Tuesday, August 18, 2009

SBL on a Budget

Around the blogs, talk is in the air about the SBL Annual Meeting in New Orleans in November (e.g. should Dr Jim go?). One of the big issues this year, for many, will be finance. Even wealthy universities like my own, Duke, are cutting conference grants and expenses as part of their bid to save millions from their operating budgets. So for the first time since crossing the shores, I will not be able to claim a $1,000 conference grant to fund the trip. Luckily, I have experience of attending SBL on a budget. It is something I have blogged about before (Enjoying SBL), but here is a revised and expanded version:

1. Find a cheap flight. This has to begin pretty early, like a month or so ago. It's a good idea to use an aggregator site like Kayak and to watch the prices daily. I have managed to find a $216 flight from Raleigh to New Orleans after having watched the site for the last few weeks, and I am feeling quite chuffed about it.

2. Room-share. The SBL hotels are all pretty posh and pretty expensive. The only way to stay in one of those hotels and keep the price down is to room-share. Of course you need to have a person or people that you can cope with for several days, but the lucky ones among us will actually enjoy the SBL a great deal more because of the company they keep.

3. Breakfast trough-out. The cost of food is a big problem, and four days of conference-attending can put the strain on your budget. What I suggest is to get to one of those great American breakfast buffets every morning and eat to your heart's content. Don't be put off by earnest looking professor types who only visit the buffet once. Keep going for as long as you can. Eat so much that you won't want lunch. You can then make it through to the evening when you'll be just peckish enough to enjoy something else.

Birmingham never gave me enough to travel, and so troughing my face at breakfast was my standard survival strategy. The American breakfast buffets are great, though for Brits it can be a little off-putting to see Americans putting their fruit on the same plate as their sausage and bacon, or worse, putting corn syrup on their scrambled egg. So Brits abroad may need to avert their eyes. There is also an unappetizing pastey coloured concoction called "grits", which is to be avoided.

4. Get invited to receptions. Even if you have troughed out at breakfast, you'll be hungry again by the evening. If you can, get to an evening reception where there is a lot of food. Unfortunately, publishers and universities are all feeling the pinch, and the amount of "free" food at the receptions is now pretty limited, let alone free drinks (e.g. Duke goes to a cash bar this year for the first time in recent history). Nevertheless, if you are not too fussy, you might be able to pick up some nick-nacks while networking.

And with apologies to the publishers, who do need your money,

5. Don't visit the book exhibit. If you do, you will probably end up buying books. You know you can't afford them, and you run the risk of weighing down your bags so much that you have to pay extra at the airport for the journey home. And all these scholars who write big books have got plenty of money anyway, and don't need additional royalties from an SBL-on-a-budget type like you. Bear in mind that they won't be flight-watching, room-sharing, breakfast-troughing and reception-grabbing. The last thing you want to do is to subsidize their luxury.


Anonymous said...

On the books, if you are going to buy books: to avoid loading up your bag, and paying the overage fees (as you say), ask the publisher for an order form. Typically they let you order several weeks out with the discount. So you can enjoy a nice healthy discount without the weight, annoyance, and cost of lugging the newly bought books.

Anonymous said...

Being a Canuck, the exchange rate is often never to my advantage. Here are some more economy tips you might want to try, although some require abandoning all no scruples. I've never tried those myself, of course. I've just heard about them from others. I have scruples. Well, one, and it's wherever my darn car keys are. And it's broken, but that's besides the point.

1. You may go to the book display, but leave your credit card in the hotel (not advisable if there are security issues in the hotel). Some publishers have coffee or candies. Browse and enjoy.

2. Find a convenience or grocery store where you can pick up bottles of juice or pastries and so forth. That will fill you bag preventing you from buying heavy books for cash when you go to the book display sans Visa. And it will save you money compared to the prices for snacks on site. A short walk around the convention center's neighborhood can save you a lot of money.

3. Invites to receptions are often not checked at the door in receptions, 'nuff said right there.

4. If #3 seems like thievery and if you have been thinking of a book project, you might be able to get an invite to a publisher's receptions because obviously you are way too busy to talk with the rep. about it at the book display.

5. Do you know anyone associated with one of the universities having a reception? It is fair to go look for them there. And besides, wouldn't they have invited you along as a guest if given the chance?

6. Have you heard of one of the universities having a reception? Tell someone how good it is. The U. then OWES you a drink.

7. Did you apply for grad study at a university holding a reception? How much did they charge for applying? See point 6 above.

Alfredo Garcia said...

I loved this post. I'm happy to know that it's not only college students who have to think so frugally. I used to write down where all the events that had free food on campus were so that I could get a free meal every night. Oh nostalgia...

Enjoy your SBL on a budget! =)

Mark Goodacre said...

Thanks, Alfredo. Belated thanks for your excellent comments, Dr Jim and Rob.