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Affording the Convention

Question: When should one start to save for the NCRA Annual Convention?

Answer: Now!

If you’ve got an incredible income, sure, go ahead and pay for it at the last minute. Or if you like to keep credit card debt open, have a go. This article is not for you.

The bill for travel to the NCRA Annual Convention can get pretty steep, and the price can be daunting to come up with, even if you’ve had a pretty good year. This is my strategy.

I alluded to this a while back when I did a blog post on what my dad taught me about business. We were able to afford a good family vacation because Dad would put a small amount of money away every month. Every month, faithfully, all year round.

So I apply this principle to my budgeting as well. Every check I get from anybody, I take a percentage out for taxes (you’ll have to figure your percentage out on your own), a percentage out for charitable giving, and a percentage for the NCRA and Illinois annual conventions. Off the top. Every time, no matter what.

What am I saving for?

  • Travel expenses to and from the hotel. Last year, this particular expense wasn’t much at all — just two tanks of gas (to get me from Illinois to Nashville, Tenn). But next year, since it’s in San Francisco, I’ll need airfare (for two) plus transportation to and from the airport. I’ll also need cab fare if we decide to go a few days early and explore the city. If I need parking, I budget that under “Lodging.”
  • Lodging. I’ve always found it worthwhile to stay at the hotel in which the conference takes place, even though the nightly rate may be more than at another hotel. It’s great to be able to run up to your room to pick up something, or drop off the bag of swag you scavenged from the vendor hall, or simply sleep in a bit later than you would had you stayed across town. When you receive your estimated hotel bill as you make your reservation, be sure to add in a few hundred for resort fees, parking, or taxes not included. Yes, I said a few hundred. ($15 resort fee + $20 daily parking fee for 5 days = $175, and that’s not counting taxes.)
  • Convention registration fees. Include any contests you sign up for, any software classes, and some money to participate in fundraising activities like silent auctions or raffles. Include a guest ticket for the Saturday President’s Party and/or the awards lunch if you’re bringing a spouse.
  • FOOD. This. I get nerdy with this one and count up all the meals I will have to pay for: breakfast, lunch, and supper. Since I usually go all-inclusive with my registration, Saturday I don’t have to count lunch or supper (Awards Lunch and President’s Party), so I don’t need to budget for that. I count all meals on departure day and return-home day, since I ain’t cooking as soon as I get home. Count every meal, add up the estimated cost, and multiply that by two. Meals are always expensive in resort areas.
  • Fun money! If you decide to tour the city or go to a Carrie Underwood concert with friends at the last minute, have some cash for that. If your spouse is coming with you, he/she will need something to do while you’re in sessions. Include this too.
  • Equipment/professional enrichment money. Convention is the best time to get merchandise, since a lot of vendors run convention specials. Now is the best time to try out that new writer and meet the author of that book you’ve been wanting. And have him or her sign it! NCRA usually has neat reporting tchotchkes and T-shirts for sale at their booth too.
  • Expenses related to your home. Like pet boarding and whatnot.

That’s a lot! But it is doable. I’m not rolling in the dough, but I can say that going to both state and national conventions has definitely helped to advance my career and, therefore, my income. The connections, the knowledge, and the fellowship I’ve gained are worth every penny.

Start now!


Kathryn “Stenoray” Thomas, RDR, CRR, CCP, is a CART provider in Caseyville, Ill. This article was originally posted on her website,, and is reprinted here with permission.