Sunday 12 June 2016

A Plan to Attend vs Planning to Attend: #Budgeting for a #Conference

A Plan to Attend vs Planning to Attend a Conference.

Making it a Reality Rather Than Wishful Thinking ...

Attending a conference is expensive. A last minute approach, or saying I'm planning to attend without an actual plan including a cost- benefits analysis and a budget is just wishful thinking. I plan to eat healthier and exercise more, but saying something doesn't make it happen. Does this sound familiar? You want to go to a conference and you're really planning on attending this time. You have loads of time to work out the details... until the cut off for purchasing tickets approaches and once again you take a pass because you can't justify a sudden large expenditure. BUT ... what if you started a year in advance with a specific plan to attend rather than a vague statement that you are planning to attend?

You need to know the total costs: 
Your costs are never just the ticket and hotel room. Each person's needs, conference expenses, income and ability to offset those expenses is different, and changes over time. If you've just started blogging or a business that does not yet generate an income, this may limit your ability to offset the conference expenses against income. It doesn't mean attending a conference isn't a worthwhile investment in your professional development, business or blog. There are non-tangible benefits to consider, but first you need to know what the actual costs are, and ways you might reduce and save for those costs. 

Saving for your next conference ...

The key is to actually make a plan to save. Don't leave it to chance. Figure out how much you need and a specific plan for how you're going to save that amount. Below are some ideas that might help.

Ever heard of the 365 Day Savings Challenge or the Penny Savings Challenge? It's simple and effective. Basically you start by putting a penny in a jar, and increase the amount you put in the jar by 1 cent each day. It's an easy and painless way to save for a conference. At the end of 365 days you'll have saved $667.95. Yes I'm aware we don't have pennies in Canada, but you can start with a nickel, and either round up, or keep a tally of cents until you reach 5 cent increments and then use a nickel. Another option is to calculate daily but put in jar weekly. My friend Tammi at My Organized Chaos has a great Penny Challenge Chart, as well as two weekly savings challenges perfect for saving for a conference. 

Another easy and effective way to save. Take a set amount from each pay and set it aside in a conference fund. It can be in a separate account using auto-deposits, automatically transferring a set amount each pay. This option ensures it's done every pay (no excuses) and reduces temptation to use the funds for other things (out of sight and out of mind). Another option is to physically take the money each pay and put it in an envelope or jar. Just $20 every two weeks adds up to $520. in a year. 

We all make small purchases without realizing how much we are spending. A daily coffee, snack or lunch can quickly add up to hundreds if not thousands of dollars over the period of a year.  Instead of spending $2.50 on a coffee every morning, make coffee at home and put the $2. savings into your conference fund. A $2. savings x 250 work days adds up to $500. Being aware of where and how you spend is the first step. Prioritizing and finding ways to save is step two.

  • Make coffee (and breakfast) at home and take it to go.
  • Pack a lunch and snacks: Even brown bagging it 3 times a week will result in huge savings. Added bonus: it's easier to opt for healthier choices when you pack your own. 
  • Make restaurant inspired dinners rather than eating at restaurants. Sites like Copykat Recipes and All Recipes are great places to look for inspiration. If time is an issue check out Appehtite Dinner-In-15 for ideas. Or try my Tex Mex Soup recipe for a quick meal.
  • Use flyers, price matching, coupons and menu planning to save. There's an app for that ... it's called Flipp. My friend Hollie from CommonCents Mom is an expert on the apps features and ways it helps you save.

Gifts: Consider asking family to contribute towards the ticket or transportation as a birthday or Christmas gift. If they can't afford that maybe they can offer childcare while you're away as a gift and save you money and stress that way. I found when I explained I want to get away for a couple of days to connect with friends, meet new people, network, and learn my family has been happy to support me in those efforts. 

Saving At Your Next Conference ...

There are lots of ways to save and reduce your costs both getting to and while you are at a conference. Below are some ideas to help with cost cutting.

That's the Ticket: 
The first expense to consider is the cost of the conference ticket. 

  • Early Bird Tickets: Most conferences have early bird pricing that can save you 25% or more off the ticket price. If committing early is a concern, many allow the resale of tickets if for some reason you are unable to use it. Be sure to check the policy on this for each individual conference before you purchase your ticket. 
  • Employer or Brand Sponsorship:  Check to see if your employee benefits include paid time off for, and full or partial payment of costs for professional development conferences. If not why not pitch the idea of a sponsorship covering part or all of the conference costs to your employer or a brand you work with. They may be able to buy corporate passes, and you can attend as a corporate representative. Show them why investing in you makes good "cents". 
  • Apply to be a speaker, or run a workshop at the conference in exchange for the ticket: Each conference will have their own process for applying to be a speaker, or lead a workshop. In this situation the time investment tends to be high relative to the financial savings, but the return both personally and professionally should more than balance the scales. Check with individual conference sites for specifics on their application process and deadlines. 

Getting 5 Star Value from Your Accommodations: 
The next thing to consider is accommodation and the conference venue.

  • Roommates reduce the rate: One of the easiest ways to save on accommodation is to share a room with one or more roommates. 
  • Family and Friends: If you have friends or family who live near the conference venue enquire about staying with them. You can return the favour next time they're in your neck of the woods. 
  • Sponsorship: Enquire about employer or brand sponsorships to pay of part or all of the conference expenses. Also enquire about any corporate hotel discounts you may be entitled to. 
  • Hotel Discounts, Deals, Packages and Promos: Be sure to check with the hotel directly and enquire about discounts, packages and promos. Sometimes they're lower than the conference rate. Check and compare what is included in the conference rate before you book. It may include wi-fi or parking making it a better option, but I've found it is not always the cheapest option. Do you actually need parking? Ask whether the hotel rooms have fridges or microwaves that can help reduce the cost of meals or snacks during your stay. Important: Ask about the hotel's cancellation policy! Sign up for email notification of deals and promos. Ask if there is a price guarantee policy should there be a promo, or cheaper price between the time you book and the dates of the conference.
  • Third Party Booking: Check and see if you can save by booking your accommodations through a third party such as Expedia, Travelocity or Hotel.ComNote: You may find additional savings by booking accommodations and transportation at the same time through these sites. Be sure to read the fine print and cancellation policy before you commit.
  • Loyalty Points & Member Discounts: Some loyalty program members get preferred rates such as CAA/AAA, Military, Seniors, or Corporate rates through your employer. Many loyalty programs have points that can be used to pay for, or reduce the cost of accommodations, restaurants, and travel.  
  • Live Locally? Consider the benefits of staying on-site vs commuting, both in terms or costs (hotel vs gas, parking), time and ability to fully experience and engage in the conference. 

Taking a Bite Out of the Cost of Meals:
The cost of food can quickly become a budget buster. Below are some ways to save and reduce costs.

  • What meals are included: Find out what meals are included as part of the conference and be sure to take full advantage of them! 
  • On the road to the conference: Brown bag it, and pack a lunch, snacks and beverages. It's a healthier and cheaper option. 
  • At the Hotel: Is there a fridge and/or microwave in the room? If so pack meals and snacks that cover those not included in the cost of the conference. Bring your own beverages (water, pop, juice) and alcohol. If this is not possible see if there is a place close to the hotel to purchase them, or ask a friend who's driving in to purchase them for you, and reimburse the cost. At the hotel beverages ($2+) and alcoholic drinks ($9+) can add up to a small fortune. 
  • Free coffee and tea in room: Most hotels offer free coffee and tea in the room. Many also offer complementary coffee and tea in the lobby.

Getting There: Planes, Trains and Automobiles:
The cost and convenience of getting to a conference impacts both the total costs and decision to attend. 

  • Which mode of transportation makes sense? Do some research on the various modes of transportation available, including loyalty programs, seat sales, price guarantee and cancellation policies. Consider your time investment required for each mode of transportation as well as the cost, especially if you have to take time off work, or require additional childcare. Be sure to investigate and include in your budget other expenses associated with each transportation option (parking, taxi, shuttle, local transit). Sign up for email notification of deals and discounts. Check regularly to see if there are cheaper seats or promotions added between the time of booking and the conference.
  • Carpooling: Carpooling to a conference and sharing the costs of gas and parking can be a great way to save. Added Bonus: you can start your conference experience on the drive, and you'll know at least one other person at the conference. 
  • Don't forget to include: Expenses such as Luggage and Checked Baggage costs (this varies from airline to airline). Some airline loyalty programs entitle you to free or reduce checked baggage fees, access to airport lounges, or seat upgrades. 
  • Shuttles to and fro: Check if the conference is providing any shuttle services from the airport, or train station. Does the hotel offer complementary shuttles to the airport or train station? Is sharing a taxi an option? Is it cheaper to take a shuttle vs taxi vs airport limousine? Is Uber an option? Can a friend give you a ride?

Other Stuff

  • Other possible expenses: Remember other expenses such as childcare while you're away, business cards, tech or gadgets like cell phones, cell service or portable battery packs, and any new clothing required for the conference (IRL means getting out of the yoga pants) should be included in your budget. Maybe put these items on your wish list for your birthday or Christmas. If you are attending a conference outside of Canada, do you need to get or renew your passport? If so there will be expenses related to that to budget for. 
  • Search for conferences held locally and take advantage of them and support them. By attending and supporting them you ensure they continue to be available. The cost of most conference tickets amortized over a year is cents a day, and surely my professional development is worth that investment. 
  • Look to see if the conference has a community board or facebook group for those wanting to connect with others looking to share a room, needing or offering to shared rides, taxis, etc.
  • Pitching to brands for conference sponsorship or product in exchange for posts, reviews, or social media sharing. This can take time so start planning this at the same time you make your Plan to Attend a Conference. (Product & Pitches could include: tech, gadgets, luggage, data or mobile service, stationary, fashion and clothing, transportation, or tourism)
  • Childcare: Some conferences offer childcare or this may be an area family and friends can help. 

NOTE: Be sure to keep track of all your expenses, mileage, and receipts for tax purposes and future conference budgeting.

A Few Final Notes on Conferences:
Sharing is Caring! If you have tips or suggestions regarding managing expectations, attending, or tips on saving for a conference, please share in the comments section.

Yep, just me Cathy thinking out loud about a plan vs planning to attend a conference. 

Note: I was not compensated for this post. Having attended 7 conferences this is something I have been meaning to write for some time. All opinions are my own.
Images 1 and 2 courtesy of Pixabay.

1 comment :

  1. This makes perfect sense. I mean if you want to attend a conference saving up for it is something you should do. You plan and save up for vacations...this is the same thing. I want to attend a conference, but for me, its a lot about is this an expense I want while buying a house kind of thing. A little different, but its a lot about prioritizing what you want to do.