Cons In Your Backyard

In these days of tight budgets and strained wallets, is it even feasible to go to cons?

Of course it is…one just has to be creative and cost-conscious.Here’s what I mean.

So I’m headed to ConText 24 this weekend, in Columbus, Ohio. The conference is Friday night, Saturday, and Sunday morning and afternoon.

Columbus is about an hour from my house, so I won’t be staying overnight at the hotel. I like driving, so I’ll drive back and forth. That also means that if I decide not to go to the first panel, I can sleep in, and if I’m getting tired, I can just go home that night. Technically, I could go early, come home, and then go back at night if I wanted to, but that probably won’t happen. An hour is about the limit to driving back and forth for a conference like this; I’ll wake up excited to get there, and the drive will help me process the information overload on the way home. (It helps that I have a voice recorder on my cell phone to record my impressions if I want).

This is about as cost-effective as I can get. Because I switched jobs, I don’t have a lot of vacation time to use, and I’m trying to save it all up for a while. I’ve also got a few things on the wish list for the house, so I am trying to watch my writing expenses.

Because of that, I started looking closer to home for conferences. And found one for this weekend.

So let’s talk dollars and cents for those people who want to go to a conference but are worried about being able to afford it.

The cost of the conference itself is $45.00. (I recently got a mileage check at work for $35.00, making my cost $10.00). There are conferences out there that cost more. I haven’t seen many that cost less. I did not make a choice to attend this conference merely based on cost; I’m looking forward to going, because of the friends and writers on panels, the chance to meet more people and to experience a convention I have never been to. The fact that it’s very affordable was just the icing on top.

Generally, the shorter the conference, the less expensive it is to register. That’s also something to remember when it comes to the number of nights one might need to spend in a hotel room, and the distance, in travel, also adds to the budget.

I’m not doing any of the workshops; at this point, I’ve never been to the conference, so I’m waiting to see what’s available when I get there, and what sounds good. I might slip into something, I might not. Those could cost extra, but none of them are outrageously expensive.

I’m saving two nights in the hotel…which is nearly $200.00.

My cost will be gas, meals, and drinks.

My car gets 35 mpg on the highway. That means that I’ll use one tank of gas for the weekend. That’s about $35.00-40.00 in my car. Yeah, this was a big selling point when I bought the car.

Meals would be dinner Friday night, breakfast, lunch, and dinner on Saturday, and breakfast and lunch on Sunday. That’s six meals. I normally budget myself at $10 for breakfast, $15 for lunch, and $20-25 for dinner when I’m traveling. Adding all of that up, I come up to an approximate budget of $100.00 for all six meals.

Because I’m staying at my own house, I can have my normal oatmeal or cereal in the morning, and take my own coffee on the drive. That saves me at least two meals over the course of the weekend, leaving the total meals at four, two lunches and two dinners. I can lower my budget by $20.00.

Sometimes there’s a con suite at a conference. This means that you might end up just having some snacks available during the day; sometimes you’ll find enough for lunch, sometimes dinner as well. If that’s the case here, I’ll save even more. I went to World Fantasy last year in Columbus, Ohio, and ate more than half my meals in the con suite…with other conference attendees. Since I’ve never been to this conference, I’m not counting on it, but I certainly wouldn’t turn it down!

I’ve seen people at cons pack a cooler full of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to save money. I’ve seen people buying their own soda outside of the hotel hosting the conference. I’ve done both; I’m not planning to do that with my lunches this weekend, but I very well might grab a soda on the way instead of paying hotel prices in the vending machine.

There’s always a place where writers gather to commiserate and network and generally relax. Sometimes it’s the con suite. Sometimes it’s the bar. Either way, it’s realistic to budget in a couple of bucks to have a drink at the bar. Hotel bars are expensive, but keeping alcohol intake fairly low saves money. And since I’m driving, there won’t be many of those. (Another way to force oneself to save money…having a single drink to be social a couple of hours before heading home is a whole lot cheaper than drinking more than one should and then crashing in a hotel room, and cheaper still than drinking too much and getting a DUI. That costs serious money…even aside from the embarrassment and potential jail time that could come with it. No, thank you.)

I’m headed out this weekend with a budget of somewhere between $100.00 and $150.00, not including the $10.00 I spend for the conference itself.

This, of course, assumes that I won’t go crazy in the dealer’s room (I generally don’t) or any con bookstores (more likely, but still not expected).

For those out there saying that going to a conference is too expensive, I will counter by saying, how many weekends can you hang with friends and make new ones, learn about writing, network, and generally have a good time for $150 for the whole weekend? The answer to that is, very few.

Heck, going to dinner and a movie with your spouse or significant other can cost $50-60 for dinner, plus 10 bucks each for the movie. And that doesn’t include any sodas, popcorn, or Goobers. And that’s a single evening’s entertainment.

So, I’m going to try to be very transparent on this blog about expenses for this weekend, just to show you that I’m not under-exaggerating or overly restricting myself. I’ll be back after the weekend to blog about whether I stayed within budget or not, and to give my impressions of the conference.

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Public Service Announcement

The day to check your balances on your retirement accounts is NOT the day that the Dow drops 600 points. Or even the day after. If you see the stock market drop that much that fast, wait a week before you check. Make sure it’s not a fluke.

Just sayin’,

Gulp.

Trust me. I say this from experience.