Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Helping Your Wallet Survive a Science Fiction Convention

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics: ,

comic 29 - sci-fi convention

I’m writing this article at a time and place where I never imagined I’d possibly write an article: from a sci-fi convention at four in the morning. The reasons why I’m here and awake at this stupid late hour are not important, but as I’m going through receipts and bar tabs and other bills that will come due over the next 48 hours, I can’t help but notice that these things cost a helluva lot of money. Here’s just a small sample of what we’ve spent money on here in the last few days:

  • Lodging. We are definitely learning to appreciate the value of sleep this weekend as we’re staffing the night shift of Convention Security/Operations. We’ve been sleeping 8am till 2pm for the last few days on a delightfully comfy bed—but the room costs $150 a night.
  • Food. We have tons of free food options (more on that later) but we’ve found ourselves paying for plenty of meals with friends too.
  • Drinks. Uh, yeah. I’ve had a drink or two this weekend. Okay, 42 of them.
  • Toys. These sci-fi cons come with big merchant rooms selling everything from books to props to jewelry to costumes to inflatable alien punchbags. Fortunately I’m actually not that into most sci-fi stuff (except for the occasional Trek foray), so our spending is usually light in this area.
  • Arts and crafts and auction prizes. We do, however, tend to go a little overboard in this area. Tonight was a charity auction that gave away all sorts of stuff I don’t need, except for a signed copy of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy which I do need. Tomorrow’s the art auction; not sure how much damage that’ll do to me.
  • Registration for other conventions. Most sci-fi conventions will set up a table at other conventions to draw attendees looking to hit multiple cons each year. While we didn’t have to pay to attend this convention since we’re staff, we’ve been dangerously close to being convinced to attend some other area sci-fi cons for which we would need to pay to attend. But then we remember that we’re not really science fiction fans and that we’re just helping out at this convention as favors to friends from other conventions.

You’re probably thinking that a sci-fi dork can really rack up quite a bill from a four-day convention like this one. And you’re absolutely right. I’m sure there are people at this convention who are spending thousands of dollars just to be here and take home some junk. But not us. In the end, we’re probably going to walk away from this weekend just spending a few hundred dollars, almost all of it in those last two categories of discretionary spending listed above. Here’s how we’re saving tons of money at this and other similar sci-fi/fantasy/anime/whatever conventions while Joe Nerdboy is devoting all $6.25 an hour of his job at the video rental store to coming here.

  1. Work for the convention. This is, by far, the biggest money saver. Yes, this means you’re not at the convention just for fun, but most conventions aren’t going to be fun 24/7 anyway. After a while, you’re likely to get a little bored even if they’re showing all six Star Wars movies dubbed in Wookiee. Why not take some of that downtime and help keep the convention running. Full-time staffers like us generally put in six or more hours each day (except for a select few positions which are always on duty) and have the rest of the time to enjoy the convention, hotel amenities, and other area attractions. As a staff member, you’ll generally get free or discounted lodging, free or discounted meals, free admission, and maybe even an exclusive party or two.
  2. …Or volunteer. If being on the staff of a convention isn’t your cup of tea, Earl Grey, hot, then you can still reap some of the benefits by volunteering a few hours of your time helping out with odd jobs. I generally prefer to staff rather than volunteer, but both do have their perks.
  3. Follow the convention “chain.” Several conventions in the same geographic region may, in fact, be run by the same groups of people. For example, a lot of the people who staff this sci-fi convention also run the biggest D.C. area Japanese animation and culture convention. And if you’re a particularly helpful or distinguished staffer at one of them, you’re often treated to lots of free drinks or even meals by grateful folks at the next convention. Those 42 drinks I’ve had this weekend? I’ve only paid for two of them (though I’ve bought a few rounds for other folks too).
  4. Stay out of the merchant’s room. Even if you know that authentic Klingon bat’leth offered in the merchant’s room for $250 can be had on the internet for $175, you’re still going to be sorely tempted to pick it up at the convention because (1) you can show it off to your geeky friends, and (2) it’ll go great with the full ceremonial garb you’re wearing. So do your pocket book a favor and avoid the merchant’s room altogether.
  5. Bring food and drink. If you’re not willing to staff or even volunteer at a convention, be sure to bring lots of your own stuff to eat and drink. Hotel food is always pricey, and even eating out off site can set you back heavily. You can easily save a couple hundred bucks by packing your own snacks, nutritional staples, and alcohol. Yes, you will drink at the convention, so you might as well do it as cheaply as possible.
  6. Make lots of friends. Some people survive entire conventions feeding only at the inevitable room parties that pop up each night. Be social during the day so you get lots of invites to night-time get-togethers.
  7. Leave most of your credit cards at home. Just bring one with a credit line big enough to pay for your hotel bill and any other minor expenses you may occur, but not much more. This way there’s no way you can take home that $8,000 1:50 scale model of the mothership from Close Encounters of the Third Kind if you lose your monetary senses.

Of course, the biggest cost of all attending a science fiction convention is to your social status. Having never attended a true sci-fi con before this weekend, we were at least at the level of dork. Now we’ve been demoted to geek status, but at least we’re not leaving here with a massive black hole in our bank account.

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