As many of you know, I have been cosplaying since New York Comic Con 2012. Since then, I’ve gone to more than 20 conventions all over the US. While there are countless articles that acknowledge how expensive cosplay is, and ways you can save money when making your own costumes, there aren’t many that discuss how expensive it is to go to conventions and show said cosplay. It is possible to save money while still going to conventions, so I want to share the ways in which I have been able to afford to go to so many conventions.
When saving up for a convention, it’s important to think about all the costs that go into it. Most money is spent on these three things:
- Convention tickets (around $100 or more for Wizard World and larger conventions)
- Rooming (usually a couple hundred dollars for a weekend)
- Travel (usually at least $200 if you have to fly)
Aside from these, it’s also worth keeping in mind that you’ll likely have to pay for public transportation to/from where you’re staying or parking (unless it is a hotel-based convention, and you are staying in the hotel). If you’re going with friends, it’s worth figuring out if parking ends up being cheaper than all of you taking the train or bus. For example, even with $13 parking at Wizard World Chicago, for my best friend, sister, and I to take the train in and out costs $16.50. This doesn’t account for gas prices, but driving also means we can leave stuff in the car/go get it later, and means we save time on the commute and don’t have to worry about catching the last train.
Eating is another important (and necessary thing) during conventions. It’s important to be aware that, depending on the location of the convention, there may not be a lot of options for food. NYCC is located near a ton of food carts, but most cons only have the food within the convention center, which is usually fried and/or incredibly expensive. I save money and eat better by bringing granola bars, small sandwiches, or trail mix with me and munch on it throughout the day. While a lot of places do check bags at the door, most will let you get away with small snacks, and you’ll feel a lot better eating healthier and saving money.
Not to mention, you’ll probably want to create (and stick to) a budget for things like cosplay or buying things in the exhibit hall.
With that said, I’ve found four ways that really help save money when going to conventions:
- Go Local
Not only will you you save on room and travel, you’ll also save on food since you probably have groceries and a way to prepare them at home. That, or you probably know of cheap places to eat! While not every city has a big convention, there are loads of smaller (read: cheaper) conventions to go to all over the place. This website lists cons all over the country, by state, regions, guest, theme and more! Starting with smaller/local conventions also can be a good way to build your way up to bigger cons.
- Plan Ahead
Buying convention & travel tickets in advance often makes everything a lot cheaper. Many conventions offer cheaper rates for tickets the earlier you buy. The same applies to travel tickets and hotels. The earlier you can plan for a convention, the more you can save up for it as well.
I have only once paid for a hotel room at a convention, and even that was split among friends. More often, I make friends in various online fan groups & at various conventions I have gone to, and trade housing for their & my local cons. Hotels can be super convenient (especially when the conventions are held in them, like Arisia, Super MegaFest, or Dragon*Con), they feel more like a vacation, and they often save time in terms of getting ready & traveling back and forth to the actual convention. But they can cost a lot, and often mean you’ll have to pay extra for food because you won’t be able to cook your own.
Making friends can help with more than just rooming prices. Making friends with artists & vendors is something I try to do at every convention. Maybe your exhibitor friend will have extra tickets that his booth isn’t using, maybe your artist friend will let you store snacks or your jacket under their table so you don’t have to coat check. If nothing else, it gives you another perspective on the convention & someone to talk to throughout the con. Also people in booths love it when you bring them food because they are often trapped inside FOREVER.
Finally, volunteering in some form or another can get you free admission into conventions. Many conventions offer tickets if you help load in or out, and even the bigger cons like Wizard World and NYCC regularly use volunteers for tons of jobs (including sitting with celebs at their booths!) and reward them with admission and even sometimes photo-ops or autographs. If you’d prefer a bit more freedom with your weekend (or you’d really like to cosplay rather than wear a volunteer shirt), submitting panels or programming is an excellent way to get in. A huge percentage of the cons I’ve gone to, I have either performed or presented panels.
Going to a convention will almost always cost some money. But it’s possible to enjoy huge conventions without breaking the bank. Have you used any of these tactics? Do you have other ways you save money? Share them in the comments at the bottom of this post!