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So you’ve finally decided to attend a con! Congratulations! Attending a con is a great experience that you never want to forget. But to make it memorable, you have to spend money. Let me repeat that: YOU WILL HAVE TO SPEND MONEY AT THE CON.
(You right now.)
But if you plan ahead, you won’t have to survive on hot dogs and cereal the month after the con! Here is a list of things that I learned after attending my first one. Yep, I went in with eyes wide open and left with a very empty bank account. After that fiasco, I made sure that I was better prepared the next time!
(Happy and Broke 2: Convention Aftermath)
- Start planning at least 5 months in advance: This gives you time to research the con, figure out how much money you will need, and save. Use this time to decide how many days you will attend the con and take off from work. I always ask for days off as SOON as I know that I want to attend a con.
- Registration: Why are you attending this con? This is something that you should ask yourself before your register. If you only want to game, get a gaming badge. Concert? Just pay for the concert. But if you are looking to enjoy the entire con experience, buy a pass for the appropriate days. Most cons have single day or weekend badges. Larger cons typically have premium badges that offer extra perks. For example, Tokyo in Tulsa’s Sakura Club offers cool swag such as a bag, t-shirt, first dibs in artist alley and in the vendor room, first row access to all events and so much more! But if you cannot afford a premium pass, PREREGISTER! If badges aren’t mailed, get there early to pick up your badge!
- Transportation: How are you getting there? If you live close by, you obviously want to drive each day. However, you still need to pay for gas and a parking pass. This amount will vary but consider these costs when preparing your budget. Search the website for parking procedures. If you can’t find it there, contact a staff member for help! If you’re going to fly, try to buy your ticket as soon as you get your days off from work approved! This should be done as soon as possible. You also want to schedule the flight so that layovers won’t destroy your con time. So if you are dying to ask Nozawa Masako a question at her panel on Friday at 5pm, do not schedule your arrival for Friday at 3. You’re cutting it close. Nozawa-san will not wait for you.
- Hotel/Lodging: Many cons have partnerships with certain hotels and will offer discounts if you book with that particular hotel! Or, you could stay with a friend or relative at their home and drive in each day! There’s no wrong way to do it! I’ve done both! 😊 But be sure you know how many days you need and book ahead! Sometimes you have to book through the link on the con’s website to get the discount. Pay attention and be aware. If you are going with friends, you can easily split up the cost of the room! 😊 Don’t forget about parking! If you’re driving, you’ll have to park so make sure you put back money for parking! Depending on where you are, this may be $10 or more! Check the website! Anime Expo, for example, clearly displays parking information on their site.
- Call your bank ahead of time! I learned this the hard way! Prior to attending an out-of-town con, I made sure to pay all of my “first of the month” bills before I left. I had just gotten paid so there was nothing to worry about! Right? Wrong! At the con later that day, my card was declined while trying to purchase Princess Jellyfish on DVD! I freaked out because I immediately thought that my account had been hacked! But when I checked my bank account, my money was there. Then it dawned on me: I forgot to let my bank know that I was going to be out of town. My bank has many security features in place. One is freezing your account if too much money comes out too quickly or if you leave town. I quickly called to notify them and they were able to increase my spending limit for the weekend. Try and do this the day before you leave so that you do not hold up the line.
- FOOD! Eating is important! You are a human. You must have water and food to survive. The last thing you want is to get sick and have to go home! If you are staying at a hotel for 3 days, you will need to set aside at least $100 for food. MOST CONS DO NOT ALLOW OUTSIDE FOOD AND DRINK! Some have free water but some do not. Make sure you are prepared.
- Merchandise: Budget at least $200-$300 for merchandise. I am so serious. A big part of conventions is purchasing things. Bands have tons of cool merch available. Artist alley and the vendor rooms are full of manga, Blu-ray/DVDs, t-shirts, wigs, games, and other unique items. You are going to want to buy it. Now should you buy every single thing you want? Absolutely not. Take a moment to walk around and make a list of things that you want to purchase. If you still want it the next day, go ahead and buy it! Now, if there are only a few copies of something left, get it! (Note: Avoid mystery bags. You are NOT getting $50 worth of merchandise for $20. Trust me. I’ve messed up like 3 times. T_T)
(Me each time I open a mystery bag full of trash.)
- Autographs: Guests often have autograph policies and prices. To be honest, the most I’ve ever spent was $5 to take a picture with a guest. To me that was reasonable. However, there are some some guest who charge way more than $5. Prices can range from free to hundreds of dollars. Some guests only sign their merchandise. So before you bring that Haruko wall scroll for Kari Wahlgren to sign, make sure she is able to sign it! ( I actually have a wall scroll that I want Kari Wahlgern to sign ^_^) Big cons sometimes have the guest sign one poster/item to keep the line moving. FIND OUT WHO YOU WANT AUTOGRAPHS FROM BEFORE YOU LEAVE SO THAT YOU AREN’T DISAPPOINTED.
- Cash: As stated in 10 Tips to Survive Your First Con, you need to have cash on you. With so many people attending the con, the ATMs will run out of money. Also, debit readers can malfunction and some vendors only take cash. A good rule of thumb is to have at least half of your spending money in cash.
- Emergency Money: Anything can happen while you are away. Flat tires, torn cosplays, illnesses. Make sure to include a “con emergency fund” in your budget. You want to make sure that you have at least $60 set aside for this.
For my visual people, here is a chart showing my con budget:
|Food||$10 per meal x 2 meals per day=$20 per day||
$60 for 3-day con + $20 for extras like water and snacks=$80
|Badge||Approx. $180 for a premium badge||$180.00|
|Lodging||Hotel= approx. $100 per night
|Approx. $325 divided between 2 other friends = $109|
|Parking||Approx. $10 per day||Approx. $30|
|Transportation||Gas money= It depends!||About $50 divided between 2 others= ~$17|
|Merchandise||Vendors, Artist Alley, and Extras= $200
Autographs= $20 (I have yet to spend more than $5 for autograph sessions)
Obviously, money does not buy happiness. But conventions make me happy and conventions cost money. If you take time to plan and budget accordingly, you can have a great time without killing your bank account. The price that I pay to attend cons is nothing compared to the experiences that I gain in just 3 short days. I get to hang with my friends, cosplay, and buy cool stuff. Don’t let the cost to hold you back. Make a plan and stick to it! 🙂