Are you seeing all the news about the upcoming Thrive! Homeschool Conference (May 27-29, 2021) and wondering if your family can afford to attend? Here are some tips that might help you find a way to work it into your budget.

The first place to save money is registration itself. Thrive! offers a limited number of scholarships for single parents with an application deadline of March 31 (something to think about for next year). First-time attendees whose oldest child doesn’t turn five before September can attend for free. (You can indicate this on the registration form). If you are willing to give up some of your time to volunteer at the conference, you can also earn free admission. If none of these fit your situation, you can still save money by making sure to preregister before the May 20th deadline. 

Next, you need to decide if it will be more cost effective to stay in one of the onsite hotels or one offsite. There are several factors to consider about your choice of lodging location. The onsite facilities may cost more, starting at $125 per night while a short drive can find a place for as low as $61 per night. One other option that families who own an RV or camper may enjoy is the Winston-Salem fairground where water and electrical hook-up is offered for $30 per night. 

To figure out the best place for your family to stay, you also need to consider the two main issues that contribute to the overall cost: parking and meals. There is free parking available on a first come, first served basis behind the Benton Center, but be warned that it fills quickly. You can expect to pay $9-$10 per day in the other parking lots. The Thrive! webpage lists various parking options and even has a map you can download.

Other than the cost of lodging itself, providing meals for your family can be the greatest expense. For those staying at one of the onsite hotels, meals can be easier to manage. One trick my own family has employed when staying at the Embassy is to start our day with the provided breakfast, bring healthy snacks for a mid-day boost, schedule an afternoon break around the complimentary reception the hotel offers, and have sandwich supplies on hand in our room fridge for dinner. Many attendees bring a Crock-pot to use to have a quick and easy meal ready at the end of a long day of conference sessions and shopping. 

By figuring out these expenses, you can get an idea of how much money you will have to SPEND in order to attend the homeschool conference. But don’t stop there! Now you need to consider how attending will SAVE you money. That’s where we enter the vendor hall. There are three main ways you can save money by visiting the vendor hall. Don’t you love ordering your curriculum each year, hitting the checkout button, and then getting broadsided by the shipping costs? No? Neither do I, which is why I love the chance to purchase our materials for the upcoming year in the Thrive! vendor hall where I can walk away with everything I need without having to pay one cent for shipping. In addition, many vendors offer conference specials that can save you EVEN MORE money! 

Not sure what materials you want to use yet? This is where our third way to save money in the vendor hall comes in. It is always a frustration when you have purchased a curriculum only to find that it is a bad fit for your child when it comes time to use it. For those of us on a tight budget, it can feel devastating to have spent our allotted amount on material that doesn’t meet our expectations or needs. The opportunity to compare the various materials first-hand, to flip through the pages of the books, and to gauge your child’s reaction to the approach the publisher takes is an invaluable asset that can only be gained at the conference. 

My husband and I use our cellphones to take pictures of items that catch our eye on our first walk through the hall. Later that night, we compare notes and decide what we will go back to purchase the following day. This spares our carefully-planned budget from the danger of impulse buying and helps us remember that really cool science gadget we may have seen. Besides our school materials, we never leave the vendor hall without at least a few Christmas gifts in our shopping bags. 

I also bring home a flyer or business card from any vendor that had an item that I may not need (or can afford) at the moment but will refer back to later when the time is right. For example, two years ago I was intrigued with an art program that I learned about at the vendor hall but was not able to sign up for at that time. Months later, when tax refund time came, I pulled out the information I had saved and set it up.

Whether you are a penny pincher by nature (like me) or run a tight financial ship due to circumstances (also me!), attending a homeschool conference such as the upcoming Thrive! Conference can be a worthy expenditure for your family.  There is no price that can be placed on the value of the encouragement, insight, and knowledge you will gain from the experience. I hope that you will be able to join us there in a few weeks.

– Jessica Frierson, May 20021