Party for free: A short guide to crashing

During the holiday season when money is seeping out of your pockets as you buy presents for everyone on your list, here's a great way to save a buck: crash parties.

Think it can't be done? Let me regale you with tales of my latest exploits. This week I attended a talk by former Vanity Fair and New Yorker editor Tina Brown, at the Harvard Club in New York City. For a mere $20, my friend and I were treated to a lecture about the travails of Princess Diana as detailed in Brown's book, "The Diana Chronicles." The talk was followed by an open bar and delicious hors d'oeuvres.

From there, we took a subway up to the Columbia Journalism School for a forum on free speech put together by the BBC. After catching the tail end of a fascinating discussion about the media and freedom of the press, we were feted with free wine and munchies.

Oh, and we also hobnobbed with the rich and famous: I had a long conversation with noted Constitutional law expert Floyd Abrams, and my friend chatted at length with Brian Lehrer, the erudite host on the city's public radio station, WNYC.

From this example, you can see the basic rules of the crashing game:

Get there when the event is at least halfway over. Both of these events had a guest list. But if you get there late enough, no one bothers to check your name. And that's about when the booze and food start flowing freely.

Dress the part. (Don't forget the watch and shoes test – that's what a Mercedes Benz executive told me is what car dealers look at when they want to see if someone is truly a prospective buyer or is just looking for a joy ride.) Remember, most clubs, such as the Harvard Club, have a dress code that includes no jeans.

It helps to act like you belong there. I had a friend who was at the BBC event and that helped me walk in with confidence.

So next time you find yourself with an empty wallet but an appetite for some stimulating conversation and tasty food, check out your local listings for an upcoming event that you might be able to crash. And have a great time. But don't tell them I sent you...


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