Cons on a Budget

Okay, so I said I’d blog about expenses for attending a writer’s conference. And I talked openly with those I was talking to at the conference about the budget I’d set for myself and that I was going to blog about it. In fact, it became kind of a joke between us, with others laughing about how I’d never stick to it, others joking about how I’d cut myself off if I budgeted too much. I think I hit a great medium…and still spent way less than I’d anticipated.

Now, I didn’t go with the plan to save money at every turn. I went, with my normal daily con budget, and planned to write about how it’s still affordable if you plan ahead.

I chose a conference within driving distance of where I live, to show that driving back and forth can be a big money saver, even with gas prices the way they are, as opposed to staying in a hotel.

Context 24 was a three day conference, starting Friday night and ending Sunday afternoon.

I normally budget $10 for breakfast, $15-20 for lunch, and $25 for dinner at a con. This would involve two breakfasts, two lunches, and two dinners, roughly $100.

I also had to budget for gas for driving. My car gets 35 mpg (part of the allure of buying it a few years ago, since I knew I’d be driving to conferences). A full tank runs between $30-40; to be on the safe side I budgeted $50.

The conference itself was $45, which I paid ahead of time.

So, how did I do?


I ran around in circles to get done at work, get home, feed the cat, grab my conference bag, get to the gas station, and get to Columbus. Columbus, Ohio is just under an hour’s drive from my house, which is the absolute maximum drive I would consider for staying at home and driving in every day. I’m lucky; Dayton’s less than an hour in the other direction, so I have options.

I spent $10.00 on gas, because I’d stopped at a station that I didn’t have a loyalty card for; I figured I’d see what $10.00 would get me and check again in the morning.

I got there early, and wasn’t really hungry for dinner, so I got registered, and figured I’d grab dinner later with friends I hadn’t seen for a while.

And then I got to running between panels and forgot to eat dinner. This isn’t unusual. I do this at work all the time. And, yes, I know it’s not ideal, but hey, it happened. I didn’t plan for it.

I went to a party that night at the con; there was a cash bar. There are sometimes parties like this, promoting a new author, or publisher, or a genre-related party. It’s a good place to network, and enjoy meeting other writing friends. Not only was I driving, but I didn’t have much cash on me, so I didn’t get anything to drink.

The long and the short of it is that I ended up grabbing a sandwich at McDonald’s on the drive home.

Total cost for the day was $13.68


I ate breakfast at home, so I didn’t spend any money.

I stopped on the way for more gas, and put in another $20.00.

When I got there, I headed to more panels, and then had lunch with three other writers. Now, I didn’t purposely try to cut corners. I had a wrap and fries, a typical lunch. With tax, tip, and everything, it came to $10.00.

We were off again to more panels after that (will write more later about content; don’t want to get off track here), and later decided to eat dinner at the hotel that was hosting the conference.

I wasn’t crazy hungry, but I didn’t want a repeat of the fast food the night before, so I kept the order small, but large enough that I wouldn’t have a growling stomach all evening. Total bill was, again, $10.00. Hotel dinners can be expensive; if you’re not hungry, it’s sometimes a better idea to grab a bowl of soup, or to just order an appetizer or salad.

More panels came after that.

That night, there was another party, this one put on by a small publisher. I had a weak drink, and talked to other writers, a few editors, and some friends. This time, the drinks were free, so I didn’t spend anything, and after a couple of hours of mingling and talking, I hit the road for home.

Total for Saturday; $40.00

Total for the weekend so far: $53.68


This was my cheapest day yet; and I wasn’t trying to be cheap. Honest!

I again ate breakfast at home, and then stopped for some caffeine on the drive. I spent a total of $1.50.

I didn’t get there until 11; and then sat through a panel before the lunch break. I wasn’t starving, and ran into another friend who was feeling the same way. We decided to go see if there was something in the con suite; which is generally open to all con-goers.

We got lucky; sandwiches were available, and it was enough for us. Total cost? $0.00. Absolutely free.

I sat through the rest of the panels for the afternoon, said good-bye to friends, and then drove home, with gas to spare, and decided to enjoy the rest of the day. Hey, that Sunday was my birthday, after all, so I came home and vegged out on the couch, enjoying the memories of the past weekend, and sorting out all the ideas in my head from the panels and the networking and the discussions and the friends I don’t see very much.

Total cost for the weekend?

$45 for the con (a $35 mileage check from work took care of most of this, leaving my cost at $10.00)

$55.18 for gas and meals. Parking was free. I didn’t spent money in the dealer’s room, although I did come home with information about some of the vendors to check out websites later, and to pass on to friends that I know would like some of the merchandise I saw.

That meant that I did an entire weekend’s conference for under $70; less than many people might spend for a pizza night Friday and dinner and a movie on Saturday.

Could I have afforded to spend more? Sure. I’d budgeted to spend more. My point in doing this is to illustrate that it is possible to go to a conference without breaking the bank, as long as one plans ahead (and sometimes doesn’t-see above for my freebie Sunday!), and has an idea of what they can afford.

Yes, I have a budget for every conference I go to. I’ve got the numbers in my head, and I keep all the receipts, but I do that on vacation, too. The idea isn’t to make oneself crazy with worrying about money; it’s about having fun without worrying how to pay off the credit card bill when one gets home.

I’d much rather come home with plot bunnies eating my skull and screaming to get out (which actually is less painful than it sounds) than worry about where the money is coming from, because concentrating on the writing is why one goes in the first place!


One thought on “Cons on a Budget

  1. Pingback: Guest Blog: Addie J. King on Conference Etiquette | Sarah Hans

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s