Anime and comic conventions are some of the best ways to fully enjoy your hobby of choice—but they can be expensive. From tickets to transportation to lodging to food, you can spend way more than intended if you aren’t careful.
And while you’re there, you’ll be tempted to buy all sorts of souvenirs, trinkets, merchandise, and event-only specialty items. A t-shirt here and a book there and a few signed autographs can add up—and suddenly you’re out hundreds of dollars.
If you want to attend an anime or comic convention but don’t have too much money to spare, here are some tips to keep in mind so you can have fun without sacrificing too much.
1. Volunteer as Event Staff
Volunteering at a convention doesn’t have to be stressful. You’ll get to see the inner workings of a convention’s operations. You’ll make new friends and acquaintances. You’ll get to see people’s wacky cosplays.
But most importantly, you’ll be able to save cash! While volunteer work isn’t technically paid work, most conventions do provide free admission in exchange for volunteering your time.
Depending on how many hours you work, you may be able to receive a pass for the entire convention—or maybe just one day. Regardless, given how expensive convention tickets can be, it’s not a bad deal.
Although you won’t have the freedom to roam freely when you’re volunteering, it’s still a nice way to save a bit of money.
2. Buy Your Tickets as Early as You Can
If you aren’t volunteering and need to buy event admission tickets, make sure you don’t wait until the last minute to buy them.
If you can, buy the convention tickets as early as an entire year in advance. Why? Because many anime and comic conventions offer Early Bird Pricing (sizable discounts for people who register early).
And you get the most bang for your buck when you buy an Extended Pass, which covers multiple days and often only costs a little bit more than a One-Day Pass. Extended Passes get more expensive as the event date nears, so make sure to grab one early.
3. Book Accommodation in Advance
Whether you’re staying at a hotel or an Airbnb, I suggest booking your accommodation at least a year before the convention event. Rooms near the convention center will fill up extremely fast, and and vacancies will run out—or become prohibitively expensive.
As the event date draws nearer, the price for accommodation will definitely go up. If you manage to find a cheap hotel room or Airbnb that’s close to the convention center, snag it as quickly as you can.
Keep in mind that you don’t need to book directly inside or near the convention venue. Closer accommodation is more convenient, but booking rates will be cheaper the further away you look.
Consider looking on the outskirts of the convention center instead. You’ll have to walk farther to get to the convention—or maybe take an Uber—but you’ll probably save money this way.
4. Avoid Parking at the Event
Parking lots and parking garages around convention venues like to charge by the hour, and their rates are far from cheap.
If possible, the best case scenario is to have someone drop you off at the convention center and pick you up later. But finding someone willing to do that isn’t always easy.
In bigger cities, public transportation is your best option. Busses, subways, and trains are going to be a lot cheaper than parking—and you won’t deal with the headache of finding an empty parking space.
Or you can walk to the convention venue, but obviously that’s only possible if you can book accommodation close by.
5. Set a Daily Spending Budget
FOMO (fear of missing out) can be a big issue at anime and comic conventions. You don’t want to regret missing out, so you may be tempted to bring hundreds of dollars in cash—or a credit card with a high limit—and buy everything that catches your eye.
We’ve all been there. And at the end of the event, the pain of spending more than you can afford always outweighs the pain of possibly missing out on something.
Never bring an unlimited amount of money to any convention. Set a daily limit for yourself before the event starts, and if possible, portion that amount into categories: an amount for food, an amount for goodies, an amount for gifts and souvenirs for friends, etc.
If you really want to go hardcore, set your spending limit in cash and leave your credit cards behind. You’ll end up saving a lot by spending only what you’ve alloted for yourself.
6. Bring Your Own Food and Drinks
Would you rather spend $20 on a mediocre convention meal that goes in and out in 24 hours? Or would you rather spend that $20 on geeky gear and merchandise that’ll last for years?
Not only is the food served at convention venues often gross and unhealthy (deep fried, greasy, and bathed in salt), but it’s marked up to obscene levels. And nearby restaurants aren’t budget-friendly either.
One of the best ways to save money at any convention is to buy your food and drinks elsewhere and bring them with you. Make sure to pack a water bottle, along with some granola bars, fruits, chips, etc.
7. Don’t Buy Anything Until the Last Day
Most convention-goers are impulsive (myself included) and tend to instantly purchase anything that catches their eye, no matter what the price is. If that’s you, you need to break this habit!
Convention vendors always hike up their prices at the start of the event—and then by the last day, they’re anxious to get rid of unsold inventory. They’d rather get rid of what they have at a discount than deal with the inconvenience of lugging it all back.
Take advantage of last-day discounts to buy everything you want at marked-down prices. The only risk is that popular items may run out. You can compromise by buying anything you really want at full price, and then waiting ’til the last day for everything else.
8. Pay in Cash and Politely Haggle
Cash gives you a lot of flexibility at conventions. Merchants have to eat fees when they process purchases via credit cards and debit cards, and they may pass those fees onto you. If you offer to pay in cash, they may be willing to knock the price down a little bit.
Cash also gives you the advantage of haggling. If you brandish a credit card, vendors don’t have much reason to haggle down. But if you say, “I really want that $25 Hatsune Miku figurine but I only have $20 in my pocket!” They’ll want to make the sale. Boom! You just saved $5.
Don’t Get Conned by Your Convention
Conventions want you to spend as much money as you can. If you’re smart and vigilant, you can make sure you don’t fall into that trap.
A bit of willpower and a lot of good planning can go a long way toward making sure you get full value out of every dollar you spend at an anime or comic convention, no matter how much you actually spend.
It can be challenging to resist spending beyond what you can afford on something that catches your eye, but often it isn’t worth the price. And if you regret not getting something, there will always be more anime and comic conventions for next time!