We all need to think about our cosplay budget. Why?
Let’s face it – cosplaying is an expensive hobby. When you consider that many of us buy/create new costumes every year, on top of other cosplay-related expenses – photoshoots, weekend passes, traveling to/from the convention, purchasing accessories and makeup – it wouldn’t be too surprising if your expenses range from hundreds to thousands of dollars per year!
Can you really afford cosplaying long-term? While it may be financially intimidating, it’s definitely possible to afford cosplaying without needing to be rich. I will show you how to cosplay on a budget in this blog post series.
This cosplay budget topic is a 3-part blog series. This is the first part. Here are the other two:
Let’s get started!
Having the right mindset
Before you even decide to buy a new cosplay or take steps to make one, you need to make sure your financial life is in order. Without a strong foundation of financial security, you won’t be able to afford cosplaying without going in debt (which is not what you want).
So the question is, how to cosplay with no money? How do you get your financial life in order in order to afford cosplaying?
1. Figure out your monthly cost of living to know how much you can have in your cosplay budget. This is how you start to cosplay on a budget!
The first thing you should do is figure out is how much money is coming in versus how much money is coming out on a monthly basis. That way you’re able to determine how much money you set aside for your cosplay budget. Once you actually know the approximate amount of your expenses each month, either you’ll be jumping for joy because you have money to save for cosplaying! Or depressed that you can’t afford to splurge on the hobby, figuring out how to cosplay with no money. Or somewhere in between.
Figuring out how much you spend per month.
For 1 month, save all your receipts on EVERYTHING you purchase. Whether it’s that coffee you bought at McDonald’s or a wig you bought online, keep track of it all. If you use a credit or debit card, the bank will automatically keep track of what you purchase, so that makes things easier. At the end of the month, write down all the things you spent that month. I know it’s a hassle. But you only have to do this for one month, and you will get VALUABLE information.
Once you figure out how much you spent that month, take that number and use it to subtract your monthly income. A simple example is if you spend $1000 a month and make $1500 a month, then $1500-1000 = $500. That means you have $500 a month to spend on recreational stuff, including cosplay! In a future post, I’ll talk more about how to properly manage that spare money.
Here’s a Monthly Expenses Template For Cosplayers that you can use to track your monthly expenses MUCH easier, each with its own category! Everything is sorted out and the formulas are already setup to calculate total expenses and revenues, so all you have to do is fill in the blanks!
I’ll use 2 examples to exemplify monthly living expenses. One is myself and the other is my friend in the cosplay community. We live different lifestyles, but we are both able to afford this hobby with a bit of financial planning.
i) Monthly Expenses for Senpai
A little bit about my situation:I work a full-time job, live on my own and have bills to pay. I’m usually able to afford 2-3 new cosplays per year, and travel to 1-2 international cosplay conventions.
Here are my monthly essential expenses:
- Rent: $700
- Groceries: $400-$500 (NOTE: I have a specific meal plan where I buy relatively expensive groceries, so my grocery bill is way more expensive. You could probably do it for $200 a month and stay healthy.)
- Gym membership: $30 a month
- Phone bill: $70 a month
- Transportation: $200 a month for car insurance and gas
- Healthcare: Varies (most of the time it’s free for me because I live in Canada, but sometimes I have to pay for prescriptions and things like that. If you live in an area where you need to find your own health insurance, this is an important expense not to look over!)
- Investment or retirement savings plan: This is totally up to you, but I feel it’s important. For me, it’s at least $200/month
- Debt payment: $0 (I have no debt)
TOTAL = About $1700/month
There you have it. For me, I need to have at least $1700 a month in order to maintain my lifestyle. That’s quite a lot of money. However, you’re not forced to live like this. I could certainly lower costs by doing a lot of things:
- Buying cheaper groceries instead (I like expensive natural peanut butter too much!)
- Live with roommates to reduce the rent in half (but yes I know roommates suck, I had a bad roommate before so I know all about that)
- Workout at home and do bodyweight exercises, or hit the swimming pool for free to avoid paying a gym membership
- Forgo data and go a pay-as-you-go plan for my phone
- Move closer to work and walk or bike to work for free.
Healthcare is the only one you can’t skimp on and probably shouldn’t because health is #1. But as you can see, there’s lots of ways to reduce your living expenses to afford more recreational stuff like cosplay. However, I wouldn’t go too crazy to the point where your happiness is very negatively affected because you’re penny-pinching to the extreme. Be reasonable.
Fortunately, I earn more than $1700/month so I’m definitely more than able to have a cosplay budget. However, I’m still frugal and learned how to cosplay on a budget. I’ll get to why in a sec.
Let’s see the expenses for my friend:
ii) Monthly Expenses for Senpai Squad Member
- Rent: $600
- Internet: $30
- Groceries: $25 a week
- Gym membership: $10 a month
- Phone bill: $70 a month
- Transportation: $30 a month for occasional public transit (Presto/pay as you go)
- Healthcare: $0 (free healthcare), if you live in the US this may not apply
- Investment or retirement savings plan: $0 (for now at least)
- Debt payment: $0 (he has no debt)
TOTAL = About $765/month
The funny thing is, even though my cosplay friend makes far less income than I do, he’s still able to cosplay budget! In fact, he travels to international conventions far more than I do! How?
He’s more frugal with expenses than I am. He’s also very picky about what he wants to spend (e.g. he won’t buy expensive cosplays). Also, he does a lot of volunteering in the community, which is something he genuinely enjoys, but he also ends up getting invited to several international cons, with a free room to stay in (he pays for the travel costs though).
He’s well-aware of travel deals and knows when things go on sale, while planning things far in advance to save costs.
So having a good-paying job is not a necessity to have a big cosplay budget. It definitely helps, but if you’re willing to compromise then you’ll be able to do it without having a high figure salary. Just like my buddy here. He basically learned how to cosplay with no money, and still made it work!
Save for a rainy day!
You can also save some of your money for other important things like a “Disaster” Fund and Long Term Emergency Fund. A Disaster Fund is if something disastrous suddenly occurs in your life (e.g. a hole in your roof, a medical emergency), you won’t be panicking because you have that Disaster Fund ready to go.
And a Long Term Emergency Fund is 6-12 months savings in case you get laid off/fired from your job or you can’t work for a certain period of time; it’s there to provide you income for the time you can’t work (sort of like your own unemployment insurance)! If you guys are interested, I can talk more about these two things in a future post. But thought I’d include this for other types of savings you should have.)
Okay, so I’ve shown you the good part about cosplaying, and how enjoying this hobby is financially doable. Now it’s time to talk more about the not-so-fun things, starting with debt….
2. If you have debt, make sure you have a concrete plan to pay it off first before even thinking about a cosplay budget. Because cosplaying is EXPENSIVE!
In general unless you’re going into debt for a house or student loans (i.e. something that appreciates in value over time), most forms of debt are BAD. Mainly because interest accumulates, and the longer you wait to pay it all off, the more money you’ll owe.
For example, let’s say you owe $1,000 in credit card debt. The longer you wait until you pay off the debt in full, the more you end up having to pay, mainly because interest accumulates.
I’m not saying if you got yourself into huge debt, you need to pay it off right away. We don’t have that much money on us!
The problem is when you have the decision to spend your money on paying off that credit card debt OR attending that big amazing convention….and instead of being a responsible adult, you choose to attend that big convention and dig yourself a deeper hole.
NO NO NO!
That’s not how you afford a cosplay lifestyle; if you’re sinking in debt, you dig yourself up. Not dig yourself a deeper hole!
So don’t do it. Pay off your debts, and then you can fully enjoy the cosplay hobby!
Make a 6-12 month plan to pay off your debt! As noted above, when you budget for monthly living expenses, be sure to include “debt payment” as one of them. So let’s say you have $1,000 in debt. It may look intimidating, but if you break it down month by month, it’s not so bad. If you set aside $170 a month, you’ll be able to pay off the $1,000 debt in half a year. Or even if you only did $100 a month, you’ll pay it off completely in less than a year.
Why should I pay off the debt as soon as I can?
If you’re into RPGs like me, the best analogy I can think of is similar to getting poisoned by an enemy (in this case, Enemy Debt poisoned you). So think of debt being like getting poisoned. You know that the longer you wait to deal with that poison, the more HP you lose.
So would you continue along your journey knowingly poisoned? Hell no! If you’re smart, you’d run to the nearest Pokémon center or find an antidote to cure the poison right away! Because the longer you wait, the more damage you’ll take.
If you heal the poison immediately, you only used an antidote and maybe a potion to heal some lost HP. No big deal.
But if you wait longer, you’ll have to use 2 potions…or a super potion. Or a hyper potion. Or worse, a revive or Phoenix Down because you lost all your HP.
Life is no Nintendo game though!
Debt is the same way. The longer you wait to pay it off, the more interest you’ll have to pay off; the more money you’ll end up owing. Similar to an RPG; the longer you wait, the more potions you’ll need to use. That extra money could have been used to buy/create an extra cosplay, or afford another trip to an out-of-town convention.
(Or if this was Final Fantasy, you could have used that extra Gil to buy a stronger weapon to kill that stupid Malboro before it could ever use Bad Breath on you)
When you decide to spend on cosplaying instead of your necessities, you are not putting yourself first!
There are many ways to have more money for paying off debt: you can reduce your living expenses, eat out less, go out less and work a bit more hours at the office/factory/fast food joint. This might suck, but don’t worry it’s only temporary. You only have to do this until you completely pay off all your debt. Which brings me to my next point…
3. Even if you learned how to cosplay on a budget…Cosplaying is still a hobby, NOT a necessity.
Unless you’re a professional cosplayer who’s doing this for a living, we can’t forget cosplaying and attending conventions is completely optional.
Yes, I know it’s hard to miss out on a convention. When you see all those beautiful cosplayers all over social media when a big con is happening, it’s hard not to feel like you’re missing out. Inevitably you’re going to miss out on some things in life, so don’t try to attend EVERY convention or impulsively buy or spend money on creating every cosplay possible. It’s not worth it.
So before you decide to impulsively book a last-minute flight and destroy your bank account balance, remember a few things:
Even if you have the money, you still need to be reasonable about how you spend. Even though I work a full-time job and can easily afford cosplaying, I still am cautious and frugal when it comes to cosplay spending. For instance, I’ve been meaning to cosplay a different character from Fire Emblem for the longest time. (I really want to do Lon’qu or Sigurd!). But I also know it’s going to be very expensive for a FE cosplay. So I’ve held off for the longest time. If you’re making less income, you need to be especially careful with your spending.
Cosplay is not going away! Cosplay is big and will continue to get bigger every year. New conventions are starting at an unprecedented rate, and the largest conventions keep growing in attendance on a yearly basis. So you have LOTS of time to enjoy this hobby.
Remember that no one is easily affording this hobby. Most people who are able to attend conventions either saved up a lot of money for it, or they worked a lot of hours to pay for it. In fact, there are many of us on a Sunday of a convention…DREADING that we have to go back to work the next day! The post-con depression hits hard when you have to go back to reality. But that shows in order to have a realistic cosplay budget while attending conventions, you need to be working or saving up some money to do so. Everyone is trying to make it work financially.
Also just as important…expecting yourself to keep up with professional cosplayers is also unrealistic.
People don’t talk about this much, but it’s not fair to compare yourself and expect to compete/cosplay/attend conventions as frequently as a professional cosplayer. Why? Because unlike some people who learned how to cosplay with no money, for professional cosplayers, it’s their job – not only do they spend hours upon hours making costumes like non-professionals do, but they’re also constantly posting on social media, marketing their content, selling prints, consistently doing photoshoots and looking damn near perfect in every photo. Since it’s their job they’re pouring more hours than non-professionals!
This video by Ginny Di is a great explanation on becoming a professional cosplayer, and also how difficult it is to be one. If you want to be a professional cosplayer, then go for it! But if you’re not doing this to make a living like they are, it’s unfair and unreasonable to expect yourself to be on the same pace as they are.
My friend Vickybunnyangel made this tweet that’s totally relevant to afford cosplaying:
4. Once you figure out your living expenses AND paid off your debt (most of it at least) AND learned how to cosplay on a budget, here comes the fun part!
So I gave you all the bad news about any cosplay budget and how expensive it can be. Once you get all that all sorted out, you can start finally spending money on the fun stuff like cosplaying and conventions!
Since this post has gotten very long, I will save that for next time:
In my next post, I’ll talk more about:
- How to figure out how much a particular cosplay will cost
- Saving money the right way so you can afford the conventions you want to attend and create the cosplays you want (within reason of course)
- Not blowing all your money on the wrong things
To summarize all the points:
- Figure out your monthly cost of living
- If you have debt, make sure you have a concrete plan to pay it off first before even thinking about a cosplay budget. Because cosplaying is EXPENSIVE!
- Cosplaying is still a hobby, NOT a necessity.
- Once you figure out your living expenses AND paid off your debt (most of it at least) AND learned how to cosplay on a budget, then you can start spending on cosplay!
I’d love to hear everyone’s thoughts on this subject of cosplaying and finances. And hopefully this post has helped you learned how to cosplay on a budget:)
Check out part II and III of this budget series: