The Frugal Geek: How to get the most out of Comic Con for less

Just because you're going to get your Geek on at Comic Con, July 23 - 27 at the San Diego Convention Center, doesn't mean your wallet is faster than a speeding bullet, or has mutant powers, or...well, you know what I'm getting at.

Yes, the opportunities to spend are many, but there are also a few common sense ways to save at Comic Con.

Bring cash -- Most vendors take credit and debit cards, but some don't, especially the small indie vendors. Why risk it? Cold hard semolians also makes it easier for you to budget what you're willing to spend at Comic Con and hold to it. There's so much to buy it's easy to blow your wad in the first hour. But if you've thought through what you want, you can make your dollar go further by not frittering it away on every cool little gizmo you see. And you'll see a lot of super cool stuff.

A tip: Don't waste your money on anything you can get at your local comic book store or game shop any day of the week. Save it for the stuff you won't find anywhere else. Comic Con is when vendors pull out the hard core, one-of-a-kind items.

Another upside of plentiful cash? You won't have to face that daunting ATM line (with those accompanying fees). The ATMS often run out of cash anyway later in the afternoon. Cash and carry, baby.

Pack food -- Sure there's food at Comic Con: and it sucks. You'll be waiting in enough lines as it is, why would you wait in another one for an $8 hot dog and an over-sweet Coke? Nope. Sanity, thy name is brown bag. A couple of hearty sandwiches, some fruit and you'll beat the convention food trap nicely. I like to keep trail mix on hand because it's easy to pack and munch on the go for a quick energy boost. And water. Plenty of water.

Park and ride -- Think you're going to find parking anywhere near the Convention Center? Think again, newbie. You'll be parking out in the hinterlands if you're parking at all. The farther away you park the cheaper the lot will be, which is why it's also a good idea to know the local bus schedule. Comic Con also has a free shuttle service that runs regularly from hotels in downtown San Diego to the Convention Center. You don't need to be at one of the hotels to take advantage of this shuttle either. Click here for more information.

Stay with friends -- Be extra nice to your friends who live in San Diego this year. Next year they might let you stay on their couch when Comic Con rolls around again.For free.

Make reservations -- You think you're just gonna beam into a restaurant anywhere in downtown San Diego at 6 p.m. and get a table? There are thousands (125,000 people attended Comic Con 2008) of hungry trolling the streets with the same idea. If you want a table, a reservation is a MUST.

Stay organized -- If you've never been to Comic Con, be prepared to be completely overwhelmed when you get there by the teeming throngs and the breadth of vendors, all hawking their movies, comics, games, artwork, etc. Some time spent scoping out the vendor map and event schedule will help keep you focussed, which in turn will give you a more satisfying Con experience. This year convention attendees can use the Comic Con iPhone app to help make sense of their schedules

Keep the program book
-- Lots of fans stand in long lines to get their favorite stars' signature, on a photo that you have to purchase. But I'm told that autographers must sign the program book for free when asked. Sounds like a good and cheap way to make your program a collector's item.Give it a try.

Volunteer: If you're at least 16 you can volunteer to work Comic Con, which gets you inside free the day you work your three-hour shift. Work all four days and get in all four days (plus get the limited edition Comic Con Volunteer T-shirt -- so cool.) It's a fun way to meet guests and vendors and peak inside the Comic Con organization. Too bad the volunteer team has been full for months already.

Plan better next year -- As is always the case with Comic Con, the more you go the more you know for the next year. Sign up and get an e-mail reminder when registration for Comic Con 10 arrives, and sign up that day. Sign up to be a volunteer at that point too, as more people want to volunteer than there are available jobs.

You might try looking into booking a room at a nearby hotel right about now, too. Don't wait until 2010 to arrange for next year's Comic Con. Because as you already know, the future is now.
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