13925504043_faf7d28ab4.jpgSeveral years ago I did some traveling through Central America, and a big part of the reason I was able to afford back-to-back vacations was that I stayed at hostels throughout each trip. By paying next to nothing for a roof over my head, I was able to shave a huge chunk off my travel costs, which enabled me to extend my trips and see more places. At the same time, I definitely had my moments where I wondered why I didn't just spring for a hotel.

See, I'm not a particularly fancy person. I've done my fair share of camping and I'm no stranger to roughing it. But staying at a hostel is a very -- let's call it unique -- experience, for better or worse.

Let's start with the better: For me, that meant snagging a cute private room in Costa Rica with a balcony and a warm breakfast for a mere $12 a night. The building was clean, the other guests were quiet and the blueberry pancakes were downright fantastic.

Then there was this one place I stayed at in Panama that made me rethink my strategy. The hostel was dingy, dirty and loaded with tourists -- all of whom were friendly, but perhaps a little too friendly. One night, as I was attempting to shower off the sweat of the day, the bathroom door opened out of nowhere. (Did I mention it didn't have a lock?) In walked two European dudes, and the next thing I knew, there I was, an unwitting participant in my first co-ed group shower.

On another trip, my husband and I sprung for a private hostel room that came with air conditioning -- a definite plus in Central America. However, we soon came to dub our unit "Sparky" due to the fact that it sparked like crazy every time we turned it on, to the point where we stopped trying for fear of burning the place down. That room came with a private bathroom too, but the shower had only one setting: freeze-your-tail-off-cold. Then again, we paid about $15 a night, so we couldn't really complain.

If you're thinking of staying at a hostel, consider these benefits:

  • Paying less. Hostels are considerably cheaper than hotels. Plus, they often include perks like breakfast and Internet for no additional charge.
  • Meeting fellow travelers. Hostels are generally social places. The good thing about bunking with strangers is getting to know interesting people and exchanging travel tips.
  • Use of a kitchen. Hostels often allow guests full kitchen access, so if you're trying to cut back on your food bills while traveling, it helps to stay someplace conducive to cooking.

On the other hand, hostels have some definite drawbacks:

  • You get what you pay for. That much lower price point comes at a cost. Forget about 800-thread count sheets, cushy mattresses and little mints on your pillow. You'll be lucky to get a pillow.
  • Less privacy. Many hostels offer shared rooms only. Others offer private rooms but shared bathrooms. And sometimes people who share bathrooms share too much (see group shower incident above).
  • Risk of theft. Not all hostels have on-site safes, and sharing a room means trusting your fellow bunkmates -- you know, the ones you've known for six hours -- to not steal your stuff while you're out exploring.

There's definitely an upside to staying at a hostel, but the experience isn't for everyone. If you're not picky and big on saving money, give it a try on your next adventure. Just don't expect to make it through the week without at least one stranger seeing you naked.

Photo by Connie Ma via cc

23985535833_e38c0d80a3.jpgFor almost four years I've been listing my job occupation as "freelance writer." Google my name and solid traces of my writing career pop up. But when it comes to what I do for a living, my real profession is something else entirely. Hi, my name is Brianna, and despite having a Bachelor's degree, I'm a bartender.

After graduating from college I struggled to make a living in journalism. This was due to a variety of factors: staggering student debt, the expensiveness of the New York metro area and some foolish decisions when it came to job offers. So when my sister called from Colorado and said the mountain resort she worked at was looking for a bartender, I swallowed my pride and move across the country.

The Surprising Silver Lining
Don't feel bad for me -- life is a lot better than expected. I'm now more financially stable than most of my friends who are using their college degrees -- and unlike them I get to go snowboarding before work. Bartending full time has also allowed me to achieve one of my other lifelong goals: traveling the world. I took three vacations last year and recently bought plane tickets for another.

But don't get me wrong; it's not entirely a life of leisure. I work long hours and like so many others in the service industry, I've seen the worst side of people. But I'm also far more humble than I was just a few years ago, and more mellow. And I'm far from alone -- most of my co-workers have at least some college under their belts, and many have degrees gathering dust just like mine. And like me, some dabble in their true fields of interest on the side, but we all know it's a little delusional to call it our real occupation.

Looking at national statistics, this reality isn't really surprising. We millennials are the most educated generation to date, and yet according to a report by Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce, only 35 percent of the nation's jobs actually require a college degree. With college tuition skyrocketing well past normal inflation rates and millions graduating each year with hefty student loan debt, it's mathematically -- and realistically -- a recipe for disaster.

Despite this, many of my friends back East have managed to find positions in their fields of interest (most not in the liberal arts, mind you). But only a select few are managing to save money while doing so. For the rest, it's rent first, then student loan payments, then food and then maybe something fun if there's enough money left over. Still, I can't help but admire their pursuits of dream careers.

The Cost Is up to You
So are college degrees really worth it in this day and age? The answer is somewhere in a gray area. I'm personally doing very well despite working in a field that does not necessitate a degree, but I'm still grateful for the college experience I had. I do try to use my education when possible by freelancing, but graduating with student loans the amount of a first mortgage is no picnic. In other words, the future is uncertain and perhaps only time will tell whether or not college was truly worthwhile.

In the meantime, today's college-bound shouldn't assume that they'll end up outside of their chosen career paths, but they should be aware of the intense job competition and almost inevitable debt. That said, they should also not fear deviating from their career plans. As in my case, sometimes things can end up better than you expected.

Photo by Vratislav Darmek via cc

9775119174_461386fac4.jpgLast week, a new restaurant opened in my neighborhood. The door was open, colorful balloons adorned the fence and a chalkboard sign invited me in. I was intrigued. But when I punched their name into Google, I got zilch. No website, no Yelp reviews, no Facebook page.

I guess they were hoping word of mouth would be enough to keep the doors open, but I took my money elsewhere.

Utilize Social Media

It's 2016, people. Anyone who has enough knowledge to tackle opening a business can't be clueless about the Internet's role in where we shop, eat and hang out. So why is it that so many small businesses flat-out fail at online marketing? And how can young entrepreneurs avoid making that mistake?

As a web designer and social media manager, I notice what businesses are doing right and wrong with their web marketing. But the worst thing a business can do is to have no online presence at all.

It's no surprise -- the options can be overwhelming. Should I be on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, Google+ or Pinterest? How much time do I really have to commit to this? How do I set up a website? What on earth is "SEO" and how do I get some?!

Shamelessly Self-Promote

For a first-time entrepreneur, self-promotion is crucial, and there's no better way to do that than social media. Do some research and build it into your business plan. Social Media Examiner's Beginner's Guide to Social Media Marketing is a great place to start.

And please, use common sense. If you're a restaurateur, no one cares about your tweets. Get on Yelp. If you already love Instagram and you have an Etsy shop, set up an account there for your work rather than trying to wrap your brain around Snapchat and teenagers' love for it.

Don't be afraid to be your own biggest fan. If you're good at what you do and passionate, people will notice. A friend of mine does pet portraits and posts photos of her work on Facebook. Now she's painting full-time and getting orders from across the country.

Social media is a great online marketing tool because it's essentially free. However, as Social Media Examiner warns, "What you save in dollars, you'll invest in time. You have to be smart and efficient with the resources you have to achieve the results you need."

And that rule applies for any online marketing: Don't waste time if you don’t know what you're doing. If you're not website-savvy and low on funding, set up a Facebook page first, and load it up with photos and details. It will give your brand a voice and give you a better chance at showing up in search results.

Search Engine Optimization

That brings us back to SEO, or Search Engine Optimization. This refers to the effort to get your website to show up higher in search results. But thinking about search engines is important even if you don't have a website, because this is how your customers find you.

There are endless numbers of tips and tricks to mastering search engine results, and marketing company Moz offers a great comprehensive guide to SEO.

But generally, the rules are simple: Make sure your business shows up in search engine results by name and by keywords, and that information like the location and contact information are correct.

Lighting up an open sign doesn't guarantee customers. But if you put it online, you've got a better shot.

Photo by Esther Vargas via cc

19130486633_94c2efbc71.jpgBy mid-June, brass rock stars Missy Lacock and Janaye Everitt could finally breathe a massive sigh of relief. They did it. Those ladies received their Master's degrees. While Lacock spent her year up north at Portland State University to complete a Master of Science in Writing with a focus in book publishing, Everitt camped out at the U of O for her Master of Arts in Journalism.

After the many -- and they mean many -- ups and downs that took place over the year, they thought they'd share some of the ways they managed to complete an advanced degree -- and how you can too -- while juggling all of life's curveballs at the same time.

Here are a few helpful tips from these two graduates:

During the year:

  • You'll need a planner. Like, yesterday. Write out every second of your day if you have to. You'll stay on task and remember important assignments. Don't forget to pencil in some time for yourself, too.
  • Keep your friends close and your phone nearby. Keeping yourself sane is crucial, so text, Tweet and emoji-bomb your friends when stress starts to settle in.
  • Cuddle your cat like crazy. Or dog -- we don't judge. Studies show that adding some animal time into your routine is guaranteed to lower stress. And, they're so darn cute.
  • Are you wondering if working for tips is worth it in grad school? You'll definitely be exhausted, but waitressing, bartending and server jobs are often worth the extra moolah if you can still manage to drag your butt to class in the morning.
  • Romantic relationships will be put to the test, be it either distance or the lack of time in your schedule. Say hello to late-night commutes and goodbye to your gas money fund.
  • Network. Now is the time to actually visit your professor during office hours to pick their brain about the "real world." The more relationships you build, the easier it will be to ask for recommendation letters and potential job leads down the road.

Post graduation:

  • You'll need a solid, post-graduation week to sleep and recuperate. Level of exhaustion? Think catatonic-meets-sunburned-mess.
  • Real life won't feel like real life right away. It's summer. You won't believe you're actually done with school until fall smacks you in the face.
  • You'll forget your school's email password ASAP (good riddance).
  • The alumni association will probably start calling you immediately, asking for donations because they have no idea you're still broke. We just left the building. Have cash to spare? Ask me in 30 years when my loans are paid off.
  • You might have a job. Or you might not. Panic. Or don't. We recommend chocolate to help get you through.

For these two women, the decision to get their master's degrees sprang from the desire to further their education and, let's be honest, to put off the job search for another year or two. But whatever your reasoning, know that it's worth it. Getting that graduate degree won't be easy, and you might want to quit, but it'll be over in a flash, and you'll have another awesome accomplishment to be proud of for the rest of your life.

Photo courtesy of Missy and Janaye. 

8281260441_1232a95c8b.jpgWe all know that fruits and vegetables are loaded with properties designed to keep us healthy. But here's the thing about vegetables: They're expensive.

There's a reason why Americans spend 23 percent of their grocery budgets on processed foods and sweets, and only 15 percent on fresh produce. It's more cost-effective to fill up on boxed mac and cheese than it is to dine on vegetable stir-fry. But it's also hard to argue that fruits and veggies pack a hefty nutritional punch that most other foods can't match. In other words, if you're committed to eating healthy, expect to pay for it. On the other hand, you can save money on produce by shopping smartly.

Farmers Markets Versus Grocery Stores
Shopping at a farmers market used to mean mingling with hippies and yupsters galore. These days, visiting a farmers market is a totally different experience, mostly due to the fact that they've become far more mainstream. In fact, over the past 20 years, the number of U.S. farmers markets has tripled, making local produce much more accessible on a whole.

It also used to be that farmers markets were more expensive than traditional grocery stores. After all, you'd expect to pay a premium for fresher product, right? But these days, the gap has narrowed to the point where farmers markets and grocery stores charge roughly the same amount for conventional produce.

Looking to buy organic? Today, farmers markets, on average, charge less for organic produce than chain grocery stores. And you don't have to live in an up-and-coming neighborhood to score some quality veggies and fruits. Farmers markets are popping up all over the country, including low-income areas, to make healthy food more accessible to the masses. Better yet, 60 percent of shoppers in low-income areas report that their local farmers markets offer better pricing than their go-to supermarkets.

Alternatives to Consider
You don't have to visit the grocery store or farmers market to stock up on fruits and veggies galore. Food co-ops and CSAs also offer local produce, and often on the cheap. With a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) arrangement, you're essentially purchasing shares from a local farm. CSA members receive a weekly supply of locally grown goods and pay an average of $250-$500 per 16-20 week season. While CSAs are often cheaper than supermarkets on an item by item basis, they're limiting in that you're not able to choose what produce you receive each week. But if you're the type who can make a meal out of just about anything, you may want to consider joining a CSA to lower your produce costs.

Then there's the food co-op, which is sort of like a grocery store that's owned and run by its members.

Food co-op pricing is often more competitive than that of local supermarkets, but co-ops generally involve membership fees, which can eat away at your savings. And food co-op produce tends to be pricier than similar produce offered at farmers markets.

Then there's the option to bust out your gardening tools and grow your fruits and veggies. If you enjoy planting and mulching, by all means, give it a go. But don't expect to save a ton of money. While certain veggies like lettuce, bell peppers and tomatoes are cost-effective to grow on your own, many popular produce items are cheaper to buy in supermarkets.

No matter where you choose to purchase produce, make sure your food budget allows for a steady stream of fruits and veggies in your diet. It may be hard on your wallet, but it's definitely the right move for your health.

Photo by Frank Heinz via cc

15898434651_ecac4fa7e2.jpgThere's an episode of "The Simpsons" where Homer builds a website. After filling it with gifs of dancing Jesus, obnoxious talking faces and flying toasters, he sits and watches the hit counter. It doesn't move. "Why isn't anybody looking at my website?!" he wonders.
Lisa explains to him that websites have to give people something that they want or need. But she was missing one important point: Good content means nothing if people can't find it.

According to marketing company Search Engine Watch, studies show that search engines accounts for as much as 64 percent of all website traffic. And this is why search engine optimization (SEO for short) is important.

Yes, SEO sounds boring, and working on it can be tedious. But whether it's a Taylor Swift fanpage or you're promoting your own business, what's the point of putting hard work into a website if no one sees it? And you certainly can't make money through online sales or advertisements without proof that people are seeing your site.

So what does it mean to "search engine optimize" your website?

In Theory
Think about hashtags. If you post a photo on Instagram of a selfie on the beach on vacation in Miami, you might tag it with #selfie #Miami #vacation #photooftheday #summerbreak. Now everyone who browses those hashtags has a better chance of seeing your awesome shot.

Now let's say you had a whole blog about vacationing in Miami. If someone searches for "Miami vacation summer break" on Google, SEO is how you make sure that your blog is on the list of results. Here are a few tips on how you do it:

First off, Lisa Simpson was onto something, because the No. 1 rule of website traffic is to provide good, useful and interesting content.

Google engineer Matt Cutts explains Google and other search engines hate it "when websites try to cheat their way into higher positions in search results." Going back to the example of the Miami vacation blog, you should provide useful content and photos of things to do in Miami, rather than just fill a webpage with a fake link for "FREE MIAMI VACATION DEALS."

In Practice
That said, once you build your content, relevant keywords and links are crucial.
Online marketing company Moz says that in talking with SEO experts, "getting external links is the single most important objective for attaining high rankings." But the links, they add, should be primarily to other websites -- ones that are trusted, popular and relevant.

Similarly, throwing in the words "Miami vacation" in your blog posts doesn't really help your SEO. But putting "A Guide to Vacationing in Miami for Students" in your site's tagline will. This is because search engines are built to "think" like the people who use them, so when someone searches for "Miami vacation summer break," Google sends them the results that most closely match exactly what they’re looking for, rather than just websites that have the words "Miami vacation" on them the most.

For a more in-depth explanation, check out Search Engine Watch's breakdown of how to use keywords. If you want to get really serious about building web traffic, set up Google analytics on your website. This will help you identify how people are finding your site (like through search or social media), what keywords they're searching for that are leading them to you, and what your top webpages are.

And if you have great content, relevant links and useful keywords, you're well on your way to making your website search engine optimized. Just skip the dancing gifs.

Photo by India7 Network via cc

365975805_883533616f.jpgI remember having dinner with my extended family about six months after my husband and I had gotten married. Everyone wanted to know how our jobs were going, how we were adjusting to married life and when we were planning to have a baby. Our response went something like, "Um, not any time soon," and during the car ride back, we both laughed at the fact that we hadn't even gotten our wedding photos yet and already we were being pressured to procreate.

See, here's what we were thinking at the time, and it aligns with many discussions we'd had earlier on in our relationship: Kids are expensive. You have to feed them, clothe them, put a roof over their heads and eventually attempt to send them to college. In fact, the estimated cost of raising a child these days is close to a quarter of a million dollars, and that doesn't even include college tuition. So family pressure aside, my husband and I had specific financial criteria we needed met before we could even think about having children.

Here's what our checklist looked like:

Have an Emergency Fund
Experts say that you should always try to have enough money in your savings account to cover three to six months' worth of expenses. We wanted an even heftier cushion, especially since these are so many unknowns when it comes to child-related expenses. We also stocked away money to cover newborn costs like nursery furniture and our hospital stay.

Have a Decent Place to Live
Notice how I said "decent," not "fancy" or "spectacular." You don't need to live in a palace to raise children, but we wanted a living space that could reasonably accommodate a kid or two. In fact, we decided to buy our own house prior to starting a family so that we wouldn't have to worry about having to move as a result of our building being sold or rent getting jacked up.

Have Some Retirement Savings
We figured (correctly) that once kids came into the mix, it would be pretty difficult, especially in the beginning, to put money toward retirement. We also knew the importance of scraping together some retirement savings early on, when the money would have time to grow.

Have a Reliable Mode of Transportation, or the Means to Pay for One
Kids come with a lot of stuff. On any given day, my minivan (yes, I'm a walking cliché) is loaded with spare diapers, an on-the-go changing pad and at least one stroller. In other words, if you think you don't need a car because you live someplace with public transportation, be prepared to change your tune once you have a baby -- and be prepared to pay for it.

Now that we have kids, I can say with certainty that waiting till we were more financially stable was the right decision. These days, we're spending a small fortune on diapers and baby supplies, and just when we think we might have a little extra money to toss into our savings account, something comes up to foil that plan. Had we not saved some money prior to having children, we'd be far more worried and have much less flexibility to indulge in life's little luxuries, like cable TV or the occasional restaurant meal. Having kids is a major drain on your finances, and for us, waiting till we got to a better place financially meant taking one element of stress off the table as we prepared for the craziest, albeit most rewarding, ride of our lives.

Photo by Jess via cc

18204334495_2da95e00cd.jpgMy father taught me about money at a young age. By 19 I had already traveled to multiple wealth-building seminars across the country ranging in everything from stock trading, real estate and to making a living as a professional speaker. After meeting multiple millionaires I wanted that lifestyle for myself and trading stocks seemed like the best way for me to get there.

The Fast Rise

At the time the country had an oil shortage and gas prices shot through the roof. While most of my friends were whining about gas prices, I had invested in oil. The price of my stocks shot through the roof, and I made $2000 in a day. I was ecstatic. The next day, another $1000. I'd never been so happy to fill up my gas tank. With investments like this, I wouldn't have to "work," and not working sounded awesome.

I was hungry to make money fast. I'd just returned from paratrooper school and fancied myself a well-educated individual. I thought I was invincible. I'd been reading investing books and was ready to go big. I scrounged every cent I had and put it in the market. By 21 I was making almost $300 a month in dividends from my stock investments, but I wanted more. I borrowed money from my brokerage account, known as margin. This increased my monthly dividend paycheck to $400, just for owning a stock! Life was going to be easy, and I could already picture myself retired on a beach at 25, sporting my banana hammock.

The Faster Fall

The combination of overconfidence and greed would turn out to be my downfall. The day the market crashed was like getting a kick straight to the teeth. My portfolio went from $30,000 to $10,000 overnight. I was in shock. It felt like that moment when you're prancing around in the ocean and you turn your back for one second, and the ocean destroys you, tossing you around like loose change in a washing machine.

During a major market crash the experts say not to panic and ride it out, rather than selling your shares. They say to see it as a buying opportunity to get in at a lower price, but I didn't have any free capital left to invest, so I sat tight and waited to see what the next day would bring.

I awoke early the next morning and logged into my brokerage account just in time to watch as my remaining $10,000 was wiped out, along with my hopes and dreams. I was devastated. I sat there imagining all of the things I could have bought with that money; a brand new car, a trip to anywhere in the world, a better version of literally anything I owned. I questioned my decision to save rather than to be cavalier with my spending like my peers had been.

After a few days of sulking in the corner, I focused my energy towards ways of fixing my finances. I developed a plan to save more money and immediately made massive cuts to my budget. I was determined to rebuild my net worth as fast as possible. This time around I was even more efficient with my money and I put every penny I saved to work in a variety of interest-bearing accounts. My new approach helped me purchase a house at 23, allowed me to graduate from college debt free and landed me a job as a college financial coach where I now teach students how to be better with money. I still trade stocks, but now use other investments to spread out the risk.

Photo by 林 伯諺 via cc

18868014616_8cae68832c.jpgWith the cost of food rising, many people are looking for ways to save money on their meals. Coupons may seem like a good idea, but there are two fundamental flaws: They take time to collect and clip (or cost you money since you're printing -- that printer ink is expensive!), and you don't really save money unless you use the coupon on something you'd normally buy anyway. Since we rarely see coupons for staples like milk, produce and meats, it's hard to count on those saving us anything substantial. So, what can you do?

Plan Meals Ahead of Time

When you know what you're going to eat, it's a lot easier to make your shopping list and stick to it. It's a good idea to plan your meals from payday to payday, so you're not stuck at the end of the pay period with no idea what to eat and little cash flow to work with.

Sit down with a calendar and your local grocery store's sales paper. Considering the items you already have on hand, the items you need to restock, and what the store has on special this week, come up with meals you'd like to prepare. If you need some inspiration, search for recipes online. Make your grocery list recipe by recipe. Add other items you know you need.

Buy in Bulk

Buying in bulk is always a great way to save, but when you consider the fact that warehouse clubs like Sam's Club and Costco have annual membership fees, it's not always the most practical way to go. If you can't accompany a member as a guest, you can still apply the bulk principle to many things in your local grocery store.

Go back to your store sales paper. See an item you use often on sale this week? Buy as much as you can afford while it's on sale. This is a great way to stock up on essentials like canned goods.

Look for Hidden Discounts

While most of your grocery store's specials will be advertised in the weekly sales paper, there are often unadvertised discounts hiding throughout the store. This is particularly important in the meat and produce departments, as food could be on the verge of spoiling. These items are reduced in an effort to sell them quickly. As long as you cook or freeze the meat soon after you buy it, you'll be fine. The key with quick-sale produce is to only buy what you'll be able to use within a day or two.

Check Discount Grocery Stores

Discount grocery chains like Aldi or Winco can help you save money because they offer unadvertised brands. Other discount stores may offer brand name foods at a deep discount because the box is bent, or the can is dented. Some things you find may be past their "best by" date, but it's not always necessary to worry about that.

Food expiration dates are a general guideline. Use these guidelines to shop smart.

  • Sell By: This date tells the store when to stop displaying it. It refers to freshness, rather than spoilage. Grab from the back to ensure you get the freshest products, or opt for one close to the date to get savings.
  • Best By (or Before): This date refers to product quality, not safety. Sour cream, for example, is already sour when you buy it, but tastes best when it's freshly soured.
  • Guaranteed Fresh: Typically used for baked goods, these items will still be safe to eat after the date on the package, but won't be as fresh.
  • Use By: This date is determined by the manufacturer as the last possible date for peak quality. Most products are still safe to eat after this date.

Don't be afraid to shop multiple stores to get the best deals. If the stores are too far apart, though, you risk spending more money on gas to get there and back than it is worth. If there are other stores near your work or school that are on the way home, check those out when they're not out of the way instead of making a special trip just to shop.

Photo by Chris Potter via cc

18088542974_b64728ace0.jpgKeeping up with an industry is difficult. An industry can be a myriad of things -- but mostly it's a group of businesses that provide a particular product or service. For example, IT and tech are both industries. Certainly a few targeted Google searches or social media connections can get you an "ear to the streets," so to say, but it's difficult to tell which companies are truly doing the things they say they are. In order to dig deeper into an industry, I attend their major trade shows (an exhibition organized so companies can showcase their latest products), where I can meet with everyone from budding entrepreneurs and start-ups to reps from major corporations.

Who Attends Trade Shows

Aside from media analysts like me, trade shows are events where you can network with industry professionals. At the Electronic Entertainment Expo (otherwise known as E3, a closed-to-the-public video game industry show that originated at the Consumer Electronics Show), the Entertainment Software Association partners with major console companies (Microsoft, Sony, Nintendo) to spend major dollars renting the LA Convention Center and various clubs and venues in downtown LA for three days of hands-on demos with unreleased games from both major and indie developers.

If you're just breaking into the industry, it can be difficult (and expensive) to obtain tickets for trade shows. Still, showing up to any events in your region (even without a ticket) can be a worthwhile investment for a bootstrapped entrepreneur looking to get their name out there. Although you won't be allowed in the main exhibit area, plenty of people go outside to grab some fresh air and are open to conversations.

Find the Right Trade Show

Industry trade shows are easy enough to find -- Trade Show News Network offers an online database of thousands of trade shows in any industry, listing event dates, venues and a short description. You can filter the search by industry, city, date range or venue. Las Vegas is by far the most popular venue, but convention centers exist in every major city, and each hosts a variety of trade shows.

For example, the Trade Show News Network's list of upcoming trade shows includes conventions on agriculture, consumer technology, home furnishings, specialty equipment and business aviation. There's something for everybody.

Attend a Trade Show

Registration for trade shows typically opens about three months prior to the show. Different attendees often pay different prices for tickets. Sponsors can spend $150,000 to upwards of $2,000,000 to hang banners, build crowd-pleasing exhibits, hire models, host extravagant after-parties and arrange meetings for their reps to negotiate sales.

Vendors pay $500–$500,000 on booths within the exhibit hall, giving them a listing in all brochures and a place to meet with potential customers and prospective buyers. Buyers (such as brick-and-mortar stores at the Outdoor Retailer Summer and Winter Market in Salt Lake City) can expect to pay between $150 and $2,500 for a ticket, while media and analysts typically get a free pass.

On top of the ticket price, consider travel expenses, hotels and parking. In cities like Las Vegas, where CES and the Collision Conference are held, parking is typically free, but a parking lot in LA can be $15 when you pass it the first time and $50 the second, and cities like Seattle and anywhere on the East Coast charge premium prices for parking near convention centers.

Regardless of what industry you're in, there's a trade show where professionals are meeting and networking on at least an annual basis. Appearing at these shows gives your company a chance to be seen by taste-makers, prospective buyers, and members of the media who help build a brand's buzz. If you want to keep your ear to the street, you can't simply depend on Internet searches -- the real grind happens at industry trade shows.

Photo by Intel Free Press via cc