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Penny Pincher's Guide

Page history last edited by Garand 8 years ago Saved with comment


Introduction

Times are tough. The economy is in the crapper and jobs can be hard to find. Or worse than that, you may be a college student, nobly bound to a life of impoverishment in pursuit of knowledge, alcohol, and casual, almost meaningless sex. Dragon*Con can be an expensive proposition for those not lucky enough to have a properly paying 9-5 job, and even those who do will have difficulty in making ends meet sometimes.

 

We sympathize, we really do. We've assembled a crack team of poor college students, formerly homeless, currently homeless, and the crack-addicted* to try and point out as many areas as possible where you can cut corners and save a bit of cash. And on top of that, we're even cutting out the stuff that may be dangerous to your health (dumpster diving, prostitution, and more prostitution). With luck and a lack of dignity, you too can be enjoying the best of Dragon*Con without having to call your parents every half-hour to beg for more money for anime DVDs.

 

The Four Great Expenses

If you're going to attend Dragon*Con, you will need to plan to suffer four primary hits to the bank account: Food, Shelter, Transportation, and the Tickets. Each of those is mandatory in some form or another, and in the grand scheme of things, all the other costs of the con can be skipped, provided you don't spend too much time in the Dealer's Room and ignore those pesky Charities, to say nothing of avoiding the expense of alcohol (GASP).

 

Food

You're likely to be burning a lot of calories at the convention, since there's so much walking to do to get from one panel to another, to say nothing of how much you're going to sweat out at the assorted parties. You're going to have to eat. But as you're probably quite well aware, a lot of the local food can be expensive. Like a lot expensive: you could pretty easily blow through triple-digits daily on food budget if you hit the restaurants and include alcohol. It doesn't have to be that bad though.

 

Eating at the food court rather than the expensive sit-down restaurants is one major way to defray costs, but even those can add up to some considerable digits if you're truly destitute, and they're not always open when you're hungry. The best bet is to bring your own food. Cold sandwiches from a cooler can go a long way to keeping you fed all weekend. There's no shame in it, even if your cooler, more affluent friends can manage to eat those big, juicy burgers just downstairs, at that place from which heavenly scents waft into the con, mingling with the unquenchable funk of thousands of unwashed bodies. Well there is a little shame. But like I said earlier, you've got to be willing to shed your dignity.

 

Now, food from a cooler is a start, but sometimes you need something warm in you. And for the truly, truly poor, there's a trick you can use. The college students among you are probably already wondering how to add ramen to your diet at the convention. At ten cents for a meal, it seems like an ideal solution. But how do you cook it with no kitchen? Easy. You have a coffee pot. If you run the coffee maker in your hotel room with no coffee in it, you just get hot water. A brick of ramen in the pot as you do so will cook nicely. But do try to clean it out thoroughly, ok? You don't want the cleaning service to look down on you for such tricks.

 

Shelter

Some folks live in the area and are willing to commute downtown daily to attend the convention. This solves the major problem of cost for them, but can create a few more such as extra parking charges, gas, and commute time. However, most folks know that to get the most out of it, you have to stay downtown the whole weekend. The hotel prices are one of the biggest costs, so how can you cut them?

 

It's already obviously widespread knowledge, but you can start by sharing rooms with friends. The Dragoncon Livejournal offers resources to help you find roommates if you don't have friends, which you don't, you tightwad loser you. If even that won't get you some roommates, you may be able to find a nearby apartment being rented by a group of illegal aliens, who will let you stay for a pittance and a promise not to rat them out. Be careful to wear your Kidney-Guardâ„¢ if you do so! Better yet, sell a kidney beforehand to pay for Dragon*Con.

 

It's worth it.**

 

Transportation

Travel costs are another one that's difficult to defray. Airplane tickets are damned expensive so unless you're able to get a discount, this isn't necessarily the best way to go. However, if you live in the untamed wilderness of, say, Utah, then driving is a similarly expensive proposition between gas fees, wear on your car, food, and motel rooms along the way if you're too chicken to try driving all night. Even if you're local and can drive into town you're going to have to cover the sometimes shockingly expensive parking fees. And surely most attendees don't live in New Orleans or Charlotte, so Amtrak won't work at all.

 

What to do?

 

Air Travel

If there's really no other option, then that's that. The best you can hope for is that you limit the damage to your wallet and your tender rectum. The easiest way to manage this part is to scour the assorted cheap travel websites and try to find the right option for you. But on top of that, remember that airlines also charge for checked baggage and, well, everything else. If you can pack a weekend's worth of clothes into a carry-on, you'll save a lot. Of course, we all know that you also need a cooler full of food, a billion costumes, and the fursuit. It's up to you whether the baggage fees are worth it, so plan ahead carefully. Is it really that fulfilling to costume at D*C? We both know the answer is no, so at least leave the less interesting or bulkier costumes behind. Try to travel light.

 

From there if you can avoid the overpriced airport merchandise, you're all set.

 

Car Travel

Ok, for a lot of folks this is the best way. It's obviously slower than flying, but over reasonable distances you'll save money on gas, be able to transport friends/roommates/paying illegal immigrants, and have good cargo room to boot unless you drive a comically small car. You might also have a friend you can sucker in to convince to go with you. Note that if you do so, you may be required to perform certain... services. It's the rule of the road.

 

If you drive yourself then there's a pretty hefty extra fee to be aware of: parking costs. Parking in the vicinity of any of the hotels will be either difficult or expensive. Unfortunately there's not a lot of choice here. Hotel valet parking is expensive, as is the popular parking lot under the Sun Trust building next to the Marriott. The open-air lots near the hotels are cheaper but less secure, and also generally jam-packed with people who got there before you did. And of course, if you get there too early, you pay even more for parking, giving up on any advantage you might have had cost-wise. It's worth pointing out that Atlanta has recently turned to 'booting' cars that are illegally parked, so don't think you can just ditch the car on the street. This is another situation where it's helpful to ride along with a friend and let that loser pay for his/her car's parking.

 

There's a notable exception in the expense of parking, however, if you stay at the Sheraton. While the rooms are definitely of lower quality there and the hotel is a couple of blocks away from where the real action happens, the Sheraton has ample parking at reasonable costs to make up for the otherwise dismal experience. Their lot is reserved for guests only, needless to say.

 

Some travelers have resorted to parking at cheaper "Park and Ride" lots at Marta stations along the Red or Gold North/South lines. These stations are in the suburbs. Parking ranges from $5-8 per day. Train fare usually runs $2.50 each way.

 

Hitchhiking

The truly desperate may be willing to hitchhike. As this is frowned upon by many law enforcement organizations and is, allegedly, "dangerous", we cannot recommend this here, nor will we provide any advice. At all. So we won't tell you things like that it's nice to spare a few bucks for gas for someone who picks you up. Or that you shouldn't make mention of the many decorative "knives" you keep in your luggage. Or what Furries are all about (as it will get you doused in kerosene and set ablaze).

 

Tickets

See Also: Registration FAQs

This is the easiest way to save money. The earlier you buy tickets, the cheaper they'll be. It's that simple. If you're un-hungover enough to remember to do so on Monday, you can actually register for next year, getting you the lowest possible price. This is important to remember, so set any notes or alarms or tasks or whatever you can on your phone, stickies on your hotel room door, carve it into the forehead of your roommate, etc.

 

Everything Else

The fact is, everything beyond the big four are optional. Those are the only things that you need to get to, and into, the greatest convention in the US. But you know as well as I do that you can't manage not to spend money on the random crap you can find in the Dealer's Room or Exhibitor's Hall.

 

Dealer Rooms

If you have something you absolutely need to buy, consider waiting until Sunday or Monday morning, then try haggling with the merchant. While some won't be open to negotiation, others know that soon they'll have to be loading up their trucks and trailers with crap that didn't sell. Anything extra they don't have to lug back home is probably a plus in their book even if they didn't get the payout they were hoping for. Sometimes negotiation isn't even necessary: many dealers will in fact post discounts on their own to achieve the same goal. As an example, a few years back I had a nasty addiction to those damned Star Wars miniatures. Friday I got a couple of booster boxes only to find that Saturday the same guy had dropped his prices a couple of bucks each, so (due to the savings, not the addiction, seriously) I bought a couple more. Sunday it was cheaper, and by Monday morning they were going for half the price I'd paid on Friday. Savings like that aren't as common anymore, unfortunately, but you get the idea.

 

If you're lucky enough to have the money for Internet access, you can also compare prices online with the dealers so you can be sure you're getting a deal. It doesn't do much good to buy a handful of bootlegged anime DVDs downstairs for full price when you can get them from Amazon with free shipping for five bucks less. Some of the less honorable individuals out there might go so far as to pirate them and enjoy content for free. SHAME ON THEM (but seriously, hook me up, right?).

 

Charities

Every year at Dragon*Con there are numerous charities going around to raise money for cause X. We, the great Geeky Public, do like helping out where we can. But most of them just plain want money, which, as we've established by the fact that you're reading this article at all, you clearly do not have. Nevertheless, because you're such a sucker, you want to be involved. You want to help out, partially out of the goodness of your heart, partially because a deposit to the Karma bank can't go wrong, and partially because there's that really cute guy/girl who is so into the charity and you secretly hope that by helping out the cause, you might have a chance (you don't, FYI).

 

The best thing you can do is find a way to volunteer. Sometimes the groups behind the charities, such as the 501st who often collect for children's charities, will prefer to have their members do the footwork, but others without such a committed base of labor will be happy for any warm bodies they can get. That's especially true of the Count Dracula Memorial Robert A. Heinlein "Pay It Forward" Blood Drive. But you should be able to find charities everywhere you look, and if you ask about volunteer opportunities, you'll probably find plenty.

 

Tourism

If the draw of that rare print signed by the whole cast of Howard the Duck is just too tempting yet too devastating on the wallet, you might need to get away for a bit. Out in the city of Atlanta you can find plenty of free or inexpensive entertainments and tourist traps. Luckily for you, the wiki has a page detailing many of those, talking about stuff within walking distance and giving an estimate on costs as well. So if it's that bad, just check out the Tourism page, and save yourself the shame of begging for funding.

 


*Not really

**It really is. 

 

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