The Con Game: 3 Tips for Conning on a Budget

My local fan-con, Pure Speculation, happens this weekend. As I’ve mentioned before, I love going to cons. I think there is no better place to celebrate our mutual nerdiness than a convention. And while I like all types of conventions, fan-run cons are my favourite. They may not have all the bells and whistles of company-run conventions, but with very few exceptions I always feel the sense of nerd community stronger at a fancon.

Big or small, though, many people stay away from conventions because they think it will cost a ton to attend. And certainly, with that much geekery packed into an enclosed space, the temptation to “GET ALL THE THINGS!” is quite high. But it doesn’t have to be that way. As someone on a budget myself, let me pass along three tips that will make your con experience affordable, and keep you from having to eat cheap ramen to atone for your mistakes.

1) Volunteer – The one expense you know you’ll have every convention is the pass. Whether you go one day or all weekend, you have to pay to get in. But every convention I know of needs volunteers to make the con run, and I know of very few that ever have enough. And they all offer free passes if you volunteer. Usually you need to volunteer for a set amount of time to get the free pass, but so what? While you’re volunteering you’re still AT the con, so you don’t miss anything. When I volunteer, I try to use the time to look around the con as much as possible. I always try to look around the dealer room and landmark where I need to go for panels before I actually have to shop or attend panels. If I can do that while I’m volunteering, so much the better; I’m earning a pass while doing something I’d do anyway. Plus, volunteering is a great way to make sure the con keeps happening. No convention anywhere would run without its volunteers; doing your part keeps cons healthy. And you can meet new people who are also nerds, and there are usually volunteer perks and activities throughout the year…the list goes on. In short, volunteering can net you a lot more than a free pass.

2) Set a Budget Before You Go – And stick to it. Yes, there will be lots of pretty-shinys, and yes, maybe you do have enough in your account to get the gold bust of Gary Gygax you’ve had your eye on. But do you have enough to get it and pay your phone bill? It’s amazing how we forget about or minimize other necessaries when something we desire is right in front of us. To minimize the lure of the impulse buy, set a daily budget for yourself before you go to the con. Setting it before is important; chances are that budget will inflate if you set it while salivating at the dealer’s room. Nope, save yourself the grief and set it the day before. Then stick to it. Doing this will help you when you come face-to-face with that gold bust. You can remind yourself you only have x dollars to spend, and move on. But do keep that bust in mind for later; no one is saying you can’t save up for it. Pro Tip: If you are someone who has serious impulse control issues, most banks will allow you to change the daily withdrawal limit on your bank card for a few days. Just remember to change it back after the con.

3) Look for the Free (and then Cheap) – If you know where to look at a con, there is a plethora of free stuff for the having. Promotional items from companies can be anything: pens, pencils, hats, posters, buttons, water bottles. Hey, maybe the company isn’t your favourite, but…free. At gaming cons, its possible to get free or discounted gaming material, and all it will cost you is sitting down and trying out a game’s demo. That’s practically like getting paid to play a game! Regardless, the con-goer on a budget doesn’t turn down free stuff. The con-goer on a budget says thank-you, and puts the free stuff in the bag he brought for that purpose. Also, don’t ask for seconds or thirds of something, that’s just crass. Think of the other con-goers on a budget.

The next best thing to free, is cheap. There are plenty of cool things you can get at a con that won’t break the bank. If the con has an artist’s alley or similar area, head over and see if there are any artists offering inexpensive sketches. Not all artists do it, but many offer a $5 or $10 quick sketch, in addition to the more expensive detailed drawings. If comics are your thing, the 25-cent bins are your best friend (and the $1 bins are friends of a friend). Check the game dealers for lightly used or shelf-worn stock, which is usually discounted. And don’t forget to make a pass through the dealer’s room late on the Sunday; most dealers will have marked some prices down, so they can avoid hauling or shipping all that stock back home. Just try not to be obnoxious about asking for deals, nobody likes that.

I hope you find those tips useful at your next con. Do you have any tips or tricks for con-going on a budget? Drop them in the comments!

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