Making Ends Meet - Conference Cost Cutting

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There was a bit of chat on Twitter recently about whether a conference can really be good enough to afford investing a couple of $K to get there. Many are.

But when your library can't support your attendance financially, how do you find the funds to make an extra special conference fit in your budget?

Except for a brief stint in my career while at my most recent job (where I negotiated support for my national and state conference attendance as a condition of my employment), I have paid my way to conferences.  When the library CE budget ran out one year and I needed to attend a national conference, it was easy to find an inexpensive way to attend on my own dime. And now that I'm retired, I'm back to funding me.

I've learned some tricks over the years to make things easier on the wallet. Let me share my tips (and I hope you share yours).

Conference registration and cost of transportation are about the only two pieces of the formula that you can't do a great deal about. Some conferences give you a free or partial registration rate if you speak but most want you to present for the love of the association.

If you can't stay with friends/relatives and thus a short commute, room with as many people as you can. That can significantly lower costs. I still jam in pretty heavily. A thought: if you do make a commitment to share a room with people and have to cancel at the last minute, consider paying your share of the cost to the group; when people are counting on you as they make their budget, it's tough on them to make up the loss of your share.

Really look at the hotels and see what is included. You may find a slightly higher priced hotel has a continental breakfast and in-room coffee that makes that extra amount a cinch to justify.

My roomies and I scour home rentals and find reasonable and reasonably close apartments and homes that make conferences so much better (everyone who loves living in hotel rooms for five straight days, raise your hand). We invite friends to join us to keep costs down...which brings me to

A few conferences, symposiums and institutes include some meals. That may help you get over the high (gulp) cost you see. If not, consider what you can easily bring that is sturdy enough to travel well and will feed your body and soul. Nuts, soup mixes, instant coffees and teas, energy bars and instant hot cereals are a few of my go-tos. You can always find hot water at the conference and have something tasty and good.

Look for nearby grocery stores in your conference city. Purchase fresh fruit and veggies to supplement your bring-alongs. If your hotel/apt has a fridge, you can get more refrigerated food. Again, apartments with kitchens mean you can spend a fraction on food since you can make and take salads and sandwiches (I always bring sandwich bags and plastic container to put lunches in).

I pick one or two meals to eat out with friends or budget for more if it's going to be super social. Otherwise, my goal is no more than $10-15 per day. When I'm out for adult beverages I add on an extra $10. Your budget for food and drinks depends on your needs and priorities. You can go cheaply though!

At many conferences, if you don't buy a meal ticket for a speaker, you can come in and still listen to the speeches (think Caldecott/Newbery/Wilder banquet here or many state association conferences). You still get to enjoy the content of the speeches and can make your conference budget stretch.

Some conferences provide shuttle or trolley transportation. While it may take awhile, the price (free) is always right. Public transportation - buses, subways, trains, els - all can get you where you're going for a song. Most conferences give you guidance on how to best use them and provide websites for you to research.

For me, if anything is within a mile walk and is safe, I am all about getting those steps in. I will also budget for cabs if I am in a really walker-unfriendly city and think I'll be out late. I often share cabs with other conference folks, and sometimes - one of my cabmates who has a per diem - will spring for the tab!

Attendance Grants/Stipends
Check within your library, your system and your state and your national associations for one-time grants and stipends that may help you attend a special conference. While this doesn't often go beyond a one time or one year commitment, it can help you for a special conference.

Some conferences ask for volunteers and will waive registration so also keep an eye out for that. Volunteering is a great way to meet alot of people and really put some time into the guts work of the organization.

To make it all work, I created a conference savings account and socked away some money each month so I could afford the conference(s). I figured out other budget cuts (less gas, more walking; make my own coffee - no outside buys there; making most of our own food rather than going out; etc) and got the numbers to work,

Once I had financial support from the library, I pretty much still did conferences on the cheap. I figure the less money I spent, the more money other staff would have available to attend other conferences and CE with library support. And really, isn't that what it's all about?

What are your tips to keeping costs down? Please share!

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