Attending doll conventions is fun, and the cost varies widely. If you budget your dolly dollars wisely and plan ahead, anyone can make a convention happen. It's definitely worth trying at least once in your collecting career.
Here are a few things to consider that will impact the cost of your convention:
- Location, location, location! You can save on travel expenses when you attend a convention within driving distance. Not only will you save money on airfare, but you will also save on shipping costs when flying those souvenir dolls home with you. If you don't live in the US, consider attending a convention in your country, or perhaps combining a personal vacation to the US with a doll convention (making the convention your final stop). You'll need to add import duties to any dolls you bring home, so don't forget!
- Registration fees. Most multiple-day conventions will run at least $250, when a souvenir doll is included in your registration cost, though some single-day conventions or seminars are under $100. Often, companies will give you a chance to purchase table centerpieces, additional souvenir dolls, companion dolls, or entire an convention collection as well. These are not included in the registration fees.
- Workshop costs. Sometimes there are additional costs for breakout events or workshops. Usually the convention will let you know, and often let you register for these in advance as well.
- Centerpiece dolls. Find out in advance how the centerpiece dolls are handled. At some events (like the National Barbie Collectors Convention) the centerpiece dolls are raffled off for free each night. At others (Integrity Toys and Tonner Doll, for example), raffle winners are given the opportunity to purchase the centerpiece dolls. You should be able to find out the approximate cost of the dolls in advance, and also the likelihood of winning them (usually by considering edition size and attendance), and whether you should bring cash, check, or charge to dinner.
- Hotel cost. The convention usually negotiates a special rate with a local hotel and will give you a discount code when you book your reservation. Keep in mind that the convention usually must have a certain percentage of attendees staying at the location to get the hotel rate and keep the convention cost at that price, so it pays for you to stay at that hotel. (Barbie convention hotels often sell out quickly, so don't wait too long to book your room.)
- Meal cost. Regardless of how much you'd like to be able to save at convention, everyone has to eat. Plan in advance how many meals you will need to eat on your own, and break it down to at least a daily budget. You can find the location of less-than-hotel-priced food as well. (Keep in mind that a 5-star hotel will have 5-star prices on their room service!)
- Table gifts and hostess gifts. These aren't required at any conventions that you attend--in fact, some conventions discourage you from handing out gifts to each person at your table. However, others (IFDC, Integrity, and Barbie) have traditions of fabulous and fun table gifts for fellow attendees and hostesses, and this can be a really fun part of the event. You can make them yourself to save money, or just budget for them carefully.
- Shopping. Most conventions will offer many shopping opportunities for you. From Barbie's fabulous room shopping, to the sales rooms at Tonner's convention and IFDC, keep in mind you'll want to budget your shopping as well. Make a wish list before you go, and try to avoid expensive impulse purchases--unless you've budgeted for them.
- Charity events. Many conventions I've attended offer a raffle room or auction that benefits an organization or the convention (to help keep its non-profit status). You'll want to make sure to budget a little extra for these amazing OOAK dolls.
How can you keep the costs of a convention a little lower? Here are some tips I've learned in the past:
- Make a list. Really. A wish list. Figure out in advance how much you are willing to pay (market price? less?) for each and every item on it before leaving for convention, and don't forget to bring that list with you when you shop. Include a little extra "mad money," too.
- Use cash. Plan ahead how much you want to spend, and bring only that amount in cash. Once you've spent it, that's it. Don't dip into your checking account, don't use credit.
- Room sales. Go through your collection and participate in room sales, if those are allowed. It's a great way to sell dolls, since people love to shop for dolls and accessories in person. Be sure to check in advance that room sales are permitted in the state and/or hotel before you bring your dolls.
- Salesroom sales. Do you make stuff for dolls? If room sales aren't an option, check out the sales room. Those are usually paid per table, and some conventions, like IFDC, have fantastic deals on these tables. You'll have to register in advance, and often, you will need a resale permit, if the convention doesn't provide one for you. I recommend attending at least one convention to see how it works before you put up too much money up front.
- Fly Southwest. Why? (No, I don't make a commission, and I enjoy first class as much as the next person.) Southwest allows for two free checked bags, and charges $50 for each additional bag. That's way less than on-site shipping, in most cases! Pack an extra empty bag in your suitcase--if it can still meet the weight limit.
- Bring your own meals. My good friend Kathie showed me this neat trick! Pack dry meals in advance that you can make with hot water (like oatmeal (add dried fruit and nuts to make it interesting) or soups) and bring your own water heater or use the in-room coffee pot. Breakfast is a good one to plan, since it's easy to make in your room, and helps you get going during the day. Protein bars, nuts, and other snacks can supplement meal costs as well. You can also plan a trip to the grocery store on your way to the hotel from the airport (or once you've arrived).
- Travel with a roommate. You can split the cost of your room, which brings the hotel bill down by half. Just be sure to ask about smoking, fragrances, room temperature, bed times, and so forth. Keep in mind that everyone snores, even if you don't hear yourself. Bring ear plugs, just in case--and if you're thoughtful, bring a few extra new pairs for your roommate, too. You might also consider bringing headphones for your iPad or iPod if you listen to music or podcasts or TV before you go to sleep, or if you stay up late, or bring an eye mask if you like to go to bed early. And don't forget aspirin or other pain reliever, as needed. If you can't share a room in your own home, perhaps sharing a room isn't an option for you at a convention, either.
All in all, I love conventions. I think they are fun and exciting, and a great way to add to your collection. I've uploaded a spreadsheet to Google Docs that you can use to help budget for your next trip. Let me know where you're going (and if I can meet you there), and if this budget was helpful for you.