Seminars, conferences, and conventions can be an expensive, but necessary part of your professional growth. When you add flights, lodging, and registration together, you may end up shelling over a thousand dollars for one event (and we didn’t even talk about the price of food). Now of course, here at Zero To Thrifty, we don’t believe in paying full price for anything and if we do have to pay full price, we are going to find some other benefit to come out of that. Finessing is key, let’s explore.
Why Even Go To A Conference At All?
That’s a great question. My personal belief is that whether you’re a doctor, an accountant, a welder, or even fully retired at 30, networking with your peers is essential for your growth as a professional (and yes you can be a professional retiree, just ask Mr. Money Mustache). Connecting with like-minded people is a great way to see the direction your peers are aiming to move your profession and have your voice heard if said convention is tied to a professional organization.
If your field is anything like mine, when you go to these conventions you will see mainly older “staples” in the field running the show and that may be intimidating to some people. Truly though, these are great opportunities to make a name for yourself and grow out of your bubble. Check out the book “Never Eat Alone” by Keith Ferrazi if you need some pep talk about how to become a “conference commando.”
Flights and Hotels are Way Too Pricey
You can’t do too much about flight prices aside from practicing good timing. Southwest Airlines often has those deals starting from $49 and Spirit Airlines actually may be cheaper if you book at the actual airport as opposed to booking online. Heads up, if you use one of those booking sites or Google Flights, then you may not see all of the discount airline options from your local airport.
If hotel prices are an issue, then there is always AirBnB of course. You don’t HAVE to stay at the convention’s host hotel to still enjoy your time there. You might also be able to finesse your way to a cheaper room rate at the host if you are military or a government employee; doesn’t hurt to ask.
In both scenarios, I can’t stress the importance of making sure you are taking advantage of rewards programs. Spending your points can make the above issues a breeze. If you will be paying with cash, I’d advocate using a credit card that offers cash back or other rewards and also having a rewards account with said airline or hotel.
Okay, I’m Not Worried About Flights or Lodging…The Registration is Just OD
This is probably the area that most people struggle with the most whether as a student or a working professional. Some of these conventions cost as much as monthly rent in some cases. Have no fear, where there is a will there’s a way.
- Serve on the e-board or planning committee: This one is going to take work and you definitely should not join just for discounts. Often, those who serve in some sort of position or help plan conventions either have their registration fees waived or discounted. You get the combined benefit of rubbing elbows with important people and paying less to do so. Just add Advil.
- Agree to be a presenter: Depending on the organization, this could end up being anywhere from a complimentary registration to room, board, flight, and honorarium. Obviously, you’d better have something good to say though, but I have faith in you Obi-Wan.
- Get your employer to pay for it: This might be one of the greatest plays you can make. If your employer is a sponsor of the event and they need representatives, then it’s your chance to volunteer to be an ambassador for the company if you can. This route may even mean you don’t have to take leave to do so (now you can get PAID to attend).
In the case where they aren’t a sponsor, then you may just need to find out if there is any kind of educational stipend for employees to attend professional development events. Again, doesn’t hurt to ask.
- Just write it off: Per IRS Topic No. 511, you’re permitted to deduct ordinary and necessary expenses of traveling away from home for your business, profession, or job. I won’t say anymore about that except check with your accountant on that one.
All of This Sounds Fetch, but I’m Still in School So…
Perfect! Replace anything talking about employer with school/university/you name it and you might actually have an easier time doing all of this. People love sending students to conventions, especially if you’re going to be putting the school in a good light. Plus, students tend to get much cheaper registration rates in many situations…
Oh! It’s also a great look if there is some type of competition that will be at the conference. That’s another way to possibly have your attendance funded and, if you win, come out with a prize. Secure the bag and get that extra walking around money.
All in all, be creative about it and do the things few others are doing to get what few others are getting. There is always room to finesse some thrift into your endeavors.