This is the 3rd part of the Cosplay Budget Tips!
In Part 1, we discussed having the right mindset when taking on the cosplay hobby (e.g. clearing your debts, creating a lifestyle where you can afford to cosplay and attend conventions).
In Part 2, showed how much a cosplay will cost, and how to effectively save up for one.
Now in Part 3, I’ll talk about 10 cosplay budget tips that will help you save money! Let’s start with cosplays:
Have you ever seen someone collect a bunch of grocery flyers, flipping through them to see if anything is on sale? Well, that’s the same thing you should do as a cosplayer! Except you don’t need to spend all that time finding the flyers yourself; you can easily browse for cosplay sales online. If you plan on making cosplays yourself in the long run you’ll need a variety of materials to do so, including foam, fabric, needles, safety pins, glue guns and much more. Instead of buying these materials when you need them, save money by buying them when they’re on sale. That’s the best way to it if you’re on a cosplay budget!
I recommend browsing these sites once a week for deals:
- Aliexpress – https://www.aliexpress.com
- Arda Wigs – https://www.arda-wigs.com (They have sales for stock wigs occasionally. So you could buy a similar wig style that’s longer, and then trim to your character’s hair.)
- Cosplay Shopper – https://www.cosplayshopper.com/clearance
- Fabricland – http://www.fabricland.ca
- Michaels – https://www.michaels.com (Great arts/crafts store for cosplay supplies. They have coupons they giveaway, as well as weekly sales)
- RedFlagDeals – https://www.redflagdeals.com (While not technically a cosplay store, RedFlagDeals lists every kind of sale imaginable, including those that are related to cosplay. For example, you can find makeup and travel packages on sale, which can save you a lot of money on transportation and looking great in cosplay! I love this site. Canada only though. SORE-EEE!)
- Taobao – https://world.taobao.com (If you can read Chinese, Taobao is a great place to find sales on cosplay-related products as well. On top of their amazing prices to begin with. More on Taobao later in this article.)
Save these sites in your bookmarks and every Monday, look through them to see if they are any sales you can take advantage of!
2. Reuse cosplay materials.
Here’s a big cosplay budget tips strategy. Just because you made an accessory for a certain cosplay, doesn’t mean you can’t use the same accessory for a different cosplay! For example, I use my thrift store $2 boots for multiple cosplays, such as Marth and Roy Mustang.
Here’s a few other accessories you can save on:
- Wigs: If a wig is relatively simple to style, then why not use it for another cosplay? Just wash the wig and style it to the different cosplay you’re wearing. And if you need it again, just rinse again and use it for the former cosplay. That way, you don’t have to purchase as many wigs.
- Pants: In my experience, many characters wear the same generic pants that can be covered by a pair of jeans and dress pants. So if you buy one pair of blue jeans, black jeans and black dress pants, that should cover a LOT of characters you can cosplay. For example, I bought these dress pants at H&M for only $20 and I swear I use them for multiple cosplays such as Decim and Joker. So instead of commissioning pants for a cosplay (which usually suck in my opinion), save your money by buying regular pants at a retail store.
- Footwear: You can buy a cheap pair of shoes/boots at a thrift store and modify it yourself. Or if you can’t find the right pair, just wear a normal pair of shoes or boots. For instance, I couldn’t find the big red shoes for Deku, so I just wore my black dress shoes instead and told my photographer to take photos of me above my feet.
Another method of reusing is borrowing cosplays from your friends. If you just want a few extra pics on your Facebook or Instagram cosplay page, ask your friend if you can borrow their cosplay for a photoshoot. That way, you save money and time on buying/making a brand new cosplay. Just be sure to return the favour and let your friend borrow one of yours!
3. Utilize secondhand cosplay groups.
Just like we mentioned in the article about obtaining a cosplay, secondhand buy/sell/trade groups are a great tool if you’re on a cosplay budget! Not only can you purchase used cosplays for cheap, you can also “flip” your own cosplays in a BST group once you’re done with them.
So if you haven’t worn a cosplay in a long time – or you didn’t like a cosplay that you recently made/bought – then consider selling it off. That way, you’ll have some extra cash for your next character.
There’s a huge market for used cosplays because they are much cheaper than buying a brand new costume. There’s always someone that wants to wear your cosplay that you haven’t worn in a long time.
Click here for a guide on how to make best use of BST groups.
4. Improve your cosplay skills to have more money for the budget.
You wouldn’t believe how much money you’ll save by utilizing your cosplay skills. Instead of buying cosplay accessories and paying full price, you can save by making it yourself with a few parts.
Here’s a good example of my friend Smzeldarules cosplaying as Link. You’d think an elaborate cosplay lke Link would cost a good amount of money. But she managed to keep everything (including the crossbow) to just around $100!
Here’s a breakdown (in USD):
- Hat: $5
- Wig from Lucaille: $25
- Ribbon: $2
- Capelet: made out of cheap knit fabric, $10 for a yard
- Shirt: Free (already in the closet)
- Gloves: $10
- Skirt: $5
- Rit dye for skirt: $3
- Boots: $15 from the thrift store
- Socks: $3
- Crossbow materials: $9
- Elf ears: $20
Total = Around $110 USD
You can also monetize your cosplay-making skills.
If you make your own cosplays and have the time, you could generate extra cash by creating cosplays for someone else. There’s people (like myself) who either don’t have the time or the skills to sew, and would gladly pay someone else to do the work for them.
When you take a commission, be sure to charge not only for the material but for YOUR time and labour to produce it. Once you’ve established yourself, you’ll likely have too many cosplayers and not enough time to take all your commissions. At this point, you could increase your prices, making more money for cosplay!
I have no experience with this, but you can also start a cosplay Patreon page for cosplay funding. Keep in mind though; Patreon is not a place to get free money. You HAVE to continually create (cosplay) content for your subscribers (or Patreons in this case). That’s the only way they’ll keep funding you. So if you’re committed and willing to put in the work to produce cosplay content to supporters, then give Patreon a try.
5. Buy in bulk.
This may seem like a cosplay budget tips no-brainer, but people forget this; buying anything in mass quantities will save you money. If you see a certain fabric on sale, buy a crap-ton of it. Because you’ll never know when you’ll need it, and it’ll definitely save you money in the long run when you need it for multiple cosplays. Here’s an entire guide on the different ways to obtain your cosplays.
Purchasing in bulk also applies to ordering cosplays or accessories online. Rather than buying something on multiple occasions, try to buy things all at once. That way, you only pay for one shipping cost, rather than multiple shipping expenses.
This especially applies to the prominent retailer, Taobao. While the prices on that site are dirt cheap, it’s the international shipping that makes it difficult for many buyers. However, a workaround is that many cosplayers buy multiple items together to offset that shipping cost.
So instead of 5 cosplayers paying for shipping 5 times, they all buy and pay together to pay only 1 shipping cost. This saves a lot of money on shipping, while benefitting from the cheap prices of Taobao. So if you (or your friend) can navigate Taobao, definitely utilize that site to buy things together and save money!
So that’s 5 ways to save on cosplay. Now let’s talk about conventions.
6. Plan out the conventions you’d like to attend at the beginning of the year, and decide which ones are most important.
Let’s face it – unless you’re very wealthy with a lot of spare time, you won’t be able to attend all the conventions you want. Especially if you want cosplay budget tips.
For example, I’d love to attend MAGFest, Katsucon, Colosallcon, Anime North, Anime Central, Sakuracon, Yeticon, Youmacon, Dragon Con, Anime Weekend Atlanta AND all the small conventions in the Greater Toronto Area. But obviously I can’t do this because it would be WAYY too expensive. So I have to prioritize which conventions would be best to attend.
But why plan out so far in advance?
The thing is, once you map out the conventions you want to attend, it becomes easy and far less stressful to plan things out. That way, when you realize Anime North is happening next week, you’re not trying to scramble for money (or a hotel) last-minute. You’ve already saved up in advance for AN, so you have nothing to worry about. That’s the power of planning your cons in advance.
At the beginning of January (or even earlier), decide which conventions you want to travel and attend (or how much your cosplay budget dictates). And start saving up for it!
On a side note, should you buy your convention pass as soon as possible? In my opinion, it’s not a big deal. You should only buy an early bird badge if you’re 100% going. Although every convention increases their badge price as the date gets closer and closer, it’s only $10-$20 more. Some conventions do not offer a refund for purchasing their badge. If you cannot make it and you already bought a pass, you’re out of luck. So for me, I only buy a badge if I’m confirmed 100% going.
While buying a pass right away is not mandatory, this next point requires advance booking…
7. Book your transportation as early as possible.
If you’re going to a convention far away from home, you’ll need to find a way there. If you’re driving to the convention, then you don’t have to worry about this section because the price won’t fluctuate. But if you’re taking a plane, bus or train then definitely pay attention to this point!
I don’t believe in last-minute deals that people sometimes talk about. Most of the time, if you book a flight or bus ticket last-minute you’ll be paying a lot more than someone who booked it months in advance. In general, you should book as soon as possible. But my rule of thumb is no later than 3 weeks in advance, one month if possible. In my experience, transportation prices dramatically increase when the date is less than 21 days (3 weeks) away. So no later than 3 weeks in advance!
Here are a few other tips to save on transportation costs:
- Websites like Megabus have big discounts on tickets if you’re willing to be patient and have flexibility with travel. So if you can book work/school off for a longer period of time, you’ll save money that way as well.
- Prices tend to fluctuate each day. One day you could be checking prices for flights and they’re super cheap. The next day, the prices increase. The following day, it drops again. So if the booking date is months away, then you should check the prices every day until you see a really good deal and jump on it.
- Consider driving to the convention if you have a group of people you’re traveling with. Driving is by far the cheapest method of transportation if you’re on a cosplay budget. For example, a ticket to Detroit from Toronto is $90 on Greyhound. If you have 5 people, that would roughly be $450. But if you guys rented a car, it would only be $150 max for the whole weekend. Add the gas bill, which is another $100 or so. $250 is much cheaper than $450. If it was your own car, it would be even cheaper. And plus you can put as much stuff in the trunk as you want! Whereas a bus, you are limited to just one luggage and carry-on. So consider taking a car for these benefits!
8. Be economical when booking your hotel.
In general, booking hotels that are part of the con will likely be the closest and cheapest option. But if con hotels are out of your cosplay budget then stay in a place further out that will be cheaper, while making sure the distance is reasonable for you.
Having roommates is another way to save TONS of money is having roommates. For example, the hotel at YetiCon costs more than some hotels I’ve stayed in the U.S., yet I saved so much by having roommates with me. Take caution though; make sure you have good roommates. They can make or break your con experience – so choose carefully.
9. Be sure to spend wisely on food during a convention, but don’t starve yourself either!
Food may not be related to cosplay budget tips but sure relates to your spending money at a con!
Food is a considerable expense when attending a convention. If you’re eating at an expensive restaurant every day, it can really add up and destroy your cosplay budget! I also find the food they sell at the con is overpriced as well.
Fortunately, there are a couple of methods to lower your food expenses:
i) Shop at the grocery store
Buying food at the grocery store can save you a lot of money compared to eating at restaurants all weekend.
For example, let’s say you decide to make sandwiches for the entire weekend. 1 sandwich = 1 meal = 2 meals a day.
Here’s a cost breakdown:
- Loaf of bread – $3-$5
- Protein (deli meat, canned fish, canned beans) – $5-$10
- Salad, tomatoes, other veggies – $5-$10
- Pack of cheese – $5 (fridge or cooler required)
- Condiments like mayonnaise or mustard – $10
- Some fruits like apples or bananas – $5 max
Total = $30-$45 for the whole weekend!
This is without a use of a microwave, stove or fridge. If you have any of these things, it’ll make things easier for you. Although I’ve seen many conventions with a small fridge in the room, I’ve only seen one convention hotel have a microwave (Anime Central). So when planning for a convention, just assume that there’s no fridge, microwave and definitely a stove.
$45 max for the entire weekend is great! Sandwiches are relatively healthy; definitely much better than eating an overpriced pizza slice in the dealer’s room or binging on instant noodles.
There is however a downside of relying on food from the grocery store. Even if you’re on a cosplay budget, it’s time-consuming to stop by, shop and prepare food from the grocery store. In practice, it’s definitely easier to just order something from a restaurant at the con.
Also, if you plan on using foods that require a fridge (e.g. meats, dairy), then you’ll have to stop by every day at the store because you can’t leave them in your hotel room. If your room has a fridge or you’re staying in a hostel (which comes with a fridge), then you’re good. But if not, then it’s going to be a huge hassle.
If you can’t be bothered going to a grocery store for food, then here’s another option:
ii) Go for the healthiest food options at a chain restaurant
This is what I normally do at conventions. I’ll go to a chain restaurant like Chipotle or Subway, and get something that’s the healthiest option on the menu. You get the protein, fiber and veggies from these sandwiches/burritos/salads. Is it the healthiest thing to eat? Probably not. But it’s decent enough.
To me, I like this option because it saves me the trouble of grocery shopping, while not completely ruining my regular diet. In terms of price, you should be able to get a good, (relatively) healthy meal for around $10 each time. To me, that’s very reasonable and affordable for most, even if your cosplay budget is small.
If you ate 2 meals a day for a 3-day weekend, that’s around $60 which is not bad at all. Many conventions will have chain restaurants in the area, so that will make your life easier. And I believe some states/provinces require chain restaurants to provide nutritional information, so you’ll know what you’re getting when you buy something there (although I’m sure most of you guys aren’t as meticulous as I am!).
This may not be related to cosplay budget tips but thought I’d point this out. Just please whatever you do, don’t starve yourself or think that eating ramen all weekend is considered proper food. No matter how small your cosplay budget is. Your immune system won’t function if you don’t eat properly, and that’s how you catch the con plague!
10. Set a limit on how much you spend in the dealer’s room.
Last but not least advice regarding cosplay budget tips. I know it’s tempting when you step in a dealer’s room and see a bunch of Anime figures, DVDs, video games and adorable plushies just screaming at you to buy them! But practice some self-restraint; don’t impulsively buy things! Set a cosplay budget on how much you’ll spend in the dealer’s room. So if you only have $100 to spend, then make sure you don’t spend more than $100 for the entire convention in the dealer’s room.
Hopefully these two points will make it easier to see why you don’t need to buy everything in a dealer’s room:
- You can always buy them another time. Get in contact with the dealer at the convention and buy the product from them online when you have the money to do so.
- It’s called a “dealer’s” room but in my experience, there aren’t many deals going around. The vendors need to set a price in order to offset the cost of being at the convention. For the most part, you aren’t getting much of a deal and in turn, not missing much if you decide to not buy.
So if you can’t buy everything in the dealer’s room, don’t worry about it.
Here’s a quick recap of all the 10 cosplay budget tips:
- On a weekly basis, check for sales and coupons on cosplay-related products.
- Reuse cosplay materials.
- Utilize secondhand cosplay groups.
- Improve your cosplay skills to save money.
- Buy in bulk.
- Plan out the conventions you’d like to attend at the beginning of the year, and decide which ones are most important.
- Book your transportation as early as possible.
- Be economical when booking your hotel.
- Be sure to spend wisely on food during a convention, but don’t starve yourself either!
- Set a limit on how much you spend in the dealer’s room.
And there you have it; 10 cosplay budget tips and hacks!
Again, if you haven’t read the first 2 article of this series, I highly recommend you check them out:
Hopefully these cosplay budget tips will help you afford cosplay and enjoy this hobby without ever breaking your wallet. If you have any questions of course, feel free to ask me!