The Cost of a Year’s Worth of Conventions

Artist Camp.

I got back from Alaska Robotics’ Mini-Con and Artist Camp last night, and both of them were just amazing. The Artist Camp in particular was this fantastic three-day conversation about art and craft and business at the professional level; a lot of conventions deal with the “how do you get started?” questions, but we got to go to a campsite in the Alaskan wilderness and discuss the “okay, I’ve built the first part of my career, now what?” questions.

So yes, going to Mini-Con and Artist Camp was one of the best things I did for my career and my creative work in 2016. Still, on the flight back to Seattle, as I wrote two articles (including the one you read this morning) and cleaned 147 emails out of my inbox, the back of my brain kept excitedly reminding me:

No more conventions until July.

Here’s how much money I’ve spent on conventions and convention-related expenses (travel, food) since the beginning of the year: $1,092.33

Here’s how much money I’ve put on credit for convention-related expenses since the beginning of the year: $4,698.11

Here’s how much money I anticipate spending on convention-related expenses for the remainder of the year: $300

This ~$6,000 convention and travel cost is my biggest business-related expense, and it’s an essential one; I can track my growth both through the work I complete and through the people I meet at conventions. But it’s really interesting to look at that number and think “I spend 10 percent of my pre-tax income on conventions.” (This includes conventions where I am asked to speak or lead panels; only a very few cons pay for the full cost of my attendance.)

And sure, the $6,000 is tax-deductible, but it also comes from somewhere. We were talking, at Artist Camp, about the importance of investing in our careers; part of the reason I worry about how much to invest is because investing in my career always means spending less on the rest of my life. It’s not like I have an “extra” $6,000 that I choose to spend on cons and travel. It’s more like I skip haircuts and avoid buying better furniture and begrudgingly take on more debt to help my career grow.

On the subject of more debt: some of that $4,698.11 is already paid down, and I need to pay the rest of it down by the end of the year because that’s how zero-interest credit cards work. Putting 20 percent of my income towards debt repayment is a good start, but I’m already wondering if I should start diverting discretionary income towards debt as well. If my next convention isn’t until July, I should have around $250 extra in my pocket every month, right? Maybe that needs to go towards debt too.

So part of my brain is happily singing no more conventions until July, and another part is thinking take all the extra money you won’t be spending on convention-related travel and put it towards convention-related debt, and a third part is thinking about how great Artist Camp was, and how lucky I am to be in a place in my career where I am able to talk with other people about what to do next, and what to do better.

I just wish I felt better about the money, or felt like I was earning enough money not to feel guilty about spending $6,000 of it on conventions and travel. (It’s the “travel” part that prompts some of the guilt, no doubt. If I were spending $6,000 on necessary office rent or supplies I might feel differently about it.)

But I know I don’t feel too guilty about it because I don’t plan to change anything. I might stop going to conventions that no longer make sense with my career and creative goals, but I’m not going to stop traveling to places where I get to spend time talking with peers about our work and connecting with people who can (and do) hire me. These types of trips do, as Katey Schultz wrote earlier today, “carry our careers.”

So I guess that’s worth 10 percent of my pre-tax income, at least this year.

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