORES. I get all my shoes from there, and most other things I don't feel like making, such as dress pants or a dress shirt. They are the best. So if you're scraping by to afford your con while still trying to pay for a cosplay (to make), cut ties where you can. Coupons are great, so are red tagged fabrics, thrift stores will become your best friend.
- Bring what you can from home. Have some extra cans of soda sitting around? Bring those with you so you have your caffeine in the morning. Got some snacks that don't require a microwave, fridge, or any other appliance? Now you got a snack for when you're in between shoots and don't have time/money to get some food. Whatever you bring will save you a bit of money since vending machines aren't cheap sometimes.
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I really hope this entire blog post helped you out in some way! I am always giving out tips to friends and sometimes even planning their budget because I'm rather good at it. I work a full time job during the days to pay my bills (and I got a lot) so using whatever is left over to help plan a con/cosplay/etc has become second nature to me. I hope to do a panel on this in the future, budgeting 101 or something like that. I am always coming up with more ways to save money so I will share them with you in due time!
Thanks so much for reading, I hope my first official blog post helps you guys out. Happy con planning!!