Events. 72 magical hours of everything dance related. Competitions, social dancing until the wee hours, friends, classes, and a new city to explore. There’s nothing quite like it; as you dance more and more, they become the best place to push your skills forward, catch up with your ever-growing world-wide friend network, and be a part of all the magic, drama, mystery, and intrigue. The downside is that the cost of travel can really add up. Over the years I’ve found a few ways to get myself to more events without breaking the bank.
The basis of most of these strategies falls under what I call being frugal. Frugal is different than cheap. Cheap people are annoying. They avoid spending any money. They don’t use money as a tool to enjoy life. They horde and make others carry the burden. The point of being frugal is to identify the things in your life that are important to you and cut back on the things that aren’t important. Dancing is important to me, so I cut back on other things. The other half of my ideas are great ways to do things at less than full cost.
First let us talk about flights, generally the largest expense in any weekend.
The biggest cost to travel is often the plane ticket. My solution to this is that 3 or 4 times a year I use the bonuses from frequent flier credit cards to pay for travel. You’ve probably seen the offers: “30k miles for signing up.” Sometimes I tell people about these and they seem adverse to having credit cards… but here’s the truth: Having credit cards will make you money (see the section below on playing the interest spread), there is no obligation to get in debt, and having a credit card shows responsible use of credit, which actually raises your credit score. The rule is that you must keep your credit utilization to credit available ratio in the 10%-30% range, ideally at 20%. In other words if your credit line is $4000, you should carry a balance between $400 and $1200, while of course making all of your payments on time.
I use the Delta Mileage card which gives me enough miles for a free flight, a mile for every dollar I spend, free checked bags, and GET THIS: I can go into the priority security lane with it. Aside from that, it also provides supplemental insurance when I rent cars. It’s been my best secret for a while.
Another great one is the US Airways card. It gives you access to their club, and a ton of miles.
*tip: choose the one which corresponds to your city’s hub airline. That way, sometimes you can get benefits at their airline club. Nothing like breezing through security then sipping a free cocktail before boarding. For instance Frontier in Denver, Delta in Minneapolis, or United in Houston.
When To Buy
When you do have to buy a ticket there’s a couple of things to keep in mind. Tuesdays at 3PM EST is statistically the lowest cost time, and Wednesdays are the lowest cost days to fly. “Departure flexibility” is key to getting lower fares. If you are buying for two you can save a little money by buying them separately. The airline will always sell two tickets at the higher far, even if there is a seat at a cheaper price. Sometimes you can also save by doing two one-way flights.
Volunteer to take a later flight if the airline asks for people willing to fly later due to a full plane. I’ve gotten vouchers worth $450 or more for doing this.
Of course, make sure you are tracking your frequent flier miles on all airlines. I didn’t do this for a long time, and when I looked back, I could have had many more free flights.
Play The Interest Spread
This is one of my favorite ways to put aside a little for dancing. It goes with the credit card thing. Most, if not all, credit cards have a 25 day grace period, meaning that your purchases don’t accrue interest for 25 days.
Here’s the trick: Find a checking account that does accrue interest. I use Charles Schwab. As a bonus, they refund ALL ATM fees, no matter where you are. So, I put all my purchases on a credit card… I get the miles, and for the 25 days until the next bill comes, the money that I would have spent from my checking is accruing interest, while the money I spent is not. Net result, I’ve made a couple thousand miles and a few dollars. Each year, the sum of these two things allows me to go to one more event.
Once you get comfortable with this, you can play bigger games like borrowing money on 0% credit cards, and investing it in CDs, paying back the borrowed money before the interest period, essentially making money for just shuffling a few dollars around.
Develop a Pass Worthy Skill
Events need people to help them. Teachers are the obvious one, but there are DJs, registration volunteers, tabulators, photographers, videographers, website developers, internet marketers, and more. Some of these are relatively easy to land. Others take some proof of your skill beforehand. Beyond that, there’s already a pretty good pool of talented people to pull from, so if you want to get into photography, DJing, or videography, my advice is to start a blog and start putting yourself out there. I do DJing from time to time, and it helps offset the cost of passes.
My advice on this: Asking people to hire you is generally considered gauche in my circles. So take care in how you make it known. That’s why I like blogs, flyers, etc. On volunteering: jump on the opportunities you see, be polite, easy to work with, and extremely flexible. Remember that you are asking someone for something, so it’s up to you to work on their terms.
Register Early for Events
It’s always cheaper to pay ahead of time. Plus you can sell or trade it later if the event doesn’t work out. Sometimes friends of mine are having an event and I buy a pass just to help support their event, even if I’m not sure I can attend.
Save Yourself $ Conversations
A lot of books on wealth accrual talk about calling up your phone company, auto insurance, etc and basically trying to finagle a lower rate. It’s pretty worthwhile and generally effective. Advanced frugal people can negotiate lower interest rates on loans, etc.
As long as you’re gone, consider using Airbnb (or OneFineStay if you have a luxury place). If you can get a couple hundred dollars for your place while you travel, and then use local housing options when you go, you will significantly offset your cost. On the other side, consider using Airbnb for your travel instead of a hotel. In my travels I’ve stayed in Airbnb’s that were beautiful lofts with swings hanging from the ceiling, and nudist hippie colonies. It’s not always as consistent as a hotel, but you do get the personality of the city you visit.
Pack Lunches, Bring Coffee
As I analyzed my finances, I noticed that I was spending $10-$15 a day to go out to lunch at work. This added up to $200-$300 a month. My coffee habit was another $100 or more. Not uncommon, but the math was $5,000 a year. Sure I was the wet blanket at work that didn’t want to go out, but my dance friends were people I wanted to spend time with. As an added benefit I could generally leave work a bit earlier by working at my desk through my lunch hour.
I often make it a point to visit grocery stores on my trips as well.
When I was running the dance team 23 Skidoo, one of our expectations of the team was to travel to some competitions. As a way of saving money we would often organize weekend potlucks instead of more pricey going-out type events. We got to eat, hang out and as an added benefit we often danced or watched clips more often than we might have had we done other things with our time.
Wine and Netflix
Do your dates on the cheap. If your goal is to dance more and live like an artist, stay focused on that. Doing an Internet search for low cost dates has yielded some pretty fantastic results for me.
Eater.com has an iPhone app that will let you know favorite local spots for good food.
Car Rental Trick
One thing about car rentals is that they are almost always quite a lot cheaper when you call on the phone. I’ve gotten cars for $6 a day over the phone, where the same was $25 or more on the Internet. I don’t know why that is, but it’s certainly true.
The Magic of PBR
One fact of being a social person is that for better or worse one of the most common meeting places these days is bars. Before / after dances, weekend hangouts, professional meetups, etc.
You will almost always find me drinking a light beer from draft. Arguably the healthiest option aside from water it’s also cheap and keeps me dancing longer than a cocktail. These little habits and expenses add up.
Work While Traveling
One cost that often adds up for me is not so much the travel, as the missed work. Some places are quite agreeable to tele-work, others not so much. The book “Four-hour Workweek” talks a lot about this issue, and the advice he gives is to always ask if you can do it on a trial basis, as opposed to a permanent one. This is pretty brilliant, and instead of burning all your vacation time, you can work on the plane, work in the hotel, or at the airport.
Run An eBay Store
eBay and Etsy are great ways to recycle your vintage, sell things, or otherwise generate a little side income. I know that I have at least 50 items in my closet that I don’t wear, and it doesn’t take much to turn them into cash on the Internet.
Airport rides, cat-sitting, covering classes and many other things are common costs of the traveling Lindy Hopper. Another nice one is trading private lessons with another local dancer. It’s a great feedback loop that’s low cost.
In summary, I will say that there’s nothing more beneficial to your dancing than to travel often, to spend time with dancers in other cities, and to social dance with great people to great music in a place that’s separated from your usual routine.
I hope you all found a little something in this article that’s worthwhile. I would welcome other feedback and tips that others have. Anything that gets me on the dance floor more often is a welcome tip.
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