My first year attending conventions, I attended only one. The next year, three. For 2014, there are at least four or five I’d like to attend. I’ve started registering, booking hotel rooms, and requesting time off from work. And then it hit me: My new hobby of going to Conventions? No way around it — this new hobby ain’t cheap.

There’s plenty of planning that goes into attending a convention (Whose autograph line will you go to first? Are you going to get up early on Sunday morning to see the stage fighting demo? Which Doctor Who t-shirt and which Firefly t-shirt will you wear? What time are you going to leave and how long will it take to get there?), but taking some time to think about your budget will give you peace of mind and help the weekend be a little easier on your bank account.

The easy part is that budgeting for a convention weekend isn’t any different from budgeting and planning for any other weekend getaway. You’ve got to figure out how you’re getting there, where you’re staying, where you’re eating, and how much money you have for shopping. And just like any weekend vacation, there are plenty of ways to plan ahead and save some money. Everyone’s situation will of course be different, but the following tips have worked for me, so maybe a few of them will help you out. (If you are a seasoned traveler and have other tips, please share them in the comments.)

Convention Registration

This one is as easy as registering early. You can get a badge at the door at most conventions, but it will cost you less if you register early. Registering early also helps you spread out the costs a little. WorldCon and World Fantasy also typically offer a payment plan. You might even be able to trade grunt work for a badge. Inquire with the Convention about volunteering, as many will offer a discounted badge in trade for time spent volunteering. Volunteering tasks can involve anything from helping in the ConSuite to working the registration desk to setting up and tearing down display tables to making sure celebrity guests are where they are supposed to be when they are supposed to be there, and everything in between.

Getting There

The biggest question here is, are you flying or driving?

If you’re driving, see if any of your local friends are going and carpool, with everyone pitching in to pay for gas. Also look around for gas station gift card options. Some grocery store chains give you extra loyalty points for buying gas station gift cards. It won’t lower the price of the gas, but might lower the price of your groceries. Do you have a “rewards points” credit card? Trade in some of those points for gas station gift cards.

If you’re flying, the same rule applies as for convention registration: book your tickets early. It goes without saying to shop around for the best deal for a flight, and there are plenty of websites that specialize as ticket price clearinghouses. For a bit of backwards engineering, do some window shopping for flights out of your nearest airport. What cities have the cheap flights? Are there any conventions in those cities you’d like to attend? A $120 flight to Chicago sure makes AnimeMidWest next summer look appealing. You’ll also need to decide if you are renting a car. If the convention hotel is near the airport, there may be an airport shuttle you can take, or a cheap taxi ride, or inquire with the convention to see if they are running their own casual shuttle service, which means you won’t need a car.

Where to Stay

Chances are, the convention has arranged for a group rate for hotel rooms at the convention hotel. Sometimes these prices are reasonable, sometimes they are still a little pricey, especially if the hotel has a lot of amenities. If you don’t mind driving a few minutes, check hotels nearby for better prices. Yes, it’s very convenient to stay at the convention hotel, but if you are on a budget, it might be worth if for you to stay down the street. There is of course, also the option of sharing a hotel room with 8 of your closest friends and splitting the cost, but I did that enough times during my college years to know that I don’t recommend it.

Where and What to Eat

The hotel will probably have a bar and or a restaurant. There will be a ConSuite with soda and coffee to veggie trays and pizza and other tasty treats. There will probably be restaurants nearby. But what if that’s not what you want to eat? What if you have allergies or dietary restrictions or your kids are picky eaters? There is nothing stopping you from bringing your own food. Personally I’m a huge fan of trail mix, peanut butter, oranges, and granola bars. A small cooler on hand means I can also bring yogurt, cut veggies, and maybe some cheese. If you want to have a nice meal at the convention, by all means do so, but understand that eating every meal at a restaurant adds up painfully fast, especially when the bartender at the hotel bar so cheerfully asks if you’d like your meal charged to your room.

What to Buy

I’ve left the most dangerous item for last. The Convention is going to have a killer dealer room. Even if it’s just a so-so dealer room, when you walk in, you will want to buy everything, because everyone there is so nice and friendly, and oh look, it’s a first edition of your favorite author’s first novel, and a hand-made C-3PO messenger bag, and a Miskatonic University coffee mug, and a steampunk pocketwatch, and the newest volumes of that Hugo Award winning graphic novel that you’ve been meaning to read. Do whatever you have to do to stay to your budget, including planning ahead what you want to buy (certain book titles, for instance), bringing only cash to the dealer room, leaving your credit/debit card in your hotel room, etc. This is the same mindset as eating out vs bringing your own food. Don’t forbid yourself from going to the dealer room, and if you see something you want, buy it. The goal is here is if you budgeted to spend $60 in the dealer room, don’t accidentally spent $300. See something you really want but it’s beyond what you planned to spend? Ask the vendor for their business card, perhaps you can purchase it from their website or physical store later.

Budgeting doesn’t make you a spendthrift or a cheapskate. But it might just add one more Convention weekend to your year.

Now that we’ve got that awkward conversation out-of-the-way, here are some upcoming conventions for early 2014.

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