How to attend a conference on a budget

How to attend a conference on a budget from Dear Handmade Life

In preparation for Craftcation: Business + Makers Conference we’re doing a series of posts on attending conferences. Maybe you’ve read our posts on 7 reasons why attending a conference will revolutionize your business and creativity and How to choose the right conference to attend and now you’re ready to take the plunge and make the commitment to grow your business and creativity through attending a conference… BUT your finances are telling you that it’s not possible.

I know this feeling! When you’re the CEO, CFO, head of marketing, sales, design and just about every other department at your independent business…it’s likely that funds are slim. It was SUPER hard for me to spend hundreds of dollars on travel, registration and other expenses when I attended my first conference. However the benefits I got from that experience were SO worth it! I made connections with businesses and learned new skills that helped me grow my business, forged friendships and created a support system, got out of my routine and was able to look at the big picture and refine my business goals and so much more.

That first experience made me realize that planning and budgeting for a conference was a business expense that was must. If you’re thinking of attending a conference here are my tips (along with a few from past Craftcation attendees) on how to help make it happen through smart budgeting and planning.

FYI: If you’re ready to take your business and creativity to the next level, click here to join us for four days of making, meeting and learning at the beach in California that you’ll never forget.

1. Start planning early

It’s much easier to set aside a little bit of money weekly or monthly than to come up with a few hundred dollars all at once. You can use an app or just set aside some funds in an envelope or jar. I started using Acorns a few months ago and was shocked at how easy it was to save a few hundred dollars in two months when I was adding $5 or $10 at a time. Many conferences have early bird ticket pricing. I usually buy my tickets as soon as they announce that registration is open. Travel expenses can really add up as well which is why I book my flight or train tickets as soon as I register. There’s more on that below.

Craftcation Business and Makers Conference from Dear Handmade Life

2. Research travel options

I take some time to consider what would be the cheapest way to get to the conference. If flying is my only option I’ll check prices early and set up a fare alert which lets me know when fares go down. The train is another great option but can be pricey so I make sure to make the most of my time on the train by bringing my laptop and getting some work done en route. If you live with driving distance of the conference it will likely be cheapest for you to drive. Consider splitting the expenses by carpooling. If you don’t have a friend going, reach out on social media. This is not only a way to save money but also a chance to make a new friend. Consider all aspects of your travel including the shuttle to the airport… it may be cheaper to ask a friend for a ride or take public transportation.

Choosing a budget-friendly place to stay is also key. If you’re staying in the hotel where the conference is being held be sure to book your room early before the discounted rates sell out. You may also want to check other hotels in the area for better rates, rent an Airbnb, stay with friends who live nearby or even drive in daily if you live close enough. If you do plan on staying in a hotel, sharing a room is a great way to save money (again reach out on social media if you don’t know someone else who’s going). I’ve tried all of these options at conferences I’ve attended and I really love staying at the hotel where the conference is being held because it gives me easy access to the hotel restaurant/bar where I can hang out with fellow attendees and presenters, I don’t have to worry about travel time/costs getting to the conference daily and if I need a mid-day break I can sneak up to my room to decompress for 15 minutes without missing much. However you can have an awesome experience staying “off-campus” as well especially if you rent a house with friends or fellow conference attendees.

“I would suggest sharing a room and the train is the BEST way to travel. The ride is stunning and it delivers you just a few blocks from the hotel. Also, there is no need for cabs or cars. You can walk or even rent a bike from the hotel to get around town.” – Kelly Affleck

“If possible, find out who else from your local area is attending, and carpool or share hotel rooms with them. Nothing gives you the chance to really get to know someone quite like sharing a car or a room.” – Lauren Venell

“If the conference is more than a one day event, I research the local area for budget friendly restaurants or coffee houses. It may be less expensive to share a room or stay at a local hotel, not the one the conference is held in. Take your own snacks or drinks and keep them in your room.” –Natalie Cuen

Craftcation Business and Makers Conference from Dear Handmade Life

3. Be conscious of meals, drinks and extra expenses

Eating meals out is one of the biggest hidden travel expenses, so the first thing I do when I arrive is hit up the grocery store for some basics like: water, beverages (hotel drinks are notoriously expensive), snacks, yogurt etc… I always request a mini-fridge if they don’t come standard in my hotel room. Sometimes that isn’t an option so I’ll buy a cheap cooler and fill it up daily with ice. If you have a coffee maker in your room use it! If you don’t and you’ll be at the conference for several days buying a cheap one (especially if you can go in on it with your roomie) may be cheaper than buying coffee daily. Going out to eat at least once is unavoidable for me so I try to split a meal with a friend and skip the at-dinner drinks and have a nightcap in my room. If you head out of the hotel to explore… consider walking, taking Uber or sharing rides (taxi trips add up fast).

“Take advantage of free meals even if you have to get there early or show up for the last sandwich. Use coupons and look for discounts. I always bring an electric tea kettle so I can have tea, coffee, oatmeal & ramen. This saves me time and money.” –Vennice James

“I do save money by packing drinks and snacks so I won’t be spending extra dollars in stores. Also, I park my car on a side street away from the conference and walk a few extra minutes. It saves parking fees and the walking gets me energized.” –Keri Cleverly

Craftcation Business and Makers Conference from Dear Handmade Life

4. Carefully consider what you’re packing

You may be tempted to splurge on some new clothes. I get it! You’ll be meeting new people and want to make a good impression but new clothes are NOT a must. Go through your closet and pick out the things that you like the best and you feel the most comfortable in. Maybe your friends have seen you in something dozens of times but you’ll be around a whole new group of people. Also, it’s not a fashion show. People are there to learn and build community not criticize your wardrobe choices. Plan out your outfits before you go to save time not having to pick out an outfit daily and save space in your luggage (no extra baggage fee)! Create a packing list so you don’t’ forget anything. It’s a bummer to have to buy a toothbrush when you have one at home.

5. Bring only the money that you need

If you bring several credit cards along, chances are you’ll be tempted to overspend. I like to bring my conference budget in cash. It’s harder to spend cash than to hand over a credit card. However I always bring one credit card just in case of emergencies. Having the credit card as a cushion makes me feel more at ease.

Craftcation Business and Makers Conference from Dear Handmade Life

6. Volunteer

Many conferences offer free registration and sometimes even hotel accommodations for volunteers. If you’re considering volunteering be sure to email the producers at least six months before the conference and let them know you’re interested. Make sure to include any qualifications you have and why you’re interested in volunteering. Volunteering will not only save you money but is also a great way to meet new people since you’ll be working on a team and attendees will often come to you questions.

Next week I’ll be sharing tips on how to prepare for a conference since one of the best ways to make the most out of your money is to be sure you’re taking advantage of every opportunity the conference has to offer.

Hope to see you at Craftcation 2016!

-Nicole S.

6 tips to attend a conference on a budget from Dear Handmade Life

How to attend a conference even if funds are tight from Dear Handmade Life
6 tips to attend a conference on a budget from Dear Handmade Life


  1. I’ve found that staying at in AirBnB is cheaper than staying at the hotel where the conference is located. In most major metro areas you can find private rooms for half the price of hotel rooms, or even a whole apartment for much less, especially when sharing.

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